Part of the fun of NHL free agency is watching teams and players find fits that seem absolutely perfect.
Whether a player is joining a club for the rest of his career, or just finding a cushy spot to spend a season before hitting the market again, there's something satisfying about seeing two LEGO pieces click together.
At the same time, it can be equally entertaining to see strange deals emerge that don't seem to conform to our understanding of talent evaluation, the market, the salary cap, or just how to build a hockey team.
Every year there are some peculiar deals announced, and 2023 is no exception:
New team: Ottawa Senators
Contract: Five years, $20 million
Why it's strange: In a market where teams were able to scoop up quality players on short-term prove-it deals, it's odd that Korpisalo was able to walk away with a five-year contract.
The Finnish netminder is coming off a strong 2022-23, but for most of his career he's served as a backup and has yet to play 40 games in a season. Not only has he not shouldered the load as a starter, he generally hasn't performed like one. Korpisalo's career save percentage sits at .904. Over the last three seasons his GSAA of -20.53 ranks 28th among 36 goaltenders with at least 5,000 minutes played.
The Senators may believe they've locked in a starting goaltender at a reasonable rate over the long term, but most of Korpisalo's track record suggests he's a below-average option.
A more reasonable move would've been a short-term deal with a higher AAV to make the 29-year-old show last year's +11.5 GSAA season was no fluke.
New team: Arizona Coyotes
Contract: One year, $5.3 million
Why it's strange: This deal makes plenty of sense for the Coyotes. Arizona has lots of cap space and it aspires to respectability. If Zucker is productive he'll also make a fine trade asset.
This is odd on Zucker's side, though.
Yes, $5.3 million is a lot, but the winger was heavily incentivized to seek security this offseason. He was coming off a stellar 27-goal season after a couple of injury-marred campaigns where his goal total was in single digits.
At 31 and coming off a strong platform season, a multi-year contract seemed to be in the cards. Now the veteran winger will be a 32-year-old free agent following a season with the Coyotes. Going to Arizona is no guarantee of a decline in production, but the Coyotes aren't brimming with elite offensive talent.
The desert probably isn't the best spot for a "bet-on-yourself" play.
New team: Colorado Avalanche
Contract: Six years, $15 million
Why it's strange: Paying $2.5 million to have Wood in your bottom six in any given season seems reasonable. Committing to six years of the winger is tough to fathom.
Wood is just 27, which makes this slightly more defensible, but it still seems to be the case of a team falling in love with a player and losing perspective on the market.
At the end of the day, Wood is a guy who skated just 12:06 with the New Jersey Devils in 2022-23, and has never topped 32 points in a season. He's not even a prototypical defensive player for the bottom of the lineup, as he has less than 30 minutes of penalty-killing experience in his entire eight-year career.
Wood plays a less-than-glamorous game, but does enough volume shooting to typically produce a goal total in the teens despite a career shooting percentage of 8.9%. Guys like Wood don't grow on trees, but they are available on far shorter, less risky contracts.
New team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Contract: Three years, $4.05 million
Why it's strange: Players like Reaves barely exist anymore in the modern NHL, so it is understandable that they are difficult to value.
That said, 36-year-old enforcers have extremely limited on-ice utility and their contracts should reflect that. The salary is a lot considering how few minutes the big winger will play, and the term is mind-boggling for a guy who will be close to 40 by the time this deal is done.
Ryan Reaves for three years is too long.
Ryan Reaves at $1.3M is too much.
The surplus value listed here is generous because I created a lower limit that Reaves' play falls well below. pic.twitter.com/togsrfAu32
— dom 📈 (@domluszczyszyn) July 1, 2023
In the grand scheme of things, the contract is modest enough to be disposed of if it goes wrong — by whatever metric the front office is judging a player like Reaves — but the reporting around it suggests Toronto zeroed in on him and was willing to go a year longer than his other primary suitor, the Minnesota Wild.
Outbidding for a player on term is usually inadvisable; doing so with a guy like Reaves is bizarre. Perhaps the tough guy truly brings intangibles that will help the team win, but even if he does it'll be impossible to prove — and previous experiments with aging tough guys haven't served Toronto well in the past.
Team: New York Islanders
Contract: Seven years, $21 million
Why it's strange: Engvall is similar to Wood in that he's young (27) and the AAV on his current deal wouldn't be truly outrageous on a shorter contract.
Even so, this extension by the Islanders is a big commitment to a guy the Maple Leafs had no problem dumping at the last trade deadline even though they needed bottom-six punch. He might find a different level and make this deal a bargain, but it's unfair to project much improvement for a guy his age.
He probably is what he is: a player who is big, fast, and disruptive, but unable to consistently convert his tools into production. Unlike Wood there isn't even much "veteran presence" factor here, as Engvall has played just 244 regular-season games in the NHL.