Booms, busts in NHL free agency during salary cap era
When the puck drops for NHL free agency Saturday, some teams will pay whatever it takes to land the top free agents available.
Some will hit. Some will miss.
It happens every summer.
The Edmonton Oilers signed Milan Lucic to a seven-season, $42 million contract a year ago and he panned out, helping the franchise reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and advance to the second round. The Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, didn’t get a good return on their $36 million, six-year investment in Loui Eriksson.
With a relatively weak crop of free agents, teams in the league have to weigh the risk and reward of signing one of the top players available such as defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Alexander Radulov.
Here’s a look back at some booms and busts in NHL free agency since the salary-cap era began in 2005:
LUCIC: The Oilers were looking for a veteran to improve Connor McDavid’s surrounding cast and found him last summer. Lucic played in every game, ranked fourth on the team with 23 goals and 50 points on a second line that gave opponents something to respect other than McDavid.
ERIKSSON: The Canucks, clinging to hopes of winning with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, made an aggressive move to add Eriksson, and it backfired. Coming off his 30-goal, 33-assist season in Boston, he had just 24 points — his lowest total in a decade — and Vancouver missed out on the postseason for the third time in four years.
ZDENO CHARA: It’s not easy to remember the huge defenseman playing for a team other than the Boston Bruins. They signed him as a free agent in 2006 after he spent his first eight seasons with the New York Islanders and Ottawa. Chara helped Boston hoist the Stanley Cup in 2011 and won the Norris Trophy in 2009.
DAVID CLARKSON: Toronto had more hits than misses in free agency during an 11-season stretch that included only one playoff appearance. One of their busts was Clarkson, who was given a seven-year deal in 2013 worth more than $5 million per season. He had just 11 points in his first season with the Maple Leafs, who traded him the next year to Columbus for Nathan Horton, whose back injury made him a bust with the Blue Jackets after signing a seven-year, $37 million contract in 2013.
ANTON STRALMAN: It isn’t easy to land an offensive defenseman in free agency, but the Tampa Bay Lighting did in 2014 with Stralman. He had a career-high 39 points in his first season with the Lightning, and helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals. He has averaged 33 points for the franchise, earning the $4.5 million he’s making per season as part of his five-year deal.
DAVE BOLLAND: The Florida Panthers gave Bolland, one of the top free agents in 2014, a five-year deal that averaged $5.5 million a season. It didn’t take them long to recognize the move was a mistake. After Bolland had just 23 points in an injury-shortened season with them and just 25 games into his second season, they traded him to Arizona, and he hasn’t played another game in the NHL.
MARIAN HOSSA: The high-scoring winger has announced he won’t play next season because of side effects from medication to treat a skin disorder. The Blackhawks don’t regret signing him to a 12-year, $63-million deal in 2009 because he was a key player who helped the franchise win the Cup three times in a six-season stretch.
STEPHEN WEISS: Detroit didn’t make the playoffs this year for the first time since 1990 in part because they haven’t had many hits in free agency. Weiss, without a doubt, was a miss. He signed a five-year deal worth nearly $5 million a season in 2013. Injuries limited him to 78 games and 29 points over two seasons before the Red Wings bought out the last three years of his deal, and he hasn’t played in another NHL game.
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It was a close game, but after some thrilling back-and-forth plays the Rifle Bears were able to pull off the 28-20 victory over The Academy on May 1.