It’s safe to say most of the summer’s biggest hockey transactions have come and gone. The top-drawer free agents, from Kevin Shattenkirk to Alexander Radulov, have signed. The Vegas Golden Knights did their wheeling and dealing before and after the expansion draft. Blockbuster trades went down involving Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Drouin.
Now the dust has more or less settled. We may see a Matt Duchene trade. Jaromir Jagr hasn’t picked a team yet, or no team has picked him. But, for the most part, all 31 NHL teams are done their primary dealings. Some have improved their forecasts a lot, especially the Dallas Stars. But a few have clammed up and done very little. Should their fans sweat over the inactivity? In some cases, yes, in others no. Here’s a breakdown of the summer’s quietest teams.
The Ducks’ off-season is a success so far because of the players they kept instead of they players they gained. The trade rumor mill all but punched Sami Vatanen’s ticket out of town because of Ducks’ expansion draft protection conundrum. It was assumed he or Josh Manson would have to go in a trade, lest the Ducks lose a valuable forward like Jakob Silfverberg to Vegas.
Instead, GM Bob Murray worked out a side deal with Golden Knights GM George McPhee. The Ducks didn’t make Kevin Bieksa waive his no-move clause and didn’t have to protect Vatanen and Manson at all. The Golden Knights claimed Clayton Stoner and were compensated with prospect Shea Theodore via trade.
Theodore has nice potential as an offensive defenseman, but the Ducks already have Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, Vatanen, Manson, and youngsters Brandon Montour and Jacob Larsson to build around. They’ve maintained their great D-corps and still have a pretty solid top-nine forward group of Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Patrick Eaves, Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler, Silfverberg, Nick Ritchie, Antoine Vermette and Corey Perry. Murray thus didn’t need to do much this off-season. He signed Ryan Miller as a backup goalie, essentially replicating Jonathan Bernier’s role last year. Don’t panic at all, Ducks fans. Your team was a Western Conference finalist this past spring and should be in the mix again.
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit’s lone acquisition of consequence: veteran defenseman Trevor Daley. Wings fans shouldn’t panic about that, because they shouldn’t want GM Ken Holland to improve this team. Even the Daley signing wasn’t a great idea. The Wings finally ended their 25-year playoff streak and would be smart to bottom out. They look like one of the Eastern Conference’s weakest teams on paper right now, and adding extra pieces would only decrease their chances of winning future draft lotteries.
The Pens haven’t done nothing, technically, as they’ve added Matt Hunwick and Ryan Reaves. The latter acquisition was curious, no doubt, costing them a first-round pick, and it doesn't fit with Pittsburgh’s speed-and-skill-based model that has produced two consecutive Stanley Cups. Pittsburgh also lost Daley, Chris Kunitz, Ron Hainsey, Nick Bonino and Marc-Andre Fleury from its championship squad.
Bonino needs to be replaced. The Pens don’t have a viable third-line center right now. But Rutherford has proven himself as a go-out-and-get-it GM in Pittsburgh. He’s fully expected to make his move at some point before the summer is up.
As for the Pens’ other departures, we know what this team is: a top-heavy lineup that leans on its superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and a handful of other elite-shooting forwards. It just won a Cup with a ragtag group of D-men and will add Letang back in once he’s healthy, not to mention Hunwick and Derrick Pouliot. We likely won’t notice any drop-off from that D-corps, who will continue firing quick stretch passes to let the forwards do the heavy lifting. Pens fans should rest easy about the off-season.
TRY TO REMAIN CALM, BUT…
I listed the Senators as a team in danger of missing the playoffs earlier this week. Their top free-agent acquisition thus far is checking center Nate Thompson, and they lost half their top defensive pair with Marc Methot getting claimed by Vegas and flipped to Dallas.
It thus stands to reason Ottawa should be a bit worried. It finished four points up on ninth in the East and joins Boston as the least-improved Atlantic Division squad this off-season.
That said, it’s too early to chew your nails off over the Sens just yet, because they have a real shot at improving from within. Elite prospect D-man Thomas Chabot has a real chance to make the team, as does two-way center Colin White. If they function as the equivalent of off-season acquisitions, Ottawa will be fine – maybe even better.
The Presidents’ Trophy winners have been gutted this off-season. Bye-bye Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt. There’s no denying they got weaker on paper.
The good news: Washington remains strong as heck up the middle with Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle. T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin give them good first-line scoring on the wings. And Braden Holtby still patrols the net.
The bad news: Washington’s defense corps got real thin, real fast. The Caps really need prospect Madison Bowey to make a leap this year. Same goes for Jakub Vrana on the wing, where Washington has also lost a lot of talent. Some combination of Vrana, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky need to replace Williams’ and Johansson’s production. Washington still boasts a lot of skill, but its off-season losses are troubling. General manager Brian MacLellan was backed into a corner with unrestricted free agent Oshie and restricted free agents Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov swallowing up big bucks.
Zdeno Chara is 40. Patrice Bergeron turns 32 this month. David Krejci is 31. David Backes is 33. Even though they also have significant contributors in their 20s in Brad Marchand, Torey Krug and David Pastrnak, it’s fair to call Boston a team trying to win the Stanley Cup right now.
It’s thus troubling to see how little GM Don Sweeney has done to improve his club, with blueliner Paul Postma the biggest addition. The Bruins need improvement from within, just like Ottawa. While Boston can match the Sens’ Chabot with Charlie McAvoy, regarded just as highly, it doesn’t have a forward prospect as NHL-ready as White. Anders Bjork, Zach Senyshyn, Jake DeBrusk and Jakub Forsbacka-Karlsson all possess good potential, but none is a lock to be an above-average NHLer this year. Boston is thin at forward and on defense. Its fans should feel nervous, especially when it squeaked into the 2017 post-season by one point over Tampa Bay.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are in decline. They are big and strong but also slow, which is a problem in the Pacific Division, where Edmonton, Calgary and Anaheim have begun skating circles around everyone else. Adding Mike Cammalleri, 35 and injury prone, doesn’t move the needle nearly enough.
The Kings are locked into long-term pacts with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Jake Muzzin, with Drew Doughty a UFA in 2019. They intend to win now with this veteran group, with no rebuild plans on the docket at the moment. That means GM Rob Blake has to improve this team a lot more if he wants it back in the playoffs. He hasn’t.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks lost Patrick Marleau to the Leafs and have done next to nothing this off-season, with the core of their roster virtually unchanged. That’s not good enough considering how many of their important pieces are exiting or close to exiting their primes. So much changes in the modern NHL that a veteran team can’t afford to stand pat.
The Sharks have to hope a young gun such as Timo Meier progresses dramatically this year. Otherwise, it’s tough to see this team going anywhere but down relative to its past couple seasons.