Every off-season involves coaching changes and player movement, either via free agency or through trades. During this off-season, because the salary cap has once again remained flat, general managers have had to become more creative, even jettisoning players they would normally prefer to keep. Here is a summary of the hockey news for this offseason, so far.
Carousel of Coaches (and General Managers, Too)
The past two off-seasons featured goalie carousels, with many goaltenders switching teams, even on contending teams. This off-season has been relatively quiet on the goaltending front but there were plenty of head coaches and general managers let go.
- Washington Capitals — After their worst season since 2003-04 where the Capitals not only missed the playoffs but missed the playoffs decisively, the Capitals and Head Coach Peter Laviolette parted ways by “mutual consent”. Most of the assistant coaches were also let go. There is now a new sheriff in town, i.e., Head Coach, Spencer Carbery.
- Toronto Maple Leafs — While the Leafs finally advanced past the first round of the playoffs, they were swept in the second round as the Florida Panthers pulled off a major upset. As is typical, drastic action needed to be taken, and the Leafs fired General Manager, Kyle Dubas. [In the “drastic action taken after getting swept in Round 2” department, review how the 2011 off-season went for both the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers.]
- Calgary Flames — It appears that nobody wants to play with the Flames anymore. The last off-season featured the departure of Johnny Gaudreau (via free agency) and Matthew Tkachuk (via trade). This off-season, several players, including Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, and Mikael Backlund, have stated they don’t want to re-sign with Calgary after their contracts expire in 2024. With all the discontent from the ranks, the Flames fired both their head coach, Darryl Sutter, and their General Manager, Brad Treliving. Note: the team also missed the playoffs entirely after a season of high expectations when they made the playoffs the prior year. It’s as if players wish to flee from a burning city. Then again, this is the team named for the burning in their former city. [Google the terms General William Tecumseh Sherman].
- Nashville Predators — In Nashville, David Poile, the only General Manager that Nashville has ever known, decided it was time to retire. So, Barry Trotz, Nashville’s first-ever Head Coach (and Stanley Cup winning Coach with the Capitals), is now their new General Manager. His first-ever Head Coach hire was Andrew Brunette, who finally becomes a Head Coach a year later than expected. He was supposed to have the “interim” removed from his title with the Florida Panthers and then expected to be elevated to Head Coach when Lindy Ruff got fired from the New Jersey Devils, but then the Devils started winning, which scratched that plan.
- Pittsburgh Penguins — Kyle Dubas, Toronto’s former General Manager, is now General Manager of the Penguins. He has gone from the unluckiest franchise in hockey to the luckiest. The proof positive of that is whenever Pittsburgh finds itself as a lousy, bottom-feeding team, there is generally a generational player just waiting for them to draft. His replacement in Toronto is Brad Treliving, the GM that Calgary let go.
- New York Rangers — Peter Laviolette, the Capitals’ former Head Coach, now has that same position with the New York Rangers and gets to experience the same fishbowl last experienced by Alain Vigneault, David Quinn, Gerard Gallant. We’ll see how slim his margin of error will be. [See “Horrifying Acts of Violence” from May 2021 for details]
The NHL Draft – Recommend Naming Your Baby Boys Connor
The Chicago Blackhawks drafted Connor Bedard, as expected. Once again, it proved that for this generation, if you want your son to be good at hockey, name him Connor. During the last generation, the recommendation was to name your son Ryan or Alexander.
Other Draft stories include the fact that all three members of the top line of the US Under 18 NTDP top line were drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft and will attend Boston College, which included Capitals’ draftee, Ryan Leonard, and the Sharks drafting Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of Boston, Massachusetts.
Photo: Rena Laverty / U.S. NTDP
Frenzy-less Free Agency Period and Flat Cap Fire Sales
- Free Agents — This off-season was a much weaker free agent class than usual, but the free agent frenzy was even slower than expected. This is because the salary cap has risen only a token amount since the Pandemic of 2020. Thus, some of the biggest names in free agency have still not signed new deals, including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Matt Dumba, and Zach Parise. Vladimir Tarasenko signed a new contract with the Ottawa Senators, but it was only a one-year contract, and he did not sign until July 27. The most notable first-day signings were Alex Killorn, Ryan O’Reilly, and Dmitry Orlov, with Orlov signing a two-year deal with Carolina.
- Getting Rid of Useful Overpaid Players — The flat cap has also inspired teams to get rid of useful, but overpaid players via either buyouts or trades for a minimal return. The Nashville Predators are a prime example, who used both methods of jettisoning players. They traded center Ryan Johansen to the Colorado Avalanche for basically nothing and even retained 50% of his salary for the remaining two years of his deal. They also bought out the contract of Matt Duchene who had three years left on his deal. Nashville, a team whose contention window has closed, decided the extra cap room was more valuable to them than the services of Johansen and Duchene. The Winnipeg Jets bought out their former Captain, Blake Wheeler.
Other teams have assets they wish to trade, including the Capitals who reportedly wish to trade Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha, San Jose who wishes to trade defenseman Erik Karlsson, and Winnipeg who wants to trade Connor Hellebuyck. But there were no takers for any of them, so far.
Carolina on My Mind – For Available Players
This was an off-season where the Carolina Hurricanes were in the mix for every free agent or high-profile player on the trading block.
Scott Taestsch/Getty Images
- Dmitry Orlov — They signed Dmitry Orlov, who spent many seasons with the Capitals before getting traded to the Boston Bruins, to a two-year deal.
- Vladimir Tarasenko Rumor — There was a report that they had signed Vladimir Tarasenko, the long-term St. Louis Blues right wing. That would not have been a surprise, as Tarasenko and Orlov have been close friends since their middle school days. But then Tarasenko changed agents and he started the free agency process all over again. He finally signed a contract with Ottawa on July 27.
- Tony DeAngelo — A season ago, the Hurricanes bought out defenseman Tony DeAngelo who then signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers. But now the Flyers no longer wanted DeAngelo and traded him back to the Hurricanes. But wait… that wasn’t allowed since a player cannot get traded back to the same team for a year if he was bought out so that trade was nixed. But the anniversary date of that buyout came and went. So, the Flyers bought out DeAngelo on July 15. He finally signed a one-year deal with the Canes on July 25.
- Possible Acquisition of Erik Karlsson — Carolina was one of the leading contenders to acquire defenseman Erik Karlsson, whom the San Jose Sharks were looking to trade. The other leading contender was Pittsburgh. It is not likely that the Hurricanes can afford Karlsson, given that they already signed Orlov and DeAngelo in free agency and signed Sebastian Aho to an eight-year extension.
Unfinished Business for Summer
The suspense for the rest of the off-season will be about the contracts signed by the remaining free agents and any arbitration awards. Choices for the remaining unrestricted free agents include:
1) Signing a relatively cheap one-year deal with a contender, as most NHL contenders typically spend to the cap;
2) Signing a deal with a bottom feeder as they are more likely to have money to spend in salary. They could even flip the player to a contender at the deadline; or
3) Sign a deal with the KHL or another European League, such as the Swiss National League.
By Diane Doyle