There were so many moves made this offseason that I had to comment on some of the signings from the beginning of July. I also look into the new contracts of Jordan Binnington of Kevin LeBanc, and the big trade between Colorado and Toronto.
1. Binnington Gets Paid
Perhaps the most important news of the NHL offseason broke Saturday afternoon. Blues’ goalie and Stanley Cup catalyst, Jordan Binnington, agreed to a contract extension with the St. Louis Blues. It’s not uncommon for players coming off Stanley Cup victories to become free agents, but it’s extremely rare when they just completed their rookie season.
I was very excited to see what type of contract Binnington would get this coming offseason. It’s not rare to see an NHL player breakout the summer he enters free agency. However, it is rare when they only have one full season of NHL experience under their belt. Binnington had spent the majority of his professional hockey career in the AHL and had only appeared in one NHL game prior to this past season. Most players that become RFAs are coming off their entry-level contract, which expires after three years. So, General Managers have three years of experience to evaluate that player. For Binnington, the Blues only had one. In that one year, Binnington sparked a team in last place and led them all the way to a Stanley Cup. Binnington’s case is so rare there is little precedent set for a GM to use for reference which is why I was so intrigued to see what his new contract would look like.
Thankfully for the Blues, Binnington was still an RFA and could be taken to salary arbitration. Six days before the two sides were scheduled to go to arbitration, they agreed on a two-year $8.8 million deal. That is quite the raise from the $650,000 Binnington made last year. I think this a solid deal for Binnington. If he plays well, he can pressure the Blues into signing a big-money extension after next summer. That would be his best-case scenario because it would ensure he makes as much money as possible and doesn’t risk entering free agency after a poor season. This contract gives him a nice pay raise and the flexibility to make a lot more. Obviously, he would have liked to sign a big ticket after this past season. I think he could have earned somewhere in the neighborhood of five-years/$30 million. Unfortunately for him, he was an RFA and the Blues had enough leverage to prevent him from testing the free agent market. Because if he had, there would be zero chance the Blues could let him play somewhere else and would have given him a blank check. In the end, this contract provides enough security for both sides and ultimately gives Binnington the potential to earn a lot of money when the contract expires in two years.
2. LeBanc Signs for (Almost) Nothing
One of the more notable storylines of this offseason is the San Jose Sharks and their quest to chase a Stanley Cup next year. They were able to bring back Erik Karlsson in exchange for a massive payday. Karlsson’s big contract did cost them now ex-captain Joe Pavelski. Longtime Shark, Joe Thornton, also expressed his desire to give it one last go. That left Kevin LeBanc as one of the few players the Sharks needed to re-sign. LeBanc is an RFA coming off a career year where he scored 17 goals for a total of 56 points. I heard zero rumors about what the Sharks were preparing to offer LeBanc. They did, however, sign LeBanc’s teammate, Timo Meier to a modest four-year/$24 million deal. LeBanc probably deserved a deal in that same neighbored. He and Meier were both coming off their ELCs had similar numbers in their first three years for the Sharks.
The Sharks and LeBanc ended up agreeing on a one-year pact for a whopping $1 million! That is peanuts. The NHLPA must be up in arms that LeBanc signed for so little. I’m actually shocked another team didn’t try to sign him to an offer sheet. Had Montreal tried to sign him to a front-loaded contract as they did with Sebastian Aho, there is no doubt they could have landed LeBanc. Sharks’ General Manager Doug Wilson must have some serious dirt on LeBanc to get him to agree to a deal like this. This is straight-up theft for San Jose.
I’m not hating on LeBanc for signing this deal. He obviously sees that by signing a contract like this, it gives the Sharks the best chance to win a Cup this year. And if they do, he’s free to extort San Jose for all their worth next summer. I wouldn’t be surprised if the club and LeBanc haven’t already agreed to an extension that they sign later in the season. Still, I’m praying that LeBanc has a massive year and earns back every penny in the future. And if they do win the Stanley Cup, the Sharks better give him the biggest championship ring or something to thank him for giving up so much money for this season.
3. The Goose is Loose in Columbus
Gustav Nyquist has had one of the weirder career arcs in the NHL. He was notably “over-seasoned” when he was with the Red Wings and didn’t play a full season in the NHL until his fourth year. He played very well in the playoffs as a young player and broke out in a big way during the 2013-14 season. He led the NHL with 23 goals from January 20 to the end of the regular season. As a Wings fan, I had never seen a player get that hot in my entire life. Nyquist was must-see TV every second he was on the ice. Nyquist finished the year with a team-high 28 goals.
Nyquist has not been able to live up to his magical run in 2014. He scored 27 goals the next season and hasn’t come close to his high of 28. This season looked more promising as Nyquist scored 49 points in 62 games with the Red Wings. He was traded to San Jose at the deadline and finished the year with a career-high in points with 60.
Last season, he cemented himself as a good depth-forward with scoring potential. The Blue Jackets must have been watching as they searched for a replacement for Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. The two sides agreed on a four-year/$22 million deal. I think this a very fair deal for both sides. Nyquist gets a great term and will make a nice chunk of change. He will also be one of the more notable players on a depleted Blue Jackets roster. For the Jackets, they get a very solid player at a reasonable price. If they plan on trying to rebuild on the fly, they can go big game hunting knowing they already have a depth piece in place. I think the contract could go a long way if Columbus is able to compete before the deal ends.
4. Bob is a Panther
The Panthers got their man. Sergei Bobrovsky and the Florida Panthers agreed on a seven-year/$70 million contract. This is a HUGE move for the Panthers. Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and is coming off a strong season where he posted a 2.58 GAA and a .913 SV%. Bobrovsky becomes the second-highest paid goalie in the NHL behind Carey Price
Like most big free agent contracts, I think this deal will be a good one for the Panthers in the short term and disastrous in the long term. I think this a great deal in the short term because the Panthers addressed their biggest need. Their goaltending was atrocious last year as their goalies posted a collective 3.14 GAA and a .897 SV%. Florida gave up the fourth-most goals in the NHL and had the second-worst SV% in the league. Even before Roberto Luongo retired, it was clear the team needed an upgrade in net. Bobrovsky is obviously a huge addition. He owns a career 2.41 GAA and a .921 SV%. The Panthers needed someone who can keep the puck out of the net, and Bobrovsky excels at that.
Offensively, the Panthers are stacked and have a great young team. Last year, they were ninth in the league in goals for and second in power play percentage. They had two players aged 25 or younger, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, score 90 plus points last year. Barkov is a literal superstar and should win a Hart Trophy before he retires. Huberdeau has really blossomed into a stud, too. Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov are really great pieces around them and they both scored 70 points last year. On the blue line, Keith Yandle remains one of the premier puck-moving defensemen, even at 32-years-old. He scored 62 points last year. This is really the Panthers chance to go for it and adding Bobrovsky makes them immediate contenders. I’m predicting them to make it to the second-round at a minimum next year, even in a stacked Atlantic Division.
The downside is the length of the contract. Bobrovsky is 30 years old and the contract won’t expire until he’s 37. It’s hard to imagine he remains this productive for more than three or four more seasons. The back end of this deal could look very ugly for Florida. Thankfully, the Panthers took goalie Spencer Knight in the first round of this year’s draft. That provides them a bit of insurance if Bobrovsky begins to falter. But that only helps them on the ice. Their books will still be in bad shape if Bobrovsky can’t live up to his contract. It might be wise of the Panthers to trade him after a few seasons if he’s still playing well. Hopefully, for the Panthers, they can win a Stanley Cup before Bobrovsky declines and can trade him to widen their window to contend. I still think this a deal the Panthers had to make and I’m very excited to see them play next season.
5. Tyson Barrie to Toronto
Many speculated that the Avalanche would move Tyson Barrie at this year’s deadline before his contract was set to expire next summer. Well, the Avs shocked everyone and traded him to the Maple Leafs last week. After shedding as much cap as possible this offseason to make room for Mitch Marner, the Leafs finally added a player that makes them a better team with Barrie. The Maple Leafs will acquire forward, Alexander Kerfoot, a 2020 sixth-round pick, and Barrie for Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 2020 third-round pick. Colorado also agreed to retain 50% of Barrie’s $5.5 million cap hit.
This is a good deal for Colorado. Did this trade make them a better team on paper? It did not. But they acquired a really good second-line center in Kadri, whose contract runs for another three years with an AAV of $4.5 million. That gives them a lot of flexibility to go out and sign other big-name players without sacrificing depth on offense. Colorado currently has the most cap space in the league with $23 million left to spend. They can use that to re-sign Mikko Rantanen to an extension and go out and sign other big-name free agents next summer. The emergence of Cale Makar made Barrie expendable and now they won’t have to pay him this summer. Colorado continues to reap the benefits of signing Nathan MacKinnon to a bargain contract that runs for another four years with a $6.3 million AAV.
I would argue that Joe Sakic and the Avs have managed the cap more efficiently than any other team in the league. After they sign Rantanen, they will have their top four forwards under contract for a minimum of two years. They will also have a ton of money going forward to improve their blue line.
For the Maple Leafs, this is a good trade for right now. They needed to continue shedding cap in order to make space to sign Mitch Marner. They were able to do that by offloading Kadri. They also improved their team by adding a player of Barrie’s caliber. He is no doubt one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the league. Barrie is coming off a dynamite year where he tied his career high in goals with 14, set a new career high in assists with 45, and points with 59. The Leafs are no doubt a better team with him on it.
Kerfoot is also a really nice addition. He is four years younger and $1 million cheaper than Kadri. The Leafs did a great job finding a similar player that could match Kadri’s production at a cheaper price. He is also already locked into a four-year contract with a $3.5 million AAV which is one more year than Kadri had on his deal. Just Kadri for Kerfoot alone would have been a smart move by Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs.
After the Leafs ink Marner, they will be viewed as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference. The additions of Barrie and Kerfoot no doubt make them better right now. I do worry if the Leafs will be able to add enough pieces around their top guys after this season. If Marner and Matthews continue to develop into the full-blown superstars we all think they will be, then I think they will be in good shape. If they don’t, the Leafs will probably have approximately $20 million towards the cap invested into those guys. That makes it doubtful that they can re-sign Barrie this offseason and he will probably walk for nothing. It helps that five of Toronto’s top six defensemen are going to be restricted or unrestricted free agents next year. Except for their number one guy, Morgan Reilly. I think this trade helped Toronto clear cap space to sign Marner, give them cap flexibility, and make them a better hockey team. ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.