After weeks of anticipation leading up to July 1st, NHL free agency delivered in a big way when an actual superstar decided to leave his team and sign with another conference rival. John Tavares’ decision to leave the New York Islanders and sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs provided a dramatic shakeup in the Eastern Conference, with the Islanders hitting an absolute wall while the Maple Leafs were immediately tagged with the Stanley Cup favorites label following the move. The Islanders weren’t the only team that missed on July 1st. Here is a look at the biggest NHL free agency losers so far this summer.
New York Islanders
The Islanders did their best to keep Tavares in town after the season. However, by the time they brought in Barry Trotz as head coach, Lou Lamoriello as general manager and Robin Lehner in goal it was too late. Lamoriello and Trotz couldn’t convince Tavares to return, as the team captain and biggest superstar left money on the table to sign with Toronto. The Islanders do have a potential future franchise center in their lineup in reigning Calder trophy winner Matthew Barzal, but that won’t quell the sting of losing Tavares. As if that loss wasn’t bad enough, the Islanders ended up signing Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula for a combined $5.75 million and then traded for Matt Martin. Those deals could end up hurting New York more than helping them as they create a potential logjam for prospects that deserve to be in the lineup this upcoming season. All things considered, there is no doubt that the Islanders were the biggest NHL free agency losers this summer.
For the longest time the Canadiens were talked about as a team that could be a potential frontrunner to sign Tavares based on the fact that they had a ton of cap space and would be willing to invest a lot of it in the franchise center they have so desperately needed for some time now. However, that all changed when it was revealed that Tavares wouldn’t even consider talking to Montreal as one of the teams he would consider as a free agent. Things didn’t get any better for the Canadiens in free agency as they settled for smaller deals with players like center Matthew Peca and defenseman Xavier Ouellet. Montreal’s biggest move came via trade as they used some of their cap space to buy out Chris Mason in order to acquire Joel Armia and a pick from the Winnipeg Jets. In the end, the Canadiens made no substantial upgrades to their current roster in free agency and are left with over $12 million in cap space.
While Montreal failed to utilize its cap space, the Canucks might have used too much of it overpaying players that will likely be used to fill out their bottom-six forward lines next season. Vancouver didn’t address two major areas of need on defense and in between the pipes, but committed $24 million over the next four years to Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. With one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL, the Canucks are in the midst of a transition right now. However, there is only so many spots in their lineup and the additions of Beagle and Roussel will further clog the pipeline to the NHL for the young players looking to break through. GM Jim Benning did his best to upgrade his roster. However, he might have hurt Vancouver in both the short and long term with the deals he made in free agency.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks managed to sign Evander Kane to a long-term deal before July 1st and then brought back Joe Thornton on a one-year deal so it wasn’t all bad news. However, San Jose was in the mix with the Islanders and Maple Leafs as one of the final three teams he was considering in free agency so the fact that they missed out on him had to sting. The Sharks are close to contending for a Stanley Cup and there is no doubt that Tavares would have put them over the top. By going all-in on him, they missed on a couple of other potential targets including another center Tyler Bozak. San Jose still has upwards of $8 million in cap space for this upcoming season but without any big name free agents on the open market GM Doug Wilson will need to consider the trade market instead. The Sharks are still in a great position overall but the fact that they just missed out on Tavares and failed to find another upgrade earned them a spot on this list.
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