Ranking the 5 Worst 2022 NHL Free-Agency Signings so Far
The opening days of the NHL's annual free-agent market are usually the busiest of the offseason as general managers jockey to sign the best available talent. This year was no different, as CapFriendly reported a single-day record in total contract value of $919 million.
Johnny Gaudreau's seven-year, $68.25 million contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets was the biggest signing in this summer's unrestricted free-agent market. Other notables included the New York Rangers inking Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year, $39.4 million deal and the Washington Capitals signing goaltender Darcy Kuemper to a five-year, $26.3 million contract.
Most of this summer's signings were reasonable given the salary-cap constraints that many teams felt after the cap only rose by $1 million to $82.5 million. Some of those moves, such as Gaudreau's, are expensive but worthwhile given the value they bring to their new teams as players within their prime.
Some pacts, however, could turn out regrettable. Either the contract term is too long or the player is far overpaid. Here's our ranking of the five worst free-agency signings this offseason. We've excluded players who re-signed with their clubs before the free-agent market opened this July.
Do you think there is a player on this list who shouldn't be there? Are there any you believe belong here? Let us know in the comments section.
5. Vincent Trocheck, New York Rangers
Having lost Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp to free agency, the New York Rangers had to find a suitable second-line center. They turned to Vincent Trocheck, signing the 29-year-old former Carolina Hurricane to a seven-year contract for an average annual value of $5.6 million.
The cap hit is reasonable given Trocheck was earning $4.75 million on his previous six-year contract with the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. It's good value for a forward who has reached or exceeded 21 goals and 51 points four times in his nine-season NHL career, including a career-best 31 goals and 75 points in 2017-18 with the Panthers.
It's the length of the contract that's a concern. Giving him seven years enabled the Rangers to keep the annual cap hit below $6 million. However, Trocheck will be in his 30s throughout most of it and approaching 36 when it expires in 2028-29. That's a period when a scorer's production slides.
The Rangers should get solid value from Trocheck through the first three or four years of this deal, especially if he plays alongside a star such as Artemi Panarin. Nevertheless, he could become a salary-cap burden by the midpoint of his contract. His full no-movement clause in the first three years and modified no-trade over the final four could also make him difficult to move.
4. Nick Leddy, St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues acquired Nick Leddy at the March trade deadline from the Detroit Red Wings. On July 13, they signed the 31-year-old defenseman to a four-year, $16 million contract, which carries a full no-trade clause in the first three seasons.
A smooth-skating blueliner in his prime with seven 31-plus-point campaigns in his 12 NHL seasons, Leddy managed just 16 points in 55 games with the Wings last season. He rebounded somewhat with the Blues, collecting eight points in 20 games and five in nine playoff contests.
That may have been enough for the Blues to gamble on Leddy's ability to regain his earlier offensive form. However, his declining years are approaching if he hasn't reached them already.
Torey Krug, Justin Faulk and Colton Parayko are ahead of Leddy on the Blues' defensive depth chart, with each of them carrying an average annual value of $6.5 million. His $4 million AAV will chew up valuable cap space that could be put toward re-signing or replacing Ryan O'Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko or Jordan Kyrou next summer.
3. Nicolas Deslauriers, Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia Flyers management has faced criticism from their fans for their offseason moves, prompting new head coach John Tortorella to rise to the team's defense during a July 21 interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Taryn Hatcher.
One of those moves was signing forward Nicolas
Deslauriers to a four-year, $7 million contract. The 31-year-old, nine-year veteran is a
rugged forward who Tortorella praised by saying: "A number of teams were after him and
what he can bring. He can bring some toughness, he can kill penalties,
he's a good pro."
The 6'1”, 220-pounder recorded 13 points and 113 penalty minutes last season with the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild.
This contract with the Flyers is the longest and most expensive of Deslauriers' career. While the average annual value isn't bad at $1.8 million, investing for four years in an aging forward who contributes little offense and takes a lot of penalties is an overpayment.
Bringing in Deslauriers' physical style can be seen as an attempt from the Flyers to get back to their roots. If he were younger and contributed more, perhaps this would be a worthwhile move. Instead, it will eat up valuable money that the cap-strapped Flyers could've put toward a more useful depth player.
2. Ben Chiarot, Detroit Red Wings
After rebuilding with promising young players since 2019-20, the Detroit Red Wings made several free-agent signings this summer to bring in experienced depth. Among them were defensemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta, who can shore up the left side of their blue line.
Maatta, 27, signed to an affordable one-year, $2.25 million contract. The 31-year-old Chiarot, however, inked the most lucrative deal of his nine-season NHL career, signing for four years with an average annual value of $4.75 million. He was coming off a three-year contract with a $3.5 million annual salary-cap hit.
The 6'3”, 234-pound Chiarot is a physical stay-at-home defenseman who logs over 20 minutes of ice time per game. However, four years at nearly $5 million per season is a lot for a blueliner entering the stage in his career when the wear-and-tear of his style of play could begin to hamper his effectiveness.
With $10.3 million in cap space and 22 players under contract for 2022-23, the Wings can afford Chiarot's pact for the coming season. However, it could use up valuable cap space that they could put toward re-signing key veterans such as Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Alex Nedeljkovic before next summer and rising stars such as Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond in 2024.
1. Erik Gudbranson, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets became one of this offseason's winners by signing Gaudreau. However, they took some of the shine off that achievement by overpaying Erik Gudbranson with a four-year, $16 million deal.
A first-round pick (third overall) by the Florida Panthers in 2010, the 6'5” 222-pound Gudbranson is a physical shutdown defenseman. However, the 30-year-old has been a well-traveled depth player since 2015-16, skating with the Panthers, Vancouver Canucks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators, Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames.
Gudbranson was coming off a one-year, $1.95 million deal with the Flames where he averaged the fifth-most ice time (18:08) per game among their defensemen. He could be a decent third-pairing rearguard and penalty killer for the Blue Jackets. However, his performance in recent years doesn't justify a $4 million average annual value over four years.
The addition of Gudbranson's contract ate up valuable salary-cap space for the Blue Jackets. It may have contributed to winger Oliver Bjorkstrand getting traded to the Seattle Kraken in a cost-cutting move following their re-signing of Patrik Laine.
Stats via NHL.com with salary cap information via CapFriendly.