NHL Power Rankings: Best free agent signings so far this offseason

NHL Power Rankings
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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the best free agent signings of the offseason (so far).

While there are still a handful of top free agents still available (Nazem Kadri, John Klingberg), most of the top players have already found new homes. Some of those signings are going to work out very well. Others might not.

So let’s try to figure out which ones might be the best investments. We are limiting it this to players that signed after the opening of the free agent signing period this past Wednesday. So players that re-signed with their teams before that are excluded from the list. Also a reminder: This is not a ranking of the best players to sign. It is a ranking of the best signings, taking into account the player, production, contract term, salary cap hit, risk, and total value.

Who all makes the cut?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets (seven years, $68.25 million). The most stunning free agent signing was also the best. Yes, most long-term free agent contracts end in a buyout or a trade. But there are always exceptions. This could very easily be an exception. Gaudreau is a top-tier offensive force and is still at an age where he should perform at an extremely level for the foreseeable future. The Blue Jackets needed a star, and they got one. Even If Gaudreau is not a 115-point player again and levels off at an 80-or 90-point level he will still be worth it.

[Related: How good can Blue Jackets be after signing Gaudreau?]

2. Claude Giroux, Ottawa Senators (three years, $19.5 million). Giroux might be getting older, but he is still an outstanding player and the Senators are getting him on a really good deal. Not too much term, reasonable salary cap hit, not much risk, and it helps round a rapidly improving Senators’ top-six. Are they a playoff team because of it? Probably not. But they are better. And more entertaining.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Washington Capitals (five years, $26.25 million). The Capitals badly needed a goalie and completely revamped the position by dumping Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek and signing Kuemper in free agency. Kuemper drew some criticism in the playoffs this year, but his overall track record in the NHL is very strong. Among goalies with at least 100 games played over the past three years, Igor Shesterkin is the only goalie with a better all situations save percentage than Kuemper’s .920.

4. Frank Vatrano, Anaheim Ducks (three years, $10.95 million). Absolutely love this signing by the Ducks. Vatrano is not a star, but he can do two things really well: Generate shots and score goals. The Panthers never should have traded him, the Rangers are going to miss him, and the Ducks got him on a nice three-year deal for just $3.6 million per year.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

5. David Perron, Detroit Red Wings (two years, $9.5 million). Perron is getting older, but this is a really strong deal for a Red Wings team making to take a big leap forward. He is a legit top-line winger and the Red Wings have almost no risk on a two-year contract.

6. Andrew Copp, Detroit Red Wings (five years, $28.25 million) . This deal reminds me a lot of the Philip Danault signing in Los Angeles a year ago. Similar term, player, cap hit, and team situation. I like Copp over somebody like, say, Vincent Trocheck because he is a year younger, better defensively, and has a term that is two years shorter.

7. Vincent Trocheck, New York Rangers (seven years, $39.375 million). Trocheck is a very good player and will be a nice second-line center for the Rangers. But this is also the type of free agency contract I hate and the type that should scare the heck out of you as a fan of a team. A seven-year term for a soon-to-be 30-year-old non-star is not going to end well. Also, the Rangers had to watch Copp, Ryan Strome, and Vatrano all leave to make this signing happen. Does that make them a better team?

8. Andre Burakovsky, Seattle Kraken (five years, $27.5 million). Good player on an okay contract, but I do wonder what the overall plan is here for Seattle? Just a weird approach from the very beginning. How will he produce away from the high powered Avalanche offense?

9. Ryan Strome, Anaheim Ducks (five years, $25 million). Strome averaged a 22-goal, 60-point pace per 82 games during his time with the Rangers and was a legit second-line center offensively. He has had some shortcomings defensively at times, but if he repeats what he did in New York with the Ducks he will be a fine addition.

10. Dylan Strome, Washington Capitals (one year, $3.5 million). What I love about this deal is just how cheap it is. One year and only $3.5 million? For a player that will probably a produce a similar level of offense as Copp or Trocheck down the middle? He might be a half-tier below those two as overall players, but the price is certainly right as they look to get by without Nicklas Backstrom.

11. Mason Marchment, Dallas Stars (four years, $18 million). If he is just a late-bloomer and his 2021-22 season was not a fluke this contract could be one of the best signed all summer. But he has so little NHL track record to go by it is tough to be fully convinced of that.

12. Ondrej Palat, New Jersey Devils (five years, $30 million). He is not Johnny Gaudreau or Alex DeBrincat, but Palat is a strong top-six addition to a Devils team that badly needs some complementary players for Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. In the short-term, at least. How many more years does he have as a top-six producer?

13. Calle Jarnkrok, Toronto Maple Leafs (four years, $8.4 million). Jarnkrok is one of the steadiest players you will find in the NHL in terms of what he brings. He will score 15 goals, 30 points, play good defense, and be a really solid third-line player. The four-year term is maybe a year too long, but you can not beat the salary cap number.

14. Brett Kulak, Edmonton Oilers (four years, $11 million). Kulak is not going to carry the Oilers’ defense, but he was very good after being acquired at the trade deadline and this is a very strong re-sign by the Oilers after he went to market. In a thin defense crop, the Oilers did well.

15. Dominik Kubalik, Detroit Red Wings (two years, $5.5 million). This is a nice gamble for the Red Wings. Kubalik has his flaws, but he does have some finishing ability as a goal scorer even if it it peaked as a rookie. The price is right for this.

16. Ilya Mikheyev, Vancouver Canucks (four years, $19 million). The Canucks always have a couple of random players in the middle of their lineup making far more than you realize for too many years. This one might continue that trend. Mikheyev does a lot of things well, but I am not sure he is going to score 20 goals again.

17. Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers (five years, $25 million). Just not sure how much I trust Campbell to be the answer behind a weak defensive team. That contract is concerning.

18. Josh Manson, Colorado Avalanche (four years, $18 million). Manson was a good addition for Colorado at the trade deadline, but this also seems like a luxury re-signing (and maybe even an overpay) for a team that is already loaded on defense.

19. Jan Rutta, Pittsburgh Penguins (three years, $8.25 million). The Penguins really tried to overhaul their defense this offseason and it started with the Rutta addition. He is not going to be one of their top defenders, but given what players like Erik Gudbranson and Ben Chiarot signed for this is not a bad deal for what the Penguins will expect of him.

20. Justin Schultz, Seattle Kraken (two years, $6 million). Another bizarre move for Seattle, but again, given the market for other defenders it is not a terrible deal.

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    Stars sign 41-goal scorer Jason Robertson to 4-year, $31M deal

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    FRISCO, Texas — Jason Robertson signed a four-year, $31 million contract with the Dallas Stars after the young 40-goal scorer missed the first two weeks of training camp.

    The Stars announced the deal after their exhibition game in Denver, only a week before the regular season opener Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    Robertson turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when the left wing had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. His 13 power-play goals led the team. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    “Jason is an integral part of the present and future of our team and we’re thrilled to have him for the next four years,” general manager Jim Nill said.

    A second-round draft pick (39th overall) by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. The 6-foot-3 California native had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    “Since he was drafted by our organization, he has worked tirelessly to become a better player every day. His knack for scoring goals and seeing plays develop on the ice are just some of the tremendous assets that he brings to our team,” Nill said. “He is one of the best young players in the NHL, and we look forward to seeing him continue to progress.”

    Robertson had the second-highest point total for a Stars rookie in 2020-21, when he had 45 points (17 goals, 28 assists) in his 51 games.

    Before the start of this season’s camp, new coach Pete DeBoer said he looked forward to coaching Robertson.

    “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here,” DeBoer said then. “So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Robertson will finally be there now.

    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

    TORTS REFORM

    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

    PLAYOFF ROTATION

    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

    LAMBERT ISLAND

    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

    MORE NEW VOICES

    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.