Most NHL free agent signings do not work out as planned. You get in bidding wards for players on the downside of their careers and usually end up overpaying for disappointing production. That is usually what happens. There are exceptions, though, and here we take a look back at those exceptions as we look at the best All-Time free agent signing for every NHL team.
Niedermayer's arrival in Anaheim prior to the 2005-06 season was a significant one for the Ducks because it helped build the foundation of a championship defense. One year later the Ducks would add Chris Pronger to form one of the best defense duos of the modern NHL era that they would ride to a championship during the 2006-07 season.
When the Coyotes signed Smith in 2011 he had never been a full-time starting goalie in the NHL, so they were taking a pretty significant gamble on an unproven backup. He turned out to be one of the biggest steals of the free agent signing period that year and would be Arizona's starter for the next six years, leading the team to the 2012 Western Conference Final.
Chara blossomed into a star with the Ottawa Senators, and in classic Senators fashion they let him get away. The Bruins were the fortunate team ready to pounce in free agency, signing the massive defender in the summer of 2006. Chara would go on to be one of the focal points of the Bruins franchise for the next 14 years and would help bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston in 2011, while also helping the Bruins to two other Stanley Cup Final appearances.
When Numminen signs with the Sabres prior to the 2005-06 season he was in the twilight of his career but he was still an outstanding an addition to the team's blue line. During his first two years with the team he was a 20-minute per night defender on some outstanding Sabres teams that were among the best in the NHL.
After two years Hudler's contract with the Flames looked to be a mild disappointment, but his performance skyrocketed during the 2014-15 season with a 31-goal, 76-point season that earned him some MVP consideration as well as the Lady Byng Trophy. In parts of four seasons with the Flames he scored 68 goals and 192 total points.
The demise of the Hartford Whalers began in 1991 when they traded Ron Francis to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The trade helped produce a mini-dynasty in Pittsburgh and was one of the moves that started the ball rolling toward the Whalers' relocation to Carolina. In the summer of 1999 Francis returned to his original franchise -- now the Hurricanes -- and played five-and-a-half seasons. He was his usual rock-solid self, scoring 20 goals, distributing the puck to teammates, and playing outstanding defense. He helped lead the Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final.
The Avalanche have signed some big names in their history, but not all of them have worked out as planned (like the year they signed Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne — huge names, but the production was not there). One smaller signing that did work out was the 2009 addition of goalie Craig Anderson. He only spent a year-and-a-half with the Avalanche before being traded, but almost single-handedly took them to the playoffs and nearly pulled off a stunning upset in Round 1 of the 2009-10 season. Including playoffs, his save percentage with the Avalanche was over .920 and made him one of the better goalies in the league.
The Blackhawks signed Hossa to a massive 12-year contract in 2009, and while he never played out the entire deal he was still a huge success story in Chicago. Hossa turned out to be the missing piece in the Blackhawks' quest for a Stanley Cup and gave the team seven years of dominant two-way play, helping the team win three championships.
Huselius was never a star, but he was an outstanding top-line forward that gave the Blue Jackets a couple of solid seasons. In his first year with the team he helped the Blue Jackets clinch their first ever postseason appearance.
This was a toss-up between Hull and goalie Ed Belfour, but I am going to give the edge to Hull for scoring the most important goal in franchise history. His Stanley Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 of the 1998 Stanley Cup Final is also one of the most controversial goals in NHL history, but it brought the Stars their first ever championship and finally allowed Hull to get his name on the Cup. In three years with the Stars he scored 95 goals and 196 total points in 218 regular season games.
Yes, Brett Hull shows up on this list again. After helping the Dallas Stars win a championship in 1998, Hull signed with the Red Wings and helped form a powerhouse team in the early 2000s that was loaded with future Hall of Famers. In his first year with the Red Wings Hull scored 30 goals and helped the team win the Stanley Cup. He played three years in Detroit, scoring 92 goals and 207 points in 245 regular season games.
The Oilers' history of free agent signings is so grim — and especially their recent free agent history — that Sykora, who only played one year with the team, probably ranks as the best. He played the 2006-07 season in Edmonton and finished as the team's leading scorer with 22 goals and 53 total points.
Originally drafted by the Panthers, Dadonov was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes late in the 2012 season. instead of playing for the Hurricanes organization, he played in Russia for several years. When he returned to the NHL in 2017, he signed with the Panthers and has been one of their best players in his first two years back with the team, already tallying 58 goals and 145 points in 156 games.
A solid if unspectacular defender, Mitchell signed with the Kings in the summer of 2010 and was one of the most reliable defensive players on one of the league's best defensive teams. He helped the Kings win the Stanley Cup during the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons and was as steady as you could get on the blue line.
When Staal joined the Wild it looked as if his career was on the verge of being finished, so they got him on a mostly bargain deal. In his first three years with the team he has seemingly found the fountain of youth and been one of the team's best, most productive players. He has already scored 92 goals and 193 points in 245 games. The Wild have made flashier free agent signings in the past (Ryan Suter and Zach Parise come to mind) but they did not provide the bang-for-the-buck that Staal has.
Cammalleri only spent two-and-a-half years of his free agent contract with the Canadiens, but he made a huge impact in that time. He played a significant role in the Canadiens' shocking run to the 2010 Eastern Conference Final and was a great, clutch point producer during his time in Montreal.
Kariya gave the Predators a bonafide star during the 2005-06 season and played two outstanding years in Nashville by topping the 75-point mark each year. His time in Nashville was short, but he was everything you want a free agent to be. Injuries started to derail his career following his Nashville stint.
Rafalski spent the first four years of his professional hockey career playing in Europe (where he was at one regarded as one of the best players not in the NHL) before signing with the Devils as a free agent in the summer of 1999. He immediately became a top-pairing defender in New Jersey and put together a remarkable career that would see him win three Stanley Cups, including two with the Devils.
This is an easy one. A former ninth-round draft pick, Moulson played two most forgettable seasons with the Los Angeles Kings before being pulled off the scrap heap by the Islanders. In his first year with the team he scored 30 goals and would repeat that feat in each of the next two seasons. The Islanders eventually traded him for Thomas Vanek but his time with the team was an incredible, unexpected success.
The Rangers added Graves as a restricted free agent from the Edmonton Oilers in 1991 and he would go on to be one of the team's best and most important players over the next decade. He scored 52 goals during the 1993-94 season and helped the Rangers win their first Stanley Cup since 1940.
After becoming a star with the Buffalo Sabres, Briere inked a long-term free agent contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007 and spent six highly productive years with the team. He was a constant offensive force for the team and helped them reach the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.
Coming out of the 2004-05 lockout the Penguins were positioned with a ton of salary cap space and went on a free agency splurge. Most of them did not work out as planned, but Gonchar did. He spent five years in Pittsburgh, played in two Stanley Cup Finals, won one, and was the top defender on a constant contender. He remains with the organization today as an assistant coach.
Tugnutt spent four seasons with the Senators and put together one of the best goaltending seasons in franchise history when he finished the 1998-99 season with a .925 save percentage and finished fifth in the Vezina Trophy voting.
After winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, Niemi found himself as the odd man out in Chicago in a salary cap crunch. That left him available to the San Jose Sharks who picked him up as a free agent. He would be the Sharks' starting goalie for five years and gave them consistently above average play in net.
Stevens only played in one season with the Blues, signing with the team as a restricted free agent during the 1990 season. It was a massive contract at the time, and the only reason he didn't remain there longer is because he was sent to the New Jersey Devils as compensation for the signing of Brendan Shanahan. His one year with the Blues was incredible, finishing with 49 points and a top-10 finish in the Norris Trophy voting.
One of the greatest free agent signings in NHL history. St. Louis spent two forgettable years in Calgary, scoring just four goals, before getting an increased role in Tampa Bay. He would go on to become one of the best players of his era, one of the best players in the history of the free agency, and a Stanley Cup champion. He won two scoring titles with the Lightning, an MVP award, and was a key contributor to their 2004 Stanley Cup.
Joseph was never able to help bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto in his four years with the team, but he was one of the best goalies in the league during his tenure with the team. He finished in the top-10 in Vezina Trophy voting each year, including two finishes in the top-five. The paid a huge price to get him, but he turned out to be worth every single penny.
Samuelsson did not spent much time in Vancouver but he proved to be a perfect complement to Henrik and Daniel Sedin, scoring 49 goals in 155 games over parts of three seasons. That includes a career-high 30-goal season in his debut with the Canucks.
The third-year franchise has not really made many free agent signings, so Stastny kind of wins this one by default. Not that he is not a great addition. The Golden Knights got him on a fairly smart three-year deal to be their second-line center, and for much of the 2018-19 season his line was arguably their best when he was healthy and in the lineup.
One of the best depth players during his time in the league. Ward was an outstanding defensive forward that could also chip in some offense. He scored 24 and 19 goals in his two best seasons with the team, and also scored a massive series-clinching goal against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since relocating to Winnipeg, the Jets' organization has been one of the most patient ones in the league and has been slow to make significant moves. One of their biggest free agents signings was Perreault back in the summer of 2014 and he has been one of their most consistent and productive players since. Not the biggest name, not a flashy player, but a heck of a depth player that you know will give you 15-20 goals and at least 40 points every single season for a really decent price against the salary cap.
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