Although there are still some noteworthy unrestricted free agents remaining and plenty of major restricted free agents, the dust is starting to settle. With that in mind, we’re going to take a moment to reflect on the summer moves to date by grading each team’s performance. Today we’ll focus on the Pacific and Metropolitan Divisions.
Noteworthy Gains: None
Noteworthy Losses: Corey Perry
The 2018-19 campaign was a disappointing one for the Ducks, but at this rate they’ll enter next season with a fairly similar squad. They did make a tough decision when they bought out Perry, but so far those cap savings haven’t been used to push the team forward. On top of that, the Ducks won’t have Ryan Kesler next season, whose career might unfortunately be over after undergoing hip resurfacing surgery.
It seems the biggest change for the Ducks might come from behind the bench as Dallas Eakins will take over as the head coach after leading the AHL’s San Diego Gulls for the last four years. The Ducks also hired Darryl Sutter to serve as an advisor to the coaching staff and his wealth of knowledge, including two Stanley Cup championships as a head coach, should be very useful to Eakins.
When you get down to it though, Anaheim hasn’t really done much to better the team so far.
The Coyotes nearly made the playoffs in 2018-19 despite being one of the worst offensive teams in the NHL. This summer they addressed that glaring hole by acquiring Kessel from Pittsburgh. There have been suggestions that Kessel is difficult to work with, but he’s still a forward who has 84 goals and 244 points in 246 games over the last three seasons and has reached at least the 70-point milestone on five occasions.
As for that talk of Kessel being difficult to work with, Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet has a positive history with him and it’s believed that Arizona was Kessel’s top choice as a result. There’s a good chance that this acquisition will push Arizona into the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Noteworthy Gains: Cam Talbot
Noteworthy Losses: Mike Smith
The Flames have had a relatively quiet summer, but that’s because their hands have largely been tied. They’re going to need their cap space to re-sign RFA Matthew Tkachuk, who had 34 goals and 77 points in 80 games. That also meant the Flames needed to address their goaltending needs cheaply and they consequently signed Talbot to a one-year, $2.75 million contract.
Talbot is coming off a rough season where he posted an 11-17-3 record, 3.40 GAA, and .892 save percentage in 35 games. He’s a potential bounce back candidate, but he’s also a gamble. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Flames’ goaltending is a weakness next season.
The Hurricanes’ goaltending proved to be a pleasant surprise last season, but both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney needed to be re-signed this summer. Mrazek did agree to a reasonable two-year, $6.25 million deal with Carolina, but they couldn’t retain McElhinney. The Hurricanes instead acquired Reimer in a trade and while he struggled last season, there’s at least a chance he can be a capable backup next season.
Carolina also acquired Erik Haula, who is another gamble. He had just seven points in 15 games last season, but 29 goals and 55 points in 76 contests in 2017-18. That 55-point campaign might ultimately prove to be an anomaly, but he could still end up being a valuable secondary scorer.
Of course the big news with Carolina is that the Montreal Canadiens signed RFA Sebastian Aho to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet. The contract is heavy in signing bonuses and frontloaded, which will lead to Aho making more than $21 million over the next 12 months. That’s got to be rough for a small market team like Carolina, but nevertheless, the Hurricanes will match the contract. They just haven’t made it official yet, presumably to tie Montreal’s assets for a little bit as retribution. The Hurricanes are allowed to wait up to a week before officially matching the contract.
So at least the Aho saga will be behind the Hurricanes soon, but retaining him should have been the expectation to begin with. When you look at what Carolina has actually added this summer, it isn’t much.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Noteworthy Gains: Gustav Nyquist
The Blue Jackets took a big risk during the 2019 trade deadline by going all-in and managed to the second round of the playoffs as a result. Now though, they’re paying the costs. Rather than trade Bobrovsky and Panarin for assets when they had the chance, the Blue Jackets watched both of them walk away for nothing. Duchene, who was among the Blue Jackets’ trade acquisitions, also decided against signing in Columbus.
To make matters worse, the Blue Jackets struggled to find any major UFAs that were willing to sign with them. Columbus has plenty of cap space, but not many interested parties. Ultimately, the biggest splash they made was signing Nyquist to a four-year, $22 million contract. Nyquist is solid, but there is no question Columbus got significantly worse this summer.
Noteworthy Gains: Mike Smith
Noteworthy Losses: Andrej Sekera
The Edmonton Oilers don’t have a shortage of needs, but they do have a shortage of cap space. New GM Ken Holland did free some by buying out Sekera, but even still, Edmonton is close to the cap.
He’s tried to do what he can with what little he has to work with. He signed Smith, who is coming off a rough season and is in the twilight of his career, but fits the Oilers’ budget with his one-year, $2 million contract. They also re-signed Alex Chiasson to a two-year, $4.3 million contract and inked Markus Granlund to a one-year, $1.3 million deal.
There’s still the question of what will happen to RFA Jesse Puljujarvi, who might ultimately sign in Europe and there is a chance that Holland will be able to pull off a trade to help out their offense. For now though, this summer hasn’t added much cause for hope in Edmonton.
Los Angeles Kings
Noteworthy Gains: None
Noteworthy Losses: Dion Phaneuf
Like the Oilers, Los Angeles isn’t short on needs, but the Kings aren’t in a great cap position. It’s not terrible, especially after buying out Phaneuf, but it is part of the reason why Los Angeles has had such a quiet summer thus far.
In fact it’s been so quiet that there’s really nothing else to say. They did hire Todd McLellan as the new head coach and perhaps he will help there. It will be particularly interesting to see how he utilizes Ilya Kovalchuk, who was disappointing last season, especially towards the end of the campaign, but we’ll have to wait-and-see on that one.
New Jersey Devils
Noteworthy Losses: None
This has really been a golden summer for the New Jersey Devils. Of course, New Jersey was lucky enough to win the draft lottery and added Jack Hughes as a result, but on top of that they acquired an elite defenseman in PK Subban in a trade with Nashville and signed Wayne Simmonds to a low-risk, high-reward one-year, $5 million contract.
The Devils have put themselves in a great position to compete now and for years down the road, which is a vital argument they’ll have to make to Taylor Hall, who is entering the final season of his contract and seems to be in no particular rush to make a long-term commitment to New Jersey.
New York Islanders
Noteworthy Gains: Semyon Varlamov
The Islanders had big ambitions going into this summer. It’s believed that they were in the running for Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, but they ultimately didn’t get either and Panarin was a particularly tough loss to swallow because he signed with the rival Rangers instead.
After failing to get either of them, the Islanders circled back to Anders Lee, who now had all the leverage and used it to get a seven-year, $49 million contract out of the Islanders. That’s quite a huge payday for someone coming off a 28-goal, 51-point season. Granted, Lee did score 40 goals in 2017-18, but that was back when he had the luxury of playing alongside John Tavares. Regardless the Islanders needed to go to Plan B and while the contract is not ideal, losing Lee would have been worse.
The Islanders also signed Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million contract to compensate for the loss of Bobrovsky and their inability to re-sign Lehner. Varlamov is someone who has had an up-and-down career, but that was true of Lehner too and he work out superbly for the Islanders. A duo of Varlamov and Thomas Greiss should make the Islanders feel comfortable going into the 2019-20 campaign.
All-in-all, the Islanders aimed big this summer and when that didn’t work, they settled for neutral.
New York Rangers
Clearly the Rangers are sick of rebuilding. After missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, New York came up huge this summer by signing Panarin to a seven-year, $81.494 contract and acquiring Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. The Rangers did have to give up Pionk, who is a solid young defenseman in his own right, as part of that Trouba trade, but even still, the Rangers have added a top-end forward and a first pairing offensive defenseman this summer.
There are still major questions surrounding the Rangers, not the least of which is Henrik Lundqvist, who is 37-years-old and has been on the decline in recent years. However, the Rangers were looking up even before their acquisitions and now they are a team that can legitimately contend for a playoff spot.
It also certainly doesn’t hurt that they got the second pick in the 2019 draft and used that on Kaapo Kakko, who should be able to break into the NHL right away.
While only four player movements are highlighted here, the Flyers have already had a very busy summer. The big change is in their defense as Gudas and Andrew MacDonald have been swapped out for Niskanen and Justin Braun. That’s a pretty nice upgrade for the Flyers. They also acquired Hayes before the UFA period so that they could ink him to a seven-year contract before anyone else got a chance with him.
Getting Hayes isn’t a game changer, but he’s a solid second-line forward who gives the Flyers more options. A lot of the Flyers hopes for next season are still resting on goaltender Carter Hart having a solid sophomore season though after looking pretty solid in his rookie campaign. They gave Brian Elliott a one-year, $2 million contract to be the backup goaltender, but he’s coming off a rough, injury-riddled campaign, so he’s a significant risk too.
This summer wasn’t necessarily a home run for the Flyers, but it represented a big step forward for them.
Noteworthy Gains: Alex Galchenyuk
This has been a questionable summer for the Penguins to say the least. While GM Jim Rutherford deserves credit for helping the Penguins win back-to-back championships not that long ago, over the past year it feels like he’s been panicking and making a significant number of bad signings and regressive trades.
As for as questionable trades go, the Kessel one is the big example. He dealt away Kessel, Dan Birks, and a 2021 fourth-round pick to Arizona in exchange for Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph. Joseph is a solid defensive prospect so his inclusion shouldn’t be ignored, but Galchenyuk-for-Kessel is a major downgrade offensively and it leaves this whole trade looking suspect. You could argue that Rutherford’s hands were tied because Kessel, using his no-trade clause as leverage, basically made it so that the Penguins general manager had to trade with Arizona or no one at all, but that leads to the big question: Did the Penguins HAVE to trade Kessel?
That’s a tough one to get a straight answer on. Rutherford claims Kessel demanded a trade while Kessel denies that ever happening. Kessel does have a reputation at this point of being difficult to work with too, though we can only speculate about how deserved that is. Regardless, he’s an elite forward with a favorable cap hit and those aren’t easily replaceable. It was the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kessel that played a big role in the Penguins’ Cup runs in part because it gave opposing teams more threats then they could comfortably deal with. At times each of those three was headlining their own line and when that was working, it was fantastic for Pittsburgh.
On top of that, the Penguins signed Brandon Tanev to a very questionable six-year, $21 million contract that even came with a partial no-trade clause. Tanev, 27, had 14 goals and 29 points in 80 games last season and has 195 games on his NHL resume. He’s a bottom-six forward that isn’t that well established in the league yet and while he might end up being a solid third or fourth-line guy, agreeing to a six-year contract is awfully suspect. Rutherford said of the contract, “You either give the player close to what he wants or you don’t get the player,” but in this case I wonder if not getting the player would have been preferable to signing this deal, especially given that Pittsburgh isn’t exactly swimming in cap space.
Pittsburgh still has Crosby and Malkin and as long as that’s true, they can’t be ignored, but this team just seems to be trending in the wrong direction.
San Jose Sharks
Noteworthy Gains: None
If you look at the gains and losses, it’s obviously that San Jose is worse now than they were at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. We have to give them some credit though because this could have gone worse. The Sharks did manage to sign Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million contract and while that’s an awfully big cap hit and he’s somewhat risky given his injury history, it does mean that the Sharks are going to enter the 2019-20 campaign with arguably the best defensive duo in the league in Karlsson and Brent Burns.
They also re-signed RFA Timo Meier to a four-year, $24 million contract, which looks pretty good given the way RFA contracts have been trending recently. It’s those re-signings of Meier and Karlsson that ultimately convinced me to give them as high a grade as I did despite their empty noteworthy gains column.
But yeah, losing Pavelski obviously hurts and they had to trade away Braun for cap reasons. On the upside, the Sharks still have a great team and Marleau is expected to return to the Sharks cheaply after his contract was bought out. They’re going to be a major Stanley Cup contender still.
Noteworthy Losses: Derrick Pouliot
The Canucks are an interesting one because of the Myers signing. Listening to fans talk about the possibility of Myers signing with the Canucks before the deal ever happened made it seem like Myers in a Canucks uniform was something the people in Vancouver were dreading. There was even a joke making the rounds that Roberto Luongo’s retirement, which triggered Vancouver to assume a recapture penalty of roughly $3 million in cap space annually for the next three seasons, was him making one last save for the Canucks based on the believe that Luongo’s cap penalty would prevent Vancouver from signing Myers.
That didn’t prove to be the case though as Myers signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Canucks. I have to say though that I don’t dislike this contract. Maybe those fans dreading a Myers signing were thinking he’d be signing for more because a $6 million cap hit seems pretty reasonable for what he brings to the table. He’s never been able to live up to that first Calder Trophy-winning campaign, but he’s established himself as a solid top-four defenseman and he does make the Canucks’ defense look better.
The addition of Benn helps solidify Vancouver’s third-pairing too, giving them a pretty decent blueline going into this season. Combine that with the Canucks young offensive core, which also got a boost with the acquisition of Miller, and the Canucks might be able to transition from a rebuilding squad to a serious contender for a playoff spot.
Vegas Golden Knight
Noteworthy Gains: None
Like San Jose, the Golden Knights are strictly speaking a worse team than when the 2018-19 campaign ended, but that was largely inevitable due to their cap situation and they’ve done as well as they could under the circumstances.
Vegas was able to acquire Mark Stone from Ottawa before the trade deadline and sign him to an eight-year, $76 million contract, which is fantastic, but it also meant that come the summer, they’d have to make sacrifices to make room for that long-term deal. Vegas did that by trading away Haula and Miller in separate trades. Haula missed most of 2018-19 due to injury and Miller fell out of favor in Vegas, even being a healthy scratch in one game, so they were logical players to move from the Golden Knights’ perspective in order to clear that cap space. It still hurts and they might have to watch Haula and Miller bounce back on other teams, but it’s the price Vegas had to pay.
The Golden Knights also re-signed William Karlsson to an eight-year, $47.2 million contract this summer. Karlsson’s 43-goal campaign in 2017-18 is likely an anomaly, but his 24 goals and 56 points in 82 games last season seems a lot more in line with what you should expect going forward. In other words, he’s a solid, but not top-tier scoring forward and his cap hit is reasonable for what it is. He likely accepted less too for the sake of getting an eight-year deal. All-in-all, Vegas has to be pretty happy with this contract.
So while this hasn’t been a summer of additions for Golden Knights, they do have a good team and their cap situation is largely in order. The remaining X-Factor is Nikita Gusev, who is a restricted free agent and might end up traded.
Trading away Niskanen had to hurt, but Gudas is a far cheaper defenseman and he only has one year left on his deal, which is important because they need some cap flexibility ahead of 2020-21 in order to re-sign Nicklas Backstrom, who is also entering the final campaign of his contract. Outside of that, the Capitals mostly made relatively minor changes this summer.
They signed Garnet Hathaway to a four-year, $6 million contract. That term is a little questionable for what he is, but the cap hit is fine. Hathaway will be a decent bottom-six forward with them. They also traded away Andre Burakovsky, who never worked out in Washington, to Colorado in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick, a 2020 third-round pick, and Scott Kosmachuk, who became a UFA on Monday. Maybe the change of scenery will help Burakovsky, but it didn’t seem likely that he’d find his way in Washington, so it made sense for the Capitals to cut their losses.
So in other words, the Capitals didn’t do anything stunning this summer, but they made some reasonable moves in accordance with their situation.