Winners and losers in the NHL offseason so far
For some hockey-minded people (your eager correspondent included), it is now golf season.
With most of the NHL’s players and decision-makers off to play their favorite summer courses — and much of the transactional action complete, short of a potential Erik Karlsson blockbuster — it’s time for a review of the free agency period that was.
Trying not to overreact while grouping every team into categories of early-offseason success:
Toronto — The Maple Leafs were in good shape before adding John Tavares, who enters his age-28 season. How about Auston Matthews (20), Tavares, and Nazem Kadri (27) down the middle, Mitch Marner (21) and William Nylander (22) on the wings, with Morgan Rielly (24) and Travis Dermott (21) on defense? Kyle Dubas (31) has as good a chance as any GM to win it all next year. In this league of parity, why not?
Buffalo — GM Jason Botterill got a decent return for Ryan O’Reilly, and Carter Hutton was the best goalie on the UFA market. Rasmus Dahlin makes the Sabres instantly watchable. Buffalo has seven former top-10 picks in its projected opening-night lineup, more than any other team in the league. All but Kyle Okposo (30) are under 24. This will all come together, eventually. Right?
Carolina — New management, a high-end draftee (Andrei Svechnikov), a big trade (welcome, Dougie Hamilton), and a couple smart signings (Calvin de Haan, Petr Mrazek). Enjoyable offseason for Hurricanes fans, who could watch the youngest outfit in the league take a step forward. Still could deal Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner.
Arizona — Locking up Oliver Ekman-Larsson for eight years sends a message that the Coyotes are coming. They won the Alex Galchenyuk trade with Montreal, added speedy winger Michael Grabner, and have studs such as Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller in the mix. Should build on last year’s blazing-hot finish.
Philadelphia — A solid collection of forwards gets a proven net-front producer in James van Riemsdyk (36 goals, 54 points playing 14:54 a night in Toronto). The defense could use an upgrade, perhaps via a trade for Wayne Simmonds. Somehow, the goaltending is still an issue, but top prospect Carter Hart should arrive next season.
Florida — Ottawa refugee Mike Hoffman joins a nice cast of high-end, low-cost forwards (Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and sublime pivot Aleksander Barkov, one of the biggest steals in the league at $5.9 million per).
St. Louis — Couldn’t lure Paul Stastny back, but O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, and David Perron should help the Blues’ scoring issues.
Colorado — With depth additions Matt Calvert and Ian Cole, GM Joe Sakic bet on a roster that surprised by making the postseason. Took advantage of Washington’s cap crunch and added goaltender Philipp Grubauer for a second-round pick.
Edmonton — He didn’t move Milan Lucic, but nice job by GM Peter Chiarelli to add speedy forward Tobias Rieder for an economical price ($2 million, one year).
READING THE GREEN
Dallas — Karlsson would be a quite a consolation prize for missing out on Tavares, especially if it means not taking on Bobby Ryan’s $7.25 million contract and keeping top blue-line prospect Miro Heiskanen. Lot to ask there. But the Stars, hoping to entice Tyler Seguin to stay around beyond next season, have the cap space to accommodate Karlsson’s price (reportedly the Drew Doughty dough, $11 million per for eight years). Imagine seeing Karlsson and John Klingberg for 45-50 minutes a night. Would make everyone forget Dallas gave Roman Polak $1.3 million.
Vegas — Stastny was a nice add at $6.5 million. How much will GM George McPhee pay RFAs William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, and Colin Miller? If Erik Karlsson lands on The Strip, it could make people forget all about overpaying Ryan Reaves ($2.775 million for a player who contributes little else but body checks).
Tampa Bay — Nothing doing, nothing needed. The Bolts will contend for the next few seasons, at least, with or without a trade for Erik Karlsson.
San Jose — Still strong, though not as loaded as they might have been with Tavares. Giving Evander Kane $49 million over seven years raised eyebrows — he has yet to crack the 60-point barrier — but he fits. Joe Thornton’s back, too.
Winnipeg — Lost Statsny and Joel Armia (Montreal), but the Jets are in position to contend again. The Jacob Trouba salary arbitration decision could be costly.
Boston — Could have upgraded the second-line right wing and third-line center spots, but it’s smart to see if the kids can play. Could be open for business come trade deadline time.
Anaheim — Declining veteran group (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler) and a lot of nice young pieces (Josh Manson, Rickard Rakell, Hampus Lindholm, John Gibson). Playoff team that did not get better or worse.
Calgary — “Real Deal” James Neal (25 goals) should keep up that pace with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, though the term (five years at $5.75 million per) is a tad long for a 31-year-old. Tough to lose Hamilton, but Noah Hanafin and Elias Lindholm is a reasonable return.
Nashville — Quiet summer in the Music City so far, with no news of an extension for defenseman Ryan Ellis. The Predators have calls to make on Ellis, who is entering the last year of a five-year, $12.5 million deal, and Pekka Rinne (35 and on the last year of his deal).
New Jersey — Taylor Hall has two years left at $6 million per and the Devils may want to get him some help before he, Will Butcher, and Pavel Zacha (RFAs after this year) get paid.
New York Rangers — Club in dire need of impact pieces. Are RFAs Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, and Brady Skjei worth building around?
Columbus — Could be in the trap or close to the pin, depending on the return in a potential Artemi Panarin deal.
Washington — Acquired the Stanley Cup on a one-year term. Priceless.
IN THE ROUGH
Chicago — Still figuring out what to do as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane reach the crest of the age-30 hill. First-round picks Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin won’t replace Duncan Keith (soon-to-be 35) and Brent Seabrook (33) on the back line any time soon.
Los Angeles — The oldest group of forwards in the league did not get faster or younger. If Ilya Kovalchuk scores 25 a year the next three, his $6.25 million hit is manageable. If not, they’ll get no cap relief, since he’s 35. They’ll hand Doughty $11 million a year through 2027.
Pittsburgh — Maybe coach Mike Sullivan can get something out of Jack Johnson, but five years for a sometimes-benched defenseman doesn’t seem like good business.
Minnesota — An uninspiring offseason for a club that lacks sizzle, even after the anticipated re-signing of RFAs Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker (which should eat up the rest of the budget). Must get Zach Parise and Ryan Suter back from injury to compete (and another elite season from Eric Staal wouldn’t hurt).
Detroit — Re-upping Mike Green and bringing back Thomas Vanek won’t push the pedal on the Wings’ rebuild.
New York Islanders — Hard to blame Tavares for not sticking around. Why spend money on Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, and Valtteri Filppula? At least they got Robin Lehner to lift the goaltending a little.
Montreal — Pity Carey Price, especially after the Habs lost Shea Weber for 5-6 months following knee surgery. No one’s lining up to bail out GM Marc Bergevin with a sweet package for Max Pacioretty. Scored the third-fewest goals last season and dealt Galchenyuk (0.26 goals per game, career) for Max Domi (0.16). Armia was a decent buy. Tomas Plekanec at a $2.5 million cap hit? Not so much.
Vancouver — Don’t get why Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel got four years at $3 million per each, joining underperforming Loui Eriksson ($6 million a year through 2022), and possession drain Erik Gudbranson ($4 million per through 2021). What is the Canucks’ plan?
Ottawa — Not a lot else to be said about the Senators’ troubles this offseason. Roster is bereft of high-end players. Erik Karlsson saga appears headed to a dismal end. A mess.
Vaakanainen gets high praise
Few people have a better read on Finnish hockey than Eric Perrin.
The all-time scoring leader among foreign players in Finland’s pro league, Liiga, the former University of Vermont standout has skated in every rink, faced every goalie, gotten to know every coach and GM.
Perrin, 42, recently signed up for one final season, with JYP Jyvaskyla. He is glad he won’t see Urho Vaakanainen on his retirement tour.
“He was the dangerous one,” recalled Perrin, whose TPS club beat the Bruins prospect’s SaiPa team in a seven-game playoff series in March. “He hardly ever made a mistake. The kid was always on the ice, the main guy for them. For someone so young, that’s a huge thing. Always made the right decision. Always in the right place.”
After two-plus years as an underage standout in Finland, Vaakanainen, 19, will have a shot at making the Bruins’ roster. If not, he’ll play his first North American season in Providence. He didn’t take over Bruins development camp last week in Brighton — partly because he hadn’t skated in more than a month — but player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner knows what the Bruins have in the 2017 first-round pick (18th overall).
“He’s smooth with the puck,” Langenbrunner said. “His ability to get up ice rather easily should transition well over here. He played a bit of a safer game on the big ice there. Especially in the World Junior, he showed the ability to really be active. When encouraged to do so, like he will be here, I think he’ll be really effective.”
The left-shot Vaakanainen (4-7—11 in 43 games for SaiPa, playing about 23 minutes a night) has the requisite confidence, especially after playing nine games with the men’s national team after the Liiga season.
“He was so comfortable on the offensive blue line, faking a shot, getting into a shooting lane,” Perrin said. “Never panicked. Going back to get the puck, he’d make one move and boom, right away, make that first pass to the open guy. They never got in trouble in their zone when he was responsible for the puck. Other guys, we targeted. Not him.
“Eventually, he’ll be an impact guy, that I know. He has too much skill.”
Thornton re-ups with the Sharks
Speaking of graybeards (ones that reach beyond the collar), Joe Thornton hooked on for another go with the Sharks last Monday, his 39th birthday.
Thornton, knee injuries limiting him to 47 games last season, wasn’t able to help the Sharks deal with Vegas in the second round. He has played for playoff squads 12 of his 13 seasons in San Jose, half of those on a division winner, and reached the Cup Final once (2016). League-wide, he’s the sentimental favorite to win it all next season, now that Alex Ovechkin has usurped Phil Pritchard as the Cup’s summertime chaperone. Thornton will cost San Jose $5 million next season, reasonable for a player with his on-ice vision. He’s 12th all time in assists (1,030); with good health, it’s possible he could climb to seventh (currently 49 behind Adam Oates).
Jumbo Joe always brings to mind ex-Bruins GM Mike O’Connell, who shipped his captain to Silicon Valley in exchange for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau, three good soldiers who made up about 45 cents on Thornton’s dollar. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft has scored 973 points in 961 games since that Nov. 30, 2005, deal. That’s a higher pace than two young stars who shed the training wheels post-trade, Tyler Seguin (384 points, 387 games) and Phil Kessel (615 in 692 between Toronto and Pittsburgh). Seguin’s enjoying life in Dallas, where he cracked the 40-goal mark for the first time. Kessel, who hasn’t missed a game in eight years, regular season or playoffs, set career bests in assists (58) and points (92) at age 30.
The only players Boston has remaining from those three megadeals: Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Jeremy Lauzon, the result of the 2015 draft-pick haul the Bruins received for Dougie Hamilton (himself part of the Kessel deal nearly nine years ago).
Yakupov returns to Russia
The NHL’s Nail Yakupov era may be over. Too soon indeed.
KHL outfit SKA St. Petersburg announced the signing of the former No. 1 overall draft pick (2012), who heads back to Russia, 24 years old, after APBs for his game in Edmonton, St. Louis, and Colorado turned up nothing.
It was a ho-hum 350 games in the NHL for the ever-smiling winger, who totaled 62 goals, 74 assists, and 136 points (under six coaches, four in Edmonton alone). He arrived with the Oil during the half-season of 2012-13 and was fourth in scoring (17-14—31 in 48 games), but soon found himself in the badlands of draft busts.
If he remains overseas, he’ll have the shortest NHL career of any forward ever drafted No. 1, at four years. Patrik Stefan (1999, Atlanta) lasted seven seasons. Brian Lawton (1983, Minnesota) made it nine. Alexandre Daigle (1993, Ottawa) hung on for a full decade.
“Everybody’s criticizing careers, saying I ‘should have been.’ Yeah, I should have been,” Daigle told the Ottawa Citizen in 2017. “But, if you tell me my son will win two world championships, play 650 games, 200 in Europe, travel the world . . . I will sign him up [for that career] tomorrow. Anybody would.”
Voynov should not be allowed back
Count me as a supporter of comeback stories and second chances, but no NHL team should consider giving Slava Voynov another shot. The ex- Kings defenseman, who three years ago pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of bodily spousal abuse, had the charge expunged from his record by an LA judge after serving 90 days in jail. In disturbing testimony, police said he punched, kicked, and choked his wife, Marta Varlamova, in 2014. Voynov, who returned to play in Russia last year, can apply for NHL reinstatement now that his record is clear. The Kings still hold his rights. The NHL cannot be sympathetic. Should Voynov knock, he should be met with closed doors.
Without Rick Nash, Boston becomes the only team in the NHL without a former top-10 pick in the organization (the NHL average: 4.45). Edmonton (nine) has the most, followed by Buffalo and Vancouver (eight), Toronto and Minnesota (seven) . . . Ex-Bruins defenseman Paul Mara (Belmont) was named coach of the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League. Mara, 38, has been a Team USA assistant since 2016 and was part of the gold medal effort in PyeongChang . . . The NHL Draft had a slew of unique names, such as Jett Woo (Canucks), Blade Jenkins (Islanders), and Angus Crookshank (Senators). Nando Eggenberger, the undrafted Swiss winger invited to Vancouver development camp, should inspire the creation of a tasty sandwich somewhere in British Columbia . . . At Bruins development camp, Urho Vaakanainen and other prospects attended a Red Sox-Angels game at Fenway Park. His review of his first baseball game, during which the teams combined for five homers and 15 runs: “I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty boring.”
According to College Hockey Inc., the Bruins were second only to Pittsburgh last season in usage of NCAA-trained players. Eighteen former collegians suited up for Boston, 19 for the Penguins. Minnesota and New Jersey were third, with 17 each. Colleges with the most NHL alums? Minnesota tops the list (26), followed by Boston College and North Dakota (22 each), Michigan (21), and Boston University (18).
Correction: Because of an editor’s error, former Bruins coach Harry Sinden was not included in the graphic accompanying Sunday Hockey Notes. Sinden coached the Bruins to the 1970 Stanley Cup but did not return the following season. Also, Mike Keenan did return to the playoffs after leading the Rangers to the Stanley Cup in 1994.