Cap crunch means lower spending
Aside from defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner attracting $20 millionplus contracts, NHL free agency isn’t what it used to be.
Though plenty of players switched teams once the signing period opened on Saturday, missing were the highpriced, long-term contracts that were once the norm.
Shattenkirk, considered the top free agent available , signed a four-year, $26.6 million contract with the New York Rangers. And after nine seasons in Washington, Alzner signed a five-year, $23.1 million deal with Montreal.
Shattenkirk noted he turned down a more lucrative offer to sign with the Rangers, in part for the opportunity to
play closer to his hometown of New Rochelle, New York. Alzner said he had few options beyond Montreal, which was the only city he visited over the previous week.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights stayed busy by trading defenseman Alexei Emelin to Nashville for a 2019 third-round draft pick. Vegas selected Emelin from Montreal in the expansion draft last month.
The most lucrative deals were to retain young stars. The San Jose Sharks locked up defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic with an eight-year, $56 million deal, while Anaheim signed defenseman Cam Fowler to an eight-year contract worth $52 million.
The Sharks also extended the contract of goalie Martin Jones by signing him to a sixyear, $34.5 million deal.
That’s a drastic change from a year ago, when three free agents signed seven-year contracts, including aging veteran Milan Lucic’s $42 million deal with Edmonton.
“There’s a whole lot of factors,” Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said, noting age was one and so were the moves by teams to sign their players to extensions well before they might have hit the market.
Long-time player agent Steve Bartlett said teams are handcuffed by long-term deals and a flat cap, while Rangers GM Jeff Gorton noted there was a limit on how high he would go to sign Shattenkirk.
“We try to stay away from those six-, seven-, eight-year deals right now and figure out where the cap’s going,” Gorton said.
The salary cap has barely budged, going from $69 million in 2014-15 to $75 million next season.
Teams are instead resorting to a payroll model used by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks. It’s one in which teams commit high salaries to their best players — such as Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — and fill secondary needs with youngsters and lower-priced journeymen.
That’s the approach Sharks GM Doug Wilson took in re-signing Vlasic, Jones as well as Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Brent Burns in November.
“These are guys who fit for now and the future,” Wilson said. “They are core pieces for our team at key positions. Getting these guys under contract was a really high priority.”
The pace of signings didn’t change, with more than 30 players switching teams within the first 90 minutes.
Nick Bonino left the Stanley Cup-champion Penguins to sign a four-year, $16.4 million deal with Western Conference champion Nashville. The Predators freed up cap space to sign Bonino by trading cen- ter Colin Wilson to Colorado for a 2019 fourth-round pick.
The Penguins restocked by signing defenseman Matt Hunwick and goalie Antti Niemi. Hunwick takes over after Ron Hainsey signed with Toronto. Niemi fills the spot vacated after Marc-Andre Fleury was selected by Vegas.
The Penguins also re-signed defenseman Justin Schultz, a restricted free agent, to a three-year, $16.5 million deal.
Defenseman Matt Hunwick left the Toronto Maple Leafs to sign with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. The Penguins also signed former Dallas Stars goaltender Antti Niemi, but lost defensemen Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey and center Nick Bonino on the first day of NHL free agency.