NHL’s Silly Season in Overdrive

Free agent deals have been mostly regrettable

NHL GMs Love Bad Investments 

Show Me the Money: For a league that hasn’t made much money in a year and a half, its general managers sure aren’t acting like it. At a time with league losses somewhere in the hundreds of millions to maybe over a billion dollars due to the pandemic, NHL teams signed 163 players to contracts totaling $785 million — and that’s just on the first day of free agency. Add another $138 million on day two. 

Show me the money indeed. 

Now in August, the NHL’s silly season is largely over for another year, and the list of teams spending money they’ll likely regret later is once again lengthy. Free agency isn’t for the value hunter, after all. 

Current Pittsburgh Penguins President Brian Burke has continually said most GMs regret years four-plus of free agent contracts. You sign them for the short term gain, and experience long term pain. Burke isn’t the first to say it of course, but there’s merit to it. To go big fish hunting in July, teams consistently dole out long-term deals — four, five, six, even seven years. 

Short term gain you say? Before we dive into this year’s crop of contracts, let’s take a look back at the five largest contracts signed in 2017, the silly season of four years ago. 

1. Evgeny Kuznetzov (WASH) - 8 years - $62.4 million

2. Alexander Radulov (DAL) - 5 years - $31.25 millon

3. Kevin Shattenkirk (NYR) - 4 years - $26.6 million

4. Karl Alzner (MTL) - 5 years - $23.125 million

5. Patrick Marleau (TOR) - 3 years - $18.75 million

Looking at that list, Burke’s theory seems to hold up. How many of those deals still look good? Alzner was in the minors in year two, the Leafs gave away draft picks to get rid of Marleau, and Shattenkirk is on team number three since signing that deal. The Capitals won a cup, so they get a pass here. 

This Year’s Biggest Contracts: Perhaps 2017 was an anomaly, but looking at that, it makes you wonder what GMs are thinking when signing non-stars to deals like those. Kuznetzov and Radulov are good players, but star difference makers? 

With that said, let’s take a look at the five biggest money deals signed this year. 

1. Dougie Hamilton (NJ) - 7 years - $63 million

2. Zach Hyman (EDM) - 7 years - $38.5 millon

3. Phillip Grubauer (SEA) - 6 years - $35.5 million

4. Phillip Danault (LA) - 6 years - $33 million

5. Blake Coleman (CAL) - 6 years - $33 million

Do we classify anyone on this list as a tier one difference maker? Hamilton, maybe. Free agency is about timing, and all five of those players are coming off great seasons with the stars aligning. But how many years will it take to regret seven years of the 29-year-old Hyman? What about Danault or Coleman, who had 24 and 31 points last season, respectively? 

Will it pay off? The big winners are of course the players. If the money is there, they should absolutely take it. But over the long-term, it’s a bit perplexing that GMs keep repeating the same mistakes. 

NHL free agency isn’t about value. It’s about who can make the least bad mistake. With Seattle, New Jersey and Edmonton at the front of the cash-money line, time will tell which of these turns out to be just that.