The National Hockey League is an interesting one where just about any team that can make it to the playoffs has a chance to run the table towards the Stanley Cup. Last season was the most recent example as the Nashville Predators – an eighth seed in the Western Conference – advanced to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This shows the importance of all playoff contenders needing to continue to build their team and maintain success for the next season. But just like other professional sports leagues, teams will usually see players leaving for the free agent market. This can be a difficult time for teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, who only have so much cap room and cannot afford to sign all of the key players from previous seasons to fair market value contracts.
That’s why trades can be important in creating cap space, bringing in players to fill holes or to build a stock pile of draft picks for those teams that want to sustain their future through recruiting younger skaters. All of these roster moves will always have some level of risk to them. You never know if a player that is let go is going to go on to succeed elsewhere in the NHL; creating second thoughts among the fan base and front office.
Then there’s the chance someone brought in can lead to a decline in the overall team’s performance. The following recent trades and signings have already looked terrible for teams in the NHL moving towards the 2017-18 season.
17 TRADE – Chicago trading Artemi Panarin
Too many large contracts can sometimes hurt a powerful team in the NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks knew they had to make some cap room in an effort to bring in players to build towards the future of the franchise. However, there is a concern about trading someone who could have been the future of the team in Artemi Panarin. In two seasons with Chicago, Panarin had 61 goals and 90 assists and built a report with Patrick Kane, who was “disappointed” in the move.
The Blackhawks did get Brandon Saad in the trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. His numbers will not replace what Panarin did, although Saad does have a report with the club and will be able to contribute on a line with Kane and Jonathan Toews. This was a move where the Blackhawks wanted to free up space, but this only works well if younger players like Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz are able to develop in the next year or two.
15 SIGNING – Nick Bonino, C, Nashville Predators
Say what you will about whether Colin Wilson will be a good acquisition for the Colorado Avalanche, it might have been a rough loss for the Nashville Predators. The defending Western Conference champions decided to let Wilson go in an effort to dump his salary. To fill that void, the Predators signed center Nick Bonino to a four-year, $16.4 million contract. While folks in Nashville might have been optimistic about the signing, there are some concerns.
Bonino hasn’t usually been a first-, or even second-tier forward during his eight-year career. The most points Bonino scored was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2013-14 (49 points), which is part of having scored at least 35 points in three of the past four seasons. Bonino has usually been a role player for the Pittsburgh Penguins the past two seasons, but it will be interesting to see how he fairs with a likely expanded role in Nashville.
14 TRADE – St. Louis says goodbye to Ryan Reaves
There’s something to be said about having that one guy who is willing to spend time in the penalty box in an effort to send a message to the opposing team. Ryan Reaves was someone who would bring physicality to a St. Louis Blues team that provided a compliment to the agile and high-scoring forwards like Vladimir Tarasenko. But Reaves was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the offseason, which leaves a bit of a hole for St. Louis going into next season.
While St. Louis received Pittsburgh’s first-round, 31st overall pick in the 2017 draft to get Klim Kostin, who has been known to use his size to dominate low, he’s not likely to quickly replace the physical dominance that Reeves was known for. The likelihood of the Blues having a team that can advance past the first round next season might be questionable at best.
13 SIGNING – Cam Fowler, D, Anaheim Ducks
While not necessarily a free agent signing, the Anaheim Ducks made the decision to place defenseman Cam Fowler to a new contract extension that begins in the 2018-19 season and through 2025-26. Fowler had a respectable season with 11 goals and 28 assists for 39 points while maintaining a plus-7 rating. The only season where he had a better plus-minus rating was in 2013-14 with a plus-15 rating. His career rating Is a minus-39 with 217 points in 494 career games.
Fowler might have been viewed by some to be a big part of Anaheim’s defensive corps the last few seasons. But an eight-year extension that is worth a total of $52 million is quite a major commitment. The Ducks could have waited another season to see if the 26-year-old defenseman would have a strong season. Or maybe take the opportunity to bring in a better defender via free agency or through the trade market.
12 TRADE – Edmonton swap Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome with N.Y. Islanders
The Edmonton Oilers found themselves having to make some room on their payroll, especially with franchise cornerstones like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to be the team’s focal points for the future. With that in mind, it made business sense for the Oilers to trade right winger Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome. The Islanders gained someone who has scored at least 20 goals in four of the last five seasons. And at age 26, he’s still got some upside.
But Edmonton officials believe there is upside to be found with Strome. But the center’s numbers doesn’t really inspire the same confidence. He’s scored 21 goals during the last two seasons combined. If it wasn’t for the 50-point season in 2014-15, Strome wouldn’t have the plus-5 rating he has in 258 career games.
11 SIGNING – Nate Thompson, C, Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators were hoping to add some depth to their center position with the goal of building on last season’s appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Therefore, they made the decision to sign the 32-year-old Nate Thompson to a two-year, $3.3 million contract. It’s obvious that the move was not made for Thompson’s offensive ability. In 550 career games, Thompson has only scored 111 points. He’s only had eight points the last two seasons, which he also has only played 79 total games.
The Senators think he’s a reliable player who has the right mentality to do things like block shots and play strong on the penalty kill. But he’s also coming off an Achilles tendon injury that limited him to just 30 games last season. Since he’s hasn’t played a whole season in a while and the low scoring numbers, a $3.3 million deal for two years seems a little high.
10 TRADE – New Jersey gives up a lot for Marcus Johansson
The New Jersey Devils are hoping to rise from the cellar of the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division. While not the absolute worst team in the league, they certainly weren’t much better than the Colorado Avalanche. But the Devils offered two draft picks to the Washington Capitals for Marcus Johansson – a forward with the ability to play either a center or winger position.
It is true that Johansson had a career best season last year with 58 points (24 goals, 34 assists). But he hasn’t been a consistent offensive threat in 501 career games with the Washington Capitals – 102 goals and 188 assists. While not necessarily a bad acquisition for depth, New Jersey gave up draft picks in the second and third rounds of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. It might be a little bit of a high price for someone who hasn’t proven to be a major contributor.
9 SIGNING – Karl Alzner, D, Montreal Canadiens
It’s true that there is some validity to viewing Karl Alzner as one of the best defenders who entered the free agency market after last season. In nearly 600 career NHL games, Alzner has built up a plus-61 rating with 117 points contributed to the Washington Capitals’ offense since entering the league in 2008-09. He’s also played 82 games in each of the last four seasons, which is partly why the Montreal Canadiens gave him a five-year, $23.125 million contract.
But there are some concerns that stem from the sports hernia surgery that he had in the offseason in 2016. He’s even gone on the record that it certainly slowed him down in the 2016-17 season; even though he still had a career high plus-23 rating. It will be interesting if he can get back up to speed like before the surgery. This might be a bit of a risk for Montreal, especially considering they let Andrei Markov walk for the KHL.
8 Trade - Montreal Acquires Jonathan Drouin From Tampa Bay For Mikhail Sergachev
The Montreal Canadiens seemed like they were set to make some big splashes in the offseason when they started off by trading their top defensive prospect in Mikhail Sergachev for local boy Jonathan Drouin. While the trade initially seemed okay, provided the Habs would be able to keep Alexander Radulov and/or Andrei Markov, both those guys walked in free agency. So now, Montreal has essentially emptied their cupboard of top flight prospects for one player who doesn't necessarily fill their biggest need of a top line centre. Sure, Drouin may be a star in the league, but seeing how the rest of Montreal's offseason unfolded, are they a better team? And are they so close to being a Stanley Cup contender that it was worth unloading Sergachev?
6 SIGNING – Dan Girardi, D, Tampa Bay Lightning
When looking at his career numbers, defenseman Dan Girardi looks like he should be included among some of the other good players at his position. Nearly 800 career NHL games with 46 goals, 184 assists for 230 points and a plus-54 rating. Steve Yzerman, general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning, certainly wanted to bring him in with the allure of “good minutes with some good (defensive) pairs,” according to an article in the Tampa Bay Times.
But there are some who feel that he was more of a beneficiary of being part of a solid New York Rangers team since entering the NHL in 2006. And a lot of that credit should go to the star goaltender the Rangers have had in Henrik Lundqvist. It will be tough considering the Lightning also traded Ben Bishop last season, who is now with the Dallas Stars.
5 TRADE – Chicago trades away Niklas Hjalmarsson
It was mentioned earlier that the Chicago Blackhawks needed to alleviate some space on their salary. While trading Artemi Panarin is likely going to be met with criticism, it’s fair to say that the move to send Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes is a little more questionable. Yes, Chicago has veteran defenders in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. But there is a bit of a fall in talent between those two defenders and the remainders on the current roster for next season.
It also didn’t help that Chicago lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. Hjalmarsson has served with Chicago for the past decade with a career plus-109 rating in 623 games with the Blackhawks. He’s also known to help with scoring with 120 assists. Hjalmarsson would have helped provide depth to a Chicago defense that will need to be strong for another deep playoff run.
4 SIGNING – Dmitry Kulikov, D, Winnipeg Jets
There’s a reason that Dmitry Kulikov only lasted one season with the Buffalo Sabres. While having shown a little improvement from his last two seasons with the Florida Panthers (2014-2016), the 2016-17 season was not very kind of Kulikov. In only 47 games, he had a minus-26 rating – tied for the worst year of his career (2013-14 season). Overall, Kulikov has a minus-64 rating in 507 career NHL games through eight seasons.
It was likely that Kulikov was going to get a one-year deal as a way of proving that he could have a bounce back season while providing some defensive depth. Instead the Winnipeg Jets signed the Russian-born skater to a three-year deal where he will make an average of $4.33 million per season. It’s another one of those contracts that seem a little high for the recent performance on the ice.
3 TRADE – Vegas trades Trevor van Riemsdyk
It was just mentioned earlier that the Vegas Golden Knights had gained veteran defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk through the expansion draft earlier this year. The selection made a lot of sense because the Golden Knights would have a young skater who has shown a lot of potential last season. In 58 games last season, van Riemsdyk finished with a plus-17 rating and scored 16 points of offense. He also blocked 100 shots, which was a good pace compared to 155 blocks at even strength in 82 games in 2015-16.
But Vegas decided to trade van Riemsdyk to the Carolina Hurricanes for the 62nd overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft – which was used to acquire center Jake Leschyshyn. While he showed some potential with 40 points in 47 games with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League last season, van Riemsdyk was someone to help build the franchise into a competitive team. However, this move likely means Vegas is looking to start contending in at least three to five years.
2 SIGNING – T.J. Oshie, RW, Washington
Expecting emails complaining about a lack of hockey knowledge in 3, 2 and 1. T.J. Oshie. Sure, he’s one of the best players in the league with 417 total points in 591 career games. He’s a big part of the Washington Capitals offense since coming from the St. Louis Blues for the 2015-16 season. But there are some issues that have stemmed from the Capitals signing Oshie, who will turn 31 in the 2017-18 season, to an eight-year, $46 million contract in June.
Oshie’s big-money deal has led to some major roster changes that may have impacted the Capitals for next season. Along with the Capitals signing defender Dmity Orlov to a six-year, $30.6 million contract, Washington also had to say goodbye to trade deadline addition Kevin Shattenkirk and several other players. While Oshie will likely do well, the team will have to take a step back in other positions because of the dreaded salary cap hit. Still expecting at least a few to state their disapproval of Oshie’s addition to this list.
1 TRADE – Lingering effects for Minnesota renting Martin Hanzal
Yes, the Minnesota Wild acquiring Martin Hanzal was only for the last leg of the 2016-17 NHL season. And yes, Hanzal is now signed with the Dallas Stars. However, one can argue that the effects of this late season trade in 2017 will have lingering effects for a team that some thought could have won a Stanley Cup the last few years. Hanzal was part of a trade package the Wild got, along with Ryan White and a fourth-round pick.
The Arizona Coyotes left the trade in better shape – well, as good as the Coyotes could be – by getting Minnesota’s first-round pick for 2017, a second-round pick in 2018, a conditional pick in 2019 and Grayson Downing. Hanzal did not make an impact as the Wild were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. It’s not much of a surprise when owner Craig Leopold said they regretted making the trade.