The start of free agency has become a spending spree in the NHL, and this year was no different.
A total of 127 contracts were signed Sunday, according to capfriendly.com, with the sum of all the cap hits amounting to approximately $226 million while the combined value soared to more than $785 million.
And a chunk of the change handed out ended up getting collected by depth players.
Their saturation of the marketplace helps explain why; with teams locking up top-tier talent long-term, role players comprise a sizable segment of free-agent pools. Bottom-six forwards and third-pairing defensemen are also more feasible acquisitions for clubs with limited room to maneuver under the salary cap.
Being able to utilize all 18 skaters in a game appears to be another motivating factor, with the importance of a well-rounded lineup influencing the Wild’s approach to the signing period.
“You look at the two teams that were in the Finals [the Capitals and Golden Knights], and their fourth lines played very big parts in it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “You’re not seeing forwards playing an average of 25 minutes a game anymore. Your best forwards are now playing 20 and less depending on how good your fourth line is and how you use them. I think that’s where the trend was going this year.”
Very specific targets were on the Wild’s radar when free agency opened; the team coveted new faces for the fourth line, a defenseman for the right side of the third pairing and another goaltender in addition to options for the American Hockey League.
Management accomplished all these objectives by adding forwards Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks and J.T. Brown, defenseman Greg Pateryn, goalie Andrew Hammond and a pair of two-way contracts.
Another theme emerged from these signings: right shots with size who the Wild felt had the speed to keep up in today’s NHL.
Of those four skaters, all but Hendricks is a right shot and only Brown is under 6 feet; Fehr is the tallest of the bunch at 6-4.
“Those were boxes that you wanted to check off,” Boudreau said. “All three of the things … mentioned are things we thought were necessary for our team to get better.”
Boudreau coached Fehr and Hendricks previously when all three were in Washington. Fehr’s skating, smarts and penalty-killing ability stand out to him, while he values Hendricks’ enthusiasm and energy. He has heard Brown brings a similar presence to the ice, and Boudreau is excited to have a 6-3, 225-pound defender in Pateryn to deploy.
The competition Hammond will bring is also a plus to him.
“Right now I look at the balance throughout the lineup one through 13 up front and one through 10 on the back end,” Boudreau said.
General Manager Paul Fenton hasn’t ruled out the possibility a trade further changes the Wild’s roster, but Boudreau is focused on the players that are in the mix for next season. And they are encouraging to him.
“I prepare for what’s here and what we have,” he said. “I think we made our team better [Sunday], and we had a pretty good team. So if we made ourselves better, boy, that’s a good step in the right direction.”