The 2021-22 season is well underway, so let’s bring back our 6th Annual Participation Trophies After One Game awards ceremony!
It is time. The 2021-22 season is upon us.
Technically it already started, but we’ll ignore the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins spoiled the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup champion banner night with a, 6-2, victory on the road before the Vegas Golden Knights held off a Seattle Kraken comeback in a, 4-3, win at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night.
And then Wednesday’s games happened too.
Let’s hit the “reset” button for a second and pretend the 2021-22 is about to get underway. All 32 National Hockey League teams have a chance at clinching 16 available playoff berths.
Any of the 16 teams that make the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs could etch 52 names from their roster, front office and organization on the Stanley Cup next June.
The usual divisions– Atlantic, Central, Metropolitan and Pacific– have returned as have the Eastern Conference and Western Conference. The regular playoff format is back (three teams per division, two wild cards per conference qualify, plus the Conference Finals round returns in place of the Stanley Cup Semfinals in 2021).
A full 82-game regular season schedule is slated from October through the end of April with a three-week break in February for the 2022 All Star Game in Las Vegas and the 2022 Winter Games taking precedence before a return to NHL action down the stretch with the postseason kicking off in May like last year and the 2022-23 season likely returning to the pre-pandemic timeline (2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting in April).
The 2022 NHL Entry Draft will be in Montréal on July 7th and 8th, while free agency begins on July 13th, but between now and then, we’ve got the 2021-22 regular season to enjoy.
Using last season’s team goals for and team goals against, plus some other “magic numbers” as part of an expected points model, we’re able to project what 2021-22 could be for all 32 teams (yes, even the Seattle Kraken, despite this year being their first season)– though you’ll have to pretend there were no transactions made in the offseason.
In other words, don’t think that any of what you’re about to see is set in stone– view it more as a suggestion for a possible outcome.
Also, please remember my degree is in communication, so any math beyond figuring out “goals + assists = season point totals” doesn’t exist.
In a normal year (like from 2017-18 to 2018-19, for example), you just take all the data from the 82-game schedule for each team plug it into a formula in a spreadsheet, then line things up accordingly in each division.
However, just like how the shortened 2019-20 season disrupted the regular process for projecting a 2020-21 standings outlook, going from last season’s stats in a 56-game schedule to projecting a regular 82-game season in 2021-22 necessitated the use of forecasting point pace as part of the formula.
As for Seattle, a simple means of taking the NHL stats from last season for every player on their roster and plugging it in for a 2021-22 result is exactly what I did.
We’re all just making it up as we go along, folks. These are projections. They are not absolutes.
For the sake of keeping it simple, here’s a look at how things could go (but probably not) in each division for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
The overall vibe of the Central Division for 2021-22 is that it’s just more of exactly what you’d expect. The Colorado Avalanche are lightyears ahead of everyone else, while Kirill Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild continue to be on the rise and everyone else fights for what they can earn.
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether or not the Winnipeg Jets can breakthrough as Canada’s team and break the Canadian curse (become the first Canadian club to win the Cup since 1993).
Will Colorado finally break through the Second Round and win the Cup?
Are the Avalanche just the Toronto Maple Leafs but with a little more success? My column:
No, but really, it’s worth asking if the Avs making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2002, is more like Toronto’s struggle to make it out of the First Round for the first time since 2004, or is Colorado’s struggle more like the Washington Capitals pre-2018?
The Caps won three Presidents’ Trophies in 2009-10, 2015-16 and 2016-17, but couldn’t make it past the Second Round– let alone the Pittsburgh Penguins– until they finally did and ended up surging in momentum all the way to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Colorado, on the other hand, has already won the Cup twice (1996 and 2001) and also has three Presidents’ Trophies to their name in 1996-97, 2000-01 and 2020-21, so if recent history has anything to tell us it’s that yet another team with high expectations for at least a few seasons now only to come up short could very well go on to win it all after winning the Presidents’ Trophy the previous year.
Either that or they’ll have to win it in back-to-back seasons like Washington did before they won the Cup in 2018.
Then again, the Tampa Bay Lightning tied the Detroit Red Wings’ record for most wins in the regular season (62), securing the Presidents’ Trophy in the process in 2018-19, then got swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 First Round.
The very next year, however, Tampa kicked off back-to-back Cup rings in 2020 and 2021, to be where they are now as the two-time defending champions likely standing in the path as the only other favorites outside of the Avalanche this season.
Anyway, the Avs mostly kept things the same from last season to this season, losing Joonas Donskoi to the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Brandon Saad to the St. Louis Blues in free agency and making minor swaps among replacement level bottom-six forwards and bottom-pairing defenders.
Oh, then there’s this whole thing about how Philipp Grubauer left for Seattle in free agency too, so Colorado acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes.
Between Dallas, Nashville and St. Louis, who will realistically make the playoffs?
The Stars are projected to finish with about 94 points, the Predators sit at 92 points and the Blues are around 91 points in this one projection, but don’t let the points alone be your deciding factor.
Given the strength of the Central Division compared to the Pacific Division, you can bet on five teams making out of the Central among Western Conference playoff berths.
As such, the spread is the difference maker between these three teams expected to be in the wild card hunt– it’s going to come down to the wire one way or another.
Dallas bolstered their goaltending depth by signing Braden Holtby, Nashville traded Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis is… …better than last season on paper?
I mean, the Blues signed Saad, acquired Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers in exchange for Sammy Blais, let Seattle claim Vince Dunn at the expansion draft and let Mike Hoffman walk to the Montréal Canadiens in July.
You could say they took a hit here or there, but those aren’t “nobody names” by any means, however.
If Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso can stabilize things in the crease, then St. Louis has a better situation than the Predators.
The Stars, meanwhile, should benefit from a longer season where more of their core guys– like Tyler Seguin, for example– are healthy. Last season’s COVID-19 outbreak to kick things off in January really killed Dallas’ momentum as a team on the verge of being in the 2021 postseason.
Dallas should get back into the swing of things and St. Louis should be able to stay relevant for at least another year, but how hard the Preds rely on Juuse Saros as their starting goaltender will dictate whether or not they’re able to play spoiler with David Rittich as their backup since Pekka Rinne retired.
Can Arizona avoid the basement?
Anything is possible at this point. Loui Eriksson and Andrew Ladd were scoring goals in the postseason, so a fresh start could be just what both players needed for the last few years at least.
That said, Coyotes General Manager, Bill Armstrong, gave a Masterclass™️ in how to go about rebuilding by selling everything over the summer and taking on “bad” contracts with only one or two years remaining in hopes of playing just well enough to be bad enough without making it look obvious that you’re aiming to win the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery.
The Pacific Division is the new Scotia NHL North Division from last season. In other words, it’s the worst– which is great news for the Seattle Kraken as the league’s schedule allots more division play than any other opponents (though the Kraken will play every other team in the league at least twice).
Seattle’s riding the waves of new-age expansion, while the Vegas Golden Knights lead the charge for the Presidents’ Trophy campaign in 2021-22.
Wait, Seattle in 2nd in the Pacific, really?
The Kraken have a great front office that goes beyond just Ron Francis as General Manager and have done their due diligence in scouting the best talent available to try to replicate the success of the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season in 2017-18, as well as grow beyond just 2021-22.
That said, Seattle probably isn’t going to make it out of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if they have to face the Edmonton Oilers according to this projection.
It’s a best case scenario for the NHL’s newest expansion team to be in the weakest division, but aside from having recent Stanley Cup champions Yanni Gourde, Philipp Grubauer, Jaden Schwartz and Dunn on their roster, the Kraken have a plethora of players that are relatively inexperienced with deep postseason runs.
Head coach, Dave Hakstol, also hasn’t had the consistency of making the playoffs and making it out of the First Round in his NHL coaching days, but as a team that, again, is looking to develop long-term success, these are mere growing pains Francis and Co. are willing to accept as the fan base grows.
Why aren’t the Kings making the cut this year when everyone else says they’ll be the most improved?
The simple answer is that everyone’s overrating Los Angeles when it comes to the “ready now” factor.
Sure, Kings General Manager, Rob Blake, did a good thing by getting Viktor Arvidsson in a trade with Nashville this summer to solidify his top-six forward group and signed Alex Edler to fortify his defense, but Los Angeles’ goaltending leaves something to be desired.
Here’s hoping Jonathan Quick can find a little resurgence at this point in his career, while Cal Petersen continues to come into his own.
If Los Angeles has any injuries– and they already have with Arvidsson likely missing some time due to an injury in the last preseason game– they’re already close enough to the bubble that they’ll only fall further behind.
That said, if the Kings don’t make it back to the postseason hunt in 2022, there’s a good chance they make it in 2023.
Los Angeles is improving, but by how much remains to be seen.
Will winning the Presidents’ Trophy hurt Vegas?
Eh, it’s hard to say.
The Golden Knights have packed in just about every type of heartbreak since their inception in 2017, that fans of other franchises have only experienced over the course of at least 50 years, so if Vegas pulls out the Presidents’ Trophy win in 2021-22, don’t be surprised when the inevitable happens and they win the Cup instead of doing what most other Presidents’ Trophy winners in the salary cap era have done.
Only the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings and Chicago in 2012-13, have been able to win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup since the salary cap was introduced ahead of the 2005-06 season.
Vegas would probably join Detroit and Chicago in doing so just so the Hockey Gods can spite us again.
It’s not easy to be in the Metropolitan Division these days because, well, let’s save that for the three questions below.
Is this the toughest division to project?
The Carolina Hurricanes decided to just get rid of a few parts and pieces that helped make them good for the last few seasons, so they’re bound to regress even with Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Teuvo Teräväinen and Martin Necas still existing.
The Pittsburgh Penguins since 2009, have always found a way to be near the top of the division standings by the end of the regular season no matter whether or not you believe they’ll inevitably miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006, so anything could happen there.
The New York Islanders have made back-to-back appearances in the Eastern Conference Final, so I’d expect them to be good.
The Washington Capitals are better than the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, at least, but are probably the only team on the bubble if the New Jersey Devils can come out of nowhere and be competitive this season after signing Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Bernier in the offseason.
Meanwhile, it’s time for a short rebuild in Columbus as the Blue Jackets would be quite pleased with a top draft pick in 2022.
What if Chris Drury never was promoted as General Manager of the Rangers?
They’d still fire David Quinn and hire Gerard Gallant. I don’t think that’s such a bad idea, but they’d definitely reconsider about 90% of the roster decisions made this summer.
There’s no reason why the Rangers have to go down this path and yet, here they are, fumbling at the one-yard line and possibly plunging their franchise back into the Dark Ages of another rebuild. Or is it the same ongoing rebuild?
What about a team to watch like New Jersey, for example?
I’m big on the Devils this season for some strange reason.
Maybe it’s because a part of me deep down misses the trap game of the 1990s and 2000s that led to Stanley Cups for New Jersey in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
Maybe it’s because they signed Hamilton, Tatar, Bernier and acquired Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche as a supporting cast for Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith and friends.
Seriously, the Devils should be good in the next few seasons, but this year could be the biggest stride forward in terms of their improvement from the basement to their development as a playoff contender.
First, pour one out for Jack Eichel. Now, let’s move on and talk about everyone else.
What does this mean for the Leafs?
Just like how the Stars, Preds and Blues are all right on top of one another in the Central Division standings, the Atlantic Division is stacked from 1st through 4th, so though Toronto leads the way in this projection, I wouldn’t feel too comfortable as a Leafs fan.
The Maple Leafs played in the worst of the four divisions last year in the temporarily realigned divisions in wake of the ongoing pandemic.
No, it’s not just because they played all the other Canadian teams across 56 games, but rather it’s due to the fact that they haven’t been able to matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and even the Boston Bruins since the 2019-20 season.
A lot and not a lot has changed since then.
Tampa is still dominant as ever, Florida has emerged as a team that’s on the rise and Boston is unpredictable in that– much like the Penguins– it could really go either way with the Bruins this season.
So now Toronto has to take on better competition within their own division and square off with teams like the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and others that emerge towards the top of the standings outside of the Canadian teams that the Leafs are all too familiar with at this point.
That said, Toronto still has a great chance at winning the Atlantic Division regular season title or finishing 2nd and having home ice advantage in the First Round for the second-straight postseason.
Can anyone other than Toronto, Florida, Tampa or Boston make it out of the Atlantic this year?
No. Let’s be realistic here.
The Montréal Canadiens made it to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final despite being below .500 in the standings because every division produced four playoff berths and intra-divisional play through two rounds.
In 2020, they upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Qualifier despite finishing right at .500.
In any other non-pandemic timeline, the Canadiens would still be looking for their first playoff appearance since they lost to the New York Rangers in six games in the 2017 First Round.
That’s not to say that Nick Suzuki can’t lead the Habs back to glory, but rather that they need to improve all-around in the regular season and peaking in performance in the playoffs.
Though the Ottawa Senators promised unprecedented success from 2021-25, it’s looking like it’ll realistically be anytime between 2024-25 as in the 2024-25 season itself at this point.
Ottawa’s goaltending needs to improve, their defense could use some tweaks and the Sens are banking on their offense getting their feet underneath them and bursting in production in the coming years.
A little more patience won’t hurt them.
The same can be said for the Detroit Red Wings in that Red Wings fans already know– trust in General Manager, Steve Yzerman, is paramount. He’ll work his magic.
It just takes a little time to build a solid foundation and the first floor is almost ready to start going up.
As for the Buffalo Sabres, well…
At least they’ll hopefully give Rick Jeanneret a proper send-off before he retires as their play-by-play announcer for the last 51 years on television.
Will Tampa win three consecutive Stanley Cup championships?
I’m not ruling it out entirely, but the Lightning have a better chance of winning three Cups in four years than they do three Cups in as many years as things stand currently.
The loss of their entire third line (Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow) from last season to this season is sure to leave a mark on the development and restructuring of their bottom-six forwards.
That said, Tampa’s top-six forwards still exist and, if you haven’t already noticed, they’re very good on their own, but the best teams in the playoffs have four lines that can roll without a doubt and the Bolts might just be off the ball for a year in terms of depth.
Alright, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for your patience. By now the season’s already going on a few days into the 2021-22 calendar, so the two of us (or more if you’re reading this to a group) should probably get back to watching games.
Stay tuned for more forecasts for both standings and assorted teams throughout the season.
2020-21 record 40-14-2, 82 points
2nd in the Honda NHL West Division
Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Semifinal by Montréal
Additions: F Sven Baertschi, F Evgenii Dadonov (acquired from OTT), F Brett Howden (acquired from NYR), F Nolan Patrick (acquired from NSH, re-signed), G Laurent Brossoit
Subtractions: F Reid Duke (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), F Cody Glass (traded to NSH), F Tyrell Goulbourne (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Mikael Hakkarainen (acquired from VGK, signed with TPS, Liiga),F Tomas Nosek (signed with BOS), F Danny O’Regan (signed with ANA), F Ryan Reaves (traded to NYR), F Dylan Sikura (signed with COL), D Carl Dahlström (signed with TOR), D Nick DeSimone (traded to NYR), D Nick Holden (traded to OTT), D Jimmy Schuldt (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), G Oscar Dansk (KHL), G Marc-Andre Fleury (traded to CHI)
Still Unsigned: F Tomas Jurco
Re-signed: F Patrick Brown, F Mattias Janmark, F Gage Quinney, D Dylan Coghlan, D Alec Martinez
Offseason Analysis: Well, at least Vegas didn’t try to sign the market’s best free agent to a long-term deal this summer and instead chose to do some introspection.
Looks like that didn’t last too long (on a technicality, of course).
Sure, the Golden Knights didn’t sign anyone to a massive contract this summer, but they did dump quite a hefty salary in an otherwise inexplicable trade this offseason.
Rather than lose out on recent acquisitions and stay the course with Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner as a goaltending tandem, Golden Knights General Manager, Kelly McCrimmon, did the one thing Vegas’ majority owner, Bill Foley, promised would never be done– McCrimmon traded Fleury.
The move stunned the goaltender and nearly made the Sorel, Québec native retire, but after a quick tour of Chicago, Fleury decided to play out the remainder of his contract as a pending-unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season.
With an additional $7.000 million to spend towards the cap ceiling, McCrimmon was able to keep Mattias Janmark and Alec Martinez in Vegas– despite likely angering some locals with the loss of Fleury.
Before we discuss the extensions for Janmark and Martinez, let’s talk goaltending.
Whereas Fleury had a 26-10-0 record in 36 games last season with six shutouts, as well as a 1.98 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage en route to his first Vezina Trophy in his 17-year NHL career, Lehner had a 13-4-2 record with one shutout, a 2.29 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in 19 games last season.
If you want a starting goaltender to be around 2.00 in goals-against average and about .920 in save percentage, while your backup is pegged around a 2.50 in goals-against average and .910 or so in save percentage, then the dynamic duo did just that last season for the Golden Knights.
For the first time since his time with the New York Islanders in the 2018-19 season, Lehner is back to being a starting netminder. Back then, he went 25-13-5 in 46 games with six shutouts, a 2.13 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.
Now, he’ll be tasked with handling anywhere from four additional games to about a dozen more (give or take a few), since McCrimmon signed Laurent Brossoit on a two-year deal worth $2.325 million per season as Vegas’ backup.
Last season, the Golden Knights spent about $12 million on goaltenders. This season, they’re spending a little more than Fleury’s cap hit alone– $7.325 million for Lehner and Brossoit, compared to Fleury’s $7.000 million price tag against the cap.
Brossoit hasn’t been able to maintain consistency from year-to-year, but he’s a durable backup coming off of a solid performance with the Winnipeg Jets in 2020-21, amassing a 6-6-0 record in 14 games with a 2.42 goals-against average, one shutout and a .918 save percentage.
Vegas was always going to transition from Fleury to Lehner once Lehner became a part of the equation for the future. Doing so now may look bad in the manner that they did it, but it was always going to be inevitable as long as the Golden Knights were spending close to the salary cap.
Anyway, Janmark and Martinez are staying in town– Janmark on a one-year extension worth $2.000 million and Martinez on a three-year deal with a $5.250 million cap hit.
In 56 games last season, Janmark had 11-13–24 totals between Chicago and Vegas, where he went on to contribute eight points (four goals, four assists) in 16 playoff games as the Golden Knights advanced to the 2021 Stanley Cup Semifinal before being eliminated by the Montréal Canadiens in six games.
Martinez, meanwhile, amassed 9-23–32 totals in 53 games in his first full season with the Golden Knights since Vegas acquired him from the Los Angeles Kings ahead of the 2020 trade deadline.
He had twice the points in 2020-21 than he had in 2019-20 in roughly the same number of games and chipped in six points (four goals, two assists) from the blue line in 19 playoff games in 2021 for Vegas.
At 34-years-old, signing Martinez until he’s nearly 37 is both a risk and an assurance that he pretty much won’t be playing anywhere else for the rest of his career (unless Vegas flips him later on or he decides to sign elsewhere in the summer of 2024.
For now, the extensions bolster Vegas’ vital depth for both regular season play and postseason clutch performances when you need it most from players you might otherwise least expect down the lineup.
Among other choices made this offseason, McCrimmon was busy working the phones for trade calls and landed a pair of reclamation projects for the 2021-22 season and beyond in Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov, but first a quick recap of all the trades Vegas made this summer.
On July 17th, the Golden Knights dealt defender, Nick DeSimone, and a 2022 4th round pick to the New York Rangers for forward, Brett Howden.
That same day, Vegas completed a transaction with the Nashville Predators, acquiring Patrick in exchange for Cody Glass and sealed the door on trading all three of their 2017 1st round picks (Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brännström) for other assets.
At the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, McCrimmon got in touch with Detroit Red Wings General Manager, Steve Yzerman, and swapped draft picks all day– sending 2021 2nd round pick (36th overall) to Detroit for a 2021 2nd round pick (38th overall) and a 2021 4th round pick (128th overall) in one trade, as well as dealing a 2021 4th round pick (114th overall) and a 2021 5th round pick (155th overall) to the Red Wings for a 2021 4th round pick (102nd overall).
A few days later on July 27th, the Golden Knights traded Fleury to Chicago for forward, Mikael Hakkarainen, who went unsigned and joined a team in Finland instead.
The next day, Vegas traded defender, Nick Holden, and a 2022 3rd round pick to the Ottawa Senators for Dadonov.
Then on July 29th, McCrimmon shipped fourth line forward, Ryan Reaves, to the Rangers for a 2022 3rd round pick.
Alright, back to Patrick and Dadonov for a second.
Last season, Patrick amassed 4-5–9 totals in 52 games with the Philadelphia Flyers in his first season back since missing all of 2019-20 due to migraines stemming from post concussion syndrome. The 23-year-old is feeling refreshed and looking for a career rejuvenation in the desert with the Golden Knights.
Meanwhile, Dadonov is coming off a down year in which he recorded 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) in 55 games with the Ottawa Senators after amassing 25-22–47 totals in 69 games with the Florida Panthers in 2019-20 after back-to-back seasons with at least 65 points.
The 32-year-old forward is looking to avoid further decline as he is soon to enter the twilight of his prime– approaching his mid-30s having yet to reach the 30-goal plateau or live up to his $5.000 million cap hit through 2022-23.
Time will tell if Vegas can help right the ship.
Offseason Grade: C-
Trading Fleury in the way that they did is hard to swallow– especially since it broke up one of the better goaltending tandems in the league from last season to this season.
At the very least, moving on from Fleury allowed Vegas to hold onto Janmark and Martinez in the manner that they did rather than court this summer’s top free agent, thereby forcing their own hand by trading another “core” player due to salary cap restraints and possibly disrupting the chemistry in the dressing room.
Overall, McCrimmon’s moves this summer seem like lateral transactions for a team that has $0 in salary cap space and should be contending for a Cup ring, but always seems to fall short for one reason or another.
Entering their fifth season of existence, the Golden Knights have this two more years to beat or match the Flyers’ record for the fastest expansion team to win their first Stanley Cup championship in league history.
Though their offseason may be unconvincing on paper, let’s hope they’ll prove us wrong and surprise the hockey world like they did when they made the 2018 Stanley Cup Final in their first season, but with a different outcome.
We preview the Central Division for the 2021-22 season and draw comparisons between recent teams that we’ve said “they should win this year” for quite some time until they finally won after we stopped talking about them.
2020-21 record 39-13-4, 82 points
1st in the Honda NHL West Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Vegas
Additions: F Darren Helm, F Mikhail Maltsev (acquired from NJD), F Dylan Sikura, D Jordan Gross, D Jack Johnson (signed to a PTO), D Kurtis MacDermid (acquired from SEA), D Stefan Matteau, D Roland McKeown, D Ryan Murray, G Darcy Kuemper (acquired from ARI)
Subtractions: F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (signed with TBL), F Matt Calvert (retired), F Joonas Donskoi (expansion, SEA), F Sheldon Dries (signed with VAN), F Ty Lewis (retired), F Liam O’Brien (signed with Tucson Roadrunners, AHL), F Brandon Saad (signed with STL), F Miikka Salomäki (SHL), F Carl Söderberg (SHL), F Mike Vecchione (signed with WSH), D Kyle Burroughs (signed with VAN), D Ryan Graves (traded to NJD), D Patrik Nemeth (signed with NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with DET), D Conor Timmins (traded to ARI), G Philipp Grubauer (signed with SEA), G Peyton Jones (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), G Adam Werner (signed with CGY)
Still Unsigned: F Travis Barron, G Devan Dubnyk
Re-signed: F Tyson Jost, F Gabriel Landeskog, F Jayson Megna, F Kiefer Sherwood, D Dennis Gilbert, D Cale Makar, G Jonas Johansson
Offseason Analysis: If next spring doesn’t bring the desired results to Colorado, it’ll be 20 years since the Avalanche last made an appearance in the Western Conference Final.
Back in 2002, the Detroit Red Wings were in the prime of their dominance and the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was red hot as the two teams went at it for not only regular season titles, but Stanley Cup rings as well.
Colorado had won in 1996 and 2001, Detroit won in 1997, 1998 and would do so again in 2002, as well as 2008– five years after Patrick Roy played his last National Hockey League game.
In the 2002 Western Conference Final, the defending Stanley Cup champion Avs were once again the team to beat, but the Red Wings took the series in seven games and went on to win the Cup.
Since then, both teams have had a bit of a falling out.
When Joe Sakic took over as General Manager of the Avalanche, the goal was simple– return the franchise to its glory days.
The bump in the road that was the 2016-17 season brought the team the 4th overall pick after losing in the draft lottery, yet at 4th overall in 2017, Colorado selected their biggest game-changing defender since the acquisition of Ray Bourque in Cale Makar.
Sakic turned his attention to a Makar extension when it seemed like things had gone south with keeping captain, Gabriel Landeskog, in town.
The 22-year-old defender signed a six-year extension worth $9.000 million per season after finishing second in Norris Trophy voting to New York Rangers defender, Adam Fox, for the 2020-21 season.
Makar had 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) in 44 games– exactly a point-a-game in his sophomore campaign, limited again due to injury after amassing 12-38–50 totals in 57 games in his first NHL season in 2019-20.
Sakic signed Makar to an extension on July 24th and then in the 11th hour as free agency drew near, signed Landeskog to an eight-year extension worth $7.000 million per season.
The 28-year-old captain was Colorado’s 2011 1st round pick (2nd overall) and has 218-294–512 totals in 687 games since making his league debut in the 2011-12 season with the Avs.
Landeskog had a promising 52-point season (22 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games in his first year in the league, then the 2012-13 48-game lockout shortened season kept him to 9-8–17 totals in 36 games.
The Avalanche missed out on the playoffs from 2011-13, but in 2014, Colorado squared off against the Minnesota Wild in the First Round– only to lose in seven games.
That playoff series, however, was the first taste of playoff hockey for Nathan MacKinnon and went decently for Landeskog as well.
After amassing 65 points (26 goals, 39 assists) in 81 games in the regular season, Landeskog had 3-1–4 totals in the seven-game series against the Wild.
Then his production dropped to 59 points in 82 games in 2014-15, and 53 points in 75 games in 2015-16– coinciding with Colorado’s fall from grace.
In the dismal 2016-17 campaign for the Avalanche, in which the team amassed 48 points on the season with a 22-56-4 record, Landeskog had just 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) and had a minus-25 rating.
But the Avs have made the playoffs every season since then– succumbing to the Nashville Predators in six games in the 2018 First Round, bowing out to the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the 2019 Second Round, losing to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the 2020 Second Round and dropping out in six games against the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2021 Second Round.
In that span, Landeskog’s had a career resurgence. He had 62 points in 78 games in 2017-18, 75 points in 73 games in 2018-19, 44 points in 54 games while battling injury and the COVID-19 pandemic shortened regular season in 2019-20, as well as 52 points in 54 games in last season’s 56-game regular season schedule.
Some say his resurgence can be accredited to the emergence of Colorado’s dominant first line with MacKinnon at center, Landeskog at left wing and Mikko Rantanen at right wing, but then how can that attribute to his own individual playoff success?
Landeskog had seven points (four goals, three assists) in six postseason games in 2018, 3-5–8 totals in Colorado’s 12-game 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff experience, 2-11–13 totals in 14 games during their 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff bubble run and 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in ten games in the Avalanche’s 2021 postseason run.
It’s plain to see that whereas MacKinnon is the superstar forward, Landeskog is the lifeblood of the organization– both as the captain and as a clutch performer when it matters most.
Landeskog’s reasonable cap hit should take some pressure off of Sakic as he negotiates extensions with MacKinnon after the 2022-23 season and Rantanen after the 2024-25 season, when the salary cap ceiling is expected to have risen due to the increased revenue from the current U.S. broadcasting rights packages.
Two big pieces were taken care of, so naturally Sakic set his sights on Philipp Grubauer… …who chose to leave for the Seattle Kraken in free agency.
Grubauer signed a six-year contract worth $5.900 million per season with the Kraken on July 28th– the day that free agency began and a week after Seattle claimed Joonas Donskoi from the Avs in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
Last season, Grubauer went 30-9-1 in 40 games played, had seven shutouts (tied for the most with New York Islanders goaltender, Semyon Varlamov) and amassed a 1.95 goals-against average, as well as a .922 save percentage in that span.
It was a breakout year for the 29-year-old goaltender, so why not cash in while you can?
The downside for Colorado, however, is that it left them briefly with uncertainty in the crease until they acquired Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes later that same day.
Sakic worked the phones quite a bit this summer between agents and fellow general managers.
On July 15th, Colorado swapped defender, Ryan Graves, with the New Jersey Devils for forward, Mikhail Maltsev, and a 2021 2nd round pick (from NYI via NJD- 61st overall, Sean Behrens).
On July 27th, Sakic sent a 2023 4th round pick to the Kraken for defender, Kurtis MacDermid, whose father, Paul, played for the Québec Nordiques from 1993-95.f
After losing Grubauer to Seattle in free agency, Sakic dealt defender, Conor Timmins, a 2022 1st round pick and a conditional 2024 3rd round pick to the Coyotes for Kuemper.
Much like Linus Ullmark going from the Buffalo Sabres to the Boston Bruins via free agency this summer, it’s hard to tell what to expect out of Kuemper in an Avalanche uniform.
He should be better considering the overall quality and depth of defenders on Colorado’s blue line a la Ullmark’s upgrade from Buffalo’s defense to Boston’s defense in front of him.
That said, Kuemper hasn’t really been a starting goaltender for long. It’s a risk, like when Colorado sought after Grubauer in the first place from the Washington Capitals a few summers ago.
In his first season as a starter, Kuemper went 27-20-8 in 55 games with Arizona– notching five shutouts and recording a 2.33 goals-against average, as well as a .925 save percentage. Good stuff.
In 2019-20, he went 16-11-2 in 29 games, had two shutouts and yielded a 2.22 goals-against average, as well as a .928 save percentage.
Last season, he went 10-11-3 in 27 games, dropping to a 2.56 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and once again recording two shutouts.
Kuemper is 31-years-old and made his league debut with the Minnesota Wild back in the 2012-13 season– the same season that Grubauer broke into the league with the Capitals, albeit two years younger in age.
How will a full 82-game schedule as the starting netminder with Pavel Francouz returning from an injury that prevented him from being the backup in Colorado last season impact Kuemper’s performance in the crease?
There’s kind of a lot at stake here. No pressure or anything, but the Avalanche are trying to win the Cup now rather than later.
Speaking of “win-now” mode, the loss of Donskoi, Brandon Saad and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare puts Colorado in a difficult spot.
They don’t have the dominant bottom-six players on paper that they had last season that made them as much of a threat as the Golden Knights or Tampa Bay Lightning.
Instead, they’ll be relying on the emergence of youth in Alex Newhook, Logan O’Connor and Maltsev mixed with a combination of young players getting better in Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher, as well as a veteran in Darren Helm.
Much like how Saad brought in Cup winning experience to the dressing room last season, however, Helm is doing so for the Avs this season as he happened to be on the 2008 Stanley Cup champion Red Wings– appearing in seven games in the 2007-08 regular season, then 18 postseason games for Detroit in their 2008 Cup run.
It was Helm’s first taste of NHL action and he already was on top of the mountain. Now 34, he’s looking for more.
Offseason Grade: B-
Sakic has a way of taking reclamation projects and maximizing their production in Colorado, though we’ll see if the same effect can be applied to Stefan Matteau and Ryan Murray on the blue line, as well as other moves already mentioned.
The Avalanche have depth, but do they have enough depth?
Despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season, Colorado finished the 2020-21 regular season with 39 wins– one shy of Vegas (40 wins) for the most in the league– and eliminated in the Second Round by that same Golden Knights team (the Avs won the tiebreaker with 35 regulation wins to Vegas’ 30).
That said most of the Avalanche roster remains the same and there’s the feeling that one of these year’s they’ll get over the hump and back into the later end of the postseason.
Super teams don’t always win, but having a (super) consistent performance down the stretch and in the playoffs does and that’s what the Lightning have done best for the last two years– turning it on when it counts and sustaining the pressure.
2020-21 record 33-16-7, 73 points
3rd in the MassMutual NHL East Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by N.Y. Islanders
Additions: F Samuel Asselin, F Steven Fogarty, F Nick Foligno, F Jesper Frödén, F Erik Haula, F Tomas Nosek, D Derek Forbort, D James Greenway (acquired from TOR), D Tyler Lewington, G Troy Grosenick, G Linus Ullmark
Subtractions: F Paul Carey (SHL), F Sean Kuraly (signed with CBJ), F David Krejci (ELH), F Robert Lantosi (SHL), F Greg McKegg (signed with NYR), F Ondrej Kase (signed with TOR), F Nick Ritchie (signed with TOR), D Steven Kampfer (KHL), D Jeremy Lauzon (expansion, SEA), D Kevan Miller (retired), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with NYR), G Jaroslav Halak (signed with VAN), G Dan Vladar (traded to CGY)
Still Unsigned: F Alex Khokhlachev (KHL, BOS reserve list), G Tuukka Rask
Re-signed: F Anton Blidh, F Trent Frederic, F Taylor Hall, F Cameron Hughes, F Joona Koppanen, F Zach Senyshyn, D Brandon Carlo, D Mike Reilly, D Nick Wolff, G Callum Booth
Offseason Analysis: The Bruins are in a period of transition. Stop calling them favorites.
They might still be playoff contenders, but they’ll have to focus on even making the postseason first to begin with shortly– if not already– this upcoming season.
Boston’s General Manager, Don Sweeney, had his work cut out for him this summer and managed it pretty well– all things considered.
Sure, the B’s don’t have David Krejci and we’ll get into that, but instead of signing one or two free agents and calling it a day, then talking about needing to fill a hole that he’s left empty for years or created going into the new season, Sweeney signed five key players and then some for depth.
It’s a transition, not a purposeful tank to rebuild– yet, anyway.
As long as Patrice Bergeron is under contract, Boston has assured him they’ll do whatever he and Brad Marchand say the dressing room needs.
Speaking of Bergeron, though, he’s put off contract extension talks until the 2021-22 season is over, so for any Bruins fans that have gone through the pain of watching Zdeno Chara play in a different uniform last season with the Washington Capitals and again this upcoming season with the New York Islanders, as well as watching Krejci return to Czechia this year, well… …it happens. Time waits for no one.
All good things must come to an end and a new era dawns. Just hope it’s a good one.
Oh, and, Tuukka Rask is currently unsigned after offseason hip surgery, though the 34-year-old goaltender has expressed a desire to only play for the Bruins if he’s healthy enough to go for the 2021-22 season by the time December rolls around.
He’ll even sign for league minimum and “tons of Bud Lights”, which a certain podcast would love, even if it isn’t their preferred light beer (shameless plug for some Twitter pals).
Anyway, Sweeney’s saved about $1.089 million in cap space to sign Rask to a low, one-year, deal if he’s good enough to return to action, which wouldn’t complicate matters in the crease with the arrival of Linus Ullmark via free agency and the development of Jeremy Swayman.
Rask and Swayman were always going to share the spotlight as Swayman comes into his own. Rask’s injury, however, slightly changes matters in the handoff.
Ullmark joins the Bruins on a four-year contract worth $5.000 million per season through 2024-25. He was the winningest goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres last season with a 9-6-3 record in 20 games, a 2.63 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in that span.
Given the workload that he faced in Buffalo compared to Boston’s more structured defense, Ullmark’s numbers should improve as he’s had moments of brilliance in his short spurts thus far– only really coming into the league as a starter or backup goaltender in the last two seasons.
At 28-years-old, he’s right on track for goaltender development and if things head south, the Bruins can use 2021-22 as a write off, plus 2022-23 as a means of giving Swayman full-time starter duties at the earliest.
Swayman, at 22-years-old, has already played 10 National Hockey League games and amassed a 7-3-0 record with a 1.50 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and two shutouts, but that kind of luck is unheard of for a goaltender.
Eventually, given his unconventional style, his stats will come back to Earth and you don’t want to let reality cut down a goaltender’s confidence so soon while they’re young (see, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender, Carter Hart’s 2020-21 season, for example).
It’s nice to have Swayman as a future ace, but that’s just it– the future. Though the future is now in transition, it’s not quite the time to make the jump in the crease– especially while there’s more pressing matters like replacing Krejci.
Charlie Coyle is, ideally, Boston’s second line center entering this season, but if things go south with Coyle centering Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, then that’s where Nick Foligno or Erik Haula come in handy, if Jack Studnicka can’t make the jump from the Providence Bruins (AHL) to Boston.
Krejci finally could’ve had wingers in Hall and Smith for a full season, but the 35-year-old has always wanted to play in front of his parents and brother in the Czech Republic– especially after leaving for North America in his teens to play hockey for a living.
It’ll also help introduce his kids to his Czech native tongue, so they’ll be able to communicate with their grandparents.
Having spent his entire career with Boston through 962 regular season games since breaking into the league in the 2006-07 season, he’s earned every right to do as he pleases.
He might be back for the 2022-23 season, but absolutely do not hold him to it.
Hall, meanwhile, signed a four-year extension worth $6.000 million per season in the offseason, so Boston at least still only has one hole to fill on the second line if Coyle can’t return to form.
Foligno signed a two-year deal with a $3.800 million cap hit and Haula signed a two-year deal worth $2.375 million per season.
In 957 career NHL games, Foligno’s had 203-283–486 totals for the Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. He had been Columbus’ captain until the deadline when he was dealt to Toronto to add some punch to their lineup, only to blow a 3-1 series lead over the Montréal Canadiens in the 2021 First Round.
Foligno had 7-13–20 totals in 49 games with the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs in 2020-21.
If nothing else, Foligno adds valuable leadership in the absence of Krejci and should hold things over as someone that gives it their all on a night-to-night basis. Bruins fans should warm up to him quickly if they haven’t already.
Haula, on the other hand, spent last season with the Nashville Predators, where he had 9-12–21 totals in 51 games last season, which was about the same production he had with the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers in 2019-20.
He hasn’t been able to find his breakout scoring touch that he had with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18, when he had 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 76 games, but he should be fine as a third liner flanked by Jake DeBrusk and Foligno.
Boston needs to get a consistent offense going and they at least seem to have the right level of talent for each line this season.
As long as everyone stays healthy it’s a good thing with an overhauled defense due to the Seattle Kraken taking Jeremy Lauzon in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, Kevan Miller retiring and the uneasiness of delegating more time to Jakub Zboril after his– at times– lackluster 2020-21 season.
Speaking of the revamped bottom-six, however, Tomas Nosek is new in town on a two-year deal worth $1.750 million per season, joining Trent Frederic– fresh off of an extension this offseason for two years and a $1.050 million cap hit– and Chris Wagner on the fourth line.
He’s been a fun player to watch come into his own with the Golden Knights since Vegas took him from the Detroit Red Wings in their expansion draft in 2017, and just had a career-year with 8-10–18 totals in 38 games last season.
Anything at or above 15 points from a fourth line center is a job well done for less than a $2.000 million cap hit.
Sean Kuraly’s gone home to Columbus, but after dropping from 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 69 games in 2019-20, to just nine points (four goals, five assists) in 47 games last season, needing a change of scenery was a welcome excuse for Boston to let him go.
Meanwhile, Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie also departed in the offseason for Toronto, though Kase’s future is shrouded by the ever-looming cloud of concussions and Ritchie outperformed expectations last season in the first half of the season before regressing to his ways.
Jaroslav Halak also left for the Vancouver Canucks, though that was inevitable with the long line for Boston’s backup goaltender being cut by Swayman’s emergence.
Even Dan Vladar was traded to the Calgary Flames for a 2022 3rd round pick as a result.
A couple of days prior, on July 26th, Boston acquired the rights to James Greenway from the Maple Leafs for future considerations. He’ll need a little more time in the system, for now.
With Miller retired, Steven Kampfer off to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia and Jarred Tinordi gone to the New York Rangers in free agency, Sweeney signed Derek Forbort to a three-year contract worth $3.000 million per season.
Mike Reilly also played well enough after being acquired at the trade deadline to earn a three-year extension with a $3.000 million cap hit as well.
Additionally, Brandon Carlo signed a six-year extension worth $4.100 million per season, so the Bruins have a defensive core with Carlo, Forbort, Matt Grzelcyk and Reilly under contract after 2021-22.
Charlie McAvoy, meanwhile is a pending-restricted free agent by the time July 1, 2022, rolls around (unless he’s signed to an extension before then).
Forbort, meanwhile, joins Boston after spending last season with the Winnipeg Jets where he had 2-10–12 totals in 56 games from the blue line. At 6-foot-4, 219-pounds, he adds much needed size to Boston’s defense.
In the meantime, John Moore, remains under contract and likely on the long term injured reserve to start the season, leaving his $2.750 million cap hit mostly off the books until the Bruins come to some sort of a resolution on that one.
Time will tell if the B’s will sink or swim, but you can’t say they didn’t try to put something together on paper this offseason.
Offseason Grade: B
In Boston, you either like or hate Sweeney. There’s no such thing as love unless you win championship rings these days.
While Sweeney’s made some blunders along the way, his overall approach as the Bruins’ GM has established a foundation of being in the room– being in consideration and among the conversation from year-to-year for attracting talent and making trades.
Sometimes it’s panned out, like the acquisition of Hall. Sometimes it’s fallen short, like when Sweeney paid a hefty price for Rick Nash (though only Ryan Lindgren remains a threat on the Rangers and Nash’s career-ending concussion couldn’t have been accounted for at the time of the trade).
Boston was stuck in the mud when he replaced Peter Chiarelli and Sweeney’s hands were tied in 2015, but he’s always been an active general manager and is tactical in his approach of replacing expendable assets.
At the same time, that very process irks Bruins fans because it comes across as overthinking or not trying hard enough to sign the player instead of a (better fit be damned) player.
Well, that and every guy these days isn’t Tim Thomas or Bobby Orr.
2020-21 record 31-23-2, 64 points
4th in the Discover NHL Central Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Carolina
Additions: F Cody Glass (acquired from VGK), F Matt Luff, D Philippe Myers (acquired from PHI), G David Rittich
Subtractions: F Viktor Arvidsson (traded to LAK), F Michael Carcone (signed with Tucson Roadrunners, AHL), F Lukas Craggs (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), F Erik Haula (signed with BOS), F Calle Järnkrok (expansion, SEA), F Sean Malone (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL), F Nolan Patrick (acquired from PHI, traded to VGK), F Brad Richardson (signed with CGY), F Josh Wilkins (HockeyAllsvenskan), D Erik Gudbranson (signed with CGY), D Josh Healey (signed with Milwaukee Admirals, AHL), D Tyler Lewington (signed with BOS), G Pekka Rinne (retired), G Kasimir Kaskisuo (SHL)
Still Unsigned: D Luca Sbisa
Re-signed: F Mikael Granlund, F Tanner Jeannot, F Michael McCarron, F Mathieu Olivier, F Rem Pitlick, F Anthony Richard, F Cole Smith, F Eeli Tolvanen, D Frédéric Allard, D Jeremy Davies, D Dante Fabbro, D Ben Harpur, D Matt Tennyson, G Juuse Saros
Offseason Analysis: The transition in the crease initiated last season as Juuse Saros took on the role of the starter from Pekka Rinne prior to Rinne’s final time around in 2020-21.
Rinne retired this offseason– wrapping up a National Hockey League career that spanned 15 seasons and garnered the Vezina Trophy in 2017-18 and King Clancy Memorial Trophy honors in 2020-21, as well as 60 shutouts to go with his 369-213-75 record in 683 career games.
The 38-year-old amassed a career 2.43 goals-against average and a .917 career save percentage since making his league debut in the 2005-06 season after the Predators drafted him in the 8th round (258th overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft.
Rinne exits his playing days as the leader in games played by a goalie (683), wins (369), losses (213), ties plus overtime/shootout losses (75), goals against (1,598), shots against (19,225), saves (17,627), goals-against average (2.43), shutouts (60) and minutes (39,413) in Preds franchise history.
Only Saros (.920) has a better save percentage in his Nashville tenure than Rinne (.917), while guys like Tomas Vokoun (.913), Dan Ellis (.912) and Chris Mason (.910) round out the top-five.
Rinne took the Predators to their only Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history thus far, where they faltered in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Nashville hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 2013-14 season, but things are going to be different heading into 2021-22.
The Preds are in transition as they are about to embark on the new season after being eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in six games in the 2021 First Round.
Rinne is gone, Ryan Ellis was traded and General Manager, David Poile, didn’t hold onto much depth in the offseason.
Though it may feel like trying to convince Nashville or the Dallas Stars to make the playoffs down the stretch last season felt like pulling teeth, the Preds made it to the postseason and gained some experience for their young players in thrilling overtimes before bowing out.
Don’t expect it to be the same this season, despite a return to normal division alignments and a full 82-game schedule.
Viktor Arvidsson, Erik Haula, Calle Järnkrok and Brad Richardson are gone, love them or hate them.
John Hynes is still head coach. Poile made four trades– two of which involved players.
The depth departures might be a sign of things to come as the Predators look to restock their patented Poile system (draft a ton of defenders and pick from the best while trading the rest).
There is a promising sign in the last couple of entry drafts for Nashville to replenish their prospect pool quickly– not that it’s really dwindled, short of the players that have made and/or are currently making the jump to the NHL-level.
Anyway, on July 17th Poile made a pair of related trades. First, he dealt Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers for Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick.
Patrick was then flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Cody Glass.
Ellis was limited to 35 games last season and had 5-13–18 totals in that span, while Myers produced 1-10–11 totals in 44 games. At 24-years-old, Myers is still entering his prime as a defender, while Ellis departs Nashville for Philadelphia as a grizzled 30-year-old veteran with a chance to take the Flyers’ defense to the next level.
Glass, meanwhile, had 4-6–10 totals in 27 games for Vegas after making his NHL debut over 39 games with the Golden Knights in 2019-20. As a result of trading Glass to Nashville, the Golden Knights have traded away all three of their first 1st round picks in franchise history from the 2017 NHL Draft.
Vegas is looking for a career revival for Patrick, who missed the entire 2019-20 season due to migraines as a result of post concussion syndrome. He had nine points (four goals, five assists) in 52 games with the Flyers last season and previously had 13-18–31 totals in 72 games with Philadelphia in 2018-19.
David Rittich joins the picture in Nashville as Saros’ backup netminder after spending last season with the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In 134 career NHL games since breaking into the league with the Flames in the 2016-17 season, Rittich has a 64-40-16 record, as well as four shutouts, a 2.82 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in that span.
Last season, he went 5-8-2 in 19 games played with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. Rittich recorded one shutout in his time with Calgary in 2020-21 prior to being traded to Toronto at the trade deadline.
Don’t expect the 29-year-old goaltender to get too comfortable, however, as he only signed a one-year deal worth $1.250 million.
That said, the Preds have about $11.284 million in cap space to work with, so Poile could get quite creative down the line.
Offseason Grade: C
Nashville didn’t get better and (probably) didn’t get that much worse this offseason as Rinne retired and the team continues to transition from what was once a competitive team built for a deep postseason run to just a playoff contender looking to survive on scraps until they’re ready to strike again.
In short, the Predators could make the playoffs in 2022, but they likely won’t go much further than the Second Round.
Or they could miss the postseason entirely– ending a decent seven-year run of playing extra hockey– and be just fine with a little bit higher of a draft pick and whatever else might come with buying and selling.
2020-21 record 23-19-14, 60 points
5th in the Discover NHL Central Division
Missed the postseason for the first time since 2020
Additions: F Luke Glendening, F Michael Raffl, D Jani Hakanpää, D Alexander Petrovic, D Ryan Suter, G Braden Holtby
Subtractions: F Andrew Cogliano (signed with SJS), F Jason Dickinson (traded to VAN), F Matej Stansky (NL), D Taylor Fedun (signed with PIT), D Julius Honka (SHL), D Stephen Johns (retired), D Jamie Oleksiak (expansion, SEA), D Mark Pysyk (signed with BUF), G Landon Bow (ELH)
Still Unsigned: F Adam Mascherin (SHL, DAL reserve list), D Sami Vatanen
Re-signed: F Nick Caamano, F Blake Comeau, F Rhett Gardner, F Tanner Kero, F Joel Kiviranta, D Joseph Cecconi, D Ben Gleason, D Miro Heiskanen, D Jerad Rosburg, G Colton Point
Offseason Analysis: When the Minnesota Wild decided to buyout Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Stars saw a chance to make one of the best low-risk, high-reward moves of the offseason in signing Suter to a four-year contract worth $3.650 million per season.
Though there is a slight concern the 36-year-old defender will not be able to maintain his pace of play as the years go by in the deal, signing Suter to a cap hit under $4 million makes him easy to move in the later years and gives you the flexibility to keep guys like Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg on your roster at the same time.
At least for the 2021-22 season before Dallas General Manager, Jim Nill, gets to deal with the headache that is possibly signing the 29-year-old pending-unrestricted free agent, Klingberg, to an extension.
With Heiskanen earning an eight-year extension with an $8.450 million cap hit, it’s hard to imagine that Klingberg’s asking price won’t be at least $9.000 million per season.
At least the Stars are projected to have about $23.300 million in cap space next offseason, whereas there’s no wiggle room now that the 2021-22 roster is full with not even a penny to spend towards the ceiling.
Anyway, since the 2011-12 season, Suter has only missed the 40-point plateau from the blue line three times.
In 2012-13, Suter had 32 points in a 48-game lockout shortened season. In 2014-15, he had 38 points in 77 games.
But when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic cut short the 2019-20 regular season, Suter had already amassed 48 points in 69 games for Minnesota.
He had 19 points in 56 games with the Wild last season, however.
Nevertheless, the Stars overhauled their defense in the offseason, so Suter should slide in as a top-four shutdown guy with years of experience having amassed 93-514–607 totals in 1,198 career games with the Nashville Predators and Wild since breaking into the league in the 2005-06 season after Nashville drafted him in the 1st round (7th overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Veteran depth and replacement-level players were Nill’s primary focus this offseason as he extended younger guys like Heiskanen, Tanner Kero, Rhett Gardner, Nick Caamano and Joel Kiviranta.
Kiviranta had 6-5–11 totals in 26 games while battling a lower body injury in what otherwise would’ve likely been his first full season glance in a Stars uniform.
As a result, he’s on a two-year bridge deal worth $1.050 million per season having been a pleasant surprise for Dallas as a clutch-role player in the top-nine.
With Heiskanen’s cap hit set at $8.450 million per season on his eight-year extension and the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft in mind as the Seattle Kraken were four days away from taking a player from the Stars for nothing after Heiskanen signed his new deal on July 17th, Nill knew there’d be little he could do to keep Jamie Oleksiak around.
Dallas could’ve tried to convince Seattle to not select Oleksiak in an expansion draft day trade, but the Stars ultimately chose not to as Oleksiak was claimed and signed a steep five-year extension worth $4.600 million per season– a little out of Dallas’ price range for what they deemed a replaceable asset.
With Stephen Johns having retired, Oleksiak gone to Seattle and Julius Honka off to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Nills brought in Suter and Jani Hakanpää as a pair of durable defenders.
At 6-foot-5, 218-pounds, Hakanpää can pack a punch with his noted physical play– he finished third in the league in hits last season with 215, for the record.
In 57 games with the Anaheim Ducks and Carolina Hurricanes last season, Hakanpää might not be a name-brand player given his age (29) or totals (2-2–4), but he is sure to be a fan favorite among those that love quality, hard-hitting, third pairing defenders.
Luke Glendening and Michael Raffl are new to Dallas this season– replacing the likes of Andrew Cogliano and Jason Dickinson as Nill chose not to re-sign the former and traded the latter.
Cogliano joined the San Jose Sharks, while Dickinson was shipped to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2021 3rd round pick (Ayrton Martino).
It’s important to keep your bottom-six forwards fresh, inexpensive and producing and Nill felt it was about time for a little shakeup down in the depth of the roster.
Nill also made a move at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, trading his 2021 1st round pick (15th overall, Sebastian Cossa) down with the Detroit Red Wings for a 2021 1st round pick (originally belonging to the Washington Capitals– 23rd overall, Wyatt Johnston), a 2021 2nd round pick (originally belonging to the New York Rangers– 48th overall, Artyom Grushnikov) and a 2021 5th round pick (originally belonging to the Ottawa Senators via Montréal and Detroit– 138th overall, Jack Bar).
Outside of the crease, the plans for the 2021-22 season have come into existence.
But in the net, the Stars face the difficult task of juggling three goaltenders of varying quality.
Jake Oettinger is the future full-time starter if the future isn’t already now. Anton Khudobin played well enough to earn an extended stay as a result of his fill-in heroics leading to Dallas’ 2020 Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Meanwhile, Braden Holtby was bought out by Vancouver and joined the Stars for a career-resurgence.
Oh and Ben Bishop is still out due to injury, though sources close to the Stars seem to indicate his playing days may be over (as if signing Holtby wasn’t enough of a giveaway).
Oettinger went 11-8-7 in 29 games played last season with a 2.36 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, as well as one shutout in that span as he made his regular season debut.
Khudobin regressed a little bit back to his norm after a rejuvenating 2019-20 season– posting a 12-11-7 record in 32 games with a 2.54 goals-against average, a .903 save percentage and three shutouts in 2020-21 after going 16-8-4 in 30 games with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage the season prior.
Both Stars goaltenders were fine as they were, then Holtby became part of the equation on a one-year, $2.000 million contract.
In his one season with Vancouver, the floor fell out. Holtby went 7-11-3 in 21 games with a 3.67 goals-against average and an .889 save percentage.
The good news, however, is that Dallas has a better defense on paper than the Canucks and the results should translate as such– no matter who’s in the crease.
Offseason Grade: A
Last season was a fluke. For starters, the Stars were rocked by COVID-19 early in the 2020-21 calendar, which delayed their start to the regular season.
Tyler Seguin missed a significant portion of the season (all but three games) after having surgery after the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and a long rehab for a torn labrum in his hip.
With only the top-four teams in each temporarily realigned division making the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, nobody is blaming Dallas for coming up short and missing out on what likely would’ve been a quick First Round exit.
This offseason, Nill’s made significant improvements in depth and signed affordable deals to continue to build around his core for the immediate future while the team is still competitive.
The Stars are on track to get back into the playoff picture in 2021-22 and maybe– just maybe– turn some heads again and make it back to the Stanley Cup Final if everything falls into place.
2020-21 record 25-23-8, 55 points
6th in the MassMutual NHL East Division
Missed the postseason for the first time since 2020
Additions: F Cam Atkinson (acquired from CBJ), F Derick Brassard, F Ryan Fitzgerald, F Gerry Mayhew, F Nate Thompson, D Adam Clendening, D Ryan Ellis (acquired from NSH), D Rasmus Ristolainen (acquired from BUF), D Nick Seeler, D Keith Yandle, D Cooper Zech, G Martin Jones
Subtractions: F David Kase (ELH), F Pascal Laberge (signed with Maine Mariners, ECHL), F Nolan Patrick (traded to NSH, flipped to VGK), F Carsen Twarynski (expansion, SEA), F Jakub Voracek (traded to CBJ), D Chris Bigras (signed with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL), D Shayne Gostisbehere (traded to ARI), D Robert Hagg (traded to BUF), D Philippe Myers (traded to NSH), D Matt Niskanen (retired prior to 2020-21, contract officially expired), D Derrick Pouliot (signed with Henderson Silver Knights, AHL), G Brian Elliott (signed with TBL), G Alex Lyon (signed with CAR)
Still Unsigned: F Andy Andreoff, D Nate Prosser, D Tyler Wotherspoon
Re-signed: F Connor Bunnaman, F German Rubstov, F Linus Sandin, D Samuel Morin, D Travis Sanheim, G Carter Hart, G Felix Sandström
Offseason Analysis: Not satisfied with their disappointing 2020-21 performance, Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, knew something would have to change.
Jakub Voracek broke into the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2008-09 season after the Blue Jackets drafted him in the 1st round (7th overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft and spent three seasons in Columbus before being packaged with a 2011 1st round pick and a 2011 3rd round pick in a trade with Philadelphia for Jeff Carter on June 23, 2011.
In 968 career NHL games, Voracek has 214-520–734 totals, including 601 points (176 goals and 425 assists) in 727 games with the Flyers from 2011-21.
That 2011 1st round pick became Sean Couturier and the 3rd round pick was used to select Nick Cousins as Philadelphia was one-year removed from making the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.
Adding Voracek was to provide a spark for a player in need of a change of scenery and provide Philly’s top-six forward group with a better fit.
After serving primarily as a playmaker for a decade of waffling in and out of the playoffs, the Flyers dealt Voracek back to Columbus for Cam Atkinson, who proudly wore his wife’s Gritty t-shirt in his introductory Zoom with media members after the trade on July 24th.
Atkinson joins Philadelphia after amassing 213-189–402 totals in 627 games with the Blue Jackets since the 2011-12 season after Columbus drafted him in the 6th round (157th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft.
But that’s not the only trade that Fletcher made to supplment his new-age core as Couturier, Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, Joel Farabee, Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov and their teammates seek the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship since 1975.
Fletcher kicked the summer off by trading Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick to the Nashville Predators for defender, Ryan Ellis, on July 17th.
Nashville flipped Patrick after the deal in a separate trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, while Philadelphia added Ellis to bolster their top-four defenders.
For the first time in his career this October, Ellis will don a uniform that isn’t Predators marigold, but rather Flyers orange.
After being drafted in the 1st round (11th overall) in 2009, by Nashville, Ellis emerged in the 2011-12 season, putting up 3-8–11 totals in 32 games as he broke into the league. Since then, he’s produced 270 points (75 goals, 195 assists) in 562 games from parts of the 2011-12 season through 2020-21.
Due to an upper body injury, Ellis was limited to 35 games last season and only had 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) from the blue line, but his ability to move the puck out of his own zone and start a rush is important as the Flyers try to balance out Provorov’s prowess with someone that can keep up on his pairing.
Five days after acquiring Ellis, Fletcher dumped Shayne Gostisbehere’s $4.500 million cap hit in the Arizona desert with a 2022 2nd round pick and a 2022 7th round pick also going to the Coyotes for future considerations to make room for Ellis’ $6.250 million cap hit through the 2026-27 season.
Then Fletcher did something unprompted and– depending if you’re a Flyers fan or not– unhinged as he made a deal with the Buffalo Sabres, though not for Jack Eichel as Philly fans can only dream of to compete with Couturier for the first line center job, while Hayes would likely be demoted to the third line.
Rather, the Flyers traded Robert Hagg’s $1.600 million cap hit, a 2021 1st round pick (14th overall, Isak Rosén) and a 2023 2nd round pick to the Sabres for Rasmus Ristolainen and his $5.400 million cap hit on July 23rd.
Hagg managed 2-3–5 totals and was a minus-3 in 34 games last season with Philadelphia, while Ristolainen had 4-14–18 totals in 49 games and, uh, was a minus-18 to match Buffalo’s 18-game losing streak at one point last season.
Some would argue the points are an upgrade, but at what cost when it seems to be live by the sword, die by the sword.
Then Fletcher acquired Atkinson and free agency began on July 28th.
Seeking veteran experience to aid the younger players in making a long run, Fletcher signed Keith Yandle, Derick Brassard and took a chance on Martin Jones, while also brining back Nate Thompson for another stint with the Flyers in the bottom-six.
Yandle was bought out by the Florida Panthers and can command a power-play unit while not having missed a game since the 2008-09 season.
He had 3-24–27 totals with the Panthers after Joel Quenneville utilized him as an afterthought and nearly scratched the 35-year-old defender.
Brassard earned a one-year, $825,000 contract late in the summer on Aug. 25th as a low-risk, high-reward move as a recent league-journeyman that had 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 53 games with Arizona last season after a career-resurgence with the New York Islanders (32 points in 66 games) in 2019-20.
At the very least, he’ll give Philadelphia depth down the middle in the top-nine.
Jones, meanwhile, was bought out by the San Jose Sharks and is looking to salvage whatever’s left of his career as the presumptive backup to Carter Hart on a one-year, $2.000 million contract.
The 31-year-old Canadian goaltender went 15-13-4 in 34 games last season and had a 3.28 goals-against average, as well as an .896 save percentage and one shutout in that span.
Meanwhile, Brian Elliott departed for the Tampa Bay Lightning– replacing Curtis McElhinney as the Bolts’ backup.
McElhinney went 4-6-2 in 12 games last season for Tampa and had a 3.09 goals-against average as well as an .875 save percentage and one shutout.
Elliott had a 15-9-2 record in 30 games last season and sustained a 3.06 goals-against average, an .889 save percentage and two shutouts in that span with the Flyers.
Hart, meanwhile, had a disastrous run.
In 27 games played, the 23-year-old netminder went 9-11-5, had one shutout and amassed a 3.67 goals-against average, as well as an .877 save percentage– one season removed from going 24-13-3 in 43 games with a 2.42 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and one shutout in 2019-20.
He earned a three-year extension worth $3.979 per season as a bridge contract with a lot to prove to get back to his once promising form.
Finally, Fletcher locked down Couturier and Farabee with long-term extensions that won’t begin until the 2022-23 season.
Couturier’s earned an eight-year deal worth $7.750 million per season, while Farabee’s nailed a six-year contract with a $5.000 million cap hit– presenting the Flyers with their greatest challenge yet– being tight against the cap and having high expectations.
Offseason Grade: B
It kind of feels like a “make or break” year for Philadelphia, even though there’s no way of really knowing what’s in store for the Flyers.
Fletcher made some admirable moves signing veterans that Philly could use in top-nine or specialty roles, but it’s also a risk to take on Jones while Hart is already on shaky ground heading into the 2021-22 season.
If the ghost of the revolving door of goaltenders in a Flyers uniform is to be kept out of Wells Fargo Center, then Philadelphia’s going to need to hope their goaltending coach is ready with a plan that’s different from whatever happened last season.
Flyers head coach, Alain Vigneault, can bring immediate success to an organization and make them hard to play against, but he tends to carry a time limit in the modern NHL as the game continues to evolve.
With about $381,500 left in cap space entering this season, Philadelphia had to move out at least one big contract in favor of something smaller– though they’ve taken on Ellis with term and Giroux is due for an extension unless he decides to walk in unrestricted free agency next summer.
The Flyers may have almost $15.6 million to spend next offseason, but they need to show forward progress, if not win now.
2020-21 record 26-27-3, 55 points
5th in the Scotia NHL North Division
Missed the postseason for the first time since 2020
Additions: F Blake Coleman, F Alex Gallant (signed to a PTO), F Trevor Lewis, F Tyler Pitlick (acquired from SEA), F Brad Richardson, D Nick DeSimone, D Erik Gudbranson, D Kevin Gravel, D Andy Welinski, D Nikita Zadorov (acquired from CHI), G Adam Werner, G Dan Vladar (acquired from BOS)
Subtractions: F Spencer Foo (KHL), F Josh Leivo (signed with CAR), F Joakim Nordström (KHL), F Zac Rinaldo (signed with CBJ), F Buddy Robinson (signed with ANA), F Derek Ryan (signed with EDM), F Dominik Simon (signed with PIT), D Mark Giordano (expansion, SEA), D Carl-Johan Lerby (SHL), D Nikita Nesterov (KHL), D Alexander Petrovic (signed with DAL), D Alexander Yelesin (KHL), G Louis Domingue (signed with PIT)
Still Unsigned: G Artyom Zagidulin
Re-signed: F Dillon Dubé, F Glenn Gawdin, F Justin Kirkland, F Matthew Phillips, F Luke Philp, F Brett Ritchie, D Oliver Kylington, D Connor Mackey, D Colton Poolman, D Michael Stone, D Juuso Välimäki, G Tyler Parsons
Offseason Analysis: Calgary is facing an existential crisis.
They can either trust in their core players that they just might get it done if they’ve become frustrated by years of falling short (or not even making the playoffs at all, as they missed the postseason in 2021) or they can begin to move forward by hitting the “reset” button.
This offseason, Flames General Manager, Brad Treliving, chose to add without subtracting– to overhaul, rather than to rebuild (at least for now).
Joakim Nordström, Derek Ryan, Zac Rinaldo and more are gone. They’ve left for other professional leagues around the world, Edmonton and Columbus, respectively.
Mark Giordano was claimed by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft after breaking into the league with the Flames in the 2005-06 season. He spent 15 years in Calgary and amassed 143-366–509 totals in 949 games in a Flames uniform and had been captain in the “C of Red” since the 2013-14 season.
Though many fans in Calgary would like to belive the 37-year-old will spend one season in Seattle and return to the Flames, there are no guarantees.
Calgary’s already worked on developing a good-standing relationship with their new Pacific Division rivals as they got traded a 2022 4th round pick to the Kraken for forward, Tyler Pitlick, on July 22nd– a day after the expansion draft.
Pitlick slides in as a quality top-nine forward for the Flames and had 6-5–11 totals in 38 games for the Arizona Coyotes last season while battling injury.
He’s reached the 20-point plateau twice in his career in 2017-18 with Dallas (27 points in 80 games) and 2019-20 with Philadelphia (20 points in 63 games) and should be a low-risk high-reward depth move.
Treliving made a splash when free agency opened on July 28th, signing two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, Blake Coleman, to a six-year contract worth $4.900 million per season.
Coleman’s speed and skill solidifies Calgary’s middle-six as he should be on the second or third line at all times.
He’s had three consecutive seasons with at least 30 points since the 2018-19 season and notched 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 55 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020-21.
Coleman on a line with Andrew Mangiapane is a game-changer for Calgary’s offense– especially as they’ve re-signed Dillon Dubé and still have Sean Monahan down the middle to fill out the top-nine with Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk on the roster.
The same day that free agency began, Treliving also made a pair of trades–first acquiring defender, Nikita Zadorov, from Chicago for a 2022 3rd round pick (originally belonging to the Toronto Maple Leafs) and later acquiring goaltender, Dan Vladar, from the Boston Bruins for Calgary’s own 2022 3rd round pick.
Zadorov, 26, signed a one-year deal worth $3.750 million with the Flames and had 1-7–8 totals in 55 games with Chicago last season, as well as 23-60–83 totals in 411 career NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche and Chicago.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Russian native isn’t an offensive powerhouse from the blue line, but rather a top-four shutdown defensive defender. At his best, Zadorov can make hit after hit and pummel an opposing team’s offense into submission in his own zone, though the occasional bad penalty may result.
Vladar, 24, made his regular season debut last season for the Bruins and went 2-2-1 in five games played with a 3.40 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage in that span.
Don’t let the stats fool you, though, as Boston allowed eight goals against in Vladar’s last start against the Washington Capitals on April 11th before the emergence of Jeremy Swayman and return from injury for Tuukka Rask forced B’s head coach, Bruce Cassidy’s, hand down the stretch and through the postseason.
Vladar is capable of holding his own in the NHL and should be a decent backup behind Jacob Markström in net for Calgary.
In 2019-20, Vladar had a 1.79 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in 25 games with the Providence Bruins (AHL). He followed that effort up with a 2.19 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage in 10 games with Providence last season.
Treliving signed unrestricted free agents, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Erik Gudbranson, to one-year contracts over the summer– adding Richardson on an $800,000 cap hit for depth, Lewis as a fourth liner with an $800,000 cap hit and Gudbranson ($1.950 million cap hit) as a defender that just might push Oliver Kylington or Juuso Välimäki out of regular ice time.
Richardson, 36, was limited to 17 games with the Nashville Predators last season and had 1-3–4 totals after spending 16 prior seasons with the Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Coyotes and Predators.
He won a Stanley Cup ring with then Los Angeles head coach, Darryl Sutter, in 2012, while Lewis won two Cups in his Kings tenure in 2012 and 2014.
Lewis joins the Flames after spending last season with the Winnipeg Jets– notching 5-5–10 totals in 56 games after spending 674 games in a Los Angeles uniform from parts of the 2008-09 season through 2019-20.
Gudbranson bounced from the Ottawa Senators to the Predators at the 2021 deadline after amassing 1-2–3 totals in 36 games with the Sens before contributing one assist in nine games with Nashville afterward.
With only four points in 45 games, Gudbranson isn’t much competition for Välimäki, who had 2-9–11 totals in 49 games for Calgary last season, but the clock is ticking on Kylington’s tenure in the “C of Red”.
Ranked 24th by TSN in the final draft rankings ahead of the 2015 NHL Draft, Kylington fell to the Flames in the 2nd round at 60th overall and has only appeared in 95 career games approaching seven years out of his draft year.
He had one assist in eight games last season and re-signed with Calgary on a one-year, two-way contract and has 16 points in his career, while Välimäki already has 14 points in 73 games in parts of two seasons since breaking into the NHL with the Flames in 2018-19.
Just like with Calgary’s core, time might be running out for a serious chance.
Offseason Grade: A-
If you were hoping for the Flames to tear things down this offseason, then they failed this summer.
If you’re looking at things from the perspective that adding without subtracting while still having enough of a core to make something happen, well, then signing Coleman alone is enough to laud Treliving praise for making a move instead of sticking to the script.
Of course, now the pressure is on for Calgary to succeed or risk fraying their relationship with Gaudreau and other Flames veterans, which would mean that Treliving would be forced to make some big trades by the deadline or next summer.
That said, the biggest detractor from the Flames this offseason might just be the Flames themselves as Sutter’s coaching style hasn’t adapted to the NHL in 2021.
If you don’t let your best players play their games and try to box them into a mold they don’t fit, then you’re only bringing yourself down in the league currently.