While free agency didn't kick off until July 1, there were still a handful of critical signings that happened before the window opened. Avoiding the loss of key pieces will keep a number of teams in contention heading into the 2019-20 campaign. These were the high profile deals that started this year's free agency.
Erik Karlsson (SJS) -- $92 million, eight years ($11.5 AAV) -- By signing this contract, Karlsson became the highest paid defenseman in the league, and now trails only Auston Matthews, Artemi Panarin (more on that later) and Connor McDavid in terms of his cap hit. By locking them both down long term, San Jose will get to trot out one of the best defensive duos in the league in Karlsson and Brent Burns for the foreseeable future. A groin injury limited the 29-year-old Swede to 53 games in 2018-19, but he still managed to put up 45 points over that span. If he can stay healthy, Karlsson should be in contention for the Norris Trophy once again this season.
William Karlsson (VGK) -- $47.2 million, eight years ($5.9 AAV) -- This cap hit is likely more in line with Karlsson's 2018-19 production (24 goals, 32 assists in 82 games), but would represent an absolute steal if he were to rediscover the offensive touch that saw him rack up 78 points in the Golden Knights' inaugural season. As long as he can continue to threaten the 60-point mark for the duration of his new deal, locking in Karlsson for eight years will represent a fantastic decision by Vegas.
Jeff Skinner (BUF) -- $72 million, eight years ($9 AAV) -- This was always the hope for the Sabres after the club gave up three draft picks and Cliff Pu back in August of 2018 to pick up Skinner. Skinner matched a career high in points (63) last season and set a new best with 40 goals. As youngsters Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart continue their development, it will only serve to set the 27-year-old Skinner up for bigger and better things. Fantasy owners shouldn't be shocked to see the dynamic winger pushing for the 70- or even 80-point mark in 2019-20.
Sebastian Aho (CAR) -- $42.27 million, five years ($8.454 AAV) -- Sure, the haul of a first-, second- and third-round pick may have tempted team brass for all of five seconds, but there was no chance that the Hurricanes weren't going to match the offer sheet Aho got from the Habs. The winger set career highs in goals (30), assists (53) and shots (243) last year, including 24 points with the man advantage. If Justin Williams fails to return to the club, it could impact the 21-year-old's productivity, but he should still be locked in as a top-end Fantasy option.
Jordan Binnington (STL) -- $8.8 million, two years ($4.4 AAV) -- This signing obviously didn't break the bank and came after the window opened, but there was little chance that the restricted free agent was going to be leaving St. Louis. After lifting Lord Stanley's Cup, some may have expected that the young netminder would be receiving a long-term deal, but the team is undoubtedly cognizant of the fact that he only played half the season. Opponents will have all offseason to figure out his tendencies, which could open the door for some regression. Like the organization, it may be worth taking a cautiously optimistic approach to drafting the 26-year-old ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.
Kevin Hayes (PHI) -- $50 million, seven years ($7.1 AAV) -- While technically a re-sign, Hayes was acquired by the Flyers after the 2018-19 season in hopes of signing him to a long-term deal before the window opened. This deal has been criticized due to its lengthy term, but the center is coming off a career-best, 55-point season with the Rangers and Jets. Perhaps the most significant part of this signing is the fact that it seems to show the organization's hand as to whether it believes Nolan Patrick can be a No. 2 center.
Once the window officially opened on July 1, there were 14 contracts that topped the $5 million threshold and three which hit the seven-year max. Here are perhaps the five most impactful of those deals.
Sergei Bobrovsky (FLA) -- $70 million, seven years ($10 AAV) -- It's hard to imagine any deal that will have more impact next season than Bobrovsky's. The writing has been on the wall for a while in Columbus, which is why many expected Bobrovsky to be moved at the deadline. Instead, the Jackets decided to make a run at it, ultimately failing to even reach the Eastern Conference finals. There will undoubtedly be some concern regarding the length of this deal, as the world-class tender will be 37 when it expires, but he instantly changes the dynamic for the Panthers from fringe playoff team to Cup contender. The veteran has hit the 35-win mark in each of the previous three seasons and there's little reason to suspect he can't do it again in 2019-20.
Artemi Panarin (NYR) -- $81.5 million, seven years ($11.6 AAV) -- This deal likely brings the Rangers' "rebuild" to an end considering the club is slated to have a top line of Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko, not to mention Henrik Lundqvist in goal. The 27-year-old Panarin has missed out on the 30-goal mark in each of the previous two seasons, but he still topped 80 points each time. Already with his third organization, the all-star winger should continue to log north of 19 minutes a game and will likely challenge for the 90-point mark in 2019-20.
Matt Duchene (NAS) -- $56 million, seven years ($8 AAV) -- Rounding out the Columbus departures, Duchene essentially joins the Predators in a swap for P.K. Subban, who was traded to New Jersey in order to clear the necessary cap space. Duchene may start the year as the No. 2 center behind Ryan Johansen, but he'll almost certainly see time on Nashville's top power-play unit, and could log minutes on the first line on occasion by moving to the wing.
Joe Pavelski (DAL) -- $21 million, three years ($7 AAV) -- Seeing Captain America sporting a different jersey will be a strange sight indeed, but the Sharks made the decision to devote big dollars to Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million) and Timo Meier ($6 million) and simply didn't have the space to keep all three. The 34-year-old Pavelski may be getting up there in age, but that hasn't stopped him from cresting the 60-point mark in every full season since 2009-10. Additionally, the world-class center will no doubt be featured on a power-play unit that includes Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg, which further boosts his Fantasy value.
Mats Zuccarello (MIN) -- $30 million, five years ($6 AAV) -- After returning from a fractured arm, Zuccarello notched 11 points in 13 postseason contests with the Stars. Prior to being traded to Dallas, the winger racked up 11 goals and 26 helpers in 46 outings for the Rangers. For those reasons, the Wild were willing to give the Norwegian a long-term deal that makes him one of the highest paid players on the team. Tentatively slated with Zach Parise and Eric Staal, a lack of scoring depth could see Zuccarello slide down to a second-line role, but that shouldn't stop him from reaching the 50-60 point range.
Robin Lehner (CHI) -- $5 million, one year ($5 AAV) -- Perhaps not as high profile as the other deals on this list, Lehner's signing is an interesting one, as it will allow the Blackhawks to move on from him after the 2019-20 season if things don't work out. It's also an insurance policy against further injury to Corey Crawford. He may not get the starting job for opening night, but a strong showing from the 27-year-old Lehner could see him steal away the No. 1 spot and cement himself into the Hawks long-term plans between the pipes.