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2022 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the 10 Worst Free Agent Signings So Far

NHL handicapper Jason Yamaguchi ranks his top 10 worst signings of the 2022 NHL free agency period.
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2022 NHL Free Agency: Ranking the 10 Worst Free Agent Signings So Far

The initial days of NHL free agency are always packed with bad contracts flying around, and this year has been no different. Many things can make a contract "bad", including poor team fit, egregious no-trade clauses, lengthy-term (when undeserved), and simply paying too much money. Here are my top 10 signings of NHL free agency — thus far — that meet some or all of those criteria.

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1. Erik Gudbranson - CBJ

Of the poor contracts that teams doled out during the initial days of free agency, none were more glaringly bad than this deal. Gudbranson, a 30-year-old depth defenseman, signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Blue Jackets. This is a massive overpay for a player who is, at best, a mediocre third-pairing defenseman. The contract also carries a modified no-trade clause for its entire duration.

2. Ben Chiarot - DET

For reasons that escape me, NHL general managers seem to love Ben Chiarot. Chiarot is a subpar defenseman who has posted bottom-tier underlying numbers throughout his career. The eye test confirms those numbers — Chiarot frequently chases hits and takes himself out of plays, sacrificing his positioning in all three zones. Despite all of that, the 31-year-old fetched multiple draft picks at the trade deadline — including a first-rounder — and has now signed a four-year deal with Detroit that carries an AAV of $4.75 million. The contract, naturally, also contains a modified no-trade clause.

3. Nicolas Deslauriers - PHI

It is difficult to imagine a situation where a contract that grants Rasmus Ristolainen over $5 million a season is not the worst contract on a team's roster. However, the Flyers made a valiant attempt to create that exact situation, signing Deslauriers to a four-year contract with an AAV of $1.8 million. Deslauriers is one of the worst forwards in the entire league — he offers nothing offensively, and barely manages to tread water defensively. He also takes a lot of penalties, especially for a forward (113 PIM in 2021-22).

4. Nick Leddy - STL

Leddy had a solid season two years ago but regressed in a big way in 2021-22. He was a liability on defense, didn't contribute much on offense, and was especially poor during the playoffs. By handing out this contract — $4 million/year for four years — the Blues are betting on Leddy returning to his past form. This is a risky proposition, especially when factoring in St. Louis's lack of cap flexibility. The deal also carries a full no-trade clause for the first three years, which is far from ideal. It is an overpayment that will, in all likelihood, age poorly.

5. Luke Kunin - SJS

The Sharks signed Kunin to a two-year, $5.5 million contract ($2.75m AAV). Kunin is a depth forward who posted terrible underlying numbers in Nashville along with uninspiring point totals (22 points in 2021-22). He isn't the worst fourth-line center a team could roster, but giving him almost $3 million a year is an egregious overpay.

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6. Josh Manson - COL

Colorado deserves the benefit of the doubt due to their proven excellence at roster-building, but this contract is too questionable to leave off the list altogether. The Avs signed Manson, a 30-year-old defenseman, to a four-year deal that will carry an AAV of $4.5 million. It also has a full no-trade clause for the first two years, after which it converts to a modified NTC. Manson is a solid depth defenseman, but he offers little upside. This contract will probably hurt Colorado down the road, especially given their impending cap crunch.

7. Ilya Mikheyev - VAN

Vancouver signed Mikheyev, who has 72 points in 146 career regular-season games, to a four-year contract with an AAV of $4.75 million. The former Leafs' winger had the best season of his career to date in 2021-22; the Canucks are banking on Mikheyev's level of play to continue on that upward trajectory. However, this is a major commitment to a forward who projects as a third-liner, and who has not earned this type of payday.

8. Ondrej Palat - NJD

Ondrej Palat's captivating playoff campaign in 2022, during which he scored 11 goals and added 10 assists in 23 games, earned him a major contract. The Devils signed the scoring winger to a five-year, $30 million deal that will expire when he is 36 years old. $6 million per season seems a bit high for a player who has not cracked 50 points in five years, and who is better served as the complement to the primary play-driver on a line than as the player tasked with the heavy lifting. This contract feels like a panic move from a team that was desperate to secure scoring help after losing out on Johnny Gaudreau. Palat is a quality player, but contracts that combine a slight overpay with a surplus of terms tend to end badly.

9. Nikita Zadorov - CGY

When free agency opened, the Flames re-signed Nikita Zadorov for the next two seasons at an AAV of $3.75 million. Zadorov is fairly sound on the defensive side but offers little offensively. In other words, he is a capable third-pairing defenseman, but will not provide significant value beyond that. Paying your fifth or sixth-best defenseman almost $4 million per season is not the best allocation of salary — the opportunity cost of this deal will almost certainly skewer the Flames elsewhere.

10. Jack Campbell - EDM

Goaltending was a position that the Oilers needed to address this offseason, but there were better ways to do it than by overpaying for Campbell. They signed the former Toronto netminder to a 5-year deal at an AAV of $5 million and added a modified no-trade clause for good measure. Campbell had a volatile 2021-22 season, beginning the year on a hot run before ending it with some of the worst play of his career. He finished the season with a .914 save percentage and -1.1 GSAx, which supports the argument that he is simply an average goaltender — no more, no less.

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Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.


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