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Top takeaways from a $500 million first day


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For months, we’d heard about the NHL’s dwindling economy, the salary cap’s flattening, and how difficult it was to strike deals. Then the free-agent market for 2024 opened, and teams spent more than half a billion dollars in less than 24 hours.

Nature has the ability to heal. Second-pairing defensemen will once again be eligible for $5 million in cap relief.

On Wednesday, the NHL’s 32 clubs spent $576,725,000 on 128 contracts, according to TSN. This includes $60.9 million in the first nine minutes of free agency, which would embarrass Jeff Bezos.

On the first day of the free-agent marketplace, there were several surprising events, trends, and teaching moments. Here are some of my personal favorites. (Next week, the regular column departments will be back.)

1. The Dougie Hamilton contract was the largest of the day (seven years, $63 million), but it was also the most time-consuming in terms of negotiations. The Hamilton contract wasn’t finalized until 4 p.m. ET, despite the fact that 53 agreements were reported in the first two hours of free agency — wow, that NHL restriction on the free-agent interview period really works, eh? And now we understand why.

The Carolina Hurricanes’ last offer was eight years and $50 million, according to Sara Civian of The Athletic, for a $6.2 million average yearly value. As a result, the defender who has averaged 14 points a season over the previous three seasons would have had the 21st highest cap hit among defensemen next season.

How can you say farewell without really saying goodbye?

On Wednesday afternoon, several clubs were still in the Hamilton derby, despite the fact that much of the focus was on the Devils. During Hamilton’s negotiations with New Jersey, his annual salary was about $8.25 million, and he didn’t want a lot of bonuses. (For example, when Ray Shero was general manager, Nico Hischier’s contract included just $3 million in incentive money.)

However, Hamilton was able to get his $9 million AAV from the Devils. He also received almost half of his money in bonus money ($31.1 million). That’s a substantial bonus. Gabriel Landeskog, another important free agent who is 28 years old? The Avalanche gave him a bonus of $1 million.

I had a source inform me that Hamilton’s contract structure was going to be a doozy, and it was as follows:

#NJD Dougie Hamilton $9M x 7

750k + 5.55M (breakdown 21-22) SB 22-23: 3.3 million plus 3 million 10.6M + 2M SB 23-24 10M + 2.6M SB 24-25 1M + 10.55M SB 25-26 SB 26-27: 7.4M + 1M 5.25M SB 27-28

NMC clauses on trade In the past three years, 10 teams have traded in M-NTC.

So, from 2024 to 2026, Hamilton earns $36.75 million out of a total of $63 million. Because escrow withholdings from participants are only 6% from 2024 to 2026, this is the case. You’ll also note that from 2025 through 2027, he has $17.95 million in signing bonuses.

The current CBA is set to expire in 2025-26. That money from the signing bonus is guaranteed. You’ll have to do the math.

2. It’s difficult to see Dougie Hamilton not being worth the Devils’ investment. He provides them with a fantastic puck-moving defender as well as a power-play quarterback. Hamilton’s shot generation is something I’ve always admired. In the past three seasons, only Roman Josi (675) and Brent Burns (663) have had more shots on goal than Hamilton, and he has a far better shooting percentage (6.9 percent ). He’s an excellent offensive defenseman who will remain such once the Devils get their prospects on the roster and resume their push for contention.

To that end, this is similar to the signing of Artemi Panarin by the New York Rangers in 2019. In the previous season, they had a.476 point percentage in the standings. They were still in the process of rebuilding. However, they had the opportunity to sign a top offensive player who may not be available when they were “ready.” So they pounced, and I don’t believe they’ll be sorry. With Hamilton, the Devils did the same. These kind of defenders are hard to get by on the open market. Invest now and hope that the rest of the team develops quickly enough to reap the benefits.

What happens as this Devils squad develops will be fascinating to see. Dougie Hamilton is many things, but he isn’t a grizzled playoff champion or a yelling locker room leader.

Tom Fitzgerald’s final NHL season was with the Boston Bruins in 2005-06. He watched them bring in Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard the following season, who had an immediate effect on young players like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. To take the next step, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the Devils added these kind of experienced players when the time is right, to offer the intangibles that their free-agent prize lacks.

(Of course, if they could sell Zdeno Chara on it, they could have him right now…)

3. Goalkeepers were the hot topic this week. In the past 48 hours, the following players have been signed, re-signed, or traded:

Martin Jones (PHI), Braden Holtby (DAL), Laurent Brossoit (VGK), Jaroslav Halak (VAN), Petr Mrazek (TOR), Carter Hutton (ARI), Brian Elliott (TBL)… Marc-Andre Fleury (CHI), Philipp Grubauer (SEA), Fredrik Andersen (CAR), Antti Raanta (CAR), Martin Jones (PHI), Braden Holtby (DAL), Laurent Bross

[Takes a deep breath]

Jonathan Bernier (NJD), Maxime Lagace (TBL), Linus Ullmark (BOS), David Rittich (NSH), Christopher Gibson (FLA), Garret Sparks (LAK), Hunter Shepard (WSH), Troy Grosenick (BOS), Vitek Vanecek (WSH), Dan Vladar (CGY), Calvin Pickard (DET), Dan Vladar (CGY), Calvin Pickard (DET), Darcy Kuemper (DET) and (COL).

2 Related

Oh, and Craig Anderson, who joined the Buffalo Sabres after the Washington Capitals announced he was retiring this summer. Which may not be the greatest representation of the Sabres’ new signing.

What the hell is going on here? “Every squad has its own set of requirements. They’re all in unique circumstances. When you add in the expansion draft and certain clubs losing goalies, the market shifts dramatically “Jim Nill, the general manager of the Dallas Stars, acknowledged as much.

Now for some superlatives in the goaltender free-agent frenzy:


Vitek Vanecek to the Capitals is the greatest move.

People would be shouting about shenanigans if the Tampa Bay Lightning did this, but the Capitals lost Vanecek in the expansion draft and subsequently acquired him from Seattle for a 2024 second-round selection formerly held by Winnipeg. However, since Grubauer has gone to the Kraken and the Capitals need a goalkeeper, Vanecek is brought back to rebuild their battery with Ilya Samsonov. Even if it seems like goalie laundering is taking place.


Martin Jones to the Flyers is the worst move.

Put a goaltender who has been sub-replacement for San Jose over the past three seasons (minus-6.7 goals saved above average) in a market that eats goalies like sauced-up flats at the Wing Bowl. (The Wing Bowl, too, has passed away.) Carter Hart needed a safety net after last season. There’s a (five) hole in this one.


Braden Holtby to the Stars is the most perplexing decision.

The health of standout goalkeeper Ben Bishop was the driving force for this $2 million one-year deal. His NHL prospects are bleak. Bishop’s knee rehab should return him to the club by midseason, but there are no assurances the 34-year-old will play again. The presence of Jake Oettinger, a 22-year-old goaltender with a.911 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average in 2024, adds to the mystery. It was a wonderful opportunity to add to their goaltender depth, according to Nill, who also noted that Oettinger didn’t need waivers to be sent down. So, in a nutshell, they don’t trust Jake Oettinger.


Petr Mrazek to the Leafs is the day’s boom-or-bust transaction.

In some respects, Frederik Andersen and Petr Mrazek are two goalies who are going in opposite directions as they grow older, so the Leafs may have gotten better here. But what they really got was a goaltender who works well in combination with Jack Campbell, can seem unstoppable for four games before being yanked in the fifth. A goalkeeper who seems to be the chosen one before mysteriously disintegrating? He chose the best franchise…



Philipp Grubauer discusses the factors that influenced his choice to join the Kraken.

4. One of my long-held NHL beliefs is that big-name free agents never truly want to leave the cities where they play since all of their belongings are already there. It’s also inconvenient to relocate your belongings or find new ones. Sure, teams may make it unpleasant or impossible to stay with their belongings, and they must go. However, if given the option, their belongings are there, and they will remain with their belongings, thank you very much.

Isn’t that Ryan Getzlaf? His belongings are in Anaheim, so he’ll be a Duck for another year. Taylor Hall, you say? He’d always wanted to have his belongings in Boston, and once he did, he didn’t want to leave, so he’s been a Bruin for four years. With Gabriel Landeskog and the Colorado Avalanche, things came down to the wire, but because all of his belongings are in Denver, I was sure he’d sign an eight-year deal to remain. Hockey may be that predictable at times.

5. I’m really impressed by Canucks GM Jim Benning’s ineptness and efforts to correct it at this stage.

He made a number of poor acquisitions, including forwards Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Loui Eriksson, though the latter’s rapid fall was less expected. Benning sent them all to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Conor Garland (which is great!) and an annual budget charge of roughly $7.2 million for Oliver Ekman-Larsson through 2026-27 (which is terrible!).

Last summer, he made two high-profile signings: goalkeeper Braden Holtby and defender Nate Schmidt. After Benning bought out Holtby and moved Schmidt to Winnipeg, they both lasted one season. (By the way, the trade is funny.) Schmidt was on the trading block, but he refused to go to Winnipeg. The Canucks reportedly indicated they were OK with Schmidt returning next season. Winnipeg now didn’t seem so terrible, so he agreed to waive his trade protection in order to arrange a transaction.)

The most bizarre aspect about Benning’s past two weeks is that the Canucks may have benefited from it. He got rid of several problematic contracts and freed up enough budget space to safeguard Elias Pettersson from an offer sheet.

He’s the NHL general manager equivalent of Homer Simpson: a never-ending sequence of blunders that miraculously work out at the conclusion of the show. Except for the condition of their defense right now. D’oh!

6. Defenseman Ryan Suter should take up the phone and thank Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin instead of hanging up.

The Wild bought out the remaining four years of his contract, resulting in the incident with the phone. Over the following eight years, Suter will receive $6,666,667 from the buyout. He signed a four-year, $14.6 million deal with the Dallas Stars. Suter is expected to earn a total of $21,266,667 during the next eight years. He would have earned $10 million over the remaining four years of his deal if the Wild had followed it through, and he would have had to play his last two seasons on a $1 million salary.

Oh, and as a 36-year-old, he received a complete no-movement clause from Dallas. And he’s doing it in a state where there’s no state income tax.

7. The Jack Eichel rivalry will come to an end this summer, and it will not be pleasant for the Buffalo Sabres.

Everyone knows the great center’s connection with his team is gone. GM Kevyn Adams loses some power as a result of this. Concerns regarding Eichel’s health range from mild to severe. There’s also the $10 million limitation, which restricts his options. And now there’s a new issue: how that marketplace is shrinking.

The Los Angeles Kings haven’t played in quite some time. The New York Rangers are still interested, but the high price tag plus the fact that they are in Buffalo’s conference, let alone state, may be a deterrent. The Wild have allegedly dropped out due to the high cost. The Vegas Golden Knights might easily surprise us with a blockbuster, but they’re now maxed out and have gone on to other endeavors.

Throughout it all, the Anaheim Ducks have stayed in the hunt for Eichel. Would they give up Trevor Zegras in exchange for him? Why would they do that if there are so few other bidders?

The Sabres will have to lower their asking price if they want the return they think Eichel deserves. Oh, and according to Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, Vegas is asking for Reilly Smith, Peyton Krebs, Nic Hague, and a first-round pick.

Prediction: Vegas acquires Eichel, puts him on long-term injured reserve until the postseason, and then “Kucherovs” its way to the Stanley Cup.

It’s more of a “Wouldn’t it be a blast?” than a forecast.

Even if it seems like we’ve seen the last of Jack Eichel in a Sabres jersey, a trade has yet to occur. Getty Images/Sara Schmidle/NHLI

8. While we’re on the subject of the Golden Knights, what do you think would be the ideal move for them? Is this the type of move that vaults them to the top of the Stanley Cup race by addressing their lack of a No. 1 center?

Like Eichel, he earns $10 million against the salary cap, but only for three seasons. And, although Eichel has yet to participate in a Stanley Cup playoff game, he already owns two Stanley Cup rings.

On the Vegas Golden Knights, how great might Anze Kopitar be?

Obviously, it’s a pipe dream, since these competitors aren’t willing to make such a deal. But, hey, we can all dream, right?

9. Alexander Edler for one year and $3.5 million with the Kings is my favorite non-goalie deal of the frenzy. Just a good player coming in for a cameo on a squad that is beginning to turn the turnaround and go back into contention. The Kings have the cap room to take a bigger hit than you’d anticipate in this situation, but so what? He’s a 35-year-old fill-in who can provide depth and teach guys like Tobias Björnfot. This is fantastic.

Non-goalie-related, my least favorite signing of the frenzy: Oh, Jim Benning, you scamp. The Canucks signed Tucker Poolman to a four-year deal for $2.5 million per year. Last season, he was a sub-replacement level player for the Jets and is expected to be a third-pairing defender this season. Giving a third-pairing defender four years is the same of giving Jay Beag… never mind. Benning has to be Benning.

Bill Armstrong of the Arizona Coyotes made the best GM decision by going all-in. He found a way to get Ekman-Larsson off his cap, masterfully exploited his cap space via a series of transactions, and converted Darcy Kuemper into a first-round pick when the goaltender carousel came to an end. When he was hired, I recall talking to him about taking over a club with no draft picks and a salary cap ceiling that was bouncing off the roof. He got his start with the St. Louis Blues as a draft talent assessor. With two first-round selections and five (!) second-round picks next summer, he’ll have an opportunity to make his mark on the Coyotes. Carter Hutton will be his starting goalkeeper next season. The Coyotes have never had a terrible enough season to become excellent. That will soon change.

Worst GM move: It’s absolutely conceivable that Joe Sakic wins the Stanley Cup with Darcy Kuemper by chance after letting his Vezina Trophy-nominated starting goalkeeper walk to the Seattle Kraken and then seeing two dozen other goaltenders sign elsewhere. However, if the Avalanche fail to fulfill expectations, it’s conceivable that we’re talking about a catastrophic blunder.



The Canadiens’ acquisition of David Savard to their blue line is discussed by Jeff O’Neill and Ray Ferraro.

Finally, I’d like to mention two individuals about whom I have the least desire to write: Logan Mailloux and Tony DeAngelo.

There have been few recent instances of hockey culture’s propensity to place a premium on skill over morality or competitive advantage over everyone from sexual assault victims to disadvantaged groups.

It was difficult to see Hurricanes GM Don Waddell try to explain anything except the cold hard truth about his signing yesterday. It’s as follows: Tony DeAngelo is an attacking defenseman who may help compensate for the loss of Dougie Hamilton, but he’ll only be with them for one season if things don’t work out. Tom Dundon, the owner, was prepared to overlook his many transgressions in exchange for a high-risk, high-reward venture.

Dundon had to sign off on it as well. Other teams’ coaches and general managers wanted to sign DeAngelo, but they were vetoed by owners who didn’t want to face the same criticism that the Hurricanes are experiencing.

Now, I doubt the reaction will reach the same degree as the outcry over the Mailloux selection in Canada, where everyone from team sponsors to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is criticizing the club’s decision to choose a player who had requested not to be selected.

It came to the point where owner Geoff Molson had to issue an open letter and follow it up with a closed-invitation news conference, which he chose to do as the free-agent frenzy began, which is akin to sending out a press release on Christmas morning.

He was under no need to tell us anything we didn’t previously know. “This choice, which was taken in the context of the Draft, was immediately insulting to many of you. “I realize that you expected more from us, and we failed to deliver,” he said, but added, “Logan is a young guy who made a terrible mistake.” He is really sorry for the suffering he has caused. He is dedicated to become a better person, and we will assist him in this endeavor.”

“Sorry if I upset you, but this kid is a 6-3 defender who can move the puck,” says the narrator.

Both Mailloux and DeAngelo serve as reminders that even the most illustrious club can be tarnished by a single draft choice, and that the internet’s favorite team can Milkshake Duck itself with a single signing.

They don’t give a damn about you. They don’t give a damn about me. They are concerned with their cap space as well as the victory column.

It’s a lesson that every single player who has put pen to paper in the past two days, or who has seen his team say goodbye, knows instinctively.


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