NHL Draft and Free Agency Review

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The NHL Draft included the Rangers’ selection of 19-year-old Alexis Lafrenière with the No. 1 overall pick. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Chris Hennessy, Contributing Writer

The NHL draft and free agency occurred this past week, right around when the season would typically begin. Coming out of the bubble in Edmonton, the teams began preparing for the virtual draft and a free agency period with new challenges. All of that said, it was still a productive time for many squads. 

The Rangers selected first in the draft, picking Alexis Lafrenière from the Quebec Major Junior League. The 19-year-old winger is a teenage sensation, scoring 112 points in 52 games. While it was the predictable pick, it still created excitement across the fanbase. Quinton Byfield was drafted second to the Kings. The defenseman is the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history. The Devils selected three times in the first round, starting with winger Alexander Holtz from Germany at number seven, center Dawson Mercer at 18, and defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin with the 20th selection. The Islanders did not draft in the first round, trading their pick to Ottawa in the J.G. Pageau deal. The Senators drafted center Ridly Greig with that selection. 

Free agency began just a few hours later, and the goaltender position was in major flux all week long. A carousel of netminders saw Henrik Lundqvist head to Washington, Braden Holtby leave the Capitals to head for Vancouver, Jacob Markstrom head east for Calgary, Mike Smith sign with the Wild and Devin Dubnyk traded to San Jose. Cory Schneider joined the Islanders as third goalie depth, Anton Khudobin inked a deal to stay in Dallas and Robin Lehner was re-signed in Vegas for five years. 

Along with the netminder, the craziness was a fair amount of skater deals. Taylor Hall signed a curious deal to head to Buffalo. Hall was on some awful Oilers teams, part of the rebuilding teams in New Jersey and failed to move on from the qualifiers with Arizona this year. The Sabres have very little chance to win a Stanley Cup this year, but the one-year, $8 million deal will make him a free agent again next year. Alex Pietrangelo signed a massive deal to join the Golden Knights. The former captain of the St. Louis Blues leaves on a seven-year deal, but the Blues replaced him with Torey Krug on a cheaper seven-year contract. 

Finally, Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders have to pull some salary cap Olympics to stay under budget for next season. They came into free agency with $8 million in cap space with Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews and Mat Barzal as restricted free agents. Faced with the reality of having to choose two of the three players to re-sign for next year, Lamoriello traded Toews to Colorado in exchange for two second-round picks. The rumors are that these extra picks will be used to help ship Johnny Boychuck out of town and clear a mountain of cap space, but until that happens, the trade is a failure. Toews is a solid two-way defenseman, only 26 years old, and one of the core pieces to a defense that led the Isles to the conference finals this year. To ship him off for only two draft picks shows that the awful contracts to bottom-six players have come back to bite the Islanders and are untradable. 

All in all, it was an eventful couple of days in the NHL, despite the pandemic restrictions that make this offseason just as unique as the playoffs.