There was a nice quiet day of trades in the NHL heading into the Expansion Draft that will allow the Vegas Golden Knights to plump up their organization.

4: In Division Trade

When you make a trade within your division, you’re almost certainly always saying that someone involved is irrelevant. When the Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev went down we learned something. We already knew the Canadiens make goofy trades for frequently non-hockey reasons. So we either learned that Yzerman doesn’t in anyway value the player he spent a year refusing to trade even when Drouin failed to report to the AHL, or that he’s revealed the depth of his respect for the Montreal organization.

It’s almost certainly the latter. Given the lack of skilled, speedy offensive centers who can keep up with Jonathan Drouin in Montreal, and who the head coach is, the math isn’t hard. Yzerman expects Drouin to be less impactful in Montreal than he was in Montreal. Clearing five point five million from his cap didn’t hurt, but sticking a player on a team who you can expect to produce at about seventy five cents on the dollar doesn’t happen often, when it’s a division rival its cheap at twice the price.

3: Commitment?

For years the Arizona Coyotes were wed in holy matrimony to Mike Smith, the Calgary Flames on the other hand had a soured soiree with Chad Johnson. Smith had Vezina quality seasons in a Coyotes uniform, and was also awful With nearly 500 regular season starts, the veteran has seen a lot, but its likely the 35 year still has a few good seasons on the clock.

Johnson has played only about a quarter as many games and is one of the better gents in a backup roll in the NHL. In a starting role he’s untested.

The question is are the Coyotes unwilling to keep their commitment for the final two years of Smith’s contract, or was the newest Calgary Flame wanting out of town due to the uncertainty that seems to be as thick in the wind as the sand?

 

2:  Franchise or Franc-choice?

Nathan Beaulieu was talked up in two languages as the best thing to happen to Montreal’s blueline in a long time just a couple years ago. In the Montreal tradition, like McDonagh, Subban, Weber, and half a dozen others expected to be NHL contributors, he’s moved along, and again to a division rival. The Buffalo Sabres who just added their general manager, add a defensemen picked 17th for a third round pick. Is Beaulieu going to achieve what McDonagh or Subban have? Probably not, but Yannick Webber was let go for nothing by the Montreal Canadiens, and like his fellow recovering Hab P.K. Subban, he just ran to the Cup finals.

With just over 200 games played in the NHL, we’re starting to see who he really is. Was it not speaking French? A lack of faith in him from Julien, or just another Habs blunder.

1: Two Little is Not Enough

The Coyotes did make a move. They should have made more. With teams like the Matt Dumba, and Hampus Lindholm or even Codi Ceci potentially available, the most vulnerable team to losing anyone did themselves a great disservice by not making a second notable move to enhance the defense. Even if they decided not to keep Dumba or another player after a trade, its certain the value he holds would allow them to pick up another piece or two to help them move in the right direction.

Free agency is underway and the Pacific division is as wide open to winning as it was last year. No division title is won in July, but it can be lost.

Anaheim Ducks: C-

The biggest strength of the Ducks off season so far is not signing any hideous contracts. That’s about all that can be said for it though. They finished 17th in scoring last year and the only player they have signed since July first is a retread journeyman defenseman. Nate Guerin was drafted back in 2002 by the New York Rangers and has played in an unimpressive 205 regular season and 7 post season NHL games since. Hardly the most optimistic of starts to the off-season.

Arizona Coyotes: C

Given their likely spending budget the Coyotes had a decent start to free agency picking up Jamie McGinn to play along side some of their youngsters. He’ll bring some size to the team. Other signings included depth players like goalie Justin Peters. They still have a lot to do to be a playoff team, maybe this is the year they go young?

Calgary Flames: B-

The Flames went out and addressed needs. They signed Chad Johnson to a one year deal at a team friendly number. Johnson is emerging as a strong goaltender and had very good number playing behind last years woeful Buffalo Sabre. Troy Brouwer is now their highest paid forward, which would be very odd on many teams, but at under $5m its a decent contract on a team that’s best forward are on or just ended their entry level deals.

Edmonton Oilers: C+

The Edmonton Oilers signed three players, Milan Lucic, Jonas Gustavsson, and Mark Fraser. Fraser is a big bodied defenseman who has spent most of the time since being drafted in 2005 in the AHL collecting just 219 NHL games. It’s worth noting he played in the New Jersey Devils system with Adam Larsson, but they were not very frequent linemates. Gustavsson is a quality backup goaltender which is something they need as only three teams finished with more goals against last year. Milan Lucic was signed for more money than another other player on July first. He’s quite familiar with Peter Chiarelli, Andrew Ference, and Benoit Pouliot from their time in Boston, having won a Cup with the first two. Lucic and Oskar Klefbom appear to be the long range plan for the Oilers as both are signed the end of the 2022-23 season. The signings themselves weren’t egregious, but defense, defense, defense were the first, second, and third needs of the team and they didn’t do much to address those.

Los Angeles Kings: B

Jeff Zatkoff who used to be in the Kings system having played for the Monarchs for a couple years. He may well see serious NHL time after playing well as part of the Penguins Stanley Cup run. The rest of their signings were all second (or lower) tier players with former Washington Capitals center Michael Latta as the most recognizable nationally, Tom Gilbert is a well traveled depth defenseman who is fairly reliable but not flashy, and last was the signing of Zach Trotman a defenseman with decent tools who was Mr Insignificant of 201o. Getting all three for under $3m is a pretty nice deal, especially given the taxes in California. There wasn’t a lot of need here, and also rather little cap space.

San Jose Sharks: B

When you go to the Stanley Cup finals and you aren’t losing anyone to free agency, there isn’t a lot to do. The Sharks added Mikkel Boedker who has proven himself able to produce in the playoffs. The Sharks need more of that, just as they could have used his speed in June against the Penguins. Solid signing that should enhance the team without damaging chemistry.

Vancouver Canucks: D

The Canucks needed to add youth, speed, and quality defense they did none of that. They added Loui Eriksson fresh of a contract year performance, and two players unlikely to play a combined 20 NHL games this season. Possibly their best move was signing Doug Jarvis as an assistant coach.

 

These guys could get paid and paid big today. They aren’t Steven Stamkos or Keith Yandle, but they are the best in a very tight market for talent.

  • Kyle Okposo Possibly the best known right wing available. Risky, but for the several desperate teams, he’s a very attractive figure.
  • Luke Schenn, his coaches either love him or bench him and it is hard to say which defense starved team will drop the trump card for this physical, right shooting blueliner.
  • Chad Johnson, let’s face it he might not be as flamboyant as the since retired NFL player with the same name, but he finished last year with a better save percentage than the previous year’s Vezina winner, and did it on a worse team.
  • Jhonas Enroth, another guy who has proved he can put up very respectable numbers on teams that come in for a lot of derision.
  • Justin Schultz as the youngest UFA defenseman to average more than 20 minutes last season, and an owner of a shiny new Stanley Cup ring, he is unlikely to land anywhere he doesn’t want to be.
  • Loui Ericsson he returned 30 goal form and did it while playing a two hundred foot game. At thirty, he’s still got a couple good years in him and he has shown more willingness to play against grimy defenders than most fans in Dallas would have given him credit for.
  • Kris Versteeg, the professional mover owns a couple cup rings, plays both right and left wing.
  • Frans Nielsen, another twenty goal season under his belt, his strongest playoff run to date, and he put up more points than any other center available, and he’s good on the dot.

For the second year in a row, the Metropolitan is the weakest division in hockey and it isn’t even close. Some teams are better than last year, others are worse, and anyone who tells you what the others will do is just a bit out of their mind.

Top shelf:

New York Rangers

The Rangers are a safe bet for the playoffs and likely for the division title as well. Lundqvist will be entering the season with a quality backup, and most of the key players in front of him healthy. Despite an injury to top center Stepan that will keep him until around Halloween, the Rangers have otherwise good health up and down the lineup, McDonaugh, Staal, Girardi on the backend, St. Louis, Nash, Brassard and Hagelin up front will do the heavy lifting for the team again.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Like the Rangers, the Blue Jackets have a high quality goalie, this one who just happens to be in a contract year. They also have an underrated defense group. Jack Johnson, Ryan Murphy, James Wisniewski and the rest will contribute at both ends of the ice. The forward group is unheralded as well, Brandon Dubinsky rarely gets the recognition he deserves, Scott Hartnell is a legitimate scoring threat who should be entering the season with something to prove. If Johansen can be signed, and retained, and Horton can have a healthy season, this team is going to be more than a handful.

Wild Cards

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have a lot of chaos factors to contend with this year. A new coach is one. Their putative number one goaltender is on an expiring contract and unlike Crosby, Malkin, and Letang was not extended early. They lost two of their top four defensemen from last year. Matt Niskanen was their top points producer and Brooks Orpik led the team in short handed time on ice. To replace them they brought in Christian Ehrhoff. Aside from the top 3-4 names, it would be hard for an observer to guess where the rest of the forward group sits as most of them look a lot like bottom line players.

New York Islanders

The Islanders actually made some smart moves this summer. They picked up and locked up Grabovski giving them a compelling one two punch at center. Their defense is a whole lot of young and learning with Visnovsky and Carkner for contrast. On the backend they have two goalies new to the system, the up, then down, then sideways Jaroslav Halak and the surprising Chad Johnson. I will be equally unsurprised if this team is in the playoffs, or in the bottom five in the league.

Washington Capitals

The Capitals are the east coast equivalent of the San Jose Sharks. On paper they’ve had the talent to win the Cup at lest once in the last decade, on ice, not so much. They too have a new coach, and possibly more importantly they have a coach who recognizes what he’s dealing with. Barry Trotz did what was probably the smartest thing a Capitals coach has done in several years and put Ovechkin back on left wing where he is most comfortable and had several pretty good seasons. The defense could shake out into pairings of Carlson-Greene, Niskanen-Orpik, and Alzner-Erskine, which as top six defense units go, is better than many can boast.

The Rest

Philadelphia Flyers

Even allowing for the Pronger/Timonen money once the season starts and he can be placed on LTIR, the Flyers are still in cap trouble. The roster genuinely looks like the team is trying to tank but just doesn’t know how. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jacob Voracek are all top end players, the rest of the forward group and much of the rest of the roster feels like the punchline to an inside joke that you’re not quite inside enough for. That said, this is largely the group that managed to make the playoffs last year.

New Jersey Devils

On the plus side the added Mike Cammalleri and finally admitted who their number one goaltender is. On the other side of the balance they added Martin Havlat who is generally good for one bizarre injury and twenty or more man games lost. The defense is rather bland, no one makes over Zajac’s $5.75m and yet they are still only three million from the cap, all without their seeming to have found a backup goalie.

Carolina Hurricanes

The season will kickoff on a sour note with Jordan Staal down-checked for an unknown amount of time with a broken leg. Even assuming Jordan Staal and he rest of the top six forwards were healthy and productive all season, Caniacs were still in for a long slog. The teams defense has high water marks that are merely average followed up by players who are at historical drought levels of talent. It would not be a surprise to see this team draft in the top three next June. The only real hope in season for this team is for the coach with the enthusiastic backing of management to go with whichever goalie is playing better and not with the one they’ve been trying to pass off a a franchise goalie for half a decade.

With the bulk of the NHL’s best free agents signed, its time to look at who did best.

Metropolitan Division

Winners

Washington Capitals:

They were 21st in goals against last year. What did they do about it? They picked up two 21+ minute a night guys. One who averaged almost 3 minutes a night shorthanded, the other who specializes in lugging the puck out of the defensive zone. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen are at least for the next two to three seasons good gets.

New York Islanders:

Signing up Grabovski long term and sliding him in behind Tavares gives them a smart, two way center who plays with passion. Chad Johnson gives them a pretty solid backup goaltender as well. Are the Islanders suddenly cup favorites? No. Are they are probably eight or ten points better than last season just based on those moves.

Losers

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Greiss is a good pickup, but Ehrhoff is going to cost them one way or another, he’s not good defensively, and if he puts up offensive numbers on his one year contract he’s either bolting for more money elsewhere next year or is going to demand a contract on par with Letang’s. The rest of their pickups were spare change.

Pacific Division

Winners

Dallas Stars:

With the addition of Spezza  (via trade) to the free agent signings the team can look forward to offensive balance for the first time in a decade.

Losers

Arizona Coyotes:

Last year the franchise was on the outside looking in and while Devon Dubnyk is well suited to their needs, I’m not convinced he’s enough to get them into the playoffs.

Central Division

Winners

Chicago Blackhawks:

They found a motivated guy who can play in the 2nd pivot slot and it didn’t cost them much.

Saint Louis Blues:

Taking one of the veteran leaders of a conference rival is always a good get, adding a guy with preexisting good chemistry with some of your top players just makes it even better.

Losers

Vancouver Canucks:

Despite the addition of a good goalie, they are no closer to playoff contention than they were at this time last week.

Atlantic Division

Winners

Tampa Bay Lightning

Adding Anton Stralman to the rest of an underrated cast makes this one of the most credible defensive units in the East heading into the season.

Florida Panthers

They added lots of highly competitive veterans, the skilled Jussi Jokinen, to wrap around their core of young players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They are a very long shot to make the playoffs, but the pieces they added were priced appropriately (and in Jokinen’s case low) and unlike other teams they haven’t crowded other young talent off the roster allowing for young players to come in and win a roster spot and NHL experience for the future.

Losers

Boston Bruins

A laundry list of miscues means that the players signed by this team since noon on July 1 and the departures of a very solid backup and hall of fame forward leave the team worse off than they have been in years. Realistically, I doubt any Bruins fan had even heard of either guy, and its not a stretch to say their agents probably have trouble picking them out of a crowd.

Detroit Red Wings

What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The Red Wings didn’t add any talent via free agency, and history tells us any of their draft picks this year are four or more years from the NHL.