The NHL free agency signing period for 2021 is officially open.
For each key player that signs a deal, we’ll assess the player’s fit with his new team, weigh whether the terms of the deal make sense, and serve up an overall grade for the team.
We’ll continue to grade the most notable moves through the offseason, so check back for fresh grades as deals are consummated; the newest grades will be up top.
Terms: Seven years, $5.5 million average annual value. No-move clause for the first five seasons; then a modified no-trade clause.
Where does he fit: Right next to either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. One of the most underrated talents for an NHL player — by the general public, although not necessarily by front offices and player agents — is the ability to hang with high-end talent. During Hyman’s six seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was a frequent linemate with Auston Matthews. He did all the little things you’d want a complementary winger to do: Playing with physicality, grinding in the corners and paying the price in front of the goal, creating open space for the skill guys. It’s an admirable talent and one that will easily transfer over to the Oilers’ top lines, preferably with McDavid.
Does it make sense? Yes and no. There’s proof of concept with Hyman as a top-line contributor, not just a passenger. He’s been better than a goal per 60 minutes of play in three straight seasons. He shot the puck more (8.3 shots per 60 minutes) last season than he had at any point since his rookie campaign in 2015-16. If he plays with McDavid, he plays with a player who led the NHL with 2.36 assists per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 last season. He’s not an elite finisher, but he can convert chances. Although as the Leafs found out in the playoffs, you’d rather not have teams taking away his more talented linemates so that Hyman gets all the chances.
But does this signing make sense? The $5.5 million annual cap figure isn’t terrible; it’s actually right above what Ryan Nugent-Hopkins received to stay with Edmonton ($5.125 million), and he’s a year younger than Hyman (29). Hyman would have easily found that money elsewhere. The problem with the contract is that no-move clause for five seasons. GM Ken Holland has never met trade protection he couldn’t dole out to a player, tracking back to his days in Detroit. Sometimes these deals work. Sometimes you revisit them in four years and realize they’re a boondoggle that you can’t remove from your salary cap.
Grade: B. The Oilers have a lot of problems. Hyman helps alleviate one of them as a winger in their top six, even if that contract is a bit specious. But the real sin here for the Oilers is their inability to create their own Zach Hyman. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Florida Panthers in 2010. The Leafs got him for Greg McKegg in 2015. Granted, he had the skill set to play the role, but they helped develop him into the top-line player that the Oilers just paid dearly to acquire. What separates the contenders from the pretenders in this league is their ability to produce internal solutions to lineup problems. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning had an assembly line of players to filter throughout their top six when the needs arose, whether it was a Jake Guentzel or a Bryan Rust or an Anthony Cirelli. The Oilers have failed to do the same, and now they had to find an external solution. And that’s one reason why they’re in such a pickle.
Terms: Three years, $3.8 million AAV
Where does he fit: Petr Mrazek gives the Maple Leafs a goalie to partner with, and push, incumbent Jack Campbell. Mrazek, spent the last three seasons with the Hurricanes, going 50-32-8 in 92 games with a .911 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against average. He’s entering his 10th NHL season.
Does it make sense? Yes, if the Leafs believe strongly in both Campbell and their own team defense. Mrazek is a known commodity at this point: He’s good for around 40 games, provided that he’s healthy — which he was not in 2020-21. There are some nights when he looks like a vintage Jonathan Quick, scrambling to make saves but posting a goose egg on the scoreboard for the opposing team. There are other nights when he reminds you why he’s a tandem goalie at best.
From an analytics perspective, he’s been a darling, as many on the Hurricanes end up being. Mrazek had 38.7 goals saved above average in his three seasons with Carolina, adding seven wins to the team in that span. These are no doubt numbers that GM Kyle Dubas has noted.
Grade: B+. This is a good fit for the Leafs, considering their salary cap constraints. He’s not as good as Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper, but he costs less ($4.5 million AAV) and now the Leafs have a goalie with term, while Kuemper goes UFA next summer. And he undoubtedly cost less than Philipp Grubauer would have. If the bet is that they have something in Campbell, this is a nice tandem — if not one that immediately inspires visions of a Stanley Cup. But as the Leafs attempted to show last season before the wheels came off in the playoffs (again!), it’s more about team defense for them than anything else.
Terms: One year, $1 million
Where does he fit: On the right side of a post-Dougie Hamilton defense in Carolina. The Hurricanes had four defensemen under contract and three of them are on the left side. Jaccob Slavin, who was Hamilton’s partner; Brady Skjei, who played with DeAngelo on the Rangers; and Jake Gardiner. DeAngelo fills their need for a puck-moving offensive defenseman on the right side, whose partner can make up for rather striking defensive deficiencies at 5-on-5.
But it’s easy to look away from those defensive lapses when DeAngelo has his offense going. Before his disastrous departure from the Rangers last season, he put together two very good point-producing campaigns: Scoring 30 goals in 61 games in 2018-19 and then 53 points in 68 games in 2019-20. He had 18.2 goals scored above average combined in these seasons. He can also quarterback a power play, which is something they lost in Hamilton, too.
Does it make sense? On the ice it makes a lot of sense for the Hurricanes to search for a cost-effective filler for a now-gaping hole in their lineup. Off the ice … well.
To summarize: The Rangers made DeAngelo persona non-grata on their roster after six games last season, after signing him to a two-year, $9.6 million extension in Oct. 2020. He was benched for the second game of the season after taking an undisciplined penalty on opening night. That set him off, with GM Jeff Gorton threatening the defenseman with waivers if there was another behavioral incident. On Jan. 31, 2021, Deangelo got into a physical altercation with goalie Alexandar Georgiev as they left the ice, and the Rangers waived him. After six games, Gorton said Deangelo had “played his last game for the Rangers.” They tried to trade him to no avail, and eventually bought out the last year of his contract this summer.
There was also his social media presence, on a since-deactivated Twitter feed. While he was labeled a COVID denier, DeAngelo clarified to the New York Post that he trying to be critical of the media’s coverage of the virus after the 2020 election, falsely claiming that coverage of the pandemic had disappeared.
Grade: D+. This is a high-reward signing at a low risk for the Hurricanes. Well, low financial risk, anyway. The backlash from some pockets of their fan base has been palpable, as DeAngelo drags his off-ice reputation with him like an anchor to Raleigh. The fun-loving “Bunch of Jerks” that had become darlings of online hockey fandom had revealed themselves to be as calculated and callous as the Canadiens were in drafting Logan Mailloux last weekend. It’s valuing talent over morals, of business over the rightful indignation of some of their most loyal consumers. And that’s a hockey problem, not just a Carolina Hurricanes problem.