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Recapping The First Day Of 2021 NHL Free Agency

Now former Carolina Hurricanes Dougie Hamilton and Petr Mrázek were two of the many players to find a new home on the first day of NHL free agency in 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Recapping Day One Of 2021 NHL Free Agency

The free agent frenzy certainly lived up to the hype this year. Over $280 million against the cap and over $785 million got spent on the opening day of free agency, per CapFriendly. Some teams and players will look back on this day as a turning point for their career or franchise. There were some legitimately great players on the market this year and some good value to be had. But the opening day of NHL free agency is always a day known for regret; there are too many documented cases of failed free agents to count, and the bad largely outweighs the good. But that won’t stop GMs who think their team is just one piece away from a breakout for doing whatever it takes to sign their guy.

So let’s look at all the guys that signed one day one of this year’s free agent period. This article is only covering players who signed on July 28, 2021. It doesn’t include players who were traded (sorry, Evgeni Dadonov and Ethan Bear), players who re-upped with their current teams before free agency started (sorry, Gabriel Landeskog), or players who signed after the aforementioned date (sorry, Brandon Saad). For the most part, every notable deal is covered here, though I cut a few borderline contracts in the interest of time and not making this article 10,000 words. Got that? Good. Here’s what day one of NHL free agency in 2021 had to offer.

Vegas Golden Knights Sign D Alec Martinez: 3 Years, $5.25 Million AAV

2020-21 (VGK): 9 G, 23 A, 53.31% Corsi, 54.11% Expected Goals For (xGF) in 52 GP

All the 34-year old did last year was produce the best offensive season of his career. Playing most of his minutes with Alex Pietrangelo helps, of course. But Martinez has looked rejuvenated since arriving in Vegas at the 2020 trade deadline. The third year of this contract could be rough, but that’s of little concern to the Golden Knights right now. They’re going all in for the Cup, and Martinez is a solid top-four defenseman that will certainly help that push. It was imperative for Vegas to bring him back.

Carolina Hurricanes Sign G Antti Raanta: 2 Years, $2 Million AAV

2020-21 (ARI): .905 SV%, -4.3 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAE) in 12 GP

Ever since arriving in Arizona in 2017, you could count on Raanta for two things: excellent goaltending and injury concerns. The latter remained present in 2021, but his numbers dipped a little bit, leading to this rather reasonable contract. The injury history is very scary, especially now that Raanta is 32. In a vacuum, I really like this signing. But…

Carolina Hurricanes Sign G Frederik Andersen: 2 Years, $4.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (TOR): .895 SV%, -4.8 GSAE in 24 GP

… pairing Raanta with another goaltender coming off major injury concerns in Andersen is quite concerning. After three stellar and one ordinary season in Toronto, Andersen bounced between ineffective and the infirmary in 2021, losing his starting job to Jack Campbell. I like both him and Raanta as bounce back candidates, but pairing him with Raanta seems like a ticking time bomb. The fact that Andersen cost significantly more after a Murphy’s Law 2021 season makes this the riskier, and therefore worse, contract of the two.

Minnesota Wild Sign D Alex Goligoski: 1 Year, $5 Million AAV (NTC)

2020-21 (ARI): 3 G, 19 A, 48.05% Corsi, 50.07% xGF

Here’s your Ryan Suter replacement, Wild fans. Goligoski used to be known as an offensive defenseman, but he’s become more well-rounded as he’s aged while still being able to put up a few points. Arizona used him in a top-pair role against stiff competition last year; the 35-year old could be much better in a less strenuous second-pair situation, likely playing next to Matt Dumba. At one-year, it’s hard to argue with this signing.

Montréal Canadiens Sign D David Savard: 4 Years, $3.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (CBJ/TB): 1 G, 5 A, 44.28% Corsi, 45.99% xGF in 54 GP

And here’s your Shea Weber replacement, Canadiens fans. Look, no one player is going to replace with Weber brings on and off the ice. It’s a devastating blow for a Montréal team that already looks quite a bit different than the one that lost to Tampa Bay less than a month ago. Savard is much better than these numbers show; at his best, he’s a defensively-minded top-four option who can drive play. He’s only 30, so the aging curve shouldn’t hit Savard too hard at the beginning of his contract.

Toronto Maple Leafs Sign G Petr Mrázek: 3 Years, $3.8 Million AAV

2020-21 (CAR): .923 SV%, 7.1 GSAE in 12 GP

With Andersen departing, Toronto needed a cheaper netminder to split the crease with Jack Campbell. Mrázek can do that, but also maybe a little bit more. That contract tells me he might be more than a 1B and raises questions about what Kyle Dubas has planned for Campbell when his deal expires at the end of the year. Mrázek was injured for most of 2021, but when he did play, he was stellar in his third year in Carolina. His first year there was slightly above average; his second was slightly below. Mrázek is incredibly athletic, which can lead to some highlight reel saves but also gets him into trouble at times.

Chicago Blackhawks Sign D Jake McCabe: 4 Years, $4 Million AAV

2020-21 (BUF): 1 G, 2 A, 56% Corsi, 61.21% xGF in 13 GP

McCabe is a fascinating player to me. A defensive defenseman with great possession numbers on Buffalo (!) playing next to Rasmus Ristolainen (!) which I didn’t think was physically possible. Unfortunately, McCabe’s 2021 season ended after thirteen games in a scary leg injury in February. If McCabe returns to form, he could be an excellent option next to the newly acquired Seth Jones; he’s a positive relative to teammates in Corsi and xG three of the last four years and is effective at 5v5 and the PK. The injury makes this a bigger risk, and he likely won’t be as good in Chicago as his brief 2021 season was.

Los Angeles Kings Sign C Phillip Danault: 6 Years, $5 Million AAV

2020-21 (MTL): 5 G, 19 A, 58.54% Corsi, 57.82% xGF in 53 GP

LA had money burning a hole in their pocket and chose to spend it on one of the heroes of Montréal’s Finals run. Somewhat surprising, considering LA has a ton of young centers and could maybe use another winger. Then again, they probably have the best 1-2 defensive punch down the middle in Kopitar (2-time Selke winner) and Danault (top-seven in Selke voting for three straight years). In order for Danault to be worth this payday, he’ll need to get back to his 2018-19 (53 points) and 2019-20 (47 points in 71 games) offensive level. I guess we’ll find out how much of Montréal’s incredible possession line is due to Danault vs. Brendan Gallagher now.

Carolina Hurricanes Sign D Tony DeAngelo: 1 Year, $1 Million AAV

2020-21 (NYR): 0 G, 1 A, 58.65% Corsi, 55.11% xGF in 6 GP

It appears Carolina took the whole “Bunch of Jerks” nickname a little too literally. Your solution to low-balling Dougie Hamilton is to trade Warren Foegele for Ethan Bear (a decent move) and… sign one of the biggest cancers in the sport? DeAngelo the player is a great offensive defenseman who can move the puck and quarterback a power-play, but gives up most if not all of what he creates back in the defensive zone. Then there’s DeAngelo the person, who got sent home six games into the 2021 season after allegedly getting into a fight with Alex Georgiev after a game. When a player is asked whether or not they support the Capitol Insurrection in their introductory press conference, it’s probably not a good sign. Rod Brind’Amour deserves so much better.

This Tweet says it all.

Anaheim Ducks Sign C Ryan Getzlaf: 1 Year, $4.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (ANA): 5 G, 12 A, 50.65% Corsi, 48.73% xGF in 48 GP

Getzlaf chose comfort over contending in re-upping with the Ducks on a one-year pact. At 36, Getzlaf isn’t what he once was but is still a solid bottom-six center. He’ll probably be miscast on an Anaheim team lacking offense and is a prime trade deadline candidate. As of now, there hasn’t been a no-trade or no-move clause reported to be on his deal. However, I’d be shocked if GM Bob Murray trades the captain against his wishes after all he’s done in Anaheim.

Montréal Canadiens Sign LW Mike Hoffman: 3 Years, $4.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (STL): 17 G, 19 A, 44.76% Corsi, 41.56% xGF

Really not sure how I feel about this signing. The cat’s out of the bag on Hoffman; he has a tremendous shot and will score 25-30 goals in his sleep, but that’s about it. He isn’t stout defensively, to say the least, and his underlying numbers last year were atrocious. Perhaps he could nicely complement one of Montréal’s great young centers, and he should help out a Habs’ power-play that was merely pedestrian last year. Also, shame on the Canadiens for sneaking out Geoff Molson’s statement on the terrible Logan Mailloux pick minutes after free agency officially opened. You can’t hide from this awful pick, Montréal.

Seattle Kraken Sign LW Jaden Schwartz: 5 Years, $5.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (SEA): 8 G, 13 A, 49.44% Corsi, 49.34% xGF in 40 GP

Schwartz was rumored to be talking with Seattle during their exclusive negotiation window as part of the expansion draft process, so this is no surprise. At his best, Schwartz is an outstanding play-driver (his Corsi and xGF have been over 52% every year since 2013-14) who will chip in 60 points. He’s failed to reach his usual scoring output two of the last three years, though, and his underlying numbers dipped pretty sharply this past year. Seattle is betting on a bounce-back, and while I think there’s a good chance it happens, it’s not exactly like the price tag screams buy low. Schwartz’s versatility is a nice plus, especially if he’s more of a good player than a great one moving forward.

Detroit Red Wings Sign C Pius Suter: 2 Years, $3.25 Million AAV

2020-21 (CHI): 14 G, 13 A, 46.61% Corsi, 47.07% xGF

The Blackhawks have long had a knack for pulling random talent out of nowhere Europe, and Suter was perhaps their biggest success in that regard since Artemi Panarin. Like Panarin, Chicago also let Suter go far too easily, confusingly not tendering a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent. Their loss is Detroit’s gain, as the rebuilding Wings can comfortably slot Suter into a middle-six spot. It’s hard to gauge a player after just one year in North America, but Suter seems like a capable middle-sixer who can chip in offensively and is probably a PP2 guy as well.

Boston Bruins Sign LW Nick Foligno: 2 Years, $3.8 Million AAV

2020-21 (CBJ/TOR): 7 G, 13 A, 47.02% Corsi, 48.43% xGF in 49 GP

Poor Maple Leafs fans. After trading a 1st and two 4ths for Foligno at the deadline, they see him unable to produce in the playoffs due to a seemingly significant injury, then leave for one of their biggest rivals in Boston, passing up the chance to play with his brother Marcus in Minnesota to do so. The 33-year old’s best days are behind him. But Foligno can still chip in 30-35 points, play all three forward positions, and kill penalties.

Yeah, this sounds about right.

Calgary Flames Sign LW Blake Coleman: 6 Years, $4.9 Million AAV

2020-21 (TB): 14 G, 17 A, 56.54% Corsi, 58.84% xGF in 55 GP

Coleman was spectacular last year in Tampa Bay. You’ve heard all about his prowess of Tampa’s legendary third-line over the last two playoffs. And he was an underrated player back in his New Jersey days, scoring at a 30-40 point level. At the very least, Coleman is a versatile middle-sixer who can play anywhere in the lineup. For this contract, though, Calgary is depending on him to at least be a quality second-liner. Heading into the offseason, I thought the Flames might tear it all to the ground. But between adding Coleman and losing captain Mark Giordano in the expansion draft, I feel like GM Brad Treliving is content with the amount of changes he’s made.

Edmonton Oilers Sign D Cody Ceci: 4 Years, $3.25 Million AAV

2020-21 (PIT): 4 G, 13 A, 49.37% Corsi, 49.36% xGF in 53 GP

Cody Ceci was surprisingly competent, even solid in Pittsburgh after some brutal years in Ottawa and one in Toronto. Giving him a 4-year, $13 million contract seems like a disaster waiting to happen for an Oilers team that’s made so many many signings over the years. The fact that Ken Holland decided that signing Cody Ceci meant trading Ethan Bear because the Oilers would’ve had too many righties makes this even worse. If Ceci can maintain his Pittsburgh production in Edmonton, this should be a decent deal, but I’m skeptical that will be the case. Edmonton’s blue-line should be so much better than it is, considering the amount of money they’ve pumped into it this summer.

Seattle Kraken Sign G Philipp Grubauer: 6 Years, $5.9 Million AAV

2020-21 (COL): .922 SV%, 5.2 GSAE in 40 GP

I didn’t see this one coming, both in terms of Grubauer leaving Colorado and also him signing with Seattle. It seemed like the Kraken had their tandem set with Chris Driedger and Vitek Vanecek (who they traded back to Washington for a 2nd as a result). But the opportunity to ink Grubauer is just too good to pass up.

There are some who will be skeptical about Grubauer and think playing for an outstanding Colorado team propped up his numbers. While that may be true to an extent, Grubauer has been remarkably consistent since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2015-16. Every year of his career, Grubauer has posted between a .917 and .926 save percentage. He’s saved more goals than expected in five of those six seasons, ranking 11th with a 5.2 mark in that department in 2021. I guess Grubauer just cost a little too much for Joe Sakic’s liking. The fact that he then ponied up to acquire Darcy Kuemper makes this even worse.

New Jersey Devils Sign D Dougie Hamilton: 7 Years, $9 Million AAV

2020-21 (CAR): 10 G, 32 A, 57.13% Corsi, 57.05% xGF in 55 GP

After three straight dismal seasons and a rebuild that is pretty young, the Devils have decided now is the time to strike for some reason. Priority one has been addressing their defense. Snagging Ryan Graves from a Colorado team feeling the pressure of the cap and (at the time) the expansion draft was a nice start. But he’s nothing compared to Hamilton, a top-five defenseman in the NHL who is being paid like it. Hamilton is an outstanding play-driver, produces points at 5v5 and the power-play, and isn’t as bad defensively as you think.

Other than discipline (he does take some bad penalties), Hamilton is pretty close to a perfect player. Some people will complain that he’s not physical enough and isn’t as good as the numbers suggest. But even they can admit that Hamilton is a difference making defenseman who catapults New Jersey’s back-end into above average territory nearly single-handedly.

Dallas Stars Sign D Ryan Suter: 4 Years, $3.65 Million AAV

2020-21 (MIN): 3 G, 16 A, 48.5% Corsi, 53.44% xGF

Suter’s offensive production fell off hard this year; he’d scored at a 40-point pace or better every year since 2010-11. He’s still a reliable veteran defenseman who will likely fill the massive void left by the 6’6” Jamie Oleksiak signing in Seattle during the expansion draft. But this contract is a massive risk because of Suter’s age: 35 years old. Contracts signed by players 35 or older are subject to different rules than any other; mainly, there is no cap relief if Suter retires or is bought out at any point during the deal.

Vancouver Canucks Sign D Tucker Poolman: 4 Years, $2.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (WPG): 0 G, 1 A, 47.91% Corsi, 44.84% xGF

Put down the phone, Jim. Free agency never ends well for the Canucks, and this is the latest example. Poolman is, at best, a sixth defenseman who should be signing for 1-2 years at $1.5-2 million. Doubling the term and raising the cap hit is a very avoidable mistake that Jim Benning once again walked into face-first. Vancouver’s cap situation has long been a death by a thousand cuts, and though the Ekman-Larsson trade somewhat changed that, it’s deals like Poolman’s that have held the Canucks back over the last seven seasons.

Boston Bruins Sign D Derek Forbort: 3 Years, $3 Million AAV

2020-21 (WPG): 2 G, 10 A, 48.57% Corsi, 46.46% xGF

Forbort seems like a pretty clear cut replacement for Jeréméy Lauzon, who they lost to Seattle in the expansion draft. He’s a solid defensive defenseman who will probably play next to Connor Clifton on Boston’s third-pair. The contract isn’t a steal, but it’s not exoubanite. And Forbort’s underlying numbers should be a little bit better away from the possession nightmare that Winnipeg was last year (good on the Jets for addressing that backend backhole by trading for Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, though).

New York Rangers Sign D Patrick Nemeth: 3 Years, $2.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (DET/COL): 3 G, 7 A, 49.83% Corsi, 50.47% xGF

I really would’ve liked to see the Rangers get a top-four or top-pair caliber left-handed defenseman this offseason; it’s seemed like a big need on paper three years running. They were once in Mark Giordano rumors, but Seattle seems pretty content on keeping him. K’Andre Miller’s emergence makes this a bit less of a need, though, and the Rangers apparently think as much because they settled for perhaps a slight overpay on an average third-pair defenseman in Nemeth.

San Jose Sharks Sign C Nick Bonino: 2 Years, $2.05 Million AAV

2020-21 (MIN): 10 G, 16 A, 42.06% Corsi, 52.42% xGF

Doug Wilson apparently still thinks the Sharks can contend with their current core, but at least his moves this offseason have been decent. Bonino is a defensively-minded third-line center who should help the Sharks’ penalty kill and can chip it 30 points or so. And he’s cheap enough to be moved at this year’s deadline or next’s if things don’t work out.

Pittsburgh Penguins Sign LW Brock McGinn: 4 Years, $2.75 Million AAV

2020-21 (CAR): 8 G, 5 A, 54.93% Corsi, 55.5% xGF in 37 GP

This screams Brandon Tanev replacement to me. McGinn brings a lot of the same qualities to the table; tenacity, defensively responsibility, and he’s got some playoff experience from his time with the Canes (though it’s not like Pittsburgh’s lacking in that department). The term is a bit high for my liking, but he should be a nice plug-and-play option in Pittsburgh’s bottom six.

Philadelphia Flyers Sign D Keith Yandle: 1 Year, $900K (NTC)

2020-21 (FLA): 3 G, 24 A, 56.92% Corsi, 54.67% xGF

Yandle had clearly fallen out of favor in Sunrise, being healthy scratched in the playoffs and bought out recently. His underlying numbers have long been stellar, and he’s still capable of putting up points, especially on the power-play. The offensively-minded Yandle should mesh well with the defensively-minded Justin Braun on Philadelphia’s third pair. And he reunites with Alain Vigneault and Kevin Hayes from their days with the Rangers. Hopefully he plays well enough to maintain his iron-man streak; Yandle needs to play 44 games to catch Doug Jarvis for the all-time record.

New Jersey Devils Sign G Jonathan Bernier: 2 Years, $4.125 Million AAV

2020-21 (DET): .914 SV%, 0.9 GSAE in 24 GP

Bernier has performed admirably for a terrible Red Wings team the last three years and posted his best save percentage since 2016-17 in 2021. He’ll be a solid 1B for MacKenzie Blackwood that can take a larger share of the starts if Blackwood doesn’t bounce back. The cap hit is a bit pricey, but considering the Devils have about $20 million in space, I don’t think they’re too concerned.

Seattle Kraken Sign C Alexander Wennberg: 3 Years, $4.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (FLA): 17 G, 12 A, 53.92% Corsi, 50.81% xGF

Wennberg’s 59 points in 2016-17 will almost certainly be his career-high, but he showed he wasn’t cooked last year with a solid season in Florida after being bought out by Columbus. Wennberg has long been known as a playmaking center, which makes the fact he had five more goals than assists in 2021 even more surprising. Seattle needed another center with Yanni Gourde out to start the year due to shoulder surgery, and they decided Wennberg is their guy. He could mesh well with a shoot-first player like Jordan Eberle, but I’m moderately concerned Wennberg could regress to his 2019-20 level and turn this deal into a short-term albatross.

Boston Bruins Sign G Linus Ullmark: 4 Years, $5 Million AAV

2020-21 (BUF): .917 SV%, -3.6 GSAE in 20 GP

Ullmark is basically a supercharged version of Bernier, and the Bruins are paying him like such. Putting up a .917 save percentage on the historically awful 2021 Sabres should win you some kind of award. Ullmark has been solid the last two years as Buffalo’s starter, posting very similar numbers in 2019-20. For some reason, MoneyPuck’s goals saved above expected doesn’t like him, but I don’t buy that Buffalo’s awful defense could somehow be propping up Ullmark’s numbers one bit. Playing on a much better Boston team should help out regardless. It stings that this probably means the end of the Tuukka Rask era in Beantown, though.

Columbus Blue Jackets Sign C Sean Kuraly: 4 Years, $2.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (BOS): 4 G, 5 A, 50.28% Corsi, 47.53% xGF in 47 GP

This feels like Columbus is spending money just for the sake of it. Kuraly is a defensively-responsible fourth-line center who kills penalties that is being paid like a legit third-liner. Maybe he thrives in a bigger role, but four years is an awfully long time to have a bottom-sixer under contract. If Columbus needed a place-holder at center I feel like they could’ve gotten someone roughly as good as Kuraly for a decent bit less.

Edmonton Oilers Sign D Tyson Barrie: 3 Years, 4.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (EDM): 8 G, 40 A, 50.61% Corsi, 48.76% xGF

Fun fact: Barrie became the first defenseman ever to not receive a single Norris vote after leading the league in scoring. That’s because he’s a mess in his own zone and a lot of his production comes from being on the same power-play unit as Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. Don’t get me wrong; Barrie’s been a point-producing machine everywhere he’s gone and should remain that way in Edmonton. I’m just not sure if the offense will be enough to mask his glaring flaws, especially since I think he’s most likely to play alongside a declining Duncan Keith or in a top-pair role that’s way over his head.

Edmonton Oilers Sign LW Zach Hyman: 7 Years, $5.5 Million AAV

2020-21 (TOR): 15 G, 18 A, 53.18% Corsi, 60.85% xGF

In the short-term, Hyman should be a home-run here. He was a great complement to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in Toronto, a menace on the forecheck, defensively responsible, and effective in every area of the ice. This isn’t a player who was merely carried to good numbers merely by playing with superstars. Edmonton has long been searching for the right wing-man for McDavid, and Hyman seems like he could be the guy for a while. The last couple years of this deal could be rough; some of Hyman’s comparables aged very poorly, as you’d expect from a physical player heading into their 30s.

Read about another free agent signing here!

Nashville Predators Sign RW Mikael Granlund: 4 Years, $5 Million AAV

2020-21 (NSH): 13 G, 14 A, 48.05% Corsi, 47.86% xGF in 51 GP

This is probably the most confusing signing for me. Granlund is a decent player who can contribute offensively and play center or the wing. But you don’t give a guy who’s middle merely a good middle-sixer since arriving in Nashville $5 million for four years. It’s really hard to get a gauge on what Nashville wants to be next year and moving forward. And this contract only muddles the picture even further.

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All Skater Advanced Stats are 5-on-5, Score and Venue Adjusted, unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick; All Goaltender Advanced Stats via MoneyPuck.com

Salary Cap and Contract Information via CapFriendly

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