Former NHL general manager Brian Burke once said GMs “make more mistakes on July 1 than we make the whole rest of the year put together.”
July 1 is the first day to sign free agents.
But the Boston Bruins signed Zdeno Chara on July 1, 2006, and 13 years later he’s still playing for the organization.
The reality is signing unrestricted free agents has been an effective strategy for some teams and disastrous for others. Last July, the St. Louis Blues signed free agents Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Pat Maroon, and all three players contributed to the Blues' Stanley Cup. They combined for 15 postseason goals.
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Here is a sampling of free agent winners and losers of recent years:
Winner: In 2016, the Minnesota Wild signed Eric Staal to a three-year contract worth $10.5 million. Staal appeared to be on the decline when that deal was reached. But Staal netted 92 goals over those three seasons and earned an extension that will pay him $6.5 million over the next two seasons.
Loser: In the same summer, the New York Islanders gave Andrew Ladd a seven-year deal worth $38.5 million. He scored 23 goals in his first season, but he only had eight assists. In his second season, his total was 12 goals and 29 points. In his third season, he was undermined by injury and finished with 11 points in 26 games.
Winner: In 2017, the Carolina Hurricanes gave Justin Williams a two-year contract worth $9 million. He gave them exactly what they needed – two seasons of topping the 50-point mark and the leadership and dressing room presence to help the team get back in the playoffs after not qualifying for more than a decade.
Coincidentally, he will be an unrestricted free agent again on July 1.
Loser: In the same summer, goalie Steve Mason signed with the Winnipeg Jets for two years at $4.1 million per season. He played 13 games for Jets, was traded to the Montreal Canadiens the following summer and then immediately released. He hasn't played in the NHL since.
Winner: After speculation Steven Stamkos would leave the Tampa Bay Lightning as an unrestricted free agent in the 2016 offseason, Stamkos accepted their offer of $68 million over eight seasons. The Lightning and Stamkos are both happy about that decision.
Loser: With Stamkos off the market, Milan Lucic was the prominent free agent. He signed a seven-year deal worth $42 million with the Oilers.
Forward Milan Lucic has scored 16 goals over the past two seasons with the Oilers. (Photo: Perry Nelson, USA TODAY Sports)
He was brought with the idea that he could be a scoring winger and a protector for Connor McDavid. But with the game growing younger and faster, Lucic has not been able to keep up since he arrived in Edmonton. He had 23 goals his first season, 10 in his second and six in his third. The Oilers can’t get rid of his contract.
Winner: In 2017-2018, Perron helped the Vegas Golden Knights reach the Stanley Cup Final and then signed with the Blues that offseason. The Blues won it all in 2019. Perron registered 16 goals and 66 points in 70 games for the Golden Knights and then scored 23 goals with 46 points in 57 games with the Blues.
Loser: James Neal was Perron’s teammate in Las Vegas in 2017-18 when Neal scored 25 goals. Neal signed with the Calgary Flames that summer and the results have been disastrous. He only scored seven goals this past season. His five-year, $28.75 million contract is near-impossible to move.
Winner: Alexander Radulov signed a five-year, $31.25 million free agent contract with the Dallas Stars in 2017. He has registered 56 goals and 144 points over his first two seasons.
Loser: Kevin Shattenkirk turned down better offers to sign with the New York Rangers, the team he grew up cheering for. He accepted a four-deal worth $6.65 million per season. But he hasn’t lived up to expectations, registering only 28 points this past season.
Contributing: Mike Brehm
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