We’re about a quarter of the way through the National Hockey League’s 2020-21 56-game season, which means it’s about time to start evaluating whether or not some of the biggest free agent signings from the offseason have been great investments or not.
From the dawn of unrestricted free agency on Oct. 9th until now, ten contracts with cap hits of at least $4.000 million per season were signed as the biggest new deals with new teams going into 2020-21.
Some things have gone as expected, others even better and some leaving more to be desired considering the large amounts of money being thrown around in a salary cap driven league.
RW/LW Mike Hoffman
Mike Hoffman, 31, had 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) last season in 69 games with the Florida Panthers and was banking on a significant pay raise in the open market. Instead, he took $1,187,500 million less in average annual value for a one-year “prove-it” contract with the St. Louis Blues after he was glossed over in free agency.
The Blues were looking for an offensive spark after being outscored, 22-16, in their six-game series loss to the Vancouver Canucks in the 2020 First Round.
St. Louis is still looking for that offensive spark after Hoffman is off to an inconsistent start, but at least he’s registered 4-3—7 totals in ten games so far this season.
He’s on pace for about 39 points this season (57 if it were an 82-game schedule), which is fine given his “one-dimensional” approach to the game. But scoring goals in bunches and suffering droughts between them might not give him a second look in St. Louis.
Will he be back in a Blues uniform after this season?
Well, if his production drops, there’s a chance his re-sign value decreases, which isn’t the worst thing for a cash-strapped St. Louis roster with the 2021 Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft sure to pry one of their better pieces off of the team.
Perhaps Hoffman is best used as bait for the Kraken to not select someone the Blues don’t already have the space to protect.
LW Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall, 29, reunited with Buffalo Sabres head coach, Ralph Krueger, after Hall signed a one-year, $8.000 million contract with the Sabres on Oct. 11th. The two had been members of the Edmonton Oilers organization when Krueger was then Edmonton’s head coach for the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.
Hall has nine points in 10 games so far this season, but is currently listed on the COVID protocol related absence list as the rest of Buffalo waits for about a week without hockey as all Sabres games are postponed through Feb. 8th.
Nevertheless, Hall is on pace for 50 points this season, which addresses the needs of Buffalo’s first line as some sort of “promise you won’t ask to be traded out of here, Jack Eichel” appeal.
Whether or not Hall can maintain the pace he was on prior to being in COVID protocol remains to be seen and certainly might factor into where he ends up in the offseason— sticking in Buffalo or moving on from yet another franchise after being drafted by the Oilers 1st overall in 2010.
For one season, an $8.000 million cap hit isn’t the worst thing Sabres GM Kevyn Adams could do, but the Hall signing alone still didn’t turn the team into a playoff contender overnight.
G Braden Holtby
Braden Holtby, 31, joined the Vancouver Canucks in the offseason on a two-year contract worth $4.300 million per season and so far he’s looked… …exactly the same as last season.
In six games with Vancouver, Holtby is 3-3-0 and has a 3.63 goals against average and an .896 save percentage in that span.
He’s on pace for 28 wins this season, which would be three more wins than he had all year last season as the Washington Capitals’ starting goaltender. Obviously this season is only 56 games long compared to the intended 82-game season that was cut short due to the ongoing global pandemic.
Speaking of last season, Holtby went 25-14-6 in 48 games played with a 3.11 GAA and an .897 SV%. Though his goals against average is worse so far this season, his save percentage is .001% better. So, yeah, he’s about the same as he’s been for the last three seasons.
It cannot be understated, however, the difference in the Canucks’ quality of defenders compared to Washington’s last season, but Holtby isn’t seeing as much time as he did with the Caps since Thatcher Demko is Vancouver’s latest “goalie of the future”.
Demko’s not off to a hot start either though (3-5-0, 3.81 GAA, .897 SV% in eight games), which means the Canucks are bound to have both a long 2020-21 season and a difficult decision regarding which goaltender they’ll protect from the Seattle expansion draft.
Both are affordable options for the Kraken if either is exposed, but will the Kraken be able to coach either goaltender into something serviceable? Time might tell. We’re assuming a lot here.
RD Justin Schultz
Justin Schultz, 30, left the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Washington Capitals on Oct. 9th, signing a two-year deal worth $4.000 million per season in the process.
So far, Capitals GM, Brian MacLellan, looks pretty smart for picking up the veteran defender that has 2-4—6 totals in eight games and is on pace for 42 points currently. Well, that is until Schultz missed the last three games with an upper body injury after taking a puck to the face against the New York Islanders on Jan. 28th.
Nevertheless, six points in eight games is literally half the number of points (12) he had in 46 games with Pittsburgh last season.
Back then, Schultz was a minus-13. This season, he’s a plus-9.
Washington is trending in the right direction and might have prolonged their championship window by signing Schultz—a two-time Stanley Cup champion himself with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
Whether or not his offensive outburst this season remains identical to that of when he won his 2nd ring in 2017 remains to be seen, but the Schultz signing is a job well done thus far.
RW/LW Evgenii Dadonov
Evgenii Dadonov, 31, witnessed a steep decline in offensive production from 70 points in 82 games with the Florida Panthers in the 2018-19 season to 47 points in 69 games in the pandemic shortened 2019-20 season.
Even still, he was only on pace for 56 points last season had the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic never happened.
That right there should’ve been a warning sign, but Ottawa Senators GM, Pierre Dorion, felt it was necessary to give Dadonov a $1.000 million raise on Oct. 15th and sign him to a three-year contract worth $5.000 million per season for the twilight of his prime.
This isn’t to say Dadonov can’t bounce back in the remainder of his deal, but this season is already looking like a wash since he has 1-2—3 totals in 11 games played entering Saturday.
That’s a 15-point pace, if you’re wondering.
RW/LW Tyler Toffoli
Tyler Toffoli, 28, was traded to the Vancouver Canucks last season after the Los Angeles Kings realized 1) they could sell high and make a profit and 2) save some much-needed cap space as they continue to suffer from $21 million of their annual salary cap being tied to Anze Kopitar ($10.000 million) and Drew Doughty ($11.000 million).
In the meantime, the Canucks didn’t re-sign Toffoli because, why?
In 11 games with the Montreal Canadiens, Toffoli has 9-4—13 totals, including eight goals against Vancouver alone.
Though he’s on pace for 66 points in a 56-game season and that might be a little unrealistic for the consistent 30 to 40-point scorer in an 82-game format annually, Toffoli’s four-year deal worth $4.250 million per season is looking like one of the best moves Canadiens GM, Marc Bergevin, has made since trading Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for Nick Suzuki, Tomas Tatar and a 2019 2nd round pick in Sept. 2018.
Since signing his contract with the Habs on Oct. 12th, Toffoli has received nothing but hype, which is fitting considering he’s the youngest, most “in his prime” player among the ten biggest unrestricted free agent signings from the offseason.
And getting him on a long-term deal? That’s a job well done by Bergevin.
RD TJ Brodie
TJ Brodie, 31, signed a four-year deal worth $5.000 million per season with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 9th and is looking to be a good signing by Leafs GM Kyle Dubas.
That’s not really saying a whole lot since Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie were Dubas’ biggest addition to the blue line last season and both have already departed the organization after one disappointing season in Toronto.
Brodie brings some long-term security to Toronto’s defense, but he hasn’t hit the 40-point plateau since the 2015-16 season when he had 45 points in 70 games with the Calgary Flames.
This season, Brodie has 0-4—4 totals through 11 games and is on pace for about 20 points (roughly 30 points in an 82-game season). That’d be an improvement from his 19 points in 64 games with the Flames last season, but that’s also not a promising sign for a team in desperate need to “win now”.
At the end of the day, however, a $5.000 million cap hit for a top-four defender is expendable if push comes to shove and cap flexibility hasn’t exactly been Dubas’ specialty lately.
RD Christopher Tanev
Christopher Tanev, 31, made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks in the 2010-11 season and spent every season in Vancouver until he signed with the Calgary Flames as a free agent on a four-year contract worth $4.500 million per season on Oct. 9th.
Tanev has reached the 20-point plateau twice in his career and is currently on pace for 11 points in a 56-game season (16 points if it were 82 games).
The Flames are paying a bottom-pairing defender $4.500 million per season for about the same offensive production as a fourth line forward at a fraction of the cost would have.
Not to mention Tanev only has one goal and one assist in 10 games thus far.
The deal contains a modified no-trade clause, which should make things interesting if current general manager, Brad Treliving, still has his job in Calgary after this season, since the Flames sit in 6th place in the Scotia NHL North Division with a 4-5-1 record (nine points) and a four-point advantage over the last place in the division Senators (2-8-1 in 11 games, five points).
LD Torey Krug
Torey Krug, 29, signed an affordable seven-year contract worth $6.500 million per season with the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 9th.
The traditional second-pairing defender can play first line minutes if necessary, but if he’s relegated to a role in the top-four among defenders, he’ll still get more minutes on the power play anyway.
With 1-6—7 totals in 11 games so far, Krug is on pace for 36 points this season (or 52 points if it were a traditional 82-game schedule).
It looks like everything’s firing on all cylinders for the defender in his prime and Blues GM Doug Armstrong can be proud of himself for saving a little less than $2.000 million that he didn’t spend on keeping former captain, Alex Pietrangelo, around.
Krug was available, in his prime and is still right on track. You can’t blame Armstrong for making his team a little younger on the blue line (shaving off two years from Pietrangelo to Krug alone), while giving him a no-trade clause to give the organization even more of a headache heading into the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
But hey, there’s no complaining allowed if the Blues win another Cup before then, right?
Armstrong’s worked his magic before.
RD Alex Pietrangelo
Alex Pietrangelo, 31, left the St. Louis Blues for the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 12th after the Blues replaced their now former captain with Torey Krug.
In the process, Pietrangelo got paid with an $8.800 million cap hit for the next seven seasons.
Through seven games entering Saturday, he has 1-3—4 totals and is on pace for about 32 points (47 if it were an 82-game season), fitting right in line with pretty much his entire career’s worth of year-to-year production from the blue line.
Vegas has developed a trend for wanting to move on from their new hires almost as quickly as they bring them in, however, which does not necessarily bode well for Pietrangelo in the later years of his deal, despite having a no-movement clause.
Eventually, he might be asked to waive it as part of Golden Knights General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon’s, next phase of the masterplan, but if Pietrangelo can bring his Stanley Cup winning leadership to the Vegas dressing room, then that is all Golden Knights owner, Bill Foley, can ever really ask for— considering his push to win it faster than any expansion team has ever won it before in the expansion era (since 1967-68).
For now, Golden Knights fans will take his redeeming presence and charm, though they will have to part with something in the offseason (just not to the Seattle Kraken, as Vegas is exempt from the upcoming expansion draft).
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— Nick Lanciani (@lanci53)