Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene among many on the move in NHL

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The St. Louis Blues will look a lot like the team that won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup when the puck drops for the NHL’s season-opening game against the 2018 champion Washington Capitals.

Ryan O'Reilly, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, knows the season won’t be quite the same even if many of his teammates are still together.

”It’s going to be very different,” O’Reilly said.

St. Louis held onto much of its roster during a quiet offseason, hoping it will be enough to compete for another title. The Blues will raise their championship banner during a pregame ceremony Wednesday night.

But the Blues made one major move last week, acquiring offensive-minded defenseman Justin Faulk from Carolina for Joel Edmundson and a prospect. The team then signed the 27-year-old Faulk to a $45.5 million, seven-year extension, banking on him being a key part of its future.

Here’s a look at some of the other major moves in the offseason on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office:

BYE, BLUE JACKETS

Columbus lost a trio of stars in free agency, the only unrestricted free agents to sign seven-year contracts with other teams.

Dynamic forward Artemi Panarin received an $81.5 million deal from the New York Rangers. Two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky took his talents to the Florida Panthers for $70 million after Roberto Luongo retired. And two-time All-Star center Matt Duchene signed a $56 million deal with the Nashville Predators.

Columbus has a lot of cap space, perhaps planning to make a splash next summer, because it didn’t spend a lot of money chasing success with free agents. The Blue Jackets did add 30-year-old winger Gustav Nyquist with a $22 million, four-year contract after he had a career-high 60-point season.

SAVVY STARS

The Dallas Stars have built a Cup-caliber team and know now is the time to spend in free agency. They added a pair of veterans motivated to prove they can still play after spending their entire careers with one team.

The Stars lured three-time All-Star forward Joe Pavelski away from the San Jose Sharks with a three-year deal worth $21 million. They made a much smaller investment in 34-year-old winger Corey Perry, whose contract was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks. Perry’s $1.5 million, one-year contract could be quite a bargain if he can provide more scoring depth for Dallas.

TAKING A FLYER

Minnesota missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years and made an aggressive move to pay 32-year-old Mats Zuccarello $30 million over five years even though he has only one 20-goal season and that was three years ago. Vancouver gave 29-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers a $30 million, five-year deal after he had consecutive seasons with 30 points for the first time since his first two years in the league. The Canucks are trying to avoid the first five-year playoff drought in franchise history.

FOLLOW THE LEADER

Shortly after Florida’s season ended, the Panthers hired three-time Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville to take perhaps the top leader in the league off the market.

Three former Edmonton coaches Todd McLellan (Ottawa), Dallas Eakins (Anaheim) and Ralph Krueger (Buffalo) are getting another shot to lead teams.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are hoping former Adams Award winner Dave Tippett can get the most out of Connor McDavid‘s supporting cast and guide them into the playoffs for the just the second time in 14 years. Alain Vigneault, another former NHL Coach of the Year, landed a job in Philadelphia.

The rebuilding Ottawa Senators are taking a chance on former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant D.J. Smith, giving him his first opportunity to be a head coach in the NHL.

UPSTAIRS

The Detroit Red Wings brought Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman back to be their general manager. The former Tampa Bay Lightning general manager replaced Ken Holland, who later left to lead the Oilers’ front office. The Wild are giving two-time Stanley Cup winner Bill Guerin his first opportunity to run an NHL front office after he helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win two Cups as assistant general manager.

PHT Morning Skate: Winners, losers of NHL Olympic return; Training camp battles

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Training camp battles, NHL playoff previews, and other return-to-play links

• Jackets Cannon looks at Columbus’ biggest strength: defense. In particular, Rachel Bules looks at how the pandemic pause will allow the Blue Jackets to have some serious training camp competition for spots. The Blue Jackets will need to be sharp, too, because the Maple Leafs’ firepower presents a real challenge for any defense corps. [Jackets Cannon]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs — and training camp previews — Emily Sadler put together a thorough breakdown for Toronto. Can Frederik Andersen go the distance? Tyson Barrie ranks as a player to watch. Plus much more. [Sportsnet]

• George Richards takes a look at the Panthers’ “2.0” roster for training camp. If I had to single out a most interesting item, it’s that Anton Stralman has been involved. You may remember him airing some concerns about an NHL return. [Florida Hockey Now]

• What various analytics say about how the Wild’s lines match up with the Canucks. [Zone Coverage]

• It’s one thing for the Coyotes to say that they want to “get a little more juice” out of their offense. It’s another thing to actually lay out how it might work. Craig Morgan rolls out a detailed approach of how that might happen, including activating weakside defensemen. [AZ Coyotes Insider]

• The pandemic pause ranks as the biggest curveball Carter Hart‘s seen in the NHL so far. That said, it’s far from the only one. If he keeps passing these tests, it might all be to the benefit of Hart’s career. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Other hockey links

• As a pending UFA on a team that could face a salary cap crunch, Christopher Tanev knows he might not be back with the Canucks. Tanev said he hopes that he can return, and in particular, he’d love to remain Quinn Hughes‘ defensive partner for a long time. [NHL.com]

• It’s easy to look at the NHL’s return to Olympic participation as a good thing for everyone involved. As Ryan Kennedy points out, it depends on the outlook for different countries’ national teams. Kennedy presents the winners and losers for the NHL return to the Olympics, with Germany landing in an interesting spot. [The Hockey News]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres drop lawsuit after assistant coach is granted a green card

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres dropped their lawsuit against the federal government after immigration officials reversed course by approving the team’s strength and conditioning coach’s petition for a green card.

“The matter has been resolved amicably between both parties,” with Ed Gannon receiving approval for an EB-1 visa, the Sabres announced in a text message Wednesday.

The Sabres sued U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in May by alleging officials wrongly denied the team’s visa petition for the British-born coach.

The announcement came a week after the Sabres’ lawyer notified the U.S. District Court in Buffalo that the team was voluntary dismissing the suit, with each side agreeing to bear their own costs and fees.

The Sabres accused immigration services of misstating facts and arbitrarily failing to follow its own rules in denying a green card to Gannon. They argued the decision potentially subjected the team “to substantial financial harm and disruption in developing (its) athletes.”

Gannon was hired by the Sabres in 2015 while the team was beefing up its player development staff. He previously spent 10 years as the lead strength and conditioning coach of a professional rugby club, the Leicester Tigers.

The Sabres filed the application for permanent residency on Gannon’s behalf in October. To be granted a green card, Gannon had to demonstrate that he was at the top of his field, and the Sabres argued that he proved his abilities under USCIS’ criteria.

The denial of Gannon’s petition came amid efforts by the Trump administration to limit legal immigration. A report last year by the Migration Policy Institute concluded that USCIS had become “increasingly active in immigration enforcement” and that the agency was intentionally slowing down adjudication of immigration benefits applications.

Healthy Ekman-Larsson ready to give Coyotes a playoff boost

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson had knee surgery last summer, fully expecting it to help him have a healthy 2019-20 season.

The Arizona Coyotes captain instead played with lingering pain, never able to fully recover.

The NHL’s shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was a huge letdown, but it at least allowed Ekman-Larsson time to get back to full strength.

”These 2 1/2 months have been really good for me,” he said during a conference call this week. ”My knee is feeling 100% and I’ve been able to get stronger and faster.”

Ekman-Larsson had another solid season in 2018-19, finishing second on the team with 44 points with 14 goals. He was named to the NHL All-Star team for the fifth time and continued to be one of the NHL’s best offensive defensemen.

Ekman-Larsson opted to have offseason knee surgery to help with another lower-body injury and never was quite right this season, his 10th in the NHL.

The break allowed him time to heal, as did a trip back to his home in Sweden.

Unlike Arizona, Sweden did not go on lockdown once the pandemic hit and Ekman-Larsson took advantage, using the time to heal physically and mentally.

”With this virus going around, I haven’t felt so good mentally,” he said. ”Going back home and being around my family really helped that situation. I benefited from the physical part of being away. For the mental part, it was nice to get away from it.”

The Coyotes returned to the ice this week to prepare for the resumption of the season.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced Monday a tentative deal on a return-to-play format. Should it be ratified, the league will resume play on Aug. 1 with 24 teams proceeding in an expanded playoff format at two hub cities in Canada.

The Coyotes, the West’s No. 11 seed, will open against Nashville in a best-of-five series in their first postseason appearance since reaching the 2012 Western Conference Finals.

”It just feels like it’s a different game,” said Ekman-Larsson, the lone remaining player from the 2012 team. ”Everybody feels faster and stronger. I don’t know how it’s even possible, but at the same time it’s another level.

”I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be in the playoffs before. There’s so many good teams and you don’t really know when you are going to have the chance.”

The Coyotes have a chance to make a little noise once they get there.

Ekman-Larsson is healthy, as is Phil Kessel, who struggled with injuries after being traded from Pittsburgh before the season. Arizona also has one of the best goaltending tandems in Antti Raanta and Darcy Keumper, who are both healthy as well.

”For us to get a chance and show that we are good enough to be a playoff team, I think that’s huge for our group moving forward,” Ekman-Larsson said.

A healthy Ekman-Larsson gives them an opportunity to keep moving forward.

Chris Pronger leaves senior VP of hockey ops role with Panthers

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The Panthers announced on Wednesday that Chris Pronger is leaving his role as senior vice president of hockey operations and senior advisor. The Hockey Hall of Famer joined the organization in 2017 after spending three years in the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

“I want to personally thank the Viola family, Doug Cifu, Dale Tallon and all of the staff with the Florida Panthers,” said Pronger via a team statement. “I was able to grow as an executive and more importantly as a person in my three years with the hockey club. I wish the Panthers organization nothing but the best in the upcoming playoffs and years to come.”

Pronger is moving on to focus on the company he runs with his wife, Lauren. Well Inspired Travels “caters to elite athletes, C-Level executives and business owners.”

The Panthers are currently preparing for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Islanders, which is set to begin next month.

MORE:
A look at the Eastern Conference matchups
Final standings for 2019-20 NHL season, NHL draft lottery results

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.