2022 NHL Free Agency Grades: Grading How Each Team Has Fared So Far
2022 NHL Free Agency Grades: Grading How Each Team Has Fared So Far
The Colorado Avalanche managed to go from 48 points in 2017 to hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup five years later. The Avs did this by drafting players like Cale Makar, who just won the Conn Smythe Trophy, while developing their younger prospects to become premier goal-scorers such as Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon.
While Colorado laid the blueprint for other struggling franchises to draft and develop their way to a championship, many other teams are only one or two players away from being championship contenders. Even younger teams with few victories in 2022, such as Columbus, have signed massive free agent prospects to catapult their ability to win in 2023. Other teams have been quieter in free agency due to a robust draft class or minimal salary cap flexibility.
After a busy three weeks in NHL free agency, Matt MacKay is back to grade every team's signings and releases heading into the 2022-23 NHL season.
2022 NHL Free Agency Grades
ANAHEIM DUCKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
Anaheim finished seventh in the Pacific Division after a promising start to their 2021-22 season. Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry led the young roster, but more help was needed, so the Ducks signed a pair of New York Rangers, including a five-year, $25 million contract to Ryan Strome. He scored 21 goals and finished with 54 points for the Rangers last season, while defenseman John Klingberg recently signed a $7 million deal to shore up their defensive woes.
Frank Vatrano is another promising winger from the Rangers who inked a $3.65 million AAV contract for three years with Anaheim. Great signings to improve the rest of this young roster in 2023.
ARIZONA COYOTES FREE AGENCY GRADE: D+
Arizona landed three first-round prospects during the 2022 NHL Draft, so they haven't been big players in free agency. Since we're grading free agency activity, the Coyotes receive a D+. Their biggest signing was a two-year, $2.5 million contract for former Boston defenseman Joshua Brown. Phil Kessel remains one of their top unrestricted free agents yet to sign with a team.
BOSTON BRUINS FREE AGENCY GRADE: D
Boston is consistently a talented team, but they are amid a mini-rebuild right now, hiring a new head coach and still not re-signing veteran center Patrice Bergeron. In addition, the Bruins have been busier freeing up cap space than signing talent, as seven of their ten free agent signings have been released. As a result, the Bruins' current free agency grade is a D without any noteworthy imports or players re-signing.
BUFFALO SABRES FREE AGENCY GRADE: C+
Buffalo has been decent throughout free agency, signing goaltender Eric Comrie from Winnipeg to a 2-year, $3.6 million deal to bolster their netminding in 2023. Re-signing Victor Olofsson, who scored 20 goals and finished with 49 points for the Sabres in 2022, is another excellent asset to maintain heading into the upcoming season. Buffalo focused on bolstering defensemen and goaltending through free agency while addressing most of their offensive needs via the 2022 NHL Draft.
CALGARY FLAMES FREE AGENCY GRADE: C
Calgary's most notable movement has departed with their top point leaders from last season. The loss of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk will sting for quite a while; however, re-signing Oliver Kylington and Andrew Mangiapane is a step towards healing their roster after losing significant talent elsewhere. Kylington and Mangiapane returning to the Flames in 2023 raises their free agency grade from a D to a C.
CAROLINA HURRICANES FREE AGENCY GRADE: C-
The Hurricanes have released many free agent prospects across the last three weeks, including Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, and Max Domi. However, Carolina's biggest free agent signing thus far has been a one-year, $1.5 million deal with right-winger Ondrej Krase. He scored 14 goals and 13 assists for Toronto in 2022 and will be an excellent fit on the Canes' second or third-line attack.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
Chicago had a forgettable season in 2022 and is moving on from a lot of underachieving talent, most notably former goaltender Kevin Lankinen, who signed a one-year deal with Nashville. The loss of Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik is pretty significant, but signing a young crop of cheap talent comprised of Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou, and Colin Blackwell should revamp the Blackhawks' lower attack lines in 2023.
COLORADO AVALANCHE FREE AGENCY GRADE: B
Colorado's free agency work has extended key contracts within their offensive attack lines. This includes Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen, and Josh Manson. However, Darcy Kuemper did cash in on his Stanley Cup win by signing a massive five-year, $5.25 million AAV with Washington. At the same time, Andre Burakovsky inked a five-year, $5.5 million AAV with the Kraken. These are significant losses but Colorado opting to extend a few contracts on their current roster is enough to earn a B.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A+
The Blue Jackets shocked the league with a massive seven-year, $68.2 million contract to bring in Johnny Gaudreau to spark their offense. In addition, Columbus managed to land arguably the top unrestricted free agent in this class and re-signed Patrik Laine to an $8.7 million AAV for the next four years. It's a potent one-two punch on the first-line attack, which deserves nothing less than an A+.
DALLAS STARS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B
Dallas pushed all their chips in to sign Mason Marchment to a four-year, $18 million deal on the first day of free agency. Marchment entered his fourth season in the league and broke out with Florida last season, finishing with 18 goals and 29 assists in 54 games.
The Stars needed this firepower while they departed with former defenseman John Klingberg, who inked a one-year, $7 million deal with Anaheim on July 29th. Colin Miller was brought in from Buffalo as a cheaper replacement to Klingberg with a $1.85 million AAV.
DETROIT RED WINGS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
The Red Wings have been busy signing talent in free agency due to their massive salary cap availability. This includes Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, and Olli Maatta. The total cost of these four players cost Detroit's front office roughly $65 million across the next five years, but the talent they've acquired is undeniable.
Of course, Ville Husso was the biggest signing for the Red Wings after he impressed in St. Louis as the primary netminder on a deep playoff run in 2022.
EDMONTON OILERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
The Oilers have the best center tandem in the league, but they fizzled out in the playoffs last season due to spotty goaltending. Edmonton wasted no time strengthening their biggest weakness, signing Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million deal to be their primary netminder for the next five years.
Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto also re-signed, with Kane inking a lucrative four-year, $20.5 million contract on the first day of free agency.
FLORIDA PANTHERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A
Florida was flying under the radar during the first week of free agency, but they made a blockbuster signing with Matthew Tkachuk for a whopping eight-year, $76 million deal. Tkachuk scored 42 goals and finished with 104 points for Calgary last season and should transfer this momentum onto one of the league's most loaded rosters in 2023. The Panthers have also made several other minor signings, but Tkachuk alone warrants an A-grade.
LOS ANGELES KINGS FREE AGENCY GRADE: F
The Kings have been virtually silent in free agency thus far, letting Olli Maata and Andreas Athanasiou sign with other teams while still not making any movement on veteran winger Dustin Brown. Los Angeles has made four minor contract extensions or lower free agent signings, but an aging roster lacking scoring upside is concerning after three weeks of free agency. Therefore, the Kings receive an F until more prominent players are re-signed, extended, or signed.
MINNESOTA WILD FREE AGENCY GRADE: D-
The Wild have a talented roster and came away with a nice haul from the 2022 NHL Draft Class. This has manifested in their minimal free agency activity, which offloaded Nicolas Deslauriers to Philadelphia on a $1.75 million AAV. In addition, veteran netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was extended a few days before free agency began, receiving a two-year, $7 million deal to shore up their defense between the pipes.
MONTREAL CANADIENS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C-
Rem Pitlick is a solid player that Montreal chose to extend after scoring nine goals and 17 assists with the Canadiens in 2022. Most of Montreal's other signings have been minor, cheap deals outside this transaction to add depth to a suddenly impressive roster. The Canadiens crushed the draft and landed top overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky, so they should have plenty of talent to be a darkhorse playoff contender in 2023. However, in terms of free agency, the Canadiens earn a lower grade of C-.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
Nashville has had a solid free agency by retaining Filip Forsberg on a massive eight-year, $68 million contract extension. He just eclipsed 40 goals (42) for the first time in his career, but he will be joined by Nino Niederreiter, who comes over from Carolina after scoring 20 goals and 44 assists in 2022. The Predators have focused solely on their left-wing depth, but they have plenty of talent between Forsberg and Niederreiter to make a playoff push in 2023.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
After going through arbitration and holding out for three weeks, New Jersey re-signed Jesper Bratt to a one-year, $5.45 million contract on August 3rd. Bratt led the Devils in total points (73) and scored 26 goals as a 23-year-old winger with plenty of upside to tap into in 2023. Ondrej Palat also inked a massive five-year, $30 million contract after playing well for Tampa Bay during their three consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals. Vitek Vanecek will also provide solid goaltending relief for a team who desperately needs it heading into next season.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: F
It's been a quiet and underwhelming free agency for the New York Islanders. While they drafted Calle Odelius to strengthen their defense, they need to do something in free agency to improve their offensive woes before the 2023 season begins.
NEW YORK RANGERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B
The Rangers lost some talent in free agency but replaced it with a big contract to Vincent Trocheck on a massive seven-year, $39.5 million deal. The losses of Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome could be mitigated with Trocheck's signing, especially after he scored 20 goals and 51 points for Carolina in 2022. In addition, Goaltenders Louis Domingue and Jaroslav Halak inked cheap deals to back-up Igor Shesterkin, and Kaapo Kakko re-signed last week on a $2.1 million AAV.
OTTAWA SENATORS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
Veteran Claude Giroux highlights Ottawa's free agency signings, but they also opted to re-sign Josh Norris to a significant eight-year, $63.6 million deal. No surprise about Norris' re-signing after leading the Senators with 35 goals in 2022. Giroux is past his prime but still possesses plenty of juice in the offensive zone and can help develop some of Ottawa's less refined players on the roster in 2023.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C-
The Flyers are in full rebuild mode, with new head coach John Tortorella stepping back into the coaching grind for the upcoming 2023 season. Philadelphia paid up for former Carolina defenseman Tony DeAngelo, who finished 2022 with 41 assists, while also signing Nicolas Deslauriers and Owen Tippett to relatively large contracts despite low production last season. DeAngelo preserves a C- grade from what would otherwise be a D grade on a team that still needs goal-scorers.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
Evgeni Malin and Kasperi Kapanen highlight Pittsburgh's free agency activity thus far. Kapanen re-signed to a two-year, $6.4 million deal after finishing 2022 with 11 goals and 32 total points in 79 games. Meanwhile, Malkin inked a $24.4 million extension across the next four years. As long as he can improve his durability and availability, the Pens should be excited about retaining these two talented offensive weapons in 2023.
SAN JOSE SHARKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: D+
The Sharks have made plenty of free agency signings, but few of these appear to be significant upgrades on a team desperate for offense. Oskar Lindblom was signed on a $2.5 million AAV after scoring double-digit goals and assists for the Flyers in 2022. The acquisition of goaltender Aaron Dell adds decent depth defending the crease. Overall, the Sharks have shelled out a lot of money to acquire mediocre or sub-par talent, warranting a grade of D+.
SEATTLE KRAKEN FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
The Kraken may be a team that possesses realistic playoff ambitions for the 2022-23 NHL season. After crushing their draft by landing top prospect Shane Wright at fourth overall, they paid up to sign Andre Burakovsky after he produced a career year for the Colorado Avalanche. Burkakovsky scored 22 goals and 39 assists for the Avs and has a winning pedigree, justifying the expensive five-year, $5.5 million AAV he signed. In addition, goaltender Martin Jones was signed to a one-year, $2 million deal to add goaltending depth.
ST. LOUIS BLUES FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
Robert Thomas was a no-brainer extension for the Blues' front office, rewarding the 23-year-old with an $8.125 AAV across the next eight years to lock up their center position. The loss of David Perron hurts but re-signing Nick Leddy to a four-year, $16 million deal preserves one of their better defensive players. Bringing in Thomas Greiss to compete with Jordan Binnington was a good move, but Greiss will need to improve from the 3.66 GAA he finished during Detroit's 2021-22 season.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING FREE AGENCY GRADE: B+
The Lightning benefit from having one of the most talented rosters in the league. The loss of Ondrej Palat won't make their front office miss any sleep, as they extended Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak to continue their winning pedigree and chemistry heading into 2023. Ian Cole is one of the few notable players to join the Lightning from another team, finishing with 17 assists in Carolina last year.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS FREE AGENCY GRADE: D-
The Maple Leafs no longer have goaltender Jack Campbell to rely on and have not made any splash signings in free agency thus far. Ilya Samsonov was brought in from Washington to replace Campbell, but he will need to improve from a 3.02 GAA, and .896 save percentage that he finished with while playing for Washington in 2022.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B
I like Vancouver's decision to sign Ilya Mikheyev to a four-year, $19 million contract after scoring over 20 goals for Toronto during his third year in the league. The Canucks lost Jaroslav Halak to the Rangers and have mostly signed lower-line offensive pieces. Still, Mikheyev is a talented prospect that raises Vancouver's free agency grade to a B.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS FREE AGENCY GRADE: C+
Vegas has been very quiet in free agency, but their most notable transaction has been re-signing Reilly Smith to a three-year, $15 million extension. The 30-year-old right-wing finished 2022 with 16 goals and 22 assists in just 58 games, so assuming he stays healthy in 2023, Smith should return enough value as a 20-plus goal scorer for the Golden Knights. Without this extension, Vegas would be receiving an F.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS FREE AGENCY GRADE: A-
Washington made a surprising playoff push in 2022 without much depth or young talent. The goaltending was a frequent problem, so the Capitals went out and made a splash signing to acquire Darcy Kuemper after he helped the Avs clinch their third Stanley Cup Finals victory in June. Dylan Strome is another excellent piece the Caps signed to a manageable one-year, $3.5 million deal to add depth to their first or second-line attack. Expect Washington to be good again with bigger playoff aspirations in 2023.
WINNIPEG JETS FREE AGENCY GRADE: B-
The Jets have been relatively quiet players in free agency, but they did make sure to lock up Pierre-Luc Dubois on a one-year, $6 million re-sign for the 2023 NHL season. Dubois racked up 28 goals and 62 points for the Jets in 2022. Paul Stastny is still a big-name free agent prospect that the Jets have not made a move on yet, so he's certainly an exciting name to continue monitoring. Goaltender Eric Comrie signed with Buffalo, so their replacement, David Rittich, will need to channel his performances from earlier in his career to return value despite a cheap contract.
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.