NHL free agency: Top 3 best and worst signings so far

Which NHL free agency signings so far have been the best and which ones have been the worst?

It has been just over a week since NHL Free Agency kicked off, and although we already knew it beforehand, it has truly been like nothing we have ever seen before. One reasoning is that usually the NHL season is beginning at this time, but as a result of the pandemic, the NHL playoffs just recently wrapped up and the 2020-21 season is expected to begin sometime in the next few months.

The other is that teams are not willing to hand out nearly as much many as years past due to the salary cap remaining flat for the upcoming season, again a result of the pandemic.

While Alex Pietrangelo was still able to sign a massive deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, many players were forced to take much less money than they would have gotten in a normal year. It is unfortunate for the players, but great for many teams as in a few years’ time many players signed in this year’s free agency will be great value contracts.

Despite there being some very good moves made over the past week, some signings have still raised some eyebrows and drawn criticism. Here are three of the best signings to this point in free agency, along with three of the worst.

Best

Taylor Hall

In any other year, Taylor Hall would have been looking at a seven-year deal at likely the same money he is being paid right now, if not more. While he likely could have still signed a fairly lucrative deal with far more term, he elected to sign a one-year deal in hopes of the salary cap going up for the 2021-22 season.

While there were rumors out there of Hall signing a short-term deal, no one mentioned the Buffalo Sabres as a potential suitor. It is hard to understand exactly what Hall’s reasoning for doing this was given that he has mentioned recently how badly he wants to win. Nevertheless, it is a huge win for the Sabres who have struggled immensely for a long time now.

There have been rumblings this offseason that captain Jack Eichel had requested a trade, and while they were never confirmed, one would imagine that this signing would make him extremely happy and give Buffalo another chance with him this upcoming season. This was obviously a huge pickup for the Sabres, who now have a legitimate chance to play in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Craig Smith

It certainly hasn’t been the offseason Boston Bruins fans were hoping for. Not only did they lose star defenseman Torey Krug, but were also unable to bring in Taylor Hall, who they were rumoured to be discussing a one-year deal with. Because of that, it took away from a very good signing the Bruins made in former Nashville Predator Craig Smith.

The 31-year-old has been extremely consistent over his nine-year NHL career. Had this season not been ended early due to the pandemic, he likely would have had his sixth 20+ goal season, as he finished with 18 in 69 games. Adding a 20-goal scorer to an already extremely dangerous lineup for just $3.1 million was a very underrated and solid move by general manager Don Sweeney.

Tyson Barrie

While the Mike Smith signing was puzzling to say the least, Holland has made some moves that will help the Oilers be a better team next season. One of those included grabbing a third line center in Kyle Turris, but the even better deal came when they announced the signing of defenseman Tyson Barrie.

The Oilers have been lacking a true powerplay quarterback for years, and that along with the fact that Oscar Klefbom may miss time next season makes this both a great and crucial pickup.

There were reports that Barrie turned down as much as $6 million in order to sign with the Oilers. The reasoning for that is likely due to him thinking he has a chance to put up a ton of points on a lethal powerplay featuring Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The 29-year-old had a tough season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has proven in the past how good he can be, including a career high 59-point season in 2018-19 with the Colorado Avalanche.

Worst

Mike Smith

While Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland has done a good job since joining the team, one of his few questionable decisions came last offseason when he signed goaltender Mike Smith to a one-year deal.

Smith was coming off one of his worst statistical seasons of his career, posting a 2.72 goals against average (GAA) and an ugly .898 save percentage (SV%) with the Calgary Flames. While he did have a hot stretch this past season, he still finished with a very underwhelming 2.95 GAA and a .902 SV%.

After two bad seasons in a row, along with the fact he is 38-years-old, many wondered if Smith’s NHL career was over. Instead, Holland elected to yet again bring him back, a decision Oilers fans do not appear happy with. Given that there were plenty of other options in this year’s goalie market, this signing seems extremely unwise.

Zemgus Girgensons

On a day where many top nine NHL forwards were signing for either cheap dollars or low term, in some cases both, giving both to a fourth line player seems to make zero sense. However, that is what the Buffalo Sabres decided to do with Zemgus Girgensons.

Like Smith, this was another player who likely would’ve struggled to find a deal elsewhere had the Sabres not given him this contract. In 69 games this past season, he put up 12 goals and 19 points.

The 2012 NHL Entry Drafts 14th overall selection has failed to live up to his draft spot, at least offensively. In Girgensons defence, he is great in his own end and can play on the penalty kill.

However, given the fact the Sabres have not made the playoffs once in his seven seasons with the team, you would think they would have considered replacing him with another fourth line player, and at a cheaper cost.

Chris Tanev

Make no mistake, Chris Tanev is a good hockey player. However, he is also an often-injured hockey player. The former Vancouver Canucks defenseman has played 70 games just once (2014-15) in his eight-year career, although his first full season did come during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Still, he has only appeared in 60 or more games just four times, and was only able to suit up for 150 of a possible 246 from 2016-2019.

When he is in the lineup, he is a great player in his own end, both at even strength as well as on the penalty kill. He isn’t afraid to be physical and blocks a lot of shots, both of which are big reasons as to why he has struggled to stay healthy.

That is also a concern, as he will be 31 before the 2020-21 season begins, and given his past may begin to regress sooner than the Flames are thinking. If he is able to stay healthy and play like he did as a Canuck this signing is fine, but it seems like a very unnecessary risk by general manager Brad Treliving.

Talent Remaining

Despite many players finding new teams, there is still quite a bit of talent left in free agency. Sniper Mike Hoffman has still yet to make a decision, as have defensemen Travis Hamonic and Sami Vatanen, and those are just to name a few.

It is clear that teams just aren’t willing to give as much to these players as they would in a normal year, and as a result, there will likely still be more extremely team friendly free agent deals to be signed in the upcoming days and weeks.