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Midterm Report: Grading the performance of notable free agent signings with their new clubs

Half of the 2019-20 campaign is in the books, so how are the notable off-season additions performing in their new locales? Here's a look at more than a dozen summer signings.

We were willing to give Sergei Bobrovsky a pass through the early part of the season. Hey, new team, new surroundings, who wouldn’t take a while to get settled? So, when the NHL’s newest $10-million goaltender – he was inked to a seven-year, $70-million pact by the Florida Panthers when free agency opened – stumbled out of the gate and posted dreadful numbers through his first 10 games, we figured it was OK to give him a few more weeks to start turning things around.

So, wait we did. And then we waited longer. And then we waited some more. But at this point, we have to start wondering whether we’re going to see the Vezina Trophy-winning version of Bobrovsky show up at any point this season.

True, he’s had some quality outings, his 46-save effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning in December and shutout performance against the Detroit Red Wings in November among them, but the broader look at Bobrovsky’s season is enough to cause one to wince. Following a Saturday outing that saw him yanked after allowing three goals on seven Buffalo Sabres shots, Bobrovsky heads into the second half of the Cats’ season with a 15-12-4 record that belies his ugly .895 save percentage and bloated 3.33 goals-against average. His performance has been so poor, questions of the defense in front of him aside, that he should consider writing the San Jose Sharks’ Martin Jones a thank-you card. After all, Jones might be the only netminder keeping Bobrovsky out of the league-worst conversation right now.

The concern – one that is ever-increasing with each successive start that we don’t see the glimmers of goaltending genius that we had grown accustomed to seeing during his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets – is that this is the Bobrovsky the Panthers are going to see through the duration of his deal. To be sure, it’s too soon to suggest that will be the case. Seven years is plenty of time, and goaltending, unlike any other position, has a habit of fluctuating from season to season. One season’s Vezina winner can be next’s crease catastrophe and vice versa. Bobrovsky, of course, knows this better than anyone.

Think back to the 2015-16 season, in which Bobrovsky, who battled injury all season, posted the worst numbers of his career, a meager .908 SP and 2.75 GAA. Only three years earlier, he had stood on stage receiving his first top-goaltender honor, yet here he was on the shelf after a forgettable year that had some questioning whether he still had his fastball. But he answered with fervor the following season, pacing the league with a .931 SP and 2.06 GAA, posting seven shutouts and capturing his second Vezina in five years. So, yes, this season has thus far been regrettable for Bobrovsky, but we can't yet say that's the way things will be for the duration of his stay.

That said, what we’re here to do is look at more than a dozen of the notable summer signings and grade them based on their performance so far. Again, this is only a grade that represents the first half-season with their new clubs. By next season, these grades could change completely. But for the time being, that means Bobrovsky lands at the bottom with an 'F'. He's not the only one, however:

Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers – A+
The Rangers threw a boatload of money at Panarin in order to persuade him to sign on the dotted line, and it’s paid off and then some. Through 41 games, his 22 goals and 55 points are team-leading totals and if New York manages to sneak into a wild-card position by season’s end – they’re “only” seven points out entering Tuesday – Panarin should get some MVP consideration. He’s been the driving force behind any success New York has experienced. Add to it that he’s seemingly turned Ryan Strome into a legitimate top-six player and Panarin is paying for himself twice over.

Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks – A
Much of the success the Blackhawks have had this season, which has been a modest amount, can be attributed to the play of Lehner, who came to town on a one-year pact and has stolen a number of the games in which he’s appeared. His 12-7-4 record isn’t bad, but his .922 SP and 2.92 GAA really stand out. Take into account his 12.4 goals saved above average at all strengths and you get an even clearer picture of his performance.

Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders – A
Full marks to the Islanders, who continue to turn goaltenders into brick walls. Varlamov’s signing was questioned at the time, but that seems laughable now. He’s put up an excellent .924 SP and 2.30 GAA through 26 appearances this season. Because of the split-time nature of the New York crease, he might get docked marks when it comes to the Vezina discussion, but he has to be in the conversation.

Joonas Donskoi, Colorado Avalanche – B+
Few would have batted an eye if Donskoi spent his time in Colorado skating bottom-six minutes and producing roughly 15 goals and 35 points per season. Frankly, that’s about what was expected of him. So, to say he’s exceeded expectations would be an understatement. Not only has he found himself skating up the lineup, but he’s matched his career-high goal total (14) in just 42 games and is on pace to eclipse the 50-point plateau for the first time in his career.

Brandon Tanev, Pittsburgh Penguins – B
Under normal circumstances, Tanev wouldn’t have wound up on this list, but his six-year term was a shocker and made his signing noteworthy enough that it should be considered here. It helps, too, that Tanev is proving doubters wrong. He’s been the same speed demon in Pittsburgh that he was with the Winnipeg Jets, and his eight goals and 19 points put him on pace for career-high totals.

Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars – B
Pavelski hasn’t had much shooting luck and that has hurt his numbers, but that doesn’t change that he has eight goals and 18 points through 42 games, which puts him on pace for his worst full-season output since his sophomore campaign. That said, he still makes things happen at both ends of the ice and he’s been a phenomenal play driver. His offense has been limited by a Stars team that has trouble scoring with any consistency.

Brett Connolly, Florida Panthers – B
The expectations for Connolly were fairly cut and dried. He was to come to Florida and produce like a middle-six scorer, and the Panthers were paying him to be a 20-goal scorer or better. He's responded well to those expectations, too. Not only are Connolly's 16 goals already the second-highest total of his career, the 27-year-old is on pace to post a career-best 30-plus goal season. He could realistically surpass his career-high 22 goals, scored last season, by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

Ryan Dzingel, Carolina Hurricanes – B-
The thing that Dzingel was brought into Carolina to do – score goals – he hasn’t really done all that well. With eight goals in 42 games, he’s finding twine at a clip more akin to that which he did during his brief stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets, not like he did with the Ottawa Senators before that. His 25 points make him a top-five scorer for the Hurricanes, though, and he’s been a helpful hand even if that hasn’t been by way of filling the net.

Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators – B-
Has he been an offensive leader? Technically, yes. He’s tied for tops in scoring among Predators forwards with 28 points. But he’s also on pace for 59 points and Nashville was likely hoping for something more in the 70-point range, which is what he posted last season. He’s been sidelined for two games, but if Duchene can continue to produce like a top-six forward, the Predators will be happy. They’re still left searching for that No. 1 pivot, though.

Tyler Myers, Vancouver Canucks – B-
He’s skating big minutes and producing at a clip similar to what one would have expected of him entering the season. Neither of those is the concern. The issue, however, is the same as it’s been throughout much of Myers’ career, which is driving play and limiting attempts against. His expected goals for percentage (minus-0.6) points to the difficulties he’s had in his own end of the ice despite favorable zone starts.

Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets – C+
No one was going to appropriately replace Panarin’s production in Columbus, but Nyquist has done his best to provide some offensive punch to a team that found itself saying goodbye to its leading scorer. His nine goals leave much to be desired, but his 28 points put him in a dead heat with Pierre-Luc Dubois for tops in Blue Jackets scoring entering the week.

Marcus Johansson, Buffalo Sabres – C
The Sabres need secondary scoring and they need someone who can contribute and carry their own line to take some of the pressure off of Jack Eichel. There was some hope that Johansson could be that player. But that hasn’t been the case. He’s been OK and sits fifth in scoring on the Sabres, but his 21 points aren’t near enough and he’s not carrying his weight as a second-line center.

Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild – C
For this deal to really pay off, Zuccarello would have had to been so good that he drives the top line and turns heads. That’s simply because otherwise the Wild were set to once again be a middling and mediocre club. Lo and behold, that’s what Minnesota has been. Zuccarello hasn’t been bad. It’s just…why did this deal happen? It’s still one of the most confounding summer signings.

Wayne Simmonds, New Jersey Devils – C-
The low grade isn’t altogether a knock on Simmonds, who has actually been fine in the role he’s been asked to play. However, with four goals and 14 points, he hasn’t provided enough offensive punch to help the Devils climb out of the league basement. New Jersey’s poor start led the Devils to trade away Taylor Hall and basically throw in the towel on the season. Simmonds can be dealt at the deadline, but one wonders what the Devils will actually be able to recoup by moving him.

Corey Perry, Dallas Stars – D
There was this hope, however slim, that Perry would find a way to recapture old glory and turn into one of the season’s great surprises. Instead, his three goals and 13 points through 34 games, all the while playing fourth-line minutes, has been the reassurance everyone needed to say once and for all that Perry’s best days are indeed behind him. There’s no shame in that, but he’s likely destined for retirement or another one-year deal elsewhere next season.

Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers – F
He was brought in to bring some consistency to the second-stringer spot in Edmonton, but the only thing consistent about his play this season is that it hasn’t been up to snuff. His numbers this season are somehow worse than the totals he posted last season with Calgary.

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