Some firsts, 100s, broken fingers and pointing fingers– who should be concerned about their job security behind the bench? Plus Cap’n and Pete are back.
San Jose Sharks
46-27-9, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division
Eliminated in the Western Conference Final by St. Louis
Additions: F Jonny Brodzinski, D Trevor Carrick (acquired from CAR), D Nicolas Meloche (acquired from COL), D Dalton Prout
Subtractions: F Joonas Donskoi (signed with COL), F Micheal Haley (signed to a PTO with NYR), F Jonathon Martin (signed with Tucson, AHL), F Gustav Nyquist (signed with CBJ), F Joe Pavelski (signed with DAL), F Francis Perron (traded to VAN), F Tom Pyatt (SHL), F Alex Schoenborn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Justin Braun (traded to PHI), D Michael Brodzinski (signed with Belleville, AHL), D Cody Donaghey (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Cavan Fitzgerald (signed with Charlotte, AHL), D Joakim Ryan (signed with LAK), D Kyle Wood (re-signed, then traded to CAR), G Antoine Bibeau (traded to COL)
Still Unsigned: F Rourke Chartier, F Tim Clifton
Re-signed: F Kevin Labanc, F Maxim Letunov, F Timo Meier, F Antti Suomela, F Joe Thornton, D Nick DeSimone, D Tim Heed
Offseason Analysis: After making it back to the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2016, the San Jose Sharks were looking to capitalize on their momentum from their miraculous comeback against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of their First Round matchup.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, sometimes injuries pile up and get in the way of forward progress.
Though they lost to the St. Louis Blues in six games in the Western Conference Final, the mere fact San Jose made it that far after nearly blowing it against Vegas is impressive– especially considering how close of a series their Second Round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche was, which also went seven games.
Whether they were exhausted from multiple overtimes, one long series after another, the Sharks found themselves with a longer than anticipated offseason to rest and recover.
In the meantime, General Manager, Doug Wilson, had his work cut out for him.
Wilson signed Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million extension worth $11.500 million per season, making Karlsson the highest paid defender in the league.
The Sharks GM also managed to re-sign 22-year-old star in the making, Timo Meier, to a four-year contract worth $6.000 million per season. By the end of the deal, Meier will still have one year of restricted free agency left, which really speaks to the fact that it’s a great– team friendly– extension at an affordable price with the future in mind.
Last season, Meier had 30-36–66 totals in 78 games. He had 21 goals and 15 assists (36 points) in his first full season (81 games played) in 2017-18.
But the cost of re-signing key pieces of San Jose’s core comes with a price– losing depth.
First, Joe Pavelski priced himself out of the Sharks, in part, thanks to his consistent scoring and 38 goals last season at 35-years-old, as well as San Jose’s cap crunch thanks to Karlsson’s pay raise.
Pavelski signed a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars worth $7.000 million per season, but it’s not about the money for San Jose (even though it was)– it’s about having to make up for a 38-goal deficit heading into this season.
Second, to get themselves squared away with the salary cap, Wilson had to move one of his durable top-four defenders via a trade, sending Justin Braun to the Philadelphia Flyers on June 18th for a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick.
Trading Braun left Wilson with no choice but to sign Dalton Prout as a cheap replacement and to perform this season’s Micheal Haley duties. Haley, himself, signed a PTO with the New York Rangers in hopes of filling New York’s Cody McLeod/Tanner Glass role opening.
On the plus side, the Sharks will be able to replenish their pool of prospects with the transaction. On the other hand, Braun was a versatile component when others (like Karlsson) were injured.
Even with the additional $3.800 million addition in cap space, San Jose was not able to convince Joonas Donskoi to stay in town, regardless of whether or not Wilson had any plans for the top-nine forward.
Instead, Donskoi joined the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year deal worth $3.900 million per season– providing both job security and a chance to win the Cup, since the Avs are on the rise.
Sharks fans were hoping to see a reunion of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton back on the same team, but Wilson guaranteed Marleau wouldn’t be signed as long as Thornton was back for his 22nd season in the National Hockey League.
The good news? “Jumbo Joe” isn’t going anywhere– take that Father Time!
The bad news? Marleau isn’t going anywhere in free agency (yet) either.
It’s a good move for the Sharks though, as their younger players did exactly what Wilson explained– they played better and worked their way up the lineup to where Marleau had been prior to his departure to join the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 2, 2017.
San Jose has something special in Meier, Kevin Labanc, Barclay Goodrow and even Dylan Gambrell, meanwhile Logan Couture was named captain in wake of Pavelski’s departure– fully cementing the Logan Couture Era legacy in Sharks history.
Head coach, Peter DeBoer, will have a lot of leadership in the dressing room to rely on with Couture as captain and Karlsson, Thornton, Tomas Hertl and Brent Burns serving as alternate captains throughout the season.
Offseason Grade: C-
Considering Karlsson’s cap hit, it would’ve been a “D+” if it weren’t for the redeeming qualities of Meier’s contract. Other than that, the Sharks are destined to be a divisional berth in the Pacific Division as recent history has dictated, but they don’t seem to have what it takes on paper to be leapfrogging over the competition.
Oh, and there’s the near 3.00 goals against average of both Martin Jones and Aaron Dell to consider from last season. That’s terrible for a team with or without Karlsson and Burns on the defense.
46-29-7, 99 points, 4th in the Metropolitan Division
Eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by Boston
Additions: F Dominik Bokk (acquired from STL), F Ryan Dzingel, F Brian Gibbons, F Erik Haula (acquired from VGK), F Alex Lintuniemi, D Fredrik Claesson, D Joel Edmundson (acquired from STL), D Gustav Forsling (acquired from CHI), D Jake Gardiner, D Chase Priskie, D Kyle Wood (acquired from SJS), G Anton Forsberg (acquired from CHI), G James Reimer (acquired from FLA)
Subtractions: F Patrick Brown (signed with VGK), F Micheal Ferland (signed with VAN), F Patrick Marleau (bought out), F Greg McKegg (signed with NYR), F Andrew Poturalski (signed with ANA), F Nicolas Roy (traded to VGK), F Aleksi Saarela (traded to CHI), D Trevor Carrick (traded to SJS), D Calvin de Haan (traded to CHI), D Justin Faulk (traded to STL), D Adam Fox (traded to NYR), D Dan Renouf (signed with COL), D Josh Wesley (signed with San Antonio, AHL), G Scott Darling (traded to FLA), G Curtis McElhinney (signed with TBL)
Still Unsigned: F Saku Maenalanen (KHL, CAR reserve list), F Justin Williams
Re-signed: F Sebastian Aho, F Clark Bishop, F Brock McGinn, D Hadyn Fleury, D Roland McKeown, G Petr Mrazek
Offseason Analysis: While some teams have signed the biggest names in free agency and improved in one particular aspect, one team has made all the right moves in multiple areas.
Already stocked with plenty of strength, depth and youth, the Carolina Hurricanes added in every category.
Canes GM, Don Waddell, was busy this summer making nine trades since the end of the regular season– seven of which involved players– and signing key pieces of the 2019-20 roster to new deals.
First and foremost, Carolina’s priority this offseason resided in Sebastian Aho’s next contract.
Aho originally signed an offer sheet with the Montreal Canadiens at the dawn of free agency on July 1st, but the Hurricanes matched the deal about a week later and retained his services.
Montreal thought a five-year, $8.454 million per season, offer with a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses owed in the first year of the contract would unnerve Carolina.
It’s just a drop in the bucket for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, who is investing more than just a better on-ice product around the organization.
Though the Hurricanes couldn’t convince Adam Fox to sign with the team after acquiring the defender from the Calgary Flames as part of the Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm for Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland trade, Carolina sent Fox to the New York Rangers for a 2019 2nd round pick and a conditional 2020 3rd round pick.
If Fox plays at least 30 games this season for the Rangers, then the 2020 3rd round pick is upgraded to a 2020 2nd round pick.
At the Draft in June, Waddell worked a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring Patrick Marleau, a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick.
If the 2020 1st round pick from Toronto is a top-10 pick, then Carolina will receive a 2021 1st round pick instead.
Marleau was bought out by the Hurricanes and will cost Carolina $6.250 million against the cap this season.
The Canes have $8.583 million tied up in buyout penalties as Alexander Semin’s $2.333 million penalty expires at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, which means Waddell has plenty of salary to work with in the coming years.
Two days after the Draft, Carolina sent Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg on June 24th.
Forsling, 23, is a suitable option for a top-six defender role with room for growth– given he’s on the upswing in his prime (defenders generally aren’t considered “peak” until their early 30s).
Forsberg, 26, has some experience as an NHL backup, but will supplement Alex Nedeljokvic’s workload with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) for the foreseeable future.
After winning their first Calder Cup championship in franchise history, a significant portion of the Checkers’ core was utilized as trade bait or pushed out of the Hurricanes organization by incoming youth are ready for their AHL debuts.
There are seven newcomers to the Checkers roster from within the Hurricanes system from last season to this season, including three players under the age of 22.
Out of the 33 players listed on their 2019 Calder Cup Playoff roster, 15 of them have moved on from Charlotte to another team in professional hockey (NHL, AHL, ECHL, Europe, Russia, etc.) and even Mike Vellucci left the Checkers to join the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as their new head coach.
In his place, former assistant coach turned current Checkers head coach, Ryan Warsofsky, will take the task of running things from behind the bench as the AHL’s youngest head coach at 31-years-old.
Nicolas Roy and a conditional 2021 5th round pick were flipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Erik Haula on June 27th.
Haula, 28, only managed to play 15 games last season for the Golden Knights before suffering a knee injury, but the veteran forward had a career-high 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists) in 76 games with Vegas in 2017-18.
He should fit in well within a top-nine forward role, either as a second line or third line center/left wing and is a cheaper replacement for Ferland’s breakout year that led to a new four-year deal worth $3.500 million per season with the Vancouver Canucks in free agency.
If Haula is still on Carolina’s roster after this season or if the Canes trade Haula for a player, multiple draft picks or a draft pick in rounds 1-5, then Vegas receives the conditional 2021 5th round pick. If no condition is met, then the Hurricanes will not have to forfeit their draft pick to the Golden Knights.
Three days after adding Haula, Waddell found a new backup goaltender in a trade with the Florida Panthers.
Carolina traded Scott Darling and a 2020 6th round pick (originally belonging to the Buffalo Sabres) to Florida in exchange for James Reimer on June 30th.
Reimer, 31, had a disappointing 3.09 goals against average and a dismal .900 save percentage in 36 games with the Panthers and is looking to rebound with the Hurricanes in a backup role after seeing his GAA climb for the last three seasons with Florida while trying to take on more games in light of Roberto Luongo’s waning years.
Luongo is now retired (as of this offseason) and didn’t win a Stanley Cup championship in his 19 NHL seasons, unlike Justin Williams, who won the Cup three times in 20 seasons.
Williams, 37, hasn’t officially retired, but is “stepping away” from the game for the time being.
The 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy winner won two Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014 and played a role in Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup championship.
His presence in the Hurricanes dressing room over the last two seasons was pivotal in the transition among ownership, the front office and with the players on the ice.
Finally, after a minor swap with the San Jose Sharks, which saw Trevor Carrick depart the organization for Kyle Wood on August 6th, Waddell finished (for now) his busy offseason trades with one more major move.
Longtime anchor on Carolina’s power play and top-four defender, Justin Faulk, was packaged with a 2020 5th round pick and traded to the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in exchange for Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick on Sept. 24th.
The Canes retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667) in the transaction, while adding a solid top-six defender (Edmundson) and a top German prospect (Bokk) to the fold.
And that’s not even covering Waddell’s brilliance in free agency.
Carolina signed Ryan Dzingel to a two-year contract worth $3.375 million per season on July 12th– adding to the Hurricanes’ plethora of forwards with 20 or more goals last season.
Dzingel recorded 22-22–44 totals in 57 games with the Ottawa Senators last season before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline.
Though he only managed 4-8–12 totals in 21 games with Columbus, Dzingel fell victim to Blue Jackets head coach, John Tortorella’s, coaching style– whereby nothing is changed until it has to change.
Columbus didn’t find the right fit for the 27-year-old forward in their lineup and Dzingel didn’t take to Tortorella’s scheme and thus, signed with the Hurricanes, where Rod Brind’Amour is saving the team once more.
Seriously, Brind’Amour is the perfect person behind the bench for the organization, if last season didn’t already prove that enough.
Not only did the Hurricanes make the Eastern Conference Final, but Brind’Amour brought back the glow of Carolina’s glory days.
He was the face of the franchise at the dawn of the millennium and he is the face of efficient coaching– with a high compete level– in the contemporary NHL.
And one more thing…
If you’re worried about what Faulk’s departure means for Carolina’s power play, don’t be.
That’s why Jake Gardiner signed a four-year contract worth $4.050 million per season on Sept. 6th.
The durable 29-year-old defender is in his prime, effective on special teams and looking to turn over a new leaf after breaking into the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2011-12 season.
Offseason Grade: A
In short, this team is legit. Waddell added to the roster without subtracting anything major that he hadn’t already planned to replace and Martin Necas could land a job on the team this season.
Of the 22 skaters on the team currently, the average age is 25.3, which makes last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Final even more impressive– even with the ever increasing presence of younger and younger players league-wide.
Carolina is the last team to receive an “A” grade for their offseason work and is looking to make a jump in the Metropolitan Division standings in the regular season from wild card team to division title contender.
Toronto Maple Leafs
46-28-8, 100 points, 3rd in the Atlantic Division
Eliminated in the First Round by Boston
Additions: F Pontus Aberg, F Kenny Agostino, F David Clarkson (acquired from VGK), F Tyler Gaudet, F Alexander Kerfoot (acquired from COL), F Kalle Kossila, F Aaron Luchuk (acquired from OTT), F Nick Shore, F Jason Spezza, F Garrett Wilson, D Tyson Barrie (acquired from COL), D Cody Ceci (acquired from OTT), D Kevin Gravel, D Ben Harpur (acquired from OTT), D Jordan Schmaltz (acquired from STL)
Subtractions: F Nick Baptiste (signed with Toronto, AHL), F Connor Brown (traded to OTT), F Michael Carcone (traded to OTT), F Tyler Ennis (signed with OTT), F Gabriel Gagne (signed with Allen, ECHL), F Josh Jooris (NLA), F Dakota Joshua (traded to STL), F Nazem Kadri (traded to COL), F Patrick Marleau (traded to CAR), F Chris Mueller (signed with TBL), D Andreas Borgman (traded to STL), D Jake Gardiner (signed with CAR), D Fedor Gordeev (traded to MIN), D Ron Hainsey (signed with OTT), D Vincent LoVerde (signed with Hartford, AHL), D Igor Ozhiganov (KHL), D Calle Rosen (traded to COL), D Jordan Subban (EBEL), D Nikita Zaitsev (traded to OTT), G Eamon McAdam (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Garret Sparks (traded to VGK)
Still Unsigned: D Steve Oleksy
Re-signed: F Mitch Marner, D Martin Marincin, G Michael Hutchinson
Offseason Analysis: Kyle Dubas had a busy offseason as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. His main priority was re-signing Mitch Marner, which finally wrapped up on Sept. 13th.
Marner signed a six-year extension worth $10.893 million per season. Whether or not he’s actually worth that much money is a different question, but the fact of the matter is it didn’t help the Maple Leafs.
Together with Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander, Marner and the other three make up $40,489,366 of Toronto’s salary cap.
This season’s salary cap ceiling is $81.500 million.
Three of the seven highest paid players in the league are on the Leafs and the four highest paid Leafs eat up almost half of Toronto’s salary cap.
At the time of Marner’s signing, the Maple Leafs were $13,365,199 over the salary cap.
Granted, Pontus Aberg and Frederik Gauthier were assigned to the Toronto Marlies (AHL), while Nathan Horton, David Clarkson, Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott are all expected to be placed on the long-term injured reserve to allow the Leafs to remain cap compliant.
Things should get interesting, however, once Hyman and Dermott return from injury, not that their salaries are that expensive, but rather the day-to-day cap operations and paper transactions necessary to make things work should be a lot of fun for Toronto’s front office to balance.
Mike Babcock is still behind the bench in Toronto after three straight seasons of First Round exits– including back-to-back Game 7 losses on the road against the Boston Bruins in 2018 and last season.
Dubas was active in the trade market to 1) free up expendable salary to re-sign Marner and 2) improve his roster from last season to this season.
He may have unintentionally 3) stunted the team’s growth in the process.
Toronto seven trades involving players this offseason, including three pretty big deals for the Maple Leafs.
Patrick Marleau, a conditional 2020 1st round pick and a 2020 7th round pick were shipped to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a 2020 6th round pick at the 2019 NHL Draft on June 22nd.
Rather than buyout Marleau’s contract and face cap penalty, Toronto was able to convince Carolina to take on his salary and offer him the chance to play for the Hurricanes or buy him out. Marleau refused to play for the Canes, so now Carolina is saddled with his buyout penalty.
In the process, if the Maple Leafs yield a top-10 pick in the 2020 Draft, the conditional 1st rounder in the trade becomes a 2021 1st round pick.
In place of Marleau, the Leafs signed Jason Spezza to a league-minimum, one-year, $700,000 contract. Spezza will likely play on the fourth line in a limited role as Marleau would have begun to see less and less time on ice at this stage of his career.
Dubas knew Toronto wasn’t going to be able to keep Jake Gardiner and maintain a happy relationship with Nikita Zaitsev as Zaitsev had already requested a trade.
As such, Dubas packaged Zaitsev with Connor Brown and Michael Carcone in a trade with the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk and a 2020 3rd round pick on July 1st.
Ceci then signed a one-year extension– worth $4.500 million– as a restricted free agent with the Leafs.
For that same price and eight points less than Ceci had last season, Zaitsev is at least signed through 2023-24 at the fixed rate of $4.500 million.
Zaitsev has broken the 30-point plateau before as a defender, while Ceci never has– though he did record 26 points with Ottawa last season.
The fact of the matter is that if Toronto was trying to save money this season on a defender, they didn’t.
And if they were thinking “maybe we can find a cheaper replacement in Ceci”, the fact that they’re already paying the defender in his prime what Zaitsev was already making doesn’t do them any long-term favors as Ceci’s cap hit is expected to go up– especially if the current ceiling remains about the same until the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated in 2022.
But for all that the loss of Gardiner did to the special teams in Toronto, at least Dubas was able to find a sweet deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Maple Leafs traded Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen and a 2020 3rd round pick to Colorado for Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and a 2020 6th round pick on July 1st.
The Avs retained some salary on Barrie’s contract, which– you guessed it– also expires at the end of this season, but at least Toronto can afford $2.750 million right now as opposed to a more significant cap hit.
To their credit, the Maple Leafs negotiated a four-year extension with Kerfoot worth $3.500 million per season, which is $1.000 million less than Kadri’s cap hit.
Barrie is a versatile defender that excels on the power play and fills the void left behind by Gardiner’s departure.
Clearly, while Dubas has, in fact, made improvements to the team, he’s also made minor tweaks and delayed the inevitable headaches that he or the next general manager of the Maple Leafs is sure to face.
But at least this time around Toronto is convinced they have the team that they’ve been planning for the last five years to “win now”.
The younger players are more experienced, the salary spent is at the ceiling and Babcock– a Stanley Cup winning coach who last won the Cup 11 years ago with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008 (a rather different era and style of the game than what it is today)– are all ready for the challenge of making it out of the First Round to show they’ve at least made some progress.
One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing and expecting a different result” and if something doesn’t change the end result in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for Toronto, then…
At the very least, last season’s backup, Garret Sparks, was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for Clarkson’s contract and a 2020 4th round pick and nobody can blame Marner for being a “greedy holdout” anymore.
Offseason Grade: B-
The Marner contract is not great, but the other moves made by the Leafs this offseason mean that they’re actually trying. There is a plan in place that they remain committed to– constantly evaluating and re-evaluating talent for the overall intended improvement of the organization.
Whether or not Toronto is sure to win the Cup this season remains to be seen. Every year there’s always Cup front runners on paper, but the on-ice product and results vary. This team is capable of winning the Cup, but they still have a lot of work to do to earn it.
43-32-7, 93 points, 4th in the Central Division
Eliminated in the Second Round by St. Louis
Additions: F Tanner Kero, F Joe Pavelski, F Corey Perry, D Andrej Sekera
Subtractions: F Erik Condra (signed with Colorado, AHL), F Ryan Hartman (signed with MIN), F Valeri Nichushkin (bought out), F Tyler Pitlick (traded to PHI), F Brett Ritchie (signed with BOS), F Jason Spezza (signed with TOR), F Mats Zuccarello (signed with MIN), D Niklas Hansson (SHL), D Ben Lovejoy (retired), D Chris Martenet (signed with Brampton, ECHL), G Philippe Desrosiers (signed with FLA)
Still Unsigned: D Julius Honka, D Marc Methot
Re-signed: F Jason Dickinson, D Gavin Bayreuther, D Dillon Heatherington, D Reece Scarlett, G Landon Bow
Offseason Analysis: Dallas Stars General Manager, Jim Nill, had one thing to do this offseason and one thing only– improve the offense.
Dallas’ defense is still growing into its own and will take care of itself as one of the better underrated blue lines in the league, plus Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin make a strong tandem in the crease.
While the additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry are great on paper to the Stars’ offense, each comes with a price.
Pavelski is 35-years-old and tallied 38 goals in 75 games played last season– tying a career-high that he set in the 2015-16 season. Perry is 34-years-old and six goals in 31 games played last season.
The former was injured in the playoffs, but doesn’t seem to show signs of slowing down, even if he only scores 20-25 goals a season. Over the course of Pavelski’s three-year deal with Dallas, that’s not a terrible amount of offense, but if he deviates from the norm and regresses at all… well, he still carries a $7.000 million cap hit.
It’s a gamble considering the age factor, but it’s not the worst contract in the world.
Perry, on the other hand, has been oft-injured as of the last couple of seasons and looks like a shell of his former “Scorey” self.
The good news? Nill was smart and signed Perry to a one-year contract worth $1.500 million.
It’s a low-risk, high-reward– no foul– signing.
But with Pavelski, Perry and newcomer, Andrej Sekera, all added to the roster, Dallas’ average age across the board has only gotten older.
In a league that emphasizes youth, speed and hand-eye coordination, let’s just hope the Stars have discovered the Fountain of Youth and can beat the aging curve.
Other than that, head coach, Jim Montgomery knows what to expect out of his core and can depend on Pavelski to make something happen when Alexander Radulov falls into a lull from time-to-time.
Offseason Grade: C+
The Stars didn’t have to go out and land the biggest star in free agency, so they went out and got a modest harvest instead. Nill signed Pavelski at a steep price on what would otherwise be a bad contract if it were longer than three-years, but it’s really only as bad as when the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Patrick Marleau for three-years and over $6.000 million.
Something about ex-Sharks in the 35-plus category… Other general managers have learned from Toronto’s mistake to stay away– even if there’s a boost in the locker room for a season or two. At least Dallas had the room to make it work and has enough pending free agents in July 2020 to ease their salary cap concerns.
Mitch Marner finally re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins announced a couple key extensions, more RFA deals were signed and the NHLPA decided not to re-open the current collective bargaining agreement as DTFR’s season previews continued with the Metropolitan Division.
The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Class of 2019 was announced, a major shakeup in the Board of Governors may be ahead, extensions were signed, Jake Gardiner joined the Carolina Hurricanes and it’s time for our DTFR Podcast season previews (starting with the Pacific Division).
As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)
The projected standings below are only a forecast.
They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).
There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.
As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.
Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.
A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.
Projected Standings After ZERO Months
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 101 points
- x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 96 points
- wc1- Calgary Flames, 93 points
- Los Angeles Kings, 89 points
- Vancouver Canucks, 83 points
- Arizona Coyotes, 78 points
- Edmonton Oilers, 77 points
Vegas Golden Knights: Pros and Cons
Despite a colossal collapse in Game 7 of their First Round matchup with the San Jose Sharks this spring, the Golden Knights are ready for what could be another deep playoff run in 2020.
A full season of Mark Stone– plus the rest of the original and supporting cast (Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Max Pacioretty, Marc-Andre Fleury, etc.)– should provide Vegas with enough scoring power, while Nate Schmidt anchors the defense with Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill and adopted Vegas son, Deryk Engelland.
Aside from working on the penalty kill and the peaceful transition of power from George McPhee to Kelly McCrimmon as General Manager of the organization (effective Sept. 1st), the Golden Knights have had a quiet offseason.
Sure, they traded Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres which hurts their blue line depth in the event of injuries, but Vegas has a few notable prospects with the Chicago Wolves (AHL) in Jake Bischoff, Nic Hague and Jimmy Schudlt that should be ready for a taste of NHL action if necessary.
Owner, Bill Foley, has his sights set on his original vision for the franchise– winning a Cup within the first three seasons of its existence.
The only downside for the Golden Knights heading into the 2019-20 season? Goaltending.
No, Fleury isn’t in decline from his status as one of the better goaltenders in the league, but his time in the crease has to be managed.
Though he was limited to 46 games in 2017-18 due to injury, Fleury amassed a 29-13-4 record with a 2.24 goals against average and a .927 save percentage. Vegas’ backup goaltender, Malcolm Subban, managed a 13-4-2 record in 22 games played that season with a 2.68 GAA and a .910 SV% in his rookie season.
Last season, Subban’s numbers took a turn for the worse.
He had an 8-10-2 record in 21 games played with a 2.93 GAA and a .902 SV%– all while Fleury was forced to carry a heavier schedule load, seeing his stat line slip to a 2.51 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process, but improving his overall record to 35-21-5 in 61 games.
Vegas added Garret Sparks, who carries a career GAA (3.09) and SV% (.898) that’s worst than Subban in six fewer games played over two full-time seasons as a backup (Sparks appeared in 37 games with Toronto, while Subban’s played in 43 with Vegas since 2017-18).
Gerard Gallant can’t rely on a fallback plan if one of them doesn’t yield a significant turnaround at this point in their careers (because there isn’t one) and he also can’t overexert Fleury in the buildup to the postseason.
This is why you can never have too many goaltenders in the system.
How would the Golden Knights fail?
If an Uber driver records their players complaining about their special teams play and/or said Uber driver can’t do a better job at not allowing four power play goals against on a five-minute major penalty kill.
San Jose Sharks: Pros and Cons
San Jose has about $4.683 million in cap space and Joe Thornton is still unsigned. Are we really ready to live in a world where Thornton isn’t on the Sharks and it’s not 1997-2005 again?
Also, Patrick Marleau is still unsigned too, but that’s besides the point– plus he spent the last two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Anyway, the Sharks went all in on Erik Karlsson’s extension, shelling out $11.500 million per season for the next eight years through the 2026-27 season.
As long as Karlsson can remain healthy (and the rest of the roster for that matter, unlike in this spring’s Western Conference Final run), then San Jose’s blue line remains one of the most dynamic forces of offensive capabilities from an otherwise non-traditional source of scoring production.
Kevin Labanc is an emerging star in a Sharks uniform and will carry a bigger role this season with the departure of Joe Pavelski to the Dallas Stars via free agency.
Meanwhile, it’s officially the Logan Couture Era in Silicon Valley– if General Manager Doug Wilson is truly moving on from the days of Thornton and Marleau– with supporting roles from Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane.
While Karlsson’s cap hit tops the league on an otherwise unnerving contract if something goes wrong, Wilson managed to keep Timo Meier in teal for the next four seasons at an affordable $6.000 million cap hit.
Other than injuries, the only thing that could scare the Sharks out of the waters of contention is the inconsistency of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell in the crease.
Despite compiling 36 wins on the season in 62 games played, Jones had a career-worst GAA (2.94) and SV% (.896), while Dell also managed to have a career-worst performance as a backup with a 3.17 GAA and a .886 SV% in 25 games played (of which he won 10).
How would the Sharks fail?
San Jose has had everything imaginable happen to them in the postseason, so what seems irrational, inexplicable and/or unimaginable, because that’s probably how they’d lose (again).
Anaheim Ducks: Pros and Cons
The Ducks have about $8.500 million in cap space with a good mix of pending-unrestricted free agents and pending-restricted free agents next summer, which means they’ll only have more money to spend and reallocate to their better, younger players like Troy Terry and Daniel Sprong.
What’s the bad news?
It’s Anaheim. They’re suffering from buying out Corey Perry’s contract for the next four seasons ($2.625 million in 2019-20, $6.625 million in 2020-21 and $2.000 million from 2021-23), Ryan Getzlaf is signed through 2020-21 and has a no-movement clause, Ryan Kesler may never play again and is also signed through 2021-22 with a no-movement clause and finally, Adam Henrique has a modified no-trade clause and is signed through 2023-24.
Yes, Kesler can be place on long-term injured reserve and shelved for the remainder of his contract and/or traded elsewhere (after waiving his NMC) to free up cap space if he truly cannot return, but the fact of the matter is the Ducks are still too tied up to takeoff and fly.
The depth of prospects is sketchy with the Ducks, considering not much is known about their overall plan.
Are they overcooking some prospects for a better immediate impact in the NHL or should they just play the kids, wait around near the basement of the standings and rebuild?
Though this forecast has Anaheim tabbed for a divisional spot, they’re likely to be looking from outside the division with perhaps only the saving grace of a wild card spot thanks to John Gibson’s existence as one of the best goaltenders in the game (until the skaters in front of him let him down).
At the very least, Dallas Eakins is back as a head coach in the NHL, so all is right with the world (and he did a decent job resurrecting his career with a strong performance in San Diego (AHL) after his dismal days in Edmonton).
How would the Ducks fail?
General Manager Bob Murray holds onto his cards for too long, talent development stalls and/or Eakins turns out to not be one of those classic examples of a coach that just came into the league a little too early, then got a second chance and succeeded.
Calgary Flames: Pros and Cons
The Flames couldn’t win the Cup with two-time All Star goaltender, Mike Smith, on their roster, so they rolling with David Rittich and Cam Talbot– who joins Calgary from their intra-province rival Edmonton Oilers.
Speaking of the Oilers, that’s where Smith ended up. Goalie swap! But without any actual trading involved, since Talbot was most recently serving as a “Plan C” for the Philadelphia Flyers if Carter Hart, Brian Elliott and Co. weren’t ready to go down the stretch.
Anyway, back to the “C of Red”.
Calgary sent James Neal to Edmonton in exchange for Milan Lucic and ended up saving $500,000 per season for the remainder of Lucic’s contract (signed through 2022-23) in the process. The Oilers retained salary in the trade. You heard that right.
Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane are still unsigned RFAs and General Manager Brad Treliving has about $7.757 million to work with in cap space.
Get a deal done with Tkachuk and the Flames will go on without any interruption as a team that pleasantly turned a lot of heads in the regular season last year, then sputtered out in the First Round in five games to the Colorado Avalanche.
Bill Peters is ready for his second season behind the bench in Calgary and the roster looks set to remain in contention for a divisional berth, if not leading the Western Conference once again.
How would the Flames fail?
Simply put, if they flame out at the end of the regular season like they did last season– March was a bad month, which led to their demise in five games against Colorado in the First Round.
Los Angeles Kings: Pros and Cons
The good news for the Kings? Tyler Toffoli, Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford, Mario Kempe, Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue, Joakim Ryan and Jack Campbell are all pending-UFAs after next season and Carl Grundstrom, Austin Wagner, Sean Walker and Kurtis MacDermid are all pending-RFAs.
The bad news? Drew Doughty is signed through 2026-27 at $11.000 million per season, Anze Kopitar is making $10.000 million per season through 2023-24 and Adrian Kempe is currently an unsigned RFA.
General Manager Rob Blake has a lot to sort through this season, but he’s already made some corrections to his blunders in his first two seasons as an NHL GM.
For starters, he replaced Dion Phaneuf with Ryan in free agency, brought back his stable backup goaltender in Campbell on a one-year deal and didn’t give up on Ilya Kovalchuk, but rather hired an actual NHL head coach fit for the contemporary game in Todd McLellan.
Though Marco Sturm remains one of the best looking assistant coaches in the league, we’ll let this one slide, Los Angeles.
Are the Kings actually that much better than they were last season? Time will surely tell, but one thing’s for sure– they can’t possibly be much worse, right? Right!?!
If anything, the Kings are a wild card team at best or situated behind either Vancouver or Arizona at worst in the standings, but they should be lightyears from the basement in the division this season with some solid additions through the draft over the years in Alex Turcotte, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Gabriel Vilardi.
Los Angeles should be able to (somewhat) bounce back from their regression last season, but at the same time, the year isn’t 2012 or 2014 anymore. It’s time to start cutting the chord with former “glue guys” turned placeholders on a roster that needs an influx of youth sooner rather than later.
How would the Kings fail?
If Jonathan Quick gets hurt in any fashion and Blake can’t get rid of at least one of the eight players on the 23-player roster over aged 30 or older.
Vancouver Canucks: Pros and Cons
The Canucks are looking to make it back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2015, but did General Manager, Jim Benning do enough this offseason to set Vancouver back on the right track for 2020?
Benning went out and acquired J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 3rd round pick and a conditional 2020 1st round pick in June, then signed 29-year-old defender, Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30.000 million contract.
Miller and Myers are two quality assets compared to previous transactions made in the offseason by the Canucks. For once, Benning didn’t overpay an aging veteran player, but he also hasn’t cleaned up what might be a costly (both in price and on ice) fourth line in a league that runs four lines deep.
There’s a very real chance that none of the players on Vancouver’s fourth line any given night are making less than $3.000 million per season.
That’s unfathomable in a salary cap driven sport and only speaks to the number of misguided happenings in asset management by the Canucks.
Come to think of it, Vancouver only has five players out of a possible 23-player roster making less than $1.000 million per season. Sure, nobody’s making $10.000 million, but all those $2.000 million-plus, $3.000 million-plus, $4.000 million-plus and $5.000 million-plus contracts add up.
At least Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser are worth watching night-in and night-out. Plus, Thatcher Demko should pan out to be one of the league’s better goaltenders.
There’s just one concern for Benning as the offseason continues– Boeser and Nikolay Goldobin are still unsigned RFAs.
And Boeser is certainly worth the four-year, $7.000 million cap hit he’s looking for. Too bad the Canucks only have $5.058 million in cap space though.
How would the Canucks fail?
By being close, but not close enough in yet another race for the playoffs. Things are heading in the right direction, however.
Arizona Coyotes: Pros and Cons
Mastermind GM John Chayka has landed this offseason’s biggest prize in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins– two-time Stanley Cup champion, Team USA representative and hot dog enthusiast, Phil “The Thrill” Kessel.
Kessel brings his goalscoring prowess to the Western Conference for the first time in his career, having been drafted by the Boston Bruins 5th overall in the 2006 NHL draft, then playing with Boston until being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009 and then again the Pittsburgh in 2015.
No. 81 had 82 points in 82 games played last season, which was down from career-high 34-58–92 totals in 2017-18. Additionally, he hasn’t missed a game since 2010.
Along with Carl Soderberg– another offseason acquisition in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche– Kessel and the Coyotes are revamped and poised to make a run for the postseason.
Arizona’s only ranked low in this forecast because of nearly a decade of middle of the road rosters and missed opportunities since losing in the 2012 Western Conference Final in five games to Los Angeles.
The Coyotes haven’t been back to the playoffs since, but they’re trending upward.
With Nick Schmaltz, Jakob Chychrun and Oliver Ekman-Larsson locked up on long-term contracts, the core has really come into fruition while Chayka remains active in the draft and trade market.
Now they just need a little luck on their side to avoid losing Antti Raanta to the injury bug again.
How would the Coyotes fail?
If this forecast actually turns out to be true and Arizona finished 7th in the division, because otherwise who would actually want to see them fail?
Edmonton Oilers: Pros and Cons
Pro: New GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett).
Con: Another new GM and a new head coach.
Pro: Connor McDavid!
Con: Plays for the Oilers.
Pro: They were able to trade Milan Lucic.
Con: While acquiring James Neal and retaining part of Lucic’s salary in the process, thereby spending more money than in the first place.
Pro: They should actually be better this year.
Con: We keep saying every year, even about a team that has the second-greatest player in the game behind Sidney Crosby on the roster.
Pro: There’s a lot of pending UFAs and RFAs on the roster.
Con: That means at least half of them are now going to have a career-year in a contract year and be overpaid either by Edmonton or other teams in the next offseason.
Pro: Two-time All Star Mike Smith signed a one-year deal to backup Mikko Koskinen.
Con: The average age of Edmonton’s goaltending duo is 34.
How would the Oilers fail?
How there’s any such thing as optimism besides having McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton is incredible. If they make it to a wild card berth, it’d take McDavid playing every position, probably.
Nick and Colby recap the headlines from the last month as well as take a look at all of the New York market teams and try to figure out if any of them are actually any good as Season Six of the podcast begins.