NHL free agency grades: Johnny Gaudreau’s stunning move to

Join us as our team analyzes the major free-agent deals and evaluates them for fit with the team and the contract itself. Check out Dom’s Top 50 UFAs here and follow our live coverage of NHL Free Agency 2022 signings, news and analysis.

Johnny Gaudreau signs seven-year deal worth $9.8 AAV with Blue Jackets

Someone, please make this make sense. I know that’s our job around here to do that, but I just can’t. I’m baffled. Too stunned to speak. Utterly perplexed.

For Columbus, this is an absolute home run, no-brainer. Johnny Gaudreau is arguably the best left winger on the planet, an elite offensive force who scored 115 points last season and led all players in five-on-five scoring. His play going into UFA was far superior to Artemi Panarin’s during his run to free agency, and he comes in nearly $2 million cheaper. It boggles the mind, especially knowing that Calgary offered $10.5 million over eight seasons. This is a huge win for the Blue Jackets as Gaudreau is a very reasonable bet to live up to the deal. The expectation on it is 2.6 wins per season and he’s projected to be worth 3.7 wins on average over the life of the deal. That’s a lot of leeway with a 72 percent chance of providing positive value over the life of the contract. It’s the best deal of the day – by far.

What I can’t fathom is why Gaudreau chose Columbus, for what is seemingly less money. The Flames are a bonafide contender, the Islanders are a year removed from back-to-back conference final berths, and the Devils are a team that is obviously on the rise. You look at the pieces in place for the other clubs compared to Columbus and it’s difficult to make sense of why Gaudreau chose Columbus.

The other three teams are a likely playoff team with Gaudreau’s services added to the mix. Columbus, even after adding an elite superstar winger, still very likely isn’t. All for under $10 million per season.

Make it make sense.

Fit grade: B-, I guess?
Contract grade: A+++

–Dom Luszczyszyn

There are a couple things about the biggest deal of the day that we have to table for the time being.

One: He took less money — nearly $20 million less (!!!) over the life of the contract — than the Flames offered on Tuesday night.

Two: He took less money, reportedly, than the Blue Jackets originally offered him. The Blue Jackets! The team that signed him!

I’m sure all this will be unpacked all over the site in the near future, but I have to say it explicitly: This is one of the most unbelievable free agency turns — from beginning to end, based on the money and the teams and the player involved — that the sport has ever seen. Someone who’s been around longer than me can say it’s No. 1 in a walk. Nothing, at the moment, comes close.

The contract is great. Gaudreau was one of the few best players in the NHL last season, a playmaking winger without many peers, a 115-point scorer and a now-underrated two-way forward with some of the best 5-on-5 stats in the game. He’s remarkable, and he should stay that way for at least a few more years. Twenty million less. I can’t get past that.

As far as the fit is concerned? It’s wonderful for the Blue Jackets; you can always find space for a Hart Trophy candidate. But … how is this a fit for Gaudreau? Does he like young forwards Jack Roslovic, Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson that much? Is Columbus the perfect distance from home — not too close to the family, but not too far? Does he love Patrik Laine? Has he gotten over his fear of the Nationwide Arena cannon? Is he a closet Ohio State fan? Why did this happen?

And this isn’t meant as a pure knock on Columbus, either; Jarmo Kekalainen seemed to be navigating an effective rebuild. Congrats to everyone involved, including Blue Jackets fans and folks from the city overall, who’d been snakebit by stars either leaving town early or never bothering with the consideration. It’s a fine place, and they deserve this ‘W.’ But … less money. Worse team. Not particularly close to where everyone in the game assumed he wanted to be. Wow.

Contract grade: A+
Fit grade: 🤯

–Sean Gentille

This is just so wild. All day it felt like if Gaudreau wanted to go to the Devils or the Islanders, it would have happened already. Maybe a mystery team could swoop in and shake things up. But Columbus?! It doesn’t surprise me that they threw an offer the winger’s way, any team with the cap space should have kicked the tires. It surprises me that Gaudreau accepted, especially because it’s not at some flashy cost that he’s outright earned. This is a player who easily could have pushed for $12 million per year, for seven years, and still be cost-effective throughout the life of the contract.

Gaudreau’s an MVP-caliber player. He had an outstanding season and was the driver of that excellent top line in Calgary. The winger is a dual-threat. He’s one of the best players at transitioning the puck and generating chances off those controlled entires. Along with creating his own chances, he’s an elite passer — maybe the best in the league this season. As dangerous as he can be on the power play, he’s an absolute star at five-on-five. Now picture that alongside a sniper like Laine. Or if Columbus wants to distribute their best two offensive threats, Gaudreau could match right up with a frequent and effective shooter like Oliver Bjorkstrand. All the while, he could be supported by a rover on the backend like Zach Werenski. Yep, the Blue Jackets just got a whole lot more interesting.

Maybe we’re all overreacting because it’s so rare that we see players of this caliber actually reach free agency. The last time was when Artemi Panarin left Columbus. Even still, this is a huge deal and such a slam dunk win for Columbus who added one of the best left wingers in the league without spending any other assets besides cap space.

Fit grade: I wanted to go with a fire emoji, but it just feels mean. So an A+ will have to do.
Contract grade: A+

–Shayna Goldman


Ondrej Palat signs five-year, $30 million deal with Devils

The Devils found their impact winger in Ondrej Palat. Technically, the Devils have crossed off two of the three highest priorities on their offseason checklist by trading for Vitek Vanecek and signing Palat — though neither is as splashy as originally anticipated.

Focusing specifically on this signing, Palat has strengths on both ends of the ice and can drive play in the top-six of a lineup. Stylistically, this is a good fit for a team that needs a player of his caliber to balance out their winger depth. Not only does he contribute scoring, but he can put in the work to facilitate some of the team’s most skilled forwards down low.

Plus, Palat rises to the occasion when it matters the most with some clutch plays in the postseason. That plus his two championship rings likely added value to this contract. So did the fact that the Devils didn’t have as much leverage after losing out on Gaudreau, and this isn’t the only team in need of a high-end winger. Maybe that’s what bought the winger both term and salary on this signing which is a bit more than the team should have wanted. As long as the cap rises over the next few years, New Jersey should be able to handle the later years of this deal that probably won’t age as well — but if that’s one of the first thoughts after a deal is signed, it’s a pretty clear sign that it’s a bit of an overpay.

Fit grade: A-
Contract grade: B

–Shayna Goldman


Josh Norris signs eight-year, $63.6 million extension with the Senators

Hot Dorion Summer continues with a massive extension handed out to Josh Norris, one that immediately comes with some sticker shock. The deal falls just shy of $8 million per season which is a lot of cash for someone with just two seasons under his belt – both of which feature a sky-high shooting percentage. Norris is a great scorer, but pricey bets based on shooting percentage can often be risky endeavors with the potential to backfire.

Norris scored at a 43-goal pace last season and Ottawa needs to hope that he can be a consistent 35-to-40 goal player for this deal to work out. He’s not the strongest play-driver making his lethal goal-scoring ability his best asset. The Senators better be sure he can keep that up.

Even with that in mind, this is still a bit of an overpay – and that’s using open market value. As an RFA, this is quite steep. That doesn’t matter too much if a player can live up to the deal and while Norris’s projected value is on the cusp of that, the likelihood does fall below 50 percent. The expectation for $7.95 million is a two-win player, or a low-end top-line center. Norris played at that level last season, but after regressing and age-adjusting using comps the average projection for the life of the deal is 1.7 wins per season. Still very strong, but a deal closer to $7 million per year would’ve been much more palatable.

There’s outside context to that though, and one of Norris’s best comps is at the center of that: Mika Zibanejad. Ottawa screwed that up royally and couldn’t afford to do that with the next version. If Norris can turn into the next Zibanejad this could be a big win – it’s just no guarantee and the team overpaid a bit in the process.

Fit grade: B+
Contract Grade: C+

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Ryan Strome signs five-year, $25 million deal with Ducks

With the addition of Ryan Strome, the Ducks have quite a few forwards who can play down the middle. That should give their offense some versatility and allow them to mix-and-match combinations. Since Ryan Getzlaf retired, there may be an opening at center that he’s expected to fill. As much as Strome performed better than expected in New York, he hasn’t been without Artemi Panarin much these last few years. So setting him up with a high-end winger is likely what’s best for his game.The tricky part is how he’ll age. Strome’s market value projects to just about match his cap hit, on average, over the next five years. But factoring in his comps points to a steeper drop-off than originally anticipated, and players like Andrew Ladd and Derick Brassard are responsible for that. But if the salary cap increases over the next few years, this cap hit may not be too concerning in those last two years if he falls short of what the Ducks expect of him. The bright side is that this comes in lower than Evolving-Hockey projected — a seven year contract with a $7.15 million cap hit that could have been a misstep, especially without the certainty of how he’d play without his mainstay elite winger to help facilitate his game.

Fit grade: B
Contract grade: B-

–Shayna Goldman

Darcy Kuemper signs five-year, $26.25 million deal with the Capitals

In the grand scheme of the goalie market, this is a home run. How exactly does Darcy Kuemper only fetch $250,000 more than Jack Campbell? The former’s numbers are significantly stronger and he has a longer track record of starter quality play. Last season he was fifth in the league in goals saved above expected (Campbell was 94th for the record) with 16 goals saved thanks to a strong .921 save percentage. There will be some who point out his shaky playoff performance as a reason for the discount, but considering he had trouble with his vision thanks to his eye being gouged in the first round, I’m willing to give him a pass there.

The playoff stuff isn’t a real concern. Nor is the “played behind a strong team” issue. This isn’t the same as Philipp Grubauer last season as his numbers, when accounting for the team in front of him, were quite ordinary. Kuemper’s were much stronger and easier to believe. No, if there’s a real cause for concern here it’s with Kuemper’s injury history and his age. Kuemper is notoriously fragile and a very sneaky 32 years old. A five-year commitment for that is the biggest risk here – not his actual play on the ice. If he can stay healthy, he can be a strong answer between the pipes for the Capitals.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: B+

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Jack Campbell signs five-year, $25 million deal with the Oilers

When Jack Campbell is on, he’s on. But when he’s off? Look out. Last season was Campbell’s first as a starter and it was a roller coaster full of inconsistent play. At the start of the year, he looked Vezina caliber. Near the middle, he looked like waiver fodder. At the end, he was somewhere in between and that’s what Edmonton can reasonably expect here. Chaos.

The big question is whether Campbell can be a legitimate and dependable starter. He’s projected to be the 23rd-best goalie in hockey which puts him in that range – but on the below-average side. At this price and term, the Oilers should be hoping for a bit more. Maybe he becomes steadier in a quieter locale after getting his feet wet last season, but it’s a bit of a risk on Edmonton’s end. The fit is strong as the Oilers needed a starter badly, but this contract could be dicey. It takes Campbell to age 35 and it’s hard to see him worth the price tag at that point in his career.

Fit grade: B+
Contract grade: C

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Claude Giroux heads to Ottawa on three-year, $19.5 million deal

Giroux to Ottawa has been speculated for some time, but now it makes a bit more sense for both sides considering the other moves the Senators have made this offseason. He’s not exactly joining a contender, but maybe they won’t be the same bottom-feeder of the last few years.

While the veteran forward isn’t at the heights of his prime, Giroux is still a valuable, versatile forward. He can slot at either center or wing, set up his teammates or create his own chances, and is responsible at both ends of the ice. That versatility is key, especially if Ottawa moves Connor Brown, which leaves them without the two utility forwards (since Nick Paul was traded) that were so pivotal in 2021-22.

This contract actually comes in under market value in the first year of it, but the second and third seasons bring it down since Giroux is expected to decline as he gets into his mid-to-late 30s. Still, over the next three years, his average market value only comes in $1 million above the cap hit. Another benefit is that if he were to retire before the deal ends, the Senators won’t feel the pain they would if this were a 35+ contract.

Fit grade: A-
Contract grade: B+

–Shayna Goldman


Andre Burakovsky signs for five year, $27.5 million in Seattle

Seattle’s 5-on-5 expected goal generation was 13 percent below league average in their inaugural season, according to HockeyViz. So what they need is forwards who can thread the needle offensively, and Burakovsky should fit the bill. The winger broke out with Colorado after his tenure with the Capitals, having a positive impact on his team’s expected goal generation in each of his three seasons there. Having a more meaningful role and playing alongside some high-caliber teammates with the Avalanche more than likely helped him reach these heights over the last few years. His tenure wasn’t without faults, including being a healthy scratch in a few games during this latest playoff run, but Burakovsky rebounded and ended the year with his second Stanley Cup ring.

The only question is how this will translate to Seattle. There, he could see even more ice time and power-play usage. But he won’t have the support of Colorado’s systems that clearly clicked with his game and elite scorers around him. Burakovsky will have the support of Yanni Gourde, Jared McCann, Matty Beniers, and Shane Wright over the next few years though, which could still put together a pretty talented offensive core.

Burakovsky’s cap hit comes in under his market value this year, but for the life of the deal slightly exceeds it. It helps that he didn’t sign for as hefty of a deal as Evolving-Hockey projected. If his scoring keeps trending up, however, the cost and length of this deal should be fitting for the top-six winger.

Fit grade: B+
Contract grade: B+

–Shayna Goldman


David Perron signs two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Red Wings

It took a while to get to this point, but we have arguably our best deal of the day with David Perron signing for two years in Detroit at a very modest cost. Perron fills an immediate need with the Red Wings in terms of top six help, scoring at a 70-point pace last season. He’s responsible in his own end, which is a big plus.

Perron’s two biggest concerns are his age and how he does outside of the Blues system, both of which are addressed by the terms of the deal. At 34, Detroit was very wise to keep the deal short at two years and the Red Wings didn’t have to sacrifice on cost either. A $4.75 million cap hit is nothing for a player of Perron’s calibre.

At his age, there’s always a chance that a player falls off rapidly, but the risk is greatly minimized with a low-risk signing at a modest cost. This is a home run for Detroit, especially if Perron keeps up the steady play he’s shown with the Blues in each of the last four seasons.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: A+

–Dom Luszczyszyn

Vincent Trocheck signs for seven years, $5.625 million AAV with the Rangers

Trocheck cashing in a big ticket was inevitable. He’s second-best in the pool of available centers, which meant he was either going to be a) an expensive consolation prize for a team who missed out on Nazem Kadri or b) some team’s priority early in the day. Whichever category he falls in for the Rangers — they were interested in Evgeni Malkin on Tuesday, for whatever that’s worth — he gives them something they needed: An offensively-minded second-line center, especially once they decided to move on from Ryan Strome.

Trocheck had 94 points in 128 games with Carolina over the last two seasons, he flourished under Gerard Gallant with the Panthers and the Rangers were, again, in search of reliable 5-on-5 production. This is an Eastern Conference finalist on the uptick with a defined need, and they went and filled it.

The thing that gives me pause here — and a lot of other folks — isn’t the number. It’s the term. Trocheck is already 29; the last couple years could get ugly. It’s a bet, though, that Trocheck can bring more offense to the table as a second-line center than, say, Andrew Copp while the Rangers’ Cup window is open. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the price is high.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: C+

–Sean Gentille


Andrew Copp signs five year, $5.625 million AAV in Detroit

The Red Wings add a versatile middle-six forward who can make a positive impact on both ends of the ice. Detroit can slot Copp down the middle, or shift him to the wing which is what he primarily played post-deadline with the Rangers. He’s more of a passer than a shooter, which could pair well with a frequent shooter like Dylan Larkin, while bringing defensive support this team sorely needs. Plus he can be deployed in all situations.

Copp was projected to sign for four years, $5.8 million according to Evolving-Hockey. A six-year deal would have pushed that average annual value to $6.6 million. This deal is more cost-effective than either of those options. However, the biggest question is how this lines up with Detroit’s timeline. This team is not in win-now mode, and by the time they are, Copp likely is trending down. So they’re investing a bit much, in terms of salary and term, for player who may not be at the level his cap hit calls for when this team starts pushing back into the playoff picture. But overpayments are a staple of free agency, anyway — and that can be expected for a player who hit career-high scoring rates over the last two seasons.

Fit grade: A-
Contract grade: B

–Shayna Goldman


Mason Marchment signs in Dallas for four years, $4.5 million AAV

Today, it was easy to root for Marchment. On the ice, he had 47 points in just 54 games with Florida after an unremarkable rookie season and five years’ worth of AHL seasoning. He did everything you could reasonably expect from a player in his position, with a level of production — combined with great size and terrific underlying numbers — that made him one of the best mid-level UFAs set to hit the market.

On top of all that, just seven days ago, his father Bryan — a former NHL defenseman and scout for the Sharks — was found dead in his hotel room at the NHL Draft.

Now, in the middle of that tragedy, Marchment has made the biggest decision of his professional life. He’s headed to Dallas, a sorely needed quality option for their middle six. The running narrative around the Stars this season was that their forward group was Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Joe Pavelski, then little else. Marchment represents a major step in the right direction — assuming he approaches his 2021-22 production level for the next few years.

That’s no easy task, but I’m not about to bet against him — and even if he falls off (he’s already 27), he’s likely to do enough elsewhere to stop the contract from being an issue. It’s a nice deal for a player who deserves it from a team who needed someone like him. Bonus points to Jim Nill for swiping him from Carolina, an organization that typically does well to identify solid options on the UFA market.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: A-

–Sean Gentille


Dominik Kubalik signs for two years, $5 million with Detroit

Kubalik was a surprise addition to the UFA pool after the Blackhawks — with tank mode fully engaged — opted not to extend him a $4 million qualifying offer. Detroit — with tank mode fully exited — got him for $1.5 million less for next season and the one after.

He started his NHL career with a shooting-percentage-fueled 30-goal season and has since dipped; 17 in 56 games in 2020-21, then 15 in 78 games in 2022-23.

Still, he has a skillset, especially if he comes close to replicating the shooting talent he seemed to have as a rookie. If not, he’s a nice middle-six option who will score some and help on what was a terrible power play last season.

Steve Yzerman is clearly trying to compete next season, adding Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, Olli Maatta, Kubalik and David Perron. Those are all win-now players, at least in theory. We’ll see how it all works out — I’m skeptical for the time being — but Kubalik is cheap, fills a need and will retain trade value if the whole “let’s try to win” experiment goes to hell.

Contract grade: B+
Fit grade: B+

–Sean Gentille


Jan Rutta signs for three years, $8.25 million with Pittsburgh

In a vacuum, this is one of the smarter deals we’re going to see all day. Rutta is a boring, completely capable right defenseman who will make $2.75 million AAV for the next three seasons.

With the Lightning, he won two Cups playing alongside all-world left defenseman Victor Hedman. He benefited from the pairing, and he benefited from the usage — Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak tended to take tougher minutes there — but their results together were solid, and Rutta held up his end of the bargain.

Given the dearth of right shots on the market, I assumed he’d get more, even after the Lightning’s spending spree earlier in the day. With Pittsburgh, he’d make a ton of sense on a second pair alongside Mike Matheson who, last season’s strong performance aside, could still benefit from someone as responsible as Rutta.

The wait-and-see aspect as far as the rest of the fit? Pittsburgh, all of a sudden, needs to clear cap space, and they’ve got four NHL-caliber defensemen on each side. On the right, it’s Kris Letang, John Marino, Rutta and Chad Ruhwedel. On the left, it’s Brian Dumoulin, Matheson, Marcus Pettersson and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

The thought for most of the offseason was that either Dumoulin or Pettersson would be moved, given their side of the ice. Now, though, the Penguins have a ready-made replacement if they’d rather trade Marino. That’ll ding the “fit” grade for now, especially given that Pittsburgh still seems to be a top-nine forward short of where they should be, but Rutta is solid and cheap enough for it not to matter all that much.

Contract grade: A
Fit grade: B-

–Sean Gentille


Ben Chiarot signs four-year, $19 million deal with the Red Wings

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Ben Chiarot is not as bad as public models and analytics suggest he is – a well-below replacement level defender. He’s also not as good as traditionalists suggest either – a bonafide top-four defender. There’s a middle ground between the two where he’s essentially a true talent third pairing defender masquerading as something more, putting up poor results in the process. In a lighter and more appropriate role, Chiarot wouldn’t be such a lightning rod for the current analytics vs. eye test debate that always surrounds him.

The problem here is that Detroit is paying him like he’s a solid number three option. That’s what $4.75 million should net a team and Chiarot is just not that. There’s far too much suspension of disbelief between his results and his eye test to get there. That he’s being paid that way immediately makes this one of the worst signings of the day, a rare misstep for Steve Yzerman.

The fit? Well, it’s fine in the sense that Detroit needs defenders. But the Red Wings really need ones that move the needle to help Moritz Seider and Chiarot doesn’t do that. On a top pair next to Seider, he may just be an anchor that hinders the superstar rookie. This feels like a needlessly bad bet for a team on the rise.

Fit grade: C+
Contract grade: D-

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Artturi Lehkonen extends in Colorado for four years, $22.5 million

Lehkonen fit seamlessly in Colorado, adding a second two-way utility forward for the middle-six who provides two-way support and lineup balance behind Valeri Nichushkin. It seemed like if the UFA walked, the winger could have stepped up in his place. Better yet, the Avalanche found a way to extend both.

While his counting stats may not be eye-popping, Lehkonen’s always been a key contributor wherever he’s played and stuck to his strengths. That was true in Montreal when they were competitive and a bottom-feeder, and now with the Avalanche. With more time alongside such skilled skaters in Colorado, though, it wouldn’t be surprising if he became more than just a facilitator of his teammates’ offensive plays and actually ended up on the scoresheet a bit more consistently. That’s what could take a good signing and make it a great one. That would likely line up his trajectory with one of his more offensive comps, Bryan Rust, instead of the likes of Joonas Donskoi and Michael Frolik. Either way, if he stays on the path of any of those three skaters he has a better chance of providing positive value throughout this contract. The less than encouraging comparable is someone like Tommy Wingels.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: B+

–Shayna Goldman


Andreas Athanasiou signs for one year, $3 million with Chicago

The Blackhawks, much to their chagrin, need to add actual NHL players, and Andreas Athanasiou qualifies. They threw a little more money than necessary at him, but what does it matter? The cap floor is a bigger concern than the ceiling.

Athanasiou has a defined skill set; he’s really fast with some goal-scoring ability, and he’s (historically) an absolute catastrophe in his own end. You’re not going to see many forwards with worse defensive impacts … but boy, he’s fast. It’s easy to imagine the deadline rolling around and some team looking at his scoring totals (somebody is going to have to score for Chicago), his skating ability and throw an asset back at GM Kyle Davidson, especially if Davidson retains salary. Perfect Blackhawk.

Fit grade: A+
Contract grade: B

–Sean Gentille

Max Domi signs one year, $3 million deal with the Blackhawks

This is a perfect match for player and team.

For the Blackhawks, they need warm bodies to fill the roster in what will surely be a tanking year. For Max Domi, it’s a chance to prove he’s still got it in a bigger role. Last year he scored 2.24 points-per-60 at five-on-five, a solid top-line rate that shows he can still efficiently produce in a lesser role. If he can keep that up while earning cushy usage in Chicago, there’s a strong chance he can revitalize his career. If he does, that means a juicy draft pick at the deadline for Chicago to further aid the team’s rebuild. It’s a win-win all-around here.

Fit grade: A+
Contract grade: B

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Nick Leddy extends for four years, $16 million in St. Louis

The Blues have a really strong offensive core and appear to be settled with their goaltending situation. But defense is a massive area of weakness. St. Louis addressed it at the deadline with Nick Leddy which was a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough to boost this blue line.

At this point in his career, Leddy’s a depth defender who can still break the puck out of his own zone, bring it up with ice with control, and distribute it to his teammates. But he doesn’t thread the needle enough, especially not for this cost. This contract pays him like a second-pair defenseman, which he isn’t at this point in his career. If the Blues had more defensive depth, it really wouldn’t be that much of an issue for someone expected to play third-pair minutes. Instead, it’s too much cap space and term dedicated to a player on the downswing that is probably going to play in a role that he isn’t a fit for anymore. So as much as the team may have felt he helped post-deadline in their playoff run, there should have been a tradeoff — either term on a low-cost contract or cost on a short-term deal. Somehow, he got both.

Fit grade: B
Contract grade: C-

–Shayna Goldman


Ilya Mikheyev signs for four years, $19 million in Vancouver

The 27-year-old put himself out of Toronto’s price range after having a career year, when he scored at a rate of 2.37 points per 60. Not only can Mikheyev put pucks in the back of the net — netting a career-high 21 this past season — but he can help limit scoring chances (and goals) against. The winger is strong in his own zone and can push play right back into the offensive zone with his skating speed and transitional efforts. That translates to the penalty kill as well, which Vancouver absolutely could use help with especially after flipping Tyler Motte at the deadline.

The contract is a bit richer than his market value over the life of it ($4.1 million), but comes in below Evolving-Hockey’s projection of a six-year deal with a $5 million cap hit. If the Canucks plan to use him as more of a top-six forward, that value should be just fine; he could probably complement their top offensive players and keep popping up on the scoresheet. If he trends closer to the third line, especially if he can’t consistently put up points, it may push him closer to an overpayment.

Fit grade: A-
Contract grade: B

–Shayna Goldman


Frank Vatrano signs for three years, $3.65 million AAV with Anaheim

No team came into the day with more available cap space than the Ducks, thanks to Pat Verbeek’s supreme tear-down over the last few months, so a slight overpay on Vatrano is no real issue.

All Vatrano does is produce. It’s not star-level, and it’s not particularly flashy, but he’s a reasonable addition to a top-six that a) has some major pieces in Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry and b) needs more reliable pros.

Vatrano fits the bill. He’s shown 20-25 goal production/potential for most of his NHL career and became a mini-folk hero with the Rangers after they added him midseason. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with a presumably larger role in Anaheim — he was squeezed out in Florida. If he is what he’s always been, the Ducks won’t have a problem — but they won’t have a steal, either.

Fit grade: B
Contract grade: B

–Sean Gentille


Erik Gudbranson signs four-year, $16 million deal with the Blue Jackets

What the hell?

Fit grade: C
Contract grade: F-

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Mikhail Sergachev signs eight-year, $68 million extension with the Lightning

This is a wild one, especially considering Mikhail Sergachev was an RFA. On an eight-year deal, Sergachev’s expected to deliver 1.2 wins per season – a solid number for a number two defender. At that level of value, the price tag on the open market would be $6.3 million or so. Sergachev – who, again, is an RFA – got $2.2 million more per season. Yes, there are a lot of UFA years being eaten up here, but that doesn’t justify the high price tag.

That’s top defenceman money, something Sergachev has yet to prove he can be. It’s a staggering overpayment for a defender who has mostly seen sheltered usage behind Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh for his career. It begs the question: Why now? Why not wait and see if it’s a role Sergachev can legitimately handle this upcoming season. It’s not like the price was going any higher, right?

Tampa Bay has earned the benefit of the doubt after a decade of being one of the league’s savviest front offices. That’s what makes this extension so puzzling from the outside. We’ll see how it plays out, but from day one it already looks onerous.

Fit grade: A-
Contract grade: C

–Dom Luszczyszyn

Erik Cernak extends in Tampa Bay for eight years, $41.6 million

If it was unclear, it is no longer: Lightning GM Julien BriseBois’s goal today was to lock in the next wave of his core. Cernak — like Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev — was a contributor to two Stanley Cup champions before he turned 25.

Here’s what to like about Cernak: He’s got size, skating ability and a deserved reputation as a shutdown guy. Jon Cooper had no problems throwing Cernak and Ryan McDonagh to the wolves over the years, and the results were solid. He’s also a right shot, which is an area of need for Tampa regardless of what happens with Jan Rutta, and a great penalty killer. Good player. No notes.

The problem with this deal — stupid as it feels to criticize Tampa’s front office — is that eight years is a preposterously long term for a player who hadn’t yet reached RFA. If they think he’s capable of either more production, which suffered due to his minutes, or continued shutdown play without McDonagh to help, it’ll pay off. Maybe he’s Victor Hedman’s top-pair partner moving forward and flourishes in the role. If not? In a few years, we might be marveling at how BriseBois moved this contract.

The fit is fine; we should trust that Tampa knows what it has in Cernak because they’re good at their jobs, collectively speaking. It makes sense, too, that they’re aiming to start the change-over midstream to Cirelli, Sergachev, Cernak and whoever else. But the term and the money, objectively, are a lot to swallow, especially given that they had the option of holding off a bit longer.

Fit grade: B
Contract grade: C-

–Sean Gentille

Anthony Cirelli extends for eight years, $50 million

Cirelli’s coming off a Selke-caliber season thanks to his elite defensive efforts that came up clutch throughout the playoffs as well. He makes this team a lot tougher to play against and can absorb minutes against top competition that allows his teammates prime offensive minutes instead.

Tampa Bay isn’t banking on just one season of strong play, either. But there are drawbacks that add some risk. First, his step back in 2020-21; the fact that he bounced back this last season, however, may remove any concern. The second is a lack of offense. Now, had Cirelli popped off on the scoresheet in 2022-23, maybe it would have raised his ask for his next contract. That’s the benefit of getting this contract done sooner than later.

If Cirelli can just maintain this level of elite defense and chip in a bit more offensively, this is a cost the Lightning should be able to manage. But without as much scoring (and that step back last year), it makes sense why his market value over the life of the contract isn’t matching this raise. Usage is going to play a part in this as well, whether he’s playing alongside high-octane offensive players or sticks with the combination he had so much success with in the playoffs, as a key cog in Lightning’s new-look grind line with Alex Killorn and Brandon Hagel. With the latter combination, Cirelli showed that even when he isn’t scoring, he can be a part of a combination that turns strong defense into offense. That’s likely what the team envisions for him moving forward.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: B+

–Shayna Goldman


Brett Kulak extends four years, $11 million in Edmonton

Kulak was a strong fit in Edmonton after moving there at the deadline, so it makes sense that they’d want to bring him back. He’s a strong defender in his own zone who can limit scoring chances against, but usually he succeeds the most in sheltered minutes. As long as the Oilers can manage his usage, he should continue to help boost their blue line that obviously could use whatever help they can get.

This is a really good contract because it still can be cost-effective regardless of where he plays — it’s excellent if he ends up playing top pair minutes, still very good on the second pair, and fine enough for a third-pair defender as well. Evolving-Hockey projected a three-year deal with a $2.9 million cap hit; a four-year deal, per the model, would have been closer to $3.7, on average. So staying below $2.8 million and getting that fourth year is a positive for the Oilers.

Fit grade: A-
Contract grade: A-

–Shayna Goldman


Ilya Samsonov signs for one year, $1.8 million in Toronto

The Maple Leafs already made their big goalie move — trading for Matt Murray (at a $4.68 million cap hit) earlier this week — and most of us are on the same page. It’s a major gamble, especially from the folks responsible for the Petr Mrazek debacle, and Murray took a step in the right direction last season, but that’s if you’re grading on a curve. He’s been sub-mediocre and injury-bitten for several seasons.

Given Toronto’s cap constraints — and Murray’s cap hit — finding a sensible backup was always going to be an issue. All the candidates were going to have flaws. Samsonov’s issue? He stunk for most of last season after starting as Washington’s No. 1 … but he has first-round pedigree and a reasonable amount of upside. He’s got size and performed well as a backup in his first NHL season, too.

He’s not a sure thing, but when you’re talking about goalies, who is? I get the logic here — hope one of either Murray or Samsonov can tap what’s left of their potential, rather than giving more term elsewhere or signing a glorified AHL guy as your backup.

Fit grade: B-
Contract grade: B

–Sean Gentille

Nicolas Aube-Kubel signs one year, $1 million deal with the Maple Leafs

It’s bargain bin time for Toronto, as is always the case for the Leafs around this time of year. This time around, it’s gritty fourth liner Nicolas Aube-Kubel being signed for a million bucks and that’s exactly in line with his market value. Aube-Kubel doesn’t bring a lot of offense to the table, but he’s very strong on the forecheck which is incredibly useful for the team’s fourth line. It’s a great fit at a great price, even if it doesn’t move the needle all that much. Aube-Kubel is the definition of a replacement level forward, but he’s far from a liability.

Fit grade: B+
Contract grade: B+

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Evgeni Malkin signs four-year, $24.4 million extension with Penguins

The process probably could’ve been simpler, and it certainly should’ve been quicker — even if by a day or two, though that would’ve deprived us of the mini-firework show — but Evgeni Malkin is a Pittsburgh Penguin. Still. For a while, it would seem.

This feels right on a few levels. Aesthetically, cosmically, and karmically … Malkin playing for someone else would’ve been weird. The only Penguin with more career games played is the guy who helped Malkin and the team bridge whatever gap they were dealing with. Now, Sidney Crosby and Malkin get to finish their primes together. In strict value-in, value-out terms, the deal tilts toward Malkin. No surprise there; aging and injuries are real, and Malkin has experienced both. Players don’t get better when they’re 36 years old. So, the odds are good that the last season — and maybe the last two — aren’t particularly equitable for the team.

This is, however, not about the last season or two. It’s about the immediate future for a team that plays by different rules and has for the better parts of two decades. At some point, the post-Crosby/Malkin/Kris Letang era ceased to matter. That is fine; for a front office to not do everything in its power to win titles with them is to waste the gift. Where Ron Hextall (and Malkin) were fortunate — because a divorce at this point would’ve been dumb — is that the needs of the player and the team are basically the same. If Pittsburgh let Malkin walk, they would’ve needed a second-line center. Malkin isn’t what he was — but he certainly fits that bill. Guess what: That’s how they paid him.

Nazem Kadri was a pipe dream. Vincent Trocheck is in high demand. Andrew Copp is going to be a risk for whoever signs him because of his lack of an offensive track record. Who else, exactly, were the Penguins going to add via free agency? Why not retain the franchise icon who was willing to do a necessary job for a fair price? Going all-in on a group of players that hasn’t won anything of consequence since 2017 might not be the right choice — but it’s the choice Jim Rutherford started to make long ago, and it’s the choice Hextall continued once he extended Bryan Rust, then Letang, then Rickard Rakell. To cut out Malkin after all that — let alone all he’s done for the franchise — would’ve been destructive, stupid and counterproductive to the franchise’s obvious short-term mission statement.

All’s well that ends well, though. Now we’ll see if they can win a playoff round.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: B-

–Sean Gentille


Evander Kane signs four-year, $20.5 million deal with the Oilers

Well, we already know that the fit is immaculate. Evander Kane was a risky mid-season signing for the Oilers due to off-ice issues, but the on-ice performance was never in doubt. With the Oilers, riding shotgun next to Connor McDavid, Kane’s play was even better than imagined as he scored at a 42-goal pace and played at a three-win rate. He put that into hyperdrive in the playoffs, looking like a goal-scoring machine as the Oilers marched to the third round.

That’s hard to walk away from. It’s easy to say “anyone can play with McDavid” but it’s a different thing in practice, especially seeing someone work so well next to him.

The tricky part is the contract and Edmonton, fortunately, nailed that. Kane was a huge risk for overpayment given the rumors that started with a seven for both money and term – both of which would be too much for his age curve. A 30-year-old power forward doesn’t project to age well and the Oilers did really well to keep the contract to only four years. That they also brought the cap hit down to $5.125 million despite the shorter term is even better. Kane’s deal is exactly on market value according to GSVA, and during silly season that’s an enormous win. With the way Kane played next to McDavid last season, there’s big potential for surplus value here in the short term.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: B+

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Justin Schultz signs two-year, $6 million deal with the Kraken

If the Kraken are hoping to make major moves up the standings, then a top power play quarterback is a big need for the team. If the answer to that need is Justin Schultz, then it’s a very insufficient one and the hope is that they do much more to fill that hole.

If Schultz’s job is just to fill a spot on the third pair and crush sheltered minutes, then that works a lot better for Seattle. He’s by no means an elite play-driver, but he gets the job done with average results and has been pretty solid for Washington over the last two seasons. Unremarkable, but solid. At $3 million per year, Seattle could’ve done a lot worse here, though Schultz is definitely a long way away from the offensive stud he was back in 2016-17.

Fit grade: B-
Contract grade: C+

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Josh Manson signs for four years, $18 million in Colorado

Colorado was always on track to probably have a bit more money to work with than you’d have assumed, given the group they’ve assembled. We’ve already seen them re-sign Valeri Nichushkin and they’re on track to bring back some depth pieces at forward.

Another important piece of business was deciding whether deadline add Josh Manson, who provided plenty for them in the playoffs, was a long-term fit on the right side of their defense. They were going to need someone in that spot, whether it was him or someone else. Now we know.

The term is reasonable, and the AAV ($4.5 million) is market-value for a second-pair right defenseman — again, good luck if one of those is on your shopping list today. Manson’s underlyings down the stretch weren’t great, but his impact once the postseason began was undeniable. They know he works with them when it counts, and they needed someone in that role — helping in transition, making some defensive impacts, adding physicality — no matter what. It’s the stuff they lacked during all those second-round eliminations, in fact. So let’s call it an overpay, but a justifiable one.

Think of it this way: They’re trying to defend the Stanley Cup with Josh Manson in an important role after winning it with Josh Manson in an important role. If they wind up saying goodbye to Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, it’s not going to be because of this.

Fit grade: B
Contract grade: C+

–Sean Gentille


Robert Thomas extends with Blues for eight years, $64 million

The Blues get ahead of things by extending Thomas a year early. His breakout season was as smooth as could be, as he emerged as one of the top passers in the league. The center, who also as a quality shot, has a knack for moving the puck to the slot to set up his teammates.

The 23-year-old thrived as a top-six center for St. Louis, and he should be expected to push for that leading role down the middle — and that’s what this contract pays him to be. This year’s crop of elite centers, on average, carries a cap hit of $7.5 million. This comes in slightly above that but should shake out to a comparable cap hit percentage as the cap grows. Right now it’s exactly on par with his market value through the life of it, as he’s expected to bring 2.0 wins on average per season. Another year of growth and that value (and contract ask) could have increased, which is why it makes sense for management to handle this sooner than later.

A highlight is the timing of this contract; it pays him for current and future performance instead of Thomas signing this deal in his late 20s for current and past play. His comparables are very encouraging, on the high end featuring the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mark Stone. The one cautionary tale is Max Domi, but already Thomas has shown more promise.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: A

–Shayna Goldman


Filip Forsberg signs eight-year, $68 million deal with the Predators

The Predators and Filip Forsberg took this one to the very brink, but in the end, got a contract done that is perfectly fair for both sides. By GSVA, Forsberg’s value over the next eight years projects to be around $67.6 million – nearly right on the money. An $8.5 million cap hit is extremely manageable for Nashville where the expectation is simply being a top-line forward worth roughly 2.2 wins.

Forsberg should be more than that for the first half of the deal before sliding below in the back half – and there’s potential for further upside if his contract year performance can be maintained. If the Predators continue to have an interest in being competitive, keeping Forsberg around was crucial. He’s Nashville’s best forward and obviously fits very well on a team he’s spent his entire career with. Still, it might’ve been nice to see him land somewhere else – maybe somewhere with an elite center to play with.

Fit grade: A-
Contract grade: B

–Dom Luszczyszyn


Valeri Nichushkin extends in Colorado for eight years, $49 million

Nichushkin rebuilt his value in Colorado after the Stars bought him out as a key two-way force in their middle-six. This past year, he added a scoring touch that bumped him up to the top-six and helped balance out the lineup on his way to a Stanley Cup ring. The timing certainly worked out for one of the Avalanche’s best forecheckers. A career season in a contract year tends to benefit the player who probably could have gotten even more on the open market.

While a $6.1 million cap hit sure seems reasonable for what he brings to the lineup now, over the life of this contract that’s the maximum term of eight years, it’s a slight overplay. He’s expected to bring about 1.5 wins per season, on average, throughout which equates to a $5.5 million market value per year. Already, the winger has shown that even when he’s not putting up points that he can still be a key contributor who makes the Avalanche tougher to play against. But if Nichushkin can keep building on this year’s success, and maybe even sprinkle in some power-play time that’ll boost his scoring further, he could bring even more value to the lineup. Colorado just has to hope this deal ages well — closer to players like Justin Williams, who is one of his top comps, and not Justin Abdelkader.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: B

–Shayna Goldman


Rickard Rakell signs for six years, $30 million in Pittsburgh

The Penguins apparently liked what they saw from Rakell in 19 regular-season games and two postseason tilts enough to extend their trade deadline acquisition. This was a bounce-back year from the forward who started to trend in the wrong direction over the last couple of seasons in Anaheim. In Pittsburgh, he obviously has higher caliber teammates around him.

The contract is a bit rich for the shooting winger who needs a strong passer on his line to really make his game click. After the first year, Rakell’s average market value slips below his cap hit. On average over the next six years, he’s worth $2.4 million which is double the cap space he’ll absorb. Maybe the model doesn’t account for a chance of him playing alongside Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby over the next few seasons if he stays in the top-six, which can elevate most players’ games, but the projected drop-off isn’t pretty and his comps paint a tough picture of where his game likely trends.

Fit grade: B
Contract grade: C-

–Shayna Goldman


Kris Letang extends in Pittsburgh for six years, $36.6 million

The Penguins recognized they had a franchise icon playing a premium position and tilted a little in his direction because they realized he’d be difficult to replace with a more team-friendly deal. Solid work — and also, it seems, what they opted not to do with Letang’s counterpart Evgeni Malkin. Whoops.

That’s an entirely different argument, though. What the Penguins undoubtedly — and correctly — understood here was that if they had any real shot at contending in the twilight of Sidney Crosby’s prime, they needed to keep their No. 1, right-shot, 23-minute-per-game star defenseman in the fold. There are plenty of reasons to think Letang will, in fact, age better than Malkin; he’s a fitness maniac and the injury-dotted years of his early career are probably further back than you think.

And while he might not be a $6.1 million guy when he’s 41, odds are good that he’ll be close enough to make it irrelevant. The deal is also front-loaded, so if Pittsburgh wants to send him off in one of the last two years to Arizona or, apparently Chicago — teams looking to add cap hits without taking on salary — they’d have the option.

In the meantime, Dom has him providing surplus value for the next three years — and really, that sounds right. He’s as he ever was; a point-producer, offense-driver and capable defender who, in that space, outplays what his worst critics like to pretend. And friends, those guys do not cost $6.1 million against the salary cap. Ever. So Pittsburgh realized they had an opportunity to do what was right for the past, present and future, and they struck. Imagine that.

Fit grade: A
Contract grade: A

–Sean Gentille


Marc-Andre Fleury extends in Minnesota for two years, $7 million

Goaltending is the most volatile position, and that can be especially true as players age. As much as Marc-Andre Fleury has built himself a reputation around the league, he is 38 years old. And he’s not coming off a fantastic season, either. The bright side is that the Wild aren’t the Blackhawks, a team that gave him very little support. And he trended up a bit in Minnesota post-deadline. The fact that he should be fairly insulated by the Wild’s blue line should put him in a position to succeed. As long as Minnesota manages Fleury’s workload, rotating him with their backup (now Filip Gustavsson since Cam Talbot was traded), his signing should work out fine.

Another benefit is the structure; it’s a multi-year 35-plus contract that won’t bite the Wild should Fleury retire after this upcoming season. That’s essential for a team with quite a bit of dead space on the books already for 2023-24.

Fit grade: B
Contract grade: B+

–Shayna Goldman


Ville Husso signs a three-year, $14.25 million contract with the Red Wings

Quite a few teams are looking for help in net, so Detroit moved quickly to acquire a goaltender. After trading for Ville Husso’s rights, the Red Wings signed him to a three-year contract that carries a $4.75 million cap hit.

Adding a goaltender can be risky, especially because it can be tough to project how they’ll perform behind a very different team — which the Red Wings certainly are from the Blues. But Husso showed he has starter potential after earning that role in St. Louis away from Jordan Binnington. Husso’s lack of NHL experience only adds to the risk; he struggled in his rookie year before breaking out this past season even though he had strong numbers before reaching the NHL.

But it’s a leap that the Red Wings can afford to take since they’re not a contending team. And there must be more confidence than there was a year ago when they were in a somewhat similar situation with Alex Nedeljkovic, seeing as Husso earned more term and salary. Maybe the deal is richer than some expected, but Detroit has the financial flexibility to dedicate that cap space to this signing. The benefit is it’s only a three-year contract that keeps this manageable.

Fit grade: B+
Contract grade: B

–Shayna Goldman

(Photo of Johnny Gaudreau: Abbie Parr / NHLI via Getty Images)

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