The day is finally here. NHL free agency officially gets underway at noon on Wednesday as teams across the league attempt to improve their respective rosters ahead of the 2022-23 season.
Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau was the top free agent available, and the Columbus Blue Jackets quickly swooped him up. Gaudreau signed a seven-year contract with the Blue Jackets hours after free agency began.
While free agency’s biggest fish has been caught, many other big names will be on the move. Check below for the latest signings and trades.
Johnny Gaudreau signs with Blue Jackets
Gaudreau, who spent the first nine seasons of his NHL career in Calgary, will spend his next few in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets announced they signed the left winger to a seven-year, $68.25 million contract. Gaudreau’s average annual salary is $9.75 million.
An All-Star a season ago, Gaudreau is coming off the best year of his professional career as he recorded 115 points (40 goals and 75 assists). Gaudreau led the Flames to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where Calgary lost in five games to the Edmonton Oilers.
Over his NHL career, Gaudreau has recorded 210 goals and 399 assists over 602 games. The New Jersey native has also finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting twice over the last four seasons.
The Flames made a strong effort to keep Gaudreau, offering multiple eight-year contracts, according to ESPN. But Gaudreau opted for a change of scenery, much to the disappointment of Flames general manager Brad Treliving.
“It’s a disappointing day to say the very least,” Treliving said after learning that Gaudreau would enter free agency. “I can assure our fans that we have done everything possible to keep John in Calgary. I want to wish him and his family the very, very best. He gave us 8 great years here.”
Ryan Strome to Ducks
Ryan Strome will swap coasts as part of his free-agent decision, as the former New York Rangers center signed a five-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. The deal reportedly has an average annual value of $5 million. A nine-year NHL veteran, Strome is coming off his best goal-scoring season of his career, as he scored 21 to go along with 33 assists.
The Ducks haven’t made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since reaching the Conference Final in 2017, but they’re getting a proven postseason contributor in Strome. In the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Strome tallied nine points (two goals, seven assists) to help the Rangers reach the Conference Final, where they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Strome won’t be alone in his move to the West Coast. Hours before the news of Strome’s signing broke, Frank Vatrano, his former Rangers teammate, signed a three-year deal with the Ducks. Vatrano’s average annual salary is reportedly $3.65 million.
Claude Giroux signs with Senators
Veteran forward Claude Giroux has agreed to a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Ottawa Senators. The deal will be for $6.5 million per season.
Giroux hails from Hearst, Ontario and will now be playing close to home for the first time in his career. Giroux had previously spent the first 15 seasons of his NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers before the franchise traded him to the Florida Panthers prior to last season’s trade deadline. The star forward is coming off a season in which he registered 65 points (21 goals and 44 assists) between the Flyers and Panthers.
Following the move to Florida, Giroux had three goals and 20 assists to cap off the 2021-22 campaign. The Senators have been extremely active this offseason. Prior to the draft, the Senators acquired star winger Alex DeBrincat from the Chicago Blackhawks. Ottawa now has a significant amount of star power in Brady Tkachuk, DeBrincat and Giroux to solidify their top six forward group.
Mason Marchment to Stars
Marchment is one of the most fascinating members of this free agent class. At 26 in his third NHL season last year, Marchment played a depth role for the Panthers and thrived. He scored 18 goals and totaled 29 assists in just 54 games played, and the Panthers controlled a high percentage of scoring chances with Marchment on the ice. As a result of his incredible performance, Marchment got a four-year contract worth $18 million from the Dallas Stars. Marchment will have to play up in the lineup in Dallas, so it will be interesting to see whether he can continue to produce at a high level in an increased role.
Avalanche hang on to Arturri Lehkonen
The Colorado Avalanche continue to attempt to keep their Stanley Cup-winning team intact. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, winger Arturri Lehkonen has agreed to a five-year contract that is worth $4.5 million per season. The Avalanche acquired Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens at the trade deadline. Lehkonen, 27, was a huge asset for Colorado through the second half of the season as he scored six goals and dished out three assists in 16 regular season games.
Lehkonen really rose to the occasion throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final, Lehkonen scored the game-winning goal in overtime to vault the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup Final. He also scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning when he found the back of the net in the second period. After spending the first six seasons of his NHL career with the Canadiens, Lehkonen has really found a great spot in Colorado and now he’ll spend the next five seasons with the Avalanche.
Kraken upgrade offense with Andrew Burakovsky
The Seattle Kraken have money to spend this summer, and after a rough debut season, they getting help on offense. The Kraken have signed former Colorado Avalanche winger Andre Burakovsky to a five-year contract worth $27.5 million, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Since joining Colorado ahead of the 2019-20 season, Burakovsky has been great at generating scoring chances, and totaled 22 goals and 61 points last year. Seattle scored just 216 goals last season, which ranked 30th in the NHL. Burakovsky fills a need as a top-six forward.
Capitals sign Darcy Kuemper
The Washington Capitals are stabilizing the goaltending position. They signed former Avs netminder Darcy Kuemper to a five-year, $26.25 million contract. Kuemper is fresh off of a season in which he put together a 37-12-4 record to go along with a 2.54 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage. The veteran goalie also posted a 10-4 record, a 2.57 goals-against-average, and .902 save percentage in 16 games during Colorado’s run to a Stanley Cup.
The Avalanche simply didn’t have the necessary cap space to retain Kuemper’s services, so they decided to acquire goaltender Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers. The Capitals have been attempting to solidify their goaltending situation since winning the Stanley Cup back in 2018. The team traded Vitek Vanecek to the New Jersey Devils earlier in the offseason and Ilya Samsonov signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs once free agency opened.
Bruins, Devils swap centers
The Bruins have acquired Pavel Zacha from the Devils in exchange for Erik Haula. Zacha is coming off a year in which he tallied 36 points (15 goals and 21 assists) for the Devils. In his seven years with the franchise, Zacha has registered 179 points (69 goals and 110 assists) after being selected with the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Meanwhile, Haula registered 44 points (18 goals and 26 assists) with the Bruins last season. The Devils will be the seventh team for Haula in his NHL career as he’s also spent time with the Minnesota Wild, Vegas Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators in addition to the Bruins. The Bruins are still attempting to solidify their center position as they try to convince Patrice Bergeron to return for a 19th season. In addition, Boston has also been linked to veteran center David Krejci in a potential reunion. Krejci spent the first 15 years of his NHL career with the Bruins before playing in Switzerland last season.
Andrew Copp to Red Wings
As the Detroit Red Wings continue their rebuild, they made a bit of a splash in free agency by signing center Andrew Copp to a five-year deal worth a total of $28.125 million. Copp spent the entirety of his first seven NHL seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, and he earned a reputation as a steady defensive forward. Last season, Copp flexed some offensive muscle, especially after being traded to the New York Rangers. In total, he found the back of the net 21 times while tallying 53 points between Winnipeg and New York. The Red Wings seem ready to take the next step, and Copp should help with that. The team already solidified their goaltending situation by trading for Ville Husso, and young stars like Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond give the fans in Detroit reasons to be hopeful for the future
Vincent Trocheck signs with Rangers
With Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome both hitting free agency, the Rangers have made the center position a priority by adding former Carolina Hurricane Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck’s deal is for seven years and $39 million with an average annual value of $5.625 million.
Over his last two seasons in Carolina, Trocheck was an incredibly effective and underrated player. Last season, Trocheck tallied 21 goals and 30 assists, making him a strong second-line center. If the Rangers were looking for someone to play behind Mika Zibanejad down the middle, they could have done much worse than Trocheck,
Nazem Kadri’s potential destinations
The Avalanche likely won’t be able to retain Kadri’s services due to having to pay winger Artturi Lehkonen and defenseman Josh Manson, who are also free agents. The New York Rangers showed interest, but appear to be signing former Carolina Hurricanes center Vincent Trocheck to stabilize their second line. That leaves the Detroit Red Wings as a team that would make a ton of sense for Kadri given their young forward group. The Boston Bruins could also be an option if they can’t get something done to bring back Patrice Bergeron for his 19th season.
Jack Campbell signs with Edmonton
The Oilers have addressed their lackluster goaltending situation by signing former Maple Leaf Jack Campbell to a five-year contract worth $25 million. He should be a notable upgrade over Mike Smith, who faltered in the postseason. Still, Campbell has some questions of his own. In the first three months of the 2021-22 season, Campbell looked like a Vezina Trophy favorite, but he cratered down the stretch. If he can bounce back, Edmonton will be much better between the pipes.
Gaudreau informs Flames that he’s leaving
On Tuesday evening, Johnny Gaudreau informed the Calgary Flames that he plans to enter free agency and won’t be re-signing with the team. Gaudreau, who is originally from New Jersey, has been linked to the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers.
“It is my strong belief that this was a family decision and I respect that fully,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said on Tuesday evening. “John has every right and we have nothing but respect for John the player and John the person. I firmly believe there’s nothing more we could have done. We respect it … I think this was a real hard decision for John …I think everybody operated with the right intentions.”
The Flyers would need to clear significant cap space in order to make a deal with Gaudreau work. On the other hand, the Devils have a ton of cap space available — if the franchise wants to pair Gaudreau with star center Jack Hughes.
Malkin stays with Penguins
In a surprising turn of events, Evgeni Malkin is re-signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins after stating that he would test free agency. Malkin signed a four-year, $24.4 million contract to remain with the Penguins, according to a press release from the team.
Malkin’s new deal holds an average annual value of $6.1 million.
Penguins general manager Ron Hextall has been extremely active leading up to the start of free agency. Pittsburgh also signed veteran defenseman Kris Letang to a six-year, $36.6 million contract in order to avoid Letang leaving in free agency. Additionally, the Penguins signed winger Richard Rakell to a six-year contract extension that carries an average annual value of $5 million.
Malkin has spent his entire 16-year career with the Penguins. Only Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby have played more seasons in Pittsburgh with 17 to their credit. Malkin is a two-time Art Ross Trophy winner (2009 and 2012), which is annually awarded to the league’s regular season leading scorer. He also won the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP back in 2012.
Kane re-signs with Oilers
“A big part of my decision to say in Edmonton was because of the opportunity given to me only seven months ago, but also the chance to be a part of a championship team,” Kane wrote in a Twitter post. “I want to win, and I believe after signing this deal, we will be able to add the right pieces along with myself to accomplish that goal: a championship.”
Kane signed with the Oilers in January 2022 after his contract was terminated with the San Jose Sharks. The veteran winger was suspended the first 21 games of the 2021-22 season after attempting to use a fake COVID-19 vaccination card. On January 8, 2022, Kane was placed on unconditional waivers and ultimately ended up landing with the Oilers later that month.
In 43 regular season games with the Oilers, Kane recorded 39 points (22 goals and 17 assists). He also scored a team-high 13 goals in the postseason in which the Oilers reached the Western Conference Final before being defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.