The Hot Lap 2: July 1, 2018

Welcome back to the Hot Lap, where I give my thoughts on the NHL in a shorter, more informal fashion. Every July 1 (the start of free agency) creates fireworks. I’m going to share my opinions on some major moves that happened today.

  1. John Tavares to the Leafs

In one respect, I absolutely love this deal. I’ve said this 2-3 times already on this blog, but you NEED two number one centers if you want to be a legit contender: a 1a and a 1b. The Penguins, Capitals, and Kings all have that, and Chicago had that during all 3 Cup runs.

Now the Leafs have it in Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Toronto now boasts arguably the best top 6 in hockey between Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Hyman, Marleau, and Nylander. It should make for some fireworks, plus they have great depth forwards in Kadri, Kapanen, Leivo, and Brown.

While that’s all fine, Toronto SHOULD NOT end here. Although Gardiner and Reilly posted 50+ points on the blueline last season, they still have major questions about the depth of their defense. Unless Liljegren or Dermott (their two top defensive prospects) take major leaps over the Summer, lacking that reliable number one d-man is going to cost them come playoff time (ask Vegas about that). Playing unit defense only gets you so far, unless you’re the 2017 Penguins, but even then, they were playing without Letang against the (lacking top center Ryan Johansen because of injury) Predators. The Leafs should also act quickly since pretty much all their star players are RFA next year.

Lastly is their goaltending. Frederik Andersen gets a lot of hate among Leaf fans. I’ll admit I haven’t seen every Toronto game, but I saw A LOT of Andersen during his tenure with the Ducks and while inconsistent, he can steal you a game or two. He helped Anaheim get to game seven of the 2015 Western Conference Finals, so he has been deep before. Still, I think Toronto needs that A+ backup goalie, whether it be McElhinney, Sparks, or someone else. When you look at the last three Cup winners, each used their “backup” goalie for significant stretches of the regular season or playoffs.

By the way, Toronto plays in a tough Atlantic and they’ll be chasing Boston and Tampa.

  1. Ryan O’Reilly to the Blues

Here was a bit of a late entry. I’m going to tackle St. Louis all at once here, because I thought they were huge winners today. Last season, the Blues showed that (when healthy) Schwartz, Schenn, and Tarasenko were some of the best players in hockey. Then, they traded 2-way center Paul Stastny and the rest was history. The Blues still have a lot of question marks before I call them a contender, but there are reasons to be excited if you’re a fan.

Between Edmundson, Dunn, Parayko, and Pietrangelo, their d-corp is pretty much set and should be able to carry them for a deep run. Additionally, after the O’Reilly trade, their top 9 offense looks amazing now (something like this):

Schwartz Schenn Tarasenko

Steen O’Reilly Perron

Fabbri Bozak Soshnikov

The Blues gave up a big package for O’Reilly, but moving Berglund and Sobotka shouldn’t hurt them too much considering who they are getting back.

It should make for a pretty good team in a tight Central division. With the Predators and Jets looking for deeper runs, the Avs only getting better, the Stars and Hawks hoping to jump back in, and the Wild making the wild card every year, there isn’t much room for error.

While I liked what they did, STL also lost Hutton, who was a major piece in net for them last year. Statistically speaking, Jake Allen has had difficulty in net. While he isn’t awful, he just hasn’t cemented himself as one of the game’s better starters, as he owns a career .913 sv and 2.47 GAA. STL replaced Hutton with Chad Johnson, who is a career backup with similar numbers to Allen. Time will tell if this combo works, but if there was ever a time for Allen to show he’s undoubtedly the guy in St. Louis, it is now.

  1. Jets Miss Out on Stastny

After swinging a fantastic trade yesterday to clear cap space, Stastny spurred his current team and instead signed with the team that eliminated them, the Knights. That’s a tough one to swallow for Jets fans, especially since Stastny played such a major role in last season’s run. The good news: the Jets have a ton of space to play with (the most in the league currently, actually). Maybe resign all your elite RFA’s to long term deals (mitigating their rising cap hit later) and make a big trade?

  1. Vegas Wins Again

I was really interested to see what would happen with the Knights, especially since Sbisa and Perron refused to come back. So what did Vegas do? Steal more players! Stastny is going to slide into that 2c role (which should mitigate the likely regression of Karlsson and Haula), Reaves is back, and Holden joined their defense.

While the media focuses on that, I’d like to talk about something else. The Knights picked up a goalie for free after Montreal refused to tender a contract to Zachary Fucale. Fucale, the Habs 2nd round pick in 2013, was considered one of the top goalies in that draft. While he has been wildly inconsistent during his professional career (spending time in the AHL and ECHL), Vegas is picking up a no risk, high reward player. Seeing as how Vegas gets every ounce of potential out of their players, I’d keep an eye on him, as this deal could be considered one of the best signings of 2018 in a few years.

  1. NYI You’re Gonna Be Okay

I know losing Tavares hurts, especially considering his repeated comments reiterating his commitment to the organization, but the Islanders have a great up and coming team that should mitigate the loss of Tavares. Luckily, Lou Lamoriello has prepared for this and the new guard of the Island will begin. Not only will Barzal will become the new face of the franchise, but Beauvillier, Ho-Sang, and Dal Colle will have a chance to grow and develop away from the pressure of making the playoffs. Meanwhile, Wahlstrom and Dobson will be huge additions in a few years and the Islanders still have their 2019 draft pick. Draft Hughes potentially?

All the great teams will tell you to build through the draft and stick it out through the rough patch. NYI might just become one of the better teams of the 2020’s.

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