Revisiting 2022 NHL Free Agency Class: Success & Fails

The Hockey Writers

Since the start of the 2023-24 NHL season, The Edmonton Oilers have sent Jack Campbell down to the American Hockey League (AHL). Johnny Gaudreau has struggled on the Columbus Blue Jackets and has been scratched for multiple shifts, including late in close games. The Calgary Flames are watching Nazem Kadri start to decline with age as the 33-year-old center only has three goals and nine assists in 18 games played.

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The three players mentioned above highlighted the 2022 free agency class and all three signed big contracts and switched teams in the process. It’s hard to evaluate signings in the moment and usually, a deal takes a few years until it can be properly evaluated. A few games into the new season, though, it’s clear that some contracts from the 2022 offseason are already paying off and some are backfiring.

Related: Blue Jackets Issues Larger Than Mess On Ice

With the 2022-23 season in the rearview mirror and the 2023-24 season starting to pick up, this seems like a good time to revisit that 2022 free agency class and look at how the top 10 free agents have performed since. Top 10 rankings are subjective, so for the sake of this piece, the pre-free agency rankings by Luke Fox from Sportsnet will do just fine.

Johnny Gaudreau

The expectation at the time was that Gaudreau would turn the Blue Jackets around and make them one of the contenders in the Eastern Conference. A dynamic forward who finished in fourth place in the Hart Trophy voting in 2021-22 signed a seven-year deal and with a young group already in place, the move looked like the cherry on top.

Johnny Gaudreau Columbus Blue Jackets
Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

The contract has been anything but a success with Gaudreau and the Blue Jackets falling apart since. To be fair, Gaudreau put up respectable numbers in 2022-23, scoring 21 goals and 53 assists but this season has been a disaster for the star skater. He’s scored only two goals and five assists through the first 19 games and has been at odds with the head coach Pascal Vincent, something fans saw firsthand during the 3-2 loss on Nov. 16 to the Arizona Coyotes.

For as disappointing as Gaudreau has looked, the Blue Jackets have been worse since the signing. They went 25-48-9 in 2022-23 and the last-place finish in the Metropolitan resulted in head coach Brad Larsen’s firing. In the offseason, they hired Mike Babcock and then replaced him with Vincent only days before the start of the season. With a 4-11-4 record, which is the worst in the Eastern Conference, there are questions about the direction of the team and what the future will look like. In this turmoil, any player would struggle but Gaudreau was brought in to lead the team to contention and help carry them even in tough times. He hasn’t done the opposite but he certainly hasn’t helped the way other elite players would.

The immediate question for the Blue Jackets is what comes next for Gaudreau. The season already looks like a lost cause and another rebuild could be in store, possibly with a new front office in place as well. There are still five years left on the contract but with a no-movement clause, the Blue Jackets have to figure out how to optimize Gaudreau and get the most out of the rest of this deal. Ultimately, this deal puts a team already in a mess into a more difficult spot, making the decision to sign him back in the summer of 2022 all the more regrettable.

Nazem Kadri

A lot of fans and experts alike saw this as a trap signing. Kadri was 31 at the time and coming off a breakout season with the Colorado Avalanche, scoring 28 goals and 59 assists on a Stanley Cup-winning team. Kadri proved he was a versatile top-six center who could both create scoring chances and find the back of the net himself, making him a valuable player for any win-now team. He was guaranteed to field a big contract and at his age, the deal wasn’t expected to age well.

Nazem Kadri Calgary Flames
Nazem Kadri, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Flames signed him to a seven-year deal and the move, despite the risks, looked like a masterful one for general manager (GM) Brad Treliving. The team lost Gaudreau but added another elite forward and looked to once again compete for the Cup. Kadri scored 24 goals and added 32 assists in 2022-23, making him one of the bright spots on the roster. The Flames went 38-27-17, missing the playoffs and firing both Treliving and head coach Darryl Sutter.

Considering the Flames’ expectations in the 2022 offseason and where they are now as a franchise, the deal has been a regrettable one. They signed Kadri hoping he’d take them to the next level and allow them to compete but now, the team is staring at a difficult rebuild. Kadri is 33 and starting to decline and with the Flames looking to move in a younger direction, he doesn’t fit in on their roster.

John Klingberg

John Klingberg was one of the last skaters to sign a contract in the offseason, eventually joining the Anaheim Ducks on a one-year deal with a $7 million cap hit attached to it. The Ducks were in the middle of a rebuild and they added a veteran defenseman suited for a team to compete. The team was awful with the defense being one of the worst in the NHL, forcing them to trade Klingberg at the trade deadline to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Andrej Sustr, Nikita Nesterenko, and a 2025 fourth-round pick.

John Klingberg Anaheim Ducks
John Klingberg, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The deal is reflective of the Ducks’ vision or inability to embrace a rebuild when they have a lot in their favor. Klingberg was one of the many veterans they have brought in over the past few offseasons with the hope that they could make them a playoff team. Instead, they take up ice time that could’ve been used by prospects and prevent younger players from developing. The Ducks have the right pieces in place to build a contender in a few seasons but signing players in their 30s like Klingberg, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Killorn, and Radko Gudas prevent them from taking that next step.

Klingberg hasn’t fared much better since the 2022 offseason. After struggling with the Ducks, he played a minimal role on the Wild, averaging only 19:56 ice time for a team that was eliminated in the first round by the Dallas Stars. This offseason, he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, joining his fourth team in the span of three seasons, and with his inconsistent play many are wondering if he’ll remain in the lineup for a contender down the stretch. Klingberg was a reliable second-pair defenseman on the Stars but at 31 years old, his best years are behind him and time is running out for him to prove he can still play at a high level.

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron returned to the Boston Bruins on a one-year deal and the hope was that the team would make one more run at the Stanley Cup before he retired. They went 65-12-5 to win the Presidents’ Trophy but were eliminated in the first round by the Florida Panthers. This offseason, Bergeron retired to end a remarkable career and end an era for the Bruins.

Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Bergeron was 37 at the time and it only made sense for him to re-sign with the Bruins. The deal didn’t work out as planned as the team failed to win the Cup but the season was a great way for the franchise icon to go out. He scored 27 goals and added 31 assists; with a 2.7 defensive point shares, 54 blocked shots, and 66 hits, he won the Selke Trophy for the sixth and final time in his career.

Andrew Copp

Andrew Copp took a playoff run and turned it into a big payday. He entered the 2022 offseason as a middle-six forward who scored only 82 goals and 120 assists in eight seasons but in the playoffs, scored six goals and eight assists for the New York Rangers. Copp was a pivotal reason the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Final and it looked like the 27-year-old forward was about to take a big step forward in his career.

Andrew Copp Detroit Red Wings
Andrew Copp Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Detroit Red Wings signed him to a five-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $5.6 million, making him the third-most expensive player on the team. Copp has continued to play at a middle-six level, scoring 14 goals and 35 assists since the deal but the Red Wings hoped he’d take the next step to help them return to contention. The team has looked promising to begin the 2023-24 season but so far, Copp has not lived up to his big payday.

Darcy Kuemper

The Avalanche don’t win the Stanley Cup in 2022 without Darcy Kuemper in the net. In a contract season, he had a .921 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.54 goals-against average (GAA) on 1754 shots with 25.1 goals saved above average (GSAA) and his lights-out playoff performances helped secure the title. That offseason, Kuemper signed a five-year contract with the Washington Capitals, making him their unquestioned starter for the foreseeable future.

Darcy Kuemper Washington Capitals
Darcy Kuemper, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Since joining the Capitals, Kuemper has taken a step back — with a .906 SV% and a 2.89 GAA on 1906 shots with only 4.0 GSAA — but what stung the most was the decision to invest in him considering they had a strong duo in place already. The contract forced the Capitals to move on from Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov, two goaltenders who have been successful as starters elsewhere. Meanwhile, Kuemper is being asked to play at a high level but is unable to. The bottom line is that the deal has disappointed and left the team in a difficult spot with their goaltending unit. Somehow, though, it wasn’t the worst goaltending contract handed out that offseason.

Jack Campbell

The Jack Campbell tenure with the Oilers went from bad in 2022-23 to worse in 2023-24. He was brought in on a five-year deal with the hopes of putting a team that reached the Western Conference Final in 2022 over the top. The Oilers had goaltending woes and he was the final piece in the puzzle for a team eager to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

The first season saw Campbell go from the starting goaltender to backing up Stuart Skinner within the first few weeks. He finished the season with a .888 SV% and a 3.41 GAA on 1027 shots with -16.7 GSAA and as a liability in the net, he only entered playoff games in relief of Skinner and never as a starter. The Oilers were hoping the first season was just an oddity and that he’d bounce back the next season and prove to be an elite goaltender. Instead, he was even worse with a .873 SV% and a 4.50 GAA, and five starts into the new season, has already been sent down to the AHL. There’s still a slight chance he returns to the NHL roster but at 33 years old, his Oilers’ tenure looks all but over.

Jack Campbell Edmonton Oilers
Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers are stuck with Campbell’s contract which still has three full seasons left on it. It’s moves like this one that usually cost jobs as they leave teams that should be contending for the Cup struggling to make the playoffs, something the Oilers are experiencing this season. The team has already moved on from head coach Jay Woodcroft, replacing him with Kris Knoblauch but GM Ken Holland is in the line of fire and could be the next to go. With elite players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they couldn’t afford to sign a goaltender that is a liability in the net, but they did and are paying the consequences as a result.

Claude Giroux

The Ottawa Senators have gone through significant turnover of their own since the 2022 offseason, notably with GM Pierre Dorion being fired already this season. However, despite the chaos, the Claude Giroux signing was a solid one that has worked out. The Senators gave him a three-year deal and the veteran center has played up to his $6.5 million AAV.

Along with scoring 40 goals and 55 assists as well as contributing on the defensive end of the ice as a top-six center, Giroux is the veteran leader the team needs. The Senators have a surplus of young rising stars that includes Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, and Josh Norris, making a player like Giroux a valuable addition to help them develop. The Senators are looking to take the next step and become contenders in the Eastern Conference and having a 35-year-old skater like him in the lineup helps round out the roster.

Claude Giroux Ottawa Senators
Claude Giroux, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Giroux will be a free agent after the 2024-25 season and if the Senators aren’t a playoff team this season or next season, the signing won’t look worthwhile. However, Giroux, who signed with his hometown team, looks like he’s found a home and a valuable role on an up-and-coming club and will likely finish his career with the Senators as a result.

Ondrej Palat

The Ondrej Palat contract in a vacuum is a tough one for the New Jersey Devils. They signed him to a five-year deal with a $6 million per year cap hit and the veteran forward has only played in 65 games, scoring nine goals and 21 assists since. However, the Palat signing was one of the many moves that the Devils made in the 2022 offseason that helped turn them into contenders.

Ondrej Palat New Jersey Devils
Ondrej Palat, New Jersey Devils (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Along with the Palat deal, the Devils acquired Erik Haula in a trade with the Bruins while adding John Marino to the defense and signing Vanecek to add stability to the goaltending. With all the moves they made and a great young roster already set to take the next step, Palat wasn’t asked to be the savior but instead play a depth role on a star-studded team. The contract hasn’t worked out but since the Devils didn’t rely solely on that one deal, they managed to leap to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Vincent Trocheck

The Rangers didn’t make the biggest splash after reaching the Eastern Conference Final but made a strong addition by signing Vincent Trocheck. They gave the top-six center a seven-year deal and he’s added the playmaking presence to the forward unit that the offence needed. Trocheck has scored 27 goals and 52 assists in 98 games and has been a key part of the forward unit since joining the team. Even after the first round exit last season, when a team that went all-in to win the Cup was eliminated by their Metropolitan Division rival, there’s plenty of optimism for the Rangers. They have a talented roster and a top-six center they could count on for years to come.

Notable Players Who Re-Signed in 2022

  • Evander Kane found a home when he joined the Oilers in the middle of the 2021-22 season and he signed a four-year deal the following summer. With 24 goals and 20 assists since and providing both McDavid and Draisaitl a scoring presence on the wing, it’s safe to say the Kane deal has worked out for everyone involved.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins chose to run it back by re-signing both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, keeping the aging group together to try to win one more Cup. The Penguins missed the playoffs in 2022-23 and doubled down the following offseason so only time will tell if their decision paid off.
  • The Nashville Predators didn’t “read the room” when they signed Filip Forsberg to an eight-year contract. They locked up one of the most iconic players in the history of their franchise but the roster was in dire need of a reset. Now, the Predators are trying to rebuild but players like Forsberg are taking up cap space preventing them from effectively doing so.
  • The Avalanche couldn’t keep a lot of players from their Cup-winning team but managed to re-sign Valeri Nichushkin to an eight-year contract with a $6.1 AAV. With 24 goals and 38 assists, he’s been a reliable middle-six forward who adds much-needed depth to the offence.

Notable Trades in the 2022 Offseason

The Wild traded Kevin Fiala to the Los Angeles Kings and in exchange, received prospect Brock Faber. Fiala has scored 27 goals and 62 assists to help turn the Kings’ offense into one of the best while Faber has been one of the best young defensemen for the Wild. It’s safe to say, the trade has worked out for both teams involved which was a common theme of the 2022 offseason.

The New York Islanders traded the 13th overall selection to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft for Alexander Romanov. The Canadiens used that selection to acquire Kirby Dach while the Chicago Blackhawks selected center Frank Nazar with the pick. The Islanders needed a young defenseman, the Canadiens were looking to add a top-six center, and the Blackhawks — who were rebuilding from scratch — needed to add prospects, making this deal a rare win-win-win trade.

As mentioned above, the Devils benefitted from the Haula addition but the Bruins acquired Pavel Zacha in the deal. Zacha has been a key part of the middle six and has added a young scoring presence to the lineup, making this trade one the biggest win-win deals in recent seasons.

A trade that looked one-sided at the time was the Blackhawks moving Alex DeBrincat to the Senators for the seventh overall selection in the 2022 draft, which they used on defenseman Kevin Korchinski. It looked like the Blackhawks undersold an elite forward but fast forward a year later, they ended up winning the deal. Debrincat never signed a long-term contract with the Senators and as a result, they were forced to trade him after one season for an underwhelming return. Likewise, the blockbuster trade involving the Flames and the Panthers looked like it favored the Flames. After all, they acquired Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, two elite players for a player who wanted to leave. However, the Matthew Tkachuk addition helped transform the Panthers into one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2023.

Which deals do you think worked out and which ones have aged poorly? Let us know in the comments section below!

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