The first weekend of 2023 NHL free agency is officially in the books, and it was an interesting weekend, to say the least.

While this free agency class was weaker than others, we still saw some huge deals handed out. Quite frankly, a lot of those big deals raised some eyebrows for NHL fans, as players took advantage of a weak market to cash in on big paydays. In all, teams have handed out nearly $700 million in total contract value in just the first two days of free agency.

However, the teams that received the most praise for their moves tended to go the more low-key route. These teams may not have made the flashiest moves in free agency, but added key pieces to their team at good value.

Without further ado, here are three of the biggest winners from the first weekend of NHL free agency.

Dallas Stars

The Stars, fresh off a trip to the Western Conference Final, didn't have much to work with in free agency, with just over $7 million in cap space heading in. For what they were working with, though, they did a real bang-up job.

Dallas' big pickup was center Matt Duchene, whom the Nashville Predators bought out on Friday. That buyout seemingly allowed the Stars to sign him to a bargain one-year deal worth $3 million. Considering that Duchene made $8 million annually in Nashville, the Stars got a steal at the expense of their rival.

It's not like Duchene, 32, is washed up either. He took a while to find his footing in Nashville, but he was excellent in 2021-22 with a career-high 43 goals and 86 points in 78 games. This past season wasn't quite as prolific, but he still scored a very respectable 22 goals and 56 points in 71 games. He'll fit in excellently as Dallas' third-line center or potentially a top-six winger.

The Stars' other signings were also lowkey but could have some upside. Craig Smith is a solid depth forward who has consistently scored 30 points in past seasons, Gavin Bayreuther could work well as a bottom-pairing or seventh defenseman, and former first-round pick Sam Steel is a solid choice for a reclamation project. All in all, solid work by general manager Jim Nill.

New York Rangers

The Rangers were in a very similar position to the Stars heading into free agency, and both made similar moves. New York also didn't have much cap space to play with, so decided to focus smaller, low-key acquisitions.

Like Dallas, New York's biggest signing came in a forward who had just been bought out earlier in the week. For the Rangers, that forward was longtime Winnipeg Jet Blake Wheeler, and they signed him for one year at a tiny cap hit of just $800,000. Wheeler, 36, has been an offensive machine for a long time now, scoring 922 points in 1,118 NHL games. Even if he has a down year in New York, it hardly matters as the Rangers are paying him barely above league minimum. This signing comes with no risk at all while potentially having very high reward.

The other big signing was longtime Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick at $825,000 for one year to be Igor Shesterkin's new backup. Quick, 37, is coming off a brutal season with both the Kings and Vegas Golden Knights, but is still a future Hall-of-Famer and should bring a nice veteran presence to the team. The Rangers also made some decent additions to their bottom six with Nick Bonino, Riley Nash and Tyler Pitlick. Not much in the way of flashy signings, but solid work all around by the Blueshirts.


Arizona Coyotes

Arizona has dealt with plenty of issues on and off the ice, so there's no point in going over that here. Even with those struggles, the Coyotes did pretty well for themselves this weekend. No huge signings, but a bunch of solid acquisitions at good value.

The biggest signing was former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jason Zucker, who the Coyotes signed for one year at $5.3 million. The 31-year-old is coming off a 27-goal season, and should bring some much-needed punch to the offense. If the Coyotes are out of playoff contention by the trade deadline, they could also flip Zucker for extra assets too.

Other notable signings include former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot and the return of forward Nick Bjugstad, both on two-year deals. Both players are quality middle-six forwards that should also bring some extra scoring touch.

Arizona is still quite a long way away from being a playoff team and will be for a while. Credit where credit is due, though, they made some smart moves to start 2023 NHL free agency.