NHL Free Agency Winners and Losers ft. Dustin Kagan-Fleming

[From top left to bottom right] Jacob Markstrom, Taylor Hall, Torey Krug, Joe Thornton, Alex Pietrangelo.

Welcome! 

It’s been a few weeks since free agency opened up and players began signing contracts. This offseason is obviously much more interesting because of COVID and the flat-cap situation. To commemorate this, I wanted to do an official Free Agency Winners and Losers for every NHL team. 

These “Winners” and “Losers” tags being handed out are, of course, subjective. And that’s okay! I’m someone who rides the fine line of advanced analytics and good ol’ fashioned eye test, which is also how it should be. I’m using the tools available to me to make these decisions. 

Also, if you disagree with my choices, just know I literally cannot be swayed. My mind is set.

DKF: Trust me I’ve been trying to change his mind for years. When he decides on it, it’s set (ask him about Paul Byron sometime.)

MC: Oh yeah, this is DKF, we’re both veterans of the U Sports-reporting farm system covering the Concordia Stingers hockey teams, but we’ve never really gotten the chance to work together despite being really good friends for the better part of four years now. So here we are! Instead of one dumb voice telling you why your team sucks, you get two! Lucky you! What do you usually think of free agency?

DKF: I’m always wary of free agency Matt. There’s usually more bad contracts given out than good. But with the cap being flat for the next few years, less stinkers were given out this year and we’ll probably see fewer GM’s scrambling to fix their free agent signings from this year within the next few years.

At the same time, it’s always easy to give GM’s credit for just making a move so maybe this summer will turn into the next 2016. How are those Lucic, Ladd, and Okposo deals looking these days?

MC: For me, being a winner or loser isn’t just about who you sign and whether or not they’re overpriced; it’s a matter of if they fit your team, if there was a better option out there, etc. Basically, what’s the context of the signing?

If I name your team as a free agency loser, that’s because I think the players they signed are bad, or at the very least not worth the contract they were given *coughcoughJoshAnderson*. Being a free agency loser also doesn’t mean that the team is bad per se, just means they’re offseason signings aren’t that good.From the bottom of my heart, I always wish that players do well.

If I name your team as a free agency winner, that’s because I either like the players that were signed, or at the very least, like the contracts they were given. Like, do I love Kevin Shattenkirk as a defenceman? No, but he’s still pretty solid, and the contracts the Ducks have him on represent that value perfectly.

We also won’t be going over players that teams let walk or couldn’t resign because this article is already going to be 10,000 words long and no one is about to listen to us ramble on about why Ottawa messed up letting Anthony Duclair walk. This is strictly about players that teams signed.

Enjoy!

Anaheim Ducks

Key Signings: Kevin Shattenkirk, Derek Grant, Sonny Milano, Christian Djoos

MC: Derek Grant and Sonny Milano are fine (although they should be on one-year deals but that’s whatever), but the real star of the show for the Ducks’ free agency is signing Stanley Cup winner and successful redemption project Kevin Shattenkirk to a 3-year, $3.9 million-per-year deal. Shattenkirk may not be as dangerous as he once was, but he’s definitely not as bad as getting bought out by the Rangers a few years ago would have you believe. He’s a solid number 4 on the blueline, and the Ducks actually managed to get fair value for what he’ll bring to their roster. 

DKF: I think that’s the key, expectations need to be managed with this guy. I always think back to Washington picking him up before the playoffs a few years back and being named guaranteed eastern champs. If you know what you’re getting and remember that it’s a solid look here.

MC: I don’t mind Djoos unlike some other people. He’s a very serviceable bottom-pairing defender, although the Ducks’ roster is so thin on the backend he’ll probably get tougher minutes which will be less good. On a one-year, $1 million contract, Djoos is a solid keep by Anaheim.

DKF: I’m willing to add points for a good name too. Solid work on the combination by his parents there.

Verdict: Losers

MC: Weird choice right? I like Shattenkirk, but the Ducks are a deeply flawed team, and one mid-level UFA signing isn’t about to change anything.

DKF: Like other teams here will find out, if you’re bad before free agency and still look bad after, you’re not a winner.

Arizona Coyotes

Key Signings: Christian Fischer

MC: I think the lack of talent that Arizona managed to attract to the desert speaks for itself, don’t you? Also losing Hall was expected so there’s no excuses! You knew you needed good players! 

Verdict: Losers

DKF: An offseason as dead as John Chayka’s legacy as GM for the Yotes.

Boston Bruins

Key Signings: Matt Grzelcyk, Anders Bjork, Craig Smith

MC: There was so much talk around the Bruins making moves for a bit-time player. Whispers of Taylor Hall in Black and Gold, rumours of Alex Pietrangelo heading east, etc, etc, etc. None of that happened. Instead, the B’s re-signed two very decent players to decent contracts. $14 million might be a bit high for Grzelcyk, but Boston seems pretty high on him, and I don’t hate it so whatever. So nothing gained, nothing lost except for that one player that the Bruins lost, I can’t quite remember who that was. Oh well they’ll still win the President’s next year because the hockey gods love to inflict pain on the rest of the league.

DKF: With a core that doesn’t look to be together too much longer, I was surprised to not see something done to counteract the loss and throw in for the last few years with Rask, Bergeron, Kreijci, Marchand and maybe Chara all together.

MC: Oh yeah also Craig Smith signed with Boston, and I literally cannot remember a single thing about him, which means he can’t be terrible.

Verdict: Losers

MC: The Bruins didn’t have much to do in regards to tweaking their roster, but is Grzelcyk really capable of replacing Torey Krug’s production? Nope. In terms of pure signing quality, this doesn’t really do it for me, and the worst part is they’re still going to be way too good.

Buffalo Sabres

Key Signings: Taylor Hall, Zemgus Girgensons, Brandon Montour

MC: I gotta be honest, I truly don’t believe Zemgus Girgensons exists. I missed that whole time when Latvia decided to vote him into the All-Star game, and I swear to god I’ve never seen this man on the ice. (Just kidding, I actually like Girgensons as a *very* depth player so decent signing Buffalo good work!)  Brandon Montour is good, and a one-year deal is never a bad thing from an organizational standpoint especially when…

It’s Taylor Hall.

I like Hall. A lot. I think he’s probably one of the best #2 options in the league. And that’s always been his biggest issue, he’s been forced to play as the top guy, and while he showed that he could do it, he never showed he could do it consistently.  That’s why playing him alongside Jack Eichel is perfect. Buffalo just acquired themselves their very own McDavid-Draisaitl-type pairing. I like this move because it’s super weird and I like the idea of Hall and Eichel giving teams fits, but for some reason I get the feeling this is more Buffalo trying to appease Eichel by saying “Hey look we’re building a winner! Look at this great player! Don’t look at the rest of the roster.” 

Also what the hell is up with this guy and playing for just the worst teams in the league, it makes no sense to me, Hall should’ve taken a one-year, $5 million deal with Colorado and won a Cup, screw it, give me that chaos I love that shit. 

DKF: Buffalo remains a depressing team and the wheel of a town of sports sadness spins on. Does Hall push them that much closer to real success? No. Was it a bad move to sign him? Not in theory. But now, management  can say they went out and did something. The playoff drought that has lasted since 2012 (with only 2 appearances since 2008) looks to continue.  You don’t get a cookie for signing the shiniest toy in free agency. Especially when your team is still in the dog house and stuck in a division that’s got the last two Eastern conference winners (including the defending champs), young teams on the upswing, and an outlook that’s more and more bleak every day for the sabres

Verdict: Losers

MC: Whenever you sign a former MVP in his prime to play alongside one a Top 10 forward in the league (Yes I went there don’t even @ me), I consider that a win. Add that to the fact they didn’t straddle themselves with any terrible contracts, and we got ourselves a free agency winner, even though this team is still pretty terrible. The biggest reason Buffalo is still a free agent loser is because they didn’t address their actual needs. Signing Hall is great, but how about a goalie? Or another defenseman to help Rasmus Dahlin out? Anything please.

Calgary Flames

Key Signings: Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, Andrew Mangiapane

MC: Ouf.

I was wondering which team would be the (un)lucky winners of the “Oh Chris Tanev is actually still really good as a long-term option” gaslighting that I saw recently. I was also wondering which team would make the mistake of signing a mostly unproven 30-year-old goalie to a long-term deal. Turns out Calgary decided to make my job easy and scoop out both of them!

Let me make this real simple. There’s maybe five goalies in the league right now I’d sign to a 6-year deal. Markstrom is not on that list. And tying up $36 million to a guy who never really showed consistency before his contract year screams buy out to me.

Speaking of buy outs, how do you do Chris Tanev?

And again, let me make this very clear. Tanev is a very serviceable defender. He proved it in the playoffs this year. But four years for a guy who’s shown to be on the decline isn’t going to bode well for anybody. If this were a two-year deal, I’m singing a different tune. 

DKF: Yeah not a great look for the Flames here. Going into next year, do these signings help create an identity that would or should make flames fans or management confident? The moves don’t add anything up front to a group that finished 20th in goals per game.  Defensively and in net, it seems like the team went for the cardinal mistake of free agency: take what’s there. Nothing can ruin a team faster (besides maybe Peter Chiarelli) than buying into the pressure of needing to add a free agent and shelling out the money for players that may help but won’t bring the value that you’re paying for, simply because they were the ones available.

Verdict: Losers

MC: Sign better players! Get help offensively! Matthew Tkachuk is one of my favourite players in the league, but he can’t carry an offense yet. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have been good soldiers for Calgary, but they need a dynamo to spark them up and push this team to the next level. 

Carolina Hurricanes

Key Signings: Jesper Fast, 

DKF: Look, the Hurricanes are a fun, young, dangerous team. You have to be careful with trying to mess with that. At the same time, the playoffs showed they are still working towards being real contenders. Sebastian Aho is a star. There’s no question about that. But where’s the support? Jesper Fast isn’t going to cut it. You can’t leave it all to a few players without real Top 6 support (believe me, Edmonton tried).

MC: I had the Hurricanes as my Cup winners this year, which was probably a terrible pick, but I really like the forward and defensive corps of this team. However, I think it’s clear to anyone ever that James Reimer and Petr Mrazek aren’t going to carry you. Both are acceptable back-ups, but neither should be playing 50-65 games a year. With the incredible excess of free agent goalies available this offseason, the Canes should’ve pushed to acquire a Braden Holtby or Jacob Markstrom (on short term deal obviously). 

DKF: With a strong defense and some studs up front, I would have also liked to see some more support for the offense or maybe even a goalie upgrade coming here. Fast isn’t a terrible player but a career high 30 point scorer is not the guy that can give your team the boost it needs when the stars aren’t able to do all the damage. 

Verdict: Losers

DKF: Sometimes not doing much is the best move. Now is not one of those times. Big contracts are going to knock on the door soon for Hamilton and Svechnikov. Why not take advantage of the time you have with cheap deals to add some players that bring some scoring, experience or presence between the pipes? Playing the waiting game to become a contender when you’re close doesn’t work. If you’re close, you’ve got to build on that carefully and be more than fast about it.

MC: Get a goalie please! Any goalie!

Chicago Blackhawks

Key Signings: Dominik Kubalik, Nikita Zadorov, Mattias Janmark, Malcolm Subban

DKF: Well it’s officially rebuilding time. I mean it probably was a while ago but no one told Bowman that. You’ve got some decent value in the Kubalik signing. It’s a good look since 25 year olds breaking into the league and producing at a high level are worth excitement but only if you throw some caution in along with the optimism. Grabbing and signing Zadorov does nothing for me. He’s fine but does he offer more than a stop gap? What’s his role in the rebuild? You’re not looking to compete and he’s not offering you much long term.

MC: I’m pretty sure I heard Stan Bowman describe Zadorov as a “young” defenceman, and I was very confused because Zadorov is like, 25. That’s young, but not young enough to survive the upcoming three years of rebuilding that are coming up and still be a piece to build around.

DKF: Throw the tendies to the dogs behind that defense too. Malcolm Subban gets to be a part of the less than enviable experience of being a goalie on a rebuilding team. He’ll see plenty of rubber when he starts.

MC: This team is going into straight tank mode. It’s not really like they had a choice, but I guarantee we hear Jonathan Toews get upset at it because this team still thinks it’s 2013. 

Verdict: Losers

DKF: Declaring you’re in a rebuild and actually doing one successfully are very different things. First step is done but no moves here really convince me that things are moving in a direction where the team will get back to winning.

MC: It’s shocking to me that Stan Bowman gets to be involved in this rebuild considering he’s the primary reason they’re this bad. That’s a one-ticket to being free agency losers.

Colorado Avalanche

Key Signings: Andre Burakovsky, Ryan Graves, Valeri Nichushkin

DKF: So Colorado, you think you’re too good for this whole free agent deal? Just gonna skip out on it? Meh, might be a good idea. You avoid any albatross contracts, the Burakovsky deal looks great for a guy who’s flourished and should be a solid threat for a while. Graves is a solid young presence on D. Hey, you even got Nichushkin to sign a deal and stay in the league; mazel tov.

MC: I really like Burakovsky. If you read anything I’ve written since the season was suspended back in March, I’ve talked a lot about how he’s an immediate improvement to any team’s third line. I’m a big fan. But, you weren’t able to assemble a Justice League-esque roster of Taylor Hall and Alex Pietroangelo on one-year ‘Screw it, let’s load up win a Cup” deals, so…

Verdict: Losers

DKF: You can’t win a game you don’t play. No category for “Did Not Participate” so you go into the loser pile. These are the rules we play by.

MC: I don’t make the rules, sorry Colorado.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Key Signings: Max Domi, Mikko Koivu

DKF: Well they say build from the middle and the Jackets are looking to do that. If there’s one thing that builds up your centre depth, it’s 37-year-old fan favourites that even the centre-starved Minnesota Mild don’t sign.

MC: Off topic but the Wild are currently CHOOSING to run Marcus Johansson, Joel Eriksson Ek, Nick Bonino and Victor Rask as their centres. Which is insane. It’s insane. 

DKF: Domi is solid. The contract brings him right to unrestricted status which is always tricky. Though his style might actually fit better in Columbus than Montreal where he’d been pushed down the depth chart by two strong young centres and Phil Danault. A bit of an up and down contract.

MC: You like Domi a lot more than I do, and I’m more willing to put money on him being a 55-60 point guy for the next couple years, but he’s good. Is he an improvement over Josh Anderson? 100%. Is he your top-line guy for the next decade? I’m less sure.

Verdict: Losers

DKF: Domi’s a risk if we’re being real here. Is he a 45 point guy or a 70 point guy? Jackets fans can’t point to Josh Anderson’s one goal year to justify letting him go, without having to accept that outside of his first year with Montreal, Domi has not looked like the kind of scorer you give that kind of contract to. He could very well bounce right back and settle as a 60-70 point guy in Columbus and look great with that contract but that’s a roll of the dice.

The team clearly saw that they needed to add players. They also need to save up for a Pierre-Luc Dubois extension. The way they chose to spend the extra money had doesn’t seem like the best strategy. You know what you have in Koivu, it’s a safe contract but not a major boost. You don’t know what you have in Domi. If he falls closer to any year other than his 70 point one, you’ve added a bit of secondary scoring and an old depth centre. Not a game-breaking summer

MC: Jarmo Kekäläinen has been getting a pass for too long. He hasn’t done anything with this team besides make them the new perennial 8th seed every postseason AKA the 2008-2017 Minnesota Wild and look at where they’re at right now.

Dallas Stars

Key Signings: Denis Gurianov, Radek Faksa, Anton Khudobin

DKF: They’ve made things work so far with some work still to do. The team surprised after a brutal start and made the Stanley Cup final. Gurianov looks like a guy that could be a great deal. Win for the player and win for the team in my eyes. Bringing back Faksa who does a lot of less noticeable, but important things for the team looks solid. Khudobin was one of the free agents that had the most talk around him after his performance in the playoffs.

MC: I’ve been on this train for a year now, but give me Denis Gurianov or give me death. I can’t wait for a team to realize just how good he is and trade for him. Gurianov is one of my favourite underrated players in the league. He’s awesome. I literally love every aspect of his game, and I think this contract is perfect for both player and team alike. But…

Verdict: Losers

DKF: With all of that said, when you look at the roster and the cap, do you see a team that’s in a better position than they were before free agency? I don’t. Khudobin was great in the playoffs but he’s played 40 games just once and looks like an expensive backup if Ben Bishop is still your starter. It’s a team up against the cap with a key free agent left to sign. If you don’t get better you’re not going to do better.

MC: Dallas doesn’t inspire much confidence long-term for me with these signings. Aside from Gurianov, this team doesn’t really look prepped for another deep postseason run. 

Detroit Red Wings

Key Signings: Vladislav Namestnikov, Thomas Greiss, Troy Stecher

DKF: Yeah, so that was a rough year Detroit.  less than 20 wins on the year. But let’s see what the consolation prize is (besides picking…yikes.. Fourth overall). Side note: I’ve heard people comparing this to the dismal year Colorado had a few years back where they also dropped to fourth overall. Is it just me or were the Red Wings a far more dull kind of terrible than that Colorado group? Detroit was boringly terrible this year. You’ve got a goalie. Although he’s 34, has only played a full starter’s share of a season once, and may have benefitted from playing in a brilliant defensive system with arguably the best coach in the league (I will fight for that title to go to Barry) these past few years. Stecher is solid and safe for a good price so that’s a plus.

MC: Stecher was a player that really caught my eye with Vancouver these playoffs. I like his game a lot. Unfortunately Detroit needs a true #1 on the blueline and Stecher is more of a really good #5, fringe second-pairing guy.

DKF: Namestnikov at that price is fine but boy is he one of those players that people talk about without ever having done much. Doesn’t mean he’s not serviceable and a decent deal at $2 million a year but it bugs me so you have to hear about it.

Verdict: Losers

DKF: When you’re that bad and these are the additions you make you’re getting called a loser. Sorry. Greiss has age and question marks about how he’ll perform behind this defence going against him. Stecher doesn’t come close to making this a solid D group and while Namestnikov is fine, that designation makes him one of better players on a team that should make fans worry more than opponents. Be better at getting better

MC: Add another one to the L column!

Edmonton Oilers

Key Signings: Tyson Barrie, Kyle Turris, Mike Smith

DKF: Rejoice Edmonton, Mike Smith is back to offer the same blandness in net as his name! In all honesty I like Barrie for that price and think he’ll add a new dimension to their offense and transition game. 

MC: I think you’re forgetting the incredible Kris Russell signing (yes I know that it was just so they could expose him in the expansion draft but it’s still such a great meme.) But yeah, none of these players are very good. If Barrie can go back to being good, that’d be great, but if he wasn’t good on a much-better Toronto team, is he going to be any good on a significantly-worse Edmonton team? I have my doubts. 

DKF: The problem is that their issues in the bubble haven’t been fixed. Is Kyle Turris really the answer to provide scoring past their big guns? You know what you’re getting in McDavid and Draisaitl. Yamamoto is solid, but young and shouldn’t be expected to carry the full load of scoring from the wing. Nugent Hopkins is better than people think but also can’t carry the entire left side. So yeah, I think you might want more than Kyle “at least he’s cheap” Turris

Verdict: Losers

MC: This a familiar spot for Edmonton so I’m not too worried that they’ll be upset with us. 

Florida Panthers

Key Signings: Radko Gudas, Vinnie Hinostroza, Alex Wennberg, Carter Verhaeghe

MC: I’ve never really liked Gudas, but that’s maybe because I don’t like Scott Stevens wannabe’s. Every other signing the Panthers have done was solid in my eyes, if not risky.

DKF: Literally every element of his game could have been filled by a better free agent. Not a fan of the guy either and don’t see him really bolstering that Florida blue line. 

MC: Alex Wennberg never really lived up to his high-draft-pick expectations in Columbus, and Hinostroza is a pretty fringe Top 9 guy. Both are reclamation projects. If it turns out well, Florida just added really solid pieces to their second and third lines. If not, well, it’s not like there’s too many people watching (I hate this joke but it’s too easy sorry not sorry.) 

DKF: The downside here is that if they don’t work out then you’ve failed to replace major scoring power and may not be able to fall back on strong goaltending to make up for that because of what has so far been a massive mistake from last year too boot. 

Verdict: Losers

MC: Management must really trust their core. I don’t. Mike Hoffman is likely gone. Evgenii Dadonov is gone. Verhaeghe is interesting, but hasn’t really been given the runway necessary to form an opinion about yet. The high-end skill that was there for this team just isn’t anymore.

DKF: I want to make it a double loser grade just for how much I hated the Bobrovsky deal last year.

Los Angeles Kings

Key Signings: uhhhh

MC: Yeah so…LA just hasn’t signed anyone of note so far. How did I miss this? How is no one talking about this? This seems so weird right?

Verdict: Losers

DKF: I said it before and I’ll say it again: if you don’t play, you’re not a winner. What’s the opposite of a winner?

MC: Were the Kings too busy watching the Lakers win the NBA title to remember to sign free agents? 

Minnesota Wild

Key Signings: Cam Talbot

MC: Listen, we all know that Minnesota is about to be bad. Literally just look at my rant in the Columbus section. But yeah, they’re planning for the tank. I would punt everyone but Kirill Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin into the abyss. The Wild are going to finish 31st in the league I think. Cam Talbot is a very fine back-up goalie I think. But three years and $11 million doesn’t make any sense for a 33-year-old goalie that hasn’t put together a really solid year in a while. 

Verdict: Losers

MC: Get used to hearing this “L” word a lot, Wild fans. 

DKF: It’s sad that we won’t be able to call them the Minnesota Mild much longer, because they’ll be going from Mild to dumpster fire really fast.

Montreal Canadiens

Key Signings: Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson

MC: I already know we’re going to disagree on these signings.

DKF: That’s because half our hockey opinions merge identically and the others are polar opposites. Over the years we’ve figured out which are which. There’s a gamble here (I’m ducking behind a couch before you explode on Anderson) but at the same time, it’s a worthwhile one in my mind. It wasn’t long ago that Anderson put up 27 goals without the strongest of linemates.

MC: Anderson is a fine player, but the stats just don’t match up to the production he’s being brought in to replace in Domi. Domi’s worst offensive year was 38 points in 2016-17. Anderson’s best was 47 in 2018-19. But whatever, sometimes you just need to trade a guy who isn’t happy with his situation anymore.

DKF: Your inability to consider context is as infuriating as ever

MC: Nah I’m usually pretty right. The problem isn’t really with Anderson himself, but the contract he was signed to immediately after. Seven years and $38.5 million is a ton of term and money to commit to somebody who has yet to prove themselves as a primary scoring threat. 

DKF: Well adding the Toffoli contract to the mix and they got better up front. Plus one of the better looking backups in the league in Allen means that Carey Price gets some more rest.

MC: When did we decide Allen was one of the better back-ups in the league? I thought the reason he was considered a good signing was because he was on a one-year deal? Then they signed him for another two years? 

DKF: When he put up a .927 save percentage. Can’t speak to the length, but in terms of talent, it looks like a solid bet to me. Then there’s the Joel Edmundson deal….yeah I got nothing. There’s having depth on D and then there’s packing the left side insanely tightly and squeezing your cap space at a bad time.

Verdict: Losers

MC: I like the Toffoli signing a lot, but the Anderson one is just way too long, especially considering the amount of young guys they have to sign in the next five years. 

Nashville Predators

Key Signings: Mark Borowiecki, Nick Cousins, Matt Benning

DKF: Well when you have a year with uninspiring production out of your forwards, iffy goaltending at best, and a team who’s among the oldest in the league, you bring in the best. Oh the best are these three? Really?

MC: I’ll accept no slander for Montreal Canadiens power-play legend Nick Cousins

DKF: The Predators finished fifth in their division and got knocked out in a quick four games by the Coyotes in the play-in round. They don’t look like a team headed in the right direction. If I’m a Nashville fan, I’m worried right now.

Verdict: Losers

DKF: These signings are fine if you’re an already strong team just looking for a few reinforcements to bolster the fourth line, bottom pairing, or injury replacement options. If you’re a team that doesn’t look good, these aren’t guys that will move the needle much.

MC: Exactly. The Predators aren’t the Lightning. Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg are both star players, but neither are going to drag you through the playoffs. 

New Jersey Devils

Key Signings: Corey Crawford, Dmitri Kulikov

DKF: I think they actually brought in a solid complement to Mackenzie Blackwood here. Crawford is still a solid goaltender who had to play behind a rough defense last year. The only problem is that the Devils’ D doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence either, and Kulikov doesn’t change that.

MC: Please give Nico Hischier somebody to play with. Maybe Jack Hughes will be adjusted to the league this season, but if he needs more time and can’t significantly contribute on offence, this is a team that will be stuck in the basement.

Verdict: Losers

DKF: Yes it’s a young team that’s still building but are these pieces that are going to help them get where they want to be?  Will Crawford still be good when the team is? Is the defense passable enough to help him while he’s still solid? If the answer ends up being no, this looks like a needless move.

MC: Embrace the tank!

New York Islanders

Key Signings: Austin Czarnik, Parker Wortherspoon

MC: The Islanders play some of the most boring hockey of all time. Which is fine because they win yadda yadda. The fact is, they need a true game-breaker to take the pressure off of Mat Barzal. Czarnik and Wotherspoon are perfectly fine depth guys, but that top line needs another star.

DKF: You’ve got the best coach in the league right now. Coaching can only carry a team so far. New York is playing above their overall talent level because Trotz is that good. Give him more weapons to work with.

Verdict: Losers

MC: The Islanders are a systems team, and maybe they think that means they shouldn’t mess with the recipe they got. But do we think that the exact same thing will work twice? When was the last time that a team in this league had success, changed nothing, and then matched that success the next season? I’m struggling to think of one. 

DKF: I see a system that works well now but could definitely get over the hump with added talent. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to get any.

New York Rangers

Key Signings: Tony Deangelo, Alex Georgiev, Keith Kinkaid

DKF: So you had too many goalies in the crease last year, wanted to make the hierarchy clear and moved on from Lundqvist. Well no worries New York, I’m sure you’ll love Keith Kinkaid just as much. The signing is to expose a goalie for Seattle but there had to be options out there that didn’t involve a player who struggled in most of his AHL time last year while being ever worse in the big leagues.  The Georgiev contract is solid to look at while he proves himself a bit.

DeAngelo is not a signing I’d be happy with regardless of the price. Sometimes what is said and done off ice has to matter.

MC: The only plus side is that the “Tony DeGuido” Twitter account gets more content.

Verdict: Losers

DKF: The team did not improve with their signings. If you look at it like that, you can’t call them a winner. Sorry.

MC: Even with MVP finalist Artemi Panarin, 2019 second overall pick Kappo Kakko and 2020 first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière, this is a team that needed to make systemic changes on their back end and with their depth scoring. They didn’t do that.

Ottawa Senators

Key Signings: Matt Murray, Evgenii Dadonov, Connor Brown, Alex Galchenyuk

MC: This Matt Murray contract is a gamble. Yes, he’s got two Cups, but he hasn’t looked like an elite goaltender since 2017.

Dadonov and Brown are both really solid pieces to add/keep around. Dadonov is a bit older, but his deal isn’t crazy long or expensive. Three years, 5$ million for a 55-60 point guy? Done deal. Brown is on a nice team-friendly deal, and it’s clear that Ottawa is just getting ready to throw all the money at their young guys, except when they want contracts that they think are too high. No stress Anthony Duclair, go chase your bag, you deserve it. 

DKF: Let’s not forget that Alex Galchenyuk season is back on. Who’s ready for 18 rapid handles followed by a shot into the middle of the pads? But that’s not all, along with Alex comes the awful prize of an interfering hockey father that will text him instructions between periods whether the team likes it or not!

Verdict: Losers

MC: Weird, I didn’t even write the verdict for this one, I typed in ‘Ottawa’ and it auto-completed. Strange.

DKF: At least they’re probably going to have the same amount of fans in the building as usual this year.

Philadelphia Flyers

Key Signings: Nolan Patrick, Erik Gustafsson, Derrick Pouliot

MC: The Flyers are a really good team. I like a lot of the pieces they have in place right now. Travis Konecny is a top-tier shithead and that’s something I can always appreciate. I like Nolan Patrick as a player a lot. I think he can live up to his second-overall status.

DKF: My question is are they bringing in enough talent to fill the hole left by Matt Niskanen? There’s a defender who ate big minutes for you and I don’t see someone who plays that role as well as he does filling it right now. This is a young team on the rise but there’s potential for a step back there, even with the addition of Gustafsson.

Verdict: Losers

MC: As much as I like Patrick, he’s struggled. Add that to a migraine disorder that derailed his season, and you have a difficult situation for a player who has amazing potential. I really wish Patrick the best, because he’s had such a rough go. I like this team a lot actually, DKF, why are we putting them as free agency losers again?

DKF: Well after the jaw breaking dropping sudden loss of Niskanen, the Flyers grit/60 dropped suddenly. Really though, Gustafsson looks like he could slide in as a top four option but he’s been touted as an offensive D man with defensive questions. You’ve got productive blueliners already but does Gustafsson really offer you the defensive reliability you had in Niskanen? That’s a major hole that’s infilled for me. It’s also key to add that his Proust totals saw a major drop this year. He went from 60 points in 79 games to 29 in 66, while not exactly being Nick Lidstrom I’m his own end.

All that to say, for me it’s not a net improvement. They didn’t get better in my eyes. *DKF was quickly crosschecked in the jaw for these comments*

Pittsburgh Penguins

Key Signings: Cody Ceci, Mark Jankowski, Evan Rodrigues 

MC: We actually have Jim Rutherford here to help argue why the Penguins should be free agency winners! Thanks for being here Jim.

Jim Rutherford: No problem, happy to give you some insight into our team. So you guys didn’t like the Jack Johnson signing last year? Okay fair enough, that’s on me, I thought he would add to our depth defence and it didn’t really work out.

MC: Oh, that’s cool. So you understand why that didn’t work out!

Jim Rutherford: Completely

MC: That’s actually super interesting to hear, so what’re your plans for this seas-

Jim Rutherford: Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson.

MC:

Jim Rutherford:

Verdict: Losers

San Jose Sharks

Key Signings: Kevin Labanc, Patrick Marleau

MC: Kevin Labanc finally gets paid! After taking a really strange one-year deal last summer, he finally gets his payday with a 4-year, $18.9 million contract that should be a solid deal for the length of the deal. 

DKF: Labanc is solid but with the year he had this has a bit of a “thanks for that sweetheart deal last year” feel to it. I will miss measuring all contracts in Labancs from now that his cap hit isn’t a million dollars though. As in “oh god the Sharks are paying Marc-Edouard Vlasic 7 Labancs for 6 more years.”

MC: The Sharks are also bringing back Marleau. Why not. 

DKF: I almost want to declare them winners for the fun of that. Marleau will most likely break the games played record in a Sharks jersey this year. Seeing that done any other way would have been like seeing Brodeur in a Blues jersey again. If only a certain bearded teammate was there to celebrate….

Verdict: Losers

MC: The Sharks didn’t even try to get better this offseason, which is fine because they’re not very good. They’re a very old team, and they’ve got those older players signed for a long time. This offseason should’ve been seen as a chance to get significantly younger.

DKF: I said I almost wanted to declare them winners but the fun of Marleau is not enough to offset just how bad the outlook of this team is.

St. Louis Blues

Key Signings: Torey Krug, Kyle Clifford

DKF: Is Torey Krug a good defenceman? Yes. Was he also sheltered in Boston I’m a way that let him play a specific role that maximized his talents without filling a number 1 D role? Also yes.

Yes he’s cheaper than Pietrangelo but he’s also not as good as the star defender you just lost. That is going to hurt. I worry about the expectation of The guy being a real top pairing threat in all situations like Pietrangelo was.

Kyle Clifford is far younger than he has any right to be. He’s a guy that I feel has been around forever and should be one of those grizzled ver signings but is only 29. Solid depth signing.

Verdict: Losers

DKF: I’ll repeat my criteria I’ve used a lot: did they get better? No. There are two easy ways to be declared a loser here. 1. Be bad, get slightly better but still look terrible and now where near competing. Or the St Louis option: be good but get worse.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Signings: Patrick Maroon, Luke Schenn

MC: I guess winning the Stanley Cup will instill some confidence in your squad.

DKF: What it hasn’t done is fix some serious salary cap crunches. They’ve got 4 defencemen ready to go and 3 rfa’s to sign with less than 4 million in cap space. But no worries, Pat Maroon is back. Yes it’s cheap but could that money not have gone to Signing Cirelli or Sergachev?

Verdict: Losers

MC: If somebody offers sheets’ Anthony Cirelli, I’ll change this verdict to a winner. That’s the price you have to pay as Cup winners.

DKF: They lost a few pieces as winners often do but none of their signings inspire confidence. Nor does the fact that they haven’t sorted out their rfa players and don’t have the cap space to do so right now.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Key Signings: Joe Thornton, T.J Brodie, Ilya Mikheyev, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey

MC: Joe Thornton is awesome and adding him at $700,000 means there’s no pressure for him to perform like there was on Patrick Marleau (Joe Pavelski to the Leafs in 2024?) 

DKF: is a 41 year old centre really the answer to the Leafs problems? I love Jumbo but he says he wants to win and heads to a team that (wait let me check because that can’t be real) yup, hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004. For reference, Auston Mathews was 6 years old and Thornton was still in Boston when that happened. I think he’s still solid but I don’t see him curing the problems the Leafs have that stop them from getting out of the first round.

MC: In these unprecendented times, it’s good to know there are still some things we can count on.

DKF: TJ Brodie is an upgrade on the Tyson Barrie disaster season but that’s not saying much. I’m interested to see how Brodie does away from a guy like Giordano after some time with him this year. Giordano is a guy that can elevate his partner so there’s a question there. Brodie’s output has dipped in the last few years while some consistency issues have cropped up. I think the questions about his defence are a bit exaggerated but they exist for a reason. Even if the signing works out this season, I don’t see it as a long lasting success move. Brodie is thirty now and his style won’t age well. There’s some dips that have started to show lightly and if I’m Toronto, I’m worried they could exacerbate problems that already exist on the team.

MC: Mikheyev was a nice surprise last season, and there’s a ton of value in being able to sign cheap, good players for the Leafs considering their cap situation. Good job Leafs.

Speaking of sound investments, Wayne Simmonds and Jimmy Vesey! Simmonds just doesn’t look like an effective player anyone, and I hope to hell he proves me wrong because he’s super cool and I loved him in Philly. Vesey is just an enigma, and the reason NCAA guys got such a bad rap for a while. Will he turn it on for the Leafs? I can’t imagine he’ll get significant minutes, so who knows.

DKF: I’ve really liked Simmonds through his career. Great player but he’s not who he once was. Toronto May have saved Montreal from itself by signing him. Even a year or two ago I would have said this is a brilliant signing by Toronto. I just don’t see it anymore.

Verdict: Losers

MC: I think I legally have to make the Leafs free agency losers as a Montreal-born sports-writer. 

DKF: I don’t see any of these signings moving the needle that much this season. That’s big with the cap trouble they have coming up now.

Vancouver Canucks

Key Signings: Braden Holtby, Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, 

MC: This Braden Holtby contract is strangely perfect. Short term, decent cap hit, fits in well as in the netminder tandem with Thatcher Demko. And as much as I like Tyler Motte, the Canucks lost key pieces. Some hurt more than others. Letting Markstrom go was the right choice considering his price tag. Tyler Toffoli is going to sting as the Canucks don’t have anyone on their roster capable of filling that secondary scoring role. They seem to be wanting to turn to Jake Virtanen to do that, but he hasn’t shown he can play at that level yet.  

DKF: I feel similarly. In a vacuum I like these signings a lot. The problem is I don’t love the direction the team has put itself in. They’re getting stretched in the flat cap world quickly and still have holes that are infilled to go from up and comer to true contender.

Verdict: Losers

MC: The Canucks did not get better this offseason, they may have actually gotten worse. With their cap situation thoroughly in rough shape thanks to the Tyler Myers and Loui Eriksson contracts, they needed to clear cap space, not spend more. If they see themselves as a win-now team, these were not the moves you make to capitalize on that window. 

DKF: It feels like they’re stuck between that rebuild and win now mentality. They need to decide who they are, who they want to actually be, and what a realistic plan is to get there. This in between doesn’t work for me.

Vegas Golden Knights

Key Signings: Alex Pietrangelo, Tomas Nosek, 

MC: Congrats Vegas, you got the Belle of the Ball in Alex Pietrangelo, a player I definitely didn’t think was completely washed and someone who I totally didn’t believe wasn’t going to be good anymore *looks around nervously*

DKF: I believe I’m owed a round thanks to Alex making you eat those words you definitely didn’t utter.

MC: I can’t recall, doesn’t sound like a take I would give *looks around even more nervously.*

DKF: While I love the player and think that he’s worth the money right now, Vegas, do you think the salary cap just doesn’t exist? They’re tying up some big contracts and money is starting to really run low. Short term it looks good. Long term? I’m less sure.

Verdict: Losers

MC: Okay fine, I’ll eat my words and admit it. Pietrangelo is still one of the elite defenders in the league. But he’s 30. Do we trust him to provide the full value of this massive contract in even four seasons? I hope so, but I’m not sure. 

DKF: Looking at not only whether he’ll be worth that contract or not, how long can Vegas stay afloat with a flat cap even if Pietrangelo remains good long term?

Washington Capitals

Key Signings: Justin Shultz, Henrik Lundqvist , Trevor Van Riemsdyk

MC: Despite getting absolutely bounced out of the playoff bubble, the Capitals are still in their Stanley Cup winning window, even if it’s right at the end. Their key signings actually do help them get better. Lundqvist is one of the coolest players in the league and if there’s any chance he can win a Cup, I legally have to cheer for that. Van Riemsdyk is one of my favourite second-pairing defenders in the league. He immediately steps in and helps them out. Schultz is fine too, if at a slightly high cap hit.

DKF: I like these signings in a vacuum without a doubt. We value Van Riemsdyk differently but he’s a solid add. Boosting your goaltending duo isn’t a bad idea, even if The King is on the decline. Schultz can boost their transition game a bit too. The problem is does this really solve their core issues keeping them from bringing home a cup like they did in 2018?

Verdict: Losers

MC: The Capitals still don’t have scoring depth, they still don’t have a proven starting goalie and Ovechkin isn’t getting any younger, even if he still rocks.

Winnipeg Jets

Key Signings: Nathan Beaulieu, Nate Thompson, Mason Appleton

MC: This doesn’t inspire much confidence, especially considering how rough the defence on this team was last season. The only reason they didn’t finish dead last was because of Connor Hellebuyck, who posted one of the best seasons for a goalie in a decade. The last time we saw a goalie go off like him was when Price won the MVP. 

DKF: This is a team that needed some real help in areas and didn’t get it. There were targets that could have helped more than just bringing back Beaulieu (who hasn’t played even 60 games once over the last three years).

The defense needed a boost and doesn’t seem to be getting it. I don’t see real success coming without an upgrade on the back end.

Verdict: Losers

MC: Hellebuyck needed help on the defensive end, and the Jets just didn’t acquire a defenceman capable of making them better. Also Laine is probably going to get traded and I’m sure that will go really well for you.

DKF: Can’t think of a reason the Winnipeg Jets shouldn’t trade a young, great Finnish goal scorer. Feels like I’m forgetting something…

MC: History is linear and never repeats!

Seattle Kraken

Verdict: Winners

MC: Seattle already has the best analytics department in hockey and is prepped to just poach the hell out of every team, and the petty man inside me considers that a winning mentality.

DKF: Went with a good name too. That’s a win in my books. 

Listen, we told you this was going to be way too long. I doubt any of you even made it this far. I could say anything here. Oogie boogie woogie. See?

Anyways, thanks for reading. Follow Dusty on Twitter @DustinKFleming.