The NHL offseason was undoubtedly overshadowed by the NBA, where Superstars were seemingly traded every day. It’s one of the main reasons the NHL isn’t as popular in some markets – the NBA has mastered ways to keep fans engaged throughout the offseason, while NHL teams are busy re-signing its star players and making minor moves in free agency. In the NBA, we saw Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Dwayne Wade, Paul George, Rudy Gay, and Jimmy Butler, among others, change teams. The last time someone of that magnitude did so in the NHL was Zdeno Chara when he joined the Boston Bruins over a decade ago. That’s not even a joke – a NHL.com article on the biggest free agent signings in the last decade actually includes Matt Moulson… MATT MOULSON!
However, that doesn’t mean NHL General Managers aren’t immune from making terrible decisions in the offseason. In fact, a terrible decision can be a lack of a major move that might have been necessary to push their team forward. It also might be overpaying for an aging veteran with declining skills, trading a player well before he hits his prime, or mismanaging the salary cap to the point where they were forced to trade said young player. What’s certain is that NHL General Managers are prone to making horrible decisions and some of the actions – or inaction – below could result in someone losing their job in the not-so-distant future.
15. Toronto: Signing Patrick Marleau
This one is tricky, because you can certainly argue that the addition of Patrick Marleau makes the Toronto Maple Leafs a better team. Despite being 38 years old, he’s still a great skater with above-average speed and a knack for finding the back of the net, but it’s the term and salary that is a little troubling. Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello gave Marleau a three-year, $18.75 million contract, making him the highest-paid player on a team that consists of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly.
While it’s quite possible he retires before the third and final year of the deal, he’ll at least be around for two more years, and the Leafs will need to extend the contracts of Matthews, Nylander, and Mitch Marner. If all three players improve upon their totals from their rookie seasons, fitting them under the salary cap might prove a difficult task for Leafs’ management.
14. Washington: Trading Marcus Johansson
You can’t look too much into preseason points, but in this case we might be willing to make an exception. The Washington Capitals were ultimately forced to deal winger Marcus Johansson when they re-signed Evgeny Kuznetsov and other core players, but you could make the argument that they could have traded others to keep Johansson. The Swede had a career-high 58 points last season and is still only 26 years old with room to grow with increased opportunity.
He’ll receive that in New Jersey, who acquired him for a pair of draft picks. The Devils have been great in preseason and nobody expects them to continue that into the regular season, but can Johansson produce similar offensive numbers to the six points he has through four games? It wouldn’t be surprising.
13. Colorado: Signing Nail Yakupov
It’s hard to really harp on a low-risk move by a franchise that really needs some good luck, but there wasn’t much incentive for the Colorado Avalanche to sign Nail Yakupov. The 23 year old Russian is a former first overall pick who has been a disaster since joining the NHL. He was cast off from the lowly Edmonton Oilers for his poor defensive play and decreasing offensive abilities, and played in just 40 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, scoring only three goals and adding six assists.
Could he produce more than that in a prominent role with the Avalanche? Maybe. But will his lack of defensive effort further affect the team’s already brutal defensive play? Absolutely. Beyond that, it’s bad optics to sign someone like Yakupov while also trying to push out Matt Duchene.
12. Edmonton: Eberle For Strome
Trading Jordan Eberle wasn’t a major mistake for the Edmonton Oilers, but only getting Ryan Strome was a bit of a gaffe by General Manager Peter Chiarelli, whose moves have been a mix of great and disastrous. He dealt a first-round pick for Griffin Reinhart, who can’t even crack the lineup, but also brought in Milan Lucic and Cam Talbot, who have been instrumental to the Oilers’ success.
Eberle needed to go to clear cap space to sign both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisailt, but it’s hard to believe Strome was the best offer Chiarelli received. The 27 year old has scored 20-plus goals in each of the last four seasons and could thrive playing alongside John Tavares in New York. Strome, meanwhile, had an impressive year in 2014-15 with 50 points, but has only accumulated 58 points combined in the following two seasons.
11. Edmonton: Signing McDavid Before Draisaitl
Don’t get us wrong, it was imperative that Chiarelli found a way to sign both McDavid and Draisitl, as both expect to anchor the center ice positions for the better part of a decade. The Oilers should arguably have the best one-two punch down the middle of the ice during that time, and it’s not unlikely that Draisitl joins McDavid as one of the top ten players in the league in the near future.
However, many have argued that Draisaitl was overpaid given comparables around the league. The German is going to make $8.5 million per season, which is only one million less than Evgeni Malkin. Meanwhile, David Pastrnak, a comparable player, albeit a winger, re-signed with Boston for a shade over $6 million. The problem was that the Oilers gave McDavid more than $12 million per season first and then had to negotiate with Draisaitl’s camp based on that number. Is he half the player McDavid is, as a $6 million salary would indicate? Definitely not. Hence, the two sides settled on $8.5 million. Oilers fans better hope he continues to improve.
10. Florida: Signing Radim Vrbata
Again, it’s hard to harp on one-year, low-risk deals, but this one is simply odd and actually escaped us until circling back to realize that yes, the Panthers did indeed sign veteran winger Radim Vrbata to a $2.5 million contract with upwards of $1.25 million in potential bonuses. If he reaches 45 points and the team makes the playoffs, his AAV (annual average salary) will be $3.75 million.
Even that isn’t terrible if he can give them that kind of production, but it’s a curious decision given the Panthers opted not to bring back Jaromir Jagr, who gave them 46 points last season. Yes, Vrbata is eight years younger, but he’s no spring chicken himself at 36 years old, and he’s only one season removed from a disastrous 27-point season with the Canucks. Even more condemning, Vrbata has only played in 42 playoff games throughout his lengthy career – he’s a player who excels on bad teams, and that’s not a good sign for Florida.
9. Rangers: Signing Kevin Shattenkirk
This is kind of similar to the Patrick Marleau signing in that Kevin Shattenkirk will almost certainly improve the New York Rangers, but at what cost? In fitting him under the salary cap, the team had to deal veteran center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes, leaving a potential hole in the middle of the ice. That’s not even including the fact the team committed $6.65 million for four years to a defenseman who didn’t look all that special in his brief stint with the Washington Capitals last season.
While the salary and term came in much lower than anticipated, Shattenkirk is still a player with limited abilities. He can thrive on the power play, but he’s nowhere near being a shutdown defenseman. Given that, he’s not exactly suited to play on a first pairing, but he’s making that kind of money so he’ll be given every opportunity to do so.
8. Tampa Bay: Not Acquiring Veteran Goaltender
Slovakian netminder Peter Budaj had a bit of a career resurgence last season with the Los Angeles Kings, but he is not the veteran goaltender the Tampa Bay Lightning need to help Andrei Vasilevskiy as he attempts to learn the difficulties that come with being a full-time starting goaltender. There was no way the Lightning could keep both Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop, but there were better veteran backup options out there.
Vasilevskiy is a 23 year old Russian goaltender with an impressive pedigree. He played in 50 games last season and recorded a 2.61 goals against average and .917 save percentage, and many expect him to become a top goaltender in the league, but only a select few are capable of playing 65-plus games and it’s definitely an adjustment. If he can’t manage it, or if he gets hurt, the Lightning’s playoff hopes come down to the performance of Budaj, which isn’t something you want to hear if you’re a fan of the team.
7. Islanders: Not Extending John Tavares
New York Islanders Superstar John Tavares is entering the final year of his contract with the team and, as such, the Islanders could have – and likely have – entered into contract negotiations with the player as of July 1st. If the team had stable ownership, a reliable building, and an actual plan for the future, he would be re-signed right now; instead, Tavares is likely betting on himself to have a career season in hopes of earning a massive contract, if not from the Islanders then from another team in the league.
That should scare Islanders fans. While it’s true few Superstars actually leave the team that drafted them, Tavares could be an exemption given the other circumstances. It might not be likely, but it’s a definite possibility that they could watch their franchise player walk with nothing in return next summer.
6. Montreal: Signing Alex Hemsky
Out of all the low-risk, one-year contracts handed out over the summer, this one might be the dumbest. And it’s not even the worst move made by Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin this summer – we’ll get to that later. We won’t focus on the details of the contract, because that means very little to the Canadiens; instead, we’ll focus on the hilariousness of the idea that Bergevin and his assistants actually believe 34 year old Ales Hemsky is capable of helping his hockey team.
A one-time 77-point producer, the Czech Republic winger hasn’t topped 40 points in a single season since 2010-11 and has been injured on and off throughout that time. He already has a declining skill set, is regarded as a lazy defender, and played in only seven games last season. Remember when the Canadiens signed Alex Semin and he lasted only 15 games? This is a lot similar to that.
5. Montreal: Trading Mikhail Sergachev
Notice we didn’t include Jonathan Drouin in the headline. Of all the dumb things Bergevin has done recently, acquiring Drouin isn’t one of them. He’s an incredibly talented winger who is going to thrive in this league, although management is putting him under the gun by transitioning him to the first-line center role, which, as a French-Canadian, will put him under intense scrutiny in Montreal.
However, he’s a solid addition to the team. Yet, it was a mistake to deal defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev. If that was the only player Tampa would take for Drouin, then Bergevin should have nixed the deal. Sergachev is a 6-foot-3, 212-pound mobile defenseman who many expect to become an All-Star, while the Habs, outside of Shea Weber, are incredibly thin on the blue line. This could be another Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez situation.
4. Montreal: Not Re-Signing Andrei Markov
This will be the last time we attack Bergevin and the Canadiens, we promise. There are so many things wrong with the team not re-signing Andrei Markov, but first and foremost, it’s hard to ignore the team’s lack of depth on defense. They dealt Sergachev, lost Markov, and brought in Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, and Mark Streit, who are all either overpaid or simply not good enough to improve the team.
Though Markov is similar in age to Streit, he’s also a much better player. The 38 year old is lauded for his on-ice vision and intelligence and has long been the workhorse on the Canadiens’ blueline. Making the situation look worse from an optics standpoint is the fact Markov was only ten games shy of 1,000 games with the franchise. It’s unfortunate that he likely won’t reach that illustrious mark.
3. Ottawa: Inactive In Trades And Free Agency
Why would the team that was within a game of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals want to mess with a successful template in free agency, you ask? To put it simply, the Ottawa Senators were a lucky team last year. They had the fortune of having Erik Karlsson on their team not to mention incredibly timely scoring at critical junctures of the playoffs, but nothing about their forward group inspires confidence that they can repeat that level of success.
Most analysts agree that the Senators are in tough this year with an improved Maple Leafs and Lightning in the Atlantic Division. Add in the fact the team will be without Karlsson to start the season and fans could be in for a rude awakening this year. The signs were there throughout last year and even into the playoffs, so you could think they would make a bigger splash than signing Nate Thompson and Johnny Oduya.
2. Calgary: Trading For Mike Smith
Goaltending and defense wins championships. While it’s important to have a top-flight center, Stanley-Cup winning teams of the past had at least an All-Star talent between the pipes or on defense (excluding last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins, perhaps). The Calgary Flames see themselves as a potential Stanley Cup threat after making the playoffs in two of the past three seasons and they’re definitely close.
The Flames have an impressive young core and perhaps one of the best defense groups in the league with Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and the recently-acquired Travis Hamonic. But they’re putting their championship hopes in veteran goaltender Mike Smith, who won’t be much – if any – of an upgrade over Brian Elliot. Since losing Miikka Kiprusoff in 2013, the Flames have cycled through aging veterans between the pipes. They need a stable top goaltender long-term.
1. Colorado: Not Trading Matt Duchene
Believe it or not, there are actually people who blame Matt Duchene for the way things are going in Colorado right now. The former first-round pick has been incredibly loyal to the franchise throughout his career, but became the subject of trade rumors last season as the team experienced a historically-bad year. Duchene himself had a disastrous campaign, but had to deal with constant rumors and questions from the media.
It was expected he would be dealt prior to the NHL Draft. And when that didn’t happen, it was thought he would be traded in the offseason. That didn’t happen and here we are with Duchene reporting for training camp in an obviously sour mood and being noncommittal as to whether or not he will play for the team this year. General Manager Joe Sakic’s demand for Duchene is obviously too high and his inability to resolve the situation has made the Avalanche and absolute embarrassment.
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