NHL free agency grades: Blue Jackets get 'A' for Johnny Gaudreau; Oilers, Red Wings receive high marks

Thu, Jul 14, 2022
NHL News (AP)

NHL free agency grades: Blue Jackets get 'A' for Johnny Gaudreau; Oilers, Red Wings receive high marks

The opening day of NHL free agency is in the books. Some of the top stars -- such as'Nazem Kadri'-- 'still remain on the board, but plenty of high-profile talent has . Players like Claude Giroux, Vincent Trocheck, Darcy Kuemper, and Evgeni Malkin decided where they're going to spend the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, our NHL experts took a closer look at where some of the top free agents landed and gave their grades for those signings.

The Ottawa Senators have missed the postseason in each of the last five seasons, but are making moves to change their fortunes. Ottawa added star winger Alex DeBrincat in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks leading up to the 2022 NHL Draft. Then on Wednesday, the Senators signed veteran winger Claude Giroux to a three-year, $19.5 million contract ($6.5 million AAV). This a very team friendly deal for a Senators squad that now has a nice mix of young talent and star power. Even at 34, Giroux is still a talented playmaker that will fit in well on Ottawa's top line alongside Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris. With the addition of Giroux, the Senators should be able to blossom into a playoff team in the 2022-23 season.'Grade: B+ -- Chris Bengel

The Pittsburgh Penguins front office was tasked with quite a bit of work heading into the 2022 offseason. Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Richard Rakell and Bryan Rust were all set to become free agents. Still, Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall managed to get all four players signed, including Malkin, who tested the free agent market. In a surprising turn of events, Malkin signed a four-year, $24.4 million ($6.1 million AAV) to remain with the team that he's spent his entire career with. Malkin is 35 and has had his fair share of injury issues in recent years. It's a risky move to commit to four years for Malkin given his age, but it's a gamble that the team had to make if they wanted to retain him. With Malkin back in the fold, and'Sidney Crosby, Letang, and company still around, this Penguins core can make a run at a fourth Stanley Cup together.'Grade: B -- Chris Bengel

The Washington Capitals haven't gotten steady production in net since winning the Stanley Cup back in 2018. Earlier this offseason, the team traded Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils then let Ilya Samsonov walk in free agency. All along, Washington had their sights set on veteran goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who signed a five-year, $26.25 million contract on Wednesday. Kuemper won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche last season and while he wasn't the sole reason they won it all, he did provide stability in between the pipes. Kuemper has even finished in the top seven in the Vezina Trophy voting in two of the last four years. This was a necessary move for the Capitals and really should provide the steady goalie play that the team has been looking for.'Grade: B+ -- Chris Bengel

Entering the NHL offseason, it was unknown what exactly the market would be for Evander Kane. After landing with the Edmonton Oilers in January, Kane had a strong season in which he registered 39 points (22 goals and 17 assists) and thrived skating on a line with Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman. For that reason, Kane wasn't looking to change addresses and signed a four-year, $20.5 million ($5.125 million AAV) contract to remain with the Oilers. It's hard to argue with Kane's production last season. As if the regular season wasn't impressive enough, he also scored a team-high 13 goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs where the Oilers made it to the Western Conference final. Kane's presence as a power forward really was just what the doctor ordered in Edmonton and it's honestly a perfect fit. At just 30 years old, a four-year deal makes a ton of sense for both sides.'Grade: A- -- Chris Bengel

While'Cale Makar was the star of the show during Colorado's Stanley Cup run, winger Artturi Lehkonen also really shined for the Avalanche. As a result, Lehkonen signed a five-year contract worth $4.5 million per season as free agency opened. After being dealt to the Avalanche from the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline, Lehkonen thrived as he scored six goals and dished out three assists in 16 regular season games. However, his legend grew much larger during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference final, Lehkonen netted the game-winning goal in overtime to lift the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup Final. He also scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning when he found the back of the net in the second period. Colorado has proved to be a great landing spot for Lehkonen and keeps the team's strong core intact for the foreseeable future on a very solid contract.'Grade: B+ -- Chris Bengel

Ondrej Palat had spent his entire 10-year career as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Palat was been an integral part of the team's three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances, but with the Lightning not having a ton of cap space and other free agents to sign, Tampa Bay let Palat walk in free agency. According to reports, the 31-year old winger has agreed to terms with the New Jersey Devils on a five-year contract that will pay him an estimated $6 million per season. Palat is coming off his highest point total in seven seasons as he recorded 18 goals and 31 assists in 77 games. He scored eight game-winning goals across the Lightning's three Stanley Cup runs and brings a veteran presence to a Devils team that could use it. It's a lot of money to spend for a player that has only one 20-goal season under his belt and it's a little more than a team probably would want to spend for a 31-year old. However, New Jersey really needs some help on the wing. Palat should fit in nicely on the Devils' top line alongside Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt.'Grade: B- -- Chris Bengel

Speaking of the Devils, the team also made a trade with the Boston Bruins on the opening day of free agency. New Jersey sent center Pavel Zacha to Boston in exchange for center Erik Haula. Both Zacha and Haula put up similar numbers during the 2021-22 season. Zacha is coming off a year in which he tallied 36 points (15 goals and 21 assists) for the Devils. In his seven years with the franchise, Zacha has registered 179 points (69 goals and 110 assists) after being selected with the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

On the other hand, Haula recorded 44 points (18 goals and 26 assists) with the Bruins last season. The Devils will be the seventh team for Haula in his NHL career as he's also spent time with the Minnesota Wild, Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators in addition to the Bruins.'

This was more of an upgrade for the Bruins, who desperately need to stabilize their center position. On the contrary, the Devils already have their top two centers and didn't really need Zacha as badly. Haula is a solid third-line center that is a free agent after next season.'

The Bruins are still trying to convince Patrice Bergeron to return for a 19th season. In addition, Boston has also been linked to veteran center David Krejci in a potential reunion. As of right now, Zacha likely centers Boston's second line alongside Jake DeBrusk and Craig Smith. If the Bruins fail to bring back Bergeron or Krejci, they have some insurance in Zacha. The 25-year old has more upside than Haula and is the more dangerous of the two offensively with 20-goal campaigns in two of the last three seasons. It's a solid low-cost move for the Bruins.'Grade: B -- Chris Bengel

I'm still flabbergasted by this one. The Blue Jackets got involved late in this process with the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils being the most likely destinations for quite some time. In terms of value, the Blue Jackets did very well here with a seven year contract worth $68.25 million. By contrast, the Calgary Flames reportedly offered Gaudreau an eight-year deal worth $84 million. This was an impressive move by Columbus, and the team will get better immediately. However, I'm confused with the direction of the team. Coming off an 81-point season in which they missed the playoffs by 19 points, the Blue Jackets are still a long way from being a contender, and they have very little salary cap space now. To be fair, that has much more to do with the team signing Erik Gudbranson to a deal worth $4 million per season. Grade: A -- Austin Nivison

After a disastrous first year in the NHL, Seattle had needs everywhere, especially on offense. The Kraken generated just 144.73 expected goals at five-on-five last season, according to Natural Stat Trick. Enter Andre Burakovsky on a five-year deal worth $27.5 million. His 9.52 expected goals at five-on-five ranked sixth on a loaded Avalanche squad, and his 22 actual goals would have ranked second on the Kraken last year. Some might quibble with the price on this deal, but not me. This is a good deal for Seattle, and Burakovsky makes the team's top-six forward group much better. The biggest risk here is that Burakovsky's production takes a hit going from one of the deepest teams in the NHL to one of the weakest. Grade: A -- Austin Nivison

When this signing first came across the wire, I thought seven years was a bit too lengthy for Trocheck. However, the price tag' of $38.375 million makes this a little more palatable. Trocheck showed that he can be a strong second-line center in Carolina, and he plays a balanced two-way game. With the Rangers losing Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp in free agency, Trocheck fills a need. When it comes to center depth, New York could do much worse than Mika Zibanejad and Trocheck anchoring the top two lines. The contract could get burdensome down the line, but it's hard to complain too much about this one. Grade: B+ -- Austin Nivison

To the Oilers' credit, they needed to address their goaltending situation, and they did that by signing Campbell to a five-year contract worth $5 million per season. Now 30-years old, Campbell has shown that he has the ability to play at a high level. From the start of the regular season through Jan. 14, Campbell led the league in goals saved above average with 20.67, per Natural Stat Trick. He finished the season 13th in the NHL with 10.07 goals saved above average, which shows you how far he fell in the latter half of the season. There is some risk with the term, the price and the overall consistency of the player, but the Oilers did address a clear need. Grade: B- -- Austin Nivison

Copp proved his worth as a two-way forward last season. He has been a strong defensive presence throughout his career, but he found a goal-scoring touch in 2021-22. After being traded to the New York Rangers, Copp really took off with eight goals in 16 games, and he added 14 points in the team's playoff run to the Eastern Conference final. That earned him a raise in the form of a five-year deal worth $28.125 million with the Red Wings. Copp will slot nicely into Detroit's lineup as a middle-six center, but there is some concern about Copp being able to play up to that cap hit throughout the life of the deal. Grade: B -- Austin Nivison

In the 2021-22 season, the Stars were a bit of a one-trick pony. If the'Joe Pavelski-Jason Robertson-Roope Hintz'line wasn't scoring, then the team probably wasn't winning. Marchment will provide some much needed offensive depth after a terrific season with the Florida Panthers, and it comes a fair price of $18.5 million over four years. Marchment ranked 14th on the team in five-on-five ice time, according to Natural Stat Trick, and he was tied with Aleksander Barkov for fifth in five-on-five goals with 15. That is an absurd stat, and it is very fair to wonder if Marchment will be able to replicate that performance in an expanded role. I really like this signing for the Stars, but it may age like milk in July heat if Marchment backslides, which I don't think he will. Grade: B+ -- Austin Nivison

Steve Yzerman had a busy day in Detroit, and this might be his best move. Even at the age of 33, Perron scored 27 goals and added 30 assists in 67 games last season, and he is still a valuable top-six winger. The only real concern is Perron's age, and he only signed for two years at $4.5 million per season, so there is no risk for the Red Wings there. Detroit is entering the next stage of its rebuild, and Perron is a veteran who can contribute while helping to bring the young players along. Even if things don't quite come together in the next couple seasons, Perron will be a nice trade chip. This is a fantastic deal for the Red Wings. Grade: A+ -- Austin Nivison

Article Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved.