While NBA free agency brings gaudy numbers and extraordinary attention, the NHL’s open market is perhaps more important. Though all of basketball’s flashy moves are exciting, does anyone really believe more than a handful of teams are good enough to win next year’s Larry O’Brien Trophy?
Hockey is wide open, and the teams that score big in free agency, along with draft well, can dramatically improve their chance to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Let’s look at a some squads who made a major move or two and could provide value in NHL futures.
Dallas Stars: 15/1
The Stars have missed the playoffs in two of the last three, and seven of the past nine seasons. That said, two years ago Dallas won the Central Division with 109 points, so we know they have potential.
Before free agency began, the Stars made some moves, acquiring Ben Bishop to play between the pipes, and Marc Methot to anchor the blueline. They also signed Martin Hanzal who will be a good fit on the second line. This week though, the Stars may have made their biggest move, signing free agent Alexander Radulov to a five year, $31.25 million dollar deal. It’s the richest contract given to a free agent so far this off-season. All of those additions, combined with the return of a Stanley Cup winning coach (Ken Hitchcock), could equal success this year.
On top of that, Dallas had the third overall pick in this year’s draft, where they selected Miro Heiskanen. Although he’s just 17 years old, he is a pretty mature product who could see time in the NHL at some point this coming season, or in 2018-2019.
Nashville Predators: 31/2
After barely making the playoffs last year, and then advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Preds are among a group of six teams right around 15/1. They signed Nick Bonino, brought back Scott Hartnell, and dealt for Alexei Emelin. Any team with a strong back end and a goalie who can get hot like Pekka Rinne is dangerous. Sometimes one or two solid moves for an already advanced team is the difference in getting them over the top.
New York Rangers: 16/1
The Blue Shirts were one of nine teams in the NHL to reach 100 points last year, and did so while playing in the toughest division in the league. New York lost an Eastern Conference Semi-final series to Ottawa where three of four losses were by just one goal, and two ended overtime.
New York won the free agent lottery when they inked the top defenseman on the market in Kevin Shattenkirk. They also re-signed Brendan Smith. The Rangers may not be a star studded offensive team, but Shattenkirk fills a huge need as a puck mover. Because of Shattenkirk’s desire to play in his home state, the Rangers got him for less than what most expected. That means they have a few extra bucks lying around to fill other needs.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 43/2
The Leafs made the playoffs by a single point last year, and played an incredible playoff series against Washington. They lost in six games with each contest decided by a single goal and five of them requiring overtime. Toronto would have had more points if they didn’t go 1-8 in shootouts.
While their signings are not marque, Patrick Marleau is a veteran forward who can still score, and will aid a young core. Ron Hainsey and Dominic Moore add depth, experience, and toughness. General Manager Lou Lamoriello clearly feels his young players are good enough to contend, but need some guidance on winning and maturing. If that was the goal, consider free agency a success.