Re-Grading Last Year's Biggest NHL Free-Agent Signings

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2021

Re-Grading Last Year's Biggest NHL Free-Agent Signings

0 of 9

    John Locher/Associated Press

    When the 2020 NHL free-agent market opened on Oct. 9, we graded the biggest unrestricted free agent signings. As the 2020-21 regular season draws to a close, it's time to revisit our assessments of those deals.

    Some of the notable signings included defenseman Alex Pietrangelo joining the Vegas Golden Knights and left wing Taylor Hall shuffling off to the Buffalo Sabres. Others saw goaltender Jacob Markstrom head to the Calgary Flames and forward Tyler Toffoli land with the Montreal Canadiens.

    Several of these deals worked out well for the players and their new teams. Others, however, didn't pan out as hoped for either side. Here's our regrading of last year's biggest unrestricted free agent signings.

    We've excluded the Washington Capitals signing goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the New Jersey Devils inking goalie Corey Crawford. Both are considered incomplete as Lundqvist missed the season because of heart surgery, while Crawford retired before the season began.

Buffalo Sabres Sign Taylor Hall

1 of 9

    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Sabres signing Taylor Hall was the biggest surprise in last year's free-agent market. The 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy winner confounded the experts by signing a one-year, $8 million contract with a club that hadn't reached the playoffs in nine years.

    It was a bold move by both sides. The expectation was Hall would help the Sabres end their long playoff drought by establishing offensive chemistry with first-line center Jack Eichel. In turn, it would improve Hall's chances of landing a more lucrative deal with the Sabres or another club in this year's free-agent market.

    The signing, however, was a disaster. Hall managed only two goals and 19 points in 37 games with the Sabres as they tumbled to the bottom of the MassMutual East Division. He was shipped to the Boston Bruins before April's NHL trade deadline for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick.

    That turned into a possible season-saving move for Hall. He's netted 12 points in 14 games while skating with center David Krejci on the Bruins second line. Meanwhile, it's back to the drawing board for the Sabres as they miss the playoffs for the 10th straight year.

    Previous Grade: A

    Current Grade: F

Vancouver Canucks Sign Braden Holtby

2 of 9

    Nick Didlick/Associated Press

    After 10 seasons with the Washington Capitals, Braden Holtby signed a two-year, $8.6 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. The move was seen as a fresh start for the 31-year-old goaltender after losing the starter's job in Washington. He accepted a pay cut as well, dropping from $6.1 million annually to $4.3 million.

    The Canucks turned to Holtby after starter Jacob Markstrom departed for the Calgary Flames as a free agent. The former Vezina Trophy winner would share the goaltending duties with promising Thatcher Demko, providing some veteran stability as Demko developed.

    This season, however, was the worst in Holtby's career. He has just seven wins in 18 games with a .899 save percentage and a career-worst 3.34 goals-against average. Meanwhile, the Canucks struggled throughout this season and will miss the 2021 playoffs.

    Holtby wasn't helped by the Canucks' porous defense. An outbreak of COVID-19 in April also contributed to the club's decline. Still, Holtby's performance ranked among their disappointments this season. He could be exposed in this summer's expansion draft and perhaps selected by the Seattle Kraken.

    Previous Grade: B+

    Current Grade: D

Calgary Flames Sign Jacob Markstrom

3 of 9

    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    Following the departure of goaltender Cam Talbot via free agency, the Calgary Flames signed Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million contract. The top goalie in last year's market, Markstrom won 23 or more games in each of his final three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. He finished last season with a 2.75 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

    Markstrom was expected to provide stability between the pipes for the Flames following several seasons with inconsistent goaltending. The season got off to a good start for Markstrom, who had eight wins, six losses and an overtime loss in his first 15 contests.

    His difficulties came following an upper-body injury on Feb. 22, which sidelined him for five games. He won just four of his next 13 games following his return on March 6.

    It took some time for Markstrom to regain his form. His performance improved since April 10 with six wins in 11 games through May 5. Nevertheless, his erratic play wasn't what was expected of a goaltender earning $6 million annually. It contributed to the Flames' disappointing effort this season.

    Previous Grade: B+

    Current Grade: C+

Anaheim Ducks Sign Kevin Shattenkirk

4 of 9

    Joe Puetz/Associated Press

    Having been bought out by the New York Rangers the previous year, Kevin Shattenkirk enjoyed a bounce-back performance on a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. After winning a Stanley Cup with the Lightning, the defenseman signed a three-year, $11.7 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks.

    The Ducks brought in Shattenkirk for his experience and puck-moving skills as they attempted to return to playoff contention this season. The 32-year-old blueliner netted a respectable 15 points in 54 games, but his presence couldn't keep the Ducks from missing the postseason for the third straight year.

    That doesn't mean Shattenkirk is to blame for extending Anaheim's playoff drought. He's second among Ducks defensemen in points and third among their skaters in ice time per game (21:11), power-play ice time (2:08) and blocked shots (57).

    Shattenkirk's presence, however, couldn't offset the Ducks' anemic offense. For a club that should consider rebuilding instead of retooling, he could be a luxury they no longer need. He could become a decent offseason trade chip to a playoff contender seeking an experienced, affordable puck-moving rearguard. Anaheim could also leave him exposed in this summer's expansion draft.

    Previous Grade: B

    Current Grade: B-

Dallas Stars Re-Sign Anton Khudobin

5 of 9

    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    The Dallas Stars wouldn't have reached the 2020 Stanley Cup Final without goaltender Anton Khudobin. Replacing sidelined starter Ben Bishop, he was their most valuable player throughout last year's playoffs. They rewarded him with a three-year, $10 million contract.

    With Bishop missing the season because of offseason knee surgery, it fell to Khubodin to carry the starter's job. He has a record of 11 wins, 10 losses and seven overtime losses with a 2.50 goals-against average, a .906 save percentage and three shutouts in 30 games. Those stats, however, are down from last season's 16-8-4 record with a 2.22 GAA and .930 SP.

    Khubodin wasn't helped by the Stars' sputtering offense. An outbreak of COVID-19 among the Stars in January led to a late start to the season and a compressed schedule. He was also sidelined for two games in April by the coronavirus. Meanwhile, 22-year-old backup Jake Oettinger is enjoying a solid NHL debut and has put up better stats than Khudobin.

    The Stars' fading playoff hopes cannot be pinned on Khudobin. Nevertheless, he might not be back next season. With Bishop carrying a no-movement clause, the Stars could leave the 35-year-old Khudobin exposed in this summer's expansion draft.

    Previous Grade: A

    Current Grade: B

St. Louis Blues Sign Torey Krug

6 of 9

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    After nine seasons with the Boston Bruins, Torey Krug signed a seven-year, $45.5 million contract with the St. Louis Blues. The annual cap hit of $6.5 million was a substantial increase over the $5.25 million he was making with the Bruins, plus it came with a no-movement clause through 2024-25.

    The Blues signed Krug soon after longtime defenseman Alex Pietrangelo signed with the Vegas Golden Knights. While the 6'3", 210-pound Pietrangelo is a big, all-around blueliner, the 5'9", 186-pound Krug plays a more offensive style, with six seasons of at least 40 points on his resume.

    Krug's managed just one goal with the Blues this season but sits second among their scorers with 28 assists. The 30-year-old blueliner is their leader in power-play ice time per game (2:53), second in overall ice time (22:42) and fourth in blocked shots with 56.

    The Blues have been inconsistent this season, but that cannot be blamed on Krug. He improved his defensive play as the schedule went on. His 11 points in 13 games in April before being sidelined by an upper-body injury helped the Blues move closer to securing a playoff spot in the Honda West Division.

    Previous Grade: B+

    Current Grade: B+

Vegas Golden Knights Sign Alex Pietrangelo

7 of 9

    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Alex Pietrangelo was the biggest name in last year's free-agent market. An elite all-around defenseman, the 6'3", 210-pounder had spent 12 seasons with the St. Louis Blues. The Golden Knights signed him to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract with an average annual value of $8.8 million and a no-movement clause.

    Pietrangelo's first season in Vegas got off to a bumpy start as he missed three games because of COVID-19. He was later sidelined for 12 games in March by a hand injury.

    Those absences affected Pietrangelo's adjustment to his new team. He hasn't been as dominant as hoped on the Golden Knights blue line but still put up respectable offensive numbers with 19 points in 37 games. He's averaging a team-leading 24:32 of ice time per game, along with 2:35 on the power play and 2:21 on the penalty kill.

    Despite the injuries and adjustments, this season hasn't been a bust for Pietrangelo. He's playing a key role on their defense core, contributing to their rise atop the Honda West Division. His play should improve in the playoffs and next season as he continues to adapt to his new club.

    Previous Grade: A

    Current Grade: B+

Minnesota Wild Sign Cam Talbot

8 of 9

    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    After trading goaltender Devan Dubnyk to the San Jose Sharks, the Minnesota Wild signed Cam Talbot to a three-year, $11 million contract. The 33-year-old netminder was joining his fourth team since 2018-19, having enjoyed a bounce-back performance with the Calgary Flames in 2019-20 following a difficult season with the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers.

    Talbot wound up splitting the goaltending duties this season with rookie Kaapo Kahkonen. The tandem combined for the league's 10th-lowest goals against per game of 2.73.

    Despite missing three games with a lower-body injury and three to COVID-19, Talbot is turning in a solid performance for the Wild. In 31 starts, he has a record of 18 wins, seven losses and five overtime losses, with a 2.58 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and two shutouts.

    Of last year's UFA goalie signings, this one was the best. The Wild have a reliable veteran starter in Talbot at a bargain price. They are jockeying with the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Honda West Division thanks to their goaltending tandem.

    Previous Grade: B

    Current Grade: A

Montreal Canadiens Sign Tyler Toffoli

9 of 9

    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    After spending last season split between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks, Tyler Toffoli signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens. The $4.25 million annual average value was slightly less than the $4.6 million on his previous deal, but the 28-year-old received the security of a four-year contract.

    Toffoli was one of a series of offseason moves by the Canadiens to bolster their roster. In this instance, they sought to add experienced depth and scoring to their forward lines.

    The Toffoli signing has been a big success for the Canadiens. With 43 points in 50 games, he's the Habs' leading scorer. His 28 goals rank among this season's top 10 goal scorers. A consummate two-way player, Toffoli leads the Habs with five game-winning goals. He's also tied for the club lead in shorthanded points (three) with Artturi Lehkonen.

    The Canadiens have been inconsistent for most of this season but are on the verge of clinching at least fourth place in the Scotia North Division. They couldn't have done it without Toffoli. His contract could be the steal of the 2020 UFA market.

    Previous Grade: A

    Current Grade: A+


    Player and team stats (as of May 7, 2021) via Salary info via CapFriendly.