A Look Around the NHL
Barring a rare late summer trade, most NHL teams have about 90% of their opening night lineups already locked down. There will obviously be camp battles to see what young players get the call, whether a veteran will start on the 2nd or 3rd line, and so on. But most NHL teams have finished off the bulk of their offseason, and as always, some teams have shot up the standings, while others have been passed over. This blog is going to mostly focus on the Flyers, my favorite team, but I wanted to start things off by giving you my perspective, as unbiased as possible, on all 31 teams in the NHL.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are in one of the most difficult spots in terms of roster building in the NHL right now. They have an aging forward core of players who may or may not be stars but a bright young defense and stellar goalie in John Gibson behind them. With less than $10 million to sign notable RFAs Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, and Brandon Montour, the Ducks chose to stay silent in free agency, signing only a few depth pieces in Carter Rowney and Luke Schenn. They have some good reinforcements, but the aging curve of Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler will determine how far the Ducks can go for not only this year, but the next 3 seasons at least.
Arizona Coyotes: The Domi-Galchenyuk trade may not have been as big of a fleece as many think but it was still a win for John Chayka as the Coyotes got the better of the two players and much needed center depth. They got a versatile winger in Michael Grabner on a reasonable 3-year contract, but their biggest moves were locking up Niklas Hjalmarsson, Antti Raanta, and most importantly, Oliver-Ekman Larsson. Chayka continued his trend of eating the salary of retired players, most recently Marian Hossa, to gain extra assets (in this case - Vinnie Hinostroza and 3rd round pick). The Coyotes may not be ready to jump back into the playoffs for the first time since 2012 yet, but hopefully this will be the year they can get out of the cellar. Although reaching for Barrett Hayton at #5 may be a major regret for Arizona long-term.
Boston Bruins: The Bruins have been known for dishing out lucrative contracts to players past their prime that have come back to blow up in their face. While not meeting all of these criteria, the John Moore deal has this potential. Moore isn’t a bad player by any means, he’s a solid 3rd pairing defensemen at a slightly-overpriced $2.75 million cap hit. But for 5 years? Getting Jaroslav Halak is a risky but potentially rewarding move to backup Tuukka Rask if he can regain even part of his form from 3 years ago. But I wonder if they really had to give a guy who had a 3.19 GAA last year and spent time in the AHL the year before $2.75 million.
Buffalo Sabres: Obviously getting Rasmus Dahlin #1 overall will further the Sabres youth movement, adding to a core of Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittelstadt, and Alexander Nylander. Signing Carter Hutton is an intriguing move - he was great with St. Louis last year, but at 32, was last year a late breakout or a flash in the pan? It won’t matter much because even if he does flop, the deal will be done by the time Dahlin is ready to get paid, and the Sabres hopefully have their goalie of the future signed in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. The Sheary trade was solid, but the Sabres biggest move was cashing in big time on Ryan O’Reilly. Getting two overpaid but respectable players (Sobotka and Berglund weren’t just pure cap dumps like Jori Lehtera last year), a solid prospect in Tage Thompson, a 1st, and a 2nd is pretty good for a guy who publicly spoke out against the franchise. That’s the kind of thing that usually torpedoes a players’ trade value (cc: Mike Hoffman).
Calgary Flames: Despite young firepower upfront and a stacked defensive core, the Flames haven’t won a playoff game in each of the last 3 seasons. The Flames fixed their forward depth issues by signing James Neal and Derek Ryan in free agency, then acquiring Elias Lindholm from Carolina in a blockbuster trade at the draft. These definitely fill a need, but Lindholm came at a steep cost of Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland, and a good defensive prospect in Jake Fox. The key to that trade will be how well Noah Hanifin grows. Hanifin put up a solid 32 points last year but it seems unlikely that the #5 overall pick in 2015 will ever grow to be a top-pair defenseman like Ivan Provorov (picked 7th that year by Philadelphia) and Zach Werenski (8th by Columbus). If that changes, the Flames could be a dark horse threat in a relatively wide open Pacific.
Carolina Hurricanes: While not making the big move many of us were expecting (trading Jeff Skinner or Justin Faulk), the Hurricanes got a solid haul for Lindholm and Hanifin from Calgary, acquiring not only the best player in the deal (Dougie Hamilton) and the only prospect (Jake Fox). Signing Calvin De Haan further stacks the D-core, but Petr Mrazek seems like he will be the latest band-aid on the gaping wound the Canes have had between the pipes since Cam Ward lost his elite status. I have a feeling Carolina isn’t done though. Unless they decide to send down Haydn Fleury, who played 67 games in the NHL last year, Trevor van Riemsdyk would be the 7th defensemen. Time will tell if this is the year the Hurricanes can creep back into the playoff picture.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks responded to their worst season in 11 years by doing, um, not much. It seems unlikely that the 76 point Hawks can jump back to the playoffs by subtracting Vinnie Hinostroza (sent to Arizona to dump Hossa’s contract) and adding the veteran presence of Chris Kunitz, Cam Ward, and Brandon Manning. Then again, this is the Blackhawks. A healthy Corey Crawford will definitely help, but if the Blackhawks’ window hasn’t been completely shut yet it’s barely teetering open. They’ll need some major bounceback years from the vets like Toews, Keith, and Seabrook to have much of a shot unless the whispers of acquiring Justin Faulk or/and Jeff Skinner become anything more than just rumors.
Colorado Avalanche: The only team that could challenge the Golden Knights last year in shock (at least positively), the Avalanche seem to wisely be trusting the same core of Hart runner-up MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog, Barrie, and company to lead them further. They acquired their potential goalie of the future Philipp Grubauer for a solid price of a 2nd round pick and the dead cap hit of the bought out Brooks Orpik. Paying Domer Ian Cole $4.25 million seems like a overpay, but he’s a necessary supplement for the defense until Cale Makar is ready. The Avs challenged President’s Trophy winning Nashville last year without Eric Johnson and Andrew Hammond starting between the pipes. It will be intriguing to see how far a healthy Avs squad can go.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The lone team in the NHL to never win a playoff series looks to return to those playoffs for the 3rd straight year this season. Getting a few low-risk, high-reward forwards in Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair will help boost those odds, but only slightly. Expectations are higher than ever in Columbus, but it would be nice to see the Jackets make the playoffs as a result of a more consistent season rather than relying on another double-digit win streak. However, next year is the big one for GM Jarmo Kekalainen. They supposedly have their goalie of the future in Joonas Korpisalo, but I find it highly unlikely they’d let a 2-time Vezina trophy in Sergei Bobrovsky walk for nothing in the offseason. Potentially losing Artemi Panarin would be an even bigger blow for a Columbus forward core lacking much starpower around him.
Dallas Stars: The NHL’s most top heavy team will have to rely heavily on their young talent if they hope to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. As of now, I project the Stars will have 3 rookies - Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz, and 2017 #3 overall pick Miro Heiskanen - on their opening night roster, with Julius Honka missing out on being the 4th by just 17 games. Ben Bishop lived up to the big extension he got when he was on the ice last year, but they will need to stay healthy the entire year if they’re going to to compete in a stacked Central Division.
Detroit Red Wings: Oh, how the once mighty have fallen. The Red Wings may be in the most turmoil of any organization not named the Senators. Signing Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Bernier does anything but scream rebuild to me, but their roster doesn’t look like it can resemble competitiveness in a top heavy Atlantic division. Despite a strong draft, Ken Holland better be on a short leash in Detroit if things turn sour like the last few years. The Red Wings have so many bad contracts that it’s laughable at this point. Have fun trying to stay cap compliant with less than $3 million dollars of cap space and Dylan Larkin still not resigned.
Edmonton Oilers: Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for the Oilers last year and then some. The home PK was historically awful, Cam Talbot regressed to backup numbers, and Milan Lucic’s contract seems to have become an albatross 3 years sooner than we all thought. With not a lot of change in free agency (probably a good thing when you consider most of Peter Chiarelli's moves), the Oilers are going to need some major bounceback years from guys like Lucic, Talbot, and Ryan Strome to avoid turning McDavid into hockey’s Mike Trout. Regardless, it’s not the $12.5 million you’ll be paying him for the next 8 years that could put you in cap hell. That will be the $9.5 million combined between Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera for the next 3.
Florida Panthers: Last season had to be awfully frustrating for all 12 Panthers fans out there. The team missed the playoffs by a single point and then watched Jonathan Marchessault and Riley Smith light up the Western Conference playoffs and Gerard Gallant win the Jack Adams. But things are looking up. The young core of Barkov, Huberdeau, Trocheck, and Ekblad got a major supplement in Mike Hoffman at a respectable price. The Panthers are right up against the cap right now but should be fine with no major free agents upcoming for the next few years. Barring a TKO from father time on Roberto Luongo, the Panthers should be in line for a bounce back year.
Los Angeles Kings: If the Kings want to win their 3rd cup since 2012 they better strike while the iron is hot. Next year (2019-20) they will have over $53 million locked up between Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf, Alec Martinez, Jonathan Quick, and the newly acquired Ilya Kovalchuk. All except Doughty (29) will be over 30. Kovalchuk is a welcomed scoring boost to a team that managed 4 goals in as many games against Marc-Andre Fleury and Vegas in the first round, but how quickly he re-adapts to the NHL will be critical for LA. The Kings cup window will last as long as these players (with the exception of maybe Phaneuf). Somewhere, Erik Karlsson is licking his chops at the Doughty deal, but regardless of that overpayment, do us all a favor and save the rest of the NHL from the scum that is Slava Voynov.
Minnesota Wild: Speaking of Western Conference teams that struggled in the playoffs last year and see their cup window with their current core rapidly closing we bring you to the Minnesota Wild. However, unlike Chicago or LA the Wild have nothing to show for it. None of the current members from the lone Wild team to make the Western Conference Finals in 2003 are still around. In fact, with the relatively recent retirement of Nick Schultz only Marian Gaborik remains in the NHL from that team. They may have been without Ryan Suter but the Wild looked really flat and uninspiring the playoffs last year, the polar opposite of a team like Colorado. With a limited prospect pool and a core that has struggled to succeed outside of the regular season, new GM Paul Fenton may be faced with a rebuild sooner than you might expect. How he handles signing RFAs Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba will be critical in delaying that process.
Montreal Canadiens: The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It is also a good motto for Marc Bergevin. He’s going to try and force Max Domi to play center, sorry, centre just like Jonathan Drouin. He’s going to rush Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the NHL just like the recently traded Alex Galchenyuk. He’s going to trade Noah Juulsen for immediate help assets that match about half of his actual value just like Mikhail Sergachev. Now that they're without Shea Weber for a few months, the Habs are looking a top defense pairing of Jeff Petry and Karl Alzner. Can we skip to the part where Carey Price demands a trade from this fireshow already?
Nashville Predators: If it’s slightly broke, hope it will fix itself. Smashville had their best regular season ever last year and are stacked at every position on paper. Forwards? They got em. Defensemen? You know they’ve got em. However, a weak showing in the playoffs last year has no doubt left a bad taste in the tounges of catfish everywhere. David Poile preached patience this offseason with no major moves, but I wonder if Nashville will make a big push at the deadline this year assuming they’re still near the top of the Central Division. Like Columbus, I’m intrigued to see how they will handle free agency, particularly their goalie situation next offseason. It’s basically a copy and paste but on a higher difficulty level.
New Jersey Devils: I laughed at people saying that the Devils had a decent chance of making the playoffs last year. And then Taylor Hall dropped a Hart Trophy winning season and the dynamic duo of Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid brought them back for the first time since 2012. At least picking Tampa Bay in 5 didn’t blow up in my face too. However, like some other teams in the East (looking at you Philly), the Devils will be heavily relying on their young players around Hall and Schneider to take the next step. Having only one player score more than 50 points isn’t a great long-term blueprint for success. Hischier should be a star, if not this year than soon, but other guys like Bratt, Zacha, and especially Will Butcher will need to take the next step to make them contenders. I’m still concerned about their defense though, especially after losing John Moore (although at the deal he got he probably wasn’t worth keeping).
New York Islanders: It looked like things were going to be OK for the Islanders. They got the hottest GM and coach of the market in Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz. They had the Calder winner in 5-points a game specialist Mathew Barzal. They saw Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson magically fall to them at #11 and #12 in the draft. And then, within an hour, boom. It wasn’t just Tavares or even Calvin de Haan leaving that made this a nightmare offseason. It was signing Leo Komarov for 4 years, Valtteri Filppula for almost $3 million, and giving the Leafs relief from Matt Martin without making them retain any salary. I like Lehner as a low-risk, high-reward option to split time with Thomas Greiss, but that hardly changes things overall. No team dropped farther in free agency in my mind than the Islanders this year in a while.
New York Rangers: Amidst rumors of Ilya Kovalchuk, the Rangers wisely stayed silent during free agency and began their first offseason in a while as rebuilders. Having 3 first round picks certainly helps with that. $4 million for Namestnikov may have been a bit pricey but they couldn’t afford to let him walk to the KHL for nothing. However, with Henrik Lundqvist still under contract for 3 more years at a Sedin-level stubbornness, I think the Rangers hope this project ends in time to get King Henrik the cup he deserves.
Ottawa Senators: If it ain’t broke, then try your best to break it, huh, Dorion (and Melnyk)? I realize Hoffman’s value was at an all-time low after the scandal with his fiancee and Erik Karlsson’s wife Melinda but this was an awful trade. The Sens moved down in the draft, got an decent but overpaid forward in Mikkel Boedker and a mediocre prospect for a 4-time 20 goal scorer just so they could move him to the West, only to watch the Sharks flip him to the Panthers for a much better haul. Seriously? Watch the 1st rounder the Sens gave away in the Duchene trade this year turn into Jack Hughes whether they barely miss the playoffs or, more likely, return to their status as bottom feeders.
Philadelphia Flyers: It appears the 5th year of GM Ron Hextall’s plan is the 1st one that calls for signing a free agent for more than $3 million. Getting JVR back on a steep AAV but solid term is a move that tells the world the Flyers are here to stay as they hope to return to the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2008-2012. However, the Flyers true chances seem to lie within the development of back-to-back CHL goalie of the year Carter Hart, who is likely at least two years away from becoming an NHL starter. Unfortunately this time period also seems to coincide with the estimated aging curve of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and, if extended, Wayne Simmonds. They have the young core and prospects to supplement these players, but the Flyers cup window with their current core might not be as big as we all think.
Pittsburgh Penguins: It’s easy to say since their my favorite team’s main rival, but I don’t like the Penguins offseason. I always liked Conor Sheary’s playstyle (as much as you can like a Penguin) and I don’t think a 4th round pick was enough of a return even adding in the mini-salary dump of Matt Hunwick. I understand the need or at the very least the want for cap space, and they used some of it well in extending Bryan Rust. But to use the rest of it on Jack Johnson? And for 5 years? Jim Rutherford realizes they guy is bad by just about every stat and was healthy scratched in the playoffs this year for Columbus, right? Calvin De Haan was still available, you know. Teams like the Penguins stay so good for so long because they avoid giving out contracts like this. It’s one of the worst of the offseason in my opinion.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks may have not have landed the big one in John Tavares but by all accounts Doug Wilson had himself a solid offseason. They got rid of a bad contract in Boedker and used the money to extend Couture, Hertl, and Evander Kane. Joe Thornton is back for another year, but at what strength remains to be seen. The Sharks strike me as the Kings but in a better position in terms of cap and young talent. There is still hope the Thornton and Pavelski era might end in a cup afterall.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues should be furious at how last season transpired and it seems like they’re determined not to let it happen again. They were arguably the biggest player in terms of number of significant moves made, first signing Tyler Bozak and David Perron (again) for reasonable deals, then trading away a huge but worthy package for Ryan O’Reilly. Assuming Brayden Schenn stays there, the Blues center depth rivals any other teams in the NHL (although their still a step below teams like Pittsburgh and Toronto in that regard). Chad Johnson’s a good backup to replace Carter Hutton, but the Blues will go as far as Jake Allen takes them. It seems like he’s turning into the Western Conference version of Steve Mason.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Like San Jose, Tampa Bay chose to extend rather than supplement there current core, locking up Miller, McDonagh, and Kucherov to massive deals. Kucherov in particular seems like a steal - $9.5 million is a lot for a winger, but one of Kucherov’s caliber is certainly worth it. I’m less sold on McDonagh though - he’ll be 37 when that deal expires and I doubt he sees the end of it Tampa Bay. Steve Yzerman is choosing to give almost all of last year’s team that choked away a 2nd Stanley Cup Finals birth in 4 years another chance. Hopefully for their sakes they make the most of it.
Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s not often you can lose a 30-goal scorer and your third line center and feel as if you were the big winners of free agency. But that’s what adding John Tavares will do for you. Make no mistake, this does nothing to solve the Leafs big issue on the backend that won’t become a strength until either Lilligren is ready or one of the young wingers is moved for a d-man, if ever. But Toronto’s forward core is now truly special: Matthews-Tavares-Kadri goes head-to-head with Crosby-Malkin-Brassard and obliterates just about anyone else down the middle. Frederik Andersen is good enough to take a team all the way - but expectations will be higher than ever in Toronto to end the Leafs 51-year Cup drought.
Vancouver Canucks: It seemed like things were getting better in Vancouver on June 30th. They have some great young talent in Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Thatcher Demko already at the NHL level. Quinton Hughes fell into their laps at 7th in the draft. And then Jim Benning had to screw it all up. Matching 4-year deals to bottom 6-forwards Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel is laughably moronic. All these guys will do is score 20-25 points on a bottom 5 team and remain on the cap when Benning or whoever the Canucks hire to replace him needs to extend Boeser and Elias Pettersson. Have fun with that rebuild, Vancouver. At least the Sedins went out with a bang.
Vegas Golden Knights: The wonder kids of the NHL last season will definitely look different next season with Paul Stastny brought in to replace departing wingers James Neal and David Perron. Success is hard to obtain in this league, but much harder to maintain, and that will be the biggest challenge for the Knights this upcoming season. Will the fan support still be there in the team isn’t as good? At least they got Stastny on a short-term and have as clean of a cap situation as any team - until they decided to extend Marc-Andre Fleury through age 38 at a $7 million dollar cap hit. I wonder if the Knights have a creative intro sequence for cap hell, too.
Washington Capitals: Things looked like they might take a sharp turn in the wrong way early on for the Caps. It’s hard to dampen the excitement of winning the first cup in your team’s 44-year history, but losing your head coach to a divisional rival is one way to start it. Thankfully, the Caps recovered - Todd Reirden seems like a fine successor at the team kept the team in tact for the most part, most notably extending John Carlson for 8 years at $8 million per (the same contract T.J. Oshie got last summer). Just do us all a favor and don’t bring back Brooks Orpik.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets still have one of the most exciting cores in the NHL but lost a fair chunk of their depth this offseason. I assumed the Armia trade meant they were going to resign Stastny for sure. Not only did they not get him back, they let him walk to the team that kicked them out of the playoffs last year and failed to do anything to replace him. The Hellebuyck extension does have the potential to be a slam dunk however.
So there you go! My next post will be a deeper look at the Flyers (who else) - not just for this offseason, but the organization as a whole. Let me know if you agree with my observations, which teams did the best this offseason, and which teams moves, or lack thereof, have put them back.