We’re just about five days after the first day of NHL free agency and we’ve seen a surplus of major deals. Plenty of All-Star-caliber players have switched area codes and altered the NHL odds by quite a bit. Some of these still have us reeling. We recap the most surprising NHL free agent deals of the first four days.
Johnny Hockey Takes his Talents to Columbus
- The Deal: Johnny Gaudreau, LW, seven years, $68.25 million total, $9.75 million per season
Why It’s A Confusing Signing: Let’s start with the most obvious one: Johnny Gaudreau shocked everyone by rebuffing Calgary, New Jersey, and Philadelphia to go to … Columbus?! Gaudreau turned down a bigger deal to stay with the Stanley Cup-contending Flames to play for the Blue Jackets, a franchise that is a fringe playoff team in the toughest division.
Take me with you Johnny! pic.twitter.com/B53ewPilrz
— Andrew Brown (@browncbc) July 15, 2022
Why It Could Work: Columbus is not that far off from contention. Adding Gaudreau gives the Blue Jackets a bona-fide scorer. Gaudreau’s deal also helps the Blue Jackets retain Patrik Laine. Gaudreau and Laine will form two of the deadliest wing combinations that should significantly improve the Blue Jackets’ 24th-ranked power-play.
Blue Jackets Go Big
- The Deal: Erik Gudbranson, D, four years, $16 million total, $4 million per season
Why It’s A Confusing Signing: While Columbus hit a home run with Gaudreau, paying Erik Gudbranson four million annually for four years seems like a total whiff. We get it. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he wanted “size and toughness” but that’s about all Gudbranson has and at the expense of everything else.
Why It Could Work: With Columbus signing Gaudreau and likely re-signing Laine, they need an “enforcer” to defend them. Gudbranson can do that in spades. He is also coming off a career season in Calgary and maybe Daryl Sutter’s mentorship has permanently moved him to become a better player.
Senators Unexpectedly Get a Big Fish
- The Deal: Claude Giroux, C, three years, $19.5 million total, $6.5 million per season
Why It’s A Confusing Signing: Lost amid the Gaudreau-to-Columbus news is Claude Giroux making his way to Ottawa. The 34-year-old is still an All-Star-level player and he’s joining the Senators, who are still on the cusp of being a decent team. Giroux could have signed with a legitimate contender for a shorter deal.
Why It Could Work: This move is surprising but it makes a lot of sense. Giroux gets a solid term where he can prove he’s still a winner while the Senators get not only a veteran, but one who is a seven-time All-Star with over 900 points. Bet online on the Sens to finally trend this season.
Golden Knights Let Pacioretty Go for … Nothing
- The Deal: Golden Knights trade Max Pacioretty, LW, to the Carolina Hurricanes for future considerations
Why It’s A Confusing Signing: We’re cheating here as this is a signing, not a trade. And because it’s Vegas, is it really that shocking? This is the same franchise that gave away the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgenii Dadonov for virtually nothing. Now, Vegas ships away one of its best players because the team has been poor at navigating around its cap situation.
Why It Could Work: It works because the Knights clear Pacioretty’s $7 million cap hit, which allows them to re-sign Reilly Smith. Vegas still boasts plenty of top-tier talent and that’s why they remain a top-six team on the outrights board. The team may be worth a bet if its line keeps lengthening on the sportsbook.