NHL free-agency report card: Grades for each team’s early offseason moves


Five days into NHL free agency, the list of impact players remaining on the market is … not lengthy.

Has your favorite team gotten the help it needed?

The Athletic asked its NHL staff this week for their assessments of the early moves. The analysis is subjective to each beat, not based on a scale, and factors in a team’s ability to make moves under the salary cap. Trades and re-signings since the season are also considered.

Here are the grades our writers assigned for the work done so far.


C+

If you just look at free agency, the Ducks struck out in their bids for Steven Stamkos or Jonathan Marchessault and didn’t make any noise beyond that. You can understand general manager Pat Verbeek only wanting to spend big money on a difference maker and not tying his club up with large contracts to more second-tier or third-tier types, but the fact is they still came up empty. What keeps their grade from sinking is the addition of Robby Fabbri and a decent 2025 draft pick for a surplus organizational goalie and solid shutdown defenseman Brian Dumoulin for a 2026 fourth-round choice. Those veterans will improve the team’s depth at their positions, though the Ducks now have a lot of left-shooting blueliners. — Eric Stephens

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NHL free agency got off to a roaring start — but what happened to the Ducks?

A

The Bruins filled their need at No. 1 center with Elias Lindholm. They signed a heavy left-shot defenseman in Nikita Zadorov. They added to their forward depth with Max Jones. General manager Don Sweeney did his business while leaving more than enough cap space to re-sign Jeremy Swayman. — Fluto Shinzawa

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Bergeron and Big Z 2.0? Bruins swing big for their past with Elias Lindholm, Nikita Zadorov signings

B-

The Sabres made their fourth line faster and more physical during free agency and then traded Matt for Ryan McLeod, adding even more speed to their bottom six. This Buffalo team should be more defensively responsible and harder on the forecheck than last season’s. Adding McLeod, Jason Zucker, Beck Malenstyn, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Sam Lafferty boosts Buffalo’s depth in a big way. But the question is whether general manager Kevyn Adams has done enough to improve their 23rd-ranked offense from last season. He’s hoping Lindy Ruff can coach some individuals to better seasons, while the increased team speed will lead to a better overall offensive team. — Matthew Fairburn

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Sabres add new fourth line and Jason Zucker in free agency, but is that enough?

C

The Flames weren’t expected to be big players in free agency despite having almost $29 million in cap space. For the sake of their rebuild, it’s a good thing they weren’t. They made some minor signings to insulate their lineup with veterans, and don’t be surprised if some of those players end up as trade fodder for more assets down the road. Calgary still has more than $21 million to play with if something comes along, but it could also use that cap space in other ways, like taking on bad contracts with picks or acquiring a young player through trade. — Julian McKenzie

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McKenzie: The Flames were wise to not overspend or overextend in free agency

B

The Hurricanes were going to be hard-pressed to replace everything they were set to lose on July 1, and that proved to be true. Still, new general manager Eric Tulsky and the front office were able to pivot, first rounding out the defense with reasonable contracts for Sean Walker and Shayne Gostibehere. Depth additions at forward — William Carrier, Eric Robinson and Tyson Jost — should fill help fill out the bottom of the lineup and the AHL team in Chicago, and the signing of Jack Roslovic gives Carolina a right-handed player who can help with faceoffs and provide insurance should Jesper Fast not be able to play at the start of the season. — Cory Lavalette

B

The Blackhawks may not have elevated themselves into Stanley Cup contenders this offseason, but they’ve certainly upgraded their roster. General manager Kyle Davidson upgraded at nearly every position. He brought in more top-six-caliber players to play with Connor Bedard. He signed more depth at forward. He also added veterans in the defense and at goalie. — Scott Powers

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Teuvo Teravainen’s return, plus the addition of other veterans, should give Connor Bedard more help in 2024-25. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

C-

Colorado entered free agency without much cap space to work with and as a result lost more production than it brought in. The Avalanche saw Yakov Trenin, Sean Walker and Brandon Duhaime walk out the door as unrestricted free agents. The biggest win for Colorado was extending Jonathan Drouin on another one-year deal with a reasonable cap hit ($2.5 million). I also liked the under-the-radar move of picking up Erik Brannstrom — a former first-round pick who never lived up to expectations in Ottawa but should fit nicely with Colorado’s high-paced style. Still, considering the cap circumstances, free agency was never going to be a win for the Avs. — Jesse Granger

B

The Blue Jackets had to straddle a line of adding veteran players to a too-young group but not adding too many players on too long a term that would end up getting in the way of their emerging young players. They did that with one significant option on each end of the ice. Sean Monahan, coming off a 26-goal season with Montreal and Winnipeg, will allow Adam Fantilli, 19, to slot into a No. 2 center’s role and Cole Sillinger to play on a checking line. That’s where they belong at this stage of their careers, and Monahan, as he gets older, may end up sliding down the lineup as his five-year contract progresses. Meanwhile, on defense, the Blue Jackets have two young defensemen — David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk — who are close to ready for the NHL. But signing Jack Johnson to an NHL-minimum contract (one year, $775,000) gives them breathing room in case those players aren’t ready. Monahan and Johnson are expected to be big voices in the dressing room, too. — Aaron Portzline

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‘This is my hometown’: Jack Johnson wants to be a role model for Blue Jackets’ young blue line

C+

For a second consecutive offseason, the Stars knocked it out of the park with Matt Duchene. Re-signing Sam Steel was a solid move, too, as was buying out Ryan Suter and getting out of Radek Faksa’s contract a year early. But the approach to addressing the blue line was confusing, at best. Handing out multi-year deals at an excess of $3 million per year to Matt Dumba and Ilya Lyubushkin hardly changes the blueline outlook in the present and limits the team’s cap situation for the next few years. — Saad Yousuf

C

The Red Wings’ free agency was perfectly average — largely geared toward replacing departing players like Shayne Gostisbehere, David Perron and Robby Fabbri, with a potential upgrade in goal in Cam Talbot. They did well to keep all of their free-agent contracts to two years or fewer, maintaining long-term flexibility, and while there’s no truly open spot in the lineup, there is at least a path to playing time for their top prospects at some point this season. The issue is they didn’t really get clearly better in any area except goaltending. Vladimir Tarasenko should be better than any one departing forward, but Detroit is losing a lot of offense up front and may score less this season. They’ll certainly hope to defend a bit better as a team, but as of now, it looks like much of that charge will fall on the shoulders of young defenseman Simon Edvinsson, who looked good at the end of last season but may still experience some ups and downs. Taken all together, Detroit looks similarly positioned to last season, with the hope that better goaltending can make up for lost scoring. — Max Bultman

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Steve Yzerman discusses Red Wings’ offseason, 2024-25 outlook

A

Signing Viktor Arvidsson, Jeff Skinner, Adam Henrique, Connor Brown and Mattias Janmark to short-term, team-friendly deals was a major coup for acting general manager Jeff Jackson. The Oilers should now have their best top six — and maybe even top nine — since the glory years of the 1980s. Slight demerits are due for the Josh Brown and Corey Perry contracts, though. The Oilers are still over the salary cap even with Friday’s trade of Ryan McLeod, but that’s a small problem for another day. The person Jackson hires as general manager can deal with that. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman

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The Oilers’ road to cap compliancy: 4 options to consider

B

The champs lost a key contributor in Brandon Montour and several important depth pieces — Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Vladimir Tarasenko among them. Bill Zito’s top priority for the world’s shortest offseason, though, was to retain Sam Reinhart, and he did just that. Locking up a 57-goal-scorer at a below-market rate guaranteed that this grade would be a good one, as did extensions for Dmitry Kulikov and Anton Lundell. Adding Nate Schmidt to the third pair didn’t hurt, either. — Sean Gentille

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Ranking the 10 best contracts signed so far in NHL free agency

C

Getting out from under the potential albatross contract of PL Dubois and picking up a proven netminder in Darcy Kuemper is a victory. Warren Foegele could be a nice addition. The 28-year-old winger will fit as a quality forechecker who has the speed to play with highly skilled players and is willing to do the grunt work on a line. Using a 2025 second-round pick and adding a fourth-rounder this year for Tanner Jeannot feels like too much. Joel Edmundson brings more size and bite to the defense and could be a mean stay-at-home partner for Brandt Clarke or Jordan Spence. But the Kings couldn’t add those traits to their defense for less than four years and a $3.8 million cap hit? — Eric Stephens

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With free agency settling, can anyone say the Kings have improved?

C+

The average grade has nothing to do with the Yakov Trenin addition, per se. John Hynes knows him well, Wild players know his style well, and the consistent message from the Wild brass and Trenin’s new teammates is he’ll fit in on the third line because he skates well, “forechecks like an animal,” according to defenseman Jake Middleton, and should improve one of the league’s worst penalty kills. But adding another four-year term at a $3.5 million average annual value just adds to the lack of flexibility next offseason, when $13,076,922 of Zach Parise/Ryan Suter buyout dead money comes off the books. — Michael Russo

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Russo: Wild’s short-term vision is clear with Yakov Trenin signing, but does it serve the long-term plan?

Montreal Canadiens

B+

The Canadiens were not going to be overly aggressive in free agency, but they would have liked to add a top-six forward on a short-term deal and didn’t manage to do so. Still, they took care of their most important piece of business by signing Juraj Slafkovský to an eight-year deal, at $7.6 million a year, which could look like a serious bargain within two years. — Arpon Basu

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How the Juraj Slafkovský contract could help the Canadiens open a competitive window

A+

I suppose I could quibble some with the term on Brady Skjei’s deal and take the “plus” off the grade, but nah. When you go in a couple of hours from mushy-middle mucker to arguable Stanley Cup contender — with the most top-end talent your franchise has ever had at one time — then you get the highest possible grade. Skjei, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Marchessault, joining Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg and Ryan O’Reilly? With Juuse Saros locked up in goal and draft capital and prospects essentially untouched? There’s no guarantee this loaded, old team will actually make Cup runs, but general manager Barry Trotz has a football market counting the days to hockey training camp. — Joe Rexrode

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LeBrun: How the Predators won NHL free agency, landing the Stamkos, Marchessault, Skjei hat trick

A-

General manager Tom Fitzgerald checked every box he could this summer. He traded for Jacob Markstrom to be the starting goalie without giving up the No. 10 pick in the draft, and he rounded out the defensive core with the additions of Brett Pesce and Brendan Dillon. Paul Cotter, Stefan Noesen and Tomas Tatar all should help the forward group, too. If the Devils don’t rebound after a difficult 2023-24 season, it won’t be for a lack of effort on Fitzgerald’s part. The only reason this is an A- and not an A is that the Devils didn’t get more in return for Alexander Holtz and Akira Schmid than Cotter and a 2025 third-round pick. Holtz was the No. 7 pick in the 2020 draft, so a mid-round draft pick and a bottom-six wing isn’t a thrilling return, even if Cotter should help the roster. — Peter Baugh

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The Devils addressed their biggest need by trading for Jacob Markstrom. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

New York Islanders

B

Anthony Duclair was a shrewd signing at four years at $3.5 million, and bringing back veteran Mike Reilly for $1.25 million was also a targeted success. The Islanders had barely any cap space; if you believe the bulk of this team can still compete with the best in the East, then this was solid work. If not, then they didn’t do nearly enough. — Arthur Staple

C-

The Rangers mostly stayed the same this offseason, and they didn’t give out any high-average-annual-value contracts they’ll regret. Considering they won the Presidents’ Trophy last year, that’s acceptable, especially if Reilly Smith returns to his 2022-23 form. But New York didn’t get drastically better, either, and the Rangers are entering a win-now year, especially with how difficult their salary-cap situation will be next summer. Plus, general manager Chris Drury might’ve created an uncomfortable situation by trying to trade his captain, Jacob Trouba. No deal went through, so as of now Trouba will be at camp come the fall. — Peter Baugh

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Rangers add Smith, Carrick, but Trouba and other questions remain

B+

General manager Steve Staios had a pretty long checklist for this offseason, and a week into free agency, he’s done a pretty good job achieving those tasks. He’s landed a No. 1 goaltender (Linus Ullmark), picked up a top-four defenseman (Nick Jensen) and added some veteran depth to his forward group (David Perron and Michael Amadio). Staios also cleared his logjam on the left side of his blue line by cutting ties with Jakob Chychrun and Erik Brannstrom. And getting out from underneath Joonas Korpisalo’s contract while incurring minimal cost on retention was a tidy piece of business. Getting Shane Pinto signed to a two-year contract was a major priority too, though a longer term probably would have been nicer for both parties. Losing Mathieu Joseph for nothing — while attaching a third-round pick — was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was the cost of doing business. There are still a couple of questions on the third pairing, but all things considered, this was a fairly good start to Staios’ tenure. — Ian Mendes

C

Not much to grade here. General manager Daniel Briere said the Flyers wouldn’t be active in free agency, and he’s been true to his word, at least so far. There were just two notable moves: the buyout of Cam Atkinson, necessary for salary-cap reasons, and the re-signing of Erik Johnson, who will play the role of respected veteran in the room to guide the young players as the sixth or seventh defenseman. Their biggest move had nothing to do with free agency, as rookie Matvei Michkov has arrived earlier than expected and will be someone to keep an eye on in the Calder Trophy race. — Kevin Kurz

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Flyers mix excitement with caution as Matvei Michkov signs — but are more moves to come?

C

General manager Kyle Dubas avoided the mistakes of last offseason, when he was keen to hand out or acquire veterans at big term. He always has enough problematic contacts. But he didn’t noticeably make the Penguins better in the short term — and has yet to get Sidney Crosby’s signature on a new contract. The latter will presumably happen, but until it does, it’s an offseason-defining negative. — Rob Rossi

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Rossi: A word of caution about Penguins’ next rebuild

A-

The Sharks wanted to add scoring with the anticipation of high-skilled playmakers Macklin Celebrini and Will Smith potentially making the 2024-25 roster. Proven sniper Tyler Toffoli will give them that. Toffoli’s four-year, $24-million deal isn’t all that rich when you consider the cap space San Jose had, and that the winger has scored 67 goals over the past two seasons. The addition of Alexander Wennberg helps boost their center depth, which will especially come in handy if Logan Couture continues to have trouble with his groin. Add in a savvy trade for defenseman Jake Walman and bottom-six additions in Barclay Goodrow, Carl Grundstrom and Ty Dellandrea, and general manager Mike Grier has pointed the Sharks in a positive direction. — Eric Stephens

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NHL contract grade: Sharks add Tyler Toffoli as potential Macklin Celebrini linemate

C-

The Kraken should be better short-term, but both of the major contracts they signed carried significant risk profiles. Chandler Stephenson is a versatile, speedy forward who’s been productive and elevated in big games during his Golden Knights tenure. That said, a variety of data (including NHL Edge) and the eye test suggest that his speed game, which has been the basis for his value in recent seasons, is falling off precipitously. Add in the question marks that surround his ability to stick at center without Mark Stone on his flank and you have one of the scariest NHL bets this summer. Brandon Montour is a sensational puck-mover and should permit the Kraken to be a more assertive attacking group from the back end when Vince Dunn isn’t on the ice. That matters enormously for a team that struggled mightily to score, even if the seven-year term on Montour’s deal makes it a risky proposition. What the Kraken did on the fringes — Ben Meyers and Josh Mahura are interesting upside bets — looked sage, but they took on too much risk long-term on July 1, even if their moves should bolster Dan Bylsma’s lineup short-term. — Thomas Drance

C

I’m giving the Blues an average grade here because no one expected them to make headlines in free agency. They had interest in forward Chandler Stephenson, but he signed a seven-year, $43.75 million contract ($6.25 million annual average value), which would not have made sense for them. The most important move general manager Doug Armstrong could have made was re-signing Pavel Buchnevich, and he did that with a six-year, $48 million ($8 million AAV). He filled out the roster by signing Kasperi Kapanen and defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and trading for Radek Faksa and Mathieu Joseph, who were reasonably priced depth options. — Jeremy Rutherford

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Inside the Blues’ Pavel Buchnevich talks — and how they got him extended without going max term

B

Losing Steven Stamkos is an obvious blow, considering what he means to the franchise. But the reality is that Jake Guentzel is an elite winger who can put up 40-plus goals and help drive play on the ice. He should be able to replace Stamkos’ on-ice contributions for years to come with their age gap in mind. The Victor Hedman extension was a good bit of business, as was re-acquiring Ryan McDonagh, who was missed. J.J. Moser could be a solid depth add, but making Mikhail Sergachev a cap casualty is another tough blow to the blue line. — Shayna Goldman

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Johnston: Inside Lightning-Stamkos split — reminder that in NHL, business trumps brotherhood

B-

While there are reasons to be skeptical of the age and contracts of both players, Chris Tanev and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are both upgrades to the Leafs defense. Tanev especially gives the Leafs the kind of elite defender they’ve badly missed since Jake Muzzin’s career came to an end. Ekman-Larsson adds a puck-moving element, though it took a four-year deal to bring the soon-to-be 33-year-old to Toronto. Not ideal. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Anthony Stolarz and Joseph Woll can combine to bring the Leafs stability in goal, and the forward group has gotten weaker with the departure of Tyler Bertuzzi. And yet again, the Leafs appear set to bring back the same core that’s failed repeatedly in the playoffs. — Jonas Siegel

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Siegel: The Leafs needed major change this summer. They haven’t gotten it yet

A-

Utah was in an enviable position, heading into the draft and free agency, with oodles of cap room and a new ownership group willing to spend it. So general manager Bill Armstrong was able to swing big in the trade market, landing both Mikhail Sergachev from Tampa Bay and John Marino from New Jersey, to bolster a middling defense corps. He also signed Ian Cole as an unrestricted free agent and got a trio of his own restricted free agents, including Sean Durzi, signed to extensions. Net result: After having zero NHL defenseman under contract a week or so ago, Utah now has six — and it’s the deepest defense corps the organization has had in over a decade. Utah also added a bottom-six forward in Kevin Stenlund from the Florida Panthers, and most importantly, still has $15 million in cap space to allocate, should further moves be necessary/possible. — Eric Duhatschek

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Mikhail Sergachev will lead a revamped blue line in 2024-25. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

B+

The Canucks didn’t land a game-changing star top-line winger, preferring the more modestly priced, younger option in Jake DeBrusk. The club was also able to add some forward depth in Danton Heinen and Kiefer Sherwood, and they maintained the identity of their big, bad blueline group by signing Derek Forbort to a value deal and rolling the dice on Vincent Desharnais as a developmental project. Vancouver probably got a bit worse down the middle of their forward group, and their back end took a depth hit with the departures of Nikita Zadorov and Ian Cole, but the Canucks were able to at least maintain their level on paper. That’s no mean feat given that Elias Pettersson, Filip Hronek and Dakota Joshua combined to earn more than $10 million worth of raises this offseason. — Thomas Drance

Vegas Golden Knights

D+

The Golden Knights were in a tough spot entering free agency, with six unrestricted free agents from last year’s lineup and very little cap space to spend. General manager Kelly McCrimmon said it best: Vegas was in a unique position to keep most of its Cup-winning lineup last summer, but this year it finally caught up with the organization. In Jonathan Marchessault, Chandler Stephenson and Michael Amadio alone, the Golden Knights watched 72 goals and 75 assists walk out the door. They replaced it with Alexander Holtz and Victor Olofsson. It’s hard to argue Vegas got better this summer. — Jesse Granger

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Putting Jonathan Marchessault’s incredible run with the Golden Knights into context

A-

The only deduction here is for Pierre-Luc Dubois’ contract; seven years is just too much time. Overall, though, Brian MacLellan did about as well as anyone could reasonably expect — and as well as any general manager in the league. He reeled in a second-line center (Dubois), two top-four defensemen (Jakob Chychrun and Matt Roy), a middle-six winger (Andrew Mangiapane) and a solid 1A goalie (Logan Thompson). Now, the Caps look like an actual playoff team. Mission accomplished. — Sean Gentille

Winnipeg Jets

C+

Do we rank the Jets’ performance by comparing the players Winnipeg signed (Dylan DeMelo, Kaapo Kahkonen, Eric Comrie, Colin Miller and a host of depth options) or by the players it tried but failed to sign (Sean Monahan, Brenden Dillon, Blake Lizotte and Adam Henrique, among others)? Do we focus on the total quality of players added (modest) or consider cap efficiency (good)? My view is that the Jets did well not to get saddled with long-term albatross contracts, but I’m concerned that they may have tried. In the end, I see a team that hasn’t improved on paper but maintains a solid-cap position, despite buyouts to Blake Wheeler and Nate Schmidt costing $5.5 million against the cap. — Murat Ates

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What a quiet free agency signals about the Jets’ roster outlook

(Top photo of Steven Stamkos and Ryan O’Reilly: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)



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