With the 2020-21 NHL season three-quarters of the way completed we wanted to check in on some of the biggest offseason acquisitions. There is always some risk involved with free agency because you are paying top dollar for a player that has almost certainly already played their best hockey for somebody else, and more often than not teams end up being disappointed with the return on their investment. Even so, there are still always bargains to be had. We look at all of those big signings, as well as some of the biggest trades, to see how they are working out for their new teams.
Hall was the top forward available in the free-agent market and stunned everybody when he turned down multi-year offers to sign a one-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres. It has not worked out well for either side. The Sabres have been the worst team in the league and are almost certainly going to trade Hall before the NHL trade deadline. Meanwhile, Hall has had one of the worst seasons of his career with only two goals in his first 37 games. He is going to need to make a major impact with his next team as a rental to land the type of contract he is going to want this upcoming offseason in free agency.
The Golden Knights love making blockbuster moves and made another one this offseason with the signing of Alex Pietrangelo to a seven-year contract. They had to clear a lot of salary cap space to make it happen (Nate Schmidt and Paul Stastny were traded), but they got their man to help lead their defense alongside Shea Theodore. As of early April, Pietrangelo has been limited to just 29 games this season. He has not been bad, but his offensive numbers have dropped a bit from his normal career levels. It is still too small of a sample size to be overly concerned about it. He should still be a top-pairing defender for several more seasons.
The Blues needed a replacement for long-time captain and No. 1 defender Alex Pietrangelo, and they hoped to find it in former Bruins defenseman Torey Krug on a long-term contract. In his debut season with the Blues Krug's offensive production (especially his goal-scoring) has not quite matched what he did at his peak in Boston, nor has he controlled the pace of games the way he did from a possession standpoint. He has been solid, but probably not what the Blues were anticipating so far. It should be pointed out that the Blues season has been severely impacted by injury, which has no doubt impacted the production of everybody on the roster.
The Toffoli signing has been one of the best free-agent signings of the offseason, not only in terms of value (great cap hit on a multi-year deal) but also for the fact he has been one of the league's top goal scorers. Even if he does not maintain that pace he should still be an excellent addition over the term of the contract given his ability to drive play and produce. He has excelled once he got away from a rebuilding Kings team playing a passive, structured defensive system.
Acquiring Allen in a trade with the Blues and then signing him to a multi-year contract extension was a bold move given the commitment the Canadiens have to Carey Price. But they wanted some extra depth and somebody that could lessen Price's workload. He has turned out to be the better of the two goalies. The crease still belongs to Price, but Allen is making a case for more playing time.
The Canadiens acquired Anderson from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for center Max Domi, and then signed him to a massive seven-year contract extension. The contract was viewed as a bold and extremely risky move given the fact Anderson scored just one goal in 26 games a year ago and was coming off of a major injury. There is always significant risk with a seven-year contract for a non-superstar, even more risk when it is a player in that particular injury situation. So far the risk has worked out as Anderson has given the Canadiens forward group some much-needed finishing ability, scoring 14 goals in his first 33 games. He has cooled off a bit after a fast start so the jury is still very much out on this deal, but so far it has been strong.
The Panthers are always one of the busiest teams every offseason, and this year was no different. One of their biggest moves was trading defenseman Mike Matheson to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Hornqvist. It has been a great pickup for a Panthers team that has climbed to the top of the league standings. Hornqvist has made a major impact on Florida's power play and is having one of his best offensive seasons in years. He has been a perfect fit on a team that already had a couple of stars but just needed some key complementary pieces around them.
So far the best value signing of the offseason. The Tampa Bay Lightning did not give Verhaeghe a qualifying offer and allowed him to become an unrestricted free agent. He signed a cheap contract with the Panthers, got an opportunity to play an increased role, and has blossomed into a top-line player. The talent was always there for Verhaeghe, he just could not consistently crack a loaded lineup in Tampa Bay. He has taken his chance in Florida and run with it. He's been a huge part of the Panthers' success this season.
This seemed like a great signing at the time given how productive Smith had been in Nashville. The Bruins needed secondary scoring, and Smith had been a steady 20-25 goal forward that could drive possession. The price was right, the term was fine, and it should have given the Bruins some great depth at forward. But Smith has not yet matched his previous goal-scoring levels for a Bruins team that has become a top-heavy one-line team. His playmaking has been fine, but the Bruins could use a little more goal production from him.
After spending more than a decade in Boston, Chara signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals to add some depth to their blue line along with fellow free agent signing Justin Schultz. They have both been solid additions for what was expected of them. Chara is no longer the 26-minute per night Norris candidate that he was during his prime, but he can still defend and bring some strength to the ice.
Saad never really become a star in Chicago or Columbus, but he definitely has a place on a Stanley Cup contender in a secondary role. That is on display in Colorado after he was acquired in an offseason trade centered around Nikita Zadorov. He is currently on a 25-goal pace over 82 games while pushing possession and making an already loaded Avalanche team even deeper. It was a great move for a team that had salary cap space to play with and is all-in on its championship window right now.
The Islanders needed to move Toews due to salary cap issues and the Avalanche were the lucky team that was able to pounce on that opportunity. Toews' transition game has been an absolutely perfect fit within the Avalanche system and he has added to a defense that is rapidly becoming the league's best. With Cale Makar, Sam Girard, Bowen Byram, Toews, Ryan Graves, and a healthy Erik Johnson there is not really a weak link anywhere on this defense. Almost all of them are impact players and have helped this unit quietly become the strength of the team.
After being a cornerstone piece for the Washington Capitals and one of the league's elite goalies for a decade, Holtby moved on this offseason to join the Canucks on a two-year deal. He is clearly not the same goalie he was at his peak and for the second year in a row has a sub-.900 save percentage. Thatcher Demko has taken over the starting job in Vancouver and recently just signed a five-year deal. Holtby will almost certainly be left exposed in the expansion draft this offseason.
The Flames wanted to find a long-term solution in goal and went all-in on Markstrom with a huge six-year contract. Those moves tend to backfire with goalies over the age of 30, and so far it is not working out as planned here. After being one of the league's steadiest goalies in Vancouver, Markstrom has struggled in Calgary with an .898 save percentage in his first 28 games. That is well below his career average and it is just one of the many reasons the Flames have badly disappointed this season.
Even though Murray had struggled with consistency over the past three years, and even though the goalie market was flooded with talent and options, the Ottawa Senators still opted to trade for Murray and then sign him to one of the biggest contracts of the offseason. So far, it has not even come close to working. He has missed time due to injury, and when on the ice has struggled behind a porous defense and rebuilding team. What is perhaps most concerning is the Senators have been better and more competitive since he went out of the lineup. Given the size of the investment, they need him to turn things around.
Thornton's quest to finally win the Stanley Cup took him to the NHL franchise that has gone the longest without winning it. So far, he has been an outstanding fit for the Maple Leafs in a depth role. He is no longer an All-Star level MVP candidate, but he can still control the game with his vision, playmaking, and knowledge and he has been a very strong addition to a Maple Leafs team that might actually have an opportunity to do something this postseason.
Another strong depth pickup for Toronto. At his peak, Simmonds was one of the best power forwards in the NHL and at times an unstoppable force in front of the net on the power play. He is not at that level anymore, but he can still bring something to a contending team's bottom-six and has done so for Toronto when healthy. He has been limited to just 22 games this season but has six goals on the season.
The Blue Jackets wanted to improve their center depth and acquired Domi from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Josh Anderson. It has not really worked out. Domi has not been a great fit under coach John Tortorella while Anderson has excelled in Montreal. It was the first in a difficult series of moves for Columbus that have wildly disappointed. Along with this trade, Columbus also signed Mikko Koivu in free agency only to have him retire early in the season. Then they traded center Pierre-Luc Dubois to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, only to see both players struggle after their arrival.
The Minnesota Wild had a couple of issues during the 2019-20 season, and goaltending was at the top of that list. They addressed it this offseason by trading Devan Dubnyk to San Jose, signing Cam Talbot in free agency, and allowing Kaapo Kahkonen to share the crease with him. The duo has turned out to be one of the best in the NHL and has helped drive the Wild to the top of the West Division standings. Given the way Murray, Holtby, and Markstrom have struggled with their new teams, the Talbot signing turned out to be one of the best goalie moves any team made this offseason.
Before Jim Rutherford resigned from the Penguins he had another wild offseason full of significant moves, and his first was to acquire Kapanen (a player he originally drafted in Pittsburgh eight years ago and then traded for Phil Kessel) from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He paid a steep price (first-round pick and a very good prospect) but Kapanen has been an excellent fit in Pittsburgh's lineup, added a ton of speed, and some skill to the top lines. Before he was sidelined with an injury he was having a career year offensively, on pace for more than 20 goals and close to 60 points over 82 games.
The four-year, $20 million investment for a 30-year-old defender in a flat cap environment was risky, especially on a team pushed to the upper limits of the league's salary cap, but Brodie has proven to be a solid addition for a Toronto team that has its sights set on a championship. He has brought a lot of stability to the Maple Leafs' blue line and really bolstered a defense that is probably a little better than it gets credit for being. He has made the impact they hoped Tyson Barrie would have made a year ago.
Hoffman was a late addition to the Blues' roster, signing a one-year deal in free agency to hopefully add some scoring punch to their forward lineup. While his offense has been acceptable, it is a noticeable drop from what he produced the past two seasons in Florida and below his career averages. Given that his value is entirely in his ability to score goals, that is not a great sign. There was no real long-term risk here for the Blues, but it has been a somewhat disappointing addition for a very disappointing team.
When the Vegas Golden Knights needed to shed salary cap space to make their free-agent move for Alex Pietrangelo, Schmidt was one of the players they sent away. The Canucks were able to add him for the small price of a couple of mid-round draft picks, hoping he could make a big impact on their defense. The trade has not made the impact they hoped for. Schmidt's offense has regressed in Vancouver while also struggling defensively for a Canucks team that has regressed from where it was a year ago.
The Flames made two significant free-agent additions from Vancouver, signing Markstrom to fill its goalie vacancy and Tanev to try and bolster its defense. While Markstrom has struggled, Tanev has been a very strong addition to the blue line and been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise disappointing roster. Given his age, it is worth wondering how this contract will look a few years from now, but so far it has been a rare win for the Flames.
After a disappointing year in Toronto, Barrie signed a one-year deal with the Oilers this past offseason and it is probably going to end up earning him an even bigger contract this offseason ahead. Playing in Edmonton with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and on that power play, has allowed Barrie to put up huge numbers offensively and significantly increase his value. Does it mean he will end up being worth it to the team that signs him? Not at all. But it certainly is going to work out for him.