2019 NHL Free Agency: Winners & Losers
How do you win NHL free agency? Stay away from the hype. Most of all, stay away from the absurd amount of money being spent. These types of comments can be heard and read everywhere from hockey writers, analysts, and fans during free agency.
Let’s travel back to February 26, 2008. Marian Hossa got traded from the then Atlanta Thrashers to the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins and fell short of a first Stanley Cup. That summer, he declined a long-term contract from the Penguins, instead entering free agency and signing with the Detroit Red Wings. In Hossa’s one year in Detroit, the Red Wings finished as the top team in goals scored, even-strength goals, and power-play percentage. Hossa had 40 goals and 31 assists along with the third-highest shot total of his career (307), but he fell short of the title for the second straight year. A short jump forward to July 1, 2009. Blackhawks fans will tell you this date is responsible for the best free-agent signing in franchise history. Although Hossa missed the first eight weeks of the season, he posted 51 total points in 57 games and finally hoisted his first of three Stanley Cups.
Free agency matters both to the team and to us fantasy players. Just ask your current champions, as the St. Louis Blues signed key players such as Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon, and David Perron prior to their Stanly Cup season.
As we leave July and enter August, the prices have been set and most players have decided to either stay with their current team or pack their bags for a new city and new opportunities. Which teams do fantasy owners want to attach ourselves to this year? Let’s find out.
Eastern Conference Winners
New York Rangers
The money was big, and the moves were plenty, but the Rangers got the players they wanted. Artemi Panarin was the most coveted free agent on the market. As we saw on day one, there was no doubt where he wanted to play. Panarin totaled 169 points over the last two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets. His points have increased in each of his first four years, and that trend will continue given Panarin’s talent. The Rangers also signed a solid defenseman in Jacob Trouba, who brings with him a career-high in points (50) last season. Look for both of these players to produce on the power play as well.
Carolina lost some manpower during this offseason but was able to rebound. The Hurricanes signed Ryan Dzingel and Brian Gibbons as well as re-signing several of their own players. The most excitement came with the first offer sheet, as they wasted no time matching the Montreal Canadiens’ offer to retain 21-year-old Sebastian Aho and his career-high 83 points. Topped off by trading and signing for younger talent, the surge will continue.
Eastern Conference Losers
Columbus Blue Jackets
Losing key players is sure to find anyone on the bad end of free agency. The Jackets will start next season without elite goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. They also lost arguably three of their best forwards in Panarin, Dzingel, and Matt Duchene. To counter, the Jackets signed 29-year-old Gustav Nyquist, who has only topped 50 points twice in his career.
New York Islanders
Losing their own assets and the top talent they pursued is a big loss. The Islanders were all in on Panarin, but they ultimately fell short to the Rangers. The Islanders then lost Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner Robin Lehner to the Blackhawks. To counter the loss, they signed Semyon Varlamov. Both goalies have similar stats and will make $5 million next season, but the Islanders brought on the 31-year-old Varlamov for four years while the 28-year-old Lehner signed for one. Although the Islanders re-signed Anders Lee, next season looks to be difficult with many teams in the conference upgrading.
Western Conference Winners
St. Louis Blues
The front office has been hard at work making sure a Stanley Cup hangover proves to be a myth. The Blues submitted offers to several key players from last year, including breakout performer Jordan Binnington. Others include Oskar Sundqvist, Zach Sanford, Carl Gunnarsson, and Robby Fabbri. The hope is to retain Joel Edmundson and extend Patrick Maroon. The Blues may not have signed any big free agents, but they completed the tough task of retaining many players from last year’s championship squad. If St. Louis can keep the core intact, the fantasy points will stack up and create a team you’ll want shares of.
After flashing their young talent in the 2018-19 season, the front office saw enough to make a splash in free agency. Signing Tyler Myers, Micheal Ferland, Jordie Benn, and re-signing Tyler Motte will give Vancouver an edge on defense and, best of all, the fantasy points we’ve longed for since the Sedin twins.
Western Conference Losers
Los Angeles Kings
Maybe the Kings know something we don’t. Or maybe they are content being as bad as they looked last year. Jonathan Quick is not 23 anymore, and it showed during his worst season ever. Los Angeles has re-signed several of its own players but done nothing to help out its older players, which is concerning for a team with an average age near 30.
There must be something in the California water because we find ourselves just south of Los Angeles in Anaheim. The Ducks are another team with an average age near 30. They lost Corey Perry, who dropped fantasy relevance after undergoing surgery on his knee. Anaheim brought back Michael Del Zotto after trading him away at the deadline last season. However, finishing third-from-last in the Western Conference and not finding any more help through free agency or trades ties Anaheim for the worst offseason grade.
Mat Vilcek is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Mat, check out his archive and follow him @Mat1Thockey.