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The real star of the expansion draft wasn’t Marc-Andre Fleury or James Neal, it was George McPhee. The general manager’s draft has set Vegas up to be contenders sooner rather than later.
USA TODAY Sports

The NHL annual summer free agent signing splurge seems to inspire as many regrets as success stories.

Last summer, the Montreal Canadiens signed Alexander Radulov for one season and wished it was for more. Sam Gagner was a similarly appreciated free agent acquisition in Columbus. But last summer, the Florida Panthers also committed $22.5 million over five years for defenseman Jason Demers and ended up exposing him in the Las Vegas expansion draft last week. The Calgary Flames paid $18 million over four seasons for Troy Brouwer and left him unprotected. (Neither were taken by the Golden Knights.)

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The Edmonton Oilers love their Milan Lucic signing of a year ago.

But would the Detroit Red Wings sign Frans Nielsen (six years, $31.5 million; 17 goals, 41 points, -19 last season) or would the New York Islanders sign Andrew Ladd (seven years, $38.5 million, 23 goals, 31 points last season) if they had a chance for a do-over?

Free agent signings can provide important pieces of the competitive puzzle – such as Ryan Suter with the Minnesota Wild a few years ago or Anton Stralman for the Tampa Bay Lightning. But they can cause salary cap headaches. Remember the David Clarkson deal in Toronto? That 2013 contract has gone from the Maple Leafs to the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Golden Knights.      

A new season of divining which UFAs can help the most starts Saturday, July 1 at noon ET.

Here’s a look at what some teams are looking for:

Chicago Blackhawks: Defense. Defense. Defense. You can bet coach Joel Quenneville is lobbying Stan Bowman about which free agent defenseman he could live with.

Detroit Red Wings: Need a veteran defenseman with offensive ability, though those will be hard to find. Could they be interested in Trevor Daley? They might also look at Ron Hainsey, and they have interest in Dan Girardi.

Los Angeles Kings: New general manager Rob Blake’s priority has to be to add some offensive players, although he is limited by salary cap constraints.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens need a center and a defenseman. Center Joe Thornton is available, and Martin Hanzal might be the fall-back…