The NHL’s offseason has a month to go before both training camps and the World Cup of Hockey begin, and with very few moves left to be made, it’s safe to say that the offseason work for most teams is done heading into the middle of the slowest month on the hockey calendar. Now that the dust has largely settled on the offseason for some time now, it’s time to look back on which teams made the right moves since the end of last season and which teams fell flat on their face.
THE TEAMS THAT GOT IT RIGHT
Tampa Bay Lightning – What else is there to say? Other than the fact that Bolts GM Steve Yzerman has built a contender in Tampa Bay to the point where star players are now taking less money to stick around and be part of a long-term contender. A lot of people felt that captain Steven Stamkos was as good as gone, but Yzerman held firm on his offer of $8.5 million a year, betting that Stamkos would stay put because he wanted to finish what he started with the Lightning. He was right. Soon after, Victor Hedman, who was due to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017, decided to stick around for less money than he would’ve received on the open market, signing a long-term extension to continue his ascension into the ranks of the elite defensemen in the NHL. Andrei Vasilevskiy, long-projected to be the team’s goalie of the future, earned a raise up to $3.5 million a year on a three-year extension that kicks in next summer. Alex Killorn’s contract might have too much term to it (seven years), and the Bolts still have yet to either sign Nikita Kucherov to a new contract or trade impending unrestricted free agent goalie Ben Bishop to clear cap space. But when you’re able to keep two elite cornerstones in the fold long-term for less money, you’ve still had a great offseason.
Nashville Predators – The Predators’ offseason can be summed up with one name: P.K. Subban. The 2013 Norris Trophy winning defenseman was acquired in a shocking one-for-one trade with the Montreal Canadiens that saw Predators’ All-Star defenseman and captain Shea Weber going the other way. It’s not very often that you see one-for-one trades in the NHL that don’t also involve draft picks, an it’s even more rare to see such a deal involving two players of the caliber of Subban and Weber. But the reason that Nashville wins this trade is due to the fact they’re getting an elite defenseman who is four years younger than the one they traded to get him while also being in the prime of his career (more on this trade later in the story). The Preds already have the most stacked defensive corps in the league, and the acquisition of Subban only makes it stronger. They also locked up burgeoning star center Filip Forsberg to a six-year deal worth $6 million per season. Some might criticize the signing of defenseman Matt Carle, who struggled mightily in his final season with Tampa Bay, but at a one-year deal worth $700,000 to play bottom-pairing minutes, it’s not a bad value, especially with what the Lightning were paying him to be a healthy scratch for large chunks of last season. The Predators have the look of a team that can not only challenge for the Central Division title, but also make a serious run for the Stanley Cup.
Florida Panthers – In one of the busiest offseasons in team history, the Panthers not only shuffled around their front office, but made several moves in free agency and in identifying which of their core players will be sticking around for the long-term. Florida’s front office definitely believes that Aaron Ekblad is part of that solution, as they signed the 20-year-old defenseman to an eight-year, $60 million extension. The former Calder Trophy winner has already proven his worth and is expected to be a cornerstone of this franchise for a long time. They also locked up center Vincent Trocheck to a six-year contract worth an AAV of $4.75 million following a breakout season. The Panthers lost backup goalie Al Montoya, but found a very good replacement in James Reimer, who appears to be a successor for Roberto Luongo when the Panthers’ veteran netminder’s tenure in Sunrise comes to an end. They also brought in Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessalt to round out their bottom six forwards, traded defenseman Dimitry Kulikov to the Sabres for blue-liner Mark Pysyk, dealt defenseman Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver for 20-year-old center Jared McCann, and replaced aging vet Brian Campbell on their blue line with both the dependable Jason Demers and the offensive-minded Keith Yandle. The only knock I have on Florida’s offseason was overpaying Yandle at the cost of a seven-year pact at $6.35 million a year with a full no-move clause. As good as Yandle is with the puck, that has all the makings of a deal that Florida might regret in about four years. Even with that deal for Yandle, I still give the Panthers a lot of credit for not standing pat after winning their division and setting franchise records for wins and points.
New Jersey Devils – Re-signed Kyle Palmieri to a five-year contract with an AAV of $4.65 million, a pretty good bargain for a guy coming off the first 30-goal season of his career. And how can we forget the Taylor Hall trade? The Devils absolutely fleeced the Oilers by only having to send defenseman Adam Larsson the other way. New Jersey is still a bit thin on the back end, and goalie Cory Schneider might see a lot of pucks coming his way again, but if you’re in Devils GM Ray Shero’s shoes, you’re still making that trade 100 times out of 100. For the first time since Zach Parise was wearing a Devils sweater, New Jersey looks like they’ve finally got some offensive firepower up front. And when you’re coming off a season in which you finished dead last in the NHL in goals scored, getting some serious help for your top 6 forwards was a priority.
Buffalo Sabres – Did they overpay for free agent winger Kyle Okposo? Absolutely. But that’s the price of dipping your toe into the free agent market. Put him on a line with either Ryan O’Reilly or Jack Eichel and big things could happen. The addition of Okposo helps round out what is shaping up to be a pretty solid top-6 forward group. Made a blue-liner for blue-liner swap with Florida by getting Kulikov for Pysyk in a trade that should bolster their back end. If Buffalo can somehow convince Jimmy Vesey to stick around after trading a third-round pick to acquire his rights, that would be a coup, but it looks like Vesey is intent on becoming a UFA. Even if Vesey decides to test the free agent market, the Sabres have the look of a team that will continue to improve. The only question remaining is whether or not goalie Robin Lehner can stay healthy.
THE TEAMS THAT GOT IT WRONG
Detroit Red Wings – It’s not really going out on a limb, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it here anyway: the Red Wings’ 25-year streak of playoff appearances will come to an end in the spring of 2017. This is a team that has barely kept that streak alive over the last three seasons, and it looks like this is the year when the house finally collapses. Aging star Pavel Datsyuk decided to leave the team to go home to Russia, leaving Detroit stuck with his $7.5 million cap hit, which they were able to get off their books when they traded his contract to Arizona for injured forward Joe Vitale. Detroit made that move with the idea of jumping into the Steven Stamkos derby, but he didn’t even visit with the Wings before re-signing with Tampa Bay. As a consolation prize, they ended up with center Frans Nielsen from the Islanders in free agency to the tune of six years with an AAV of $5.25 million. Nielsen is a very good two-way player, but at the age of 32, his contract might be a bit of a detriment in a few years, but time will tell. They inked forwards Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek to one-year deals, but neither can be called difference-makers, especially Vanek, who has seen his career follow the Dany Heatley path of morphing from an offensive force into a journeyman whose game has fallen off a cliff. The main positive of the Vanek signing is the fact that it’s for only a year at the price of $2.6 million. Re-signing Danny DeKeyser to a six-year, $30 million deal isn’t smart when DeKeyser has not proven himself to be paid like a top-pairing defenseman, neither is keeping Darren Helm with a five-year contract with an AAV of $3.85 million. That’s a lot of money for a guy who’s fast, but doesn’t produce enough to justify that deal. According to capfriendly.com, the Wings are just over $4.2 million over the cap, and although they’ll find relief as they’re expected to put Vitale and injured winger Johan Franzen on long-term IR, they won’t have enough cap space to add the help they desperately need on the blue line unless they can swing a trade.
Montreal Canadiens – Back to that P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade. While it was certainly lauded by fans and media as a trade that works out heavily in Nashville, Canadiens fans and hockey media have widely panned the move. Subban was one of the most popular players in the storied franchise’s recent history, while also being one of the team’s most charitable players. However, there has been plenty of chatter that Subban and the team’s management and coaching staff didn’t always see eye to eye. Despite his status as one of the elite defensemen in the league, the Habs felt like they were better off without him, trading him straight-up for Weber just a few days before Subban’s no-trade clause kicked in. You might be thinking that I’m going to bash Weber and slam Montreal for this move. The truth is, he’s still a very good NHL defenseman, he’s got a physical edge to his game that makes him tough to play against, and he’s still got that howitzer of a slap shot that strikes fear into the hearts of both opposing defensemen and goalies alike. But let’s face the facts. He’ll soon be 31 years old, and even though he’s still got a few productive years left, his game is in decline. He’s not quite as sound positionally as he used to be, and he won’t have a rising star like Roman Josi to back him up in Montreal like he did with Nashville. Montreal also traded for Andrew Shaw, who’s a very useful third line forward who can chip in offensively and provide some grit, but paying him close to $4 million a year might be a bit much. And we can’t forget about the Alexander Radulov signing. The talented but troubled Russian winger makes his return to the NHL after his second KHL stint on a one-year contract worth $5.75 million a year. If Radulov stays out of trouble and is anywhere close to where he was during his best years with the Predators, then the Canadiens might have a steal on their hands. But at that price, he’d better put up some numbers, or else it’ll be seen as a waste of money. With that being said, Montreal’s offseason will be remembered for years because of the Subban-for-Weber trade, but only time will tell if the memories will be positive ones.
Boston Bruins – Since taking over as GM for the fired Peter Chiarelli in 2015, Don Sweeney has tried to steer the Bruins out of the salary cap and roster mess they got themselves into. But so far, there hasn’t been much luck in that department, as Sweeney’s first season saw Boston miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Goalie Tuukka Rask had a sub-par season, but a lot of that can be blamed on the mess of a defensive corps in front of him. While the Bruins bought out aging veteran Dennis Seidenberg’s contract, Boston still has 39-year-old Zdeno Chara on the books for two more years. Chara’s game has been declining for three years now, and even though he’s had a tremendous NHL career, his time in the league will soon be coming to an end. The B’s were thought to be major players in the trade market for a defenseman, and have been linked to trade rumors involving Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, although a deal never materialized. Boston re-signed Torey Krug to a four-year contract worth $5.25 million a year, but that seems like a bit of an over-payment considering Krug is more of an offensive-minded guy and not known for his two-way play. Bringing John-Michael Liles back, even at a one-year deal worth $2 million, isn’t the kind of move that can seriously upgrade Boston’s defensive corps. It’s merely a depth signing when the team desperately needs help on the back end. What was really puzzling was the Bruins’ decision to let Loui Eriksson walk as an unrestricted free agent. Eriksson signed a six-year pact with Vancouver for $6 million a year after he and the Bruins couldn’t agree on a new deal. Boston promptly replaced him with former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, who cashed in on a great playoff run with the Blues by signing with the Bruins for five years at an AAV of $6 million a year. Yep, they gave the same dollar amount to a guy that’s a year older and plays a much more physical style than Eriksson. Not that Backes isn’t a really good player, but at the age of 32, his style of play will probably see him break down sooner rather than later. In about three years, it wouldn’t be surprising if his contract becomes a boat anchor that the Bruins will desperately try to rid themselves of.
Vancouver Canucks – Just rebuild, already. At least the Toronto Maple Leafs took a long, hard look at themselves before realizing that the only way to get back to respectability was to tear the whole thing down and rebuild it. Coming off their lowest point total in a non-lockout season since 1998-99, Vancouver has been in a state of decline for a couple of years now, but hasn’t embraced a rebuild. Even though the Sedin twins are still productive at 35, they only have two more years left on their deals with full no-movement clauses. Then they went and gave Eriksson the aforementioned six-year, $36 million contract. This is a move you expect from a team that’s a player or two away from contending, not one in need of rebuilding. Trading Jared McCann to Florida for Erik Gudranson was also a head-scratcher despite the team’s need for help defensively. Dan Hamhuis, a solid presence on their blue line, was allowed to walk as a UFA. Is Jacob Markstrom the answer in goal? We might find out sooner rather than later since Ryan Miller has one year left on his contract and is on the downside of his career at the age of 36.
New York Islanders – Although I believe they Isles will still be in contention for a playoff spot next season, there’s no denying that losing the likes of Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin will hurt this team. Okposo and Nielsen gave this team some offense in their top-6, while Martin was a force on the team’s fourth line. While they were replaced with P.A. Parenteau, Jason Chimera, and Andrew Ladd, those three are still a big offensive downgrade from Okposo, Nielsen, and Martin. While Ladd is still a very good play that can chip in offensively and provide leadership, his $5.5 million cap hit is spread out over a seven-year deal, quite a long term for a 30-year-old forward. Don’t be surprised if Ladd doesn’t make it through the end of that contract before the team moves him, although that could be difficult. He has a no-move clause for the first two years, followed by a no-trade clause for two years, and a modified NTC for the final three years. In addition, handing center Casey Cizikas a five-year contract at $3.35 million per year is a steep price to pay for a fourth-line center.
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