Rangers, Stars among the best movers in free agency

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - GREG BEACHAM

Sev­eral big win­ners in the first hours of the Na­tional Hockey League’s free-agent sign­ing pe­riod didn’t even have to move.

From Carey Price to Cam Fowler, a bunch of hockey vet­er­ans got paid by their cur­rent teams when the free-agent flood­gates opened dur­ing the week­end.

Sev­eral clubs moved quickly to lock up proven quan­ti­ties a year be­fore they even got the chance to hit the open mar­ket.

The free-agent pe­riod has been even qui­eter be­cause not many big names are avail­able.

Teams also did much of their ros­ter shuf­fling ear­lier in the sum­mer to pre­pare for the Ve­gas Golden Knights’ ex­pan­sion draft.

So while the first flur­ries of freeagent movement aren’t quite as ex­cit­ing as in past years, a few teams and play­ers dis­tin­guished them­selves with their early off-sea­son-ma­noeu­vrings — and a few left them­selves with work to do.

WIN­NER: New York Rangers. They landed the big­gest prize on the mar­ket in Kevin Shat­tenkirk, who clearly wanted to come home to play on Broad­way. The puck-mov­ing de­fence­man should be a big boost to an al­ready-strong ros­ter, and New York didn’t have to break the bank to get him. The Rangers also re-signed Bren­dan Smith ear­lier, fur­ther bol­ster­ing their de­fence.

LOSER: Mon­treal Cana­di­ens. They locked up Price, one of the NHL’s elite goalies, but paid an ex­tra­or­di­nary price to do so. That re­ported $84-million, eightyear com­mit­ment won’t make it eas­ier for the Habs to keep long­time de­fen­sive star An­drei Markov and for­ward Alex Radulov, who com­bined to score 90 points for Mon­treal last sea­son, but are now pos­si­bly look­ing else­where. It’s tough to win ev­ery game 1-0, even against tal­ent-de­pleted ros­ters in a post-ex­pan­sion sea­son in the mostly low-scor­ing modern NHL.

PUSH: Chicago Black­hawks. They got the band back to­gether with the ac­qui­si­tions of Patrick Sharp and Bran­don Saad, but they lost qual­ity NHL play­ers in Nik­las Hjal­mars­son and Artemi Pa­narin, along with Mar­ian Hossa’s un­for­tu­nate woes. Per­haps the Black­hawks needed a ros­ter shakeup af­ter their post-sea­son past­ing from Nashville, but Chicago could be play­ing it too safe by stick­ing with its old favourites.

WIN­NER: Dal­las Stars. GM

Jim Nill has checked the most im­por­tant boxes on his pre­sump­tive list of off-sea­son pri­or­i­ties. Af­ter land­ing Florida star goalie Ben Bishop and de­fence­man Marc Methot be­fore free agency, he signed cen­tre Martin Han­zal to add depth down an al­ready strong mid­dle and an­other 20 goals to their of­fence. The pieces ap­pear to be in place for a play­off con­tender.

LOSER: Colorado Avalanche. It’s been a rough nine months in the Rock­ies. Af­ter a hor­rific 48-point reg­u­lar sea­son and a de­press­ing fall in the NHL draft lot­tery, the Avs lost valu­able goalie Calvin Pickard to Ve­gas in the ex­pan­sion draft. Dur­ing the freeagent week­end, Colorado ac­quired Colin Wil­son from Nashville and signed Jonathan Bernier, the Ducks’ backup goalie last sea­son. Mean­while, Matt Duch­ene re­mains squarely on the trad­ing block. It’s tough to see im­prove­ment.

PUSH: San Jose Sharks. Joe Thorn­ton is stay­ing in the South Bay on a oneyear deal. But gen­eral man­ager Doug Wil­son also paid top dol­lar in longterm ex­ten­sions for de­fence­man Mar­cE­douard Vla­sic — he got more money than the Ducks’ Fowler, who’s five years younger — and goalie Martin Jones. The Sharks’ core is largely locked in, for bet­ter or worse.

WIN­NER: Nashville Preda­tors. Nick Bonino is a gritty vet­eran for­ward who should fit splen­didly into a win­ning core, and Alexei Emelin could slot in well on an al­ready for­mi­da­ble blue line. Even with their free-agent losses, the Western Con­fer­ence cham­pi­ons prob­a­bly got bet­ter.

LOSER: Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals. The NHL’s best reg­u­lar-sea­son team has lost vet­eran for­ward Justin Wil­liams and de­fence­men Karl Alzner, Nate Sch­midt and Shat­tenkirk dur­ing the off-sea­son. The Caps kept T.J. Oshie, but only with a head-scratch­ing con­tract. Wash­ing­ton still has a strong tal­ent base, but it took a hit.

PUSH: Pitts­burgh Pen­guins. The two-time Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons had to make sev­eral tough de­ci­sions this sum­mer, and they ended up los­ing Bonino, Chris Ku­nitz, Marc-An­dre Fleury, Trevor Da­ley and Ron Hain­sey. But backup goalie Antti Niemi is on board, and GM Jim Ruther­ford re-signed de­fence­man Justin Schultz.

Karl Alzner

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