Oh boy! The NHL Draft and the free agency period tend to be one of the most stressful periods of the year for general managers. The future of the franchises can change with any given decision, and sometimes it can result in a loss of jobs (that should have been the case for Marc Bergevin, but I digress).
The NHL Draft started off as expected, with Buffalo taking Rasmus Dahlin, but things got hairy after Montreal, fittingly, reached for a center. Meanwhile, some of the top defensemen fell into the laps of desperate teams, including Vancouver and Chicago.
As for the free agency period, John Tavares was by far and away the most popular player on the market. As it turns out, the giant market of Toronto, which is also his hometown, was the lucky one in the sweepstakes, and its offense looks primed for a Stanley Cup run. Meanwhile the New York Islanders are in some trouble without their captain.
There are plenty more from where that came from in July’s jam-packed NHL Power Rankings. Did your team set itself up for success?
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Which team could possibly be in better shape than Toronto? How about a legend-led team on the verge of legendary status? Even with their elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals, Tampa Bay still looks dangerous at every single position. To make matters worse for the rest of the conference, TB is in deep talks to acquire Erik Karlsson. With Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov already locked in with Tampa Bay, this team would be nearly unstoppable with Karlsson joining the blue line. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic in TB.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
Forget any other big move between now and October. Toronto’s signing of John Tavares is the biggest move of them all. Seven-year contracts are always risky for any players, much less someone who will be 34 by 2025, but any team was going to be significantly better in grabbing the former top pick. The front office has said that they are trying to keep their current core of young players, mostly William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner, in Toronto Blue with Tavares, and the Leafs are automatic Stanley Cup contenders if it works out. All signs point toward that happening.
3. Vegas Golden Knights
Finally, the Knights do not have to worry about being a team full of outcasts. Losing James Neal and David Perron was not great, but getting younger cannot hurt, either. Paul Stastny and Nick Holden have joined the newest team in the NHL, and Ryan Reaves, Oscar Dansk, and Colin Miller are staying put. They still have to prove they are for real in year two, but the Golden Knights should still be taken seriously considering their roster still looks dangerous.
4. Nashville Predators
Despite winning the Presidents Trophy, Nashville did not do too much this offseason. Perhaps they could have used some better luck against the bigger markets, but a lot of the answers to a Stanley Cup run are already in town. The Predators have a knack for finding European talent with ease, and they took a similar approach in their really light draft this year. Keep an eye on Eeli Tolvanen, the team’s first round pick last year, to make an impact this year.
5. Boston Bruins
It should come as no surprise that the solutions in Boston were already on the team before the draft. Even though many of their UFAs have bolted, none of them were centerpieces. Jaroslav Halak looks like the backup for Tuukka Rask after Anton Khudobin went to Dallas, and depth players Anton Blidh and Sean Kuraly are returning to Beantown. Overall, there is not much to talk about in the TD Garden.
6. Washington Capitals
This offseason felt more like an extended celebration of the Stanley Cup more than it was a push for a repeat. Perhaps Barry Trotz had his own agenda for leaving D.C., but this team probably could have done better in rebooting the championship squad. They lost Jay Beagle (although Vancouver overpaid), and they traded away Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second-round pick. That pick ended up being Kody Clark from the Ottawa 67’s, and he will need to pan out to make up for Grubauer’s production with the Avalanche. Even though Washington is likely going to return to the playoffs, they could have done more to help themselves.
7. Winnipeg Jets
What went wrong? Well, the Jets sent a package to Montreal because they hoped to clear up space for Paul Stastny, but they failed to keep him. Now they lack a key part of the offense and a reliable backup goaltender. Laurent Brossoit had a hard time in Edmonton last year, and Eric Comrie has limited experience in the NHL. At least the Jets extended Connor Hellebuyck to a six-year contract, but he only has one spectacular year at the moment. He needs to repeat his production last year to keep the Jets a Stanley Cup threat, but the electric offense should get them back into the playoffs.
8. Philadelphia Flyers
After jumping back into the playoffs last season, the Flyers would like nothing more than to knock out Washington and Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Signing James van Riemsdyk is a good start, but it may be a challenge keeping Wayne Simmonds in town. None of their losses look too crippling (unless you count Connor McDavid killer Brandon Manning as one) at the moment, and Alex Lyon should get a good look this season after a dream season in the AHL. Expect another playoff push for the Bullies.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins
Jack Johnson got an earful from John Tortorella after signing with Pittsburgh from Columbus, but another harmless rivalry is the least of Pittsburgh’s concerns. After getting stunned against Washington last year, the Pens are under pressure to remain a Stanley Cup contender. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remained at the top of the league in scoring, but that was not enough to defend the cup. Matt Murray will need to remain healthy to keep the Penguins on top this year, but at least adding Johnson amplifies the defense regardless of who is between the pipes. Who knows? Tristan Jarry had a decent run as the primary starter, and he could give Murray some competition.
10. San Jose Sharks
Besides Ilya Kovalchuk, the California markets were extremely quiet this year. San Jose’s only transactions involved Mike Hoffman, but they made sure to keep those already on their team in teal. After failing to sign John Tavares, the Sharks kept Joe Thornton on a one-year deal and Tomas Hertl for four years. The current core has done enough to make the playoffs regularly, but they would like nothing more than to capitalize three years after their first Stanley Cup Finals visit.
11. Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo is doing everything possible to extend the number one pick’s playoff streak to three years (Following Toronto and New Jersey). Drafting Rasmus Dahlin first overall was the easy part, but building around him and Jack Eichel has been a breeze, too. They received Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick for almost nothing in a trade with Pittsburgh, and then they sent Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis for Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, and two high draft picks. That looks like highway robbery! Add on free agents Carter Hutton, Scott Wedgewood, and Scott Wilson, and Buffalo looks much more dangerous than before the draft.
12. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings made one notable move, but it was high-profile. After five years in the KHL, former star Ilya Kovalchuk decided to go to the bright lights of Hollywood for three years, a far cry from his playing days in Atlanta (yikes) and the tiny market that LA defeated in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. He is getting up there in age, so three years is probably the maximum time frame that the Kings were going to risk on Kovalchuk. The rest of the offseason has been rather quiet, as the Kings have lost Christian Folin, Kevin Gravel, Tobias Rieder, and Scott Wedgewood. None of those players will ever be mistaken for Anze Kopitar, but getting older is not the greatest solution for sustained playoff pushes. LA fans should at least be somewhat concerned.
13. Colorado Avalanche
Besides losing Blake Comeau, Colorado came out of this free-agent period is decent shape. Philipp Grubauer, who was traded from Washington on draft day, was one of the better backups in the league over the past few years, and Ian Cole and Matt Calvert are two undervalued signings for the next three years. Add in the re-signing of Matt Nieto, and the Avs look like one of the deeper teams in the league. That will be crucial in proving that they are for real, regardless of how dominant Nathan MacKinnon plays.
14. New Jersey Devils
So Taylor Hall is now a Hart Trophy winner, Nico Hischier will probably do even better this upcoming year, and Jesper Bratt added to the surprising playoff visit. Now the Devils have to figure out how to get back to the playoffs with little reenforcement from this offseason. Sami Vatanen kept the defense afloat following New Jersey’s Adam Henrique trade, but the goaltender situation could be better. If Cory Schneider cannot stay healthy, then it may be time to look at Ken Appleby or Mackenzie Blackwood.
15. Dallas Stars
Ben Bishop is still in town, and Dallas added Anton Khudobin, who had a great stretch with Boston last season. That could spell the end of Kari Lehtonen‘s tenure in Dallas. Although he had some dominant outings, he was never considered the best option for an offensive-heavy team for the longest time (it showed in the playoffs two years ago). With the top scoring and defensive options already on the team, the Stars made some quiet moves, with Blake Comeau being the biggest addition.
16. Calgary Flames
Think the Flames were bound for no action with no decent draft picks? Think again! They traded Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland to Carolina and got younger with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm joining Bill Peters in his new home. Go ahead. Rename the Flames as the Hurricanes, but they took things to a new level when they signed James Neal. We will see if those players officially solve the depth issues from last year, but this offseason looks much more successful than perceived in June. Expect the Flames in be back in playoff conversations in March.
17. Minnesota Wild
Minnesota was badly outplayed in the playoffs, and it looks like the team from last year will be expected to carry the load. The Wild added Eric Fehr and Greg Pateryn, but neither one is expected to have big seasons. There is the possibility for youngsters Jordan Greenway, Luke Kunin, and Joel Eriksson Ek to get more playing time, but there is a lot of pressure for the team to make some progress this year. Unfortunately, that might be hard to find.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets
It looks like Columbus is going to be without a superstar on offense. Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair were the two most notable signings, and the hope is that Pierre-Luc Dubois becomes as dominant as his 2016 draft predecessors (Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine) in his second year following a promising rookie campaign. There is some bad news, however. Artemi Panarin has refused to talk about a potential contract extension, and he might be traded in February (or earlier) if his contract, which expires next year, is not extended.
19. Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Getzlaf is still playing like a star, but the Ducks do not look that intimidating right now. Brian Gibbons, Andrej Sustr, and Carter Rowney were the biggest signings, and there is still no guarantee that John Gibson can remain consistent. Anaheim has tried effortlessly to cash in during the playoffs, but there are more question marks in production than answers, especially along the lines of Corey Perry‘s numbers and Cam Fowler being the top defenseman. Are the Ducks in for a letdown?
20. Florida Panthers
Following the Mike Hoffman trade, Florida stayed relatively the same. The only signing of significance appears to be goaltender Michael Hutchinson, and he is currently the youngest NHL-ready goaltender on the team at 28. Perhaps 2015 third-round pick Samuel Montembeault will see some action later in the season. The small-market team has been no stranger to having prospects over the years, and Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom could be in line for an NHL breakout this season.
21. New York Rangers
New York had no problems jumping on the rebuilding bandwagon last year. They sent their captain and one of their top scorers off to TB at the trade deadline, and this year should be a continuation of the transition. Henrik Lundqvist‘s career is starting to decline, and Alexandar Georgiev got his first taste of NHL action in February. He is not the only rookie looking to break out, as both Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil might be in line for their first NHL action. Making the playoffs might be a challenge, but the team should still be exciting.
22. Carolina Hurricanes
It is no mystery what the Hurricanes are trying to do. Sure, drafting Andrei Svechnikov is definitely an offensive goal, but the defense has been re-adjusted much more since the beginning of the offseason. Their trade with Calgary netted them Dougie Hamilton, and Petr Mrazek and Calvin de Haan are also newcomers to the Canes. For a team mired in the longest playoff drought in the NHL and finishing in 22nd-24th in many categories last season, this offseason looks like a chase for the second wild card spot. Will their additions be enough?
23. St. Louis Blues
Who knows? Maybe Ryan O’Reilly will be the next star in St. Louis. Considering what they sent to Buffalo, however, the Blues could be in trouble…like potentially rebuilding trouble. They might have been too aggressive in trying to get back into the playoffs. They also made some big signings in Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Chad Johnson, but that is a long list of veteran signings and not much of a safety net if things go awry. This roster is high-risk, high-reward. Any strategy to win their first cup in 50 years will be worth it, but this looks like a good way to wait another 10 years for another decent shot.
24. Edmonton Oilers
The objective this year was clear. Edmonton needed to build a respectable supporting cast for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They fared fairly well, signing Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak to the offense. Kailer Yamamoto and Ethan Bear should also be in the mix for extended playing time, but the most important part of this team is actually Cam Talbot. The offense will always have the potential to break out with McDavid on the ice, but Talbot just did not have it last year. He needs to return to his 2016-2017 ways if the Oilers want to be a threat in the Pacific Division.
25. Detroit Red Wings
Detroit was supposed to draft a defenseman in the first round, but they changed their strategy once Filip Zadina kept getting passed. A winger drafted sixth overall? That is asking for a Matthew Tkachuk 2.0, especially since he was supposed to be with either Ottawa or Montreal. Keeping Andreas Athanasiou and Mike Green, along with adding Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Vanek, probably will not get the Wings back into the playoffs in 2019, but their first playoff bid in Little Caesars Arena could be much sooner than expected.
26. Arizona Coyotes
Nobody can say the Coyotes are not trying. They had already picked up Alex Galchenyuk before the draft, and they added Michael Grabner, who picked up 52 goals in his two-year tenure with the Rangers, in July. They reached in drafting Barrett Hayton fifth overall, but he and former rookie breakout Clayton Keller would be very dynamic if he meets expectations. It seems like Arizona has been due for an improvement, but is that in the cards?
27. Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago’s defense fell off this year, so they drafted Adam Boqvist with the eighth overall pick. He likely will not be ready to play this year, so the Blackhawks will have to stay with their current core. With Jordan Schroeder being the biggest signing so far, wins might be hard to come by as Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews are no longer enough to keep the Blackhawks from falling short. Anything better than last place in the Central Division would be an accomplishment.
28. New York Islanders
Losing John Tavares was not going to help Long Island’s morale, but the Islanders also lost defenseman Calvin de Haan to Carolina and Jaroslav Halak to Boston. Perhaps removing the current players will help the NHL-worst defense, but replacing them with Seth Helgeson and Robin Lehner is not exactly a good way to turn things around. On the offensive front, the Islanders added Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, and Tom Kuhnhackl. Those three should see some respectable numbers in Brooklyn/Hempstead, but that will not replace the gaping hole at the top line. Barring another youngster breakout (perhaps this is the year forJoshua Ho-Sang), there is little hope for the upcoming season, even with Barry Trotz at the helm.
29. Vancouver Canucks
Sure, Vancouver had some extra money to spend following the Sedins’ retirements, but they did not spend it well. Was it really worth signing Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel to multi-year contracts? Maybe if they wanted to set the record for most penalty minutes in a season, but not great for winning. They deserve some credit, however, for stealing Quinton Hughes, one of the top defensemen in the draft after Rasmus Dahlin, with the seventh overall pick. The defense looks primed for a breakout in a couple of years.
30. Montreal Canadiens
For a draft filled with defensemen and wingers, the Canadiens drafted a need. Perhaps Jesperi Kotkaniemi will surprise the NHL, but Montreal passed up on a lot of generational talent. The only other notable acquisition at the moment appears to be Joel Armia, who came in a trade in which Winnipeg performed a salary dump. For a team that needs all the offensive spark they can get, this offseason did not do them many favors.
31. Ottawa Senators
So Mike Hoffman was already gone, but things do not look brighter. Sure, drafting Brady Tkachuk should have its benefits, but will there be any other serviceable players around him by the time he makes his NHL debut? Mark Stone has filed for arbitration, which should significantly impact whether the team is willing to sign him, and there are already rumors flying regarding an Erik Karlsson trade, possible to either Dallas or Tampa Bay. Perhaps not having much production will open up a chance for top prospects Logan Brown, Filip Chlapik, and Colin White to break out like Mathew Barzal, but this team is destined for the basement.