With the NHL in a lull now after the initial free agency period, it seems to be the perfect time to look back and see who the winners and losers are so far.
1.) Dallas Stars
Perhaps the most improved team on paper is the Dallas Stars. They had a very successful last month as they addressed several needs. First, they hired a very good coach in Ken Hitchcock who should make them more disciplined and finally got away from the two goalie tandem in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Raanta by acquiring Ben Bishop. However, they weren’t done there as they signed Alexander Radulov to provide some scoring and Martin Hanzal to bring some defense to a talented offensive squad. But no move may be bigger than trading for Marc Methot who will be a top pairing defensive defenseman who will help John Klingberg immensely and finally give Dallas a minutes eater who can be an anchor on the blue line.
2.) Tampa Bay Lightning
Sometimes it’s not the big time splashes that lead to winning in the offseason. Instead taking care of business can be just as effective which is exactly what Tampa Bay did. It was small signings but the re-signing of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Peter Budaj are great signings and nobody cost them an exorbitant amount of money. Spending $11.5 million on the three of them is shrewd business by Steve Yzerman. By extending his own players at affordable rates, it allowed Tampa Bay to go out and get some veterans in Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi with winning experience to provide some additional leadership to a talented young core that has gone to a Stanley Cup final and another Eastern Conference Final and could be the final piece of the puzzle.
3.) Restricted Free Agents
Connor McDavid broke the bank when he signed an 8 year extension for $12.5 million per year which means the market has been totally reset in terms of what young players are going to make coming off of their first contracts. Leon Draisaitl, Nino Neiderreiter, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen are among those who are going to get paid in the offseason. All those players stand to make over $6 million a year if not close to $8 million or more. This will lead to some issues for these teams and restricted free agency just got a whole lot more interesting because this could possibly lead to a few offer sheets which are rare in the NHL.
4.) Toronto Maple Leafs
It was a phenomenal season for Toronto this year and they followed it up by adding veteran leadership and a proven scorer in Patrick Marleau. He will slide in seamlessly alongside Auston Mathews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander to show them the way as they navigate the NHL in their second seasons. Another great add was getting Ron Hainsey from Pittsburgh with a 2 year, $6 million contract. Toronto did not have much defense last year and Hainsey can play 20+ minutes, kill penalties and brings Stanley Cup winning pedigree to Toronto which will be much needed for a group whose arrow is pointing sky high.
5.) Old guys
Some of the old guys cashed in during free agency this season. Marleau got three years at 37 along with $6.25 million per year and a no movement clause which ridiculous. Meanwhile his San Jose BFF, Joe Thornton got $8 million to re-sign there for this season. Another old guy cashing in was Trevor Daley who received $3.16 million per year for three years from Detroit. Hainsey, Kunitz and Girardi all got $3 million a year as well from the teams that they signed with. And there’s still the possibility that Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla join this list as well.
1.) Washington Capitals
There is no question that Washington has gotten weaker during this period so far. Down the road they may wind up regretting the extension of T.J. Oshie for 8 years and $5.75 million per year which will take him until he’s 39. But perhaps the bigger hit is to the defense which has lost not only Kevin Shattenkirk but Karl Alzner as well. Right now as the roster is currently constructed there are four NHL defensemen and Washington still needs at least two more forwards with only $4 million cap space remaining. Everybody knew that last year was all in and Washington will have to get creative to replace the talent that has been lost.
2.) Colorado Avalanche
It’s not so much what Colorado has done, it’s what they haven’t done. The main objective entering this offseason was trading Matt Duchene and getting young defenseman back to rebuild an atrocious defense around. Yet on July 14, Joe Sakic has not traded him and may keep him to start the season. Why he hasn’t traded him to either Nashville, Columbus, Pittsburgh or Montreal to name a few is the $64,000 question. There are three NHL defensemen on the roster and only 32 contracts in the organization! Colorado has so much work ahead of them and instead of pulling the trigger, Sakic seems inclined to yo-yo everybody around while trying to pry some huge payday that is never going to come. It’s been a very bad offseason for Colorado so far.
3.) Ottawa Senators
It has been a quiet offseason for Ottawa, who had a fantastic spring in making the Eastern Conference final and taking Pittsburgh to double overtime in Game 7. And quiet is good except that Ottawa lost Marc Methot, a top pairing defenseman, to Vegas in the expansion draft (Methot was later traded to Dallas as detailed above). And the issue is that Ottawa hasn’t done anything to replace Methot which is puzzling. No run at Andrei Markov or any other defenseman on the market. In addition, postseason star and restricted free agent, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, remains unsigned. For a team that has cap space and needs on defense, it makes no sense for Ottawa to be silent.
4.) New Jersey Devils
For a team that has loads of cap space and no players to re-sign, New Jersey has been awfully quiet. Currently they have 14 players on the NHL roster and $20 million in cap space. At least surround Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier with other scoring talent when there are plenty of capable offensive options out there. Now New Jersey did miss their big target of the offseason when Shattenkirk signed with the New York Rangers but there are other areas that they can spend their money on when they have the third most cap space in the NHL.
5.) Philadelphia Flyers
In the toughest division in the NHL, Philadelphia did not improve enough with their signings. When they have to compete with Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, both New York teams just to get in the playoffs, they need to bring a deep and talented roster. They replaced Steve Mason with Brian Elliott who flamed out with the Calgary Flames, no pun intended, which is not an upgrade. They did get Jori Lehtera but traded Brayden Schenn in order to get him which is a wash and possibly a bit of a downgrade. It’s not like Philadelphia got worse it’s just they didn’t get much better with the players they signed and Nolan Patrick.