With the weakest free-agent pool in recent history, NHL general managers kept themselves from overpaying. No contract was longer than six years, Andrej Sekera's US$33 million with the Oilers was the most money and Mike Green's $6 million with the Red Wings the highest cap hit.
The Battle of Alberta
Edmonton continued its makeover by improving the blue line with Sekera, so the Calgary Flames brought back goaltender Karri Ramo at a reasonable $3.8 million and signed sought-after "utility tool" forward Michael Frolik. The next few seasons of this rivalry should be fun.
Traded to the Penguins, Kessel doesn't have to be in the spotlight on a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. At a cap hit of $6.8 million, Kessel just has to score 30 — or more — goals and go about his business in Pittsburgh.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Getting rid of Kessel, even at 27 in the prime of his career, is a major step forward for the Leafs because it's the start of their real teardown. Now that Kessel is gone, Tyler Bozak and/or Joffrey Lupul could be next as management begins to rebuild.
Being a third-pairing defenceman with the Capitals was the slap in the face and Green said he needed to move on. The only defenceman to score 30 goals in a season in the past 10 years will be a top-four presence for the puck-moving Red Wings under new coach Jeff Blashill.
Losing is a relative term in this market, but the Canucks embraced the team-in-transition label put on by GM Jim Benning. Getting Brandon Prust for Zack Kassian and a fifth-rounder is a downgrade, and replacing Kevin Bieksa with Matt Bartkowski doesn't make them better.
Unable to get a top-six winger, the Senators also lost a nice player in Erik Condra, who signed a three-year deal with the Lightning. Eric O'Dell is a nice depth signing, but Condra's departure leaves a hole in Ottawa's forward ranks.
Bringing Alexander Burmistrov back from the KHL on a two-year deal softened the blow of losing Michael Frolik to the Calgary Flames, but that's still a bit of an unknown. Drew Stafford returned, which is a plus, but Frolik's absence will hurt more than anyone realizes.
It's hard to say a player who cashed in on a $19-million free-agent deal is a loser, especially considering it's a major raise for the big winger. But Beleskey got less than most expected, and probably could have stayed in Anaheim at that price on a five-year contract.
Spinning blossoming star Brandon Saad into centre Artem Anisimov and prospect Marko Dano was nice, but the cap-strapped Blackhawks will face some growing pains. Anisimov replaces Brad Richards, who left for Detroit, and unrestricted free agent Johnny Oduya's future is still unknown.
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