The NHL offseason is a long three months between a team winning the Stanley Cup and the start of training camp. The best things fans can hope for is an offseason where general managers are active at retooling their teams. Two ways of doing that are via free agency and trades.
Free agency begins on July 1st, where players who enter either unrestricted or restricted free agency can be signed by any team in the league. Ideally, teams try to extend players they deem important to their franchise before that time but sometimes cap restraints or the player’s unwillingness to re-sign causes them to hit the open market. The only difference between unrestricted and restricted free agency is a restricted free agent is under 27 and whose rights are still technically owned by their team. Any offer that player receives can be matched, and compensations are issued if they sign with another team (based on salary).
Trades are also best done in the offseason because there are fewer restrictions than during the season. Teams do not need to abide to salary cap compliance until later on and can therefore retool without regard for players’ cap hits until then. This means that teams can focus on their immediate needs and then trim off any excess contracts that could easily be replaced, usually for cheaper.
So far teams like Arizona, Carolina, and Dallas have done great jobs in improving for next season, while teams like Washington and Chicago had to do necessary move that will negatively impact their next season.
15. Succeed: Alexander Radulov – Dallas Stars
It came down to the Habs re-signing Radulov, or him moving to Texas and Radulov chose the latter. Some accuse him of doing it for the money (he won’t lose as much salary to taxes in Texas compared to Quebec), but ultimately who he’ll play with must have been an even bigger incentive. To go from a team that’s notorious for lacking top end skill in the Habs, to potentially playing on a line with one of the best duos in hockey.
If Radulov does end up playing with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, he’ll bring that line together similarly to how he did with the Habs this past season, only it will result in more production playing with elite players. The contract aside, Radulov will help Dallas.
14. Fail: Chris Kunitz – Tampa Bay Lightning
For the first time in what seems like forever, Kunitz wasn’t playing alongside an elite center this past season. From Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, Kunitz has finally slowed down to the point he can’t really produce alongside players like that anymore. And it showed this past season. He was usually good for 40-50 points in his 30s, surprising us with a 68 point season in 2013-14. But with only 29 points in 71 games, a lot is missing from Kunitz’ game at 37 years old.
13. Succeed: Jordan Eberle – New York Islanders
The Islanders took full advantage of the Oilers wanting to part ways with Eberle. They acquired him via trade, only having to give up Ryan Strome. The 23-year-old Strome hadn’t built upon his 50 point season of 2014-15, so trading for Eberle was a good improvement.
Eberle will likely form a great duo with Tavares and, for the Islanders’ sake, entice Tavares into signing an extension with the club. Hopefully for Eberle he bounces back from his disappointing season in Edmonton. If he can’t thrive playing next to Tavares, then you have to wonder what his NHL future is beyond the 2017-18 season. It could also play a part in helping Tavares decide if he wants to stay in Brooklyn beyond this season.
12. Fail: Dan Girardi – Tampa Bay Lightning
So only a few weeks after being bought out by the New York Rangers, Tampa decides to throw Girardi a 2 year, $3M per year contract. There are two main problems with this contract. The obvious one being that Girardi was terrible last season, and his contract being bought out is the ultimate proof of that. For someone who’ll play bottom pair minutes, offering $3M per year is unnecessary. More importantly though, his roster spot may cut into development time for some of their younger defensemen.
Tampa has at least three defensemen that could soon become mainstays with the team, and are all making under $900k (Sergachev, Dotchin, and Koekkoek). Girardi may be an upgrade on Jason Garrison, who went to Vegas, but taking minutes away from younger skaters is not the answer.
11. Succeed: Sam Gagner – Vancouver Canucks
A rebuilding team in Vancouver made smart moves this offseason by signing players like Michael Zotto and Sam Gagner. Both are cheap contracts but offer value not only by their on ice performance but in helping the transition between veteran players and younger players. Specifically for Gagner, he’ll come in and lessen the pressure on Bo Horvat (still 22). Gagner can play both wing or center, so can play on Horvat’s wing and help him offensively, or take faceoffs on Horvat’s weak side since they’re opposite handedness. Gagner earned the contract he got in Vancouver, as he played last season in Columbus on a bargain bin contract. Even if the Canucks don’t make the playoffs, Gagner’s numbers should be on par with his 2016-17 stats.
10. Fail: Mike Smith – Calgary Flames
Calgary had no choice but to address their goaltending after their tandem from last season of Chad Johnson and Brian Elliott came up short for them, especially considering the talent the Flames have right now. The Flames would eventually lose Elliott to free agency, and traded Johnson to Arizona for their supposed new number one: Mike Smith.
Smith, 35, has gone from slightly above average to bad on a season to season basis down in the desert, with really only one good season (38 wins in 67 starts, 2.21 GAA, .930 Sv% in 2011-12). It’s hard to see Smith making a lasting impression, if any. Yes, Calgary had to do something to solve their goaltending issue, but you wonder if they should have jumped at the chance to trade for say, Ben Bishop earlier in the offseason.
9. Succeed: Derek Stepan – Arizona Coyotes
The long time Ranger is now with the Coyotes via trade and will cement the top line nicely. He’ll most likely with Max Domi at his wing, who is in desperate need of a bounce back season after one that saw him battling injury and lackluster offensive production. He is now one of the oldest forwards on the team even though he is still only 27. He’ll likely be leaned on more than he was with the Rangers so is sure to get to his usual 50-55 points, if not more. The Coyotes have not made any noise the past few seasons despite having several promising young prospects. Hopefully for them, Stepan is able to stabilize the center ice position.
8. Fail: Brandon Saad – Chicago Blackhawks
Saad rejoins Chicago in a trade that saw Artemi Panarin go the other way, along with a few other pieces. Both are making the same salary, but Saad is signed for four more seasons and is one year younger than Panarin. Saad is still a good forward who is good for 25-30 goals, and has defensive capabilities that make up for the loss of Marian Hossa to potentially career ending allergies. However it looks like Chicago is simply trying to catch lightning in a bottle again after two early playoff exits.
But Panarin just brought next level style offense to Chicago’s top 6, especially in tandem with Patrick Kane (who Panarin helped win the Hart Trophy in 2016). Hopefully Kane can do it alone again like he did in 2015.
7. Succeed: Radim Vrbata – Florida Panthers
Vrbata signed with the Panthers and looks to replace the offensive void left by the departure of another veteran, Jaromir Jagr. Vrbata, even at 36 years old, will likely see success regardless where he slots in on Florida’s top 6. A slightly different play style than that of Jagr’s, Vrbata could still easily hit at least the 20-25 goal mark, especially if he plays with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. He is still more than capable of improving a power play as well. Maybe not the hall of fame pedigree as Jagr, but his veteran presence is definitely worth something for the younger forwards on Florida. There’s no reason to think that if Vrbata was a steady goalscorer in Arizona that he can’t do it in Florida.
6. Fail: Patrick Marleau – Toronto Maple Leafs
Marleau was brought to Toronto via free agency to offer a young team a veteran presence. Lou Lamoriello’s streak of signing older players to longer term than necessary, and for more money than necessary, definitely wasn’t broken with Marleau. Turning 38 in September, Marleau signed for 3 years at $6.25M per year (no-movement clause for all three years). Marleau may be the epitome of health by not missing a game since 2008-09, and his speed was still there last season, but this deal is too much of a risk. His production has decreased steadily these past three seasons and his 27 goals last season may have been good for a 37-year-old, but it came off his lowest shot volume in a decade. He’ll also be away from centers he’s played with for several years, so a lack in chemistry with his new teammates can be devastating.
5. Succeed: Jonathan Drouin – Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens’ biggest move of the offseason came about a week before the draft when they sent their top prospect, defenceman Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning to land hometown kid and pending RFA Jonathan Drouin. They quickly signed Drouin to a six-year deal, worth a cap hit of $5.5 million a season. Drouin’s role in Tampa was never quite what the former 3rd overall pick had envisioned, as he consistently lost ice time to some of the team’s veterans. He still managed to produce 53 points in 73 games.
The Habs will undoubtedly move Drouin up to their top line, which will give him plenty more opportunities to increase his totals and hopefully solve some of the Habs’ offensive woes. The only question is whether the Canadiens will try Drouin at center or keep him on the wing.
4. Fail: Tyler Ennis – Minnesota Wild
The small forward was acquired along with Marcus Foligno as part of a trade that saw Minnesota shed some cap hit by sending Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella the other way. Injuries these past two seasons have really taken their toll on the 5’9″ forward and there may not be much left in terms of his production. He had only 13 points in 51 games this past season, and 11 points in 23 games the year before.
He was pushed down the roster in Buffalo because of all the new additions and the games he missed due to injuries, and it looks like he’ll be nothing more than a depth forward in Minnesota. The Wild are likely not expecting much from Ennis, considering the purpose of their move was mainly to create cap room.
3. Succeed: Marcus Johansson – New Jersey Devils
After re-signing Evgeni Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and T.J. Oshie, the Caps still had to re-sign a few players and add to the roster just to be able to ice a team next season. They chose to move Marcus Johansson and his contract (just over $4.5M per year) to the Devils for a 2018 2nd and 3rd round pick. Johansson goes to a Devils team that finally has a top 6 that’s coming along nicely. Pavel Zacha, Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and the 1st overall pick of this year’s draft Nico Hischier make up what was once a very bleak forward group for New Jersey.
2. Fail: Ben Bishop – Dallas Stars
Dallas addressed their terrible goaltending by acquiring pending UFA Bishop from Los Angeles. They extended the 30-year-old to a 6 year contract that will see him make just under $5M per year. He was terrible last season splitting time between Tampa and Los Angeles, and has had a few lower body injuries these past three years. As a bigger goaltender (6’7″), and not getting any younger, his durability is suspect moving forward. The Stars bought out Antti Niemi after the expansion draft. They had to be disappointed in not being able to unload one of their goalies on Vegas, so their salary cap now has close to $10 million committed to two goaltenders. They’d better hope Bishop ends up sealing the starting job, and fast.
1. Thrive: Scott Darling – Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes have been busy this offseason, trying to add the missing pieces that will take their young team back into the playoffs. The additions of players like Marcus Kruger and Trevor Van Riemsdyk help round out their team nicely. Most importantly, they addressed long term goaltending by acquiring Scott Darling from Chicago. Darling was a fantastic backup for Chicago these past few years, even replacing Corey Crawford in the playoffs when Crawford’s game wasn’t there.
Eddie Lack hadn’t panned out for the Hurricanes, and Cam Ward is finally an afterthought, so dealing for Darling (who wanted to be a starter) was a great move. The Hurricanes should finally start to see some progression from their young roster this coming season.
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