NHL opening day of free agency: Predators swing for the fences with Stamkos, Marchessault signings

Written by on July 2, 2024

Just days after the Florida Panthers won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, the NHL offseason got underway with the 2024 NHL Draft over the weekend. Monday marked the start of free agency as NHL teams could try their hands at improving their rosters for the 2024-25 season.

Shortly before free agency began, the Panthers began their offseason with a bang by signing star forward Sam Reinhart to a eight-year, $69 million contract that carries an average annual value of $8.5 million. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning also made a big splash by signing star winger Jake Guentzel to a seven-year, $63 million deal after acquiring his negotiating rights in a trade on Sunday.

Several teams got better on Monday, while some made some questionable transactions. Here’s a look at the winners and losers of the opening day of NHL free agency.

Predators embark on a spending spree

The Predators were easily the most active team on the opening day of free agency. Nashville ended up signing center Steven Stamkos, winger Jonathan Marchessault and defenseman Brady Skjei to long-term contracts right after free agency began.

The Predators came out of nowhere to be the biggest player in the free agency market, and showed that they want to be a contender in the West. In a move that many may not have expected months ago, Stamkos will move over to the Western Conference and give the Predators a stellar center option in their top six. The veteran forward is coming off of a season in which he scored 40 goals, so it’s a bit baffling that the Lightning chose to let him walk for absolutely nothing. 

Marchessault was a fixture with the Golden Knights, but chose to test the open market. The star winger, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, is a dynamic goal scorer who will likely slot in nicely on Nashville’s second line. Marchessault is also playing some of the best hockey of his career as he’s coming off of a 40-goal season.

Finally, the Predators also improved their blue line with the signing of Skjei. Skjei is a top-four defenseman who tallied a career-best 47 points (13 goals & 34 assists), and likely will skate on Nashville’s second pairing. He’s a very fluid skater who can put the puck in the net as evident with his 31 goals over the past two seasons.

Blackhawks get help for Connor Bedard

After being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Connor Bedard wasn’t exactly surrounded by the most talented supporting class in Chicago. However, that changed on Monday.

The Blackhawks signed wingers Tyler Bertuzzi and Teuvo Teravainen to help bolster the team’s offensive attack. Bertuzzi, who is fresh off of a 43-point campaign with the Maple Leafs, provided some toughness and a goal-scoring presence that can play on the Blackhawks’ top line. Meanwhile, Teravainen likely will slide into one of the winger spots on Chicago’s second line.

Both players signed long-term deals, but the contracts aren’t super extravagant. Bertuzzi has a $4.5 million cap hit over four years, while Teravainen’s deal has a $5.4 million average annual value over three years. Both players are coming off of 20-goal seasons and are going to help alleviate some of the pressure off of Bedard.

On top of the Bertuzzi and Teravainen additions, the Blackhawks also added veteran forwards Pat Maroon, forward Craig Smith, and defenseman Alec Martinez. Having veterans like those three players in the fold will help Bedard’s development as a young player. It’s a process, but the Blackhawks are slowly but surely improving as a team.

Devils beef up their blue line

The Devils have really improved on the defensive end of the ice this offseason. Last month, the Devils acquired goaltender Jacob Markstrom in a trade with the Calgary Flames to end their long pursuit of attempting to acquire a marquee netminder. On Monday, New Jersey signed defensemen Brett Pesce and Brenden Dillon to help stabilize their blue line.

Pesce and Dillon aren’t offensive juggernauts on the blue line by any means, but they solidify a defense that the franchise is steadily attempting to improve. Pesce likely be a second pairing defenseman, while Dillon could slide into the third pairing for New Jersey. Maybe these aren’t the most eye-popping pickups, but they provide that depth that the Devils clearly lacked in 2023-24.

Over the past few years, the Devils have added the likes of Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec throughout the draft, and those are your franchise cornerstones. Obtaining players like Pesce and Dillon compliment Hughes and Nemec, while New Jersey also has veteran Dougie Hamilton for several years to come. The Devils have a defense that could allow them to be a force in the Metropolitan Division.

Kraken take a big risk with Brandon Montour

The Kraken made a big splash by signing former Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour to a seven-year, $50 million contract ($7.14 million AAV). In doing so, Seattle gets a right-handed shot on its top defensive pairing, but it doesn’t come without a risk.

Montour is a solid NHL defenseman who provides some offensive firepower, while also being an integral part of a team’s power play. However, this could be a lofty contract that the Kraken could come to regret down the road. 

For all of his positives, Montour can be a tad reckless and a little undisciplined on the ice. In each of the last two postseasons, Montour has tallied a combined 51 penalty minutes, which certainly isn’t ideal. Having one of your top defensemen off the ice at a rapid clip, especially come playoff time, is certainly not a situation that teams want to find themselves in. The Kraken will have a lot more offensive acumen on their top pairing with Montour and Vince Dunn, but Montour’s contract is certainly a large one that may not age as well as Seattle envisioned.

Maple Leafs give Chris Tanev a lengthy contract

To preface this, the Maple Leafs were in desperate need of some defensive help heading into the 2024-25 season. Toronto was 11th in goals allowed (261) and its goaltenders had a 3.18 goals-against-average during the 2023-24 campaign. Something had to be altered on the back end if the Maple Leafs truly want to compete for a Stanley Cup.

On Monday, the Maple Leafs signed defenseman Chris Tanev to a lofty six-year contract that carries a yearly cap hit of $4.5 million. While a $4.5 million cap hit isn’t an insane number, the term is something that could be worrisome down the line. Tanev is already 34 years old and will be turning 35 in December. He’s already got quite a bit of tread on the tires. 

Tanev isn’t an offensive-minded defenseman, but will sell on the defensive end of the ice. He registered 207 blocked shots splitting time between the Flames and Stars this past season. As a fit, the Maple Leafs got a defensive presence that they desperately needed for their top pairing. However, the worry is whether or not Tanev will reach the end of the term of this particular contract.

The post NHL opening day of free agency: Predators swing for the fences with Stamkos, Marchessault signings first appeared on CBS Sports.

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