When the 2020 NHL free-agent market opened on Oct. 9, we graded the biggest unrestricted free agent signings. As the 2020-21 regular season draws to a close, it's time to revisit our assessments of those deals.
Some of the notable signings included defenseman Alex Pietrangelo joining the Vegas Golden Knights and left wing Taylor Hall shuffling off to the Buffalo Sabres. Others saw goaltender Jacob Markstrom head to the Calgary Flames and forward Tyler Toffoli land with the Montreal Canadiens.
Several of these deals worked out well for the players and their new teams. Others, however, didn't pan out as hoped for either side. Here's our regrading of last year's biggest unrestricted free agent signings.
We've excluded the Washington Capitals signing goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the New Jersey Devils inking goalie Corey Crawford. Both are considered incomplete as Lundqvist missed the season because of heart surgery, while Crawford retired before the season began.
Buffalo Sabres Sign Taylor Hall
The Buffalo Sabres signing Taylor Hall was the biggest surprise in last year's free-agent market. The 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy winner confounded the experts by signing a one-year, $8 million contract with a club that hadn't reached the playoffs in nine years.
It was a bold move by both sides. The expectation was Hall would help the Sabres end their long playoff drought by establishing offensive chemistry with first-line center Jack Eichel. In turn, it would improve Hall's chances of landing a more lucrative deal with the Sabres or another club in this year's free-agent market.
The signing, however, was a disaster. Hall managed only two goals and 19 points in 37 games with the Sabres as they tumbled to the bottom of the MassMutual East Division. He was shipped to the Boston Bruins before April's NHL trade deadline for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick.
That turned into a possible season-saving move for Hall. He's netted 12 points in 14 games while skating with center David Krejci on the Bruins second line. Meanwhile, it's back to the drawing board for the Sabres as they miss the playoffs for the 10th straight year.
Previous Grade: A
Current Grade: F
Vancouver Canucks Sign Braden Holtby
After 10 seasons with the Washington Capitals, Braden Holtby signed a two-year, $8.6 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks. The move was seen as a fresh start for the 31-year-old goaltender after losing the starter's job in Washington. He accepted a pay cut as well, dropping from $6.1 million annually to $4.3 million.
The Canucks turned to Holtby after starter Jacob Markstrom departed for the Calgary Flames as a free agent. The former Vezina Trophy winner would share the goaltending duties with promising Thatcher Demko, providing some veteran stability as Demko developed.
This season, however, was the worst in Holtby's career. He has just seven wins in 18 games with a .899 save percentage and a career-worst 3.34 goals-against average. Meanwhile, the Canucks struggled throughout this season and will miss the 2021 playoffs.
Holtby wasn't helped by the Canucks' porous defense. An outbreak of COVID-19 in April also contributed to the club's decline. Still, Holtby's performance ranked among their disappointments this season. He could be exposed in this summer's expansion draft and perhaps selected by the Seattle Kraken.
Previous Grade: B+
Current Grade: D
Calgary Flames Sign Jacob Markstrom
Following the departure of goaltender Cam Talbot via free agency, the Calgary Flames signed Jacob Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million contract. The top goalie in last year's market, Markstrom won 23 or more games in each of his final three seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. He finished last season with a 2.75 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.
Markstrom was expected to provide stability between the pipes for the Flames following several seasons with inconsistent goaltending. The season got off to a good start for Markstrom, who had eight wins, six losses and an overtime loss in his first 15 contests.
His difficulties came following an upper-body injury on Feb. 22, which sidelined him for five games. He won just four of his next 13 games following his return on March 6.
It took some time for Markstrom to regain his form. His performance improved since April 10 with six wins in 11 games through May 5. Nevertheless, his erratic play wasn't what was expected of a goaltender earning $6 million annually. It contributed to the Flames' disappointing effort this season.
Previous Grade: B+
Current Grade: C+