Ted Kulfan's winners, losers in NHL free agency

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Frans Nielsen, center, hopefully will be doing some celebrating for the Red Wings in the future.

Detroit — It’s been a crazy and utterly unpredictable couple weeks in the NHL.

Beginning with the entry draft the last weekend in June, and followed up by this past weekend’s start of free agency, rarely has the NHL undergone such shockwaves because of player movement.

Stars being traded as if this were all a video game (P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Taylor Hall). Average players getting monstrous contracts (too many to list). Teams who usually have been active in free agency sitting out (N.Y. Rangers, Colorado), while others who’ve been less active suddenly became big (and successful) spenders (Edmonton).

And with so many teams still looking incomplete (Detroit, Anaheim, Boston, to name a few), you get the sense there are many trades still on the horizon, which could further shape this NHL offseason unexpectedly.

But let’s just concentrate for a minute on up to this point.

What this summer has proved, once again, is the enormous impact of the salary cap.

Teams are forced to get utterly creative to get under it, all the while realizing it’s almost impossible to keep everyone they’d really like to keep.

That, in turn, puts good players on the market, and the league’s hope of parity is achieved.

Because of the salary cap, the entry draft is gaining importance each and every year.

As young players appear ready to walk into the NHL and be productive from day one, teams that can draft talent can lock them up for a number of years at affordable prices and avoid financial problems down the road.

But ultimately it comes down to signing and drafting the right players and avoiding the wrong ones.

Thus far in this summer of 2016, some teams appear to have done that better than others.

Milan Lucic, right, registered 20 goals and 55 points last season for the Los Angeles Kings. The woeful Edmonton Oilers are hoping to get as much production from the winger.



One of the better deals Friday was the signing of Kyle Okposo, a winger who’ll do well playing with Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Getting defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in a trade during the entry draft was a slick acquisition. If the Sabres receive good goaltending from Robin Lehner, this team could sneak into the playoffs.


Some good, underrated moves the last two weeks by the Flames. Signing Troy Brouwer was a good fit, a rugged winger the Flames needed. They’ve also gone from no goaltending at all to Brian Elliott (trade) and Chad Johnson (free agency) at a modest price.


Swiping young forward Teuvo Teravainen from the cap-strapped Blackhawks was a brilliant move. Plus they re-signed goalie Cam Ward, and made a nice pickup Friday, signing Lee Stempniak. The Hurricanes aren’t going to be pushovers next season.


Nice acquisition by GM Jim Nill of underrated defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who was getting stale in Vancouver. You get the feeling Nill is going to get goalie Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay, eventually, too.


The fact the woeful Oilers were able to secure big winger Milan Lucic was impressive enough considering this team’s recent history. Lucic is perfect for this team, skating on Connor McDavid’s line. Drafting winger Jesse Puljujarvi, who fell into their laps, was a bonus.We’ll forgive the Oilers trading away impact winger Taylor Hall.


The Panthers made a wise move extending Aaron Ekblad, who could be the league’s best defenseman in a matter of time. Signing Jason Demers strengthens the defense, and goalie James Reimer is an important figure if Roberto Luongo (hip surgery) isn’t ready to man the net early in the season.


Signing winger Chris Stewart was a mystery, but the Wild get big positive points for signing center Eric Staal on a modest contract. This will be one of the best teams Staal has played for, and he could thrive here.


Trading defenseman Shea Weber took guts, but when you acquire another star defenseman such as P.K. Subban in the trade, you see why the Predators did it. Subban fits perfectly into what the Predators are attempting to accomplish on the ice.

New Jersey

The key move was trading for Taylor Hall last week, an impact offensive player the Devils lacked, and only having to give up defenseman Adam Larsson. Hall is the type of player the Devils didn’t have.

San Jose

The Western Conference champion made a sly, underrated move signing David Schlemko, who deepens an already formidable defense.

Tampa Bay

GM Steve Yzerman might have secured executive of the year honors by re-signing forward Steven Stamkos and extending defenseman Victor Hedman in a matter of days. You get the feeling the Lightning aren’t going to be damaged because of the salary cap as some other teams have been.


Giving winger Matt Martin $10 million total for four years was too much but somebody was going to, and he will keep opponents away from Auston Matthews. Roman Polak is the tough, gritty defenseman this team needs.


Trading for center Lars Eller solidifies the third line and makes the Capitals just that much better.

Veteran left wing Thomas Vanek, left, was a mysterious signing for the Red Wings. He had 41 points (18 goals) for the Wild last season.



The fact they couldn’t get more out of the Red Wings while taking on Pavel Datsyuk’s contract was a huge mystery. The Coyotes spent generously on defenseman Alex Goligoski, too.


Signing big center David Backes wasn’t necessarily a terrible move, although the term was questionable. It’s not working on a weak defense that makes you question the Bruins.


The Blue Jackets were silent in free agency because of salary cap restrictions and the entry draft was questionable. A bad summer, thus far.


Frans Nielsen should do an adequate job replacing Pavel Datsyuk, but it’s the other moves. Signing Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott was mysterious, and the defense still needs to be addressed.

Los Angeles

The Kings are up against the salary cap and couldn’t re-sign Milan Lucic, who was a good fit on this roster. They’re going to need to be creative to improve themselves.


Trading P.K. Subban was questionable enough, but at least Montreal received a quality defenseman back in Shea Weber. It’s giving abrasive forward Andrew Shaw a six-year contract, and gambling on winger Alex Radulov that leaves you scratching your head.

New York Islanders

Essentially the Islanders let forwards Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin leave, and replaced them with Andrew Ladd, PA Parenteau and Jason Chimera. They got older and not necessarily better.

New York Rangers

Incredible the Rangers have been so quiet these last two weeks. They are strangled by the salary cap and can’t make any moves.


Dale Weise is a quality fourth-liner, but the Flyers needed to get better on defense and a bit more offense.

St. Louis

Give the Blues credit for not giving in to forwards David Backes and Troy Brouwer and giving the older forwards the term and money they wanted. But the Blues aren’t as good today without those two, and the great chemistry this team had is gone.


Loui Eriksson is a decent player and he should be effective playing with the Sedin twins. But the Canucks needed grit and size, and Eriksson doesn’t bring those ingredients.


The Jets signed steady forward Shawn Matthias but that will do little to better the Jets in the standings.



There’s a belief the Ducks will trade a defenseman (Cam Fowler?) at some point this summer and that’ll determine their offseason.


The Blackhawks solidified their defense signing Brian Campbell to a one-year contract. But trading away Shaw and Teravainen to get under the salary cap really hurts.


Only minor moves, thus far, from an Avalanche team that could use more size and grit.


Ownership doesn’t let the Senators spend to the ceiling and that keeps them from significantly improving.


The Stanley Cup champion didn’t have any pressing issues. Keeping goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was a good move.

Twitter: @tkulfan