NHL Free Agency: Hurricanes and Maple Leafs Triumph, While Bruins and Penguins Struggle
As the dust settles on the 2023 NHL Draft, teams have shifted their focus to free agency in a bid to bolster their rosters for the upcoming 2023-24 season.
This year’s free agent class presented a different landscape compared to the star-studded 2022 group, but it still offered several players who could significantly impact NHL franchises. Notable names like Tyler Bertuzzi, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene, and Dmitri Orlov were among the top targets in the market.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the winners and losers of this year’s NHL free agency:
Winner: Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes emerged as one of the biggest winners in this year’s free agency. After a spirited run to the Eastern Conference Final despite being undermanned, Hurricanes’ general manager Don Waddell was aggressive in improving the team.
Carolina made significant upgrades to their blue line by signing Dmitri Orlov, one of the top free agents available, to a two-year, $16 million deal. Orlov’s career year, with 36 points split between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, positions him as a valuable top-pairing defenseman who can complement the offensive prowess of Brent Burns.
Additionally, the Hurricanes secured Michael Bunting, a former Toronto Maple Leafs winger, on a three-year, $13.5 million contract. Bunting’s impressive goal-scoring record over the past two seasons will provide a considerable boost to the team’s forward lines. Carolina also decided to maintain veteran presence in the net, signing Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta to short-term deals, enhancing their goaltending options.
Loser: Boston Bruins
Despite boasting an impressive regular season record of 135 points and 65 wins, the Boston Bruins stumbled in the playoffs, ultimately being eliminated by the Florida Panthers after squandering a 3-1 lead.
In free agency, the Bruins made moves to bolster their roster with veteran players like James van Riemsdyk, Milan Lucic, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Morgan Geekie. While these signings may be beneficial for a contending team, the Bruins missed out on re-signing key players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitri Orlov, both of whom played vital roles after their acquisition at the 2023 trade deadline.
Though retaining Orlov at an $8 million annual salary was understandable given their defensive depth, letting Bertuzzi leave in free agency was a risky decision. His versatility and strong performance as a winger made him a great fit for the Bruins, making it somewhat surprising that more effort wasn’t made to retain him.
Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs initially faced a challenging start to free agency, losing veteran forward Ryan O’Reilly to the Nashville Predators and Michael Bunting to the Carolina Hurricanes.
However, their fortunes quickly turned around when they secured Tyler Bertuzzi, a highly sought-after free agent, on a one-year, $5.5 million deal. This move was a significant win for the Maple Leafs, addressing the gap left by the departing players. They also added Max Domi on a one-year, $3 million contract, strengthening their forward options.
Further bolstering their roster, the Maple Leafs signed defenseman John Klingberg to a one-year, $4.15 million contract, providing a valuable offensive presence on the blue line.
Loser: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s impressive streak of appearances in the Stanley Cup Final for three consecutive seasons came to an end in the 2023 postseason when they were eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round.
Faced with financial constraints, the Lightning had to make difficult decisions during free agency. They traded forward Ross Colton to the Colorado Avalanche for draft picks and saw Alex Killorn sign with the Anaheim Ducks.
Financial limitations also caused them to lose Ondrej Palat in the 2022 offseason. While dynasties inevitably face challenges as players age and contracts expire, the Lightning’s inability to retain some key players may signify a transitional phase for the team.
Winner: Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche, who faced injury setbacks during the 2022-23 season, aimed to return stronger next season with strategic free agency signings.
General manager Joe Sakic made shrewd moves, securing former New Jersey Devils winger Miles Wood on a six-year deal at a bargain price of $2.5 million AAV, providing depth and scoring options. Additionally, the Avalanche signed Jonathan Drouin to a one-year, $825,000 deal, hoping to revitalize his career.
Defensively, the Avalanche locked in defenseman Bowen Byram, a restricted free agent, to a two-year, $3.85 million contract extension after his impressive performance during the past season.
The Avalanche’s star power, coupled with these depth acquisitions, positions them as strong contenders for the upcoming season.
Loser: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins started the offseason with a notable change, appointing Kyle Dubas as their new president. However, they faced criticism for a questionable move in free agency.
Despite rumors of parting ways with goaltender Tristan Jarry, the Penguins ultimately re-signed him to a five-year, $26.857 million contract with a $5.375 million annual cap hit. This decision raised eyebrows, given Jarry’s injury concerns and his 3.00 career goals-against-average in the postseason.
While the addition of defenseman Ryan Graves was reasonable, the decision to pass on exploring potential trades for higher-performing goalies like Connor Hellebuyck or John Gibson might prove costly for the Penguins in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about NHL free agency winners and losers
What was the focus of the text?
The text focuses on analyzing the winners and losers of the NHL free agency for the 2023-24 season. It discusses key player signings and how these moves impact the teams involved.
Which teams were highlighted as winners in the NHL free agency?
The Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs were highlighted as winners. The Hurricanes improved their blue line by signing Dmitri Orlov and added Michael Bunting for forward depth. The Maple Leafs secured Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and defenseman John Klingberg to strengthen their roster.
Which teams were mentioned as facing challenges in the NHL free agency?
The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins were mentioned as facing challenges. The Bruins missed out on re-signing key players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitri Orlov, potentially impacting their roster depth. The Penguins faced criticism for re-signing goaltender Tristan Jarry despite his injury concerns.
How did the Tampa Bay Lightning fare in free agency?
The Tampa Bay Lightning faced financial constraints and had to make tough decisions, leading to the loss of key players like Alex Killorn and Ross Colton. Their inability to retain certain players may indicate a transitional phase for the team.
What improvements did the Colorado Avalanche make in free agency?
The Colorado Avalanche aimed to enhance their roster after facing injury setbacks during the previous season. They signed Miles Wood and Jonathan Drouin to bolster their forward lines and extended defenseman Bowen Byram, adding depth to their squad.
What were some of the focus keywords for this text?
The focus keywords for this text are NHL, free agency, winners, losers, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, player signings, and hockey analysis.
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