Buying or Selling the 5 Biggest Gambles of 2022 NHL Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured Columnist IVAugust 10, 2022

Buying or Selling the 5 Biggest Gambles of 2022 NHL Offseason

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    The weeks between the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs and Aug. 1 tend to see a considerable amount of activity in the trade and free-agent markets. General managers use that period to address their roster needs for the coming season.

    In most cases, the GMs are gambling that their moves will pay off. Many tend to involve as little risk as possible. Some, however, take bigger chances than others.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, are betting that their re-signing of Kris Letang to a long-term contract becomes a worthwhile investment. Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames hope the return they received from trading Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers will pay off now and for several years to come.

    Will these moves pan out? That's what we'll attempt to determine as we evaluate what we consider the five biggest gambles of this offseason thus far. Feel free to voice your opinion on this topic in the comments section below.

Colorado Avalanche Replace Darcy Kuemper with Alexandar Georgiev

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    After backstopping the Colorado Avalanche to the 2022 Stanley Cup, Darcy Kuemper signed with the Washington Capitals on July 13 as an unrestricted free agent.

    Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic, however, already had his replacement in hand. On July 7, he acquired Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and signed him three days later to a three-year contract.

    Sakic acquired Kuemper the previous summer from the Arizona Coyotes. The 32-year-old netminder had just spent three seasons as a starter in Arizona. Georgiev, 26, spent his tenure with the Rangers backing up Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin.

    With 58 wins in 129 career games along with a 2.94 goals-against average and .908 save percentage, Georgiev might be best suited as a backup. Nevertheless, Sakic is willing to roll the dice on the Bulgarian blossoming into a starter in Colorado.

    Georgiev will be sharing the goaltending duties with Pavel Francouz, who has a career 36-14-5 record with a 2.46 GAA and .921 save percentage as a backup. However, the 32-year-old has been hampered by injuries, including missing the entire 2020-21 campaign with a lower-body injury.

    Infrequent starts contributed to Georgiev's limited success with the Rangers. He now has a golden opportunity to establish himself as a starter on a team with a deep and talented roster. His affordable $3.4 million annual average value also makes him a low-cost gamble that could pay off well if he rises to the occasion.

    Verdict: Buy

John Klingberg Signs a 1-Year Deal with the Ducks

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    After eight seasons with the Dallas Stars, John Klingberg opted to test his value in the unrestricted free-agent market. Coming off a seven-year contract worth an average annual value of $4.3 million, the 29-year-old was the top defenseman available, with six seasons of 40 or more points.

    Klingberg may have been hoping for a substantial raise on a long-term deal. Last October, Sportsnet's Jeff Marek reported that he sought between $62 million and $68 million on an eight-year contract with the Stars.

    However, Klingberg may have misjudged his value on the open market. Over two weeks after the free-agency period began, he signed a one-year deal worth $7 million with the Anaheim Ducks, a move that can be considered a gamble for player and team.

    After the signing, Klingberg indicated he's hoping for a long-term deal on his next contract. A solid performance with the rebuilding club will also garner attention from contenders that are in the market for a skilled puck-moving defenseman by the trade deadline or in next summer's free-agent market.

    For the Ducks, adding Klingberg brings a welcome measure of experience and offense to their blue line after they shipped out Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson in March. If they're out of playoff contention at next year's trade deadline and can't work out an extension for Klingberg, they can shop him for picks and prospects.

    Verdict: Buy

Toronto Maple Leafs Acquire Matt Murray

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs let Jack Campbell depart to Edmonton on July 13 via free agency after just two-plus seasons, including an inconsistent effort in 2021-22 as their full-time starting goaltender. Two days prior, they signaled their intent to make a significant change in the crease by acquiring Matt Murray from the Ottawa Senators.

    On paper, this seems like a wise decision. Murray, 28, is an experienced starter with seven seasons under his belt with the Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins. He also has a championship background, having backstopped the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup titles in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

    Injuries, however, limited Murray to just 47 games over the past two seasons. He had just 15 wins with a 3.23 GAA and a save percentage of .899. The argument can be made that those poor stats were due to the rebuilding Senators' porous defense, but his frequent absence from the lineup was a significant factor.

    If Murray can stay healthy and regain his form, he could provide the Leafs with the type of goaltending that helps them end their 55-year Stanley Cup drought. Given his performance with the Senators, however, that could be a long shot.

    That would leave the Leafs relying on Ilya Samsonov. Another offseason acquisition, the 25-year-old struggled to establish himself as an NHL starter with the Washington Capitals. If his woes continue and Murray doesn't improve, Toronto will be in big trouble between the pipes.

    Verdict: Sell

Pittsburgh Penguins Invest 6 Years in Kris Letang

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    It wasn't much of a surprise that the Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed Kris Letang on July 7. The 35-year-old defenseman has been a reliable presence on their blue line for most of his 16 NHL seasons, including a career-best 68-point performance in 2021-22.

    The $6.1 million annual average value was a $1.2 million decrease from his previous contract, providing the Penguins some much-needed cap room. The gamble, however, was investing in the aging defenseman for six years.

    Letang's performance last season was a testament to his conditioning and skills.

    The problem, however, is he will be heading into his age-41 campaign when this contract expires. At that age, a player's skills and conditioning start eroding no matter how talented he is. Eventually, his foot speed will decline, his passes won't be as sharp, and he won't be able to log big minutes on the top pairing. When that happens, his contract will become a burden on the Penguins' salary-cap payroll.

    As long as that occurs within the final year or two of Letang's contract, it could still prove worthwhile. But if it starts to happen during the first three years, it will be a bet that failed. His remaining salary and full no-movement clause over the first four years will make it difficult to trade him in a cost-cutting move.

    Verdict: Sell

Calgary Flames Acquire Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar

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    Matthew Tkachuk's unwillingness to sign a long-term contract with the Calgary Flames forced general manager Brad Treliving to make this summer's biggest trade.

    On July 22, he shipped the 24-year-old power forward to the Florida Panthers for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, prospect forward Cole Schwindt and a conditional first-round pick in 2025.

    Both clubs are taking a chance here. But given Tkachuk's youth and new eight-year contract, the Panthers know they're getting a scoring forward throughout the prime of his career. Adding Huberdeau and Weegar comes with more risk for the Flames.

    Treliving has already won one major gamble by ensuring Huberdeau's long-term future will be in Calgary. Having already lost left wing Johnny Gaudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets via free agency on July 13, he wasn't going to watch Huberdeau depart next summer as an unrestricted free agent. Following the trade, he signed him to an eight-year extension.

    The 29-year-old left winger is a gifted playmaker coming off a career-best 115-point performance last season with the Panthers. His 415 points since 2017-18 rank third among all left wings.

    Weegar, 28, is a late-blooming puck-moving defenseman who netted a career-best 44 points in 2021-22. He could provide the Flames with invaluable offensive depth on their first or second defensive pairings beyond this season. Weegar, whose deal expires after the upcoming campaign, has indicated he's open to signing long-term with the Flames.

    The gamble now is how effective Huberdeau and Weegar will remain. Both are older than Tkachuk, and the remaining prime of their careers will be shorter. Nevertheless, if they can adapt quickly to their new teammates, they should help the Flames remain among the top four clubs in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

    Verdict: Buy


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