Revisiting Top 2023 NHL Free Agent Signings 1 Season Later

The Hockey Writers

With the regular season coming to an end, it is the perfect time to look back on how the top free agents from the 2023 offseason performed in their first season with their new clubs. In analyzing the 2023 NHL free agency signings, some players have reignited their careers by joining teams poised to redefine their legacies. Unfortunately, some have faced challenges after joining teams that were not a good fit, finding themselves locked into long-term contracts without a way out.

Matt Duchene, Dallas Stars: A

Matt Duchene signed a one-year deal at $3 million average annual value (AAV) with the Dallas Stars, and it is looking to be one of the better deals of free agency. This season he dominated in the Stars’ top six, scoring 25 goals and 65 points in 80 games. He was an interesting option in the offseason for many teams, coming off a 22-goal, 56-point season in 71 games with the Nashville Predators.

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His performance should have been enough to garner league-wide interest that could have given him a multi-year deal. Instead, he signed a one-year, prove-it deal in his age-33 season. Despite being up there in age, he is likely to receive multi-year offers in free agency this summer and is due for a pay raise. However, he may decide to remain in Dallas at a cheaper deal to continue his quest for a Stanley Cup.

Patrick Kane, Detroit Red Wings: A

While Patrick Kane was technically not a signing from the offseason, he was a free agent who switched teams, he just did it midseason while recovering from a major surgery. Luckily for him and the Detroit Red Wings, he was great. He reunited with former Chicago Blackhawk Alex DeBrincat, and he has found chemistry with much of the current lineup.

Patrick Kane Detroit Red Wings
Patrick Kane, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He signed a one-year, $2.75 million AAV deal and was phenomenal, scoring 20 goals and 47 points in 50 games. The value and fit were great for both sides, adding a key forward to Detroit’s core, and only time will tell what his next team and contract will be for the aging Hall of Famer. Their season may have fallen short of reaching the playoffs, but both Kane and the team got great value out of the signing.

Tyler Bertuzzi, Toronto Maple Leafs: B-

Tyler Bertuzzi was another intriguing option this past offseason, coming off a season split between the Red Wings and Boston Bruins. With the Bruins, he had four goals and 16 points in 21 regular season games before having a dominant playoff performance where he scored five goals and 10 points in seven games. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, they were hoping to see him translate his success in Boston to their middle six, especially at the cost of $5.5 million.

In his first and only season under this contract with the Maple Leafs, Bertuzzi has disappointed. Toronto is a higher-powered offense with top offensive talents such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. Bertuzzi struggled to find his footing with the group but still performed well. When he signed for so much money, he was expected to perform better, but scoring just 21 goals and 43 points in 80 games while making over $5 million will warrant a grade in the B- range.

Ryan O’Reilly, Nashville Predators: A

What a fun season it has been for the Nashville Predators. The team had some holes to fill in the forward core and did so in the offseason without shipping out any draft picks or prospects. The first of two great signings by general manager Barry Trotz was Ryan O’Reilly. Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe winners are pretty hard to find in the open market, but Nashville managed to get their hands on one of them for pretty cheap.

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O’Reilly was signed to a four-year, $4.5 million AAV salary and had an incredible first season. On a team with so many struggles in the center position, he provided stability to the top six with his 26 goals and 69 points, as well as his elite defense. While he is 33 years old and the contract may not be the best in a few seasons, the invaluable leadership and experience he will provide to the Predators’ young crop of prospects entering the NHL in the near future will pay dividends for the franchise in the long-term.

Gustav Nyquist, Nashville Predators: A+

Gustav Nyquist signed a two-year, $3.185 million AAV contract in tandem with O’Reilly with the Predators. While he did not have close to the experience and resume of O’Reilly, he performed just as well in his first season. Scoring 23 goals and 75 points this season, he has completely outperformed his contract thus far. More notably, he has done this on a team that also exceeded their expectations.

While the Predators are likely to be in the playoffs next season, Nyquist’s deal would work well to be traded next season as well if the team slips out of the playoff race. Building on the team’s elite prospect pool, his contract term will line up well with other top forward prospects such as Matthew Wood, Joakim Kemell, Zachary L’Heureux, Yegor Afanasyev, Fedor Svechkov, and more. To find elite-level play in free agency is a challenge in its own right, but finding two players in the same class was masterful work by Trotz, especially in his first offseason as general manager.

Joonas Korpisalo, Ottawa Senators: D

There is no way around it, Joonas Korpisalo had a bad season. After signing a five-year deal at $4 million AAV with the Ottawa Senators, he finished his first season with a 21-26-4 record, a .890 save percentage, and minus-16.1 goals saved above expected, according to Moneypuck. He took a team hopeful of making a playoff push to the bottom of the standings and did so on a near-nightly basis. Luckily for Korpisalo and Senators fans, he is still just 29 years old, so there is plenty of time to turn this ship around. As well, he is not a bad goaltender, he just had a bad season, so he is almost guaranteed to improve next season.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Ottawa Senators: B-

Another signing with the Senators was Vladimir Tarasenko. He signed a one-year, $5 million deal with a full no-trade clause. After he allegedly turned down a multi-year deal, he settled for just one year. This, in a sense, has worked out for both sides, as he was shipped out at the trade deadline to the Florida Panthers. It appears as if Tarasenko was not a fit with the Senators, and he needed to be elsewhere. In Florida, he has been great and is going to be a strong asset in their playoff run.

Alex Killorn, Anaheim Ducks: B-

After spending his entire career with the Tampa Bay Lightning, two-time Stanley Cup winner Alex Killorn took his talents to the Anaheim Ducks. The 34-year-old winger signed a four-year, $6.25 million AAV contract with the projected bottom-feeders. For Killorn, this was a nice payday after being on team-friendly deals with Tampa Bay for the majority of his career. For Anaheim, they got a much-needed veteran presence to help their young core.

Alex Killorn Anaheim Ducks
Alex Killorn, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, the term and contract length will not be ideal in a few seasons. Unlike the O’Reilly signing, Killorn does not serve much of a purpose in the long term for the Ducks. The Predators were almost retooling on the fly, losing forwards such as Duchene and Ryan Johansen and bringing in O’Reilly and Nyquist, but the Ducks were in a full-on rebuild. Adding veteran experience made a lot of sense, but having that $6.25 million AAV contract in 2026 and 2027 will hurt the young core who will be looking to add more impactful players with the cap space. It is not a disaster of a contract, but far from ideal.

Dmitry Orlov, Carolina Hurricanes: B+

The top defenseman on the market was Dmitry Orlov. The lifelong Washington Capital won a Stanley Cup in Washington in 2018 and was traded at the 2023 Trade Deadline to the Boston Bruins. He tested free agency and returned to the Metropolitan Division but with the Carolina Hurricanes.

The deal was interesting, to say the least. It was a two-year, $7.75 million AAV contract. The elite defensive defenseman has done more of the same in Carolina, being a dominant defensive presence. He started off the season poorly but has been great since joining Jalen Chatfield as a pairing. At the price Orlov came in at, Carolina expected nothing but the best from him. A pretty boring deal lands him with a B+ but is likely to rise if his play continues.

Evan Rodrigues, Florida Panthers: B+

An underrated signing from this summer was the Panthers’ addition of Evan Rodrigues. A four-year, $3 million AAV contract to play center and wing in the middle six was a valuable contract from the start but only looks better with his 12 goals and 39 points this season. Nothing flashy, but he does what is asked of him. There is a reason the Panthers are such a great team, and it is their ability to have top-end talent and great depth.

JT Compher, Detroit Red Wings: C+

JT Compher was a major signing for the Red Wings last offseason, garnering a five-year deal at $5.1 million AAV. A center who could play wing, he had just 17 goals and 52 points in all 82 games last season with the Colorado Avalanche. This season, it was a similar performance.

He had 19 goals and 48 points in 77 games, playing primarily in the middle six. If Detroit brought in Compher with the idea he would be a similar player, they paid for what they wanted. However, for that term and salary, it would have been better for him to get into the 55-60 point range while maintaining strong leadership. 

Radko Gudas, Anaheim Ducks: B-

When Radko Gudas signed his three-year, $4 million AAV contract with Anaheim, many fans were confused. He has been a third-pairing defenseman his entire career and was not filling a need for the Ducks. His veteran experience was a nice addition, but his on-ice presence would not have much of an impact on the franchise in the long term. While he has been solid in his time in Anaheim, he should not warrant a grade much higher than a B-. 

Of course, there were countless other significant free agent signings, such as Shayne Gostisbehere, Michael Bunting, Daniel Sprong, Jason Zucker, and more, but they have all had lesser roles with their franchises. The 2023 free agency class was relatively weak, but hockey fans should get excited for 2024. Many top players, such as Jake Guentzel, Sam Reinhart, Steven Stamkos, and Jonathan Marchessault are expected to be free to test the market. For now, we can only look back at last year’s class to learn and prepare for the future.

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