Tag Archives: ECHL

St. Louis Blues 2019-20 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

45-28-9, 99 points, 3rd in the Central Division

Defeated Boston in the Stanley Cup Final

Additions: F Dakota Joshua (acquired from TOR), F Nick Lappin, F Evan Polei, F Michael Vecchione, F Nathan Walker, D Andreas Borgman (acquired from TOR), D Jake Dotchin, D Justin Faulk (acquired from CAR), D Derrick Pouliot

Subtractions: F Conner Bleackley (signed with Idaho, ECHL), F Dominik Bokk (traded to CAR), F Pat Maroon (signed with TBL), F Nikita Soshnikov (KHL), D Chris Butler (retired), D Michael Del Zotto (signed with ANA), D Joel Edmundson (re-signed, then traded to CAR), D Jani Hakanpaa (signed with ANA), D Jakub Jerabek (KHL), D Jordan Schmaltz (traded to TOR), D Tyler Wotherspoon (signed with PHI), G Jared Coreau (signed with NYI)

Still Unsigned: F Chris Thorburn

Re-signed: F Ivan Barbashev, F Sammy Blais, F Robby Fabbri, F Zach Sanford, F Oskar Sundqvist, D Carl Gunnarsson, G Jordan Binnington, G Ville Husso

Offseason Analysis: Winning the Stanley Cup cures everything. Nobody’s asking when and if the St. Louis Blues will ever a) make another appearance in the Stanley Cup Final or b) winning the Cup.

The Blues crossed off the top item from their bucket list and hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads in Boston after winning Game 7 against the Bruins in June.

General Manager, Doug Armstrong, has been building and retooling the organization since assuming his current role in 2010. A finalist for the NHL General Manager of the Year Award last season, Armstrong landed a key piece of St. Louis’ Cup-winning roster (and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP) in Ryan O’Reilly last offseason in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

St. Louis won the Cup, so now Armstrong’s task of winning one is taken care of. He– along with the rest of the Blues– will have a bit of a grace period until fans are fed up again with whatever behooves them next.

Of course, the goal of winning the Cup for any GM ultimately isn’t to just win it once, but rather to win it as many times as possible in your career.

Armstrong took care of a delicate balance in re-signed a plethora of restricted free agent members of the Blues.

Rather than making Jordan Binnington the surefire franchise goaltender, Armstrong was able to negotiate a solid two-year bridge deal worth $4.400 million per season.

The 26-year-old goaltender took over St. Louis’ starting role at the dawn of the new year in January and– even though he set a National Hockey League rookie record for most wins in the postseason with 16– has yet to solidify his legitimacy as a starting goaltender in the NHL.

Binnington and 29-year-old, Jake Allen, each have two years on their respective contracts. This season, one will rise above the other as the starter (likely Binnington), but for the next couple of seasons each are competing for a long-term role with the organization.

Glue guys, Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist and Carl Gunnarsson are all sticking around in St. Louis for the near future, with Sundqvist extended for the longest tenure on a new four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season.

The Blues can sit back for a season or two and see if Craig Berube and Co. can recreate the magic of their 52nd season in franchise history.

Whether or not this team has what it takes to formulate a dynasty remains to be seen, but Armstrong bolstered their chances after trading Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran defender, Justin Faulk, and a 2020 5th round pick on Sept. 24th.

Carolina retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667), which means he will carry a $4.157 million cap hit for the Blues this season.

Upon his acquisition, Armstrong locked up the defender to a seven-year extension with St. Louis worth $45.500 million ($6.500 million per season). Faulk’s extension goes into effect next season and carries a no-trade clause for the first five years, then a modified no-trade clause for the remainder.

A full no-trade clause was added by the Blues to the final year of his current deal.

If nothing else, this trade covers Armstrong’s back in case he is unable to sign Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo, to an extension.

The 29-year-old defender is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and likely to see a pay raise from his current $6.500 million cap hit (especially considering, 1) his role in St. Louis’ turnaround, 2) his Stanley Cup ring and 3) the fact that Faulk’s extension carries Pietrangelo’s current cap hit).

In short, Pietrangelo is better than Faulk and best while the two of them are on the same blue line.

Armstrong will also have to balance the books next season by deciding whether or not to re-sign Brayden Schenn, Fabbri, Blais, Dunn, Jay Bouwmeester and Mackenzie MacEachern.

For now, bars across St. Louis will keep playing “Gloria” even as the team on the ice must turn the page on last season and focus on what looms this season and beyond.

Offseason Grade: B-

Considering the number of RFAs Armstrong had to re-sign, the Blues GM managed to do a decent job tidying things up for the time being, but most of the extensions were short term, one or two year deals.

St. Louis has about $138,740 in cap space available, leaving them with little to no room for any major extensions for next season without having to unload some larger contracts from the books.

At the very least, the only major loss from last season’s Cup winning roster to this season was Pat Maroon, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning due to St. Louis’ cap constraints.

San Jose Sharks 2019-20 Season Preview

San Jose Sharks

46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division

Eliminated in the Western Conference Final by St. Louis

Additions: F Jonny Brodzinski, D Trevor Carrick (acquired from CAR), D Nicolas Meloche (acquired from COL), D Dalton Prout

Subtractions: F Joonas Donskoi (signed with COL), F Micheal Haley (signed to a PTO with NYR), F Jonathon Martin (signed with Tucson, AHL), F Gustav Nyquist (signed with CBJ), F Joe Pavelski (signed with DAL), F Francis Perron (traded to VAN), F Tom Pyatt (SHL), F Alex Schoenborn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Justin Braun (traded to PHI), D Michael Brodzinski (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Cody Donaghey (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Cavan Fitzgerald (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Joakim Ryan (signed with LAK), D Kyle Wood (re-signed, then traded to CAR), G Antoine Bibeau (traded to COL)

Still Unsigned: F Rourke Chartier, F Tim Clifton

Re-signed: F Kevin Labanc, F Maxim Letunov, F Timo Meier, F Antti Suomela, F Joe Thornton, D Nick DeSimone, D Tim Heed

Offseason Analysis: After making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016, the San Jose Sharks were looking to capitalize on their momentum from their miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their First Round matchup.

Unfortunately for the Sharks, sometimes injuries pile up and get in the way of forward progress.

Though they lost to the St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final, the mere fact San Jose made it that far after nearly blowing it against Vegas is impressive– especially considering how close of a series their Second Round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche was, which also went seven games.

Whether they were exhausted from multiple overtimes, one long series after another, the Sharks found themselves with a longer than anticipated offseason to rest and recover.

In the meantime, General Manager, Doug Wilson, had his work cut out for him.

Wilson signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million extension worth $11.500 million per season, making Karlsson the highest paid defender in the league.

The Sharks GM also managed to re-sign 22-year-old star in the making, Timo Meier, to a four-year contract worth $6.000 million per season. By the end of the deal, Meier will still have one year of restricted free agency left, which really speaks to the fact that it’s a great– team friendly– extension at an affordable price with the future in mind.

Last season, Meier had 30-36–66 totals in 78 games. He had 21 goals and 15 assists (36 points) in his first full season (81 games played) in 2017-18.

But the cost of re-signing key pieces of San Jose’s core comes with a price– losing depth.

First, Joe Pavelski priced himself out of the Sharks, in part, thanks to his consistent scoring and 38 goals last season at 35-years-old, as well as San Jose’s cap crunch thanks to Karlsson’s pay raise.

Pavelski signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars worth $7.000 million per season, but it’s not about the money for San Jose (even though it was)– it’s about having to make up for a 38-goal deficit heading into this season.

Second, to get themselves squared away with the salary cap, Wilson had to move one of his durable top-four defenders via a trade, sending Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 18th for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.

Trading Braun left Wilson with no choice but to sign Dalton Prout as a cheap replacement and to perform this season’s Micheal Haley duties. Haley, himself, signed a PTO with the New York Rangers in hopes of filling New York’s Cody McLeod/Tanner Glass role opening.

On the plus side, the Sharks will be able to replenish their pool of prospects with the transaction. On the other hand, Braun was a versatile component when others (like Karlsson) were injured.

Even with the additional $3.800 million addition in cap space, San Jose was not able to convince Joonas Donskoi to stay in town, regardless of whether or not Wilson had any plans for the top-nine forward.

Instead, Donskoi joined the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year deal worth $3.900 million per season– providing both job security and a chance to win the Cup, since the Avs are on the rise.

Sharks fans were hoping to see a reunion of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton back on the same team, but Wilson guaranteed Marleau wouldn’t be signed as long as Thornton was back for his 22nd season in the National Hockey League.

The good news? “Jumbo Joe” isn’t going anywhere– take that Father Time!

The bad news? Marleau isn’t going anywhere in free agency (yet) either.

It’s a good move for the Sharks though, as their younger players did exactly what Wilson explained– they played better and worked their way up the lineup to where Marleau had been prior to his departure to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2, 2017.

San Jose has something special in Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow and even Dylan Gambrell, meanwhile Logan Couture was named captain in wake of Pavelski’s departure– fully cementing the Logan Couture Era legacy in Sharks history.

Head coach, Peter DeBoer, will have a lot of leadership in the dressing room to rely on with Couture as captain and Karlsson, Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns serving as alternate captains throughout the season.

Offseason Grade: C-

Considering Karlsson’s cap hit, it would’ve been a “D+” if it weren’t for the redeeming qualities of Meier’s contract. Other than that, the Sharks are destined to be a divisional berth in the Pacific Division as recent history has dictated, but they don’t seem to have what it takes on paper to be leapfrogging over the competition.

Oh, and there’s the near 3.00 goals against average of both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to consider from last season. That’s terrible for a team with or without Karlsson and Burns on the defense.

Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 Season Preview

Carolina Hurricanes

46-29-7, 99 points, 4th in the Metropolitan Division

Eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by Boston

Additions: F Dominik Bokk (acquired from STL), F Ryan Dzingel, F Brian Gibbons, F Erik Haula (acquired from VGK), F Alex Lintuniemi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Joel Edmundson (acquired from STL), D Gustav Forsling (acquired from CHI), D Jake Gardiner, D Chase Priskie, D Kyle Wood (acquired from SJS), G Anton Forsberg (acquired from CHI), G James Reimer (acquired from FLA)

Subtractions: F Patrick Brown (signed with VGK), F Micheal Ferland (signed with VAN), F Patrick Marleau (bought out), F Greg McKegg (signed with NYR), F Andrew Poturalski (signed with ANA), F Nicolas Roy (traded to VGK), F Aleksi Saarela (traded to CHI), D Trevor Carrick (traded to SJS), D Calvin de Haan (traded to CHI), D Justin Faulk (traded to STL), D Adam Fox (traded to NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with COL), D Josh Wesley (signed with San Antonio, AHL), G Scott Darling (traded to FLA), G Curtis McElhinney (signed with TBL)

Still Unsigned: F Saku Maenalanen (KHL, CAR reserve list), F Justin Williams

Re-signed: F Sebastian Aho, F Clark Bishop, F Brock McGinn, D Hadyn Fleury, D Roland McKeown, G Petr Mrazek

Offseason Analysis: While some teams have signed the biggest names in free agency and improved in one particular aspect, one team has made all the right moves in multiple areas.

Already stocked with plenty of strength, depth and youth, the Carolina Hurricanes added in every category.

Canes GM, Don Waddell, was busy this summer making nine trades since the end of the regular season– seven of which involved players– and signing key pieces of the 2019-20 roster to new deals.

First and foremost, Carolina’s priority this offseason resided in Sebastian Aho’s next contract.

Aho originally signed an offer sheet with the Montreal Canadiens at the dawn of free agency on July 1st, but the Hurricanes matched the deal about a week later and retained his services.

Montreal thought a five-year, $8.454 million per season, offer with a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses owed in the first year of the contract would unnerve Carolina.

It’s just a drop in the bucket for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, who is investing more than just a better on-ice product around the organization.

Though the Hurricanes couldn’t convince Adam Fox to sign with the team after acquiring the defender from the Calgary Flames as part of the Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm for Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland trade, Carolina sent Fox to the New York Rangers for a 2019 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick.

If Fox plays at least 30 games this season for the Rangers, then the 2020 3rd round pick is upgraded to a 2020 2nd round pick.

At the Draft in June, Waddell worked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring Patrick Marleau, a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick.

If the 2020 1st round pick from Toronto is a top-10 pick, then Carolina will receive a 2021 1st round pick instead.

Marleau was bought out by the Hurricanes and will cost Carolina $6.250 million against the cap this season.

The Canes have $8.583 million tied up in buyout penalties as Alexander Semin’s $2.333 million penalty expires at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, which means Waddell has plenty of salary to work with in the coming years.

Two days after the Draft, Carolina sent Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg on June 24th.

Forsling, 23, is a suitable option for a top-six defender role with room for growth– given he’s on the upswing in his prime (defenders generally aren’t considered “peak” until their early 30s).

Forsberg, 26, has some experience as an NHL backup, but will supplement Alex Nedeljokvic’s workload with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) for the foreseeable future.

After winning their first Calder Cup championship in franchise history, a significant portion of the Checkers’ core was utilized as trade bait or pushed out of the Hurricanes organization by incoming youth are ready for their AHL debuts.

There are seven newcomers to the Checkers roster from within the Hurricanes system from last season to this season, including three players under the age of 22.

Out of the 33 players listed on their 2019 Calder Cup Playoff roster, 15 of them have moved on from Charlotte to another team in professional hockey (NHL, AHL, ECHL, Europe, Russia, etc.) and even Mike Vellucci left the Checkers to join the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as their new head coach.

In his place, former assistant coach turned current Checkers head coach, Ryan Warsofsky, will take the task of running things from behind the bench as the AHL’s youngest head coach at 31-years-old.

Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 5th round pick were flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Erik Haula on June 27th.

Haula, 28, only managed to play 15 games last season for the Golden Knights before suffering a knee injury, but the veteran forward had a career-high 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 76 games with Vegas in 2017-18.

He should fit in well within a top-nine forward role, either as a second line or third line center/left wing and is a cheaper replacement for Ferland’s breakout year that led to a new four-year deal worth $3.500 million per season with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency.

If Haula is still on Carolina’s roster after this season or if the Canes trade Haula for a player, multiple draft picks or a draft pick in rounds 1-5, then Vegas receives the conditional 2021 5th round pick. If no condition is met, then the Hurricanes will not have to forfeit their draft pick to the Golden Knights.

Three days after adding Haula, Waddell found a new backup goaltender in a trade with the Florida Panthers.

Carolina traded Scott Darling and a 2020 6th round pick (originally belonging to the Buffalo Sabres) to Florida in exchange for James Reimer on June 30th.

Reimer, 31, had a disappointing 3.09 goals against average and a dismal .900 save percentage in 36 games with the Panthers and is looking to rebound with the Hurricanes in a backup role after seeing his GAA climb for the last three seasons with Florida while trying to take on more games in light of Roberto Luongo’s waning years.

Luongo is now retired (as of this offseason) and didn’t win a Stanley Cup championship in his 19 NHL seasons, unlike Justin Williams, who won the Cup three times in 20 seasons.

Williams, 37, hasn’t officially retired, but is “stepping away” from the game for the time being.

The 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner won two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014 and played a role in Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup championship.

His presence in the Hurricanes dressing room over the last two seasons was pivotal in the transition among ownership, the front office and with the players on the ice.

Finally, after a minor swap with the San Jose Sharks, which saw Trevor Carrick depart the organization for Kyle Wood on August 6th, Waddell finished (for now) his busy offseason trades with one more major move.

Longtime anchor on Carolina’s power play and top-four defender, Justin Faulk, was packaged with a 2020 5th round pick and traded to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in exchange for Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick on Sept. 24th.

The Canes retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667) in the transaction, while adding a solid top-six defender (Edmundson) and a top German prospect (Bokk) to the fold.

And that’s not even covering Waddell’s brilliance in free agency.

Carolina signed Ryan Dzingel to a two-year contract worth $3.375 million per season on July 12th– adding to the Hurricanes’ plethora of forwards with 20 or more goals last season.

Dzingel recorded 22-22–44 totals in 57 games with the Ottawa Senators last season before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline.

Though he only managed 4-8–12 totals in 21 games with Columbus, Dzingel fell victim to Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella’s, coaching style– whereby nothing is changed until it has to change.

Columbus didn’t find the right fit for the 27-year-old forward in their lineup and Dzingel didn’t take to Tortorella’s scheme and thus, signed with the Hurricanes, where Rod Brind’Amour is saving the team once more.

Seriously, Brind’Amour is the perfect person behind the bench for the organization, if last season didn’t already prove that enough.

Not only did the Hurricanes make the Eastern Conference Final, but Brind’Amour brought back the glow of Carolina’s glory days.

He was the face of the franchise at the dawn of the millennium and he is the face of efficient coaching– with a high compete level– in the contemporary NHL.

And one more thing…

If you’re worried about what Faulk’s departure means for Carolina’s power play, don’t be.

That’s why Jake Gardiner signed a four-year contract worth $4.050 million per season on Sept. 6th.

The durable 29-year-old defender is in his prime, effective on special teams and looking to turn over a new leaf after breaking into the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2011-12 season.

Offseason Grade: A

In short, this team is legit. Waddell added to the roster without subtracting anything major that he hadn’t already planned to replace and Martin Necas could land a job on the team this season.

Of the 22 skaters on the team currently, the average age is 25.3, which makes last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Final even more impressive– even with the ever increasing presence of younger and younger players league-wide.

Carolina is the last team to receive an “A” grade for their offseason work and is looking to make a jump in the Metropolitan Division standings in the regular season from wild card team to division title contender.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2019-20 Season Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs

46-28-8, 100 points, 3rd in the Atlantic Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Boston

Additions: F Pontus Aberg, F Kenny Agostino, F David Clarkson (acquired from VGK), F Tyler Gaudet, F Alexander Kerfoot (acquired from COL), F Kalle Kossila, F Aaron Luchuk (acquired from OTT), F Nick Shore, F Jason Spezza, F Garrett Wilson, D Tyson Barrie (acquired from COL), D Cody Ceci (acquired from OTT), D Kevin Gravel, D Ben Harpur (acquired from OTT), D Jordan Schmaltz (acquired from STL)

Subtractions: F Nick Baptiste (signed with Toronto, AHL), F Connor Brown (traded to OTT), F Michael Carcone (traded to OTT), F Tyler Ennis (signed with OTT), F Gabriel Gagne (signed with Allen, ECHL), F Josh Jooris (NLA), F Dakota Joshua (traded to STL), F Nazem Kadri (traded to COL), F Patrick Marleau (traded to CAR), F Chris Mueller (signed with TBL), D Andreas Borgman (traded to STL), D Jake Gardiner (signed with CAR), D Fedor Gordeev (traded to MIN), D Ron Hainsey (signed with OTT), D Vincent LoVerde (signed with Hartford, AHL), D Igor Ozhiganov (KHL), D Calle Rosen (traded to COL), D Jordan Subban (EBEL), D Nikita Zaitsev (traded to OTT), G Eamon McAdam (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Garret Sparks (traded to VGK)

Still Unsigned: D Steve Oleksy

Re-signed: F Mitch Marner, D Martin Marincin, G Michael Hutchinson

Offseason Analysis: Kyle Dubas had a busy offseason as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. His main priority was re-signing Mitch Marner, which finally wrapped up on Sept. 13th.

Marner signed a six-year extension worth $10.893 million per season. Whether or not he’s actually worth that much money is a different question, but the fact of the matter is it didn’t help the Maple Leafs.

Together with Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander, Marner and the other three make up $40,489,366 of Toronto’s salary cap.

This season’s salary cap ceiling is $81.500 million.

Three of the seven highest paid players in the league are on the Leafs and the four highest paid Leafs eat up almost half of Toronto’s salary cap.

At the time of Marner’s signing, the Maple Leafs were $13,365,199 over the salary cap.

Granted, Pontus Aberg and Frederik Gauthier were assigned to the Toronto Marlies (AHL), while Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott are all expected to be placed on the long-term injured reserve to allow the Leafs to remain cap compliant.

Things should get interesting, however, once Hyman and Dermott return from injury, not that their salaries are that expensive, but rather the day-to-day cap operations and paper transactions necessary to make things work should be a lot of fun for Toronto’s front office to balance.

Mike Babcock is still behind the bench in Toronto after three straight seasons of First Round exits– including back-to-back Game 7 losses on the road against the Boston Bruins in 2018 and last season.

Dubas was active in the trade market to 1) free up expendable salary to re-sign Marner and 2) improve his roster from last season to this season.

He may have unintentionally 3) stunted the team’s growth in the process.

Toronto seven trades involving players this offseason, including three pretty big deals for the Maple Leafs.

Patrick Marleau, a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick were shipped to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick at the 2019 NHL Draft on June 22nd.

Rather than buyout Marleau’s contract and face cap penalty, Toronto was able to convince Carolina to take on his salary and offer him the chance to play for the Hurricanes or buy him out. Marleau refused to play for the Canes, so now Carolina is saddled with his buyout penalty.

In the process, if the Maple Leafs yield a top-10 pick in the 2020 Draft, the conditional 1st rounder in the trade becomes a 2021 1st round pick.

In place of Marleau, the Leafs signed Jason Spezza to a league-minimum, one-year, $700,000 contract. Spezza will likely play on the fourth line in a limited role as Marleau would have begun to see less and less time on ice at this stage of his career.

Dubas knew Toronto wasn’t going to be able to keep Jake Gardiner and maintain a happy relationship with Nikita Zaitsev as Zaitsev had already requested a trade.

As such, Dubas packaged Zaitsev with Connor Brown and Michael Carcone in a trade with the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 3rd round pick on July 1st.

Ceci then signed a one-year extension– worth $4.500 million– as a restricted free agent with the Leafs.

For that same price and eight points less than Ceci had last season, Zaitsev is at least signed through 2023-24 at the fixed rate of $4.500 million.

Zaitsev has broken the 30-point plateau before as a defender, while Ceci never has– though he did record 26 points with Ottawa last season.

The fact of the matter is that if Toronto was trying to save money this season on a defender, they didn’t.

And if they were thinking “maybe we can find a cheaper replacement in Ceci”, the fact that they’re already paying the defender in his prime what Zaitsev was already making doesn’t do them any long-term favors as Ceci’s cap hit is expected to go up– especially if the current ceiling remains about the same until the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated in 2022.

But for all that the loss of Gardiner did to the special teams in Toronto, at least Dubas was able to find a sweet deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

The Maple Leafs traded Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd round pick to Colorado for Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 6th round pick on July 1st.

The Avs retained some salary on Barrie’s contract, which– you guessed it– also expires at the end of this season, but at least Toronto can afford $2.750 million right now as opposed to a more significant cap hit.

To their credit, the Maple Leafs negotiated a four-year extension with Kerfoot worth $3.500 million per season, which is $1.000 million less than Kadri’s cap hit.

Barrie is a versatile defender that excels on the power play and fills the void left behind by Gardiner’s departure.

Clearly, while Dubas has, in fact, made improvements to the team, he’s also made minor tweaks and delayed the inevitable headaches that he or the next general manager of the Maple Leafs is sure to face.

But at least this time around Toronto is convinced they have the team that they’ve been planning for the last five years to “win now”.

The younger players are more experienced, the salary spent is at the ceiling and Babcock– a Stanley Cup winning coach who last won the Cup 11 years ago with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 (a rather different era and style of the game than what it is today)– are all ready for the challenge of making it out of the First Round to show they’ve at least made some progress.

One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing and expecting a different result” and if something doesn’t change the end result in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for Toronto, then…

At the very least, last season’s backup, Garret Sparks, was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for Clarkson’s contract and a 2020 4th round pick and nobody can blame Marner for being a “greedy holdout” anymore.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Marner contract is not great, but the other moves made by the Leafs this offseason mean that they’re actually trying. There is a plan in place that they remain committed to– constantly evaluating and re-evaluating talent for the overall intended improvement of the organization.

Whether or not Toronto is sure to win the Cup this season remains to be seen. Every year there’s always Cup front runners on paper, but the on-ice product and results vary. This team is capable of winning the Cup, but they still have a lot of work to do to earn it.

Dallas Stars 2019-20 Season Preview

Dallas Stars

43-32-7, 93 points, 4th in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Second Round by St. Louis

Additions: F Tanner Kero, F Joe Pavelski, F Corey Perry, D Andrej Sekera

Subtractions: F Erik Condra (signed with Colorado, AHL), F Ryan Hartman (signed with MIN), F Valeri Nichushkin (bought out), F Tyler Pitlick (traded to PHI), F Brett Ritchie (signed with BOS), F Jason Spezza (signed with TOR), F Mats Zuccarello (signed with MIN), D Niklas Hansson (SHL), D Ben Lovejoy (retired), D Chris Martenet (signed with Brampton, ECHL), G Philippe Desrosiers (signed with FLA)

Still Unsigned: D Julius Honka, D Marc Methot

Re-signed: F Jason Dickinson, D Gavin Bayreuther, D Dillon Heatherington, D Reece Scarlett, G Landon Bow

Offseason Analysis: Dallas Stars General Manager, Jim Nill, had one thing to do this offseason and one thing only– improve the offense.

Dallas’ defense is still growing into its own and will take care of itself as one of the better underrated blue lines in the league, plus Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin make a strong tandem in the crease.

While the additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry are great on paper to the Stars’ offense, each comes with a price.

Pavelski is 35-years-old and tallied 38 goals in 75 games played last season– tying a career-high that he set in the 2015-16 season. Perry is 34-years-old and six goals in 31 games played last season.

The former was injured in the playoffs, but doesn’t seem to show signs of slowing down, even if he only scores 20-25 goals a season. Over the course of Pavelski’s three-year deal with Dallas, that’s not a terrible amount of offense, but if he deviates from the norm and regresses at all… well, he still carries a $7.000 million cap hit.

It’s a gamble considering the age factor, but it’s not the worst contract in the world.

Perry, on the other hand, has been oft-injured as of the last couple of seasons and looks like a shell of his former “Scorey” self.

The good news? Nill was smart and signed Perry to a one-year contract worth $1.500 million.

It’s a low-risk, high-reward– no foul– signing.

But with Pavelski, Perry and newcomer, Andrej Sekera, all added to the roster, Dallas’ average age across the board has only gotten older.

In a league that emphasizes youth, speed and hand-eye coordination, let’s just hope the Stars have discovered the Fountain of Youth and can beat the aging curve.

Other than that, head coach, Jim Montgomery knows what to expect out of his core and can depend on Pavelski to make something happen when Alexander Radulov falls into a lull from time-to-time.

Offseason Grade: C+

The Stars didn’t have to go out and land the biggest star in free agency, so they went out and got a modest harvest instead. Nill signed Pavelski at a steep price on what would otherwise be a bad contract if it were longer than three-years, but it’s really only as bad as when the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Patrick Marleau for three-years and over $6.000 million.

Something about ex-Sharks in the 35-plus category… Other general managers have learned from Toronto’s mistake to stay away– even if there’s a boost in the locker room for a season or two. At least Dallas had the room to make it work and has enough pending free agents in July 2020 to ease their salary cap concerns.

Florida Panthers 2019-20 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

36-32-14, 86 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the third straight year

Additions: F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly, F Joel Lowry, F Kevin Roy, F Dominic Toninato (acquired from COL), D Gustav Bouramman (acquired from MIN), D Tommy Cross, D Ethan Prow, D Anton Stralman, G Sergei Bobrovsky, G Philippe Desrosiers

Subtractions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed with BUF), F Henrik Haapala (KHL), F Juho Lammikko (Liiga), F Derek MacKenzie (retired), F Maxim Mamin (KHL), F Vincent Praplan (NLA), F Riley Sheahan (signed with EDM), D Ludwig Bystrom (Liiga), D Michael Downing (signed with Florida, ECHL), D Jacob MacDonald (traded to COL), D Julian Melchiori (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Scott Darling (acquired from CAR, then bought out), G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Jamie McGinn

Re-signed: F Troy Brouwer (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Greco, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Dryden Hunt, F Denis Malgin, D Ian McCoshen, D Thomas Schemitsch, D MacKenzie Weegar, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The rules of the offseason are pretty simple. Don’t be that person that overpays.

But for Florida Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon, apparently the rules don’t apply.

Yes, fixing the hole in the net left behind by Roberto Luongo’s decision to retire was a good idea. No, signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract isn’t a steal.

A $10.000 million cap hit for a goaltender that’s 30-years-old and only getting older won’t exactly look too great by the fourth year of the deal, but by then it might not even be Tallon’s problem.

Tallon is in “win now” mode.

The Panthers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since their lone appearance in 1996, in which they were swept in four games– the final two on home ice– by the Colorado Avalanche.

As it is, Florida hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016’s First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.

So they’ve bolstered their roster with Bobrovsky in the crease and three other players that were signed on July 1st– Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.

Acciari’s a bottom-six forward who likes to hit and can hit clean, but at three-years and $1.667 million per season, might be a bit much to pay for someone who only had 14 points last season. Sure it was career-year, but his goal scoring production was down from 10 goals in 2017-18 to six goals in 2018-19.

Connolly signed a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and with a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he brings more than just winning pedigree– he had career-highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 81 games for the Caps last season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is finally coming around to his potential at age 27. Better late than never and that’s why the Panthers are taking this gamble.

An improved offense in the top-nine forwards to go with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano, as well as an addition to the blue line in Anton Stralman’s three-year contract worth $5.500 million per season has the Panthers with high hopes for the 2019-20 season.

Especially when you consider the fact that their new head coach behind the bench is three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville.

Tallon, Quenneville and Florida’s roster don’t just have their sights set on a First Round appearance.

What if they don’t pull things off right away and age catches up to their free agent signings from this offseason? Is it right back to square one as an older, slower, knock-off version of their intra-state rival up in Tampa?

Ten players on the current NHL roster are pending free agents of the unrestricted and restricted variety after this season.

Florida currently has about $781,330 in cap space with Hoffman and Dadonov as their biggest pending-UFAs next July.

Thanks to Luongo’s early retirement, the Panthers will be stifled with a cap recapture penalty that’s not as significant as the one the Vancouver Canucks will face, but nonetheless costing Florida $1,094,128 per season through 2021-22.

But Tallon is used to maxing out the books to put his team in a position to win sooner rather than later– just ask the Chicago Blackhawks how their Cup winning core worked out for them.

Offseason Grade: B

Florida going “all-in” in free agency is out of character for their franchise history, it would seem. While nabbing top-end talent at a premium price lands the Panthers as a winner of the bidding war for free agents, there’s a lot of risk involved.

Long-term growth may have been stalled by short-term planning for gains that may or may not pan out as the season has yet to begin. As such, Tallon’s offseason was “above average”, but now comes the time to prove whether it was all worth it or else risk becoming the more expensive version of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 trade deadline.

Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 Season Preview

Chicago Blackhawks

36-34-12, 84 points, 6th in the Central Division

Missed the postseason for the second straight year

Additions: F Ryan Carpenter, F Alexander Nylander (acquired from BUF), F John Quenneville (acquired from NJD), F Aleksi Saarela (acquired from CAR), F Andrew Shaw (acquired from MTL), F Zack Smith (acquired from OTT), D Calvin de Haan (acquired from CAR), D Philip Holm, D Olli Maatta (acquired from PIT), G Robin Lehner

Subtractions: F Artem Anisimov (traded to OTT), F Victor Ejdsell (SHL), F John Hayden (traded to NJD), F Peter Holland (KHL), F Dominik Kahun (traded to PIT), F Marcus Kruger (NLA), F Chris Kunitz (retired), F Luke Johnson (signed with MIN), F Anthony Louis (signed with Charlotte, AHL), F Andreas Martinsen (signed with ANA), F Jordan Schroeder (KHL), F Tyler Sikura (signed with Rockford, AHL), F Spencer Watson (signed with Indy, ECHL), D Brandon Davidson (signed with CGY), D Gustav Forsling (traded to CAR), D Blake Hillman (signed with Toledo, ECHL), D Henri Jokiharju (traded to BUF), G Anton Forsberg (traded to CAR), G Cam Ward (retired)

Still Unsigned: F Andrew Campbell

Re-signed: F David Kampf, F Brendan Perlini

Offseason Analysis: Chicago Blackhawks General Manager, Stan Bowman, had a busy offseason making six trades that involved players and navigating a transition period for the franchise that has won three Stanley Cup championships in the last decade, but found themselves outside of the playoffs for the last two seasons.

First, Bowman dealt forward, Dominik Kahun, and a 2019 5th round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defender, Olli Maatta, on June 15th, then the Blackhawks GM followed things up with a minor swap with the New Jersey Devils a week later.

Acquiring Maatta wasn’t the only adjustment made to Chicago’s blue line as Bowman traded Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg to the Carolina Hurricanes for Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela on June 24th.

By the end of the month, Bowman was reunited with former Blackhawk turned current Blackhawk once more– Andrew Shaw– in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens involving draft picks and Shaw.

Maatta brings a $4.083 million cap hit, de Haan carries a $4.550 million cap hit and Shaw costs $3.900 million per season. All three players are under contract through the 2021-22 season.

On July 1st, the Blackhawks strengthened their crease by signing Robin Lehner to a one-year, $5.000 million contract. The 28-year-old Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy winner is slated to backup 34-year-old, Corey Crawford, but could easily split time with the two-time Stanley Cup champion.

Lehner could also become a valuable option if Crawford misses any time due to injury.

Both goaltenders are in contract years.

One (Crawford) is getting older and may not be able to keep playing indefinitely and the other (Lehner) just signed his one-year deal with the possibility of cashing in if Crawford cannot continue to be the goaltender for Chicago, let alone an NHL starter.

Crawford managed a 14-18-5 record in 39 games played last season– while battling injuries– with a 2.93 goals against average and a .908 save percentage. In 2011-12, Crawford had a 2.72 GAA and a .903 SV% in 57 games as a starter.

Lehner amassed a 25-13-5 record in 46 games last season with a 2.13 GAA and a .930 SV% en route to splitting the William M. Jennings Trophy honors for 2018-19 with his backup on the New York Islanders, Thomas Greiss.

It’s no easy task to replace Crawford with the next goaltender in the post-Cup dynasty era, but Bowman’s already strategizing for the inevitable as time doesn’t wait for anyone.

On July 9th, Bowman continued his offseason moves and dealt Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres for Alexander Nylander– a player who’s yet to make an impact at the NHL level and looking for a change in scenery (you know, like how Dylan Strome turned things around after the Arizona Coyotes sent him to Chicago).

Finally, Bowman completed his offseason trading with another one-for-one swap, sending Artem Anisimov to the Ottawa Senators for Zack Smith, saving the Blackhawks $1.300 million in the process for a durable third line center.

Head coach, Jeremy Colliton, has a lot of new puzzle pieces to play with and figure out what’s the best fit.

With an aging core, new acquisitions and plenty of fresh, young, faces emerging, Chicago is under no pressure to win it all in 2020, but they are hoping to make a serious dent in the regular season and make it back into the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Offseason Grade: A-

The Blackhawks didn’t overpay anyone in free agency, but they did trade a 2020 2nd round pick, a 2020 7th round pick and a 2021 3rd round pick to the Canadiens for Shaw and a 2021 7th round pick. That’s… not ideal.

Drafting Kirby Dach 3rd overall in June is sure to help speed up Chicago’s transition and avoid a rebuild, plus Bowman is remaining active in his roster construction with the future in mind instead of getting too attached to components from their Cup winning days.

Minnesota Wild 2019-20 Season Preview

Minnesota Wild

37-36-9, 83 points, 7th in the Central Division

Missed the postseason for the first time in seven years

Additions: F Gabriel Dumont, F Ryan Hartman, F Luke Johnson, F Drew Stafford (signed to a PTO), F Mats Zuccarello, D Fedor Gordeev (acquired from TOR)

Subtractions: F Pontus Aberg (signed with TOR), F Eric Fehr (NLA), F Landon Ferraro (signed to a PTO with VAN), F Cal O’Reilly (signed with Lehigh Valley, AHL), F Matt Read (signed to a PTO with TOR), F Dante Salituro (signed with Indy, ECHL), D Anthony Bitetto (signed with WPG), D Gustav Bouramman (traded to FLA), D Michael Kapla (signed with Toronto, AHL), D Nate Prosser (signed with PHI), G Johan Gustafsson (DEL), G Andrew Hammond (signed with BUF)

Still Unsigned: F Chase Lang

Re-signed: F Ryan Donato, F Joel Eriksson Ek, F Kevin Fiala, D Brad Hunt, D Carson Soucy, D Hunter Warner

Offseason Analysis: It’s a wild time for the Minnesota Wild on what will likely be a wild ride to the bottom of the standings before things get better.

At the very least, Minnesota tried to jumpstart things and stave off a rebuild by firing Paul Fenton one season after naming Fenton as General Manager and replacing the now former GM of the franchise with Bill Guerin.

Guerin– who spent parts of 18 seasons as winger with the New Jersey Devils, Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins– was most recently the assistant general manager for the Penguins and is just the fourth general manager in franchise history for the Wild.

Bruce Boudreau returns as head coach, despite finishing in last place in the Central Division en route to Minnesota missing the playoff last season for the first time since 2012.

Before Fenton was fired, he signed Mats Zuccarello on July 1st to a five-year, $30 million contract worth $6.000 million per season.

Zuccarello has never scored more than 26 goals in a season– a feat he accomplished in 81 games with the New York Rangers in 2015-16– and is 32-years-old.

He usually amasses at least 50 points a season, however, so it’s not quite an overpay, but rather a bit of a concern due to the long-term nature of the contract, plus the fact that he has a no-movement clause through the first three years and a modified no-trade/no-movement clause in the final two years.

Basically, it’s a great deal for Zuccarello because it protects him from the Seattle Expansion Draft in 2021, which is exactly why it could come back to bite the Wild.

Minnesota’s defense is aging and the entire roster only has three pending-unrestricted free agents at the end of the upcoming season, which means Guerin’s going to have to get creative at restructuring some of the mess left behind without just letting players walk in free agency.

If the Wild are confident this season will be better than last season– it’s make or break.

When things don’t work out, at least the inevitable front office turmoil has already been taken care of (hopefully).

Offseason Grade: F

This offseason, Minnesota pulled the equivalent of making just enough of an effort on an exam to get one or two answers right, but missed the mark on everything else.

Having said that, firing Fenton and hiring Guerin is probably the one or two questions on the exam that they got right. Other than that, there’s not much else that went well for the Wild to assure the Hockey Gods that they’re prepared for the 2019-20 season.

Buffalo Sabres 2019-20 Season Preview

Buffalo Sabres

33-39-10, 76 points, 6th in the Atlantic Division

Longest active playoff drought, last playoff appearance was 2011

Additions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea, F Marcus Johansson, F Curtis Lazar, F Jimmy Vesey (acquired from NYR), D John Gilmour, D Henri Jokiharju (acquired from CHI), D Colin Miller (acquired from VGK), G Andrew Hammond

Subtractions: F Eric Cornel (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Kyle Criscuolo (signed with PHI), F Taylor Leier (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Sean Malone (signed with Rochester, AHL), F Matt Moulson (signed with Hershey, AHL), F Alexander Nylander (traded to CHI), F Danny O’Regan (signed with NYR), F Kevin Porter (signed with Rochester, AHL), D Jack Dougherty (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Brycen Martin (signed with Fort Wayne, ECHL), D Matt Tennyson (signed with NJD), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with TBL), G Adam Wilcox (signed with San Antonio, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Jason Pominville

Re-signed: F Remi Elie, F Zemgus Girgensons, F Johan Larsson, F Evan Rodrigues, F C.J. Smith, D Jake McCabe, G Linus Ullmark

Offseason Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres are looking to be last season’s Carolina Hurricanes for the 2019-20 season and, in the process, end the current longest active playoff drought in the NHL.

Buffalo hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since being ousted by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in their 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

The Sabres only have four forwards under contract after this season.

Of the remaining nine forwards currently under contract, three are pending-restricted free agents (Sam Reinhart, Evan Rodrigues and Casey Mittelstadt) and six are pending-unrestricted free agents (Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Jimmy Vesey, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Scott Wilson).

Thankfully, new addition to their top-nine forwards– and likely to start the season on the first or second line– Marcus Johansson (13-17–30 totals in 58 games played) signed a two-year, $9.000 million ($4.500 million cap hit) contract in free agency after spending last season with the New Jersey Devils prior to being traded to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.

Sabres General Manager, Jason Botterill, reworked the defense through the acquisition of Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2021 2nd round pick (originally belonging to the St. Louis Blues) and a 2022 5th round pick.

Miller has three-years left at $3.875 million per season and is a quality top-six defender addition to the team facing the uncertainty after this season, whereby half of the current defenders on the roster are set to become free agents.

Buffalo has three pending-UFA defenders (Zach Bogosian, Marco Scandella and Casey Nelson) and one pending-RFA blue liner (Brandon Montour– acquired around last season’s deadline from the Anaheim Ducks).

With no cap room available currently and a tighter wallet thanks to Jeff Skinner’s eight-year, $72 million extension ($9.000 million cap hit), the Sabres are going to be hard pressed to try to keep the band together.

Thankfully, a little relief will come via the long-term injured reserve at the likely career-ending expense of Matt Hunwick and his ongoing neck condition that Hunwick sustained last season, missed the first two months because of and was limited to 14 games.

The 34-year-old defender’s $2.250 million cap hit will be relieved thanks to the LTIR option, but still Botterill will have to press on to utilize his best penny pinching calculator when it comes time to ice a full-time roster by puck drop next month.

Oh yeah and Linus Ullmark only has a year on his contract, so before anyone can get comfortable with what’s likely the foreseeable future in the crease for the Sabres…

While Botterill also brought in the likes of Vesey (17-18–35 totals in 81 games played) in a trade with the New York Rangers that saw Buffalo give up a 2021 3rd round pick and trading Alexander Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju, there’s yet another new face behind the bench in upstate New York.

Ralph Krueger, the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach in the 48-game lockout shortened 2012-13 season, is in charge of Jack Eichel and crew.

Nobody fully knows what to expect out of the coach that went 19-22-7 with Edmonton before being replaced by Oilers management after one season.

On paper, this is Buffalo’s best chance in at least the last few seasons– if not more– to contend for a wild card spot or better in the Atlantic Division.

The only problem is that everyone else is getting better just the same, even as Rasmus Dahlin continues to emerge as a puck moving, gifted two-way defender.

Offseason Grade: B+

The wild card factor of Krueger behind the bench takes off a few points until proven otherwise, but the Sabres did a really nice job of cleaning up guys who need a second (or third) chance (Miller) and what was better of the more affordable free agents (Johansson) to help fill out a fuller roster than ever before.

Buffalo took a gamble with Skinner’s extension, but knows they finally have a winger locked up for Eichel. Now they just have to win.

DTFR Podcast #167- And Now We Wait

Nick talks a little about the state of the league, plus retirements and other news around the league.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.