2023 NHL Free Agency Day Preview

Tomorrow is July 1, and it’s the biggest player movement day on the NHL calendar: the opening of free agency. It’s a day (and a period) that means different things to every team, but most teams tend to find someone they need. For teams already in the discussion for the Stanley Cup, oftentimes it’s when they add to their depth and make what they hope are the marginal improvements to push them over the top. For the teams that are up-and-coming, it’s the opportunity to make a splash by filling a hole in the top of their depth chart, often for perhaps more salary than would normally be paid to homegrown players producing the same. For teams in the depths, they’re often looking to keep above the salary floor and maybe get a player that can help sell a few more jerseys. On the other side of the discussion, the vast majority of players on the market are older than 28, which usually means they’re either looking for a big salary, a fresh start, or a shot at the Stanley Cup.


With the acquisition of Reilly Smith the other day, the Pittsburgh Penguins have $5M less in salary cap room but still have the ninth-highest cap space in the NHL. That’s notwithstanding the fact that they have a lot of departing free agents of their own, including some in key positions (starting goaltender, top six winger, top four defender), and a couple of warts they need to consider dealing with in Mikael Granlund and Jeff Carter. That reminds me that free agency day (and today) can be one for big trades, like the one that brought Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh from Toronto in 2015.

Because signing free agents can be expensive, general managers sometimes find creative ways to acquire players they want without spending as much in salary. I think we’ve seen enough from the last two general managers that overspending can be harmful both in terms of not getting the kind of production or performance that you were hoping to get for your money, but also if you have injuries or underperforming players you can make call-ups and see what you can get from minor leaguers instead.

While I am anticipating Kyle Dubas to be creative and clever, that’s not to suggest that he’ll make 100% perfect decisions. But I expect him to be less driven by emotion than Jim Rutherford, nor as plainly moronic as Ron Hextall, and that is a massive improvement if you ask me.