With the start of NHL free agency on Wednesday, a great number of signings and trades began to take place. It was a fruitful day for a lot of NHL front offices seeking to improve their rosters ahead of the 2022-23 season. However, not every team shared in the success of making these roster improvements. Find out who are the big winners and losers of the NHL offseason so far!
Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus made the biggest move of free agency by signing Johnny Gaudreau to a seven year, $68.25 million contract. This move came as a big surprise after it was widely speculated that Gaudreau would either be joining the Devils or Islanders. But the Blue Jackets came in as late contenders and got the deal done for the star winger. Bringing in Gaudreau instantly elevates the status of the Blue Jackets as a playoff contender.
He’s coming off a season where he set career highs in all offensive categories and was tied for second most points in the league. In addition to improving the team’s play, he also improves the status of Columbus as a desirable destination. This becomes especially important in regards to Patrik Laine, who’s an RFA at the moment. He may be enticed to take a pay cut to stay with the team long term with Gaudreau now playing there too. Overall, Gaudreau was a tremendous move on a number of levels, and helped distract attention from the rough contract given to Erik Gudbranson earlier in the day.
Loser: New York Islanders
If there was a vote for the biggest loser of this offseason so far, it would go to the Islanders. To this writing they’ve yet to make a single offseason signing. As has become somewhat traditional, Lou Lamoriello put all of his efforts towards one big free agent, this time being Johnny Gaudreau. Following in that tradition, Gaudreau proceeded to sign elsewhere with every viable backup option also going elsewhere as the Islanders waited on Gaudreau.
This disappointment also comes after Lamiorello used the 13th overall draft pick to trade for a defenseman over the variety of scoring forwards that were also available. Lamiorello gambled on being able to sign a key free agent and it backfired badly. They now have to seek out improvements through either a thin free agency field or another trade opportunity that becomes available. Not all hope is lost for the Islanders, but this was a poorly played offseason by Lamiorello and company.
Winner: Ottawa Senators
Pierre Dorion has done a tremendous job with the Senators offseason thus far. After assembling a trade package to acquire Alex DeBrincat on draft day, his work was far from over. He moved 75% of Matt Murray’s contract to the Maple Leafs, and then worked a trade to bring in Cam Talbot from the Wild to be the new starting goaltender. In addition, he signed star free agent center Claude Giroux to a three year, $19.5 million contract. And with all of this, he managed to sign RFA Josh Norris to an eight year contract extension.
It’s been a rough ride for the Senators franchise since the last time they made the postseason in 2017. But Dorion’s moves this offseason finally has the franchise in great shape. They have a talented, young roster and adding Giroux gives them much needed veteran experience. They’re going to be a fun team to watch over the next couple years.
Loser: Philadelphia Flyers
For a while, the Flyers were seen as one of the favorites to land Johnny Gaudreau. It made a lot of sense. The Flyers needed a spark to return to playoff relevance and Gaudreau could come in as a hometown hero as he so desired. However, when free agency began, the Flyers didn’t even make a legitimate attempt at landing him. General manager Chuck Fletcher cited the team’s cap issues as the reason for not being able to pursue Gaudreau.
Now without landing any key free agents, many are wondering how the Flyers are going to be any better. They did add Tony DeAngelo and Nicolas Deslauriers, but those are only marginal improvements. And on top of that, they had to release Oskar Lindblom to help make space to sign DeAngelo’s extension. The Flyers went into this offseason wanting to re-tool and become a playoff contender. But so far, they haven’t made enough improvements to realistically reach that goal.
Winner: Detroit Red Wings
Steve Yzerman had a field day when free agency opened up on Wednesday. He signed Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, Dominik Kubalik, Austin Czarnik and David Perron on day one. He also signed two defensemen in Olli Maatta and Mark Pysyk on day two. And this doesn’t even include him trading for and promptly extending goaltender Ville Husso. It was a tremendous haul for Yzerman, who clearly is ready to move to the next stage of the Red Wings’ rebuild.
With these moves, there’s a good argument to be made that the Red Wings can be competitive in the playoff hunt next season. They’ve added a lot of experienced talent to a roster that, for a time, flirted with the second wild card spot in the first half of the 2021-22 season. Adding these players to a core that displayed great potential last season is sure to have the Red Wings back to playing competitive hockey in the 2022-23 season.
Featured image courtesy of NHL
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