NHL free agency winners & losers: Bruins, Devils look smart; Canadiens, Hurricanes make disturbing moves

Day 1 of free agency came and went and there was a  blizzard of activity.

The floodgates opened up at noon and the first email hit the ol’ inbox at 12:06 p.m. ET announcing the Stars’ signing of defenseman Ryan Suter. After that, news was breaking fast and furious. Despite the flat cap, a number of teams backed up the armored trucks to get their guy and now some of the NHL’s best will be donning new sweaters come October.

Per CapFriendly, 163 contracts were signed on the first day with more than $785 million dollars being spread around (cap hit under $300 million). While not all were guys shifting teams, most were. How many? Well, when a fellow reporter asked for a rundown when they return from covering the Olympics on all the players who have new digs, the response was to block off a couple of days.

Were they all good signings? That’s to be determined, but it won’t stop us from offering up the winners and losers thus far.

MORE: Full list of signings from 2021 NHL free agency

NHL free agency winners and losers

Losers: Carolina Hurricanes

Yep. In one signature, the Hurricanes attached themselves to one of the most controversial figures in the game. It’s really a shame because the team did add some good players in defenseman Ethan Bear and netminders Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. But with the signing of Tony DeAngelo — a player their own fanbase adamantly expressed on social media they did not want when the rumors arose — there are now question marks about the organizational direction in Carolina. The dealing of Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic was a head-scratcher. This one is a wall-banger.

MORE: DeAngelo needs to prove Hurricanes were right to give him yet another shot

Losers: Montreal Canadiens

Speaking of losers. You’re probably wondering why the Canadiens are here. Didn’t their boneheaded move, the drafting of Logan Mailloux, take place over the weekend? It did. But on Wednesday, amid everything happening — 12:35 p.m. ET to be exact — the owner Geoff Molson released a statement.

“I understand that you expect more from us and we let you down. The Montreal Canadiens are more than a hockey team. Logan’s actions do not reflect the values of our organization and I apologize for the pain this selection has caused,” he wrote.

Great start.

Given an opportunity to renounce the pick (like the Coyotes did when it came to Mitchell Miller), the letter sent a clear message: no disrespect to the victims or fans or our sponsors (some who have said they may pull their money) or even the Prime Minister of Canada, we’re not changing a thing. Oh, but he won’t be at rookie or training camp. The fact that the release came out days later — on the busiest day of the NHL offseason — truly shows how much the organization thought their decision was a bad one. They did not.

Winners: Dallas Stars

As mentioned, the Stars were first out of the gate and in the end they had quite a haul including Suter, Braden Holtby and Luke Glendening. Holtby is an interesting addition as GM Jim Nill’s crew already includes three-time Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, 2020 bubble playoff darling Anton Khudobin and youngster Jake Oettinger. Questions abound regarding the health of Bishop who missed the 2021 season following knee surgery. One would have to think that the addition of Holtby means Bishop is out for a while.

Loser: Lou Lamoriello

Sure, the Hall of Fame GM is notoriously tight-lipped. But, c’mon man, do it for the fans. They’re losing out on enjoying signings — and wondering if their favorite team plugged some holes — because, well, there’s been nothing said. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

Remember not too long ago when everyone was wondering who the team signed to meet compliance for the expansion draft? In the end, they had actually inked Andy Greene, which was revealed when the protected list came out. In fact, that signing, to this day, hasn’t been announced.

Winners: Edmonton Oilers

Although shipping out Bear was an interesting move, the Oilers made some good moves on Day 1 in re-signing Tyson Barrie and adding Cody Ceci and Zach Hyman. Barrie, it should be noted, was on a one-year show-me deal in 2021 and did just that; he finished as the league’s top points guy (one ahead of Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox).

But probably the biggest move was the addition of hard-working, space-creating, top penalty-killing and power-play guy, and all-around good dude, Zach Hyman. The now ex-Maple Leaf (who knows a thing or two about playing with superstars after years with Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner). Hyman is the perfect fit to play alongside the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. He’ll go to the corners and the net, create the space for those guys while also being a scoring threat himself.

Winners: New Jersey Devils

It took some time to announce but Dougie Hamilton made a deal with the, er, Devils. The top free agent signed a seven-year contract for $63 million ($9 million AAV). He’s a solid defenseman who can also put points up on the board, especially on the power play. After a few down years, New Jersey is officially a playoff contender with the addition of Hamilton, Johnathan Bernier to back up Mackenzie Blackwood and the players already in the Garden State like Jack Hughes and Ty Smith.

Winner: Sven Baertschi

The forward finally gets new digs. Back in early 2019 he was placed on waivers by the Canucks and didn’t really crack the lineup after. Before being waived, he had 23 goals in his last 79 games — and since making the NHL ranks with the Flames back in 2011-12 had 138 points in 291 games. It was a bit of a mind-boggling move. He did deal with post-concussion syndrome during the 2018-19 season but hasn’t been too injury-bitten since. Now he’ll head to Nevada to try his luck.

Loser: Chris Driedger

The Seattle Kraken are winners for adding Philipp Grubauer, but how awkward must that call have been between Ron Francis and Driedger? “Hey, buddy, remember when we signed you to a boatload of cash and said you’re our top guy? Well… change of plans.” Click. Yikes. Driedger, who probably could have gone anywhere when free agency opened, was enticed to sign in the Emerald City. He’ll now be a backup to the 2021 Vezina Trophy finalist instead of the a starter.

Winners: Boston Bruins

The rich got richer. Perennial Cup contenders Boston added one of the biggest names on the goaltending market in Linus Ullmark, Nick Foligno and Erik Haula. Ullmark is a key signing after Jaroslav Halak headed west and Tuukka Rask recovers from hip surgery. Foligno is a character guy who will give bench boss Bruce Cassidy flexibility as he can play wing or center. He likes to play a gritty game, a strong forecheck along with some puck burying too.