Which Teams Won Day 1 of NHL Free Agency?

Multiple teams made moves on Day 1 of NHL free agency that should help bolster their rosters moving forward and put them in playoff contention.

Free agency is when teams close to contending for a championship will invest their money in pieces that have the potential to get them over the top, but that’s not always how general managers approach things. 

Some teams considered winners on the day could look back at some of these contracts with regret. Two top free agents, Nazem Kadri and John Klingberg, have yet to be signed since action kicked off yesterday, but there’s still plenty of time ahead.

Let’s dive into some of the winners on Day 1 of NHL free agency and why these clubs should reap the benefits of these contracts next season. 

Ottawa Senators

New Additions: Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat, Cam Talbot

The Ottawa Senators could be the biggest winners of the NHL offseason. Heading into free agency, the Sens had already acquired 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat and consistent starter Cam Talbot.

On Day 1 of free agency, Sens general manager Pierre Dorion landed one of the big fish, signing Ottawa native Claude Giroux to a three-year deal worth $6.5 million annually. It’s been difficult for Ottawa to attract free agents, but with a bright young core, the time to strike was now. Giroux finished last season with 65 points and is still an effective playmaker, tallying 923 points over his illustrious 14-year career. 

Cam Talbot gives the Senators more certainty in goal and should form a solid tandem with Anton Forsberg. The offense shouldn’t be a problem for the Sens, but there are still questions surrounding their blueline, even with top prospect Jake Sanderson ready to make the jump. 

The Sens don’t appear done either, with plenty of smoke surrounding them trying to acquire a top defenseman. The Senators are in one of the toughest divisions in hockey with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Boston Bruins, which means despite their upgrades, a playoff berth is still not guaranteed. Ottawa is looking for the continued growth of their young talent, along with being in a position to grab a playoff position.

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Additions: Johnny Gaudreau, Erik Gudbranson

In a Day 1 shocker, the Columbus Blue Jackets opened their checkbook and signed the top free agent on the market, Johnny Gaudreau. You don’t often see a player that was in the running for the Hart Trophy make it to free agency, but Gaudreau wanted to test the market and be closer to his family. Gaudreau signed a seven-year, $9.75 million per season deal with the Blue Jackets, which was substantially less than the Calgary Flames’ last offer. Gaudreau has put up over a point per game throughout his eight years in the NHL, which saw him tally a career-high 115 points last year. After back-to-back successful drafts, the Blue Jackets are a team to watch in the Eastern Conference over the next five seasons, where Gaudreau could be dishing out one-timers to one of the league’s best goal scorers, Patrik Laine

It wasn’t all good news for the Blue Jackets yesterday; they also gave out a questionable contract to veteran defenseman Erik Gudbranson. There’s nothing wrong with valuing a defensive defenseman, but it appears that Blue Jackets’ management gave out too much term in a four-year, $4 million per season deal. Giving out that contract put a foul stench on what was otherwise an important day in the franchise’s history.  

Carolina Hurricanes

New Additions: Brent Burns, Max Pacioretty, Dylan Coghlan

The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t make any real noise in the free agent marketplace, but they made two key acquisitions on the trade front that should pay dividends. If you looked at the Canes over the past few seasons, they lacked postseason difference makers, which is what they acquired on Wednesday. Both trade partners, the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, were looking to shed salary, so they paid very little to acquire these players. Max Pacioretty is a 30-goal scorer that Carolina acquired for future considerations. Vegas put themselves in a cap crunch and needed to shed his deal, while Carolina was happy to take on the full load in what should be a significant upgrade to their roster. 

Carolina added one of the top offensive defensemen in hockey with Brent Burns. Burns should help replace Tony DeAngelo‘s offense now that he’s in Philadelphia while providing a veteran presence in their dressing room. 

With Carolina essentially acquiring both for scraps, it’s difficult to argue that they aren’t in a much better position now, despite losing Vincent Trocheck to the New York Rangers. 

Honorable Mention: Detroit Red Wings (David Perron, Ben Chiarot, Ville Husso, Andrew Copp, Olli Maatta)

Much like the Blue Jackets, there were some important signings made by the Detroit Red Wings, but some left you scratching your head. Signing David Perron and Ville Husso stood out as moves that could help propel the Red Wings up in the standings, while Andrew Copp should also make a difference up front, even if you don’t like the term or dollar figures.

There are questions about whether or not giving term to Ben Chiarot was a wise decision. Chiarot didn’t put up good underlying numbers over the past few seasons in Montreal and Florida. It’s hard to state good leadership’s value, but the Red Wings front office clearly deems it expensive.

Husso put together some solid showings for the St. Louis Blues and earned a chance to be a starter this offseason. It’s a good gamble for the Red Wings to make to bridge the gap before top prospect Sebastian Cossa can make the jump.

Detroit feels its young core needs support, but it’s still fair to question whether or not all of that money went to the correct players.