Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to review all 31 NHL teams. I typically don’t grade all the cap dump trades until I see how they pan out once free agency hits. And boy, did it hit this year. Several superstars signed massive contracts on a scale that has not been seen in years, and now the league must deal with the aftermath.
For the record, I don’t have a problem with teams handing out titan sized contracts because that is the current market and if they don’t, someone else will. However, because cap space is so precious, the right players should be getting these kinds of deals. Here is my analysis of all 31 teams moves since the end of the 2018-19 season.
The Ducks really haven’t done much so far. Sure, they traded a pick for Deslaurier and bought out Corey Perry, but all of that felt like they were destined to make a bigger splash. That being said, their biggest domino has fallen, their coach.
The Ducks, after establishing a massive decision process, decided to promote from within and brought Dallas Eakins up from the San Diego Gulls for him to make his NHL return. I personally like this move. While it’s easy to look at a .381 career winning percentage and label this hiring a failure, Eakins has rebuilt his reputation with the Gulls and has proven that he can coach younger players to success. Don’t forget, his only previous coaching experience was with a pre-McDavid Oilers who were built around Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the former of which was injured for most of his second and final year as coach. He should fair well with this Anaheim roster which is comprised of young players with a lot of potential to be regular NHLers: Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Maxime Comtois, Max Jones, and Isac Lundestrom.
But Anaheim’s roster construction has been a bit perplexing. They don’t seem to have an organizational direction. If retooling, why haven’t they been involved in trades for younger players who have had success at the NHL level: the Jimmy Veseys and Jacob Trouba’s of the world. And if rebuilding, why re-sign Silfverberg or not shop Getzlaf and at least try to get him to waive his NMC. At least they drafted Trevor Zegas, who should be a top 6 center in the near future.
From an organizational depth standpoint, re-signing Miller makes a lot of sense. He’s on a low cap hit deal and he will help take some games off of John Gibson’s plate. Anaheim will be deep in their goalie depth, with Olle Eriksson-Ek and Lukas Dostal, so there is no need to splurge on a premier long term backup for now. But then they added Stolarz who is a possible rebound candidate after mixed performances in Philadelphia and Edmonton. With all the injuries Anaheim has had over the last few years, an extra goalie isn’t such a bad idea.
The Coyotes may have just reversed their franchise viewpoint, on paper at least. Swinging for Kessel was a big win. Galchenyuk only had one year left on his deal and even if Pierre-Oliver Joseph develops into the top 4 that people expect, the Coyotes are loaded on younger defensemen (OEL, Chychrun, Dineen, Capobianco, Soderstrom). That easily made him expendable since I doubt any organization would be able to properly develop those three prospects and Joseph with OEL signed long-term and Chychrun already becoming a mainstay.
For Arizona, Kessel may be the player they need to get them into the playoffs. He is back working with Rick Tocchet, so the move made a lot of sense from a chemistry perspective. But further, it works from a talent perspective. Arizona has a lot of good middle 6 players who can put up 35-50 points in a season. But they lacked that impact scorer that can be relied upon again and again. Is Kessel that player? Maybe. It depends on his focus and how often he shows up. He definitely can be clutch and put up big numbers, but it is by no means guaranteed. For a team caught in the middle like AZ, it is chance worth taking. This team has a lot of potential and this has been a huge offseason in the right direction.
The defending Eastern Conference Champions just took a couple steps back. Losing Acciari and Johansson hurts, but they were at least able to balance out those losses by adding some depth pieces in Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie. If the Bruins can find a way to keep Carlo, McAvoy, and Heinen with their $10 million in cap space, this offseason will be a major success. Thereafter, I expect the Bruins to go for it once again. Krug, Coyle, Miller, Chara, and Halak are all UFA’s next offseason so I doubt the Bruins will sign any major contracts. Now is the time for some Providence forwards to crack the Bruins roster. On the bright side, Clifton is back after his solid playoff performances. That $1 million AAV over three years has the potential to be a complete steal.
After years of missing the playoffs, the Sabres finally look like a team that can play for the wildcard. Acquiring Jimmy Vesey will significantly help their depth, but it will be an interesting experiment. Recall that Vesey’s rights were once traded from Nashville to the Sabres, before he spurned them to join the Rangers. Will there be any locker room problems? Statistically, he has steadily improved over his three seasons in the NHL and now he has an opportunity to become the top 6 forward he was expected to be when he signed with the Rangers through the controversial Article 8.6(c) free agency rule.
Buffalo also acquired Colin Miller from the overspent Golden Knights, which significantly improves their blueline. Miller, Dahlin, Montor, McCabe (for now), and Ristolainen (for now) makes for an intriguing unit. All of them are 26 or younger and could be a big part of this team’s long term future.
Offensive depth appears to be their only Achilles Heel, but some overachievement from guys like Mittelstadt and Sheary could go a long way. Also, if Cozens doesn’t miss any long term playing time with his finger injury, there’s a chance he could be on the big club by the end of the year.
After winning the Pacific Division, the Flames looked like a team on a mission. Then they were eliminated in the first round by the Avalanche in a series where each Flame looked lost unless his name was Mike Smith. And now Smith is gone, only to be replaced by Cam Talbot. While Talbot has shown potential, especially in his first two years with the Oilers, he’s now moving across the province to help a team with a ton of defensive depth. I expect his numbers to rebound as he plays to prove he is still a starter in this league.
Although they may end up on the fortunate side of this risk, it’s a big gamble for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, especially in an offseason when Robin Lehner, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Semyon Varlamov were available. Rittich has been good, but I”m not sure that his career 90.9% save percentage is enough to carry them into the future if the Talbot experiment doesn’t pan out. Perhaps this is a team holding out for Braden Holtby? There isn’t a lot of depth in net if things go awry. Artyom Zagidulin had good numbers in the KHL last year, but how will he fair in his first year in North America? Meanwhile Tyler Parsons and Nick Schneider split time between the ECHL and the AHL last year.
As for the Flames themselves, I would have liked to see them bring in more forward talent, but that will be hard with Tkachuk, Bennett, Rittich, and Mangiapane all RFA’s. Moreover, Stone, Hamonic, and Brodie are UFA’s after this season. Do they make a move now for more help and cap space? I could see it, especially with Kylington, Valimaki, and Andersson waiting in the wings. It’s worth following this story line until opening night.
The Hurricanes are the biggest wildcard in the NHL right now. It was an absolute no brainer to match Montreal’s offer to Aho. With an AAV of $8.454, the Canadien’s offer was only worth a first, second, and third round selection. Can you imagine moving a top center for that little of a return? At least we finally got an offer sheet after all the years of speculation coming up empty. It’ll definitely make the offer sheet conspiracy theorists happy.
On the plus side, Carolina re-signed Petr Mrazek who looked great with them down the stretch. Pairing him with newly acquired James Reimer has a lot of potential, so long as Mrazek can continue to be the perfect fit for the ‘Canes. Even if both goalies struggle, Alex Nedjelkovic looked good as a starter in the AHL so he might be able to cover some of the slack. It makes what could have been a huge risk much better. At least moving Scott Darling’s contract will give them some extra room. They’ll need it to accommodate Aho.
The Hawks had one of the more perplexing offseasons. Chicago is right up against the salary cap and has $12 million committed to their goaltending in 2020. Crawford certainly had a down year, but it seemed unnecessary to sign Lehner for $5 million for one year. The most questionable part is that he is only signed for one year. Maybe if he was guaranteed to be the goalie of the future in a post-Crawford world it would make sense. For now, it just seems like a bit of a misallocation of funds to have him guaranteed for only one season. If he does poorly, you have wasted precious cap space that could have been used to improve the team. If he does well, he’ll likely command much more than $5 million next offseason, ruining your chance to get him at a more team friendly deal. That being said, I have confidence that he will do well. I’ve been a big Lehner fan since his days in Ottawa and I think he has it in him to keep producing. But given the other needs for this roster, this seems like a wasted chance for Chicago. On the plus side, Ryan Carpenter should help balance out the Hawks lineup. He’s a decent contributor in a supporting role and he is signed to a very team friendly deal.
But the biggest acquisition for Chicago is the Shaw reunion. He’s coming off a career year at age 27, which will generate some major questions. Is he just entering his prime? Can he replicate that production with the Blackhawks? Time will tell, but it has the makings of a huge step forward, especially since this team has struggled over the last few years.
The Avalanche just swung the biggest trade of the offseason. After some huge performances in the AHL with the Marlies, Calle Rosen will have a chance to become a regular on the blueline of the Avalanche. Nazem Kadri is also coming over in the deal, which gives the Avs a big, shutdown center to pair with MacKinnon. Kadri’s playing time was reduced with the arrival of John Tavares, making his contract mostly expendable. With Mike Babcock’s ability to role Matthews and JT, it didn’t make a lot of sense to commit $4.5 million to a 3c, even if his contract was actually a steal for his performance. However, Kadri did put up back to back 32 goal years as a 2C with the Leafs. If he can return to form, the Avalanche just got really dangerous. While most aspiring contenders wouldn’t dare move their top scoring defensemen, the Avalanche have the luxury of being stacked on the backend. Makar, Zadorov, Johnson, Cole, and Girard are expected to be regulars, while newly drafted Byram, the aforementioned Rosen, Barberio, and Connauton will compete for minutes. The Avs also have a ton of cap space and they are going to need it with Rantanen, Compher, Zadorov, and Burakovsky all RFA’s. Either way, the future definitely looks bright in Colorado.
Then if that wasn’t enough, the Avs also added Donskoi and Bellemare in free agency. Both have shown they can make beneficial contributions to contending teams and bring playoff experience and extra depth to a once top heavy Av’s organization. Colorado has made another big step towards contending.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets were the biggest losers in free agency, dropping Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene on day one. While I admired their ambition at the deadline, and still do, hindsight is 20/20 and the Jackets have just taken a huge step backwards. The smartest thing they could do was let Duchene walk, which allowed them to keep their first round pick in 2020. With that in hand, however this year goes, the Jackets will be most able to adapt to any future direction of their team. Columbus did make one splash in adding Nyquist, but they have otherwise attempted to preserve as much of their core as possible. Boasting two superstar defensemen in Werenski (who’s an RFA right now) and Jones, and one center with tons of potential in Dubois, the Jackets have the core pieces to become relevant again in the short term. But this has all the makings of a rough season in Ohio.
It was even all the more perplexing that they didn’t chase one of the abundant goalies on the market. Following a successful rookie year, Korpisalo’s numbers have continued to decline, leaving many questions about the viability of this team in net. Prospect Elvis Merzlikins had a decent career in Europe, but is unknown how he will fair at the NHL level. Meanwhile, Daniil Tarasov had an okay World Juniors before he was upstaged by Carolina prospect Pyotr Kochetkov. Tarasov posted decent numbers in Russia’s VHL, but it might be asking too much for him to be ready for the big time in 2020. With Varlamov, Smith, Talbot, Lehner, and Mrazek all available, it seems odd to role with this inexperienced group in net. That actually might make a down year even worse.
Dallas had one of the more successful free agencies this year. First off, let’s address the elephant in the room. After that dirty 2013-2014 Ducks/Stars series, who would have ever thought Corey Perry would play in Texas? Yet here we are.
Dallas is going to be one of the more unpredictable teams in the league. They had a decent playoff performance last season and have now added more depth. Pavelski looks good now, but one has to wonder if that contract ends up being an albatross in its final year. Paying $7 million to a 37 year old isn’t usually a smart bet. But I can see why teams rushed to ink Pavelski. Not only was he a premier forward, but in only 10 days, he will turn 35 and that contract will be buyout proof. Dallas was just able to escape that. Seeing how Marleau played out in Toronto, they might be on the right side of history in that regard.
As for the 2020 season, Dallas is much more loaded and a successful comeback year from Corey Perry could easily vault the Stars to a Western Conference threat. The pieces are there and Dallas is walking away feeling good, at least for now.
Another successful move in Texas was the signing of Andrej Sekera, who was an effective player in Edmonton when healthy. He’ll be asked to play a much smaller role, since the emergence of Miro Heiskanen and the Klingberg pairing will render him a bottom three defenseman. Overall, a successful offseason for the Stars who looked prime to become a contender in the West.
Detroit Red Wings
It’s tough to judge the Wing’s offseason. While they surprised most by selecting Seider with the 6th overall pick, that pick could look like a gem in a few years, especially given Seider’s high ceiling (even if it is unknown if he’ll reach it). The Wings currently have a lot of intriguing prospects with tremendous upside, even if their success is not guaranteed. As for now, the Wings have a mountain of an obstacle in making the playoffs, especially with Toronto, Tampa, and Boston in their division. To me, their free agency reflected that. They brought back the nostalgia by bringing back Valtteri Filppula for a second tour of duty in the Motor City and signed journeyman backup Calvin Pickard for depth. But their best move was signing Patrick Nemeth away from the Avalanche. Nemeth really rebuilt himself as a defensemen in Colorado and was one of the more underrated defensemen in the league. Now he’s in Detroit on a 2 year deal. Year 2 of that contract will be very interesting, especially since Detroit could possibly lose Mike Green, Niklas Kronwall, Trevor Daley, and Jonathan Ericsson after this year. On the bright side, at least Franzen’s LTIR’d contract and Oullet’s buyout are finally up next offseason, while Weiss’s buyout and Zetterberg’s deal are up in 2021. I think the Wings are closer to the end of the rebuild than to the beginning.
The Oilers also had an intriguing offseason. Up against the cap and with prospects who might make the team, the Oilers played it fairly safe by adding Tomas Jurco and Markus Granlund to low risk deals. Granlund was inconsistently a solid depth piece while in Vancouver, while Jurco has had some success as a bottom 6 forward. Now both get a chance to prove themselves in Edmonton. Outside of that, Edmonton is banking on production from European stars Joakim Nygard and Joel Persson, who are each signed to team friendly, low risk deals. All in all, their best signing was Mike Smith, who will yet again have a chance to play big minutes with the Oilers. I really like this deal for a few reasons. First, with over $4 million committed to Koskinen, Edmonton would have been hard pressed to find a valuable goalie that would have worked with their cap situation. Second, Mike Smith’s playoff performance with Calgary shows he still has something left in the tank. Third, it’s only a one year deal, so if it goes south, it won’t really affect Edmonton. Lastly, Mike Smith has consistently been able to perform well without all star defensive cores in front of him. If anyone can provide confidence to this blueline, it’s Smith. Don’t forget Bouchard is also waiting in the wings. It should be a fun training camp in Alberta.
The biggest wildcard in free agency goes to the Panthers. Based on their ceiling, Florida may have just taken the first step to becoming a Stanley Cup Champion in the next five years. The issue is if they will reach that ceiling. The Panthers had a lot of talent last year, but injuries and inconsistent goaltending and defense sank them. Fortunately, Florida was able to address those areas.
While Florida’s defense has been able to produce offensively, one thing they have been lacking is a steady defender. Enter Anton Stralman who will be a great mentor in the locker room, brings a ton of postseason experience, and can play upwards of 20 minutes per night. He should take a lot of pressure off of Ekblad and Yandle.
Next, the Panthers added some much needed depth offensively. Brett Connolly completely revived his career in Washington and became a reliable and consistent depth scorer. Now, he is signed to a team friendly contract that will look good even if he doesn’t leave the third line. The Panthers also poached Noel Acciari from the Bruins, who should help solidify their defensive setup. Obviously it hurts missing out of Artemi Panarin, but Florida still has a lineup full of young guns and have saved some cap space for later. Don’t forget former first round pick Owen Tippett is knocking on the door and might be able to carry some of the offensive load in future years.
Lastly, for the elephant in the room, Sergei Bobrovsky. This acquisition likely looks so much worse on paper than it will in practice. Bobrosky is a good goalie. He’s definitely a franchise player and finally he got the monkey of his back with a good playoff performance in 2019, which was the only knock on his resume. $10 million by 7 years is a lot, but the Panthers finally have a stability in net that they haven’t seen in a few years. The cap hit is a little high, but remember that the Panthers are fortunate to have Barkov, Trocheck, and Huberdeau signed way below market value. Moreover, it doesn’t seem as odd as you’d think, given that they just drafted Spencer Knight. While Knight is slated to become a franchise goalie, goalies take the longest to develop. He’s going to be at Boston College next year, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t play at least two years there. Remember that Stars’ prospect Jake Oettinger played three years at BU, though he had played one year prior to his selection in the draft. If Oettinger is a reasonable comparison, that means that Knight won’t even get to the AHL until Bobrovsky is in year 3 of his contract and Knight probably won’t be starting until Year 6 or 7 at the earliest, when he is still on an ELC or has only been given a small raise. This might actually work out for the best.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings made a splash last offseason and it didn’t work. So it’ll be intersting to see if staying quiet ends up helping them in the long run. Joakim Ryan is a decent addition to their blueline. I always liked him in San Jose and it’ll be interesting to see how he does away from Brent Burns. LA is transitioning and they have a few intriguing prospects, plus they signed Martin Frk who has had AHL success. I’m guessing this will continue to be a quiet offseason until they discover what exactly they have in their organization through training camp. It’s a safe move, but with Kopitar and Doughty in their prime, they might be best off trying to move Quick (now that all the top goalies are signed) and start taking that next step. LA has the luxury of always finding gems in net and a Campbell/Peterson combo might be the best option going forward.
Bringing in Mats Zuccarello was a decent building block, but I’m not sure how this will go. The Central Division has only gotten tougher and the Wild continue to be a good team stuck in a great division. With over $11 million to spend, it might be worth it to do something flashy, especially since Koivu and Spurgeon are UFA’s next year. If you’ve read my last article, I heavily defended the value of Jason Zucker (albeit, not as much as his wife) and I still hold true to that opinion. Zucker is the type of player that Minnesota should be building around, not shopping. So I’m curious to see how he would do with an effective core.
I think the Wild are banking on bounce back years from Victor Rask who really struggled with the Wild last season. Without a doubt, they are hoping that Eriksson-Ek can finally show the potential he had when the Wild took him in the first round.
However, the most perplexing part was giving Ryan Hartman a 2 year deal. Hartman’s value has plummeted over the last couple of years so giving him that second year seems risky. I think this is one of those signings that hindsight will judge.
Well, the Canadiens struck out on Duchene and signed Aho to an offer sheet that will be matched since the offer sheet compensation is so low. Other than that, Montreal has signed a serviceable backup in Keith Kinkaid and that’s about it. Fortunately for the Habs, they have a number of great prospects and a lot to look forward to in training camp. Not using cap space now might be a blessing in disguise.
The Predators moved Subban and then used the cap space to bring in Duchene. With four top 9 centers (Johansen, Duchene, Turris, and Bonino), it’ll be interesting to see how their first three lines look on opening night. I would like this more if I knew how it would turn out chemistry wise. Duchene, Johansen, and Turris have all had problems in various organizations in the past, so it’ll be worth watching how Nashville’s locker room plays out in 2020. It should be fine, but you never know.
Theoretically, the Preds are better on paper. Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Fabbro should be a strong top four and Nashville now boasts a lot of forward depth. Maybe this is the year they get over the hump?
New Jersey Devils
First they added Jack Hughes, then they added PK Subban. Now, they definitely have some pieces to challenge for a Wild Card. Wayne Simmonds is a decent pick up, and his deal is low risk considering the vast cap space they have and the fact that it is a one year deal. If he can rebound, he might help propel them into the playoffs, especially with Hughes and Hieschier setting him up. This will be a fun team to watch, but I’m not completely sure they have the forward depth to challenge other teams in the tough Metropolitan Division. But it’s certainly a huge leap forward. The Devils finally have a supporting cast for Taylor Hall.
New York Islanders
After surprising in 2019, the Islanders are looking to prove they are for real, and their moves certainly showed it. To me, it doesn’t even matter that they struck out on Artemi Panarin and lost Lehner to the Blackhawks. New York was able to keep their top scorers Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson, which will heavily mitigate the tendency to regress. Thomas Greiss is a really good goaltender and was largely ignored this year because of Lehner’s redemption story. When compared to Lehner, his save percentage was only .03 lower, GAA .15 lower, GSAA 4 lower, and he only had 1.5 fewer point shares. He definitely is a starting caliber goaltender if he can keep producing at that level. Should he falter, welcome Semyon Varlamov to Nassau. Varlamov has also shown he’s an above average goalie and he is signed for four years to a comparatively team friendly $5 million AAV. The re-adjustment looks good so far.
New York Rangers
When I saw the Rangers were a 66/1 odds to win the 2020 Stanley Cup in mid-June, I told my friend to put $5 on them while he was in Vegas. Did I think they will win the Cup? No. Did I think they are way better than 66/1? Absolutely. Now, those odds are even better.
The Rangers had arguably the best offseason of any team. First, they got my favorite player in this draft (not named Kochetkov, anyway) in Kaapo Kakko. Now they are adding one of my favorite players in the league in Artemi Panarin after paying him a huge ransom. Not enough? How about absolutely stealing Jacob Trouba from the Jets? Trouba is an extremely underrated defenseman and it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in a bigger role. Skjei, Trouba, and DeAngelo are all good, upcoming defensemen, while Libor Hajek looks ready to take that next step. If NYR can get some value out of Shattenkirk, Staal, and Smith, it may be a decent blue line. But the biggest X factor is the development of Vitali Kravtsov. When Kravtsov finds his groove in this league he will be a superstar. The only question is how ready is he.
Don’t get me wrong, this team still has holes. But it has been a total 180 degree change since last year. The Rangers could be a Wild Card team with a couple of players over achieving or someone finding a time machine for Henrik Lundqvist.
It’s hard to judge the Senators offseason because they are not trying to win the Stanley Cup right now. In fact, they have no incentive to spend big when they have so many picks coming up in the next two drafts, including 5 picks in the first two rounds of 2020.
For starters, I’m a big fan of the Hainsey signing. He posted some really good numbers on Toronto last year and should make for a great trade deadline target that could net the Senators another draft pick. Until then, he can mentor superstar Thomas Chabot and future elite defenseman Erik Brannstrom. I also liked the Duclair re-signing after he excelled for them at the end of the year.
But the most perplexing trade of all was the Cody Ceci for Nikita Zaitsev move. Sure it netted them Connor Brown and rid them of the team’s disdain for Ceci, but for Zaitsev? Zaitsev’s Goals Above Replacement and Wins Above Replacement in 2019 were on par with Michael Del Zotto. Yes, Zaitsev, he of the $20-some million still owed on his deal, was equivalent to Michael Del Zotto in terms of value. His PDO and Corsi were okay and maybe he will rebound now that he’s out of the spotlight of Toronto. He will certainly have an abundance of opportunity to show he can replicate his rookie year.
On paper, the Flyers are a much better team than last year. Replacing Andrew MacDonald with Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen was a good start and should improve their team in terms of defensive consistency, especially after finishing 29th in goals against in 2019. Brian Elliott was a smart re-signing, as he was their best goalie outside of Carter Hart. Now both Hart and Elliott should form a decent tandem that allows Hart to ease into the starter role. Turning 21 before the season starts, I’m not sure if Hart ready to be a 50 game starter just yet, so having a fringe starter in Elliott should go a long way.
The addition of Kevin Hayes to this roster should make this team much more consistent, especially since this is a team with one top 6 center in Sean Couturier. Nolan Patrick and Scott Laughton haven’t been able to show the offensive capabilities at the NHL level to guarantee their successes as 2c’s in the future. Meanwhile, Hayes is a proven 2c. However, the cost to get Hayes was astronomical. Giving over $49 million to a guy who has never produced more than 55 points is risky. To compare it on the market, Evgeny Kuznetsov is only being paid about $700k more than him and has produced 3 seasons of 70 points or more. Sebastian Aho is being paid a million more, is younger and has produced 83 points. It’ll be interesting to see how the Flyers adapt over the next few years with $14 million AAV tied up in Hayes and James Van Riemsdyk. But for now, the Flyers are much improved.
Not quite sure what to say. here: Kessel and Maatta are gone. Say what you want about them, but they provide more value than Brandon Tanev. Now the Pens have $1.5 million left in cap space with Zach Ashton-Reese and Marcus Pettersson left to sign. Does GMJR have another move in him? He might need to to get those two deals done.
As for the trade itself, I could see Galchenyuk putting up some serious numbers with Malkin or Crosby (he was a 30 goal scorer after all), but production wise he will be a downgrade from Kessel, as I believe he lacks the sheer talent that Kessel has. Pierre-Olilver Joseph looks like a solid D prospect, but at twenty years of age and with only Juniors experience will he be ready while Malkin and Crosby are still at their best? Not so sure the Pens have gotten out of the trouble that led to their sweep in 2019. At least Kahun is still on his ELC and could potentially be a top 6 forward in Steel Town.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have more money committed to Vlasic, Burns, and Karlsson than the Pens have tied up in Letang, Malkin and Crosby; the Lightning have tied up in Hedman, Stamkos, and Kucherov; and the Capitals have tied up in Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Kuznetsov. It’s going to be tough to be flexible with that setup.
The Sharks have strength on the back end, but they have definitely lost their great forward core. Pavelski is a tough loss, especially considering his impact in on the morale of the franchise. There is still a possibility they reunite with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, but even if they do, the Western Conference got so much better, while Thornton and Marleau are only getting older. Labanc and Gambrell are still RFA’s and San Jose only has over $6 million left to spend. It may take some Barracuda reinforcements to help this organization. Good thing they just signed a collection of Russian players.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues just need to focus on keeping the band together. Clearly, their roster cohesion was successful and they figured out a way to win. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That being said, I love the Sammy Blais deal, especially after his outstanding playoff performance. The Blues just need to find a way to keep the rest of their remaining RFA’s now: Binnington, Sanford, Fabbri, Edmundson, Barbashev, and Sundqvist. With a little under $14 million left, it’ll be close, but I think they can do it.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Next year, Cirelli, Joseph, Cernak, Sergachev, and Vasilevskiy all need new contracts. Yikes! With Point, Erne, and Paquette up this year, it’ll take some serious management to keep this team together going forward.
For a team in the midst of title contention, Cernak and Sergachev will need to be serious contributors to propel Tampa Bay forward. Both of them were good down the stretch last year and I expect big years out of both of them, but this team is much more susceptible to regression, especially after their amazing regular season last year. Honestly, some adversity might be good for this club.
McElhinney is a good choice as a backup and Luke Schenn should add some much needed depth on the blueline. But despite the losses of Girardi and Stralman, I think their blueline will be fine, if everyone can stay healthy. This combination is actually much better than they are getting credit for:
Where I feel they are lacking is upfront. With JT Miller gone, it puts more pressure on each forward to repeat their success. Imagine if a key player or two regress.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs had one of the most successful offseasons so far, but the rest of it will depend on how things go with Mitch Marner. Acquiring Tyson Barrie is a huge step forward for a team lacking that big right shot on the blueline. Nazem Kadri will be missed, but he was going to continue to be underutilized with JT and Matthews going 1,2. Now Kerfoot, a known playmaker and two-way forward will be a perfect 3c. I’m also a huge fan of their depth acquisitions. Jason Spezza will bring some much needed leadership with Marleau and Hainsey exiting, while Gravel, Agostino, and Shore (returning from the KHL) have all been serviceable depth players throughout their careers. The only real question is what the Leafs do the rest of the year. A lot of players have their contracts up next season, including their entire defense outside of Rielly. If there was ever a year to win it all, this is it.
Vancouver has spent a lot this offseason, but the blueline does look better. Edler is back and the club has added Myers, Benn, and Fantenburg to the d-core. This is definitely a much improved roster and it’ll be interesting to see if this team can make the wild card. Demko, Hughes, Boeser (after he is re-signed), Horvat, and Pettersson are an outstanding core group. Now that the supporting cast is much better, they have a decent shot, especially when Arizona, San Jose, Vegas, and Calgary are their biggest competition. The only contract I’m not so sure of is Myers. He is a negative WAR and GAR player who ranked 277 out of 307 NHL defensemen in 2019. I don’t know if that’s worth $30 million, even if he puts up 30 points in a season.
Vegas Golden Knights
From the team that took on all the bad contracts to the team most over the cap. Everyone welcome Vegas to harsh reality of being a constant title contender. Losing Colin Miller and Erik Haula is big, but they have a lot of good players on this roster, so they might be able to mitigate those losses.
If that second line can rebound into the dangerous group everyone thought they would become, then the Knights are going to be pretty good. The major question for the rest of the offseason is what they do with Gusev. Vegas currently has a crowded top 6 with Stastny, Pacioretty, Tuch, Stone, Karlsson, Smith, and Reilly all vying for playing time. Thus, it’s easy to see that Gusev is the oddman out, especially when he hasn’t even played an NHL game. It’ll also be interesting to see what they do with the rest of their blue line since only 5 players are signed on defense. Will Vegas add some depth? A lot of questions coming out of Nevada right now.
At least the Knights had some success in keeping Brandon Pirri who was unbelievable for them this past season. At less than $1 million, it’s definitely a team friendly deal that will heavily benefit this cash strapped Vegas team.
The Capitals are still my pick to win the Stanley Cup in 2020. In the final year with Backstrom and Holtby, DC has all the incentive in the world to pursue what would be their second Cup in three years. This team also still has all the making of an elite contender. Panik is the perfect replacement for Brett Connolly. He brings speed, two way play and a decent shot to their third line. Then, Washington added Leipsic and Hathaway to their bottom six. This team is going to be the definition of depth.
The one thing being undersold in DC is the quality of their defense.
That is an intimidating unit that brings size, shutdown play, and offense. Let me ask this: who was the most valuable defenseman in 2019? Fun fact: John Carlson, if you go by WAR and GAR. But Nick Jensen also ranked 14th in the league in WAR and GAR, so there is potential there for the Caps to role two big rightys who bring a lot of value to the club. Jensen showed a lot of skill this past season. If he can continue to expand his game, he will be a huge addition to DC’s title hopes.
The Jets regressed the most since last year. Hayes is gone, Trouba is gone, Myers is gone, and Tanev is gone. That’s tough. Top that off with an extremely down year from Laine and the RFA statuses of Laine and Connor and the future is even more uncertain. If anyone should have been pushing hard in the trade market and in free agency it was the Jets.
With the Central getting better and better, it’s not out of the question for the roster to miss the playoffs. Hey, someone has to and Colorado, Dallas, and Nashville have only improved. Byfuglien, Wheeler, and Little aren’t getting any younger so it might be the time to keep going for it. I’m not sure that Letestu is going to help with that.
Thank you to hockey-reference.com, capfriendly, and evolving-hockey.com