There’s still almost three months to go until the start of the 2016-17 campaign, but some of the acquisitions made early in the off-season project to have a major impact on the fortunes of some teams. Here are the five most important moves made so far.
There’s still nearly three months until the NHL campaign opens, which will leave the league’s 30 teams with ample time to tune and tweak their rosters as opening night approaches.
However, a few teams have made big splashes this off-season. Some have gotten creative, such as the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers, by trading for a player’s exclusive negotiating rights to ink them to a deal before free agency opened, while others have gone the more traditional route, like the Boston Bruins, who shelled out a five-year, $30-million deal to David Backes.
Meanwhile, some clubs have gone the trade route, with the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators linking up to make one-for-one deals that both teams hope will improve their situations going forward.
And though there are still a number of free agents who could sign and make a difference next season, the biggest names are off the market. So here are the five off-season moves that have been made (so far) that will have the biggest impact this coming season:
5. Brian Campbell, D, Chicago Blackhawks
Campbell’s not the player he once was, but that’s to be expected of a 37-year-old blueliner. The thing is, though, Campbell brings something to the Blackhawks that they were desperately missing during the 2015-16 season: a mobile, reliable, veteran puck-moving defenseman. Because while having Michal Rozsival return for yet another year in Chicago is all well and good, he’s not exactly the most fleet of foot blueliner in the Blackhawks’ arsenal.
After five excellent seasons in Florida, Campbell’s return to Chicago comes after a six-goal, 31-point season. If he produces anywhere near that much for the Blackhawks, it’ll be a massive boost to the Chicago blueline. The Blackhawks’ biggest hole was on defense with the loss of Johnny Oduya, but Campbell should be able to almost perfectly fill that spot.
4. Milan Lucic, LW, Edmonton Oilers
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is reunited with Lucic, but it doesn’t sound like the sell was too hard on Edmonton’s part. Wayne Gretzky talked to Lucic about what it was like to play in Edmonton and the 6-foot-3, 233-pound power forward seemed pretty keen on the idea of playing with Connor McDavid and a young Oilers group that looks like it could have a very bright future.
Lucic didn’t come cheap — he signed a seven-year, $42-million deal — but if he can recapture his 30-goal form from his time with the Boston Bruins, the Oilers won’t mind forking over the cash. There are already rumblings he could be playing on McDavid’s wing, and if the two find chemistry, Lucic could make himself an instant fan favorite in Edmonton.
3. P.K. Subban, D, Nashville Predators
The deal of the off-season and likely a trade that will be talked about, dissected and flashed back to for the next decade. Subban, 27, was traded just before his no-movement clause kicked in and the Montreal Canadiens got Predators captain Shea Weber in return. While Weber is no slouch, Subban’s impact on the Nashville defense should be immense.
The Predators already boast a strong defense with the likes of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, but add Subban to the mix and you have a game-changing offensive talent on the back end. Subban makes an already stellar Predators defense even better, and there should be serious thought given to Nashville’s ability to push for and potentially win the Central Division this season.
2. Taylor Hall, LW, New Jersey Devils
It might be overlooked simply because Hall played for an Oilers team that struggled so mightily over the past several seasons, but only 20 players have more points over the past four years than Hall. He’s an incredibly gifted scorer and he’ll be given all the opportunities he can handle in New Jersey.
Hall has yet to crack the 30-goal plateau in his six seasons in the league, but he’s scored 25 or more in three separate campaigns. Combine that with the season Kyle Palmieri just had for the Devils, and the possibility of a line with Hall, Palmieri and either Adam Henrique or Travis Zajac down the middle could be as effective a line as any in the Metropolitan Division.
1. Brian Elliott, G, Calgary Flames
Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller — and to a lesser extent Joni Ortio and Niklas Backstrom — combined to put together an atrocious performance for the Flames in 2015-16. Calgary’s netminders produced the absolute worst goaltending numbers of any team in the league this past season, and, as such, it’s not shocking that all four netminders will be playing elsewhere next season.
In their place will be the tandem of Elliott and backup Chad Johnson, and the improvement should be massive. Getting just average goaltending out of Elliott and Johnson would be a vast improvement in goal, but the Flames should get much, much more than that, especially from Elliott.
Stuck in a crowded crease in St. Louis this past season, Elliott, 31, took over the starting job from Jake Allen and helped lead the Blues to the Western Conference final. However, when push came to shove and the Blues had to move one of their netminders in the off-season, it was Elliott who found himself on the way out of town. But St. Louis’ loss could be a massive gain for Calgary.
Of the 42 goaltenders to play at least 30 games this past season, Elliott finished first in save percentage at .930 and tied for second in goals-against average at 2.07. He won 23 of his 42 appearances for the Blues and only dropped eight games in regulation. Add to it that he posted four shutouts, and you get an idea why Elliott was a target for the Flames. Elliott isn’t a flash in the pan, either.
Elliott is one of 31 netminders to play 5,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5 over the course of the past three seasons, and he ranks seventh in save percentage among those goaltenders with a .931 mark. That puts Elliott in the same neighborhood as Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, Braden Holtby and Ben Bishop.
Getting a goaltender was going to have the biggest impact on the Flames’ chances at rebounding from a dismal season. In Elliott, the Flames got a netminder who may be able to put them right back in the playoff hunt.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.