Top three winners and losers of the NHL off-season
By Sajan Jabbal, Contributor
As the NHL pre-season enters its first few days, management teams out of the 31 NHL franchises have spent the summer preparing for the upcoming season in an attempt to make the shift from being pretender to contender, or in some cases, contender to champion.
There was a lot of hype heading into the free agency this summer with the (Las) Vegas Golden Knights entering the league as the newest expansion team.
The 2000/2001 NHL season was the last time the league had expansion teams joining the mix with the 29th and 30th teams respectively being the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Here’s the breakdown of some of the winners and losers of the 2017 NHL off-season.
Winner one: Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars had one of their worst defensive seasons in franchise history getting scored on 262 times last season. With the lackluster play of goaltender Kari Lethonen, who did let a lot in during his time with the Stars, had no help from an uninspired defensive core.
The Stars were unable to make the playoffs.
Dallas is ready for change this year, making splashes in the off-season.
Some argue the biggest move made was trading a draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the rights to sign Ben Bishop, which they successfully did four days later, locking up the star net-minder for six years at a $29.5-million dollar contract.
This gave the Stars the ability to shed some dead weight, buying out the contract of former Stanley Cup champion Antti Niemi. They were also able to solidify their defensive core, adding serviceable top four defenseman Marc Methot in a trade that sent prospect goalie Dylan Ferguson to Vegas.
Russian star Alexander Radulov signed a five year 31.5 million dollar deal after a successful return to the NHL last season with the Montreal Canadiens, tallying 54 points in 76 games.
Following a four-year hiatus in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Radulov’s campaign in Montreal saw him be on track to have the best season in his career.
The acquisition will be a huge boost to go along with other talents like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Spezza; Radulov should fit in just fine. All these moves, and they still manage to hang on to their core talent, resigning important depth players like Radek Faksa, Brett Ritchie, and Mattias Janmark. Look for Dallas to make a playoff push this year.
Winner two: Calgary Flames
Although Calgary has had a rather quiet off-season, they did make a big move in adding Goaltender Mike Smith to the roster. Smith will be looking to make 50+ saves a game as he did with his time down in Arizona, but actually pick up some Ws along the way.
The Flames also acquired defenceman Travis Hamonic in a trade from the New York Islanders in exchange for three draft picks, further beefing up Calgary’s already dangerous blueline. They also made sure they re-signed all of their big prospects like the up-and-coming Curtis Lazar who was a steal for the Flames, signing a two year $950,000 deal. Tyler Wotherspoon, and Sam Bennett also reached deals to stay in Calgary.
Winner three: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning were busy on the phones as soon as the frenzy started, signing five players and making one trade on July 1. The moves included grabbing two veteran players. Three time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz, who is coming off back-to-back title wins, and former New York Ranger’s top four defender Dan Girardi.
This veteran talent will be good for the Lightning as they’ll look to use Kunitz on the wing to help Steven Stamkos, who both Nikita Kucherov and general manager Steve Yzerman hope the elite sniper stays healthy for more than 20 games this season. The former scoring champion, Stamkos hasn’t played a full season since 2011/2012. Girardi will be a good addition to the defensive core, operating as a top-four defenseman with a presence.
Tampa were also able to hang onto some of their own stars, re-signing forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat to seven- and five-year contracts respectively.
They did lose a great talent in Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens, but they were able to pick up a future top-two defenseman in Mikhail Sergachev, who found out about the acquisition when he was on vacation with his family in Cyprus. All in all, a victory for Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay organization.
Loser one: Montreal Canadiens
What can I say about the Montreal Canadiens other than the fact that their team looks much worse compared to last year. The NHL expansion draft gave Montreal the opportunity to protect three defenseman, yet they lost more than that in this off season. Their defense wasn’t the strongest to begin with, but now with the losses of veteran Andrei Markov to the KHL, Alexi Emelin who Vegas picked up, and Nikita Nesterov.
Great young talents in Mikhail Sergachev and Nathan Beaulieu were also lost in the summer, not to mention their big loss in offence, Alex Radulov. Montreal did however manage to pick up a few assets at the tail-end of their career in Mark Streit and Ales Hemsky, while adding depth in picking up Drouin, David Schlemko and ex-Washington Capitals top two defenseman Karl Alzner.
Overall, not a good off-season for a team who’s looking to get over the hump of only making the playoffs.
Loser two: Washington Capitals
With the team still not managing to get into the third round of the playoffs in the Alexander Ovechkin era, this off-season is not looking like it will help the cause.
They managed to resign some star assets such as Dimitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie.
They do, however, have to suffer the losses of Kevin Shattenkirk who was a season loan from St. Loius, offensive defenseman Alzner and a depth scorer in Marcus Johansen who took his talents to a rebuilding New Jersey Devils team.
Losing these pieces will make it very tough for them to go deep and make a run for the Stanley Cup, but with the likes of Vezina quality goaltending from Braden Holtby and the firepower of the Caps offence, expect them to make noise in the season regardless.
Loser three: Las Vegas Golden Knights
The newest NHL team had a lot of people watching them this off-season, with the expansion draft bringing players in from around the league such as three time champion Marc-Andre Fleury, cup finalist from this past playoffs James Neal, and many more.
Vegas did manage to pick up some talent, but there is not much depth in their lineup. Their top players consist of elite sniper Neal, young talent Jonathan Marchessault, and veterans in David Perron, and Jason Garrison, and Fleury.
They also didn’t leave much depth around the team, either having young prospects or veterans nearing the end of their career, but with such a unique mix of players Vegas might just squeak into a playoff spot in the unpredictable NHL.