Henrik Lundqvist, bought out last week by the New York Rangers, found a new home as soon as NHL free agency opened up on Friday, joining the Washington Capitals on a one-year deal to try to chase the Stanley Cup that eluded the 38-year-old for his whole career on Broadway.
And the Rangers seemed to try to ensure that they would continue not winning Cups without Lundqvist, moving quickly to acquire the worst player available in free agency, defenseman Jack Johnson, who’s so bad that the Pittsburgh Penguins are paying him for the next six years not to play for them.
It was a weird start to free agency, but Lundqvist’s move down the Northeast Corridor started an incredible domino effect of goaltender movement around hockey, the most interesting part of a start to free agency that was incredibly quiet compared to most years, thanks to next season’s flat salary cap.
The start of free agency usually means tons of cash being thrown around, but several top players available — most notably Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo, and Tyler Toffoli — all remained unsigned after a day on the market. Torey Krug came to terms with the Blues in the evening, signaling the end of Pietrangelo’s time anchoring St. Louis’ blue line. In normal times, Krug’s deal would have happened around 12:05 p.m. on July 1, with Pietrangelo finding a new home by 12:10. Not this year.
The goalie market was different. Or… closer to the same as usual. Lundqvist’s availability on the cheap after his buyout meant that there was a catalyst, and as soon as players could sign, it was off and running.
With Lundqvist going to Washington for $1.5 million, where he’ll split time with the excellent 23-year-old netminder Ilya Samsonov, it was the end of the road for Cup winner Braden Holtby with the Capitals. So, Holtby signed a two-year, $8.6 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks also have Thatcher Demko, the 24-year-old who was so impressive in the playoffs, so signing Holtby meant that they weren’t bringing back Jacob Markstrom, who in turn signed with the Calgary Flames for six years and $36 million.
What of the Flames’ previous goalie? Well, David Rittich was in Calgary’s net for most of the season, taking the job from Cam Talbot… who got $11 million over the next three years from the Minnesota Wild.
Talbot filled a spot with Minnesota vacated by Monday’s trade of Devan Dubnyk to the Sharks, who had an .895 team save percentage last season, better than only the tanking Detroit Red Wings. So, that’s where the domino rally ended, because while Martin Jones remains with San Jose, Aaron Dell did not get an immediate deal upon hitting free agency. Instead, to close out the circle of goalies (there were a couple of deals outside this chain: Anton Khudobin staying in Dallas, Corey Crawford going to the Devils, Matt Murray signing an extension with Ottawa after being traded there Wednesday), the Rangers signed former Montreal Canadiens backup Keith Kinkaid to a two-year deal.
Why would the Rangers add another goalie when the whole reason they bought out Lundqvist was that they already have two young goalies they like, Igor Shesterkin and restricted free agent Alexander Georgiev? Well, when next year’s expansion draft rolls around, every team will have to leave a goalie unprotected.
There is no similar explanation for the Rangers signing Johnson three and a half hours into free agency. But Pietrangelo, a three-time second-team all-NHL blueliner? He can wait.