2022 NHL Free Agency: Live Grades for All the Biggest Signings

2022 NHL Free Agency: Live Grades for All the Biggest Signings

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    Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    The NHL’s annual free-agent market
    opened at noon ET Wednesday. As usual, expect a
    flurry of contract signings over the next several days as general
    managers bid to land the best unrestricted free agents.

    With the salary cap rising to just
    $82.5 million for 2022-23, 24 of the 32 clubs have less than $20
    million in cap space, with 14 of those carrying less than $10
    million. That could have a big effect, putting
    significant limitations on where players can sign and how much they
    can get.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Nashville Predators winger Filip Forsberg and Edmonton Oilers winger Evander Kane recently
    re-signed long-term contracts with their clubs. Nevertheless,
    the market still included such notable talent as left winger Johnny
    Gaudreau, versatile forward Claude Giroux and center Nazem Kadri.

    Here are our live grades for the
    biggest signings. We’ve included breakdowns on Malkin, Letang, Forsberg, Kane and Giroux, among others.

    Feel free to express your
    thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.

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    Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

    In the days
    leading up to the start of free agency, it appeared Evgeni Malkin’s
    16-season career with the Pittsburgh Penguins was drawing to a close.
    On Monday, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported the 35-year-old center
    planned to test the market.

    Hours before the
    free-agent period began at noon ET, however, Malkin and the Penguins
    reached an agreement on a new contract. It’s a four-year, $24.4 million
    deal with an annual cap hit of $6.1 million. The deal also includes a
    full no-movement clause throughout the course of that contract.

    A future Hall of
    Famer, Malkin helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016
    and 2017. He’s a two-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy and has also
    taken home the Calder Memorial Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted
    Lindsay Award and the Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s second all-time among
    Penguins players in games played (981) and third all-time in total
    goals (444), assists (702) and points (1,146).

    Age and injuries
    have taken a toll on Malkin in recent years. Knee surgery last June
    sidelined him for the first 34 games of 2021-22. When healthy,
    however, he remains a point-per-game player.

    The cap hit on Malkin’s deal is similar to that of teammate Kris Letang’s recently signed contract
    but for two fewer years. While it still takes a significant chunk out
    of the Penguins’ cap payroll, it’s a big pay cut from the $9.5 million of
    his previous deal. Malkin’s age and injury history remain a concern, but he
    should still prove to be a productive second-line center for at least
    half of this deal.


    Grade: B

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    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Penguins provided some
    excitement leading up to the start of the 2022 NHL draft on July 7, re-signing
    Kris Letang to a six-year, $36.6 million contract extension ($6.1M average annual value). Cap Friendly indicates the deal comes with a full
    no-movement clause in the first four seasons.

    Letang, 35, was coming off a
    career-best 68-point performance in 2021-22. The Penguins’ blue-line
    stalwart had completed an eight-year contract worth an annual
    salary-cap hit of $7.25 million. He’s spent the entirety of his 16
    NHL seasons with the Penguins, collecting 42-or-more points nine
    times.

    The good news for the Penguins is they
    got Letang to agree to a lower annual cap hit. The bad news is
    they’ve made a long-term investment in a defenseman who will be 41
    when this contract expires.

    Letang’s conditioning and consistency
    suggest he should still provide the Penguins with perhaps three more
    solid seasons as a puck-moving blueliner. However, there’s a real
    risk that his performance will significantly decline over the final
    half of that deal, making him a potentially expensive burden by that
    point.

    This deal is structured to pay Letang
    $4.8 million in actual salary over the final two years, with just $1
    million in base salary after the Penguins pay out $3.8 million in
    signing bonuses at the start of each new season. Nevertheless, the
    $6.1 million cap hit and the 10-team no-trade clause during those
    years could become a salary-cap headache.


    Grade: B-

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    John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

    Filip
    Forsberg is the Nashville Predators’ franchise leader with 220 goals
    and sits among their top five with 249 career assists and 469 total
    points. On July 11, they ensured he’ll have an opportunity to add to
    those stats by officially announcing his signing of a new eight-year,
    $68 million contract.

    Forsberg
    has spent his entire nine-season NHL career with the Predators. In
    that time, he tallied 21-or-more goals and 48-plus points seven
    times. The past season was his best, tallying a career-best 42 goals
    and 42 assists for 84 points in 69 games.

    This
    was an expensive signing for the Predators. However, it’s one general
    manager David Poile felt had to be made or risk losing his best
    sniper at a time when he’s attempting to retool this club back into
    Stanley Cup contenders. They need Forsberg if they’re to accomplish
    that goal, especially if he continues to reach the 40-goal plateau on
    a regular basis.

    The
    length and expense of Forsberg’s deal come with some risk. The
    27-year-old winger might never return to last season’s offensive
    heights. He’ll be in the mid-30s in the latter half of the deal,
    which is when a scorer’s production declines. He’s also the fourth
    player on the Predators with an annual cap hit exceeding $8 million,
    biting deep into their cap space.

    Nevertheless,
    Poile felt their chances of returning to contender status are better
    with Forsberg than without. He has made an expensive long-term
    investment on his top winger, one he hopes will pan out over the long
    term.


    Grade: B+

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Evander Kane
    seemed headed to free agency after TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported the
    Edmonton Oilers granted his agent permission to speak with other
    clubs. However, it appears the 30-year-old winger didn’t like what he
    might’ve received on the open market, agreeing to a four-year, $20.5
    million deal with the Oilers shortly after that development.

    Following his
    contract with the San Jose Sharks being terminated last January, Evander
    Kane signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal with the Oilers.
    He quickly established solid chemistry with superstar Connor
    McDavid, tallying 22 goals and 39 points in 43 regular-season games
    along with 13 goals in 15 playoff contests.

    It’s a reasonable
    signing for both sides. While it’s still a pay cut for Kane from the
    $7 million per season he was earning with the Sharks, it’s a big
    boost over what he got from the Oilers last season. He’s also
    getting an opportunity to spend the next four seasons as McDavid’s
    wingman. The Oilers, meanwhile, retain their first-line left winger
    without overpaying for the privilege.

    Uncertainty still
    hovers over Kane. The NHLPA filed a grievance against the Sharks on
    his behalf over his contract termination that still awaits a hearing
    by an arbitrator. He was the subject of investigations into domestic violence allegations, which the NHL determined could not be substantiated, and received a 21-game suspension last year before joining the
    Oilers for violating COVID-19 protocols.

    Still, there’s no
    denying Kane was a terrific fit with the Oilers and his play was
    well received by Edmonton fans. This deal could turn into a bargain
    if he continues his high-scoring ways and remains available.


    Grade: A-

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    Vince Del Monte/NHLI via Getty Images

    After
    several years of rebuilding, the Ottawa Senators made a significant
    foray into the free-agent market by signing Claude Giroux to a
    three-year contract Wednesday. Per TSN and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, the deal carries an average annual
    value of $6.5 million.

    This
    move could cap what’s been a busy week for Senators general manager
    Pierre Dorion. He bolstered
    his scoring by acquiring winger Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago
    Blackhawks, trading oft-injured goaltender Matt Murray to the
    Toronto Maple Leafs and acquiring netminder Cam Talbot from the
    Minnesota Wild.

    Giroux
    could’ve signed with a Stanley Cup contender. However, the
    34-year-old Hearst, Ontario, native opted for his offseason home and will try to help
    the Senators become a playoff contender again. He won’t be required
    to carry this club as he did in his heyday with the Philadelphia
    Flyers. Nevertheless, he will bring invaluable experience and leadership
    to the top-two forward lines.

    A
    versatile two-way player who can play center or either wing, Giroux
    proved last season he still has something left in the tank. Following
    a trade from the Flyers to the Florida Panthers, Giroux tallied 23
    points in 18 regular-season games along with eight points in 10 playoff
    contests. His all-around skills will help the Senators in all
    situations.

    Giroux accepted a pay cut from the $8.3 million of his previous deal,
    but it’s still a decent salary for a player approaching the twilight
    of a long career. The pact left the Senators with $16 million in
    cap space.


    Grade: B+

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    Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty images

    The
    Edmonton Oilers were in the market for a reliable starting goaltender
    with aging, oft-injured starter Mike Smith reportedly set to spend next
    season on the long-term injured reserve and Mikko Koskinen having departed for
    Switzerland. They’re looking to former Toronto Maple Leafs netminder
    Jack Campbell.

    Campbell,
    30, signed a five-year contract with the Oilers worth an average annual value of $5 million, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. That’s a significant raise over
    his two-year deal that was worth $1.7 million annually.

    This
    is an opportunity for Campbell to establish himself as a starter after he followed a promising performance with the Leafs in the
    COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign with an inconsistent
    effort. He won 17 of his first 25 starts
    with a .939 save percentage, but that gave way to 14 wins in his final 24 games
    with an .888 mark.

    Goaltending
    has been a weakness for the Oilers for some time. Despite reaching
    the Western Conference Finals last season, they needed an upgrade
    between the pipes. General manager Ken Holland is banking on Campbell to regain his promising form and grow more comfortable as
    a full-time starter.

    Holland
    is making a significant investment in Campbell. If it works out, the Oilers
    could be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender over the course of this
    deal. If not, it could become an expensive mistake that eats up
    invaluable cap space.


    Grade: B

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    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    New
    York Rangers general manager Chris Drury needed a new second-line
    center with Ryan Strome an unrestricted free agent and the departure of Andrew Copp via free
    agency. Per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, he found one in Vincent Trocheck,
    inking him to a seven-year deal with an annual average value of
    $5.6 million.

    Trocheck,
    29, established himself during tenures
    with the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. In his nine campaigns, he has tallied 21 or more goals and 50-plus points four
    times, including his 21-goal, 51-point performance in 2021-22.

    Projected to skate alongside Artemi Panarin, Trocheck could return to the level of his career-best 31-goal, 75-point
    performance with the Panthers in 2017-18. If they mesh,
    the Rangers should have a solid scoring line as they attempt to
    become serious Stanley Cup contenders.

    Having just completed a six-year contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $4.8 million,
    Trocheck got a reasonable raise. The length of the
    deal is a concern, however, since the latter half of the contract will stretch through a period when a player’s
    production tends to decline. This could become a potential cap
    headache for the Rangers down the road.

    The
    Trocheck signing could also complicate the Rangers’ efforts to fill
    out their roster. Cap Friendly indicates they have 18 players under contract with restricted free-agent winger
    Kaapo Kakko unsigned. Drury could be forced to make a
    cost-cutting move later in the summer to address this issue.


    Grade: C+

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    After
    backstopping the Colorado Avalanche to the 2022 Stanley Cup, Darcy
    Kuemper has moved on to the Washington Capitals. The team announced it signed the 32-year-old to a
    five-year, $26.3 million contract.

    Cap
    Friendly indicates Kuemper’s average annual value is $5.3 million, which is a reasonable raise over the $4.5 million of his
    previous contract. This also represents the longest contract in his
    career.

    Kuemper
    put up strong numbers in 2021-22, finishing
    fourth with 37 wins to go with a 2.54 goals-against
    average, a .921 save percentage and five shutouts. While he has a
    well-deserved Stanley Cup on his resume, his career postseason
    numbers (2.72 GAA, .908 SP) aren’t exactly eye-popping.

    The
    Capitals have lacked a suitable starting goalie since Braden Holtby departed as a free agent in 2020. They recently parted
    ways with the tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek after two
    seasons. Kuemper and his backup will be expected to
    provide the level of goaltending necessary to get the Capitals back
    into Cup contention.

    Kuemper’s
    age could become a concern over the course of this contract. The 32-year-old’s performance could deteriorate in the final
    years of the deal as the wear and tear of the position begin
    to take a toll.


    Grade: B

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    The
    biggest name in free agency landed with the
    Columbus Blue Jackets. As reported by The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun and Aaron Portzline,
    former Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau signed a seven-year
    contract with the Jackets worth an approximate average annual value of $9.5
    million.

    LeBrun reported Gaudreau rejected an eight-year deal from the Flames worth $10.5 million annually. Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Flames general manager Brad Treliving said the winger’s decision was based on family and not money.

    It was
    a stunning move by the Blue Jackets. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen
    isn’t known for making big splashes in the free-agent pool. By
    signing Gaudreau, who finished second in the league last season with a
    career-best 115 points, he made an addition that should
    significantly advance his club’s rebuilding plans.

    The
    28-year-old Gaudreau is among the best playmakers in the game.
    The 5’9″, 165-pounder is a quick, skillful and
    creative puck-handler. Since his rookie campaign in 2014-15,
    he has tallied 60 or more points six times. Gaudreau also improved his
    two-way game last season under Flames head coach Darryl
    Sutter, becoming a more complete player.

    Gaudreau
    will provide a welcome boost to the Blue Jackets offense,
    especially on a power play that ranked 24th last season. He is in his prime and should continue
    to produce at a high level for the next four or five years, making
    him a key factor for Columbus as it plans to become a serious
    playoff contender.

    Signing Gaudreau,
    however, took a big bite out of the payroll. Cap Friendly shows the Jackets with just $3.4 million in salary-cap space. Unless they shed salary, that could affect their efforts to re-sign restricted free-agent winger
    Patrik Laine.


    Grade: A


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