Seven Free Agent Signings to Watch

On what felt like the busiest July 1st for a number of years, the 2015 ‘free agent frenzy’ began with a flurry of activity; with Phil Kessel’s trade to Pittsburgh the biggest move of the day.

But the talented wingers move to Pennsylvania should not overshadow the savvy signings made by a number of clubs – nor the risks others have taken in the hop of boosting their teams fortunes.

Here are seven of the most intriguing moves made on the opening day of free agency:

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Matt Beleskey – Boston Bruins, 5 Years, $19m (Cap Hit: $3.8m)

27-year old Beleskey had a career high 22 goals with Anaheim last season, including 8 game winners. The Ontario native followed it up with a further 8 goals during the Ducks’ run to the to the Conference Final, and there were suggestions he might get offers in the region of $5m per season as a free agent.

Beleskey’s move to Boston more than doubles his previous take home of $1.4m, and his numbers have been on the rise over the past two seasons, going from 24 points in 2013/14 to 32 last year; though the idea he will maintain his 15.2% shooting percentage seem risible.

And that’s where the intrigue sets in – have Boston signed a hard working winger whose also blossomed in to a 20 goal scorer? Or have they committed $3.8m per season to someone who previously struggled to crack double figures, and has never played a full 82 game schedule?

Cody Hodgson – Nashville Predators, 1 Year, $1m (Cap Hit: $1m)

Selected 10th overall by Vancouver at the 2008 draft, Hodgson’s path to the NHL has been somewhat bumpy.

A back injury limited him to just 13 games with Brampton in 2009/10. He spent much of the next season in the AHL, featuring just eight times for Vancouver before finally breaking in to the line up in 2011, where he had 16 goals and 33 points in 63 games for the Canucks before being traded to Buffalo.

A return of 15 goals and 34 points during the lockout shortened 2012/13 season suggested the Toronto born centre might finally be realising his potential, with a six year contract extension (worth $25.5m) and his first 20 goal season (20 goals, 44 points) coming the following year.

But where Hodgson’s -26 rating may have been a concern at that time, his almost total collapse last year (6 goals, 13 points in 78 games) was a disaster, prompting Buffalo to part with the 25-year old – buying out the remaining four years of his contract.

The decision seems harsh given the complete dumpster fire Buffalo’s management consciously turned the club in to last season, preventing anyone from really shining, while Hodgson’s continual movement up and down the line up may have made it hard to excel at times; but the Sabres new dawn seems to have no room for passengers – even ones whose ceiling could still be considered high.

Hodgson now becomes another low risk, reclamation project for Nashville – much like Mike Riberiro before him (who controversially re-upped with the Preds as well yesterday)

If Hodgson recaptures some of the fervour he showed two years ago, the Predators could be on to a winner. If he continues to sink, Nashville walks away in 12 months time, while Hodgson will likely be consigned to the ‘draft bust’ bin.

Mike Green – Detroit Red Wings, 3 Years, $18m (Cap Hit: $6m)

One of the most high profile free agent defencemen available this year; Green spent ten years with Washington, becoming an offensive force at the end of the 00s before a series of injuries derailed the Calgary native.

A much improved effort last season put Green back in the shop window however, with multiple organisations reported to be interested in the 29-year old.

The Red Wings offer proved to be enough to lure Green to The Motor City; but with just $4.8m cap space available and RFAs Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen to re-sign, the decision to sign Green at $6m per season has proved somewhat controversial among fans – some of whom consider him to be the clubs fourth D man, despite now being the highest earning blue liner.

Andrej Sekera – Edmonton Oilers, 6 Years, $33m (Cap Hit: $5.5m)

Edmonton aren’t out of the woods yet, but they took significant strides forward in the last seven days – adding Connor McDavid, acquiring Griffin Reinhart and signing UFA Mark Letestu.

But securing the services of veteran blue liner Sekera maybe as significant to their progress as adding McDavid will be.

The Eerie Otters forward is a generational talent, but adds to an already impressive group of forwards – Sekera addresses a serious need the club has had for a number of years: defence.

The 29-year old is unlikely to be competing for the Norris Trophy, but he has proven to be a reliable NHL defenceman with an offensive upside capable of playing big minutes. Something the Oilers have sorely lacked for too long.

With top prospects like Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Reinhart in the system, the influence of Sekera, and team Captain Andrew Ference, will be key to transforming the Oilers blue line from Swiss cheese in to one capable of underpinning the talent they have at forward.

Francois Beauchemin – Colorado Avalanche, 3 Years, $13.5m (Cap Hit: $4.5m)

A veteran of 673 NHL games; Beauchemin was a key part of an effective Ducks blue line and might have been able to cash in on a short term deal. But at 35, it’s hard to imagine too many offers with substantial term, perhaps allowing the defensively suspect Avs a chance to woo the 2007 Cup winner with a 3-year deal.

On the back nine of his career, Beauchemin immediately becomes the clubs highest paid defenceman and should help the Avalanche improve, at least in the short term. But it’s hard not to feel like the length of the deal might create an issue down the road.

Adding Beauchemin’s $4.5m salary to a team still commanding $9.8m worth of cap space might not seem problematic right now, but Colorado has three key restricted free agents, as well as defenceman Erik Johnson, to negotiate with over the next 12 months.

Justin Williams – Washington Capitals, 2 Years, $6.5m (Cap Hit: $3.25m)

The 2014 Conn Smythe winner was among the most coveted available free agents, after blossoming from a competent winger in Philadelphia and Carolina to a 20 goal scorer and play-off star in Los Angeles.

The Capitals look to have added someone capable of playing on any of their top three lines – potentially solving the long standing problems of finding a regular linemate for Backstrom and Ovechkin – but most importantly one with great pedigree in the post season.

At $3.25m, it could be one of the shrewdest signings of the day, for a team who’ve struggled to get over the hump in the play-offs in the past.

Viktor Stalberg – New York Rangers, 1 Year, $1.1m (Cap Hit: $1.1m)

The 29-year old moves to his fourth club in six years, and remains somewhat enigmatic.

A 22 goal, 43 point effort with Chicago in 2012 suggested the 6’3″ Swede could carve out a career as a useful winger. But declining numbers saw him spend time in the AHL last season, whilst also missing 17-games due to a knee injury.

Scoring just 10 goals in 95 games whilst playing in Tennessee, Nashville opted not to retain the wingers services, but Stalberg’s speed may soften the blow of losing Carl Hagelin in New York – if the 2013 Cup winner can discover his scoring touch again.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on July 2, 2015, in Hockey, NHL, NHL Free Agency and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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