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Winners and Losers of Week 1 NHL Free Agency: Rangers soar, Islanders tumble

NHL Metro Division
New York Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller (79) pulls Carolina Hurricanes center Vincent Trocheck (16) off Rangers center Ryan Strome (16) in the first period of Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series.
AP Photo/Adam Hunger

There are always clear winners and losers when free agency hits in any different year. 

The start of NHL Free Agency was no exception. There were shocking developments that changed the landscape of the league, questionable decisions that left fanbases in shatters, and safe moves that had people say ‘that’s it?!?!’

The list of winners can also change years later after players get older, contracts get harder to move, and regimes change. 

So here are the preliminary winners and losers of week one of NHL Free Agency.

Winners: Columbus Blue Jackets

Any time you can nab a top 10 player in the game of hockey, you are going to be a winner. Johnny Gaudreau left Calgary with the full intention of moving to the East Coast and closer to his family. The Flyers, Islanders and Devils were all thought to be favorites to land the superstar. 

And then Columbus joined the party. 

At a seven-year, $68.25 million contract, Gaudreau now joins a Blue Jackets team that could be on the precipice of a playoff spot. Are they better than the Rangers, Hurricanes, or Penguins right now? Probably not. 

But a Gaudreau signing means this team could just be on the right track for a deep playoff win. 

Pulling Johnny Hockey away from the East Coast is an impressive feat and makes Columbus clear winners in free agency. 

Losers: Vegas Golden Knights

Hey remember when Vegas went to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence?

In what has been a series of trade blunders and roster mismanagement, Vegas has gone from a team that made the playoffs in the first four years of creation to potentially being one of the worst teams in hockey next season. 

The Golden Knights went all-in on a cup run and Jack Eichel and are now reaping their rewards for it. 

To summarize just how bad it has been: they traded a first-, second- and third-round pick for Tomas Tatar, traded him, a second-rounder and Nick Suzuki in a package for Pacioretty and then just traded Pacioretty to Carolina for nothing.

All expansion teams struggle at some point to build a viable winner. While it took four years, the Golden Knights are in for a rough couple of years with little to no assets left.

Now we’ll see just how strong this Vegas market is. 

Winners: New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes

The top two teams in the Metro division got better, and a lot of the team’s below them got worse. The Rangers gave Vincent Trocheck a seven year contract to replace Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp. A strong signing that was only increased by the fact they improved their second center line while not giving away any top young prospect. Getting Trocheck out of Carolina also was huge as it weakened the top team in the division as well. 

Or so it seemed. 

Carolina shrugged off the loss of a top center and responded with an excellent week as well. The acquisition of Brett Burns for basically pennies, moving Tony DeAngelo, and of course Max Pacioretty all but strengthens the division champs. I loved what both teams did in free agency and am really excited to see just how good both will be in the race to see who plays the aging Caps or Penguins. 

Both teams are winners in the first week. 

Losers: Philadelphia Flyers

Yikes. 

The Flyers were one of the worst team’s in hockey last season. Their defense was atrocious, they gave away their cornerstone franchise player, and retained Chuck Fletcher. Fletcher created a mess of a cap situation and was looking to “aggressively retool” the roster.

Turns out an aggressive retool meant re-signing all the defensemen to large contract extensions and then looking around and asking why the team didn’t have enough money to sign Gaudreau. 

It’s arguably one of the worst weeks of free agency I have ever seen a general manager have and it’s not surprising Philadelphia is hoping to be rid of Fletcher in the very near future. 

The only problem is that the team has extremely low assets to improve in the near future. It could be quite a while before the Flyers are winners again. 

Winners: Ottawa Senators

It’s tough to find a team that has as good of an offseason as the Ottawa Senators. The arrival of Claude Giroux gives a young team a proven leader with plenty of playoff experience.

Then, of course, there is the trade for Alex DeBrincat and Cam Talbot who can help propel the Senators to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. As a bottom-seller for the last few years, it’s good to see more Canadien-led squads looking to make a run in a loaded central division. 

Ottawa are clear winners here. 

Losers: New York Islanders

John Ledecky can talk all he wants about how he trusts Lou Lamoriello and that he has full confidence in him. 

The entire Islander fan base definitely feels differently. 

After going all-in and losing the Gaudreau sweepstakes, the Islanders have been extremely quiet showing the team wasn’t exactly prepared for the next top crop of free agents that were available.

Lamoriello took over a team with championship pedigree and, with the help of Barry Trotz, got the Islanders to their most successful run since the 80’s. But then Lou fired Trotz and has done very little to help the current roster get back to the postseason. 

If you’re a top general manager and parade around as one of the top minds in the league, you better be able to get top players in free agency.

The Islanders were pushed aside by John Tavares, Artemi Panarin and now Johnny Hockey. 

Things are not going well on the Island. 

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