Hockey and All That: 2021 Offseason Edition

Photo: Alex Ovechkin

What an offseason so far! While the offseason between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons is shorter than usual, it’s been somewhat eventful. The flat salary cap has given General Managers incentive to jettison players they would normally keep, while the Expansion Draft transferred 30+ players to the new team in Seattle. In addition, the usual drama surrounding the NHL Entry Draft and free agency also yielded quite a few changes. Here is an in-depth, but light-hearted summary of the hockey news for this offseason, thus far.

The Draft

To nobody’s surprise, the first overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft was Owen Nolan. Wait, that was 1990. Maybe it was Nolan Patrick! Another wrong answer, since Nolan Patrick was drafted in 2017, and he wasn’t the first pick overall and no longer with the Philadelphia Flyers, the team who drafted him.

No, the first pick of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft was Owen Power. We hope his luck goes more like Owen Nolan’s than like Nolan Patrick’s. Note to parents: if you want your kid to be an early NHL draft pick, consider naming him either Owen or Nolan.

Expansion Draft

The Expansion Draft took place on July 21. There was barely any suspense that night (one that had been hyped since the dates were released), with nearly all the picks of the newly-minted Seattle Kraken leaked in advance over social media. After the Kraken chose their players, it appeared their strategy for the offseason was to utilize salary cap space to their advantage, as they did not pick any of the high-salaried players that other teams wished to dump.

They drafted Chris Driedger in goal, which surprised nobody, as the Florida Panthers were forced to protect Sergei Bobrovsky as a result of a no-movement clause in his contract, in spite of the fact that Driedger performed better during the 2020-21 season. They also drafted Washington Capitals’ rookie Vitek Vanecek to be Driedger’s backup (their intent at the time).

They could not select Marc-Andre Fleury since the NHL powers declared the Vegas Golden Knights would not be subject to the Expansion Draft since the team is too “new” (their inaugural season was the 2017-18 campaign). However, they selected two other Fleurys in the expansion draft: Haydn Fleury from the Carolina Hurricanes and Cale Fleury from the Montreal Canadiens (yes, they are brothers). So where have all the flowers from Carlyle, Saskatchewan gone? To the Kraken, every one.

The Kraken followed in the footsteps of Vegas on another selection. They chose an undersized French-Canadian forward for whom the Tampa Bay Lightning had originally signed as an undrafted free agent. Back in 2017, Vegas selected Jonathan Marchessault from the Florida Panthers, after originally starting his career with Tampa Bay. This time, Seattle chose Yanni Gourde from Tampa Bay. Seattle will have to wait until November to utilize Gourde’s services as he underwent shoulder surgery and will be out of action until then. Once he’s back, perhaps Kraken fans can sing, “Follow the drinkin’ gourd
For the old man is comin’ just to carry you to freedom.”

Unleash the Kraken…in Free Agency

The Kraken may have gone cheap in the Expansion Draft but when free agency opened up, they were major players. They signed Philipp Grubauer, the number one goalie for the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche, Jaden Schwartz, a mainstay for the St. Louis Blues for many years, and Alexander Wennberg, most recently of the Florida Panthers, but who mainly played with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With the signing of Grubauer, the Kraken now had more goalies than they needed; as a result, they traded Vanecek back to his original team, the Washington Capitals, in exchange for a draft pick.

Photo: David Zalubowski / AP

Alex Ovechkin Contract 

Nearly everyone assumed that Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin would return to the Capitals. It was figured his situation would play out similarly to TJ Oshie’s in 2017, in that the Capitals would not protect him in the Expansion Draft and he would sign a new contract soon after the expansion draft.

That is exactly what happened. Ovechkin signed his new contract the day before free agency and, as with his last contract, negotiated it without an agent. He announced it in typical Ovechkin fashion, writing a post on Twitter saying, “I’m back DC”, showing one picture of himself holding up the Stanley Cup in 2018 and the other of him holding up his new contract while flanked by his family.

Photo: Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin signed the five year deal and declared his intention was to break Wayne Gretzky’s career record in goals during that time frame. In other words, all he has to do is to match the goal scoring productivity of Johnny Bucyk, the Boston Bruins great, from the ages of 36 through 40 (Bucyk scored 168 goals during that time period).

If Ovechkin matches Bucyk’s productivity, Gretzky’s record will fall. Bucyk ultimately played until he was 42. Alternatively, Ovechkin could achieve that milestone over a longer period of time by playing as long as Gordie Howe or Teemu Selanne. Assuming good health, don’t bet against Ovechkin keeping up with Bucyk even if Bucyk is the one and only person in NHL history who’s produced that many goals within that age range.

Goalies Go-Round

This was an offseason in which goaltender movement was truly a carousel, with many goalies switching teams through either the expansion draft, free agency, or trades. There were even teams who replaced their entire goaltending corps (and not just the very bad teams, as would generally be expected).

Over a third of starting goaltenders from last year’s rosters will not be starting the year with the same team they did last season. Out of the four teams with the best regular season records during the 2020-21 season, none of them retained their starting goalie from last season.

When injuries and retirement are considered, this number grows to nearly one half. This is an offseason in which one would need a scorecard or a supersized Excel spreadsheet to keep track of where the goalies have gone. The goaltender movement deserves a separate post of its own.

Capital Defense

The Washington Capitals, from a salary cap perspective, were likely disappointed that the Seattle Kraken did not select one of a number of 30-year old defensemen in the expansion draft. Being so strapped in cap space and Ovechkin’s contract still needing to be signed, the Capitals needed to shed salary somehow.

Outside of Zdeno Chara, whose future in the NHL is still unknown, and Martin Fehervary, who is a young prospect, the Capitals’ defensemen are all 30-years old (born in either 1990 or 1991). The team drafted John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, two mainstays of their defense for most of the past decade. Since the 2018 trade deadline, the Capitals have been stockpiling prime-aged defensemen born in 1990 or 1991, signing them to contract extensions.

Photo: Washington City Paper

The Caps finally shed salary by trading Brendan Dillon, one of their many 30-year old blueliners, to the Winnipeg Jets in return for two draft picks.

Players Literally Given Away in Trades

This was also an offseason during which teams gave away players that no longer fit into their plans, including draft picks in the trade as an incentive for taking an undesired player off their roster.

One of these trades was the Philadelphia Flyers trading defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and two draft picks to the Arizona Coyotes for future considerations. Essentially, they gave him away so that they no longer had his cap hit on the roster.

Another such trade was the New York Islanders trading forward Andrew Ladd, who makes a sizable salary but spent much of last season in the minors, along with two draft picks and two conditional draft picks. Basically, the Islanders included a sizable bounty to the Coyotes for them to take Ladd off their hands.

A third such trade saw the Panthers trading defenseman Anton Stralman to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for a seventh-round pick. At least the Panthers did not have to include a draft pick along with Stralman in the trade, and at least obtained a minimal return.

Injured Stars Requesting Trades

The 2021 offseason has also seen ailing stars requesting trades from their current team, due to unhappiness with how their health issues were handled. This includes center Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and right wing Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues.

Reports are that Eichel, the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, demanded that the Sabres trade him. Eichel has been dealing with a herniated disk in his neck and feels an experimental surgery is his best option for treatment, while Buffalo prefers a more conservative approach to treatment.

Tarasenko, meanwhile, had requested a trade based on how the team had handled his shoulder injuries. The Blues’ team physician had performed the first two surgeries, but it appears the second surgery was not successful and he required yet another surgery. While he was still out of the lineup rehabilitating from the third surgery, the Blues appointed a new Captain, Ryan O’Reilly, to replace the departed Alex Pietrangelo in that role. Tarasenko was likely hoping for the captaincy but as the old saying goes “out of sight out of mind” and since he was busy getting surgery and rehabbing, the Blues chose their captain among players that were active and healthy.

NHL

Despite all the rumors, Eichel and Tarasenko still remain with their original teams. Tarasenko was even exposed in the Expansion Draft but the Kraken did not bite. Eichel’s agents had expected a trade to happen by now.

Where The Minnesota Wild Things Are

Remember back in the summer of 2012, before the lockout, when Minnesota natives Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, signed identical, 13-year deals for a total of $98 million with an annual cap hit of $7.538 million?. They decided they were not just “born to be Wild” but would be a member of the Minnesota Wild for the rest of their NHL careers.

These were signings that put Minnesota on the hockey map after a mostly mediocre history for the team, and what the team’s front office hoped would fuel a rise to contention. But this past summer, Wild General Manager Bill Guerin decided it was time to buy out the remainder of both contracts so that the team would have more financial flexibility. As a result, they became free agents. It was fitting that they came together and left together, too.

The seasons after signing those contracts were eventful seasons for the Wild and their returning natives. The players got to spend more time with their extended families, watch their children be born, and, on a sad note, experience the deaths of both their fathers during the 2014-2015 time frame, with Ryan’s father dying in September 2014 and Zach’s father dying of cancer in January 2015.

The Wild made the playoffs in eight of those nine season, but never advanced past the second round. Suter signed with the Dallas Stars in free agency, and Parise is currently unsigned, but there are rumors he could sign with the New York Islanders.

Photo: Carlos Gonzales, Star Tribune

The Parise and Suter buyouts are not the only news out of Minnesota. The Wild are also attempting to negotiate a new contract for Kirill Kaprisov, who won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. Negotiations appear to be stalled at the present time. It has now been reported CSKA, his old KHL team has offered him a one-year contract so he can play with them if he and the Wild cannot agree on a new deal.

By Diane Doyle

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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