The first day of NHL free agency began on Monday, and there were some surprises among the expected signings. The biggest was San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski.
The 34-year-old signed a three-year deal worth $21 million with the Dallas Stars. It was a blow to the Sharks, who reached the Western Conference Finals this year, but might be hard-pressed to do so again with Pavelski.
The center spent his entire 13-year career in San Jose, but said joining the Stars seemed like the right move.
“We wanted to feel the team was close to winning,” Pavelski told NHL Network. “They check off a lot of boxes. It seemed like a perfect fit.”
There were other moves that strengthened teams, and some that made teams weaker. We take a look at the winners and losers of the first day of NHL free agency.
New York Rangers
The biggest victors of the first day. The New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton was working on the team’s rebuilding, and got it off to an impressive start. He had already traded for defensemen Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg, and Adam Fox from Carolina.
Next he went after offense, and pulled in the prize of free agency in Columbus Blue Jackets’ Artemi Panarin. The left winger signed a seven-year deal worth $81.5 million.
The moves Gorton made, might vault this team into the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
In addition to stealing Pavelski away from the Sharks, Dallas also picked up veteran right wing Corey Perry, and defenseman Andrej Sekera. Both players should complement the team for different reasons.
Perry will probably be a second or third line winger, and if he rebounds from a knee injury suffered last season, should give the team some much needed scoring on the third line. The team ranked 29th in scoring last year.
Staying healthy is also a concern with Sekera, but if he does, he should be able to give the blue line some depth.
The goalie was going to be coveted because he was the only marquee player at that position available. The Russian, though did better than he could have expected.
The 30-year-old signed a seven-year deal with the Florida Panthers that will pay him $10 million annually. Only fellow netminder Corey Price of the Canadians makes more at $10.5 million.
Some believe that the Panthers overpaid for Babrovsky, but they didn’t have much of a choice, since Robert Luongo retired over the summer. President of hockey operations and general manager Dale Tallon believes they have a superstar in net.
“He’s a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and he gives you a chance to win every night,” Tallon said. “He’s durable. He’s a student of the game. Nobody works harder.”
San Jose Sharks
San Jose rode grit and heart in the playoffs last season, fueled mostly by the inspiration of Pavelski. He toughed it out when he was hit in the face by a slapshot by teammate Brent Burns. Then he was left bloodied by a cross check by Vegas Golden Knights Cody Eakin.
The team rallied around him, and now with his departure the Sharks could be a rudderless ship next season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets knew it was going to be a dark day on Monday, and it was. They lost all three free agents, Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene. They tried in vain to keep them, but they knew they wouldn’t be able to.
They did get winger Gustav Nyquist, but that is small consolation to a team that just lost its best scorer, top goalie, and key defenseman.
New York Islanders
The team really wanted Panarin, and losing out to the rival Rangers probably hurts more than anything. They offered more money, but the winger went with the other New York team.
To add salt to the wound, Rangers president John Davidson tweeted a dig at the Islanders. “We know he wants to be here in New York, specifically with the Rangers.”