As summer rolls on, PHT will examine the four NHL divisions and see how each individual team stands.
Summer summary: Big-picture, the Ducks are the same: a team with an excellent goalie who has had bad injury luck (John Gibson), mostly creaky top forwards, and a veritable war chest of quality young defensemen. They didn’t even make Gibson their first goalie under a long-term and expensive contract in … ages? (Since Jonas Hiller? J.S. Giguere?) Gibson remains without an extension, entering the last year of his dirt-cheap $2.5 million per year bridge deal.
The defense got a little younger in saying goodbye to the likes of Kevin Bieksa for veteran-yet-28-year-old Luke Schenn, even if it didn’t really get much better (Andrej Sustr‘s nickname might as well be “blah”).
They also gave Adam Henrique a somewhat-frightening extension.
After being swept by the hated Sharks in the first round, the Ducks waddled idly.
(Sorry, had to.)
Beyond that, the Ducks really should try to sign Gibson to a team-friendly deal (in my opinion), and maybe extend Jakob Silfverberg as well.
Longer term, Anaheim needs to do some soul-searching. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler are all 33. Getzlaf and Perry both cost a ton for three more seasons, while Kesler’s contract runs one more year (through 2021-22). For a franchise that can be a little tight with cash, tough questions must be asked about whether this core can really contend.
If the answer is “No, we can’t compete with these guys,” then Murray would be wise to swallow a bitter pill and blow things up. Otherwise, the Ducks risk wasting money and being mediocre.
Where they stand? In the short term, there are some reasons to be optimistic.
This team dealt with some serious injury issues in 2017-18, yet Gibson and others kept them afloat, sometimes with ridiculously understaffed roster talent. If Murray’s going glass-half-full, he could picture a better season.
On the other hand, the speculation isn’t rosy for Kesler, and Perry looked pretty long in the tooth last season. If, say, the Oilers and Flames get their acts together, the Coyotes climb, and the Central remains deadly, the Ducks might get squeezed out.
This franchise has been able to find diamonds in the rough and work things out before, but right now, the outlook is a bit dreary.
Summer summary: Aside from maybe reaching for Barrett Hayton with the fifth pick, the Coyotes have enjoyed another pretty excellent off-season.
Maybe most importantly, they signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a contract that will essentially cover his prime, and it came cheaper than other stars like Drew Doughty. That could end up being a gem, but even if it was smack-dab in where he’s valued, it was huge not to lose a face-of-the-franchise.
The Coyotes also moved an up-and-down young player (Max Domi) for a more stable scorer who may thrive out of the Montreal malaise (Alex Galchenyuk). They then took on Marian Hossa‘s cap space to get a nice find in Vinnie Hinostroza, and also signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to what could be a nifty extension.
More to do? Nothing too pressing. GM John Chayka should merely consider the cost-benefit analysis of possibly extending some players who will see their rookie contracts expire after 2018-19.
The biggest name, and maybe the guy with the biggest risk-reward question, is Jakob Chychrun. The 16th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft (who many expected to go higher) has experienced a stunted development so far, in part because of injuries. It’s tough to tell what the Coyotes really have here, although that’s the incentive to doing something early: if he ends up being a gem, Arizona might be able to land a bargain.
Where they stand? The Coyotes improved by pretty significant steps this summer. The questions are: how much better did they get, and how much farther do they need to go to really be a factor in the Pacific?
From here, the Coyotes boast modern-style pieces (and versatility) on defense, an interesting goalie duo (with Antti Raanta being the most promising, of course), and a very young offense that seems intriguing but maybe lacks the high-end weapons to really stand out.
The thing is, teams heavy with young players can sometimes make bigger leaps than expected. The Coyotes are being aggressive in trying to make that happen, sooner rather than later.
Summer summary: In 2017-18, the Flames ranked among the most puzzling NHL teams, boasting high-end talent that never really put it together. Management clearly saw reasons to make some pretty dramatic changes.
To start, Glen Gulutzan has been replaced by former Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. It’s an open question if Peters – whose Hurricanes never made the playoffs – will rank as an upgrade, or a significant one in that.
Some of Peters’ guys replaced some prominent Flames, as Calgary stole some draft weekend headlines by swapping Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. (The Flames were twiddling their thumbs a bit during the draft itself, as 2017’s Travis Hamonic trade cost them their first-rounder. Oops.)
That wasn’t the only bold move for Calgary, as the Flames handed James Neal a five-year contract that carries a $5.75M cap hit.
Whether you’re hot or cold on the Flames’ off-season, you can’t accuse them of doing nothing.
More to do? The Flames already warped the postscript of the Hamilton trade by giving Lindholm a meaty extension. They figure to complicate the viewpoint again whenever they hammer out a contract with Noah Hanifin, a 21-year-old RFA.
Considering that Hanifin can say “I’m a high first-rounder and you traded Dougie Hamilton for me,” it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy blueliner eats up much of the Flames’ estimated $5.39M in cap space.
GM Brad Treliving also must consider extending pugnacious forward Matthew Tkachuk, whose rookie contract only has one year left.
Where they stand? Even though many (raises hand) view the Hamilton trade as a downgrade for Calgary, the Flames still seem like a formidable team on paper.
Tkachuk’s line tends to hog the puck and befuddle defenses. The Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan duo is deadly, and could be even more dangerous if Neal and/or Lindholm really click with them. These off-season additions may finally help Calgary provide those lines with some supporting punch, Hanifin may very well break through, and Mark Giordano hopefully still has it as a Norris-level defenseman.
Still, there are reasons to worry. The Flames seem like they’re once again going to ask a lot of Mike Smith, who’s already 36. Giordano may hit the wall in a big way at 34. Hanifin might merely be solid instead of very good.
In this era of parity, it’s rare to see a team that could just as easily contend as miss the playoffs altogether … although maybe that’s the trademark of the Pacific Division as a whole?
Summer summary: The Oilers could do worse than unveil a big banner that merely states “We didn’t make a bad trade!”
Edmonton’s moves were the definition of marginal, while they made a sensible-by-consensus pick by selecting Evan Bouchard with the 10th overall selection. A team with the best hockey player in the world shouldn’t get points for merely not shooting itself in the face – giving Connor McDavid more help would have been ideal – but you have to grade Peter Chiarelli & Co. on a curve at this point. So they didn’t fail, that’s nice.
More to do? Darnell Nurse, RFA defenseman and the seventh pick from 2013, still needs a contract. Getting that situation right (ideally with a cheap AAV and solid term, rather than a bridge deal) would brighten the outlook of a mostly tepid summer for Edmonton.
Again, the not-doing might be best for Chia. He didn’t stretch too far to exacerbate the Milan Lucic mistake. Despite rumors, affordable, solid defenseman Oscar Klefbom wasn’t recklessly moved, either. Not trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was probably the wiser choice (again, because Chiarelli), too.
Management needs to think long and hard about the future of their goaltending position. Cam Talbot had a rough season, and he’s entering a contract year. If he’s still the guy, he’d be a heck of a lot cheaper to sign today than if he bounces back. If not, why didn’t the Oilers take a flier on someone who might be a better answer?
Oh, because the Oilers actually decided to do the “potato vs. GM” bit? Not going to mash them up for that, honestly.
Where they stand? Do they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? If so, pencil them in for “plausibly competent.”
It’s still a little disconcerting that management is asleep at the wheel, with Chiarelli and Todd McLellan possibly in place to make the wrong adjustments, or few adjustments at all.
Certain situations might improve just by default. A rebound season for Talbot is feasible. Lucic being OK isn’t that outrageous, even if the climb might be short.
That said, this team missed the postseason by a mile, and didn’t really get better. Not great, yet maybe not “#FreeConnor” territory just yet.
Los Angeles Kings
Summer summary: It happened about a decade later than they probably would have preferred, but the Kings finally landed Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk, 35, ranks as one of the more intriguing wild cards of the off-season. How close is he to the world-class sniper who left the NHL with exactly as many points as games played (816)? If he has much left, we’ll probably see it, as Anze Kopitar essentially worked miracles with mediocre linemates last season.
The Kings also convinced Drew Doughty to sign an eight-year, $88M contract extension that begins in 2019-20. Los Angeles is clearly hoping that Father Time ends up being friendly.
More to do? Nope, not really. For better or worse, the Kings’ most significant players are pretty locked-in.
Where they stand? To a slight surprise, the Kings made a run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though being summarily swept by Vegas is a bullet point for those who don’t expect them to rank as true contenders.
The Kovalchuk addition is intriguing, and possibly a real boon. Los Angeles is expected to put him in “Ovechkin’s office,” which is a more conducive place for production than what Kovalchuk often did: massive power-play minutes, but patrolling the point for the most part.
It’s also worth noting that Jeff Carter‘s 2017-18 was derailed by injuries, so if both of those situations go well, the scrappy Kings suddenly boast two of the better (albeit older) snipers you’ll find.
Personally, this seems like a bubble team, as long as the aging curve doesn’t equate to gravity pulling the Kings down in a more drastic way.
San Jose Sharks
Summer summary: 2018 will stand as “The Summer of What Could Have Been?” for San Jose. They missed out on Kovalchuk and John Tavares, instead settling for quite a few re-ups with current players such as Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. They also convinced Joe Thornton to stick around for another year.
GM Doug Wilson wasn’t just snoozing in a tanning bed, though, as he essentially laundered the Mike Hoffman trade, getting rid of Mikkel Boedker‘s heinous contract and grabbing some assets for his trouble.
More to do? This summer’s to-do list is checked off (though they might need more time for “Be sad about Tavares”), but some future-focused questions remain. The biggest: what to do with Joe Pavelski?
Pavelski’s in the last year of his deal and is, somehow, already 34. Maybe the Sharks ride this out and sign him short-term, go with a long-term deal, or part ways sooner rather than later. It’s not necessarily an easy decision, but one way or another, a choice is looming.
Where they stand? The Sharks feel like they’re in a similar place as their California neighbors/rivals: there’s talent here, some of it frighteningly aging, and there are some sunny best-case scenarios.
On the other hand, this is a team that’s no longer dominating the regular season, and expectations are generally more muted. Could they go on another run, like when they fell to Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final? Sure, but they could just as easily fizzle out early in the playoffs, or even really flame out and miss them altogether.
Summer summary: The Sedins are officially gone, the Canucks made the smart move in drafting college-bound defenseman Quinn Hughes, and the team decided to keep Jim Benning as GM for reasons. (Trevor Linden’s had enough, though.)
Benning continues to confound in free agency, handing matching four-year, $12M head-scratchers to Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. Such moves would already be questionable for a team expecting them to be “playoff warriors,” but as a team with a skill deficit that remains huge, that’s some bad stuff.
At least they’re starting to gather some nice prospects.
More to do? Not much, although well-coiffed sniper Brock Boeser‘s entering a contract year. Maybe sign him to an extension during an early low-note in the regular season to give fans a boost?
“Not trading Christopher Tanev” might be a worthy consideration, though.
Where they stand? They’re bad, and the ideal scenario is probably to be bad enough to try to pair Quinn Hughes with his brother Jack Hughes. Come on, admit that it would be really cool for the Canucks to quickly transition from the Sedin twins to the Hughes brothers. Philadelphia might need to re-brand to “The Other City of Brotherly Love” at that rate.
Vegas Golden Knights
Summer summary: Credit Vegas with showing restraint in not overreacting to an unlikely playoff run, although the counter-argument is that a risky extension for Marc-Andre Fleury counts exactly as not showing restraint.
GKGMGM (Golden Knights GM George McPhee) decided to allow James Neal and David Perron to walk in free agency. That’s mostly prudent considering the actual makeup of the team, although I wonder if McPhee realized how affordable (four years, $4M AAV) Perron would end up being.
The Golden Knights didn’t just rack up losses, though, as they convinced steady center Paul Stastny to sign a very fair three-year deal. Hockey fans also get to find out if Daniel Carr and Curtis McKenzie ended up being the next diamonds in the rough (er, aces up the sleeve?) in Vegas.
More to do? Vegas still faces some challenging negotiations in locking up RFAs William Karlsson and Shea Theodore. Karlsson’s arbitration hearing is set for Aug. 4, so we’ll see if they hammer out a deal between this moment and the deadline for a verdict.
Granted, with the maybe-unsustainable success Vegas enjoyed, they might be better off letting some of those guys settle down a bit first.
Where they stand? Uh oh, this is a trap, isn’t it?
You’d have to be a bold gambler to expect the Golden Knights to make another deep run, as they did in their infant season by falling in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Vegas rode some positive forces, most clearly Fleury playing at a level in both the playoffs and regular season that we’ve rarely seen since Tim Thomas was on good terms with his Boston Bruins teammates.
Fleury’s almost certain to stumble to at least human levels, and that could bring Vegas down with him. There are also plenty of players capable of regression following career years.
On the other hand, there is talent here. The Karlsson trio, particularly Jonathan Marchessault, sure seemed pretty legit, even if they might eventually be better cast as a very, very good second line. This remains as soundly built an expansion team as the NHL’s ever seen, and maybe the best in contemporary professional sports.
Will they once again contend? It’s fearful to doubt them yet another time, but probably not. Could they make the playoffs? That’s not outrageous, yet that may come down to a favorite/most-reviled factor in Vegas: luck.