Let’s look at five of the teams that have had the quietest off-season so far, and try to figure out if the conservative approach will end up being the right move.
An NHL offseason can be a funny thing. For some teams, it represents an opportunity to blow everything up real good, hitting the reset button entirely or at the very least radically changing direction. For others, it’s a chance to double down on what’s already working by loading up on the final pieces of a true contender. In either case, blockbuster trades can be made, big-name free agents can be lured, and coaches and GMs can be replaced. Things are happening. And then there are the teams that decide to skip all of that, and largely sit out the offseason. They tinker a bit, re-signing a guy here and making a minor move there, but for the most part they decide to pass on doing anything especially newsworthy. And let’s be honest: While that approach may not be all that exciting, sometimes it absolutely turns out to be the right one. Sometimes, it really is better to leave the bat on your shoulder. But only sometimes.
So today, let’s look at five of the teams that have had the quietest off-season so far, and try to figure out if the conservative approach will end up being the right move.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
What they did: They watched Milan Lucic head to Edmonton, replacing him (kind of) with Teddy Purcell. Luke Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Kris Versteeg also departed. Oh, and they stripped Dustin Brown of his captaincy.
What they didn’t do: While the Kings don’t have any glaring holes, it became apparent last year that blueline depth was a question mark, especially after Alec Martinez went down. With apologies to Tom Gilbert, it still is.
The verdict: On the surface, this seems like an example of a good team not needing to do too much – after all, the Kings have won two of the last five Cups. But they’ve also won just a single playoff game over the last two seasons, and while the roster is still very good, it’s an aging one that doesn’t have much in the way of young reinforcements on the way. Ideally, you might think that the Kings would be loading up to make the most of one or two more runs with their championship core, but their ugly cap situation just won’t let them. A quiet summer may have been inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be disappointing.
What they did: They re-signed Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas and bought out R.J. Umberger, but their only significant addition was Dale Weise.
What they didn’t do: Anything crazy, like spending eight figures on a washed up free agent, or dropping a massive offer sheet on another team’s franchise player, or trading two of their best players so they could sign a certifiably crazy goaltender.
The verdict: OK, granted, the Flyers have tried all that stuff in the past and it never really worked out. Still, we’ve come to count on the franchise to provide some offseason fireworks, and they’ve let us down over the last few years. That time period, of course, coincides with Ron Hextall’s stint as GM, and it certainly seems like the man who was once considered the
biggest loose cannon in hockey has evolved into a decidedly patient GM. So is that good? Considering where the Flyers are right now, it probably is. Despite making the playoffs last year, the Flyers are still in build mode. That won’t last forever, and there’s going to come a time when Hextall will have to get aggressive. Some have made the case that
that time is already here, but I think the Flyers still have one more season to work with.
What they did: They swung a trade with Montreal for Lars Eller.
What they didn’t do: Pretty much anything else, with the exception of some very minor tinkering. Honestly, there’s a non-zero chance that they don’t actually know the offseason has started.
The verdict: When you run away with the Presidents’ Trophy, it’s fair to say that you don’t head into the offseason with a long list of holes in the lineup. Still, that hasn’t prevented other teams from over-reacting to a disappointing playoff performance by making big changes. That list includes previous Capitals teams, like the 2009-10 squad that racked up 121 points by playing high-flying hockey and then decided
it all had to change. There was no such panic in Washington this time around, despite the sting of last year’s second-round exit to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. That seems like the right call. Oh hey, speaking of the champs…
What they did: They lost Ben Lovejoy and Beau Bennett, but were able to re-sign free agents Matt Cullen and Justin Schultz. That’s pretty much it.
What they didn’t do: Despite rumors that they’d move a goaltender, the Penguins look like they’ll head into the season with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray sharing the crease once again.
The verdict: Much like the Capitals, the Penguins didn’t exactly come into the offseason with a long to-do list. But it was mildly surprising to see them pass on moving Fleury, given that having both he and Murray on the roster next offseason could create an expansion draft headache. Still, there’s plenty of time to resolve that issue. A more pressing concern may be the salary cap – the Penguins are
all out of room and will have to find a way to trim something before the season starts. For some teams, that would be a major strike against their offseason strategy. But when you’re still recovering from your champagne hangover, I suppose we can let some things slide.
What they did: Apart from re-signing Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault, the biggest move was taking Patrik Laine with the second pick in the draft.
What they didn’t do: They didn’t make any trades or sign any big-name free agents (although Shawn Matthias will help). They also haven’t found a deal with Jacob Trouba yet. That’s taking longer than expected, but after some
early summer rumors, fears of an offer sheet seems to have dissipated.
The verdict: This is a tough one. On the one hand, the Jets are coming off a season where they missed the playoffs by nine points while finishing last in the toughest division in hockey. While some of the teams ahead of them have been making big moves, the Jets seem to have lapsed back into the stand-pat mode that
marked the first few years of Kevin Chevaldayoff’s tenure. How are they going to make the playoffs in the Central without making any changes? But then you look through a young roster and deep prospect pipeline, and the conservative approach starts to make at least a little sense. The Jets are young enough that they really should improve on their own, and that’s especially true if a full season of Connor Hellebuyck provides a big boost in the crease. So let’s say the Jets’ quiet summer gets a pass – for now. But if they get out to a slow start in the fall, it may be time to get more aggressive before yet another season slips away.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.