The Real Winners and Losers from the 1st Day of 2022 NHL Free Agency

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIJuly 14, 2022

The Real Winners and Losers from the 1st Day of 2022 NHL Free Agency

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    AP Photo/Craig Lassig

    The last teams are off the draft clock.

    And the season's first puck drop is still three months away.

    But if you think that means it's a slow time in the NHL, you couldn't be more wrong.

    Noon ET on Wednesday signaled the start of perhaps the most impactful period on the competitive calendar (outside of the actual games, of course) with the arrival of the signing period for the annual cadre of unrestricted free agents.

    As usual, big names and big deals were all the rage, and the B/R hockey team was primed and ready to see how things went while compiling a definitive list of winners and losers from the chaotic opening hours.

    Scroll through to see what we came up with, and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments section.

Loser: Flameout in Calgary

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    AP Photo/Chris Seward

    It hasn't been an ideal stretch for the Calgary Flames.

    The southern Alberta residents won a Pacific Division title but were bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the Edmonton Oilers in the first postseason meeting of the provincial rivals in 31 years.

    And as soon as the handshake lines dispersed, the clock began ticking toward the imminent free-agency statuses of prolific forwards Johnny Gaudreau (unrestricted) and Matthew Tkachuk (restricted).

    Gaudreau's clock ran out on Tuesday night when he informed general manager Brad Treliving that he'd be testing the free agency waters despite the eight-year offer on the table from the Flames. Treliving subsequently said that it was unlikely Gaudreau would circle back and wind up with Calgary once the market opened on Wednesday.

    He was right. Gaudreau signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets for seven years.

    Meanwhile, the long-term status of Tkachuk is also in question.

    The 24-year-old received a $9 million qualifying offer from the Flames that'll keep him from unrestricted free agency this season, but he's become the subject of trade rumors now that Gaudreau is gone, and he could become unrestricted himself after the 2022-23 season.

Winner: Taking Care of Your Own

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    AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

    Though the biggest headlines on free-agency day are often reserved for stars changing addresses, this year's version was equally and perhaps more noteworthy for the players and teams that extended relationships rather than those that ended them.

    Toward that end, a pair of blockbusters were made official several hours before the 12 p.m. starting gun, with Pittsburgh veteran Evgeni Malkin and recent Edmonton acquisition Evander Kane deciding to stay with their respective teams.

    Malkin, a 35-year-old with three Stanley Cups on his resume, was set to test free agency for the first time in his career before agreeing to a four-year, $24.4 million extension that'll presumably allow the Russian-born star to stay in the Steel City for the rest of his NHL stay.

    Meanwhile, Kane, who went to northern Alberta in January after his existing contract was terminated by the San Jose Sharks, took to social media overnight to say that he'd agreed to his own four-year deal that'll keep him in Edmonton for a cool $20.5 million.

    In addition to Malkin and Kane, two other high-profile players decided in the days before the deadline that they'd stay put with new deals rather than testing the market.

    Forward Filip Forsberg signed an eight-year, $68 million contract that'll keep him with the Nashville Predators, with whom he debuted in the 2012-13 season, through 2029-30.

    He established career-bests in goals (42), assists (42) and points (84) in 2021-22.

    And remaining with Malkin and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh is defenseman Kris Letang, another three-time Cup winner, who re-upped for six years and $36.6 million.

    Also 35 years old, Letang had career highs in assists (58) and points (68) last season.

Winner: Goalies Getting Rich

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    AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

    It's a three-word mantra for every free-agent signing period:

    Goalies get paid.

    It held true again as two bona fide No. 1 netminders grabbed five-year contracts worth at least $5 million annually.

    Darcy Kuemper, the 32-year-old who backstopped the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup in late June, cashed in to the tune of $26.3 million over five years with the Washington Capitals.

    Kuemper was 10-4 in the title run with the Avalanche but was made expendable when then-GM (and now president of hockey operations) Joe Sakic acquired Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers at the draft and subsequently signed him to a three-year deal worth $10.2 million.

    "Super excited for the new opportunity," Kuemper said. "I think this is a team that can win it. That's always a lot of fun to be a part of. Really looking forward to getting started. It's going to be a short summer, but I can't wait to get down there and meet the guys.

    Also meeting the $25 million threshold was 30-year-old Jack Campbell, who was 31-9-6 in 49 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs but will spend the next five with the Edmonton Oilers at $5 million a year.

    The Oilers had a vacuum at the No. 1 spot after Mikko Koskinen signed to play in Europe and reports circulated that 40-year-old Mike Smith would either retire or spend the 2022-23 season on long-term injured reserve, making him unavailable to play.

    The only other goalie with NHL experience on the Edmonton roster, Stuart Skinner, has played 14 games.

    "The fan base is an amazing fan base," Campbell said. "I've played games here. I can't wait to be wearing the blue and orange."

Loser: The Metropolitan Grind

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    AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

    The Metropolitan Division was already a meat grinder.

    The team sent four teams to the playoffs with at least 100 points, and the fifth-place team last season, the New York Islanders, had reached the NHL's playoff final two straight times.

    But come October and beyond, it'll be even more of a challenge.

    In the biggest league-wide move of the day, the Columbus Blue Jackets made a significant effort toward climbing up from a sixth-place Metropolitan finish last season by signing forward Johnny Gaudreau for seven years and $68.3 million after he'd walked away from Calgary.

    Gaudreau had been expected to head toward the east coast to be near his hometown in southern New Jersey. However, he eschewed presumed opportunities with the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils to choose the Blue Jackets for less money than what he'd been offered to stay with the Flames.

    Gaudreau had a career-best 115 points in 2021-22, 53 more than the highest-scoring Columbus player, Jakub Voracek, who had six goals and 56 assists in 79 games.

    Meanwhile, each of the teams in the division's upper echelon also took steps toward getting better, including the first-place Carolina Hurricanes. They swung a deal with Vegas to acquire forward Max Pacioretty and defenseman Dylan Coghlan and picked up defenseman Brent Burns and a minor-leaguer from San Jose for two players and a draft pick.

    The trades helped soften the blow Carolina may have felt after the free-agent exodus of forward Vincent Trocheck to the second-place New York Rangers on a seven-year deal worth $39.4 million.

    Trocheck, a 29-year-old, had 21 goals and 51 points in 81 games with the Hurricanes in 2021-22.

    As mentioned earlier, the third-place Penguins retained the services of Letang and Malkin for another four years apiece in an attempt to keep the title window open in Pittsburgh, and the fourth-place Washington Capitals picked up a Stanley Cup-winning goalie in Kuemper after one season with the Colorado Avalanche.

Loser: Philadelphia Failure

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    AP Photo/Matt Slocum

    The combination of proximity to his hometown and childhood allegiance to the black and orange made it logical to assume that Gaudreau would wind up in Philadelphia.

    But he didn't.

    So not only did the Flyers not capitalize on having the inside track to the league's most coveted free agents, they did precious little else on Day 1 to suggest a rise out of their last-place Metropolitan irrelevance will happen anytime soon.

    No offense intended to Nicolas Deslauriers, Justin Braun or Cooper Marody, but they're not exactly the players it's likely to take to improve on a 25-46-11 record.

    A 31-year-old winger, Deslauriers arrives after totaling eight goals and 13 points in 81 games between Minnesota and Anaheim last season. The Flyers will be his fifth team in a career that has seen him top out at 10 goals with the Montreal Canadiens in 2017-18.

    He signed a four-year deal worth $7 million.

    Braun is a 35-year-old defenseman who split last season between the Flyers and New York Rangers, and Marody, 25, signed for two years and just more than $1.5 million after scoring 55 points in 52 games last season with Bakersfield of the AHL.

    It's an inglorious start to the tenure of coach John Tortorella, who was hired in mid-June.

    Philadelphia did acquire defenseman Tony DeAngelo from Carolina via trade on Friday and signed him to a two-year deal worth $10 million, then bought out the one remaining season on a three-year contract that defenseman Oskar Lindblom signed in 2020.

    The buyout was assumed to be a move to clear cap space to make a pitch to Gaudreau, but his decision to sign Columbus leaves the Flyers with a roster led in 2021-22 by James van Riemsdyk's 24 goals and Travis Konecny's 52 points.

Winner: Optimism in Ottawa

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    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

    OK, let's manage expectations here.

    The Ottawa Senators probably won't win the Stanley Cup next season.

    But there's little doubt they'll be at least a little bit more relevant than they've been in recent years.

    Though the needle hasn't moved to a championship-contention level, the Senators managed to retool significantly as they look to build toward respectability in 2022-23.

    Their first step came on draft day when Ottawa acquired 41-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a package that included the seventh overall pick in the draft, which Chicago used to select defenseman Kevin Korchinski.

    DeBrincat has a year remaining on a contract paying him $6.4 million and fits nicely with a young core of Brady Tkachuk (22 years old), Josh Norris (23) and Tim Stutzle (20) that combined for 87 goals last season.

    "The ability to add someone who is a consistent goal-scorer, someone whose age fits in with a lot of our core, someone that is a competitor, someone who has a proven track record," Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said. "We've said since the end of the year that we were looking for someone who could play in our top six, and he's playing in our top six."

    The next move came Tuesday when goaltender Cam Talbot came from Minnesota for fellow goalie Filip Gustavsson, in the aftermath of the Wild signing Marc-Andre Fleury to a two-year deal that presumably relegated Talbot to backup duty.

    Talbot, 35, was 32-12-4 with a .911 save percentage and three shutouts in 49 games with Minnesota in 2021-22, though most of the work came before the team acquired Fleury from Chicago at the trade deadline in March.

    "Cam is experienced and provides us with greater goaltending stability heading into next season," Dorion said. "He was instrumental in helping Minnesota reach the playoffs in each of his two seasons with the Wild. The tandem of he and Anton Forsberg sets us up nicely for the upcoming year."

    And last but not least, Ottawa added a jolt of veteran production on Wednesday with the signing of Claude Giroux, who's produced 923 points in 1,018 regular-season games and another 81 points in 95 playoff contests.

    He agreed to a three-year deal worth $19.5 million.

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