Well, 2016-17 was thrilling yet frustrating when it came to hockey in the Great White North.
On one hand, it was great to see five Canadian teams reach the playoffs after all seven of them failed to qualify last year. But the story stayed the same in 2017: The Stanley Cup was won by an American team. 24-straight years now without a championship in Canada.
The Calgary Flames wasted an incredible turnaround season by letting the Anaheim Ducks sweep them in the opening round. Then the Edmonton Oilers kept blowing big leads and let the Ducks eliminate them in the second round. The Montreal Canadiens couldn’t score. Then wasted Carey Price’s epic performance. Then the New York Rangers eliminated them in the first round.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had no shame in losing to the Washington Capitals in the first round. But their Ontario rivals — the Ottawa Senators — blew countless chances to dethrone the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Oh, the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets didn’t come close to qualifying — I should add.
So what can the seven Canadian teams do to improve their chances of bringing the Stanley Cup back to the country that made it legendary? Here are three moves all seven of them need to do in the offseason.
*Stats courtesy of HockeyDB.com. All salary and contract details courtesy of CapFriendly.com*
21. Calgary Flames: Move Troy Brouwer
Looking to add more grit and toughness to their young lineup, Flames GM Brad Treliving signed Troy Brouwer to a four-year pact worth $18 million last offseason. Brouwer was a three-time 20-goal scorer and was coming off an impressive postseason that saw him post 13 points in 20 games for the Washington Capitals.
However, Brouwer struggled with the Flames in 2016-17. He had just 13 goals and 25 points — the worst season of his career. Considering he’s getting $4.5 million a year, the Flames really aren’t getting their money’s worth by any means.
The Flames should expose Brouwer in the Vegas expansion draft. If the Golden Knights don’t take him, they should look to trade him to another team trying to reach the salary cap floor. There’s no need for Calgary to carry his expensive contract when they’re already enriched in quality forwards.
20. Edmonton Oilers: Upgrade Depth On Defence
The Oilers were carried by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on offence. They were carried in goal by the world class play of Cam Talbot. On defence? Let’s just say that Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom are better fit as second-pairing defencemen.
Edmonton simply didn’t have the speed or depth on defence to hang in there with the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the playoffs. The Ducks were able to beat Edmonton by carrying much more talent and all-around skill on the blue line — a necessity for championship teams these days.
GM Peter Chiarelli shouldn’t chase a big name like Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency. But a guy like Andrei Markov, Brian Campbell or Ron Hainsey would be worth looking at. They should come at affordable prices and their veteran leadership would be instrumental in taking Edmonton to that next level.
19. Montreal Canadiens: Extend Carey Price Long-Term
The Habs had a great chance to show Carey Price that this was the place for him to win now. But following their ugly first round exit at the hands of the New York Rangers, GM Marc Bergevin isn’t going to have much leverage at the bargaining table.
As many know, the best goalie in the world is entering 2017-18 in a contract year. The Habs are simply a mess without him — as evidenced by their epic meltdown in the 2015-16 season when Carey Price sprained his MCL.
Montreal has to do whatever it takes to extend Price long-term. The good news is that he did tell reporters that he wanted to remain with the Habs and believes they’re the place for him to win. This team has to reach a deal with their star goalie. Going into a contract year with your franchise player is always a risk you shouldn’t even dare to take.
18. Ottawa Senators: Re-Sign Mike Condon
The Senators picked up Mike Condon off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the start of the season. It turned out to be one of the biggest under-the-radar moves of 2016-17.
Starter Craig Anderson was in and out of the lineup as he helped his wife Nicholle courageously fight cancer. Condon filled in nicely, going 19-14-6 with a .914 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average. This came a year after he struggled miserably to replace the injured Carey Price in Montreal.
You can never have too much insurance in goal. Condon is a pending UFA but shouldn’t cost too much to retain. The Sens aren’t going to find many better backup options, so they should try to get Condon under contract for two or three years. There’s truly no reason to let him go.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs: Trade Tyler Bozak
The Maple Leafs made the playoffs in 2017 on the basis of a high-flying offence. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown and James van Riemsdyk supplied Toronto with more than enough scoring up front.
But Toronto is going to want to save up as much salary cap space as possible. JVR is entering a contract year, and youngsters like Matthews and Nylander will soon be due for massive raises. Tyler Bozak is also in a contract season and is coming off an 18-goal, 55-point campaign.
Toronto should look to clear his $4.2 million cap hit to shed some salary. Bozak’s value is at its highest point right now, and the Leafs probably won’t be able to extend him long-term next season. They should simply trade him now for a quality piece in return (perhaps a defenceman?) That would be better than losing him for nothing.
16. Vancouver Canucks: Replace Ryan Miller
Per multiple reports, the Canucks have confirmed that Jacob Markstrom will be their starter next season. That’s the right move, as Markstrom’s proven more than enough times that he’s ready to be an undisputed No. 1 goalie.
But there’s speculation the Canucks are also looking at extending pending UFA Ryan Miller, who was extremely inconsistent in his last two years with the Canucks. It’s time to cut ties with the 37-year-old and find another backup that’s more reliable than the former Vezina Trophy winner.
Guys like Jonathan Bernier, Mike Condon, Chad Johnson, Ondrej Pavelec and Steve Mason are younger and better than Miller at this point. If Vancouver can land one of those guys for one or two years, it’ll be a great move as they groom Markstrom into being this team’s franchise goalie.
15. Winnipeg Jets: Trade First-Round Pick
Few teams (if any), have a brighter future than the Winnipeg Jets. Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers give this team an extremely great group of stars to build around for years to come.
Couple that with the fact that the 2017 NHL Draft is one of the weakest in recent memory, and the Jets don’t have much use of the 13th-overall selection this year. They have more than enough talent at every position, so what’s another prospect going to do?
If GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was smart, he’d look to trade the pick. Perhaps the Jets could land a decent No. 2 or 3 defenceman if he were to shop the 13th selection. Winnipeg just doesn’t need it. They should be more worried about winning now, and landing a quality and proven roster player gets them there.
14. Calgary Flames: Re-Sign Chad Johnson
The Flames traded for Brian Elliott at last year’s trade deadline, and his tenure in Calgary was all over the place. As he struggled early in the season, backup Chad Johnson maintained order in goal. He turned out to be one of the best second stringers in the league in 2016-17 — going 18-15-1 with a .910 save percentage and 2.59 goals against average.
While the Flames search for a new number one goalie, keeping Johnson to at least be their backup is important. He showed his value for them while Elliott struggled to put it together, and just might be capable of being a regular starter.
13. Edmonton Oilers: Trade Jordan Eberle
We all know by now that scoring isn’t a problem on the Oilers. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu provide plenty of it. That goes without mentioning Jesse Puljujarvi — the fourth overall selection of the 2016 Draft — who has yet to play in the NHL.
The Oilers could use some help on the blue line, and they are fortunate in having such trade chips to pull off a deal. One of those chips is Jordan Eberle — the inconsistent forward who has two years left on his contract at a $6 million cap hit.
Edmonton should have no problem finding teams interested in Eberle. Clubs like the Minnesota Wild and Carolina Hurricanes are loaded with quality blueliners but lack scoring depth. This is a great chance for Chiarelli to deal Eberle. He noted the importance of extending McDavid and Draisaitl — and clearing out Eberle’s $6 million cap hit would give them plenty of help to do so.
12. Montreal Canadiens: Re-Sign Alexander Radulov
The Canadiens took a chance on KHL star Alexander Radulov last season, signing him to a one-year deal worth $5.75 million. Radulov turned out to be a huge impact signing for the Canadiens, scoring 18 goals and 54 points as he led the team to an Atlantic Division title. Radulov also added seven points in six playoff games.
But it’s well-known by now that the Canadiens have plenty of troubles scoring. It’s the key reason why the Rangers eliminated them in the first round. They simply need to get help on offence — and losing Radulov would make it a whole lot worse.
As long as the 31-year-old isn’t asking for a deal beyond four years, the Canadiens should do everything they can to keep him. Radulov was a great fit for Montreal and expressed his love for the team, city and fans. It’s a match made in Heaven, and Bergevin has to show that this offseason by rewarding the Russian standout with a new contract.
11. Ottawa Senators: Extend Erik Karlsson
The Senators were beaten and battered during the 2017 playoffs. Just have a look at all the players who were injured during their Cinderella run:
Here's the list of 14 Ottawa Senators players that played with injuries vs the Piitsburgh Penguins in 2017 NHL Eastern Conference Finals. pic.twitter.com/m8V43Sl6m4
— "The Game" #31 (@sandropacheco71) June 1, 2017
Throw in the inconsistency from goalie Craig Anderson, and it’s amazing to see how the Senators got within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. So how did they get that far? Two words: Erik Karlsson.
The world’s greatest defenceman carried an Ottawa team despite playing with fractures in his foot. Karlsson showed his value and importance throughout the postseason — and it’s clear how much he means to a Sens’ team that’s struggled with consistency for years.
Karlsson has just two years remaining on his contract, however. It may not seem much — but in a year’s time, he’ll be entering a contract season. The Senators have to show their willingness to win now by extending the greatest player they ever had and probably ever will have. There is no excuse for budget-conscious owner Eugene Melnyk to disallow such an extension to take place.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs: Re-Sign James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk has been one of the top Maple Leafs players since being traded over from the Philadelphia Flyers five years ago. He had 29 goals and a career-high 62 points in 2016-17 — helping Toronto make the playoffs after finishing last in the NHL a year earlier. But JVR has just one year left on his contract that’ll pay him $4.25 million in 2016-17.
JVR formed great chemistry with the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner — and there’s no reason for the team to move on from him. van Riemsdyk has been a great leader for this young Leafs team and was loyal to the franchise as they entered a tough rebuilding phase. van Riemsdyk could be a monumental part of the Maple Leafs future. They have to come to terms with a reasonable extension on the American star.
9. Vancouver Canucks: Trade Veterans, Add Youth
Alright, now that Canucks’ president Trevor Linden FINALLY confessed that the team is in a rebuild, it’s time for him and GM Jim Benning to show it. A rebuild usually consists of a team trading away some of its best veteran players for young players, prospects and/or draft selections.
The Canucks did trade away Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen at the trade deadline, and it brought them solid prospects in Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin. Why not add more to a farm system that’s fairly short of “wow” prospects?
Vancouver could trade away top defenceman Alexander Edler. Seeing how New Jersey got Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson should excite Benning in that top-pairing blueliners can bring back a quality scorer.
He could also look to move Chris Tanev, though Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Canucks aren’t keen on a deal. Vancouver could also try to trade former 20-goal men Brandon Sutter and Loui Eriksson, too. The pieces are there for the Canucks to trade — now they just got to find takers and add young pieces in return.
8. Winnipeg Jets: Find a New Bench Boss
Paul Maurice is easily one of the most lovable head coaches — but being a Mr. nice guy isn’t enough in today’s NHL. Maurice hasn’t had much success in Winnipeg — going 136-112-33 with them in 3.5 seasons as their head coach. The Jets have made the playoffs just once and didn’t win a single game under Maurice.
With all due respect to him, it’s time for Winnipeg to find a new head coach. This team has so much young talent but hasn’t been able to excel in Maurice’s outdated coaching system. They need a strict, defensive-minded and no-nonsense bench boss like Bob Hartley, Darryl Sutter or Michel Therrien.
The Jets know they have the stars to be an elite team. It just takes the right guy to do it — just see Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh or Guy Boucher in Ottawa. The Jets have to make a change at head coach — no ifs, ands or buts.
7. Calgary Flames: Get Marc-Andre Fleury
Per multiple reports, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is willing to waive his no-trade clause — so a trade should be in order for the three-time Stanley Cup champion. Fleury could be exposed to Vegas in the expansion draft — but you have to figure he and the Penguins are committed on trading the veteran netminder to a team that’s ready to win now.
Calgary has to move on from Brian Elliott. Jonathan Bernier (better suited as a backup), is the top free agent goalie on the market. Not good enough for the Flames to reach the next level.
This team is just one true No. 1 goalie away from competing for championships. Fleury has had plenty of great playoff moments and could be the final piece the Flames need to get over the top. They should have Fleury atop their offseason wish list and make a deal for him.
6. Edmonton Oilers: TradeRyan Nugent-Hopkins For a Defenceman
is in the same boat as Jordan Eberle. He’s an extremely gifted player — but could be an odd man out in Edmonton. Nugent-Hopkins isn’t as talented as McDavid or Draisaitl (duh), and the Oilers simply need to upgrade their defence more than they need RNH at this point.
Nugent-Hopkins has been extremely inconsistent in his career and failed to make much of an impact in the playoffs. He has four years left on his deal that’ll carry a $6 million cap hit until 2020-21.
As mentioned earlier, Edmonton could trade him to an offensively-starving team like Minnesota or Carolina — who have plenty of young blueliners to spare. If Chiarelli can trade the 2011 first-overall pick for a top-three defenceman, then the Oilers will be ready to emerge as the team to beat in the Western Conference.
5. Montreal Canadiens: Add a Big-Time Scorer
The world’s best goalie in Carey Price. A great defensive unit that consists of Shea Weber, Alexei Emelin and Jeff Petry. A 30-goal scorer in Max Pacioretty plus other standout forwards in Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron.
Montreal has plenty of good pieces in place to compete for championships. Other than re-signing Alexander Radulov, they’ll need to do more to ensure that more pucks go in the net next season.
Elliotte Friedman is very sure the Habs will end up trading centre Alex Galchenyuk. If that’s the case, they should trade him for another young, proven scorer. But other than that, they’ll still need more offence. Perhaps making a play for Matt Duchene or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the trade market could work. Maybe chasing someone like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau or Radim Vrbata in free agency will do the trick.
4. Ottawa Senators: Add a Proven Goal-Scorer
Ottawa put up one of the greatest defensive efforts against a Sidney Crosby-led Penguins team in the Eastern Conference Final. However, they simply had problems putting the puck in the net — scoring more than two goals a game just once in a series that went the distance.
Only three Senators scored 20 goals in 2016-17: Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Mark Stone. Let’s be honest — those guys aren’t close to the level of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. The Sens have been checking out Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene, according to Garrioch from the Ottawa Sun. He’d be an ideal fit for them — should they not have to give up golden prospects Thomas Chabot or Colin White.
Like Montreal, Ottawa will also have chances to chase some quality scorers in free agency. They’re truly just one pure scorer away from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They just have to go out there and find him — be it trade or in free agency.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs: Upgrade the Blue Line
Though the Leafs had one of the highest-scoring units in the NHL during the 2016-17 season, the defence was among the worst in hockey. You could see the youth and lack of experience hurt them in many ways during the season — and it was why they went home in the first round of the playoffs.
Besides Morgan Rielly, the Leafs don’t quite have a top-notch defenceman on their blue line. Jake Gardiner hasn’t reached his full potential, and there’s simply not enough veteran leadership in that department.
Toronto should offer up a scorer for Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev — one of the league’s best defensive blueliners. Perhaps a trade for Chicago Blackhawks standout Brent Seabrook could work — as the team may look to shed his big contract.
2. Vancouver Canucks: Trade the Sedins
I don’t care if Trevor Linden said it’s “unfair” to tell the Sedin twins he’s “tearing it all down”. I don’t care if the Sedin twins want to be loyal and I don’t care if they’re the two highest-scoring players in franchise history.
Never has a rebuild in sports gone as planned when a team kept two fading stars in their late-30s around. Daniel and Henrik Sedin just had their worst respective seasons since the lockout. They’ll both be 37 in September. They’re both nearing the end of their careers. They are both free agents next summer. There is no long-term future for them here.
Vancouver has to start building around their young players. As long as the Sedins are there, valuable ice time for the young players will be lacking. So will much-needed salary cap space.
Even if the Canucks have to retain 90 percent of their combined $14 million cap hit, they should trade the Swedish twins. Ottawa moved on from Daniel Alfredsson. Toronto did the same with Mats Sundin. Calgary did with Jarome Iginla. Edmonton did with Wayne Gretzky. Montreal did with Saku Koivu. Time for the Canucks to follow suit and rebuild by shipping out their franchise veterans.
1. Winnipeg Jets: Find a Number One Goalie
According to ESPN.com, the Jets goalies (Connor Hellebuyck, Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson), combined for a woeful .900 save percentage — third-worst in the NHL. They allowed 3.00 goals against per game as well. Those are simply horrible numbers that have to be addressed.
Well, the Jets have some options in free agency and in the trade market. For starters, Brian Elliott would be a massive upgrade over any of the other goalies they’ve had in their history. But if not Elliott, there are other choices.
Marc-Andre Fleury is on the trade block, so why not make a play for him? TSN’s Pierre LeBrun also thinks the Detroit Red Wings will entertain offers for Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard. Both of those guys would be solid options in net for Winnipeg. Or free agent Jonathan Bernier? He filled in nicely for John Gibson in Anaheim and would push Hellebuyck for the starter’s job.
There are plenty of goalies for Winnipeg to chase. If they want to compete for a playoff spot in 2017-18, they’ll have to have a new number one goalie in place.
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