Which NHL Eastern Conference trades and signings have aged best and worst?


Staff member

The offseason is when NHL GMs usually make their biggest, boldest moves. It’s a manager’s chance to finally weaponize cap flexibility, trade chips, dip into the free-agent market, and engage in a flowing trade market to execute their blueprint.

We’re approaching the halfway point of the 2023-24 season, which is a sensible time to re-evaluate every club’s biggest offseason acquisitions (we won’t dig into every depth addition unless there’s been a noteworthy impact). Half a season isn’t long enough to make a final verdict for trades or signing, 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. We’re going to start with Eastern Conference teams and we’ll go through the Western Conference next week.

Let’s dive in.

Boston Bruins

Notable additions: Morgan Geekie ($2 million, two years), James van Riemsdyk ($1 million, one year)

Early return: The Bruins lost the most talent of any team this summer: Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired, Taylor Hall was a cap casualty and deadline rentals Dmitry Orlov and Tyler Bertuzzi walked in free agency.

GM Don Sweeney was forced to patch holes using the bargain bin because of cap constraints and has done an effective job.

Geekie started slow, with just three points in 12 games in a third-line winger role and got injured shortly after. He’s played well since returning, scoring 11 points in 17 games and moving to center. The gritty, heavy forward has worked his way up to a top-six role lately and his $2 million cap hit is starting to look like a nice deal.

Van Riemsdyk is sixth in team scoring with 22 points in 33 games on a meager $1 million contract. He’s been solid in a third-line left wing role and spent time anchoring the net-front role for Boston’s top power-play unit — four of his six goals and nine of his 22 points have come on the man advantage — although he’s been bumped down to the second unit lately.

Buffalo Sabres

Notable additions: Connor Clifton ($3.33 million, three years), Erik Johnson ($3.25 million, one year)

Early return: Buffalo’s decision not to add a high-profile top-four defenseman or address the goaltending situation is aging poorly.

Clifton’s struggled defensively, made big-time mistakes and isn’t top-four capable. He looks overpaid with a $3.33 million cap hit for another two seasons. Johnson doesn’t move the needle at this stage in his career and has averaged just 14:06 per game.

Clifton and Johnson have been the Sabres’ worst play-driving defensemen in terms of controlling five-on-five shot attempts and expected goals, yet they make a combined $6.58 million against the cap.

Carolina Hurricanes

Notable additions: Dmitry Orlov ($7.75 million, two years), Michael Bunting ($4.5 million, three years), Tony DeAngelo ($1.675 million, one year)

Early return: Orlov’s transition to Carolina has been a work in progress. He couldn’t mesh with DeAngelo early in the season but has played significantly better alongside Jalen Chatfield. Orlov’s mostly played on the third pair averaging just 16:47 per game, so a $7.75 million cap hit may seem excessive, but you have to remember that Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce are pending unrestricted free agents and the Canes historically don’t like to hand out long-term contracts to players approaching 30 (Dougie Hamilton is just one example).

There’s a good chance Carolina signed Orlov to avoid having to dole out risky extensions to one or both of Skjei and Pesce. That means next season — when he’ll presumably play in a top-four role — will be the big test of whether the Orlov move was worth it or not.

Bunting’s been a solid add as he’s on pace for 57 points and has been a penalty-drawing machine.

DeAngelo’s inability to mesh with Orlov on the third pair has resulted in him appearing in just 20 games.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Notable additions: Ivan Provorov (acquired for 2023 No. 22 pick and a conditional second-round pick), Damon Severson ($6.25 million, eight years)

Early return: The Provorov trade isn’t as bad as it may seem on the surface.

Yes, he’s overmatched playing 23 minutes per game, but he’s done a serviceable job considering the team quality around him. The Blue Jackets acquired him at a retained $4.725 million cap hit, which expires at the end of next season, so Columbus can easily flip him at next year’s deadline and recoup significant assets (especially if they retain on Provorov’s already shrunken cap hit). In the meantime, Provorov is shouldering heavy minutes this season and next so blue-chip defense prospects Denton Mateychuk and David Jiricek have extra time to properly develop.

The Severson signing, on the other hand, is likely going to age poorly. Severson’s a slick offensive puck-mover prone to defensive mishaps. He’s a solid defenseman and his $6.25 million cap hit isn’t too bad, but eight years of term for him starting at 29 years old looks problematic. This is a contract for a win-now team to sign, not one that isn’t even close to a playoff spot.

Detroit Red Wings

Notable additions: Alex DeBrincat (acquired for a conditional first-round pick, fourth-round pick and Dominik Kubalik), J.T. Compher ($5.1 million, five years), Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.125 million, one year), Patrick Kane ($2.75 million, one year), Justin Holl ($3.4 million, three years), Jeff Petry (acquired for Gustav Lindstrom and a fourth-round pick), Daniel Sprong ($2 million, one year), James Reimer ($1.5 million, one year)

Early return: DeBrincat’s injected much-needed top-of-the-lineup scoring ability. The diminutive sniper is on pace for a team-high 36 goals and 82 points. DeBrincat will cost the Red Wings just a late first-round pick (they can elect to surrender Boston’s 2024 first-rounder from the Tyler Bertuzzi trade) and spare parts, making this a home-run acquisition.

Detroit made it a huge priority to add offensive skill and it’s succeeded (the Red Wings have jumped from 24th in goals scored per game last season to fifth best in 2023-24) but has it come at the expense of team defense? Individually, the DeBrincat, Gostisbehere (on pace for 59 points from the back end), Sprong and Kane (13 points in 14 games) acquisitions have all panned out. But all four of those players are also relatively one-dimensional scorers and collectively, the team is 27th in goals against and near the bottom of the NHL in most five-on-five play control metrics.

Reimer’s flop as the Red Wings’ backup is a big reason for the club’s December slide out of a playoff spot. The 35-year-old veteran stepped into a bigger role because of injuries and has failed — he’s lost eight of his last nine decisions, rocking an ugly .875 save percentage in that timeframe.

Compher’s five-year contract raised eyebrows but the early returns have been promising. He’s an all-situations workhorse, ranking second among Detroit forwards in averaging 19:04 per game, and was off to a blistering start with 19 points in 24 games before getting hurt. Compher’s two-way metrics are a bit soft and he’s struggled at times since returning from the injury (the Red Wings were outscored 10-3 with him on the ice at five-on-five in December) but overall, he’s been worth every penny so far.

Holl’s been fine as a third-pair defender, but his contract seems like an overpayment for what he is. Petry’s struggled.

Overall, the Red Wings’ new acquisitions have sparked a huge boost offensively but the goaltending position still lacks stability and the team’s defensive play is a glaring concern.

Florida Panthers

Notable additions: Evan Rodrigues ($3 million, four years) Niko Mikkola ($2.5 million, three years), Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($2.25 million, one year)

Early return: GM Bill Zito hit it out of the park with his summer signings.

Rodrigues is on pace for a career-high 53 points. He’s meshed well on the first line with Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart, which is one of the best trios in the league this season.

Mikkola, Ekman-Larsson and Dmitry Kulikov played an integral role in keeping the Panthers’ defense afloat through the first several weeks when Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour were injured.

Mikkola has been a steady second pair piece, averaging north of 20 minutes per game. He’s used his size and skating to drive stellar shot and scoring chance prevention numbers, which has translated to a sparkling 1.86 goals against per 60 minutes rate at five-on-five. If he can keep this level up, Mikkola’s contract is going to be a steal.

Ekman-Larsson has scored seven goals and 18 points in 37 games. He effectively caddied Gustav Forsling on the top pair at the start of the season, averaging nearly 24 minutes per game playing his off-side. OEL’s defensive numbers are a bit soft, and he’s been scaled back to third-pair usage since Ekblad and Montour’s returns, but overall, he’s crushed expectations.

Montreal Canadiens

Notable additions: Alex Newhook (acquired for the No. 31 and No. 37 picks in the 2023 draft)

Early return: The Canadiens are hoping Newhook can follow in the footsteps of Kirby Dach’s breakout last season. Montreal bet that it could extract more from the speedy, high-motor forward than the win-now Avs could because of consistent, elevated opportunity and Martin St. Louis’ development model.

Newhook’s made a decent first impression. He chipped in seven goals and 13 points in 23 games, showing potential with his pace, work rate and creativity. He looked strong on the wing but struggled at center when Dach’s season-ending injury forced him to play some games down the middle.

Newhook suffered a high ankle sprain on Nov 30, with 10-12 weeks being the initial timeline for recovery, so we’ll have to wait longer to gauge whether he’ll live up to the acquisition cost or not.

New Jersey Devils

Notable additions: Tyler Toffoli (acquired for Yegor Sharangovich and a third-round pick)

Early return: Toffoli, on pace for 34 goals and 61 points, has been a terrific fit next to Jack Hughes. Toffoli’s intelligent off-puck reads, knack for finding open ice and explosive shooting release fit like a glove with Hughes’ game-breaking speed, puckhandling and playmaking.

The Toffoli trade is a slam dunk, especially given the modest price. The only question now is whether the Devils will re-sign the 31-year-old as a pending unrestricted free agent.

New York Islanders​

Notable additions: A full year of Bo Horvat

Early return: The 2023-24 Islanders don’t have many new faces but there is one big difference: having Horvat for a full season alongside Mathew Barzal.

The two barely got to play together last season because of Barzal’s second-half injury. Now, Horvat’s playing around the point-per-game clip, winning his matchups as a top-line center (Islanders have outscored teams 30-18 with Horvat on the ice at five-on-five) and has boosted the Isles’ power play from 30th to 10th this season.

New York Rangers

Notable additions: Jonathan Quick ($825,000, one year, plus $100,000 in performance bonuses), Blake Wheeler ($800,000, one year, plus $300,000 in performance bonuses), Erik Gustafsson ($825,000, one year)

Early return: Rangers GM Chris Drury struck gold with two of his cheap fliers.

Gustafsson is one of the offseason’s biggest steals. The 31-year-old puck-moving defenseman has scored 19 points in 36 games and averaged nearly 18 minutes per game. He’s been rock solid as the Rangers’ third left-shot defender behind Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller, which is a lineup slot that’s previously been a sore spot — last year New York had to spend assets to acquire Niko Mikkola as a rental to shore up that role. Gustafsson admirably quarterbacked the first unit power-play when Adam Fox was injured too.

Quick has turned back the clock and performed excellently as New York’s backup. He’s riding a .916 save percentage in 13 games, has picked up two shutouts and saved nine goals above expected according to Evolving-Hockey’s model.

Wheeler is only on pace for 34 points, and his continually waning foot speed has tanked his play-driving numbers, but you can’t complain too much about a 37-year-old making $800,000.

Ottawa Senators

Notable additions: Joonas Korpisalo ($4 million, five years), Vladimir Tarasenko ($5 million, one year)

Early return: Korpisalo’s five-year contract length looked too long the moment it was signed. He isn’t living up to it with an .889 save percentage through 22 games. But at some point, you have to look at the recent history of how goalies mysteriously fall off in Ottawa and wonder if some combination of lackluster structure, systems and team defense is the primary culprit.

Cam Talbot underachieved last season as a Senator but before that was solid in Minnesota and has a .924 save percentage as L.A.’s starter now. Filip Gustavsson disappointed in Ottawa but has since broken out with the Wild.

Korpisalo’s contract carries a ton of risk but we should see how he plays under a new coach, system and better team defense before writing this off as a terrible signing.

Vladimir Tarasenko’s performed decently, scoring eight goals and 24 points in 31 games. He could be a deadline trade chip, although he’ll have the final say because of his full no-trade clause.

Philadelphia Flyers

Notable additions: Sean Walker (acquired as salary dump as part of three-way Ivan Provorov trade), Garnet Hathaway ($2.375 million, two years)

Early return: Walker was a cap dump on an expiring contract to make the logistics of the three-way Provorov trade work. He wasn’t acquired to be a difference-maker, yet he’s turned himself into a legitimate asset. The 29-year-old right-shot defender is driving sterling underlying results in a top-four role. He could fetch a nice return as a rental if the Flyers decide to sell at the trade deadline.

Hathaway has just four goals and one assist, as part of a fourth line that’s been outscored 12-5 at five-on-five this season, but he’s been excellent on the penalty kill and added the sandpaper and identity that John Tortorella teams always have.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Notable additions: Erik Karlsson (acquired in a three-way trade), Reilly Smith (acquired for a third-round pick), Ryan Graves ($4.5 million, six years), Lars Eller ($2.45 million, two years), Noel Acciari ($2 million, three years), Alex Nedeljkovic ($1.5 million, one year)

Early return: Karlsson’s only on pace for 54 points (mostly because of the team’s awful power play) but his even-strength play has been strong. Pittsburgh owns a plus-15 goal differential with Karlsson on the ice at five-on-five in large part because the Penguins earn a commanding 57 percent share of scoring chances during his shifts.

What outsiders who criticize the Karlsson move forget is that the Penguins offloaded terrible contracts as part of the trade. Kyle Dubas cleared Jeff Petry, Mikael Granlund, and Jan Rutta — nearly $12.5 million of dead-weight money in a flat cap climate where it was nearly impossible to ship out undesirable contracts — and in the end, only paid a modest price. That’s sharp work, even if Karlsson has more to give offensively.

Smith was scorching hot during the first month but has gone cold with just two goals and nine points in his last 26 games. They need more top-six production from him.

Graves couldn’t mesh with Kris Letang or Erik Karlsson and now appears poised for a third pair demotion. He hasn’t been the reliable, stay-at-home presence he was expected to be, which is concerning considering his long contract.

Last year, the Penguins were outscored by 22 goals when the bottom six was on the ice at five-on-five. This season, they have a plus-one goal differential at five-on-five when the Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lines are on the bench, according to Natural Stat Trick. That reflects well on Dubas’ overhaul of the bottom six, which targeted speedy, defensive-minded players like Eller.

Nedeljkovic has been an excellent backup, with a .924 save percentage in 12 games.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Notable additions: Conor Sheary ($2 million, one year)

Early return: The Lightning had no cap flexibility last summer, with extensions for Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli kicking in.

Sheary was the only notable addition. He’s had a tough start to his Lightning tenure, scoring just one goal and six assists in 21 games while battling injury.

Tampa Bay’s bottom six has a very different look to it without Ross Colton, Corey Perry, Patrick Maroon and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Bargain signings like Tyler Motte, Luke Glendenning and Austin Watson haven’t moved the needle — the Bolts don’t have the formidable depth they used to boast.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Notable moves: Tyler Bertuzzi ($5.5 million, one year), John Klingberg ($4.15 million, one year), Max Domi ($3 million, one year), Ryan Reaves ($1.35 million, three years)

Early return: Brad Treliving’s makeover of the Leafs’ supporting cast has yielded both wins and losses.

Klingberg was a disastrous fit but the Leafs will be able to reallocate his cap space to add another defender at the trade deadline because of his long-term injured reserve status. Reaves was a liability — he averaged just 7:20 per game and the Leafs were outscored 13-2 with him on the ice — before getting hurt in mid-December.

Domi has brought crucial secondary offense as Toronto’s third-line center, producing at a 50-point rate. He requires sheltering because of his defensive warts, but his offense and grit is a welcome mix at a reasonable price point.

Bertuzzi’s six goals and 16 points in 36 games are a bit disappointing but his play-driving numbers are by far the best of any Leafs forward. If he can finish more of the chances he and his linemates are creating, it’ll all come together.

Treliving’s depth defense signings of Simon Benoit, William Laggesson and Maxime Lajoie effectively stepped up to weather a storm of blue line injuries. Adding Martin Jones as an insurance option is paying off too. He’s pitched a .930 save percentage in 10 games and will play an important role in the interim future with Ilya Samsonov’s demotion and Joseph Woll’s injury.

Washington Capitals

Notable additions: Max Pacioretty ($2 million, one year), Joel Edmundson (acquired for a third and seventh-round pick), Ethan Bear ($2.0625 million, two years)

Early return: Pacioretty made his Capitals debut on Wednesday night after missing all but five games due to injury last season. He’s a critical X-factor for a surprisingly competitive Capitals team that could benefit enormously from a scoring boost.

Edmundson has played decent, low-event hockey on the bottom pair.

Washington’s recent two-year signing of Ethan Bear will be worth tracking too. Bear was a solid depth puck mover for Vancouver last season.
Sabres badly need some RS defensemen. Not sure who is in the pipeline but has to be a priority. The right side all together needs addressing.