The 2022 NHL free agent class had a busy Wednesday, with many players finding new homes around the league. Johnny Gaudreau left the Calgary Flames for the Columbus Blue Jackets, while the Carolina Hurricanes swung some big trades and a handful of goalies, like Darcy Kuemper, Jack Campbell, Cam Talbot, Matt Murray and more, swapped creases.
Will the big defenseman Brent Burns continue to be a top fantasy option in Carolina? What effect will Claude Giroux and Andre Burakovsky have on their new linemates? ESPN Fantasy Hockey analysts Victoria Matiash and Sean Allen sort through the biggest free agent deals to help fantasy managers prepare for the 2022-23 season.
Jump ahead: Johnny Gaudreau | Max Pacioretty | Ondrej Palat | Brent Burns | Evander Kane | Claude Giroux | Jack Campbell | Matt Murray | Vincent Trocheck | Rickard Rakell | Evgeni Malkin | Andrew Copp | Darcy Kuemper | David Perron | Ilya Samsonov | Valeri Nichushkin | Andre Burakovsky | Cam Talbot | Max Domi | Pavel Zacha | Ryan Strome | Justin Schultz | Mason Marchment | Eric Comrie
Adding superstar wingers without an established superstar center doesn't always work out. That said, it's hard to think of a line that would have more dangerous flanks in the NHL than one with Gaudreau on one side and an inspired Patrik Laine on the other. So maybe this really pays dividends for Gaudreau and Laine in another season or two when Cole Sillinger and/or Kent Johnson are ready for prime time. That said, maybe the kids are ready to go or maybe Jack Roslovic is all the Jackets need given the elite talent on either side. But I think this landing spot drops Gaudreau in the rankings as life without an Elias Lindholm type at his side is going to be a bit rougher. Think top 60 instead of top 30, so you still want him on your fantasy team. -- Allen
When you get a goal scorer like Pacioretty into the fold, you don't think twice about it. Even though Seth Jarvis was an underrated addition to the Sebastian Aho-Teuvo Teravainen connection at the top of the lineup, you have to think Pacioretty lands here. But even if the Canes opted to keep its top line intact, Andrei Svechnikov and Jesperi Kotkaniemi wait in the wings as a Plan B. And don't even get started on this power play, which was also upgraded with Brent Burns on the point (see below). This is as fine a landing spot for Pacioretty as you can imagine and he should continue his elite per-game production. Just don't count on all 82. -- Allen
Don't get carried away and think Palat just stepped into a goldmine by getting to play with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Remember, he's spent his career playing with a couple of guys named Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos! So what you see is what you get here: an end-of-draft winger to help fill out your active roster that won't hurt your team. -- Allen
The Hurricanes have their new power-play quarterback. Before we invested any real time on who would take over the top role from a Philly-bound Tony DeAngelo (Jaccob Slavin? Brett Pesce?), in sashays Burns via a deal from the Sharks. A little longer in the tooth these days, the veteran shot-happy defenseman can still get the special teams' job done. In fact, his overall scoring numbers got a significant boost this past season, compared with 2020-21. Thanks to Burns' affinity for shooting the puck, contributing with the extra skater, playing heavy minutes and almost never missing a game, the 37-year-old remains a top-20 defensemen in ESPN standard leagues. Maybe top-15 in Carolina over San Jose. He's good for upwards of two fantasy points/contest. Draft him accordingly. -- Matiash
After posting an impressive 7.08 fantasy points per 60 minutes in 43 regular-season games, Kane boosted his production to 9.66 fantasy points per 60 minutes in 15 playoff games. That rate was second only to, you guessed it, linemate Connor McDavid. This duo should be just as explosive again as they look to push through to another playoff run. As we've learned multiple times in the past, the only thing stopping Kane from being a top-30 fantasy play is Kane himself. There is some risk baked into most of his projections though, so just outside the top 50 feels like the right spot. But don't doubt for a second that he has the role and the chops to be among the best selections in your draft. -- Allen
The Senators' top six has a very different look to it than it did only days ago. How does a second line composed of Alex DeBrincat, Tim Stutzle and Giroux strike you? I'd suggest the 20-year-old Stutzle should be rather excited about the prospect of earning two such linemates, if that's how it turns out in Ottawa. If he can hang onto the second-line gig, Stutzle should be in for his first point/game season in 2021-22, no question. Meanwhile Giroux -- who potted 0.73 points/game with the Flyers before blossoming to 1.28 in Florida -- is in for a potential 50-assist campaign along with a respectable haul of goals. The veteran is also set to benefit from playing on a Senators' top power play with the likes of Brady Tkachuk and defenseman Thomas Chabot. -- Matiash
It's not a situation all that dissimilar from the one Campbell parlayed into an all-star appearance with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. The Oilers are offense-first, but need a goaltender to keep the barn doors mostly closed. Campbell posted 3.44 fantasy points per 60 minutes with the Leafs last season, but was much better than that before a series of injuries seemed to derail his play. Before being hurt in mid-December, Campbell trailed only Igor Shesterkin by posting 5.09 fantasy points per 60 minutes through his first 23 games of the season. His .937 save percentage when he was hurt in December plummeted to .893 for his remaining 26 games, which were also interrupted by another injury in March. A healthy Campbell is going to eat 70% of the crease share over an aging Mike Smith and a healthy Campbell can turn those minutes into top-10 fantasy goalie value. But we've seen what can happen if Campbell isn't at his sharpest with last season's latter half. If you can give him a pass and blame what happened on injuries, we're looking at a top-40 overall fantasy pick. -- Allen
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This trade for yet another former Soo Greyhounds alumni from GM Kyle Dubas's and coach Sheldon Keefe's former life does seem to signal that the Leafs are out on any of the bigger fish in the goaltending pond and will kick the tires on Murray as their primary starter. It's a very high risk, very high reward gamble given Murray's spotty record and injuries in Ottawa, but also his dominant Stanley Cup-winning days with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murray is, however, on the right side of 30 and should be uber-comfortable with goalie coach Jon Elkin on staff -- who has been Murray's go-to mentor since the age of 10. If you believe, and there is a case to be made that you should, Murray has top-10 fantasy goaltender written all over him, but with Toronto also signing Ilya Samsonov, it lowers his share of starts. -- Allen
The Rangers aren't paying Trocheck almost $40 million over seven years to plus him in as anything other than their second-line center. That translates into a gig alongside Artemi Panarin, which further projects into an inevitable bump from last season's haul of 1.7 fantasy points/game in ESPN standard leagues. Through stints in Florida and Carolina, Trocheck has yet to bust through the point per game mark, but that changes alongside a production machine like Panarin. Invested fantasy managers should also keep a close eye on who lines up on the right side of this forward duo, now that both Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano have bolted for Detroit and Anaheim, respectively. That should prove to be a fairly fruitful gig as well. -- Matiash
In re-signing Rakell and Malkin before free agency opened, the Penguins secured their existing top six heading into next season. Rakell is enticing despite missing the bulk of the playoffs. In 12 games, he played on a line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, the trio easily posted the highest goals-per-60 minutes of any Penguins line combination that played at least 90 minutes together last season. It's a small sample, to be sure, but offers a glimpse of what could be with the two snipers flanking Crosby. As for Malkin, he was as dominant as ever for fantasy points last season. His 7.66 fantasy points per 60 minutes was 21st in the NHL among skaters. It's just a matter of whether you feel lucky enough to take the over on him playing more than half the season. -- Allen
Capitalizing on a huge season in which Copp stood on the shoulders of giants, the Red Wings got a very good player who might not be as fantasy relevant as it looks on paper. Copp is a third-line center in an ideal world, but he has shown an ability to play wing with star forwards when called upon. The trouble is, the Red Wings aren't exactly bursting at the seams with Artemi Panarin or Nikolaj Ehlers level forwards. It's hard to see a fit on the Wings top line that is currently penciled in as Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Lucas Raymond. And the depth chart falls off sharply after that, with Jakub Vrana and Pius Suter the next in line. If he repeats his fantasy points per game from last season, he'd just sneak into the top-200 players. And asking for a repeat without the same supporting cast is a lot. Copp is someone who might be best left undrafted. -- Allen
After ushering both Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov out the door, the Capitals are choosing to toss (most of) their eggs into the reigning Stanley Cup champion's goaltending basket. Rocking a .921 SV% and 2.54 GAA through 57 regular-season contests, Kuemper averaged a hair under 4.0 fantasy points/game. He was nearly as good (and good enough, as it were) when called upon in the playoffs. But tending net behind the Capitals' defensive corps -- and rapidly aging squad altogether -- isn't equal to managing the gig behind one of the league's best in Colorado. As demonstrated by one club winning the Cup and the other getting knocked out in the first round. Kuemper edged on performing as a top-five fantasy goaltender in Denver. While fated to play a ton, the 32-year-old drops down a tier in Washington. -- Matiash
The Blue Jackets make a splash in free agency by signing forward Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year deal.
Detroit's power play just got better. Twenty-six of Perron's 57 points in 2021-22, split almost evenly between goals and assists, counted with the extra skater. A spot on the top unit with Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, and defenseman Moritz Seider is nearly guaranteed for the ex-St. Louis skater, along with a top-six role at even strength. Perron's overall production is never going to blow your fantasy mind, but the contributions on special teams add a fair bit of extra shine. He merits mid- to late-round selection in most fantasy drafts that reward power play production. If the Red Wings don't add any more significant bodies, or shift fellow Detroit newbie Andrew Copp to center, Pius Suter projects to be sitting pretty between some combo of Perron, Copp, and Jakub Vrana. Not a bad gig. New coach Derek Lalonde has a lot more work with -- Dominik Kubalik, and defenders Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta also signing up in Detroit -- than he did only hours earlier. -- Matiash
Through the fantasy lens, I like this signing a lot as means of putting extra pressure on new No. 1A Matt Murray. We should learn fairly early on if the two-time Stanley Cup champ is indeed capable of rebounding off his most recent pair of ugly, and largely injury-riddled, seasons in Ottawa. Never mind if the 28-year-old can stay healthy and withstand the pressure of performing in such a pressure-filled market. If not, Samsonov -- signed to just the one year in Toronto - will be eagerly waiting in the wings to take over, and prove last year's barely so-so season in Washington isn't one to define his talent and skill. I'm not targeting either member of this projected tandem as my No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy goaltender, but feel willing to roll the dice on either in later stages of deeper drafts. Murray first, and then Samsonov. Both wild cards have plenty to prove with a top-tier club in T.O. -- Matiash
Nichushkin benefited a lot from other injured Avs last season, pushing him into top-line minutes. He also had great chemistry with Nazem Kadri. With a new season on the horizon and Kadri doubtful to return, there is a wide range of outcomes for Nichushkin in fantasy. Can he claim a top-line role with Nathan MacKinnon and get minutes on the Avs first power-play unit? If so, he's easily a top-75 skater for fantasy. Or does he have to settle for whomever the Avs get to play second-line center and miss out on top advantage time? If that's the case, Nichushkin is more of a mid-round draft target likely to produce among the top-150 skaters. He's fantasy relevant either way, it's just a matter of outcomes. -- Allen
Burakovsky is going to play plenty with his new club in Seattle, at even strength and on the power play. That's the upside. But his supporting cast will sport a very different look from 2019- 2022. Instead of lining up alongside Nathan MacKinnon or Nazem Kadri, and a winger like Mikko Rantanen, the 27-year-old will be working to gel with a young, future star center like Matty Beniers or Shane Wright (eventually). Which likely results in a minor dip in production in the immediate future. Instead of 60-plus points over a full season, a bit above 50, right now, feels more likely. At least until the still-forming Kraken figure out how to generate more offense. Which hopefully doesn't take too long. For now, Burakovsky projects as a viable fantasy asset on deeper rosters, at best. -- Matiash
After some grumblings about Talbot being unhappy with Marc-Andre Fleury rejoining the Minnesota Wild, the club shipped the veteran off to the Senators in exchange for backup goaltender Filip Gustavsson. The Sens could be on the verge of competing again, but won't be the defensive stalwarts that the Wild were. Anton Forsberg hasn't been a slouch of late either, so it's not as if Talbot is strutting into a 3,500-minute role here. Best-case scenario appears to be a 60% crease share and an improved Sens team to keep his ratios competitive -- but they'd need to be playoff-bound for the end result to be fantasy friendly. Goaltenders also tend to decline sharply in their mid-30s and Talbot just turned 35. -- Allen
Someone needs to skate in the top six in Chicago next season. Now that GM Kyle Davidson is frantically emptying his cupboards of active NHLers, one of those somebodies should be Domi (even if Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews stick around a bit). After erupting for 72 points in 82 games with Montreal in 2018-19, the 12th-overall selection (2013) has yet to flirt with a similar pace. An abundance of minutes and opportunities on the Blackhawks power play - because, again, they need warm, experienced bodies - could result in a brief renaissance for the underperforming forward. The one-year deal should further inspire Domi to make as much productive hay as possible. The 27-year-old is always good for a few PIM too, should your fantasy league reward the rule-breakers. -- Matiash
This could actually be a very fantasy relevant trade for Zacha. With Erik Haula going to the Devils, even if we assume Patrice Bergeron comes back, Zacha becomes the Bruins second-best center. Haula didn't accumulate relevant fantasy points himself, but he was the perfect lubricant on a second line with wingers Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak that fueled an excellent second half by both. Believe it or not, that secondary trio posted a better goals per 60 minutes rate than the combination of Brad Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. If Zacha can slide into that same role -- again, assuming Bergeron re-ups -- then we can hope for a surprise season from the 25-year-old. -- Allen
The Ducks are building a talented top six, so much so that Strome walking in as an outsider isn't even guaranteed to be on the top line. Adam Henrique, Trevor Zegras and incoming rookie Mason McTavish can all play center. But Strome has experience with a sniper winger in Artemi Panarin and will offer some stability if given the opportunity to play the top pivot spot. Still, we'll need to wait and see how this depth chart shakes out to decide if Strome is going to have a big season with the Ducks. -- Allen
While there are still some Vince Dunn truthers out there (guilty as charged), Schultz offers an interesting backup plan if the Kraken power play can't get going with Dunn at the helm again this season. But in order for Schultz to start collecting fantasy points at a rate we are interested in, many things would have to break in his favor: continued Dunn doldrums, Shane Wright and Matty Beniers leaping into elite production. But don't forget that when Schultz was called upon to be his team's primary PP quarterback for half of 2016-17, he answered the bell in a big way. Long shot for late-round value? -- Allen
As much as Marchment had a big season with the Panthers and parlayed it into a contract with the Stars, the winger's 2021-22 season was more of a reflection on Anton Lundell's talent. The Stars don't have the depth the Panthers do at pivot, so if Marchment can't force his way onto a scoring line (not happening for the Joe Pavelski line without injury; maybe for the Jamie Benn line), he won't be making further fantasy waves into 2022-23. -- Allen
Keep a close eye on this one. Craig Anderson is not who the Sabres hope will start a bulk of their games this season. At an amazing 41 years old, Anderson would be the veteran backup in an ideal world. But Comrie hasn't earned himself a starter's gig based on his backup play, which included appearing in just a handful of games each year since 2016-17. So Comrie will have to earn the right to be the Sabres No. 1. But at just 27 years old and already with a ton of exposure to the NHL, he has upside. If you are playing in a deeper league and need to take a late goalie gamble, this might be the spot. -- Allen