Grading Every Team’s 2023 NHL Free Agency

The free agency period is still going, but we are officially past the first month of it. Some teams made substantial improvements, while others saw key faces leave for greener pastures. With that said, let’s look at each of the 32 teams.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins: F

Additions: C Morgan Geekie (2 years, $4 million), C Patrick Brown (2 years, $1.6 million), RD Kevin Shattenkirk (1 year, $1.05 million), LW Milan Lucic (1 year, $1 million w/ no-move clause and $500k max. performance bonuses), LW James van Riemsdyk (1 year, $1 million), C Jesper Boqvist (1 year, $775k), C Jayson Megna (1 year, $775k), RD Ian Mitchell (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: C Marc McLaughlin (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: C Patrice Bergeron (retired), LW Tyler Bertuzzi (TOR), RD Connor Clifton (BUF), LW Nick Foligno (CHI; trade), LW Taylor Hall (CHI; trade), RW Garnet Hathaway (PHI), C David Krejčí (UFA), LW Joona Koppanen (PIT), C Tomáš Nosek (UFA), LD Dmitry Orlov (CAR), LD Mike Reilly (FLA)

The 3-1 choke job to the Florida Panthers is something that the Bruins will not recover from, and that they traded away Taylor Hall to clear up cap space to try and re-sign Tyler Bertuzzi only to see him go to the Toronto Maple Leafs is a gut punch. Plus, they lost their two other trade deadline acquisitions in Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway. Connor Clifton and Tomáš Nosek are gone as well. James van Riemsdyk is a cheaper version of Hall as a third-line left winger, but there was also a lot of uncertainty around the futures of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejčí.

Bergeron only wants to play for Boston, but has since announced his retirement. There’s also the realistic possibility Krejčí returns to his homeland of Czechia. Morgan Geekie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jesper Boqvist, and Patrick Brown are good depth signings, but they are not getting the Milan Lucic they were once accustomed to back in the 2011 Stanley Cup run, and none of these five are going to make up for the lost value of Bertuzzi, Orlov, Clifton, Hathaway, Nosek, and potentially Bergeron and Krejčí. At least they locked up David Pastrňák to an eight-year extension during the season, but it’s clear to the naked eye that the Bruins got worse.

Buffalo Sabres: B

Additions: RD Connor Clifton (3 years, $10 million), RD Erik Johnson (1 year, $3.25 million)

Keeps: RW Kyle Okposo (1 year, $2.5 million), C Tyson Jost (1 year, $2 million)

Subtractions: G Craig Anderson (retired), RW Vinnie Hinostroza (PIT), LD Lawrence Pilut (Swiss NL)

Not a lot happened with the Sabres in this year’s free agency. The losses of Vinnie Hinostroza, Lawrence Pilut, and the now-retired Craig Anderson are not major shakeups to the roster, but they were able to keep both captain Kyle Okposo and depth centreman Tyson Jost, who are both key centerpieces to the team’s fourth line. They added both Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton to the defensive core as well. Johnson provides leadership, quality defensive play, and Stanley Cup winning experience, while Clifton is still relatively fresh despite being 28, having played 232 NHL games in his career, but provides physicality to a team that needs it.

While adding two high-end depth defensemen is always good, this creates a logjam at the defensive end. Johnson, Clifton, Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, and Mattias Samuelsson all have their spots solidified, but this will leave Henri Jokiharju, Ilya Lyubushkin, Riley Stillman, and Jacob Bryson competing for the sixth, seventh, and possibly eighth defensive spots. The other priority is giving a long-term extension to Dahlin, their defensive anchor, as he is on an expiring contract. Still, keeping Okposo and Jost and later getting both Johnson and Clifton is nice business by Kevyn Adams.

Detroit Red Wings: A+

Additions: C J.T. Compher (5 years, $25.5 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), LW Alex DeBrincat (4 years, $31.5 million w/ 16-team no-trade list for final three years; acquired via trade), RD Justin Holl (3 years, $10.2 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), LW Klim Kostin (2 years, $4 million), LD Shayne Gostisbehere (1 year, $4.125 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), RW Daniel Sprong (1 year, $2 million), G James Reimer (1 year, $1.5 million), RW Christian Fischer (1 year, $1.125 million)

Subtractions: G Magnus Hellberg (PIT), LW Dominik Kubalík (OTT; trade), G Alex Nedeljkovic (PIT), LW Filip Zadina (SJS)

I absolutely love what Steve Yzerman did in this year’s free agency class. He’s loading up the Red Wings’ lineup for what could very likely be a playoff push in breaking a seven-year postseason appearance drought. He started with adding depth players, with J.T. Compher and Shayne Gostisbehere providing good value for what they are being signed for. Compher had a breakout season with the Colorado Avalanche last year as a reliable scorer and shutdown centreman, while Gostisbehere had a career revival in two years with the Arizona Coyotes and a brief stint with the Carolina Hurricanes.

While the Justin Holl contract is not the best one, it’s relatively the only “bad” signing Yzerman made this offseason as he can be a good reclamation project under Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde. Getting Daniel Sprong, Klim Kostin, and Christian Fischer strengthen the bottom six forward group, and James Reimer gives Ville Husso an okay backup option in the cases of back-to-backs or injury. But what they needed was reliable goal-scoring, something they lacked in the last few seasons. Exit Filip Zadina and Dominik Kubalík, enter Alex DeBrincat. He instantly becomes the team’s most proven goal-scorer, and he can be slotted anywhere inside the top six forward group. The “Yzerplan” is moving in full effect.

Florida Panthers: B-

Additions: C Evan Rodrigues (4 years, $12 million), LD Niko Mikkola (3 years, $7.5 million), LD Oliver Ekman-Larsson (1 year, $2.25 million), G Anthony Stolarz (1 year, $1.1 million), LD Dmitry Kulikov (1 year, $1 million), LD Mike Reilly (1 year, $1 million), C Kevin Stenlund (1 year, $1 million), LW Rasmus Asplund (1 year, $775k), C Steven Lorentz (trade; 1 year left on contract, $1.05 million AAV)

Keeps: LW Eetu Luostarinen (3 years, $9 million; contract begins in 2024-25), RD Casey Fitzgerald (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: RW Anthony Duclair (SJS; trade), RD Radko Gudas (ANA), RW Patric Hörnqvist (retired), C Eric Staal (UFA), LD Marc Staal (PHI), C Colin White (UFA)

The Panthers were busy adding to the blueline. Their biggest holes are on the right side, as both Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour had shoulder surgeries and Radko Gudas left for the Anaheim Ducks. However, all of Niko Mikkola, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dmitry Kulikov, and Mike Reilly are left-shot defensemen. Though Marc Staal, another left-shot defenseman, left to join the Philadelphia Flyers, with Ekblad and Montour out, their entire defensive core is comprised of left-shot defensemen. The only active right-shot defensemen inside the organization are Santtu Kinnunen and Mike Benning, and both are in the minor leagues. When the entire defensive core is fully healthy, Ekblad, Montour, Ekman-Larsson, Mikkola, and Gustav Forsling may be the ones with their spots guaranteed. That leaves Kulikov, Reilly, Josh Mahura, and Matt Kiersted competing for spots.

Though they also did restock on depth forwards. While trading away Anthony Duclair stings, they hauled in Evan Rodrigues, one of the better middle six options in this year’s free agent class, at the same price tag that Duclair is currently worth ($3 million AAV). Acquiring Steven Lorentz in the Duclair trade and signing Kevin Stenlund and Rasmus Asplund make up for the value lost from the Eric Staal and Colin White departures and Patric Hörnqvist’s retirement. However, if the plan is to have multiple left-shot defensemen play on their off-sides, some of these fits are rather awkward.

Montreal Canadiens: B-

Additions: LW Alex Newhook (4 years, $11.6 million; acquired via trade), RD David Reinbacher (entry-level contract at 3 years, $2.85 million w/ $1 million max. performance bonuses)

Keeps: LW Rafaël Harvey-Pinard (2 years, $2.2 million), C Sean Monahan (1 year, $1.985 million w/ $15k max. performance bonuses)

Subtractions: RW Alex Belzile (NYR), LW Jonathan Drouin (COL), LD Joel Edmundson (WSH; trade, 50% retained salary), RW Denis Gurianov (NSH)

It’s not really a lot with the Canadiens considering that they’re in the middle of a rebuild, but that’s not really that big of a deal for them. Losing Jonathan Drouin and Denis Gurianov doesn’t really mean that much, but acquiring restricted free agent Alex Newhook from the Colorado Avalanche and then signing him to a four-year deal is a good boost to the middle six. And while there are fans visibly upset with the team selecting David Reinbacher at the Draft, it fills a need at the right side of the defense, considering that they have a plethora of left-shot defensemen.

He likely won’t come in this year, however, even though the team traded away Joel Edmundson to the Washington Capitals, thus prompting Kaiden Guhle to play on his off-side for another year. Montreal managed to keep both Sean Monahan and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard to decent contracts. Monahan looked like he was having a career revival with 17 points in 25 games before an injury knocked him out for the rest of the season, while Harvey-Pinard filled in nicely in the absence of Cole Caufield on Nick Suzuki’s left wing. For what it’s worth, it’s good business by Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes.

Ottawa Senators: D+

Additions: G Joonas Korpisalo (5 years, $20 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), RW Zack MacEwen (3 years, $2.325 million), LW Dominik Kubalík (trade, 1 year left on contract, $2.5 million AAV)

Keeps: RD Travis Hamonic (2 years, $2.2 million w/ no-move clause), LD Erik Brännström (1 year, $2 million), G Kevin Mandolese (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: LW Derick Brassard (UFA), C Patrick Brown (BOS), LW Alex DeBrincat (DET; trade), C Dylan Gambrell (TOR), RW Julien Gauthier (NYI), LD Nick Holden (UFA), G Cam Talbot (LAK), RW Austin Watson (UFA)

The Senators are a big head-scratcher. On one side, it’s nice that Pierre Dorion banked in on Joonas Korpisalo to try and get his team over the hump for a playoff push. They were wanting to find a stable goaltender that can solidify the crease for the first time since Craig Anderson. But it comes with a risk, considering that the four-year contract they gave out to Matt Murray backfired. Korpisalo looked like his old self after hip surgery, especially after the Kings acquired him at last season’s trade deadline, with a .921 save percentage in 11 starts. But him underperforming in the playoffs shows that he is far from a guarantee, yet they gave him a five-year, $20 million contract, which means they’re paying him to be a guarantee in net.

Goaltending is the most volatile position in ice hockey, and it’s always a boom or bust bet when a GM is throwing that kind of money to them. They also struggled in the goal scoring department last season, and they might be finding it harder to find goal-scoring considering that Alex DeBrincat, one of their better goal-scorers and underrated playmakers, got traded away for middle-six forward Dominik Kubalík, defensive prospect Donovan Sebrango, and two picks. While Kubalík can provide offense, consistency is his biggest issue. Also, Travis Hamonic and Erik Brännström are brought back to the defense. Hamonic helped give Jake Sanderson confidence in his rookie season, but it’s fair to wonder if Brännström truly fits Ottawa’s plans. They still have issues on bottom six scoring, and they failed to address that despite adding physical forward Zack MacEwen.

Tampa Bay Lightning: C+

Additions: LW Conor Sheary (3 years, $6 million), RW Josh Archibald (2 years, $1.6 million), C Luke Glendening (2 years, $1.6 million), LW Logan Brown (1 year, $775k), LD Calvin de Haan (1 year, $775k), G Jonas Johansson (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: RW Tanner Jeannot, 2-year deal, $5.33 million

Subtractions: C Pierre-Édouard Bellemare (SEA), LD Ian Cole (VAN), G Brian Elliott (UFA), LW Alex Killorn (ANA), LW Patrick Maroon (MIN; trade), RW Corey Perry (CHI; trade)

Even when suffering a first round exit to the Maple Leafs, the Lightning still have to go through the Stanley Cup cap crunch. The first years of the eight-year extensions to Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Černak all kick in at cap hits of $8.5 million, $6.25 million, and $5.2 million, respectively. Sadly, some of their key players have to go, and that meant the departures of Alex Killorn, Patrick Maroon, Corey Perry, Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, and Ian Cole. Conor Sheary bounced back nicely with the Washington Capitals, and even though he will be a nice addition to the middle-six, Killorn just came off the best season of his career, where he had 64 points in 82 games. Sheary’s career-high in points was 53, set in 2016-17, when he was a Pittsburgh Penguin.

The closest he has been to that mark ever since was 2021-22, where he had 43 points in 71 games with Washington. Logan Brown, Josh Archibald, and Calvin de Haan are nice depth additions to help fill in the holes left behind by Maroon, Perry, and Cole, respectively, but the deals given out to Luke Glendening and Jonas Johansson are somewhat of head-scratchers. They’re not getting prime Glendening; they’re getting a shell of what he was when he was an effective defensive-minded centreman. Johansson had a .932 save percentage this past season with the Colorado Avalanche, but he played only three games in the NHL that year.

This is his first full-time role in the NHL as the new backup to Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Johansson has yet to play more than nine games in an NHL season. Keeping Tanner Jeannot at a two-year deal on a $2.665 million cap hit can prove to be a bargain, especially since Brandon Hagel got signed to a similar bargain deal last summer and had a breakout season. This could set up the hope that Jeannot has a similar breakout season after a sophomore slump. While there are legitimate questions when the beginning of the end of the current iteration of the Lightning is coming as we know it, it’s most likely not going to be this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs: A

Additions: RW Ryan Reaves (3 years, $4.05 million), LW Tyler Bertuzzi (1 year, $5.5 million w/ no-move clause), RD John Klingberg (1 year, $4.15 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), C Max Domi (1 year, $3 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), C Dylan Gambrell (1 year, $775k), LD William Lagesson (1 year, $775k), LD Max Lajoie (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: C David Kämpf (4 years, $9.6 million w/ 10-team no-trade list for first 3 years), G Ilya Samsonov (1 year, $3.55 million)

Subtractions: C Noel Acciari (PIT), LW Zach Aston-Reese (UFA), LD Jordie Benn (UFA), LW Michael Bunting (CAR), LD Erik Gustafsson (NYR), RD Justin Holl (DET), LD Victor Mete (PHI), C Ryan O’Reilly (NSH), RD Luke Schenn (NSH), RW Wayne Simmonds (UFA)

Despite the losses of Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Luke Schenn, Michael Bunting, Zach Aston-Reese, Erik Gustafsson, and Justin Holl, Brad Treliving managed to make up for those losses by adding Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, John Klingberg and Ryan Reaves. Bertuzzi is, without a doubt, an upgrade over Bunting. He brings in a combination of skill and sandpaper, and will comfortably slot into one of the top two forward lines, but given his injury troubles and lack of cap space among every NHL team, he might not have received the pricey, long-term offers he was expecting, though he might be set up to have the best season of his career. Domi is now entering his fifth team in a three-year span, and continues his streak of short-term contracts.

He will most likely fill in the third line center hole left behind by O’Reilly’s departure, or could move up to the second line left wing spot next to John Tavares. That king of versatility can be useful for Toronto while giving him a chance to settle into an offensive-minded environment. Even though Klingberg’s defensive game is not the same as it once was, he still can provide decent offensive value in sheltered minutes. There is also no doubt that Reaves will provide entertainment and personality to the team, as he elevates every locker room he enters. He remains one of the more feared enforcers in the league. However, they now have a cap dilemma facing them, as both Auston Matthews and William Nylander are in the final years of their deals.

Those problems further arise after Ilya Samsonov, who had a nice bounce-back season in net, got a new contract after his arbitration hearing. Even with Jake Muzzin and Matt Murray on the LTIR, the Leafs are approximately $2.07 million over the cap, and most of that has to do with the bloated contracts from Matthews, Tavares, and Mitch Marner. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov also needs a new contract as he is a restricted free agent. It seems that they will have to trade away Matt Murray, who has one year left on his contract at a $4.688 million cap hit. It won’t hurt them that much, as Murray has been disappointing in Toronto. Then they may have to trade away either T.J. Brodie or both of Calle Järnkrok and Conor Timmins, though all three of them are quality NHL players.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes: B+

Additions: LW Michael Bunting (3 years, $13.5 million w/ 10-team no-trade list for first 2 years), LD Dmitry Orlov (2 years, $15.5 million), LW Brendan Lemieux (1 year, $800k)

Keeps: C Sebastian Aho (8 years, $78 million w/ no-move clause for entire contract & 15-team no-trade list for final year; contract begins 8n 2024-25) C Jordan Staal (4 years, $11.6 million w/ no-move clause, turns into no-trade clause in August 15, 2026), G Frederik Andersen (2 years, $6.8 million w/ 15-team no-trade list), G Antti Raanta (1 year, $1.5 million), RD Dylan Coghlan (1 year, $850k)

Subtractions: LD Jake Gardiner (UFA), LD Shayne Gostisbehere (DET), RD Ondřej Kaše (UFA), LW Max Pacioretty (WSH), C Paul Stastny (UFA), C Derek Stepan (UFA)

There are just three teams that have had more regular season wins than Carolina in the five years in which Rod Brind’Amour has been the Hurricanes’ head coach. Yet the furthest they have gone in that span was getting swept twice in the Eastern Conference Final. They are one year away from the most critical offseason in franchise history, which has Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teräväinen, Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce, and Jordan Martinook as unrestricted free agents, and Martin Nečas and Seth Jarvis as restricted free agents. This summer marks an important time for general manager Don Waddell to make a big splash, which he did. In signing Dmitry Orlov, he landed the best defenseman available in free agency and made Carolina’s deep defensive core even deeper, strengthening the best defense in the league. The big question was the cap hit from Orlov, considering he is signed to a $7.75 million cap hit for two seasons. While he did have a strong second half showing in his brief stint with the Boston Bruins, they are paying top-pairing money for someone who, before the trade, was a career second-pairing defenseman.

They are also running it back with their goaltending tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta for a combined $4.9 million of cap space, though having a goalie tandem where both goaltenders will be 34 years old heading into the season is not ideal, given the increase injury risks with goalies starting at age 32. But these signings keep them at three-deep in quality goalies with the waiver-exempt Pyotr Kochetkov sticking around until the summer of 2027. Then again, keeping pucks out of their own net was not their problem.

They wanted to address goal-scoring, where they were at the middle of the pack in that department last season, and wanted someone to help out their power play, which ranked at the bottom half of the league. They got it with Michael Bunting, who is coming off consecutive 23-goal seasons, at an affordable price. They also kept Jordan Staal, one of the more underrated defensive stalwarts and a great faceoff man, at a nice deal. There is no question that Carolina got better, and it’s nice business that they kept their franchise centerpiece on a new contract that lasts until 2032.

Columbus Blue Jackets: B+

Additions: RD Damon Severson (8 years, $50 million w/ no-trade clause for first 4 years, 20-team no-trade list for 2027-28, and 12-team no-trade list for final 3 years; acquired via sign-and-trade), C Adam Fantilli (entry-level contract at 3 years, $2.85 million w/ $3.2 million max. performance bonuses), LD Ivan Provorov (trade, 2 years left on contract at $4.725 million AAV—30% retained)

Keeps: RW Mathieu Olivier (2 years, $2.2 million), RW Yegor Chinakov (1 year, $800k)

Subtractions: LD Gavin Bayreuther (DAL), G Jon Gillies (UFA), G Michael Hutchinson (UFA), C Lane Pederson (EDM)

While the Blue Jackets mostly stood pat in free agency, they already did the bulk of their work on the trade market in acquiring both Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson, the latter coming in by way of a sign-and-trade from the New Jersey Devils. Interestingly, Provorov is from the same Draft class as Zach Werenski, and now the two will be on the same defensive core, albeit Provorov playing on the second pairing, getting a fresh start outside of Philadelphia. In getting both, they are doubling down on offensive defensemen, though it’s fair to wonder who will be the odd men out considering that there no wis a logjam on the core, with the other NHL-caliber defensemen under contract outside of Werenski being Adam Boqvist, Andrew Peeke, Erik Gudbranson, Nick Blankenburg, and Jake Bean. But it also should be noted that Jarmo Kekäläinen and the front office successfully convinced Adam Fantilli to turn pro after his record-setting freshman year with the Michigan Wolverines. The winner of the 2023 Hobey Baker Award tore up the NCAA and showed that he is ready for the big stages in an instant. The Mike Babcock hiring is highly controversial because of his reputation for emotionally abusing players, but the Blue Jackets are offseason winners because of their much-improved player personnel.

New Jersey Devils: A+

Additions: C Tomáš Nosek (1 year, $1 million), G Erik Källgren (1 year, $775k), C Chris Tierney (1 year, $775k), RW Tyler Toffoli (trade; 1 year left on contract at $4.25 million AAV), RD Colin Miller (trade; 1 year left on contract at $1.85 million AAV)

Keeps: LW Timo Meier (8 years, $70.4 million w/ no-move clause for final 7 years & 15-team no-trade list for final 3 years), RW Jesper Bratt (8 years, $63 million w/ no-move clause for final 7 years & 15-team no-trade list for final 3 years), C Erik Haula (3 years, $9.45 million w/ no-trade clause for first 2 years & 6-team no-trade list for final year), RW Nathan Bastian (2 years, $2.7 million), C Michael McLeod (1 year, $1.4 million)

Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (UFA), G Mackenzie Blackwood (SJS; trade), C Jesper Boqvist (BOS), LD Ryan Graves (PIT), RD Damon Severson (CBJ; sign-and-trade), LW Yegor Sharangovich (CGY; trade), LW Miles Wood (COL)

Tom Fitzgerald has done his homework. While he didn’t get any big-name free agents from a relatively shallow class, he prioritized locking up his top RFAs to eight-year extensions. Both Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier, the Devils’ two best wingers on the team, are getting paid big money, deservedly so. Despite a disappointing playoff outing where the only goal he scored was an empty net goal, Bratt is coming off consecutive 73-point seasons, finding his chemistry on the top six with either Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. Him fitting in with either one of them makes complete sense. While Meier didn’t quite live up to expectations with the points pace that he produced with the San Jose Sharks in his final two seasons there, it can be argued that he needed more time to adjust to the Devils’ system.

Not only is he a scorer, but he can also get to the dirty areas of the ice for rebounds and deflections, and also impose his will physically to wear his opponents down. The work didn’t stop there. Fitzgerald kept depth forwards Erik Haula, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian to reasonable contracts, with Haula continuing to win faceoffs for them and generate offense while McLeod and Bastian being key centerpieces to the team’s penalty kill. While they lost Miles Wood, Jesper Boqvist, and Yegor Sharangovich, they sought out and acquired Tyler Toffoli from the Calgary Flames, making their already formidable top six forward core even more fearsome, as Toffoli led the Flames in goals and points this past season. While he’s not expected to have another 73-point season, if he can get 60 points for them, the Devils will be in good hands.

They filled in the loss of Wood with Tomáš Nosek, a solid fourth liner who can play at the left wing or center, and can clamp opponents down defensively and win faceoffs. And with Damon Severson gone, they got themselves a nice offensive stopgap in Colin Miller to be on the third pairing. The losses of Wood, Boqvist, and Ryan Graves may hurt, but it can allow for some of the younger guys to step in a more prominent role, especially Luke Hughes, who is getting set for his first full NHL season after getting his first taste at the tail end of the 2022-23 regular season and three playoff games. In those five games, he recorded four points, and him being the team’s top defensive prospect could suggest that those four points may be a sign of things to come. While Alex Holtz has seen just 28 games of NHL action in his young career, he is in line to get an extended look at it this coming season. He tore up the AHL with the Utica Comets, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the NHL. Nonetheless, the Devils are set up for success in both the short and the long term.

New York Islanders: C-

Additions: RW Julien Gauthier (2 years, $1.575 million), RW Karson Kuhlman (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: G Ilya Sorokin (8 years, $66 million w/ no-move clause for first 4 years & 16-team no-trade list for final 4 years; contract begins in 2024-25), RD Scott Mayfield (7 years, $24.5 million w/ no-trade clause for first 4 years & 16-team no-trade list for final 3 years), LW Pierre Engvall (7 years, $21 million w/ 16-team no-trade list), G Semyon Varlamov (4 years, $11 million w/ no-trade clause for first 2 years & 16-team no-trade list for final 2 years), RW Oliver Wahlstrom (1 year, $874.1k)

Subtractions: LW Josh Bailey (UFA; trade & buyout), LW Richard Pánik (UFA), LW Zach Parise (UFA)

Lou Lamoriello was a great general manager. Key word being “was.” The last few years have shown that he is clearly past his prime. However, he should get a hat tip for locking up Ilya Sorokin up until the 2031-32 season with an eight-year, $66 million extension that will begin next summer. He is a truly special goaltender, and it’s just a matter of time until he wins a Vezina Trophy. Outside of Sorokin, the other deals that Lamoriello gave out are highly questionable. The cap hits of the contracts are not the problem, however. It’s more to do with how long they are signed for. Semyon Varlamov, Pierre Engvall, and Scott Mayfield have cap hits of $2.75 million, $3 million, and $3.5 million, respectively. Varlamov is a nice backup to Sorokin at the current stage of the career in which he is in.

However, he is 35, and his new contract takes him until he is 39. It’s a logical question to wonder how much juice he has left halfway through the deal, and don’t expect that he gets back to his career-high save percentage of .929 set back in 2020-21. Plus, the contract has a full or modified no-trade clause to go with it. Engvall and Mayfield are getting seven-year deals with full or modified no-trade clauses, and it’s very easy to see why these terms are highly questionable.

While Engvall did have nice chemistry with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri, he has yet to score 20 goals in a season despite averaging half a point per game in 18 regular season games since his arrival to Long Island from Toronto. And while Mayfield is a silently good defensive defenseman, he is quietly 30 years old and has problems regarding turnovers. The Islanders went all-in on Bo Horvat in the weeks leading up to last year’s trade deadline only to face the same issues that have been plaguing them in this current iteration of the team: Lack of consistent offensive support around Sorokin and an aging defense. And they are doubling down on that with long-term contracts for low-impact players, thus gluing them to the hamster wheel of mediocrity.

New York Rangers: C+

Additions: LD Connor Mackey (2 years $1.575 million), RW Alex Belzile (2 years, $1.55 million), LD Erik Gustafsson (1 year, $825k), G Jonathan Quick (1 year, $825k), RW Blake Wheeler (1 year, $800k w/ no-trade clause & $300k max. performance bonuses), RW Tyler Pitlick (1 year, $787.5k)

Keeps: LD K’Andre Miller (2 years, $7.744 million)

Subtractions: LD Libor Hájek (UFA), G Jaroslav Halák (UFA), RW Patrick Kane (UFA), LD Niko Mikkola (FLA), LW Tyler Motte (UFA), RW Vladimir Tarasenko (UFA)

The Rangers are a conflicting team in free agency. Their offseason has been impacted by their lack of cap space, but adding Blake Wheeler at just an $800k cap hit, especially considering that he got bought out by the Winnipeg Jets, he fills a hole at the right wing side. He’s not the 90-point scorer that he once was, but he remains an x-factor on the power play and an all-around offensive talent. They also got Erik Gustafsson, who had a resurgent season under Peter Laviolette last season with the Washington Capitals and will be reunited with him this coming season. Gustafsson stepped up in the absence of John Carlson, and one could assume that a 42-point scorer could get more than a one-year, $825k contract, but his inconsistency along with the leaguewide lack of cap space took a toll on his free agent market.

His high-octane offensive game, however, can mesh nicely with Braden Schneider’s defensive game, and he is a power play quarterback who can provide good insurance in case Adam Fox gets hurt. Plus, they got K’Andre Miller to a bridge deal, where he can further showcase his offensive capabilities which were a bigger factor in 2022-23 to go with his physical edge. So why are the Rangers not getting a better grade? First, they need another scoring right winger, and they have just $2.3 million in cap space, so one can imagine that both Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane are both gone via free agency. They also need to re-sign Alexis Lafrenière, thus conflicting matters on that front.

Though Lafrenière has not lived up to the hype as the first overall pick of the 2020 Draft, the positive for the Rangers is that he does not have arbitration rights. And while they signed Jonathan Quick, he looked like he was playing with an empty tank for the majority of the 2022-23 season, especially in 31 games with the Los Angeles Kings, where he posted a .876 save percentage in that span. Considering he is 37, he is a very shaky backup addition behind Igor Shesterkin, one of the best and most athletic goalies in today’s NHL. While Nick Bonino and Tyler Pitlick can help shore up a fourth line, the Rangers are heading into the season with more questions than answers.

Philadelphia Flyers: B

Additions: RW Garnet Hathaway (2 years, $4.75 million), C Ryan Poehling (1 year, $1.4 million), LD Marc Staal (1 year, $1.1 million), LD Victor Mete (1 year, $775k), G Cal Petersen (trade; 2 years left on contract at $5 million AAV), RD Sean Walker (trade; 1 year left on contract at $2.65 million AAV)

Keeps: C Noah Cates (2 years, $5.25 million), RD Cam York (2 years, $3.2 million)

Subtractions: RD Justin Braun (retired), RD Tony DeAngelo (UFA; buyout), C Kevin Hayes (STL; trade), LW Brendan Lemieux (CAR), RW Zack MacEwen (OTT), LD Ivan Provorov (CBJ; trade)

Before last season ended, the Flyers finally fired Chuck Fletcher from the general manager position. They needed to move on from him and his terrible decision-making and start fresh. Changing direction, they opted to go with a familiar face as their GM: Danny Brière. They did have one of the best Drafts in which they landed Matvei Michkov, and despite his contract situation with the KHL, Brière was confident in his decision, emphasizing the focus on rebuilding that allows them to wait on his long-anticipated NHL debut, which could come as late as the 2026-27 season.

They doubled down on rebuilding by trading away Ivan Provorov and Kevin Hayes. The Provorov trade is about adding as much draft and prospect capital, and getting a first rounder is a solid return to go with two second rounders. Retaining 50% of Hayes’ $7.14 million cap hit for three seasons in dealing him away doesn’t exactly free up the cap space that the Flyers need to use, but it frees up much-needed roster spots down the middle. They wanted to re-sign restricted free agents Cam York, Noah Cates, and Morgan Frost, and they did get the first two to new contracts. With Provorov out of the picture, York is expected to take a full-time top-four role, and it’s largely assumed that Marc Staal is being brought in as a mentor to York. While Staal is not the player he once was, his defensive play has earned him a nice pay raise. Cates struggled at the faceoff dot, but he flashed solid offensive production and was a defensive ace everywhere else, taking on much of the defensive burden in the absence of Sean Couturier, who missed all of last season because of a back injury.

Garnet Hathaway and Ryan Poehling are brought in to help the fourth line, and the duo of Hathaway and Nic Deslauriers should help that line become more effective physically. The contracts talks with Frost are reportedly progressing, and he set himself up well for negotiations with a breakout 2022-23. And while Tony DeAngelo was originally said to get traded, he eventually got bought out after a rocky relationship with head coach John Tortorella, leading to a string of healthy scratches by the end of the season. He is a solid offensive defenseman, but is a liability everywhere else on the ice. For what it’s worth overall, it’s nothing too crazy in free agency for the Flyers, but that should be expected for a rebuilding team.

Pittsburgh Penguins: B

Additions: LD Ryan Graves (6 years, $27 million w/ 12-team no-trade list for first 3 years & 8-team no-trade list for final 3 years), C Noel Acciari (3 years, $6 million), C Lars Eller (2 years, $4.9 million), LW Matt Nieto (2 years, $1.8 million), LW Joona Koppanen (2 years, $1.55 million), G Alex Nedeljkovic (1 year, $1.5 million), LW Andreas Johnsson (1 year, $800k), LD Will Butcher (1 year, $775k), RW Vinnie Hinostroza (1 year, $775k), LW Radim Zohorna (1 year, $775k), LW Reilly Smith (trade; 2 years left on contract at $5 million AAV)

Keeps: G Tristan Jarry (5 years, $26.875 million w/ 12-team no-trade list), LD Ty Smith (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: RW Josh Archibald (TBL), C Nick Bonino (NYR), LW Drake Caggiula (EDM), LW Danton Heinen (UFA), LD Dmitry Kulikov (FLA), C Ryan Poehling (PHI), G Dustin Tokarski (BUF), LW Jason Zucker (ARZ)

Kyle Dubas made it clear that he wants to get one last run at glory for the core three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. The flurry of moves that he made during the free agency period showed something: While Dubas is at his best at hauling in effective skaters, goaltenders may be his weak link. Trading for Original Golden Misfit and 2023 Stanley Cup champion Reilly Smith helps shore up the penalty kill, as he can provide scoring from there, having scored five times last season for the Vegas Golden Knights shorthanded. While Jason Zucker left for Arizona, Smith can help shore up Malkin’s left wing spot.

With Brian Dumoulin not being the same shutdown defenseman that he once was, the Penguins needed a new defensive partner for Letang. Adding Ryan Graves on a six-year deal helps with that. He formed a great shutdown pairing with former Penguin John Marino on the New Jersey Devils and is very reliable on the penalty kill. Matt Nieto, Noel Acciari, and Lars Eller will help with the bottom six in defensive roles as well-rounded players who can further help the PK. Nieto doesn’t offer the size or physicality that some teams would like to see, but he is a respected veteran who has been on a few playoff runs of significance.

Acciari has a 20-goal season on his pedigree, though that’s not a big part of his game. He’s a more versatile forward who can play at center or right wing on either the third or fourth lines, and he can be an easy favorite for Mike Sullivan. Eller may not be the high-end third line center he once was, and the $2.45 million cap hit may be a little risky considering he is 34, but is still an upgrade over Jeff Carter, who will turn 39 at the turn of the new year. Carter’s play drew a lot of criticism through last season, and Eller fits the role better as a more well-rounded player.

All of them will help the Penguins’ depth problem. But with the goaltenders, Dubas is tripling down on inconsistent goalies. Not only did he bring in Alex Nedeljkovic and Magnus Hellberg as third- and fourth-stringers, even though they could help the minor league system, but he also gave a five-year deal at $5.375 million annually to the injury-prone Tristan Jarry, who alternates brilliant games with sluggish ones. For the Penguins to feel good about this signing, not only will Jarry need to show more consistency, but he will have to prove that some of the playoff mistakes he had in the past won’t show up again. While the goaltending can raise question marks, Dubas checked off the boxes everywhere else.

Washington Capitals: C+

Additions: RW Pierrick Dubé (entry-level contract at 2 years, $1.74 million), LW Max Pacioretty (1 year, $2 million), LW Matthew Phillips (1 year, $775k), LD Joel Edmundson (trade; 1 year left on contract at $1.75 million AAV—50% retained)

Keeps: LD Martin Fehérváry (3 years, $8.025 million)

Subtractions: RW Connor Brown (EDM), LD Gabriel Carlsson (UFA), LW Carl Hagelin (UFA), LD Matt Irwin (VAN), LW Conor Sheary (TBL), RW Craig Smith (DAL)

The Washington Capitals are a team on the decline. However, they’re delaying the rebuild as they want to remain competitive as long as Alex Ovechkin is still around. Thus, they’re committed to a retool-on-the-fly. While I don’t love it, I don’t hate it either. The Joel Edmundson trade is easy to like. He is a well-respected stay-at-home defenseman and a leader in the locker room. While his head injuries have been popping up during his time with the Montreal Canadiens, he has won a Stanley Cup before with the St. Louis Blues and has significant playoff experience.

He will benefit the bottom pairing with penalty killing time. They still have the defensive depth that will allow new head coach Spencer Carbery to utilize Edmundson to his preference. They are also optimistic with Martin Fehérváry, rewarding him with a three-year extension for his defensive-first mentality who brings size and stability, meshing well with John Carlson. There eventually was going to be a team that would sign Max Pacioretty.

While Washington is not the most likely preference, his goal-scoring touch can help them and his trade stock should he get dealt at the deadline, having scored anywhere between 25 and 35 goals in a fully healthy year, assuming that he makes a full recovery from his twice-torn Achilles. However, there is the Evgeny Kuznetsov dilemma, where his trade request has been confirmed. His relationship with the team is not past the point of no return, but he reportedly wants more offensive freedom, though Carbery could give him that. But his struggles this past season along with his cap hit of $7.8 million hurt his trade value. The Ryan Johansen trade is evidence that moving expensive contracts is difficult, let alone booking off one at full value.

Central Division

Arizona Coyotes: A-

Additions: LW Alex Kerfoot (2 years, $7 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), C Nick Bjugstad (2 years, $4.2 million), LW Jason Zucker (1 year, $5.3 million), RD Troy Stecher (1 year, $1.1 million), LD Travis Dermott (1 year, $800k), LW Zach Sanford (1 year, $775k), LD Sean Durzi (trade; 1 year left on contract at $1.7 million AAV)

Keeps: LW Matias Maccelli (3 years, $10.275 million), G Connor Ingram (3 years, $5.955 million), LW Michael Carcone (2 years, $1.55 million), C Nathan Smith (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: C Laurent Dauphin (Swiss NL), RW Christian Fischer (DET), RW Zack Kassian (UFA; buyout), LD Connor Mackey (NYR), LD Patrik Nemeth (UFA; buyout), LW Nick Ritchie (UFA)

The Coyotes didn’t do anything spectacular in free agency, but it was nice of them to make moves in trying to be a competitive team and not be one of those teams that just gets to the salary floor and calls it a day. Sean Durzi strengthens the defensive core and makes up for the buyout of Patrik Nemeth. It was expected that one of the Los Angeles Kings’ right-shot defensemen was going to get dealt given that they had a plethora of them, giving him a chance for a spotlight as one of three potential no. 1 defensemen in Arizona alongside JJ Moser and Juuso Välimäki. Interestingly, his $1.7 million cap hit is the highest among defensemen on the team.

Bringing back Nick Bjugstad and adding Jason Zucker and Alex Kerfoot all give the team a two-way game to add to the forward core. Zucker helps bring goal scoring to the table after a bounce-back 2022-23 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kerfoot had a rather rocky time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, though he provides immense defensive value, and can have at most a 50-point upside if given the opportunity to score. Bjugstad got his first look at a top-six forward role last season, showing the flashes of skill he displayed earlier in his career before injuries ruined his long-term ceiling. He could find himself in that same role, competing for ice time with Travis Boyd, Barrett Hayton, and Jack McBain.

Troy Stecher also returns to the team, giving him a sense of familiarity after playing with four different teams in the last two seasons. While his play fell off in Arizona last season, he did show signs of life after getting traded to the Calgary Flames. They also prioritized keeping both Matias Maccelli and Connor Ingram. Maccelli was one of Arizona’s top players last season as a rookie, finishing 4th in Calder Trophy voting, impressing the team with 11 goals and 38 assists in 64 games. Ingram, though he’s playing on a worse defensive team than the Nashville Predators, has had the benefit of more ice time than he previously had. While Karel Vejmelka will likely be the starting netminder again, Ingram provides the team with a reliable backup option. The hope now is that these moves can help convince Clayton Keller to stay in the midst of the arena/relocation situation.

Chicago Blackhawks: B-

Additions: C Connor Bedard (entry-level contract at 3 years, $2.85 million w/ $3.5 million max. performance bonuses), C Ryan Donato (2 years, $4 million), LW Nick Foligno (1 year, $4 million; acquired via trade), RW Corey Perry (1 year, $4 million; acquired via trade), LW Taylor Hall (trade; 2 years left on contract at $6 million AAV, 10-team no-trade list)

Keeps: LW Andreas Athanasiou (2 years, $8.5 million), C Philipp Kurashev (2 years, $4.5 million), G Arvid Söderblom (2 years, $1.925 million), LD Jarred Tinordi (1 year, $1.25 million), RW Joey Anderson (1 year, $800k)

Subtractions: LD Andreas Englund (LAK), LD Caleb Jones (UFA), G Anton Khudobin (UFA), RD Ian Mitchell (BOS; trade), LD Alec Regula (BOS; trade), G Alex Stalock (UFA), RW Austin Wagner (UFA)

It’s officially a new era in Chicago. Kyle Davidson is looking to build the team around Connor Bedard, who signed his entry-level contract with them on his 18th birthday. As he looks to make a splash with the team after dominating the WHL with the Regina Pats, it is widely assumed that he will be the team’s first line center. In building around Bedard, they gave Andreas Athanasiou and Philipp Kurashev extensions and traded for Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, and Corey Perry, giving the latter two matching one-year, $4 million contracts. Those contracts, at first glance, may be overpays, but the Blackhawks had to get to the cap floor to be compliant with the salary cap.

They both join this young team to bring in veteran leadership. Foligno will turn 36 this October and Perry is 38. While Foligno is not expected to have another 26-point season like he did last season with the Boston Bruins, he can still contribute on the fourth line with them. And while Perry’s skating is not the same as it once was, he still has offensive skill, and can still provide value as a net-front player on a power play. Athanasiou was expected to be a trade piece last season, but Chicago decided to hold onto him, and had a solid season for them, with 20 goals and 20 assists. He hit the 30-goal mark once and is regarded as a goal-scorer, so he should be in line for a productive season.

Kurashev’s versatility allows him to play at any forward position, but despite being heavily utilized, he didn’t put up the numbers such a player of heavy usage would like. His new deal won’t mean much in adding difficulty to the cap, though it allows him to continue to develop his game and prove he belongs in Chicago long-term. Hall joins Chicago as Bedard’s linemate on the first line, depending on how things work out. It’s still possible that he can still get flipped at the deadline, as two years in Chicago is not going to do much for their Stanley Cup chances. Ryan Donato also got signed by them, who comes over from the Seattle Kraken.

While playing time was hard to come by in the Emerald City, this shouldn’t be the case when he arrives in the Windy City, and he could be in line for a career year on a spot around the middle six or bottom six. Goaltender Arvid Söderblom got a two-year extension, and while the young netminder’s numbers weren’t great this past season, the team he was playing behind allowed 299 goals on the year. His form was better with the IceHogs, going 15-12-5 with a .905 save percentage, helping them to the playoffs. He could win the backup netminder job this season with the extension at hand.

Colorado Avalanche: B

Additions: LW Miles Wood (6 years, $15 million w/ 6-team no-trade list for final 5 years), C Ross Colton (4 years, $16 million w/ no-trade clause for 2024-25, no-trade list for final 2 years—details TBD; acquired via trade), LW Jonathan Drouin (1 year, $825k), LW Fredrik Olofsson (1 year, $775k; acquired via sign-and-trade), C Ryan Johansen (trade; 2 years left on contract at $4 million AAV—50% retained)

Keeps: LD Bowen Byram (2 years, $7.7 million), LW Andrew Cogliano (1 year, $825k), G Justus Annunen (1 year, $775k), LD Jack Johnson (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: C J.T. Compher (DET), C Lars Eller (PIT), C Darren Helm (retired), G Jonas Johansson (TBL), RD Erik Johnson (BUF), RW Denis Malgin (Swiss NL), LW Mikhail Maltsev (LAK), RD Ryan Merkley (UFA), LW Alex Newhook (MTL; trade), LW Matt Nieto (PIT), LW Sampo Ranta (SHL)

There is the legitimate question if the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup window is closing. They want to keep the window open with the core of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar. Gabriel Landeskog missing a second consecutive season due to knee issues stings, considering he was one of their best players for them when on the ice, though it gives them $7 million in cap relief. That allowed them to trade for Ryan Johansen and Ross Colton, and sign Bowen Byram to a nice bridge deal. Much has been discussed about Johansen and what he brings to the Avalanche, as he looks for a career resurgence on the team’s second line.

While they had to trade away Alex Newhook to get Colton, the former Tampa Bay Lightning forward showcased his smart play on both sides of the puck, his goal-scoring touch, his physicality, his faceoff wins, and his clutchness, having scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in 2021. Byram’s bridge deal gives the Avs insurance against a real possibility of him continuing to run into his injury troubles, which limited him to 91 games in the last three season. While he has been solid in those games, whether he can continue into a top-pairing role is not certain.

Though they lost some of their valuable depth players, that has been an issue plaguing them last season, so they have to emphasize on that front in the offseason. With Logan O’Connor getting bumped up to the third line, they brought back Andrew Cogliano and acquired and signed Fredrik Olfosson for the fourth line. Cogliano will continue his NHL career after a neck injury in the first round on a hit from Jordan Eberle prematurely ended his 2022-23 season. He remains a reliable bottom-six defensive presence, and one of the NHL’s longest-tenured ironmen. Olofsson showed flashes at points with the Stars, but he didn’t make a big impact scoring-wise, though that low production was in part because of a lack of stability.

Bringing in Miles Wood on a six-year deal was a larger commitment than most would have expected, especially for someone who saw their advanced stats drop after a major injury. But the Avs are in desperate need of depth players, and a middle-six role for him would be most ideal. The other key addition was Jonathan Drouin, and while wrist surgeries had done damage to his goal-scoring ability, he clearly has gas left in the tank as a playmaker. If he doesn’t live up to expectations, it would be disappointing, but not a catastrophic one given his cap hit.

Dallas Stars: A-

Additions: C Matt Duchene (1 year, $3 million), RW Craig Smith (1 year, $1 million), C Sam Steel (1 year, $850k), LD Gavin Bayreuther (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: RW Evgenii Dadonov (2 years, $4.5 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), LD Joel Hanley (2 years, $1.575 million), RW Ty Dellandrea (1 year, $900k), G Matt Murray (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: LD Will Butcher (PIT), C Max Domi (TOR), C Luke Glendening (TBL), RD Colin Miller (NJD; trade), LW Fredrik Olofsson (COL; sign-and-trade), G Adam Scheel (UFA), LW Marián Studenič (SEA)

The Stars are happy to have a mix of youthful talent and veteran presence on the team. They can build around Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, and Jake Oettinger, while having Joe Pavelski, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin leading the locker room with their veteran presence. With the likes of Wyatt Johnston, Thomas Harley, and, soon enough, Logan Stankoven, on the upwards trend, they wanted to make the most out of their current window and get all the help they need. Bringing back Evgenii Dadonov, Ty Dellandrea, and Joel Hanley was big for them. After a rough season with the rebuilding Montreal Canadiens, Dadonov played a crucial role on the third line with Benn and Johnston, notching 15 points in 23 regular season games and 10 points in 16 playoff games, providing a nice goal-scoring touch in middle-six minutes.

Dallas shores up their defensive depth with Hanley as the seventh defenseman, though he actually had more playing time in the playoffs, largely because the team deemed Nils Lundkvist as not playoff ready. Hanley still provides the team with organizational depth in case of injury. While Dellandrea was considered a slow learner, given he was drafted 13th overall in 2018, he showed high-end two-way upside in a bottom six role, with high-end possession numbers in his first full season with Dallas last season. Interestingly, he was ineligible for Calder Trophy voting as he was not considered a rookie, having played 26 games in the 2020-21 season, though there is still a lot of time for him to improve on his offense with a chance to go higher on the lineup.

To add to the offense, they brought in Matt Duchene at just a $3 million cap hit after he got bought out by the Nashville Predators, which is an absolute steal. He is a major upgrade in the slot over Max Domi, and though Duchene struggled with his consistency, he is one year removed from an 86-point season where he had 43 goals, and the fact that he got bought out after a 56-point 2023 campaign makes this surprising. He still provides solid value with above average faceoff numbers, adding to a strength of the team. Sam Steel had a career year with the Minnesota Wild, but was non-tendered despite having 10 goals and 18 assists in 65 games.

While he averaged nearly 15 minutes a night in Minnesota, he’ll likely see less time than that in Dallas, most likely fitting on the fourth line with the chance he moves up if injuries come. Craig Smith is another nice singing for them, and while he had a decline this past season, mostly because of a mix of Father Time and his three-plus ice time decline, the defensive talent to his game helped make up for his offensive inadequacies. The stars are aligning at the Lone Star State.

Minnesota Wild: D

Additions: LW Patrick Maroon, trade (1 year left on contract at $800k AAV—20% retained)

Keeps: LW Marcus Johansson (2 years, $4 million w/ no-trade clause), LW Brandon Duhaime (1 year, $1.1 million)

Subtractions: RD Matt Dumba (UFA), RD John Klingberg (TOR), RW Gustav Nyquist (NSH), RW Oskar Sundqvist (STL), RW Ryan Reaves (TOR), C Mason Shaw (UFA)

The Wild are officially into the third year of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts. Unfortunately for them, this summer and the next one is the worst point of the buyout, as the dead cap penalty is a tad above $7.37 million each, making the total roughly $14.745 million. Because of the buyouts, they are cap-strapped, and they can’t do much in free agency, seeing the departures of trade deadline acquisitions John Klingberg, Gustav Nyquist, and Oskar Sundqvist, along with enforcer Ryan Reaves and locker room leader Matt Dumba.

While this could mean Brock Faber getting inserted into a full-time role in Dumba’s vacated spot at the second pairing with Jonas Brodin, it always stings losing a well-respected veteran. With such little cap space, the only moves they could muster are re-signing defensive-minded bottom six forward Brandon Duhaime, sign Marcus Johanson to a two-year extension after a nice showing for them in his second stint with the team, and trading for fourth line forward and back-to-back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Patrick Maroon, whose offensive production has fallen off significantly last season despite his physicality.

They have a tad below $5.4 million in cap space to work with, but they need to re-sign both RFAs Filip Gustavsson and Calen Addison, with the former having arbitration rights coming off a stellar season. They also need to look for center upgrades, but this year’s center class is relatively thin, and it’s only getting thinner by the days. It’s clear that Minnesota is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Nashville Predators: B-

Additions: C Ryan O’Reilly (4 years, $18 million), RD Luke Schenn (3 years, $8.25 million), RW Gustav Nyquist (2 years, $6.37 million), C Anthony Angello (2 years, $1.55 million), RW Denis Gurianov (1 year, $850k)

Keeps: C Cody Glass (2 years, $5 million), RD Jake Livingstone (2 years, $1.55 million), RD Alex Carrier (1 year, $2.5 million), RD Dante Fabbro (1 year, $2.5 million), G Kevin Lankinen (1 year, $2 million), C Mark Jankowski (1 year, $775k), C Michael McCarron (1 year, $775k), RW Kiefer Sherwood (1 year, $775k), LW Cole Smith (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: LW Rasmus Asplund (FLA), RD Mark Borowiecki (retired), RW Matt Duchene (DAL; buyout), RD Cal Foote (UFA), C Ryan Johansen (COL; trade), LW Zach Sanford (ARZ)

I both don’t like and like what the Predators did in free agency. They seemed to be doing a retool and emphasizing a team reset when they traded away all of Mattias Ekholm, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, and Tanner Jeannot to get their young players into NHL action, with that point further being emphasized on the Ryan Johansen trade and the Matt Duchene buyout, but that didn’t stop Barry Trots from signing multi-year deals for some of the top veterans on the free agency market.

On one front, Trotz just undid everything that the Predators were emphasizing at the tail end of last season in trying to continue competing for a playoff spot. They were wanting to draft players with true star potential. The downside of signing veterans to get them on a retooling team is that it prolongs the retooling process when getting the prospects up and ready. The upside is if it helps them grow their game so that they can learn from them, then I am open to these signings. Cody Glass is coming off a breakout season and Alex Carrier has been a solid contributor on the blueline, and both got rewarded with extensions.

With Johansen and Duchene no longer in Nashville, Glass should get more opportunities to get bigger production and build on his 35-point season in 2022-23. The contract is basically to see if the campaign was a one-off or a sign of things to come. Carrier provided solid two-way numbers and is a good puck-moving defender. While he did take a step back this past season, he still did have a 30-point campaign the year before, so the upside is still there. What I like about the team signing Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn, and Gustav Nyquist is that they are bringing in veterans with valuable playoff experience and leadership in the locker room. Despite a “down year” in his final season with the St. Louis Blues, O’Reilly’s stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs showed he can still be a high-end contributor.

He will boost the team’s penalty kill, having been one of the better two-way forwards in the NHL throughout his career, and is also a fantastic leader who was named captain of the Blues in his final years in St. Louis. Schenn is what can be described as a late bloomer, having arrived in the NHL in 2008. He bounced around the league as a depth defenseman, but found his game with the Vancouver Canucks the last two years.

Schenn comes in being a valuable penalty killer who can lay hits and make the team harder to play against. Even though Nyquist’s production was down last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, a very strong showing with the Minnesota Wild showed that he clearly has gas left in the tank. He can also kill penalties, something that he added to his game in Columbus. However, it’s reasonable to have mixed feelings about Nashville’s free agency.

St. Louis Blues: C

Additions: LW Mackenzie MacEachern (2 years, $1.55 million), RW Oskar Sundqvist (1 year, $775k), C Kevin Hayes (trade; 3 years left on contract at $3.571 million—50% retained)

Keeps: LW Alexey Toropchenko (2 years, $2.5 million), LD Tyler Tucker (2 years, $1.6 million), LW Sammy Blais (1 year, $1.1 million), LD Scott Perunovich (1 year, $775k), LW Nathan Walker (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: C Anthony Angello (NSH), LW Logan Brown (TBL), G Thomas Greiss (retired), RW Tyler Pitlick (NYR)

It was tough trading away Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, but those moves had to be done as their Stanley Cup window is officially closed. However, using Pavel Buchnevich as their second line center position when he is a natural winger is not sustainable, so it made sense in trading for Kevin Hayes to fill in that hole. While he is overpaid on his current contract, the Blues getting him for 50% of his $7.14 million cap hit makes this an attractive deal. He was among the Flyers’ highest-scoring players in a tough year offensively for the team.

The Blues, however, are still paying steep contracts to defensemen Torey Krug, Justin Faulk, Colton Parayko, and Nick Leddy. The first three are getting paid $6.5 million a year, with Krug and Faulk until 2027 and Parayko until 2030, and Leddy $4 million a year until 2026. Though they are bringing back 2019 Stanley Cup champion Oskar Sundqvist, who had his first double-digit goal total since 2019-20. His versatility allows head coach Craig Berube to get him at either the wing or center, something that could boost his case for locking up a roster spot, and even better that it’s coming at the league minimum.

They also brought back depth forwards Sammy Blais and Alexey Toropchenko, and young defensemen Scott Perunovich and Tyler Tucker. Blais never truly fit with the New York Rangers, but he and the Blues are a perfect match, evidenced by his nine goals in 31 games in his second stint in St. Louis after scoring none in 56 games with the Rangers. Toropchenko gets a nice pay raise after setting career-highs across the board this past season. He was utilized in a fourth line role last year, and he will likely be in that same role this coming season. He posts strong defensive metrics, and uses his frame to his advantage on the forecheck. Perunovich was expected to compete for a roster spot last season, but a fractured shoulder in the preseason limited him to 22 games with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, where he had 20 points.

The potential is still there, and he can push for a full-time roster spot to give the team an offensive boost. Tucker was originally a seventh round pick in 2018, but he has made his defensive and physical presence felt in 26 games with the team last season. While he’s not a flashy defenseman, it’s always nice having a young shutdown defender on the team who can play both the left and right side.

Winnipeg Jets: B

Additions: C Gabe Vilardi (2 years, $6.875 million; acquired via trade), G Laurent Brossoit (1 year, $1.75 million), G Collin Delia (1 year, $775k), LW Alex Iafallo (trade, 2 years left on contract at $4 million AAV), C Rasmus Kupari (trade; Restricted Free Agent)

Keeps: LW Vladislav Namestnikov (2 years, $4 million), LD Dylan Samberg (2 years, $2.8 million), LW Morgan Barron (2 years, $2.7 million, LW Axel Jonsson-Fjällby (2 years, $1.55 million)

Subtractions: C Pierre-Luc Dubois (LAK; trade), RW Karson Kuhlman (NYI), G David Rittich (LAK), C Kevin Stenlund (FLA), RW Blake Wheeler (NYR; buyout)

The Jets are realizing that they are not going to win a Stanley Cup under the locker room “leadership” of Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. It was only a matter of time that Kevin Chevedayoff begins the teardown, and it kickstarted with trading away Pierre-Luc Dubois and buying out the final year of Wheeler’s contract. Scheifele is still on the team, but signs might point to him possibly on his way out as Winnipeg is likely wanting to start clean. The other thing is that Connor Hellebuyck, the franchise’s greatest goaltender, is not interested in staying with the team for a rebuild and is not likely to sign an extension beyond this season.

Both Scheifele and Hellebuyck are in the final years of their contracts, and it’s up to Cheveldayoff on what to do with them, and if he opts for trades, they will have to come soon. However, that might not be the case now as they have a desire to stay competitive. The question is how long that lasts, considering they are wanting young, NHL-ready, or near-NHL-ready players similar to what they got in return for Dubois, especially when it comes to potentially trading away Scheifele and Hellebuyck. Gabe Vilardi, who got re-signed by the team to a two-year deal, can be a difference-maker offensively, as he was scoring at a 30-goal, 53-point 82-game pace with the Los Angeles Kings last season. If he can stay healthy for a full year, he is in a great position for a nice pay raise on his next contract.

Alex Iafallo is a strong middle-six forward who can make an impact on both sides of the ice, and Rasmus Kupari is a young defensive-minded forward who can help in the retool. Also returning to Winnipeg are Laurent Brossoit, Vladislav Namestnikov, Morgan Barron, Dylan Samberg, and Axel Jonsson-Fjällby. Brossoit was the Vegas Golden Knights’ backup netminder for the last two seasons, but he performed well enough to land himself a second chance with the Jets. Namestnikov has played for seven different teams since 2019-20, not including a one-day stint with the San Jose Sharks. A second year on his new contract gives him a bit of stability while being an important piece to the Jets’ secondary scoring.

Barron has become an everyday NHLer in Winnipeg, having developed into a nice bottom six forward who can build on his career-highs from last season. Samberg also got his first full-time NHL role, and he has been one of their best shutdown defenders at both even strength and on the penalty kill. Jonsson-Fjällby is not expected to play an everyday role with the Jets, but he is a speedy forechecker and solid defender at forward. A potential Scheifele trade could give him more playing opportunities. The writing is still on the wall that a transition phase is coming, and the Dubois trade and Wheeler buyout was just the start.

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks: C-

Additions: LW Alex Killorn (4 years, $25 million w/ no-trade clause for first 2 years & 15-team no-trade list for final 2 years), RD Radko Gudas (3 years, $12 million w/ no-trade clause for 2023-24, 16-team no-trade list for 2024-25, & 10-team no-trade list for 2025-26), C Leo Carlsson (entry-level contract at 3 years, $2.85 million w/ $1 million max. performance bonuses), LD Robert Hägg (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: G Lukas Dostal (2 years, $1.625 million)

Subtractions: LD Nathan Beaulieu (UFA), LD Simon Benoit (UFA), LW Max Comtois (UFA), LD Michael Del Zotto (UFA), C Derek Grant (UFA), LD Scott Harrington (UFA), C Jayson Megna (BOS), LD John Moore (UFA), RD Kevin Shattenkirk (BOS), G Anthony Stolarz (FLA)

I get that the Ducks wanted to bring in proven veterans with established playoff experience when they signed both Alex Killorn and Radko Gudas. The main goal for them is to try and give a stronger supporting cast for the young guys, like Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, Jamie Drysdale, and Leo Carlsson. Carlsson just got his entry-level contract, and he is by no means a reach, especially since his 25 points in the highest level of the SHL rank as the 5th-highest for a draft-eligible player, trailing only the Sedin twins, Elias Lindholm, and Nicklas Bäckström.

Lukas Dostal also was rocketing up the goalie prospect rankings and got an extended look at the NHL after injuries struck down both John Gibson and Anthony Stolarz, where he had a .901 save percentage in 19 games behind one of the worst defenses in the league. He will now be at a full-time role in the NHL after Stolarz’s departure. But giving out at least three-year contracts to 33-year-old veterans can end up backfiring, especially given their cap hits. Yes, Killorn is coming off the best season of his career where he had 27 goals and 64 points, which effectively priced himself out of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s plans.

Yes, Gudas brings in a brand of physical hockey who can make an instant impact on the Ducks’ defense, and Anaheim wanted to double down on physicality when they signed Robert Hägg. But with how these contracts are constructed, neither of them can age well. Factor in the nature of Father Time, so it’s very fair to wonder if their games would be the same down the road. Not to mention they still have to give new contracts to all of Zegras, Drysdale, and Troy Terry, all of whom are restricted free agents save for Drysdale, who is a 10.2(c). Rebuilding teams cannot ingrain themselves into a losing culture.

Calgary Flames: F

Additions: LW Yegor Sharangovich (2 years, $6.2 million; acquired via trade) LD Jordan Oesterle (1 year, $925k)

Subtractions: RW Trevor Lewis (LAK), LW Milan Lucic (BOS), LW Matthew Phillips (WSH), RD Troy Stecher (ARZ), RD Michael Stone (retired), RW Tyler Toffoli (NJD; trade), LW Radim Zohorna (PIT)

The Flames traded away Tyler Toffoli for a third line winger in Yegor Sharangovich and a third round pick, and did practically nothing to make up for the loss of him. The roster is also in a state of flux as Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin, their best centreman and best left-shot defenseman, reportedly want out of Calgary, and Mikael Backlund might not be interested in staying if the team isn’t a Stanley Cup contender. While Craig Conroy had a solid first Draft as the team’s general manager, it’s hard to imagine the Flames got anywhere in free agency when the only signings of significance are Sharangovich and depth defenseman Jordan Oesterle.

Edmonton Oilers: C+

Additions: C Lane Pederson (2 years, $1.55 million), RW Connor Brown (1 year, $775k w/ $3.225 million max. performance bonuses), LW Drake Caggiula (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: C Derek Ryan (2 years, $1.8 million), LW Mattias Janmark (1 year, $1 million), RW Raphael Lavoie (1 year, $874.1k)

Subtractions: C Nick Bjugstad (ARZ), LD Oscar Klefbom (UFA; LTIR), LW Klim Kostin (DET; trade), LD Ryan Murray (UFA), G Mike Smith (UFA; LTIR), LW Devin Shore (UFA), RW Kailer Yamamoto (SEA; trade & buyout via DET)

Cap-wise, the Oilers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They needed to find ways to create cap, and they can’t keep everyone around. Kailer Yamamoto missed 24 games due to injury, though he was still a key forward for them, and Klim Kostin emerged as a key bottom six forward for them in his first full NHL season. Unfortunately, they were shipped off to Detroit in a cap dump (with Yamamoto getting subsequently bought out and later signing with the Seattle Kraken). Bringing back Mattias Janmark and Derek Ryan along with the Connor Brown signing is good work from Ken Holland.

The three of them are defensive-minded forwards, with Brown having an offensive game to him. Janmark and Ryan can provide solid depth for a team that needs bottom six production. Nobody will complain if Janmark drops down to the fourth line if his minutes decrease as Dylan Holloway is due for more NHL time. Ryan, on the other hand, despite being 36, is still one of the more stable bottom-six two-way forwards in the league. The Brown signing is a savvy move, and even though he played just four games last season because of a torn ACL, he now has the best chance of quality, and can end up being on the wing for either Connor McDavid, his former OHL teammate with the Erie Otters, or Leon Draisaitl.

However, the work is not done, as Holland has to focus on both restricted free agents Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod. A short-term bridge deal for Bouchard may likely cost between $3.5 million and $4 million. Currently, the Oilers have $5.6 million of cap space to work with, so they may be able to sign both guys. They still need more reliable depth scoring, which may be harder to come by after the losses of Yamamoto, Kostin, and Nick Bjugstad, and considering the lack of cap space to get anyone else in free agency.

Los Angeles Kings: C

Additions: C Pierre-Luc Dubois (8 years, $68 million w/ no-move clause from 2024-25 to 2027-28, 15-team no-trade for 2028-29, 10-team no-trade list for final 2 years), LD Andreas Englund (2 years, $2 million), G Cam Talbot (1 year, $1 million), G David Rittich (1 year, $875k), RW Trevor Lewis (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: Anže Kopitar (2 years, $14 million w/ no-move clause; begins in 2024-25), LD Vladislav Gavrikov (2 years, $11.75 million w/ no-move clause), LD Tobias Björnfot (2 years, $1.55 million), C Jaret Anderson-Dolan (1 year, $775k), LW Sam Fagemo (1 year, $775k), C Tyler Madden (1 year, $775k), C Akil Thomas (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: LD Sean Durzi (ARZ; trade), LD Alex Edler (UFA), LW Alex Iafallo (WPG; trade), G Joonas Korpisalo (OTT), C Rasmus Kupari (WPG; trade), RW Zack MacEwen (OTT), G Cal Petersen (PHI; trade), RW Gabe Vilardi (WPG; trade), RD Sean Walker (PHI; trade)

It feels that the Kings have got themselves a mixed bag this offseason. Acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois strengthens their center core, adding another solidified top-six centreman. However, they gave up too much to acquire him and get him to an eight-year extension, losing Gabe Vilardi, Alex Iafallo, and Rasmus Kupari in the trade. While it could be something about an all-in push, their goaltending is the exact opposite of “all-in push,” especially after losing Joonas Korpisalo. Trotting out a goaltending trio of Pheonix Copley, Cam Talbot, and David Rittich after they were rumored to be prime candidates for high-impact goaltenders like Connor Hellebuyck or Thatcher Demko is more than a disappointment.

Talbot is an aging goaltender who saw his numbers decline with the Ottawa Senators, and Copley and Rittich are glorified backup goalies. Though Talbot does have a save percentage that is no lower than .911 in the previous three seasons before last year, but the Kings are expecting that his year with the Senators was just a down year. However, this trio is no better than the tandem that they rolled with for the majority of last season, that of Copley and Jonathan Quick. Though they did a good job at keeping Anže Kopitar and Vladislav Gavrikov. Kopitar, who will turn 36 in August, may be nearing the end of his career, but they are placing a big bet that he can still contribute at a high level in every way that he did in his mid-20s, having built the foundation for the team that won two Stanley Cups.

Gavrikov has developed into a two-way defender which he showed on full display with the Kings with a sample size of offensive play. This deal could be a solid bit of business for the Kings if he keeps up his post-March play. Also, in getting Andreas Englund and bringing back Trevor Lewis, they are getting players who bring grit and sandpaper to the team, with Lewis being a key player on the penalty kill. Tobias Björnfot found himself reduced to an AHL role because of the emergence of Gavrikov and the now-traded Sean Durzi. His two-way potential still remains highly regarded by the Kings. However, they lost more than they gained, and they once again enter the season with goaltending being their weakest link.

San Jose Sharks: B-

Additions: LD Kyle Burroughs (3 years, $3.3 million), RW Kasper Halttunen (entry-level contract at 3 years, $2.82 million), G Mackenzie Blackwood (2 years, $5.7 million; acquired via trade), LW Givani Smith (2 years, $1.6 million), LW Filip Zadina (1 year, $1.1 million), LW Anthony Duclair (trade, 1 year left on contract at $3 million AAV)

Keeps: RW Fabian Zetterlund (2 years, $2.9 million), LD Nikolay Knyzhov (2 years, $2.5 million), G Eetu Makiniemi (2 years, $1.55 million), LW Jacob Peterson (1 year, $775k)

Subtractions: G James Reimer (DET), RW Martin Kaut (Czech Extraliga), LD Markus Nutivaara (retired)

Of course, the main storyline for the Sharks this offseason is what would an Erik Karlsson trade look like. Last summer, he was argued as the most untradeable player in the league based on his contract and production. He looked like a shell of his former self, but fast forward one summer later where he bounced back with the NHL’s first 100-point season by a defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92 to go with a Norris Trophy, and the trade speculations are back up. The concern, however, is not about the potential return, but rather about his contract.

Given that his $11.5 million cap hit is the highest among any defenseman in NHL history, and that he is under contract for four more years, it’s expected that the Sharks retain a portion of his salary, but what else complicates things is the leaguewide salary cap shortage. Karlsson’s desire it to play for a contender, wherever it may be. In the middle of this, Mike Grier has made some under-the-radar moves, some helpful, some being so-so. With James Reimer leaving for Detroit, they needed a goaltender to split starts with Kaapo Kähkönen, whose game has declined rapidly after a promising 2021-22.

Unfortunately, they traded for and signed Mackenzie Blackwood, and things have not gone well for him, seeing himself demoted to the New Jersey Devils’ third-string goalie because of injury issues, his play declining, and the rise of Akira Schmid. San Jose does not have a true goalie of the future in their system, though this coming season could be taken as a look if they are worthy of a long-term look or if the Sharks should look elsewhere. Anthony Duclair played just 20 regular season games last year because of an Achilles tear, but his skill and his ability to generate goal-scoring chances make him valuable. He doesn’t provide much defensively, but that’s not much of a concern for the Sharks. Fabian Zetterlund, Jacob Peterson, and Nikolai Knyzhov all got new contracts as well. Zetterlund was part of the Timo Meier trade, but wasn’t able to produce at the same level post-trade as he did with New Jersey.

He still should be able to lock down a full-time spot in the NHL for the first time in his career, looking for a bounce-back. Knyzhov is a feel-good story, considering he missed the entire 2021-22 season with a groin injury, then tore his Achilles last August. He made his return to the ice around January, though he showed he can play an everyday role in the NHL before the injuries. Peterson was recalled on an emergency loan by San Jose after arriving via trade from the Dallas Stars, where he had eight points in 11 games, so don’t be surprised if he spends the majority of his time in the NHL next season.

They also added former first round pick Filip Zadina, depth forward Ryan Carpenter and enforcer Givani Smith, along with defensive defenseman Kyle Burroughs, the latter of whom will see an increased role who can make the Sharks harder to play against. Zadina brings a low-risk contract, considering he was disappointing with the Detroit Red Wings, and he can garner attention at a top-six role out of training camp. Nothing too special this offseason, expected for a rebuilding team.

Seattle Kraken: B+

Additions: LD Brian Dumoulin (2 years, $6.3 million w/ 10-team no-trade list), RW Kailer Yamamoto (1 year, $1.5 million), C Pierre-Édouard Bellemare (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: LD Vince Dunn (4 years, $29.4 million w/ no-trade clause for 2024-25 & 16-team no-trade list for final 2 years), RD Will Borgen (2 years, $5.4 million), G Joey Daccord (2 years, $2.4 million), RD Cale Fleury (2 years, $1.6 million), LD Gustav Olofsson (2 years, $1.55 million)

Subtractions: C Ryan Donato (CHI), RW Joonas Donskoi (UFA), RW Jesper Frödén (Swiss NL), C Morgan Geekie (BOS), G Martin Jones (UFA), RW Karson Kuhlman (NYI), LD Carson Soucy (VAN), RW Daniel Sprong (DET)

The Kraken exceeded all expectations in their second year of existence, taking out the defending champion Colorado Avalanche and pushing the Dallas Stars to seven games. Now they enter their third year with legitimate expectations of being a playoff contender. The hope is that they see improvement from their goaltending, as they did not make any major moves on that front. Martin Jones is still a free agent, but they are running it back with the trio of Philipp Grubauer, Joey Daccord, and Chris Driedger.

Grubauer was underwhelming during the regular season, but he has stepped up his play in the playoffs. If he can carry on that play from the postseason onto the regular season, they may be getting the Grubauer that they were looking for when they signed him to a six-year, $35.4 million contract ahead of their inaugural season. Daccord spent most of the 2022-23 season with the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds, leading them to the second-best record in the AHL, elevating his 2.38 GAA and .918 save percentage to 2.22 and .926 during their run to the Calder Cup Finals.

It’s possible that Daccord and Driedger battle for the backup goalie position after they couldn’t move Driedger’s $3.5 million cap hit since he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Though they also lost Ryan Donato, Morgan Geekie, Carson Soucy, and Daniel Sprong, they have some solid replacements for them. Pierre-Édouard Bellemare plays a key role as a 4th line shutdown forward, and comes to them as a fallback option if Shane Wright can’t secure a spot out of training camp. Bellemare is a strong faceoff man, with a 53.4% win percentage since leaving the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s a low-risk signing and a solid veteran add. Kailer Yamamoto heads to his home state, essentially a one-for-one trade between him and Sprong in the signing. They’re getting a younger player than Sprong with a less impressive track record but a more extensive resume of success.

The depth of Seattle’s lineup can play to his advantage. Dumoulin has widely been viewed as a player on the decline, though the Kraken are buying into his potential to remain a top-four defensive specialist. He’ll slot in next for former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Justin Schultz on the blueline, but if his bad moments from late in his Pittsburgh tenure show up, this can be a bad deal. They kept two of their most crucial blueliners in Vince Dunn and Will Borgen. Borgen showed a nice amount of physicality, and has spent time on the penalty kill and showed true defensive prowess. But Dunn is the true big fish, as he comes back with top-pairing money. He has emerged as the team’s no. 1 defenseman, quarterbacking a power play that took a 5.2% jump in one season, and establishing himself as a staple on the defensive core.

Vancouver Canucks: B

Additions: LD Carson Soucy (3 years, $9.75 million w/ no-trade clause), LD Ian Cole (1 year, $3 million), C Teddy Blueger (1 year, $1.9 million), LD Matt Irwin (1 year, $775k)

Keeps: LW Andrei Kuzmenko (2 years, $11 million w/ 12-team no-trade list), LW Nils Höglander (2 years, $2.2 million), C Phil Di Giuseppe (2 years, $1.55 million), LD Christian Wolanin (2 years, $1.55 million)

Subtractions: RD Ethan Bear (UFA), LD Kyle Burroughs (SJS), G Collin Delia (WPG), LD Travis Dermott (ARZ), LD Oliver Ekman-Larsson (FLA; buyout), LW Micheal Ferland (retired), RW Vitali Kravtsov (KHL)

The Canucks are a very polarizing team. It appeared as if their worst years came during the Jim Benning era, but they put themselves in a situation where they are arguably in a worse position than when they were with Benning. Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin are doing everything they can to undo Benning’s mistakes. It was difficult because they started the offseason over the cap because of J.T. Miller’s new contract that comes at an $8 million cap hit that runs through 2030. They created cap space in buying out Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract, as his play has fallen off a cliff considering he was carrying a $7.23 million cap hit (due to the Arizona Coyotes retaining 12% of his contract).

They already have Andrei Kuzmenko on a two-year extension, one of the better in-season extensions, and he has delivered playing on Elias Pettersson’s wing as a true scoring winger. His $5.5 million cap hit is very reasonable. Speaking of Pettersson, he, Anthony Beauvillier, and Filip Hronek are all on expiring contracts. Pettersson’s new contract could come between $9.5 million and $10 million, especially after setting career-highs last season of 39 goals, 63 assists, and 102 points. He is the team’s franchise player, and he deserves to get paid as such. His other winger, Beauvillier, has broken out with Vancouver, matching his point total that he had with the New York Islanders before the Bo Horvat trade in 16 fewer games (49 games with New York, 33 with Vancouver).

Hronek was an unexpected acquisition for Vancouver, but with him healthy, he will add much-needed top-four caliber depth to the defense. A lot of discussions have been brought up about a Tyler Myers trade, considering he is in the final year of a five-year deal that carries a $6 million contract. He’s best suited for a lower role by this point, but he showed he can provide tough minutes. While those trade discussions have been on a standstill, they brought back Nils Höglander to a two-year deal. He split time between Vancouver and the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks, though his NHL ice time declined to a career-low 12:03 a night. He still has an opportunity to get a top-nine role as head coach Rick Tocchet’s third line left winger.

Adding defensive-minded depth players in Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, Teddy Blueger, and Matt Irwin can work for them. Soucy, who was heavily targeted by Vancouver, will provide physicality and penalty killing to the team, and can improve a unit that was a league-worst 71.6% penalty kill rate. Cole regularly blocks 100 shots a year and has one of the better Defensive Point Shares in the league. He, Soucy, and Irwin improve a relatively weak defensive core. Blueger is a decent point producer who can improve the penalty kill, and provides valuable playoff experience to them.

Vegas Golden Knights: B+

Keeps: LW Ivan Barbashev (5 years, $25 million w/ 8-team no-trade list for first 3 years & 5-team no-trade list for final 2 years), G Adin Hill (2 years, $9.8 million w/ 8-team no-trade list for first year & 5-team no-trade list for final year), C Brett Howden (2 years, $3.8 million), RD Brayden Pachal (2 years, $1.55 million), LW Pavel Dorofeyev (1 year, $825k)

Subtractions: LW Reilly Smith (PIT; trade)

And last but not least, we head over to the Stanley Cup champions. While they have not made any additions, they really didn’t need to do so. The big key for them is to run it back with much of the same core that won them their first championship in their six-year franchise history. This is when the “Stanley Cup tax” comes into play. While it is not an actual tax, this is rather a phenomenon that occurs for Stanley Cup-winning teams in which core players on the championship team are looking for significant pay raises. Ivan Barbashev, Adin Hill, and Brett Howden are all key players on the team that needed new contracts, and they got their pay raises.

Unfortunately, it came at the cost of “Original Golden Misfit” Reilly Smith. It’s shocking and heartbreaking to see him leave given that he, Marc-André Fleury, and Max Pacioretty were all fan favorites that were traded away, but Vegas needed the cap flexibility to sign their core players, especially with the uncertainty over the playing future of goaltender Robin Lehner, who missed the entire 2022-23 season with double hip surgery. They swapped Smith’s $5 million cap hit for Barbashev’s, retaining the younger player who has emerged as an offensive threat who can throw the body and help the power play and penalty kill.

He will retain his spot as the team’s first lien left winger with Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault. Hill has come off a postseason where he was lights out for the Golden Knights. In recent years, he battled injuries, and even though it continued this season, he actually set a career-high in NHL games played, with 27. While fans might not like that he is getting paid nearly as much as Darcy Kuemper, he has shouldered a lot of responsibility in the highest stakes, and can form a nice goaltending tandem with Logan Thompson. Howden is coming off a year where he averaged a minute on Vegas’ penalty kill and more average ice time during the playoffs than the regular season. They’re betting that he can play a more regular role shorthanded now that Smith is gone, which can work. Everything is going well with Vegas.


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