There were two days before NHL free agency started. So when the Columbus Blue Jackets re-signed 21-year old defenseman Seth Jones to a six-year contract, the timing seemed right. Jones is a promising young defenseman on a team looking more towards the future than the present so it made sense for Columbus to lock him up before he became a restricted free agent.
But once Jones signed the dotted line, hockey fans everywhere were almost certainly gearing up for July 1. The NHL Draft was in the rear view mirror and free agency was less than a mile away. The free agent class this year happened to include one of the game’s elite goal scorers, Steven Stamkos. During the draft, one of the best defenseman in the NHL, Montreal’s P.K. Subban was the subject of trade rumors, though Subban was not moved over draft weekend.
But then another move came. This one was much more perplexing than Columbus inking Jones. Edmonton had traded left winger and 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson. Hall was coming off of the second highest point total of his career and while Oilers fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the last decade, Hall was one of their better young players. It seemed like General Manager Peter Chiarelli gave him away for 50 cents on the dollar considering Larsson has proved to be no more than a second pairing defenseman in his time with the Devils.
| Bruce Bennett/Getty Images|
Weber (left) signed a huge offer sheet with the Philadelphia
Flyers four years ago. Nashville opted to match the offer
but yesterday was able to unload the massive contract
and get the 2013 Norris Trophy winner in return.
Then came the bombshell. Days after the draft, Montreal ended up trading Subban who wound up netting them Nashville’s Shea Weber. Elite defenseman for elite defenseman except when the 2016-17 season gets underway Subban will be four years younger than Weber and won’t have 10 more years left on his contract like Weber does. Montreal made the Eastern Conference Final two years ago and had home ice in the series against the New York Rangers. Had goaltender Carey Price not gone down early in the series, the Canadiens very well could have found themselves in the Stanley Cup Final. Last year, they started red hot out of the gate, but another injury to Price caused their season to blow up and Canadiens missed the postseason. But the core of the team that went to the conference final in 2014 was expected to be with the organization in the fall and at the very least, Montreal was poised to return to the playoffs. That hasn’t changed now, except their top defenseman is four years older and not significantly better than their top defenseman two days ago. Meanwhile, Nashville unloaded a huge contract, its back end gets younger, and remains very good. It seemed like an obvious win for the Predators.
Lost in the hysteria of this blockbuster was Stamkos re-signing with Tampa Bay before free agency started. The Lightning took care of their superstar forward with an eight-year, $68 million contract leaving Detroit and other suitors who focused on clearing cap to make a run at Stamkos to opt for plan B.
Stamkos, Weber and Subban. Three of hockey’s biggest names all in the news on the same day and two of them traded for one another. Not to disrespect Jones and Hall of course, who are two young talents in their own right. As the day went on, it seemed like yet another indictment of ESPN’s lack of hockey coverage. NHL Network interrupted regularly scheduled programming of course and Canadian reporters were blowing up Twitter. Meanwhile, ESPN continued to discuss Kevin Durant’s NBA free agency decision while dropping in a segment here or there about what will likely be the most active day in either league’s offseason. Some things will never change. But on June 29, 2016, a lot sure changed in the National Hockey League.