It has been a wild offseason across the NHL so far, with an expansion draft, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner (and another Vezina nominee) changing teams, and a bunch of high-profile names being available via trade or expansion due to the flat salary cap. With the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft and 2021 NHL Draft in the books and just over a week into free agency, NoVa Caps looks at the teams who improved the most and the teams who have lost the most since last season.
The Kraken missed out on a lot of talent available to them in the expansion draft but still came out of it with a respectable team and made some big splashes on the free agent market, where they acquired a reigning Vezina Trophy nominee in goaltender Philipp Grubauer (who went 30-9-1 with a .922 save percentage, a 1.95 goals-against average, and seven shutouts with the Colorado Avalanche last season), left wing Jaden Schwartz (who has eclipsed the 19-goal and 55-point mark five times each in his nine-season NHL career with the St. Louis Blues), goaltender Chris Driedger (who went 14-6-3 with a .929 save percentage, a 2.09 goals-against average, and three shutouts with the Florida Panthers), left-handed defenseman Adam Larsson (who recorded four goals, 10 points, a +2 rating, a 46% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 48.12% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.53% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 regular-season games with the Edmonton Oilers), right-handed defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (who recorded four goals, 10 points, a +2 rating, a 46% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 48.12% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.53% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 regular-season games with the Dallas Stars), and center Alex Wennberg (who earned 17 goals and 29 points in 56 games with the Panthers). They also added right-handed defenseman Connor Carrick, who tallied a goal, two points, a -2 rating, a 37.03% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 39.36% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 42.33% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 11 games with the New Jersey Devils.
In contrast, the Kraken lost just goaltender Vitek Vanecek (traded to Washington Capitals for the Winnipeg Jets’ 2023 second-round pick) and a few depth pieces in left-handed defenseman Kurtis MacDermid (traded to Avalanche for a 2023 fourth-round pick), right-wing Tyler Pitlick (traded to Calgary Flames for a 2022 fourth-round pick), and left-handed defenseman Gavin Bayreuther (signed with Columbus Blue Jackets as unrestricted free agent).
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings made just a few moves but they were solid additions as they kicked off the offseason by acquiring right-wing Viktor Arvidsson, a two-time 30-goal and 60-point scorer, from the Nashville Predators for just second- and third-round picks. Though his production has taken a hit in each of the past two seasons with 25 goals and 53 points in 107 games over that time, including 10 goals and 25 points in 50 last year, he is just 28-years-old and for the price they got him, it was still a very good deal for the Kings. Los Angeles also signed center Philipp Danault, who recorded five goals and 24 points in 53 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season after earning 25 goals and 100 points in 152 games over the previous two, to a six-year contact. The 28-year-old was tasked with shutting down Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, Winnipeg Jets center Mark Schiefele, and Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone and their respective lines during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs and did an admirable job on the Canadiens’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. For defensive depth and experience, the Kings also added left-handed defenseman Alexander Edler, who tallied eight assists, a -8 rating, a 45.21% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.54% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 41.73% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 52 games with the Vancouver Canucks.
In contrast, the Kings lost only MacDermid in the expansion draft and bottom-six center Matt Luff in free agency.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils landed the prize of the free-agent market with the addition of right-handed defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who recorded 10 goals, 42 points, a +20 rating, a 56.03% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 56.55% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 56.47% scoring chances-for percentage in 55 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season. They also added left-handed defenseman Ryan Graves, who posted two goals, 15 points, a +15 rating, a 57.31% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 56.37% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 57.57% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 54 games last season, in a trade that sent a second-round pick and left-wing Mikhail Maltsev to the Colorado Avalanche. The Devils also signed free agent goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who posted a 9-11-1 record, a .914 save percentage, a 2.99 goals-against average in 24 games with the Detroit Red Wings to back up MacKenzie Blackwood. On Thursday, they signed left-wing Tomas Tatar, who earned 10 goals and 30 points in 50 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season after posting 58 points in 80 games and 61 points in 68 games in the previous two years.
On the flip side, the Devils lost Carrick in free agency, left-handed defenseman Ryan Murray to the Avalanche in free agency, left-handed defenseman Will Butcher to the Buffalo Sabres via trade, fourth-line right-wing Nathan Bastian in the expansion draft, and third-string goaltender Aaron Dell to the Sabres in free agency.
Honorable Mentions: Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes
Being $18 million over the salary cap in the Stanley Cup Playoffs means that a lot of players have to go and not many can come in to replace them. That is what happened after the Lightning won their second consecutive Stanley Cup Championship as they lost their entire checking line in left-wing Barclay Goodrow (traded to New York Rangers and signed six-year contract extension), left wing Blake Coleman (signed six-year contract with Calgary Flames), and right wing Yanni Gourde (taken by Kraken in expansion draft) that was key to their postseason success the past two seasons. They also lost a stout defensive defenseman in David Savard to a division rival as he signed a four-year contract with the Atlantic Division rival Canadiens. While it cost them a second-round pick to offload center Tyler Johnson’s contract to the Blackhawks, he was nontheless important as he notched at least 45 points in three straight seasons from 2016-19. The Lightning also lost a few depth pieces in goaltender Curtis McElhinney (unrestricted free agent), center Mitchell Stephens (traded to Red Wings), and right-handed defenseman Luke Schenn (signed two-year contract with Vancouver Canucks).
Besides re-signing center Brayden Point to an eight-year contract extension, the Lightning have not had an active offseason in terms of acquisitions but made a few depth moves by signing center Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare (who tied his career-high nine goals in each of the past two seasons with the Avalanche and set a career-high 22 points in 69 games during the 2019-20 season), right-wing Corey Perry (who earned nine goals and 21 points in 49 games with the Canadiens last year), right-handed defenseman Zach Bogosian (who posted four assists, a +7 rating, a 52.75% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 55.56% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 56.1% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 45 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs), and goaltender Brian Elliott (who posted a 15-9-2 record, .889 save percentage, a 3.06 goals-against average, and two shutouts in 30 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season).
It is understandable that the Lightning had to make changes due to salary cap constraints but they certainly got worse over the offseason.
The Avalanche did an admirable job of keeping their core together as they re-signed left-wing Gabriel Landeskog and right-handed defenseman Cale Makar to long-term contracts, but they lost a lot of depth with the departure of Grubauer, Graves, Bellemare, right-wing Joonas Donskoi (expansion draft), left-wing Brandon Saad (signed five-year contract with St. Louis Blues), left-handed defenseman Patrik Nemeth (signed three-year contract with New York Rangers).
They replaced Saad with 34-year-old Darren Helm, who put up just three goals and eight points in 47 games with the Red Wings last season; Graves with Ryan Murray, who tallied 14 assists, a +3 rating, a 47.76% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.51% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 46.33% scoring chances-for percentage in 48 games with the Devils; Nemeth with MacDermid, who earned two goals, four points, a -14 rating, a 43.21% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 36.03% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 38.64% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 28 games with the Kings. While Darcy Kuemper, who went 10-11-3 with a .907 save percentage, a 2.56 goals-against average, and two shutouts last season but was solid from 2018-20 with a .927 save percentage over those two years, is an admirable starter, he is not in the same tier as Grubauer and the Avalanche were forced to overpay for him as they sent highly-touted left-handed defenseman Connor Timmins, a first-round pick, and a third-round pick to the Coyotes to acquire him in what was a panic move after Grubauer signed with the Kraken.
The Avalanche may have had a disappointing offseason but their farm system is one of the deepest in the NHL and GM Joe Sakic knows what he is doing, so perhaps we should wait and see. However, this does not look good on paper.
The orange and black made a good trade when they acquired right-handed defenseman Ryan Ellis, who recorded five goals, 18 points, a +1 rating, a 53.22% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 50.24% expected goals-for percentage, and a 54.48% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 35 games with the Nashville Predators last season, in exchange for center Nolan Patrick and right-handed defenseman Philippe Myers. The deal that sent right-wing Jakub Voracek to the Columbus Blue Jackets for right-wing Cam Atkinson, who recorded 15 goals and 34 points in 56 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, was pretty even for both sides, though Atkinson is a year older than Voracek.
However, the Flyers entered the offseason with a couple of holes and the way they filled them was interesting to say the least as they parted with left-handed defenseman Robert Hagg, the 13th overall pick in the draft, and a second-round pick in 2023 to acquire right-handed defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who recorded four goals, 18 points, a -18 rating, a 43.49% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 43.71% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 44.3% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 49 games last season and has a -163 rating in 542 career NHL games, from the Buffalo Sabres. A day earlier, they traded Shayne Gostisbehere, whose spot Ristolainen will be taking, to the Coyotes, which cost a second-round pick and a seventh to offload his $4.5 million cap hit despite Gostisbehere recording nine goals, 20 points, a -2 rating, a 52.23% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.34% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.2% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 41 games last season, much stronger numbers than Ristolainen.
In free agency, the Flyers wanted to find a veteran back-up for Carter Hart, who posted an .877 save percentage and a 3.67 goals-against average in 27 games last year, and signed Martin Jones, who has posted an .896 save percentage in each of the past three seasons and whose goals-against average has risen in every season of his eight-year NHL career. Jones replaces Elliott in the crease.
The Flyers also made a couple depth signings in iron man left-handed defenseman Keith Yandle, who earned three goals, 27 points, a -8 rating, a 56.4% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.23% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 55.42% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 games with the Florida Panthers, and center Nate Thompson, who tallied just two goals and five points in 44 games with the Winnipeg Jets, on one-year deals.
The Flyers have done a few good things this offseason but that Ristolainen trade may be one of the worst in the NHL in quite some time while signing Jones to back-up a fragile Hart after the worst season of his career raises huge question marks in the goal crease.
Honorable Mentions: Rangers, Predators
By Harrison Brown