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 36-17-3, 75 points
3rd in the Discover NHL Central Division
Defeated Montréal in the Stanley Cup Final
Additions: F Pierre-Édouard Bellemare, F Gabriel Dumont, F Remi Elie, F Charles Hudon, F Corey Perry, D Zach Bogosian, D Brent Seabrook (acquired from CHI), D Andrej Sustr, G Brian Elliott, G Maxime Lagacé
Subtractions: F Alex Barré-Boulet (re-signed, then claimed off waivers by SEA), F Blake Coleman (signed with CGY), F Marian Gaborik (contract expired, informally retired), F Barclay Goodrow (traded to NYR), F Yanni Gourde (expansion, SEA), F Tyler Johnson (traded to CHI), F Ryan Lohin (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Mitchell Stephens (traded to DET), F/D Luke Witkowski (signed with DET), D Andreas Borgman (signed with DAL), D Brian Lashoff (signed with DET), D David Savard (signed with MTL), D Luke Schenn (signed with VAN), D Ben Thomas (SHL), G Christopher Gibson (signed with FLA), G Spencer Martin (traded to VAN), G Curtis McElhinney (retired), G Anders Nilsson (retired)
Still Unsigned: F Boo Nieves
Re-signed: F Ross Colton, F Boris Katchouk, F Taylor Raddysh, F Gemel Smith, F Otto Somppi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Sean Day, D Cal Foote
Offseason Analysis: One of the good things about winning the Cup is that the following season’s expectations are wiped clean. Sure, fans and analysts may want to see you win it again in back-to-back seasons, but that’s just icing on the cake and any run that comes up short in the year following a Cup ring can be forgiven.
Luckily for Tampa, they won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 2020 and 2021, so if they don’t happen to become the first team to win three consecutive titles since the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cup rings in a row from 1980-83, that’s fine.
The Lightning don’t get two straight years of postseason forgiveness, however.
Rather, the Bolts are on the quest for the first dynasty in the National Hockey League since the Edmonton Oilers won three Cups in four years from 1987-90.
That’s right, folks, Chicago didn’t have a dynasty when they won in 2010, 2013 and 2015. There’s a few too many years in-between.
Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning, however, have a chance of doing something not even Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury with the Pittsburgh Penguins, nor Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and the rest in Chicago were able to do– win three-straight Stanley Cup Finals.
Oh and the dynasty thing too, which is a given.
But success comes with a price in the loss of depth over time– whether it’s because of lower draft picks over time or simply due to salary cap constraints that pressure Cup winners into shipping out some of the glue guys from the team that just won it all in the middle of a summer-long party.
It is, after all, a business.
Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde– Tampa’s third line that could be a second line on any other roster– was broken up over the summer.
Coleman joined the Calgary Flames in free agency, Goodrow was traded to the New York Rangers and Gourde was a victim of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft– in other words, the first certified star forward in the making for the Seattle Kraken.
Though the Lightning will miss out on the speed and production of that line in their bottom-six, Tampa is more than ready to promote some bottom-six breakout stars from last season into genuine full-time roles, while also accommodating for general turnover after winning back-to-back Cups.
Tampa General Manager, Julien BriseBois, signed Corey Perry to a two-year deal worth $1.000 million per season as a low-risk, high-reward veteran that can manage bottom-six minutes with efficiency at this point in his career– yielding 21 points in each of the last two seasons (5-16–21 totals in 57 games with the Dallas Stars in 2019-20, 9-12–21 totals in 49 games with the Montréal Canadiens in 2020-21), while finishing as the first runner up to the Lightning in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances.
BriseBois also added Pierre-Édouard Bellemare to the Bolts’ fourth line after Bellemare spent the last two seasons in a Colorado Avalanche uniform, recording 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 53 games for the Avs last season, as well as a career-high 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in 69 gamed with Colorado in 2019-20.
Among internal options to move up into the top-nine or make the fourth line after spending last year on the taxi squad or bouncing around in recent years between stints in the NHL, AHL, Major Junior or college, Ross Colton, Boris Katchouk, Mathieu Joseph, Gemel Smith and Taylor Raddysh all present themselves as options to compete for– if not rotate in and out of– a spot on the fourth line.
Colton scored the Cup clinching goal in the second period of Game 5 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final– the only goal of the, 1-0, victory over the Canadiens that secured Tampa’s second Cup ring in as many years.
In 30 games last season, he had 9-3–12 totals. Not bad for a 25-year-old on the rise after spending parts of the last three seasons with the Syracuse Crunch (AHL).
Joseph managed 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 70 games with the Bolts in 2018-19, before being limited to 4-3–7 totals in just 37 games in 2019-20.
Last season, he bounced back with 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) in 56 games and is sure to continue to mesh well with Tampa’s influx of youth in the bottom-six as a 24-year-old forward.
Entering 2021-22, Katchouk and Raddysh are still looking to make their NHL debuts, though Raddysh is slated to be in the lineup against Pittsburgh on Opening Night.
While Tampa sorts out their supporting cast, one thing that’s remained consistent is the Lightning’s top-six as Kucherov returns to regular season action for a full 82-game slate alongside Point and Ondrej Palat on the first line.
Meanwhile, Anthony Cirelli leads Alex Killorn and Stamkos on the second line as Hedman, Jan Rutta, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak lead the defenders with Mikhail Sergachev paired alongside Zach Bogosian (he’s back!).
Curtis McElhinney retired over the summer, though not before BriseBois upgraded his backup goaltender role with Brian Elliott first.
Elliott’s looking to rebound from a rough stint with the Philadelphia Flyers over the last four seasons, in which he most recently went 15-9-2 with a 3.06 goals-against average, an .889 save percentage and two shutouts in 30 games played.
He’s sure to benefit from 1) Tampa’s defense and 2) Vasilevskiy yielding an overwhelming majority of games in the regular season.
Vasilevskiy produced a 31-10-1 record in 42 games last season with a 2.21 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and five shutouts in that span.
As for what else is missing from this summer’s tactical overhaul with the salary cap in mind after winning back-to-back Cups?
Let’s review all of Tampa’s trades from after the Final through now real quick, shall we?
Goodrow was dealt to the New York Rangers for a 2022 7th round pick on July 17th, then BriseBois swapped a 2022 4th round pick for a 2021 4th round pick with Montréal at the second day of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on July 24th.
A few days later, he cleared out some salary by shipping Tyler Johnson to Chicago with a 2023 2nd round pick for Seabrook’s contract that is currently on the long-term injured reserve thanks to a career-ending injury that renders Seabrook as a forgiven cap hit on the books.
Mitchell Stephens packed his bags out of Tampa for the Detriot Red Wings in exchange for a 2022 6th round pick on July 30th, then the Lightning sent Spencer Martin to the Vancouver Canucks for future considerations on July 31st.
Offseason Grade: C
Down the road, Point’s eight-year extension at $9.500 million per season is an excellent move made by BriseBois, but since that contract goes into effect starting next season (2022-23), it doesn’t sway the offseason grade for 2021.
If it were just a postseason grade, the Bolts would get an “A”, but since this is a measure of everything that happened after the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and before the 2021-22 season gets underway, well, Tampa had an average summer.
They filled some holes, shed some salary and were forced to make difficult decisions in other areas thanks to the existence of the salary cap and some key players being healthy for a change as the Lightning embark on their two-time defending Stanley Cup champion season.
All in all, it’s not too bad to be a fan of the Lightning these days or a member of the organization– as long as you got here before the 2021 Stanley Cup Final wrapped up.
This isn’t to say that Tampa will be bad by any means, but rather that they’re content with contending for the next few years to come– at least– so if they don’t win three Cup rings in as many years, that’s fine. They’ll be quite alright.
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.
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 36-12-8, 80 points
1st in the Discover NHL Central Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by Tampa
Additions: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (signed to an offersheet, not matched by MTL), F Josh Leivo, F Maxim Letunov, F Sam Miletic, F Stefan Noesen, F Andrew Poturalski, F C.J. Smith, F Derek Stepan, D Ethan Bear (acquired from EDM), D Ian Cole, D Jalen Chatfield, D Tony DeAngelo, D Eric Gelinas, D Josh Jacobs, D Brendan Smith, G Frederik Andersen, G Alex Lyon, G Antti Raanta
Subtractions: F Warren Foegele (traded to EDM), F Morgan Geekie (expansion, SEA), F Dave Gust (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Egor Korshkov (KHL), F Saku Maenalanen (Liiga), F Brock McGinn (signed with PIT), F Cedric Paquette (signed with MTL), F Sheldon Rempal (signed with VAN), D Jake Bean (traded to CBJ), D Jani Hakanpää (signed with DAL), D Dougie Hamilton (signed with NJD), D Rolan McKeown (signed with COL), D Joakim Ryan (SHL), D David Warsofsky (DEL), G Jonathan Bernier (rights acquired from DET, signed with NJD), G Petr Mrázek (signed with TOR), G Alex Nedeljkovic (traded to DET), G James Reimer (signed with SJS)
Still Unsigned: F Max McCormick, F Drew Shore, G Jeremy Helvig, G Dylan Wells (acquired from EDM, CAR reserve list, AHL- Chicago Wolves)
Re-signed: F Jordan Martinook, F Spencer Smallman, F Andrei Svechnikov, D Maxime Lajoie
Offseason Analysis: Whoa boy, what didn’t the Canes do this offseason?
Carolina was all over the place– both in transactions and scrambling to assemble some semblance of a message in press conferences afterward while trying to convince everyone (perhaps more so themselves, at times) that they’re still a competitive team heading in the right direction and that they totally didn’t overreact.
Unlike how the New York Rangers reacted to one player on another team apparently dismantling their franchise, the Hurricanes reacted to– egad! The salary cap! The horror, the horror!
Canes General Manager, Don Waddell, didn’t like the optics of a team that’s been improving in each of the last three seasons despite First Round exits in back-to-back years after making the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.
Though owner, Tom Dundon, denies having any say in the approach to the offseason short of just signing the cheques, Carolina didn’t want to spend more than they absolutely had to on fielding a roster that can probably make the playoffs, generate some additional revenue and peter out before anyone catches Stanley Cup fever.
At the very least, the team is spending more than when Peter Karmanos, Jr. spent from season-to-season on a team that made the postseason in 2009, then again in 2019, with nothing happening in-between, for example.
The team didn’t have to lose both Dougie Hamilton and Alex Nedeljkovic while re-signing Andrei Svechnikov this offseason, but they did.
Hamilton received a low-ball offer and got what he felt he deserved on a seven-year deal with the New Jersey Devils worth $9.000 million per season. Compared to the rest of the defenders on the market and other extensions that begin in 2022-23 for Seth Jones with Chicago and Zach Werenski in Columbus, Hamilton’s deal with the Devils is a steal.
He could’ve made $10.000 or $11.000 million per season and you might say “what’s the difference of a couple million dollars” and well, everything in the sense that he’s saved New Jersey a couple million to spend on glue guys on the roster, like Tomas Tatar.
Carolina could’ve done that, but with a few more additional steps required to make space.
Fine, move on from Hamilton, then re-sign Nedeljkovic– oh.
The Hurricanes were not willing to spend $3.500 million per season on a two-year deal for the goaltender they drafted and brought up the ranks as their “goaltender of the future”.
Instead, Waddell traded him to the Detroit Red Wings for the rights to unrestricted free agent, Jonathan Bernier, who also joined Hamilton in New Jersey.
Petr Mrázek and James Reimer were both turned loose as the former went to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the latter joined the San Jose Sharks.
Waddell then signed Frederik Andersen– who’s had about as much playoff success as Nedeljkovic, regardless of the number of games played– to a two-year deal worth $4.500 million per season and Antti Raanta to a two-year contract worth $2.000 million per season.
Make it make sense.
Add to that, Carolina lost depth in the departure of Brock McGinn to the Pittsburgh Penguins via free agency and traded Jake Bean to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the draft.
In their place, enter a mixture of bottom-six talent in Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo and others, as well as bottom-six defenders in Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith.
At the very least, Carolina’s not spending much to “replace” what they’ve lost in an asset for asset sense.
They spent their money on goaltenders, an eight-year extension worth $7.750 million per season for Svechnikov and signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet from the Montréal Canadiens for one-year at $6.100 million.
That makes up for signing DeAngelo to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, right?
Not even close.
Last year’s roster carried the threat of Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, Bean and Haydn Fleury until he was traded for Jani Hakanpää at the 2021 deadline.
Only three defenders are returning to Carolina’s core on the blue line as Ian Cole, DeAngelo and Smith were brought in via free agency and Warren Foegele was dealt for Ethan Bear.
Oh and the same three defenders returning from last season are the only defenders under contract through next season.
There’s just no logic for whatever reaction– overreaction or, perhaps, under-reaction is going on here.
It begs the question that Canes fans have heard for far too long, “what, exactly, is the plan?”
Offseason Grade: D
The Hurricanes had a challenging, yet simple premise heading into the offseason– add without subtracting and limit the inevitable damage in the loss of a key player.
Instead, they chose violence (that’s a phrase kids say on Twitter these days, I’m told).
Keeping Svechnikov, Hamilton and Nedeljkovic satisfied was going to be a challenge and it was going to be the most strenuous negotiations that Waddell would have to go through in recent summers as Carolina continues building towards Stanley Cup contenders.
It’s likely that the Canes could’ve kept Svechnikov, Nedeljkovic and still added to the roster this offseason– whether they’d land Andersen, Raanta or someone else as a solid counterpart in the crease.
In any case, Hamilton was likely going to walk due to the constraints of the salary cap era and possible looming extensions for Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teräväinen and Sebastian Aho in one-to-three summers from now.
After the marketing and promotions team led the way in showing the rest of the league how Pride Night could feel more like a celebration for the local fan base and not just a corporate shill– an organization that took the pledge to Get Uncomfortable by teaming up with Black Girl Hockey Club– the values of a kinder society were tossed aside in the interest of signing noted actual jerks.
This team did not get better. No matter the rehabilitation that may or may not occur with Rod Brind’Amour as head coach.
One step forward, two steps back.
2020-21 record 37-16-3, 77 points
1st in the MassMutual NHL East Division
Eliminated in the First Round by N.Y. Islanders
Additions: F Brian Boyle (signed to a PTO), F Michael Chaput, F Filip Hållander (acquired from TOR), F Danton Heinen, F Brock McGinn, F Dominik Simon, D Matt Barkowski (signed to a PTO), D Taylor Fedun, G Louis Domingue
Subtractions: F Pontus Åberg (signed with Belleville Senators, AHL), F Josh Currie (KHL), F Frederick Gaudreau (signed with MIN), F Mark Jankowski (signed to a PTO with NJD), F Jared McCann (traded to TOR), F Sam Miletic (signed with Chicago Wolves, AHL), F Colton Sceviour (signed to a PTO with EDM), F Brandon Tanev (expansion, SEA), D Lukas Bengtsson (KHL), D Cody Ceci (signed with EDM), D Kevin Czuczman (signed with MIN), D Jesper Lindgren (HockeyAllsvenskan), D Andrey Pedan (KHL), D Zach Trotman (retired), D Yannick Weber (NL), G Maxime Lagacé (signed with TBL), G Emil Larmi (Liiga)
Still Unsigned: None
Re-signed: F Zach Aston-Reese, F Kasper Björkqvist, F Teddy Blueger, F Evan Rodrigues, F Radim Zohorna
Offseason Analysis: Penguins General Manager, Ron Hextall, had a realtively quiet offseason outside of the announcements that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would miss some action to start the 2021-22 season.
After making some depth signings, Pittsburgh is left with about $121,800 in cap space. In other words, it might be a little bumpy out of the gate without Crosby and Malkin– especially since the Pens dealt Jared McCann to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Filip Hallander and a 2023 7th round pick ahead of the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft.
In retrospect, perhaps it would’ve been worth keeping McCann and convincing the Seattle Kraken to take almost anyone else– there’s still a chance they would’ve taken Brandon Tanev anyway, especially if Pittsburgh had crafted a deal with the Kraken to agree to not select McCann in exchange for some draft picks or something.
Nevertheless, Hextall made a conscious decision to move on from McCann’s 14-18–32 totals in 43 games last season and Tanev’s 7-9–16 totals in 32 games with the Penguins in 2020-21 and live with the consequences of his own actions. At least there’s Jeff Carter.
At some point, the magic will wear out in Pittsburgh.
Though the Penguins may have calmed the waters of the Malkin trade rumors under the previous regime ruled by Jim Rutherford, there’s the reality of a post-Crosby and Malkin era soon to sink in.
Malkin is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and Crosby is under contract through the 2024-25 season.
If the Penguins aren’t able to escape the First Round in 2022, and Malkin determines there’s no future in sight for success in a Pittsburgh jersey, there’s a good chance he could leave– not in search of a big cheque, but rather another chance at one more Cup ring on a contender’s roster.
But let’s not get too bogged down by the grips of reality.
Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, has some juggling to do with the lineup– like always– and with a new cast of characters that includes Hållander, Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn and the return of Dominik Simon– there’s a lot of depth to go around.
At 21-years-old, Hållander might be ready for some NHL action, whether out of necessity or to simply prove his skill level.
Heinen, meanwhile, is looking for a fresh start after the Anaheim Ducks chose not to tender him a qualifying offer, leading him to sign a one-year deal with the Penguins worth $1.100 million.
In 43 games with the Ducks last season, Heinen had 14 points (seven goals, seven assists), scoring fewer points than he had in the previous season for third-straight season since he broke out with 16-31–47 totals in 77 games for the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.
McGinn was due for a payday and cashed in on a longer contract than he could’ve expected from the Carolina Hurricanes, signing a four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season with Pittsburgh this summer.
In 345 career NHL games, McGinn’s had 51-55–106 totals, including 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in 37 games while battling injury last season.
He remains to be an effective penalty killing fourth liner and should fit Sullivan’s mold well as a means of ensuring his top-six forwards are rested and ready to go between shifts.
Simon begins his second stint with the Penguins after taking part in 11 games with the Calgary Flames last season and yielding four shots on goal, as well as no points in that span.
As for the biggest question mark entering the 2021-22 season for Pittsburgh, can Tristan Jarry come into his own as a starting goaltender?
Last season, Jarry went 25-9-3 in 39 games, which at first glance is great! He had 25 wins in almost 40 games played in the midst of a 56-game regular season schedule– backstopping Pittsburgh to a postseason appearance before losing in six games to the New York Islanders.
But in 39 games last season, Jarry had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts in that span, whereas he went 20-12-1 in 33 games with a 2.43 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 2019-20.
In his most recent season as Pittsburgh’s backup, Jarry has a goals-against average below 2.50 and a stellar save percentage over .920, but in all his other cumulative appearances each season since breaking into the league with a game in 2016-17, he’s been all over the place statistically speaking.
Casey DeSmith, meanwhile, broke into the league in 2017-18, and went 6-4-1 in 14 games with a 2.40 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and one shutout– following things up with a 15-11-5 record in 36 games played in 2018-19, when he had a 2.75 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts.
Last season, DeSmith was back as the backup goaltender to Jarry and posted an 11-7-0 record in 20 games with a 2.54 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and two shutouts.
At 30-years-old, it’s likely that DeSmith won’t have as high of a ceiling as Jarry, who’s only 26, but then again goaltenders vary in the crux of their prime.
For Jarry, he may soon start to peak, while DeSmith may simply be an outlier as one of those goaltenders that comes into fruition later than even the most “average” of delayed primes for goalies.
In either case, it’s certainly not an enviable position to be in for Sullivan to have to figure out.
Offseason Grade: C
Let’s be real here, the Penguins didn’t go out and attract any stars and they didn’t lose that much (though McCann was a great piece of depth and Tanev probably exceeded his expectations due to the “Crosby factor”, both should make fine additions to the Kraken).
Pittsburgh had an average offseason for an average team that made the playoffs and had an average early ending.
They’re not a dominant force, though they finished atop the MassMutual NHL East Division last season. Sullivan has his ways of commanding his team in the regular season, but the roster lacks something to drag them across the line in the postseason these days– to take their play up a notch and crank it at 11.
The Pens aren’t as much of a concern for missing out on the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division race this season, but it should be harder to compete for dominance with the sustained improvement from the Islanders and the emergence of another team like the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers or New Jersey Devils that could breakout and play spoiler among the division leaders.
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.