There has been a lot of big names on the move from around the NHL since the 2018-19 season ended. While some teams have taken major steps into Stanley Cup contention, others have taken a step back. NoVa Caps picks three winners and three losers from the offseason and reviews the decisions that they have made.
After the Panthers finished second to worst in the NHL with a team save percentage of .906 (ahead of only the San Jose Sharks: .897), Florida signed Sergei Bobrovsky, one of the league’s best goaltenders, to a seven-year, $70 million contract ($10 million AAV). The 30-year old two-time Vezina Trophy winner, who played the past seven seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, led the NHL with nine shutouts last season and posted a 37-24-9 record with a .913 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average.,
The Panthers also upgraded their offense by signing forwards Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari. Connolly set NHL career-highs in goals (22), points (46), and games played (81) with the Washington Capitals last season, while Acciari, who averaged 1:34 on the penalty kill and had 36 blocked shots, 221 hits, 35 takeaways, and only 13 giveaways in 72 games with the Boston Bruins in 2018-19. While Acciari finished the season with only six goals, 14 points, and a -3 rating, he was brought in to help defensively after the Panthers finished last season with an average of 3.33 goals-against per game (fourth-highest in the league). Bringing in Connolly improves an offense that finished ninth with an average of 3.22 goals-per-game and a power-play that finished second with an efficiency of 26.8% last season.
Additionally, the Panthers brought in one of the best available defensive defensemen in the league in Anton Stralman, who finished last season with 71 blocked shots, 59 hits, 25 takeaways, 16 giveaways, two goals, 17 points, and a +12 rating in 47 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past three seasons, the Panthers are now considered a major threat in the Eastern Conference after bolstering their depth and adding one of the league’s best netminders in Bobrovsky.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils used the first pick in the 2019 NHL draft to bring in center Jack Hughes, who posted 34 goals and 112 points in 50 games with the U.S. national under-18 team. With Hughes now in the mix, New Jersey has two young and talented centers (Nico Hischier) for a strong 1-2 punch in the middle.
After the team allowed an average of 3.30 goals-per-game (tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the sixth-highest in the NHL) in 2018-19, they made arguably the biggest acquisition of the summer in trading for defenseman P.K. Subban, a three-time Norris Trophy nominee and 2013 winner, for a bargain of a price. They only had to send defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies and two second-round picks to the Nashville Predators to acquire him. Subban, 30, posted nine goals, 31 points, and a +5 rating in 63 games this past season.
In free agency, they added one of the top veteran forwards on the market in Wayne Simmonds. They signed the 30-year old to a one-year, $5 million contract on July 1. Though he is coming off of a down year where he recorded only 17 goals, 30 points, and a -16 rating in 79 games with the Predators and Philadelphia Flyers, Simmonds, who has scored at least 28 goals in five of his 11 NHL seasons, should definitely help a Devils’ offense that finished last season with an average of 2.67 goals-per-game (tied the Vancouver Canucks for the sixth-lowest in the NHL).
The summer has also gave forward Taylor Hall, the Hart Trophy winner in 2017-18 when he led the team with 39 goals and 93 points, some much-needed time to heal after he missed 49 games due to a knee injury. Hall, 27, posted 11 goals, 37 points, and a -6 rating in 33 games last season.
The team still needs to upgrade their goaltending, but the combination of Hughes, a healthy Hall, and bounce-back seasons from Subban and Simmonds could make New Jersey a contender.
After trading center Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators in November 2017, the Avalanche have had a hole at center in their second-line. The team filled that hole on July 1 by acquiring Nazem Kadri, who scored 16 goals and 44 points in 71 games, from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team also acquired defenseman Calle Rosen, who posted a goal and a -3 rating in four games last season, and a 2020 sixth-round pick in the trade. They sent forward Alexander Kerfoot, defenseman Tyson Barrie, and a 2020 third-round pick to the Maple Leafs.
The Avalanche also bolstered their bottom-six forward group by signing Joonas Donskoi, who recorded 14 goals, 37 points, and a +10 rating in 80 regular-season games with the San Jose Sharks last season; Andre Burakovsky, who notched 12 goals, 25 points, a +2 rating in 76 games with the Washington Capitals in 2018-19; and center Pierre-Eduard Bellemare, who tallied six goals, 15 points, and a +2 rating in 76 games with the Vegas Golden Knights this past season. Bellemare, 34, is responsible defensively, as he was credited with at least 15 more takeaways than giveaways in each of the past two seasons and won 54.7% of the faceoffs he took last year.
Colorado added defensive depth by trading for Kevin Connauton from the Arizona Coyotes. They also acquired a third-round pick in 2020 (later traded to the Capitals for Burakovsky) and sent center Carl Soderberg to Arizona. Connauton, 29, posted a goal, eight points, and a -2 rating this past season and has at least 105 hits and 70 blocked shots in each of the past two seasons. He averaged 15:29 worth of ice-time last season.
The Avalanche also extended head coach Jared Bednar for two seasons after he led the team to consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff berths for the first time since 2004-2006 (lockout year).
These acquisitions have Colorado thinking of a deep run in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after losing in Game 7 of the second round to the San Jose Sharks in 2019.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets lost one of the league’s top goaltenders in Bobrovsky, their leading goal scorer in forward Artemi Panarin (signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract with the New York Rangers), and one of the league’s top centers in Matt Duchene (signed a seven-year, $56 million contract with the Nashville Predators) all for nothing in free agency. Forward Ryan Dzingel is also currently an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return to Columbus.
They did sign forward Gustav Nyquist, who posted 22 goals, 60 points, and a +1 rating in 81 games with the Sharks and Detroit Red Wings last season, but he will not produce the way Panarin or Duchene do.
While the Blue Jackets still have a solid defense with the likes of Zach Werenski (a restricted free agent), Seth Jones, and Ryan Murray, their goaltending is a concern with Bobrovsky gone. Joonas Korpisalo, who posted a 10-7-3 record with a save percentage of .897 and a goals-against average of 2.95 last season, has played well in his NHL career but he does not have experience as a No. 1.
They are also lacking the type of game breaker they had in Panarin. While there is still some talent on the team, things are not looking up in Columbus after they made the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second wild-card in the Eastern Conference by just two points.
San Jose Sharks
While the Sharks were able to re-sign star defenseman Erik Karlsson to an eight-year contract with an $11.5 million cap hit, they lost their captain in forward Joe Pavelski, who has posted at least 20 goals and 60 points in each of his last nine seasons, in free agency as he signed a three-year, $21 million ($7 million AAV) with the Dallas Stars on July 1.
They also lost some more scoring depth when Donskoi and Nyquist left in free agency. They also said goodbye to one of their top-four defenseman in Justin Braun when they traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for 2019 second- and 2020 third-round picks.
The Sharks may also lose Joe Thornton, one of their top centermen, as he is currently contemplating retirement.
While they were able to retain forwards Timo Meier, a 30-goal scorer from last season, and Kevin Labanc, who notched 56 points in 82 games last season, on a bargain contract (one-year, $1 million), the Sharks lost a lot of offensive production with the subtractions of Pavelski, Nyquist, Donskoi, and possibly Thornton. They just added defenseman Dalton Prout, who has never had more than three goals and nine points in a season of his NHL career.
With offense and goaltending being concerns, it might be time to say that the Sharks’ Stanley Cup window is closed.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights have been forced to trade some of their top contributors for little return due to salary cap constraints. So far this offseason, they have dealt top-four defenseman Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres and center Erik Haula (a 29-goal scorer in 2017-18) to the Carolina Hurricanes. In addition, they had to let forward Ryan Carpenter (signed a three-year, $3 million contract with Chicago Blackhawks on July 1) and Bellemare walk in free agency. The Golden Knights are also reportedly looking to trade restricted free agent forward Nikita Gusev’s rights as they most likely cannot afford the 27-year old, who posted 65 assists, 82 points, and a +39 rating in 62 games with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg last season.
Because of those salary cap constraints, the team has acquired just forward prospect Nicolas Roy, a conditional fifth-round pick (if Haula re-signs with the Hurricanes), a second-round pick, and a fifth-round pick combined for Miller and Haula, pretty low value for two of their key contributors during their run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.
After re-signing center William Karlsson to an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.9 million, forward Tomas Nosek to a one-year, $1 million contract, and forward Brandon Pirri to a two-year contract which has a cap hit of $775,000, the Golden Knights are still over the salary cap by nearly $2.6 million. That means that they will have to move another player and take back just draft picks with a hole in their top-four defense core after they traded Miller.
Some candidates to be the next one moved include center Cody Eakin, who has one-year left on his contract which carries a cap hit of $3.85 million and can become an unrestricted free agent next summer, forward Ryan Reaves, who also has a year remaining on his deal that has a cap charge of $2.775 million and can hit the UFA market next summer, and forward Max Pacioretty, whose four-year contract extension worth $28 million ($7 million AAV) kicks in this year.
While a lot of teams were negatively impacted by the lower than expected salary cap for next season, none were more impacted than the Golden Knights as they will have let go of three top contributors by the time training camps arrive.
By Harrison Brown