NHL Free Agency: Grading Every Team's Free Agent Signings Through Two Weeks
NHL Free Agency: Grading Every Team's Free Agent Signings Through Two Weeks
Johnny Gaudreau ended his tenure with Calgary as many expected; however, he selected Columbus as his free agency destination. This decision left pundits, fans, and players shocked. Rumors of Gaudreau returning to the East Coast to play for his hometown Flyers or the cap-friendly Devils were abundant. Still, in the end, Johnny Hockey chose the Blue Jackets after they agreed to terms on a seven-year, $68.2 million contract.
It's an exciting time to be a hockey fan. Matt MacKay is here to explore all the transactions teams have made during their first week of free agency and will grade them accordingly.
ANAHEIM DUCKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
The Ducks signed a pair of New York Rangers to their roster, most notably center Ryan Strome. Strome was one of four players for New York who finished with over 20 goals (21) during the 2021-22 season. He'll be an immediate upgrade for Anaheim and can help rejuvenate a top-heavy offense in 2023.
ARIZONA COYOTES FREE AGENCY GRADE: C-
Arizona had a great draft, adding three first-round prospects, including center Logan Cooley, to bolster their offensive depth chart. As a result, the Coyotes have not done much in free agency, signing former Boston defenseman Joshua Brown as their top prospect to a two-year, $2.5 million contract.
BOSTON BRUINS FREE AGENCY GRADE: D
The Bruins have sent plenty of players out of Bolston thus far, but no moves have been made to acquire any significant talent. Star veteran center, Patrice Bergeron, remains signed on the roster but could soon be on the move, leaving a gaping void to fill for Boston's front office personnel.
BUFFALO SABRES FREE AGENCY GRADE: C+
The Sabres had heavy draft capital, which they used to their advantage by drafting a crop of talented young centers to build a foundation for their future. Buffalo has signed former Winnipeg goaltender Eric Comrie to a two-year, $3.6 million deal. Comrie started only 16 games for the Jets in 2022, but he finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.58 GAA, which will be a significant improvement for the Sabres in 2023.
CALGARY FLAMES FREE AGENCY GRADE: C
The only reason Calgary receives a C grade is the money they're saving for other star players on the market. Replacing Johnny Gaudreau will be difficult, but Columbus will pay the $68.2 million contract, and they will also pay another $16 million to former Flames defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Unfortunately, no important names have been signed yet, so Calgary grades out as average due to their massive salary cap.
CAROLINA HURRICANES FREE AGENCY GRADE: C-
Carolina is another team offloading a lot of their talent to flush their salary cap coffers. The Hurricanes traded Vincent Trocheck to the New York Rangers for over $5.5 million per year while sending Max Domi to Chicago. The 'Canes have yet to sign any big-name player, but a few cheap deals have been made to patch up their depth chart.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
Patrick Kane remains signed, so the Blackhawks aren't doing too bad. Chicago signed Max Domi from Carolina to add speed and scoring ability to their lower lines while moving off of struggling goaltender Kevin Lankinen. The departure of Dylan Strome to Washington will require the Blackhawks to sign a player capable of scoring 20-plus goals to mitigate the loss.
COLORADO AVALANCHE FREE AGENCY GRADE: D
After winning the Stanley Cup, Colorado has been busy offloading players with a hot market, including goaltender Darcy Kuemper and winger Andre Burakovsky. No relevant contributors have been signed, but there is still plenty of time left for the Avs to reload in free agency.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A
The most notable signing during free agency thus far has been Columbus rewarding Johnny Gaudreau with a seven-year, $68.2 million contract. The talented winger is coming off of a career year with 40 goals and 115 total points for the Flames and has the skill to singlehandedly stack wins for the Blue Jackets across the next half-decade.
DALLAS STARS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
Dallas has already made a big signing, investing in 26-year-old winger Mason Marchment to a four-year, $18 million contract. The Stars needed an extra scorer on their top three attack lines, so paying up for the young winger to play behind Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz should allow the Stars to contend in 2023.
DETROIT RED WINGS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
The Red Wings have been busy during free agency, signing four players to substantial contracts, including Andrew Copp and Ben Chiarot. David Perron is the third notable free agent, offering his veteran leadership and elite goal-scoring ability to transform Detroit's young roster in 2023.
EDMONTON OILERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
Edmonton's front office wasted no time addressing their goaltending weakness that was evident throughout their 2022 playoff run. Jack Campbell signed a five-year, $25 million contract after finishing with a .914 save percentage and 2.64 GAA across 47 starts for Toronto in 2022. This move alone deserves a B+, not to mention safeguarding the goaltender position by signing Calvin Pickard to a much smaller two-year deal.
FLORIDA PANTHERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C-
The Panthers are another talented team offloading some of their trade pieces from last season, including Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. Florida even parted ways with Mason Marchment, freeing up cap space to reload their lower attack lines and defensive pairings later in free agency.
LOS ANGELES KINGS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C
Los Angeles needs to desperately find scorers to become a contender with an aging roster. The Kings have been active in sending a few lower-end players to other teams so far, but they did re-sign left winger Brendan Lemieux, who scored eight goals in 2022 for the first time since 2019.
MINNESOTA WILD FREE AGENCY GRADE: D+
Minnesota has not made any significant moves regarding its free-agency transactions. The Wild had a fantastic draft with Liam Ohgren and Danila Yurov adding scoring depth, so their free agency period has been much quieter.
MONTREAL CANADIENS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C+
Rem Pitlick is the only notable player Montréal re-signed during free agency. The 25-year-old center finished 2022 with 15 goals and 37 total points, so he'll be a nice continuity piece to tutor the elite 2022 draft class of the Canadiens.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
Nashville signed several small-name defensemen in place of Matthew Benning's departure to San Jose. Goaltender Kevin Lankinen was paid a one-year prove-it deal to be a competent back-up to Juuse Saros, so the Predators have made decent moves despite not acquiring star-studded names.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
Ondrej Palat headlines New Jersey's free-agent haul so far, finishing with 18 goals for only the second time of his ten-year career with Tampa Bay last season. Palat joins an underrated offense with promising players like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Other draft prospects, including top defenseman Simon Nemec, have New Jersey poised to win many games in 2023.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: F
The New York Islanders were fortunate to draft two quality defensemen to address their most significant weaknesses from last season. Unfortunately, the Islanders have only made one minor transaction, sending center Austin Czarniak to Detroit. At the same time, they continue searching the wire for competent goal scorers to sign in the coming weeks.
NEW YORK RANGERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
The Rangers decided to move on from Ryan Strome and replaced him with Vincent Trocheck, signing the latter to a seven-year, $39.3 million contract. Andrew Copp was another notable contributor to New York's offense after being traded from Winnipeg mid-season, leaving the Rangers without much depth behind their top two lines. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Louis Domingue signed small contracts to help support Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin next season.
OTTAWA SENATORS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C+
Veteran center Claude Giroux spent 15 years in Philadelphia before being traded to Florida near the end of the 2022 NHL season. He signed a lucrative three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Senators to add consistent goal scoring, and his veteran presence will be relished on one of the league's youngest rosters.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: D-
The Flyers have acquired one player on a multi-million dollar deal through free agency, signing left wing Nicolas Deslauriers from Minnesota. However, Philadelphia doesn't have much salary cap room, so they will need to continue offloading players if they want to form a successful rebuild under new head coach John Tortorella in 2023 and beyond.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
The Penguins have only made one notable free-agent signing, adding defenseman Jan Rutta from Tampa Bay on a three-year, $8.25 million contract. Rutta will help bolster a lackluster defense alongside star defenseman Kris Letang, who re-signed a few days before free agency began. In addition, Dustin Tokarski is a backup netminder from Buffalo to replace Louis Domingue in the crease.
SAN JOSE SHARKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C+
San Jose has signed several players to healthy $5 million-plus contracts thus far, including Oskar Lindblom from Philadelphia. The 25-year-old left winger finished 2022 with 12 goals and 14 assists, playing in 79 games. His durability and playmaking ability within the offensive zone will help take pressure off Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl in 2023.
SEATTLE KRAKEN FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
Seattle crushed their free agency and their draft after a disappointing inaugural season. The Kraken paid up to acquire Andre Burakovsky on a five-year, $27.5 million deal to be the cornerstone scorer of their franchise while also opting to sign defenseman Justin Schultz and goaltender Martin Jones to improve their porous presence in the defensive zone during 2022.
ST. LOUIS BLUES FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
St. Louis has been busier offloading than signing, but they still managed to re-sign talented defenseman Nick Leddy to a four-year, $16 million contract. Thomas Greiss and Charlie Lindgren also were signed to improve goaltending behind Ville Husso and former Stanley Cup champion Jordan Binnington, who struggled to be consistent in 2022.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING FREE AGENCY GRADE: C
Tampa Bay saw their consecutive Stanley Cup winning streak end against the Avs, but they still have one of the best rosters in the entire league. This allowed the Lightning to move off Ondrej Palat's contract while they signed defenseman Ian Cole to boost their defensive pairings. Cole finished with 17 assists in 2022, the second-highest mark in his 12-year career.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
Despite losing several key pieces, including goaltender Jack Campbell, Toronto has had a solid free agency thus far. The Maple Leafs signed Calle Jarnkrok as an underrated point generator from Calgary while replenishing their depth at goaltender with Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov has seen his stats drop every year since joining the league in 2019, but he is only 24 years old and can help push Toronto into a deep playoff run alongside Matt Murray.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B
The Canucks paid a small fortune to sign Ilya Mikheyev to a four-year, $19 million contract. The left winger enjoyed a breakout year with Tampa Bay last season, scoring 21 goals and adding another 11 assists in just 53 games. Vancouver also managed to move off struggling netminder Jaroslav Halak, freeing up an opportunity for Thatcher Demko to get a new counterpart behind him.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
Reilly Smith re-signed with Vegas after a nice four-year stretch with the Golden Knights. Outside of Smith's re-signing, there is little else to review in terms of transactions. Smith is key to maintaining Vegas' second and third-line attack, which suffered at times during his 26-game absence in 2022.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
The Capitals signaled that they were ready for an upgrade at goaltender by signing Darcy Kuemper to a five-year, $26.2 million contract after he helped the Avs win a Stanley Cup. Dylan Strome was another excellent signing for Washington, adding scoring depth to a top-heavy roster that is aging quickly. The 25-year-old Strome scored 22 goals, added another 26 assists for Chicago in 2022, and is an excellent piece to help brighten the Capitals' future outlook.
WINNIPEG JETS FREE AGENCY GRADE: F
Simply put, Winnipeg has been anemic regarding its free-agency transactions. They signed Kyle Capobianco to their defense and David Rittich to replace former goaltender Eric Comrie. Still, the Jets have a top-heavy roster that lacks foundational stability. This needs to be addressed in free agency, but Winnipeg did have a solid draft class to counter their lack of upgrades in free agency.
Matt is an avid writer, editor, and researcher. He enjoys analyzing the game within the game which is fantasy sports and sports betting. Music is another constant in his daily life. Matt loves spending time with his wife and three pets. He likes to read, listen to podcasts, and is constantly motivated to create the most accurate and engaging content in the sports betting industry.