The offseason is when NHL GMs make their highest leverage bets. It’s a manager’s chance to finally weaponize cap flexibility, trade chips, dip into the free-agent market and engage in a lubricated trade market to execute on the blueprint they have. This is when a shrewd GM will pick up Devon Toews for a pair of second-round picks to set up a future championship or conversely when a manager will doom his franchise’s outlook by recklessly trading assets for Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
We’re approaching the halfway point of the 2022-23 season which seems like a convenient time to re-evaluate every club’s biggest offseason acquisitions. The goal of this piece isn’t to identify the most impactful additions (we won’t be covering low-risk or bargain moves like Dominik Kubalik for example), but rather to audit teams’ most expensive investments via trade or signings to see whether they’ve panned out or not.
Half a season obviously doesn’t suffice as the final verdict for an acquisition, especially as players acclimate to new cities, teammates and coaches, but it’s enough of a sample to reflect on the early return on investment. Let’s dive in.
Big investments: Ryan Strome ($5 million cap hit x five years), John Klingberg ($7 million cap hit x one year), Frank Vatrano ($3.65 million x three years)
Early return: The Ducks needed lucrative additions just to hit the salary cap floor and settled on signing a flurry of high-end secondary pieces in free agency.
Strome’s production is down as he’s on pace for 19 goals and 41 points. That’s a little underwhelming considering his contract but he doesn’t have legitimate top-six weapons on his wing, compared to his time in New York when he was riding shotgun with Artemi Panarin.
Klingberg’s been a massive disappointment. He’s notched just 11 points in 31 games after nearly hitting 50 points last season. Klingberg was demoted to the second unit of a miserable Ducks power play and has struggled defensively, outscored 34-15 during his five-on-five minutes. He’s only on a one-year deal so there’s no downside risk for the Ducks but it will limit the return they get for him at the trade deadline.
Vatrano’s on pace for 32 points but just six goals.
Big investments: None
Early return: Arizona’s only offseason investment that moved the needle big picture was weaponizing cap space to acquire draft picks by absorbing Zack Kassian and Patrik Nemeth’s inefficient contracts.
Big investments: Pavel Zacha (acquired in exchange for Erik Haula)
Early return: Does David Krejci technically count as an acquisition after his one-year hiatus from the NHL? He’s been great in any case, producing 28 points in 32 games.
Zacha’s been a perfect fit as a plug-and-play top-nine piece, primarily playing wing but also lining up at center on occasion. He’s been a heavy, versatile player and has added crucial secondary offense. Zacha’s 17 five-on-five points rank third best on the Bruins behind only David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall. The Bruins have been overly reliant on the top line to score in years past but Zacha’s successful arrival has helped Boston strengthen its middle-six attack.
Big investments: Ilya Lyubushkin ($2.75 million x two years)
Early return: $2.75 million was always going to be a steep cap hit for Lyubushkin, a third-pair defender, and he hasn’t given the Sabres the stability on the back end they were hoping for. Lyubushkin’s averaged a tick under 15 minutes in a bottom-pair role and owns the worst five-on-five shot attempt and scoring chance share among Buffalo defenders. He’s certainly added brash physicality but he’s also taken a number of undisciplined penalties.
Hopefully he can find more consistency as he becomes fully healthy (he’s only played 22 games because of injuries). The contract isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things though because the Sabres limited the term to just two years and have oodles of cap space.
Big investments: Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar (acquired along with a first-round pick and Cole Schwindt in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk), Nazem Kadri ($7 million x seven years)
Early return: Huberdeau, fresh off a 115-point campaign, was expected to replace some of the game-breaking offensive electricity that Johnny Gaudreau and Tkachuk left behind. Instead, Huberdeau’s on pace for just 57 points, which is concerning because his eight-year extension carrying a $10.5 million cap hit hasn’t even kicked in yet.
Weegar’s point totals are significantly down as well but he’s delivered commanding two-way results, with Calgary controlling 59.6 percent of five-on-five shot attempts with him on the ice.
Kadri, meanwhile, has been an excellent fit. He’s scored 14 goals and 29 points in 39 games and the Flames believe he’s added real swagger to the team.
Big investments: Brent Burns (acquired in exchange for Steven Lorentz, Eetu Makiniemi and a third-round pick), Max Pacioretty
Early return: The gamble for Carolina in acquiring Burns wasn’t so much the acquisition cost but the contract, with the Canes owing the 37-year-old $5.28 million for three seasons. Burns has fit admirably, replacing Tony DeAngelo’s supporting role on the top pair alongside Jaccob Slavin. The Slavin-Burns pair has controlled 63 percent of five-on-five shot attempts and a plus-five goal differential.
Burns is on pace for 60 points and while the power play’s struggled under his watch, that’s more the forwards’ fault. He’s an upgrade on DeAngelo — bigger, more disciplined, more reliable defensively and more experienced.
Max Pacioretty’s on the cusp of making his season debut after his torn Achilles. The Hurricanes’ lack of offense has cost them multiple times in the playoffs so his talent as a top-flight goal scorer will be needed.
Big investments: Max Domi ($3 million x one year), Andreas Athanasiou ($3 million x one year)
Early return: Chicago stripped a ton of talent off its roster in the offseason and the only notable replacements they brought in were players on one-year deals with the hope they could be flipped at the trade deadline for assets.
Domi’s centered Patrick Kane and is second on the Hawks with 25 points in 37 games. He’s been full value offensively though he’s struggled to drive play. Domi should net a modest pick at the deadline which will make this signing a tidy piece of work for GM Kyle Davidson.
Athanasiou’s only chipped in with 12 points so the interest in him at the deadline will likely be very limited.
Big investments: Alexandar Georgiev (acquired in exchange for two third-round picks and a fifth-round pick)
Early return: With Philipp Grubauer, Darcy Kuemper and now Georgiev, the Avalanche have consistently nailed their starting goaltender bets. Georgiev was a peculiar gamble in the offseason considering he’d never been a starter and only posted an .898 save percentage in 33 games for the Rangers in 2021-22, but he’s been a crucial stabilizing force for a Colorado team that’s been crushed by injuries.
Georgiev’s cooled off recently after a dominant start, but he’s still sporting a .915 save percentage. Colorado’s ability to identify and land an average starter is impressive considering how few quality goaltenders were available in the market relative to demand in the offseason.
Big investments: Johnny Gaudreau ($9.75 million x seven years), Erik Gudbranson ($4 million x four years)
Early return: The Blue Jackets have been a disaster this year but none of that is a reflection on Gaudreau. He has been by far the Blue Jackets’ best player despite having little talent around him (especially because of the time Patrik Laine and Zach Werenski have missed because of injury) and adjusting to a constantly rotating cast of linemates. Despite that, he’s still clicking at just over a point per game.
Gudbranson, on the other hand, looks like a regrettable signing. He played well in a bottom-pairing role for the Flames last year and adds physicality and bite that the Blue Jackets were sorely missing, but he’s paid way too much for too long. Gudbranson’s driven a paltry 37 percent expected goal share and has been outscored by 17 goals at five-on-five. He’s not a top-four quality defender and his rich contract was one of the most puzzling signings of the 2022 offseason.
Big investments: Mason Marchment ($4.5 million x four years), Nils Lundkvist (acquired in exchange for a first- and fourth-round pick)
Early return: Marchment and Lundkvist have both performed in line with what the Stars were hoping for.
Marchment was hot out of the gates on a line with Tyler Seguin. His production has slowed down lately, but he’s been effective on a line that’s produced overall with Jamie Benn and Wyatt Johnston. Marchment’s on pace for 44 points which is the type of secondary scoring the Stars needed beyond their electric top line.
Lundkvist had some growing pains early and hasn’t been a dynamic offensive threat yet, but his defensive game has been a lot steadier than advertised and he’s driven decent two-way results. He’s flashed serious potential and found his groove over the last month or so predominantly playing on a pair with Miro Heiskanen. That’s solid progress for a right-shot defender who’s still only 22 and navigating his first season as an everyday player.
Big investments: Andrew Copp ($5.625 million x five years), Ben Chiarot ($4.75 million x four years), David Perron ($4.75 million x two years), Ville Husso ($4.75 million x three years)
Early return: Detroit was the busiest team in free agency which has been a driver for the club’s rise in the standings. Husso was dominant through his first 20 starts and has been well above average overall. Perron’s been worth every penny as well, scoring 12 goals and 27 points in 36 games.
Copp and Chiarot’s early results aren’t pretty though.
Chiarot’s brought his patented physicality and has made defensive stops but his two-way play-driving results leave a lot to be desired and the Red Wings have been outscored 32-23 when he’s been on the ice at five-on-five. He just didn’t really click on the top pair with Moritz Seider and the two have been separated recently.
Copp’s on pace for 45 points and he’s been tasked with some of the tough matchups load, but his defensive results are sorely lacking. He’s controlled just 39 percent of the five-on-five scoring chances, unable to drive play in the right direction. Copp’s coming off abdominal surgery so that’s important context and perhaps a reason to believe his form will improve, but so far he hasn’t delivered the high-end impact that the team paid for.
Big investments: Jack Campbell ($5 million x five years)
Early return: Campbell’s signing has been a disaster for the Oilers. He’s posted an .877 save percentage in 17 games, and surrendered 11.9 goals more than expected according to Evolving-Hockey.
Campbell’s struggles aren’t just limited to this season, they date back to the second half of 2021-22. There are 54 NHL goaltenders who played at least 25 games in the calendar year of 2022 and Campbell ranks second last with an .886 save percentage in 44 games.
The soon-to-be 31-year-old is very streaky — he was playing at a near-Vezina level in the first half of 2021-22 — and was mostly fine during his time with the Leafs so you have to hope this is just a slump. Stuart Skinner’s emergence gives Campbell some time to sort his game out but for now, the latter’s contract looks like a potential albatross.
Big investments: Matthew Tkachuk (acquired in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, a first-round pick and Cole Schwindt)
Early return: How many people could have predicted that the Panthers would be this disappointing despite Tkachuk being this dominant?
Tkachuk’s clicking at a 45-goal, 107-point pace. There’s a 16-point gap between him and the next highest point-producing Panther. He’s been everything Florida could have asked for and arguably more considering how the top talent around him has underperformed.
Big investments: Kevin Fiala (acquired in exchange for a first-round pick and Brock Faber)
Early return: Fiala has looked outstanding for the Kings and the organization is equally thrilled with his impact.
Fiala has a nine-point lead on the Kings’ scoring race, on pace for 78 points. He’s been the game-breaker they desperately needed with his knack for singlehandedly driving offense. Fiala’s been lethal at both even strength and on the power play, contributing to all three lines and producing regardless of whether he’s played with top-flight linemates or not.
Big investments: Filip Gustavsson (acquired in exchange for Cam Talbot)
Early return: After drama and controversy, the Wild decided to move on from Talbot, who was solid through 49 games in 2021-22. It was a gutsy decision by GM Bill Guerin because the club needed a quality No. 2 to support Marc-Andre Fleury, who at 38 years old certainly wasn’t going to make 60-plus starts.
Betting on Gustavsson seemed like a risk because he’d yet to even establish himself as a full-time NHL goaltender. But Gustavsson’s been fantastic so far, posting a .924 save percentage through 15 games. The 24-year-old is significantly younger and cheaper than Talbot which also allows the organization tons of time to develop top goaltending prospect Jesper Wallstedt in Iowa.
Big investments: Kirby Dach (acquired in exchange for No. 13 and No. 66 picks), Mike Matheson (acquired in exchange for Jeff Petry), Sean Monahan (Flames added a first-round pick as a sweetener)
Early return: Dach’s been excellent for the Canadiens; his potential and play-driving ability unlocked with his transition to the wing. The 21-year-old has slowed down recently, along with the whole club, but he’s on pace for 49 points and has been most dangerous on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Dach hasn’t just been a passenger, he’s legitimately elevated that line.
Dach’s impact on MTL top line
5v5 Shot Attempts %
5v5 Expected Goal %
Caufield + Suzuki without Dach
Matheson’s appeared in just 10 games this season as he’s been plagued by injuries.
Monahan’s been a shrewd acquisition. Not only did the Canadiens pick up a first-round pick for taking the final year of his $6 million cap hit on, but with 17 points in 25 games, he’s rehabilitating his value. He’s been hurt recently but is expected back soon. If he can pick up where he left off, the Canadiens could net another asset by flipping him as a rental at the deadline.
Big investments: Ryan McDonagh (acquired in exchange for Philippe Myers and Grant Mismash), Nino Niederreiter ($4 million x two years)
Early return: McDonagh’s a warrior and one of the league’s best shutdown defensemen over the last handful of seasons, but acquiring his contract just didn’t make sense for the Predators. The 33-year-old has four years left at a $6.75 million cap hit, which adds another expensive, risky contract for a team that’s floundering in mediocrity and should build for the future.
Niederreiter, on the other hand, has chipped in with 12 goals in 36 games, adding solid middle-six value on a short-term commitment.
Big investments: Ondrej Palat ($6 million x five years), John Marino (acquired in exchange for Ty Smith and a third-round pick), Vitek Vanecek (acquired in exchange for a third-round pick, swapped seconds)
Early return: Marino’s been a two-way rock on New Jersey’s blue line. He’s been a high-end play driver, is young and is locked up long-term which means the club doesn’t need to pay for pending UFA Damon Severson.
Vanecek’s finally given the Devils credible goaltending, going 14-5-2 with a .914 save percentage. The modest acquisition cost and $3.4 million cap hit for three seasons is a cherry on top.
Palat’s played just six games so far due to injury but his championship pedigree and two-way chops will be vital for this young team.
New York Islanders
Big investments: Alexander Romanov (acquired in exchange for No. 13 pick)
Early return: The Islanders needed young, top-four talent and bet on Romanov to be the answer. Romanov’s been a solid second-pair contributor and while there are details to iron out in his game — he’s prone to making mistakes — he has time to polish his game. The 22-year-old left-shot defender has averaged over 20 minutes per night, has complemented Noah Dobson well and is a complete throwback with his thunderous hitting ability.
New York Rangers
Big investments: Vincent Trocheck ($5.625 million x seven years)
Early return: Trocheck didn’t have instant chemistry with Artemi Panarin, which forced Gerard Gallant to shuttle Panarin up and down the lineup, but aside from that he’s been a strong addition and a definite upgrade on Ryan Strome.
The scrappy, high-motor centre has scored 13 goals and 30 points in 39 games, made a solid defensive impact and been an ace in the faceoff circle. He’d have even more goals to his name if he wasn’t tied with Connor McDavid for the NHL lead in hitting the post nine times.
Trocheck’s been worth every penny as New York’s second-line centre.
Big investments: Alex DeBrincat (acquired in exchange for No. 7 pick, a second-round pick and a third-round pick), Claude Giroux ($6.5 million x three years), Cam Talbot (acquired in exchange for Filip Gustavsson)
Early return: DeBrincat isn’t on the elite goal-scoring tear he was on the last two years, on pace for 28 goals this season, but he’s still driven a ton of offense. He’s on pace for 77 points which is right around what he produced in 2021-22. That’s not too shabby at all considering some of the questions about how he’d look without Patrick Kane.
Giroux’s been excellent for the Senators. He’s tied with Tim Stützle for a team-leading 15 goals and is on pace for 77 points just like DeBrincat.
Talbot’s been a little bit more up and down, but he’s mostly been solid. The 35-year-old owns a .911 save percentage and has saved 3.6 goals above expected according to Evolving-Hockey.
Big investments: Tony DeAngelo (acquired in exchange for a second-, third- and fourth-round pick)
Early return: DeAngelo’s been pretty much exactly what the Flyers should have expected. He’s driven a lot of offense, scoring at a 54-point pace, which is impressive considering the lack of scoring talent around him but he’s been predictably awful defensively. DeAngelo’s averaged more than 24 minutes per game, but he’s been overmatched in that role, driving just a 42.1 percent share of five-on-five scoring chances.
The baffling part about this move isn’t the player itself but the lack of long-term vision. There’s no way a team as bad as the Flyers should have surrendered three draft picks for a win-now player.
Big investments: Jeff Petry (acquired in exchange for Mike Matheson and a fourth-round pick), Jan Rutta ($2.75 million x three years)
Early return: Petry got off to a really slow start but was rebounding well before he got injured. He’s been a bit lackadaisical with the puck at times but he’s chipped in with 12 points in 28 games, performed reliably defensively and drove strong underlying results with a 54.5 percent expected goal share at five-on-five. If he can stay healthy and if the slow start was just an adjustment period, he can be the high-end difference maker the Penguins were hoping for.
Rutta’s been a good signing. He’s been an understated but sturdy defensive presence, especially helping out the Penguins’ net-front coverage which used to be a significant concern.
Big investments: Luke Kunin (acquired in exchange for a third-round pick and John Leonard)
Early return: Kunin’s had a modest impact, adding five goals and 13 points in 31 games, but he hasn’t moved the needle and has had a negative impact on driving play and controlling two-way results. The Sharks mostly just tinkered around the edges last offseason though with Nico Sturm standing out as a bargain contributor.
Big investments: Andre Burakovsky ($5.5 million x five years), Oliver Bjorkstrand (acquired in exchange for a third- and fourth-round pick), Justin Schultz ($3 million x two years)
Early return: Burakovsky’s made an immediate impact, leading the Kraken with 28 points in 36 games. He’s been ice cold lately with three points in his last 13 games, and he’s barely noticeable when he’s not producing, but he’s always been a streaky player and his overall production has been up to par this season.
Bjorkstrand, on the other hand, has been a disappointment. He’s consistently scored at a 25-30 goal pace in his career but has just five goals through 36 games so far. The good news is that Bjorkstrand’s shot rate hasn’t slipped at all and he’s been the victim of just a 5.3 percent shooting clip, which is less than half his career average, so he should be due for some more shooting luck.
Schultz has provided good value in a bounce-back season, chipping in with 19 points in 34 games.
Big investments: None
Early return: St. Louis didn’t have the cap space to spend lavishly last summer. The Blues made some depth signings, but their biggest investment was re-signing trade deadline acquisition Nick Leddy for four years at a $4 million cap hit. Leddy’s a useful player and the Blues were lacking on the blue line but this was a clear overpay and it hasn’t panned out, especially because it meant letting Perron walk.
Big investments: Ian Cole ($3 million x one year)
Early return: Extending Nick Paul ($3.15 million x seven years) was the Lightning’s biggest move aside from jettisoning McDonagh’s contract. Paul’s been an extremely valuable Swiss Army knife player and has added a surprising amount of offense with 14 goals and 22 points in 37 games. Cole was signed to a modest one-year deal to replace some of the veteran minutes on the blue line and he’s been effective.
Big investments: Matt Murray (Senators added a third- and seventh-round pick as a sweetener), Calle Jarnkrok ($2.1 million x four years)
Early return: Murray and Ilya Samsonov have both been excellent between the pipes. The difference is that Samsonov was a low-risk signing at just $1.8 million for one season, whereas Murray was a high-leverage, risky gamble with a cap hit just north of $4.6 million for this season and next. Murray’s injury history and lackluster play with the Senators, which included a brief AHL demotion last season, made many people skeptical about this move. But Murray’s been solid despite missing early time with injury, registering a .920 save percentage in 14 games.
Jarnkrok’s been an extremely versatile fit, able to play all three forward positions and slide up and down the lineup. He’s added wheels, two-way dependability and has heated up offensively after a slow start, up to eight goals and 16 points in 31 games.
Big investments: Ilya Mikheyev ($4.75 million AAV x four years)
Early return: In a vacuum, Ilya Mikheyev has been full value for the Canucks. He’s meshed well with Elias Pettersson, flashed his speed and is up to 12 goals and 22 points in 34 games. We haven’t seen Mikheyev’s high-end two-way impact quite yet, but he’s at least been reliable enough to not make catastrophic turnovers or defensive lapses which many of Vancouver’s other forwards are susceptible to.
There’s nothing wrong with the player or contract, but the signing doesn’t make sense for a team like the Canucks that should be rebuilding. Vancouver already had excess money tied up on the wings and needed to have its eyes on building for the future rather than making significant long-term signings.
Andrei Kuzmenko’s been a fantastic addition with 32 points in 36 games, but that was only on a one-year ELC, so it wasn’t a big investment so much as it was a good recruiting job.
Big investments: None
Early return: Vegas was stuck in cap hell which made it impossible to make any splashy acquisitions. They did spend some of their precious, limited money on extending Reilly Smith for three years, which has worked out so far as the veteran winger has 18 goals and 28 points through 40 games.
Big investments: Darcy Kuemper ($5.25 million x five years), Dylan Strome ($3.5 million x one year), Connor Brown (acquired in exchange for a second-round pick)
Early return: Kuemper’s provided exactly the kind of stability the Capitals needed between the pipes. He’s put up a .916 save percentage and saved 8.1 goals above expected, one of the main catalysts for why the Capitals have excelled despite being riddled with injuries.
Strome’s injected cost-effective offense, excelling as a stopgap through Nicklas Backstrom’s absence, contributing 28 points in 40 games.
GM Brian MacLellan had one hell of a summer when you couple those bigger bets with the low-key wins like Charlie Lindgren, Erik Gustafsson and Sonny Milano.
Brown, unfortunately, played just four games before suffering an injury that’s going to sideline him indefinitely.
Big investments: None
Early return: The Jets essentially ran back the same core as last year, which makes this season’s success all the more impressive. Rick Bowness has been a slam dunk behind the bench, adding the kind of structure and connectivity that eluded the club under Paul Maurice.
(Top photo of Sean Monahan shooting on Matt Murray: David Kirouac / USA Today)
This news is republished from another source. You can check the original article here