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

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured Columnist IVJuly 13, 2022

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

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    EDMONTON, AB - May 22: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames skates during Game Three of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers on May 22, 2022 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    The NHL's annual free-agent market opened at noon ET Wednesday. As usual, there were a flurry of contract signings, and that will continue 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 had 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 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, Giroux and Gaudreau, among others.

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

Evgeni Malkin Agrees to New Deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 13:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts after scoring a goal during the second period in Game Six of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Rangers at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 13, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
    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

Kris Letang Remains with the Pittsburgh Penguins

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 11:  Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) skates during  game 5 of round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 11, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    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-

Nashville Predators Re-Sign Filip Forsberg

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    NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 9: Filip Forsberg #9 of the Nashville Predators skates against the Colorado Avalanche in Game Four of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 9, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
    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+

Evander Kane Stays with the Edmonton Oilers

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    CALGARY, AB - MAY 26: Evander Kane #91 of the Edmonton Oilers in action against the Calgary Flames during Game Five of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome on May 26, 2022 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Oilers defeated the Flames 5-4 in overtime to win the series four games to one. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
    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-

Ottawa Senators Sign Claude Giroux

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    TAMPA, FL - MAY 23: Claude Giroux #28 of the Florida Panthers against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Four of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Vince Del Monte/NHLI via Getty Images)
    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+

Jack Campbell Joins the Edmonton Oilers

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    TORONTO, ON - MAY 14:  Jack Campbell #36 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks for a puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Seven of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on May 14, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. ( Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty images)
    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

New York Rangers Sign Vincent Trocheck

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 28:  Carolina Hurricanes center Vincent Trocheck (16) against the New York Rangers during Game 6 of round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs on May 28, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.   (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    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+

Washington Capitals Sign Darcy Kuemper

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JUNE 26: Darcy Kuemper #35 of the Colorado Avalanche carries the Stanley Cup following the series winning victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    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

Johnny Gaudreau Signs with the Columbus Blue Jackets

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    CALGARY, AB - MAY 26: Johnny Gaudreau #13 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Edmonton Oilers during Game Five of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome on May 26, 2022 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Oilers defeated the Flames 5-4 in overtime to win the series four games to one. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
    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