Year in Review: Biggest NHL trades, free agent moves of 2020

Year in Review: Biggest NHL trades, free agent moves of 2020
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Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, NHL players, trades, and more as we remember 2020.

Thanks in part to a global pandemic, 2020 was a disruptive year to the NHL, and the sport of hockey in general. With a flat salary cap, teams needed to be creative — and sometimes, free agents needed imagination to find destinations.

From the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline through an elongated and uncertain Free Agent Frenzy, here are the biggest transactions of the year.

Golden Knights, Blues make an array of moves around Pietrangelo

When it comes to Alex Pietrangelo and Taylor Hall — the catalysts of 2020’s biggest moves — it’s not just about the teams they ended up with, or the checks they’ll cash. It’s also about the dominoes that fell along the way.

That said, if there’s a single thing that makes Pietrangelo a slightly bigger chip, it’s the enormity of the costs around him.

To start, the Vegas Golden Knights disrupted their roster to bring in Pietrangelo, and it’s possible we’ll see more aftershocks. (Though it at least seems like Max Pacioretty and Marc-Andre Fleury are staying put. Maybe they’ll headline next year’s list?)

While the Buffalo Sabres deftly limited their risks by signing Hall for a single season, the Golden Knights rolled the dice in true Vegas fashion with Pietrangelo’s deal. During an offseason with few old-school, high-stakes free agent gambles, Pietrangelo received a seven-year, $61.6M whopper from the Golden Knights.

All that for a 30-year-old defenseman? It’s a lot, and time will tell if it actually made the Golden Knights better. Either way, these are the sort of splashy moves we don’t see enough in the risk-averse NHL.

From the Blues’ perspective, replacing Pietrangelo ended up being a costly process that began before 2020. Handing Torey Krug term and a $6.5M cap hit seems reasonable, but moving on from Pietrangelo stings that much more because the Blues showed the perils of trying to be proactive in that trade-and-extension for Justin Faulk.

With Schmidt in Vancouver, Pietrangelo with Vegas, and Krug on the Blues, you could make a Pepe Silvia-sque chart of the spiraling effects of that free agent situation.

Taylor Hall’s travels end with him in Buffalo — for now

Deep down, Taylor Hall probably entered 2020 hoping to settle down with a long-term contract. It’s become increasingly clear that the majority of Hall’s luck has been concentrated in bolstering his teams’ draft lottery bounces.

Not long before 2019 turned to 2020, the Devils traded Hall to the Arizona Coyotes. Combined with the Coyotes’ strange scouting mishap, the picks Arizona gave up for Hall ended up making that a pretty painful error for the Desert Dogs.

After suffering through dismal years with the Oilers and Devils, and that moribund Coyotes playoff run, you’d think Hall would sign with a contender. Especially since it ended up being a one-year deal. Nope, instead, Hall took a chance on the Sabres, a franchise seemingly on the edge of fan mutiny.

Considering the lack of term, there’s a strong chance Hall’s future will factor into 2021’s biggest transactions. We’ll just have to see if it’s in a trade, extension, or even both.

Lightning wiggle out of another salary cap snag

Year after year, we wonder if this will finally be the time that salary cap-crunched contenders get hit with offer sheets. For years, it seemed like the Tampa Bay Lightning would at least deal with some poaching. Instead, they keep wiggling out of salary cap snags with relative ease.

Now, Nikita Kucherov‘s LTIR trip isn’t exactly as delightful as shimmying under a limbo pole. That said, it’s still resounding that the Lightning managed to sign Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak while barely giving up anyone of note.

Sure, the Bolts still have more work to do, but the dreams of offer sheet-related chaos seem that much more distant for fans of wild NHL transactions.

(Tries not to be sad about the inevitable lack of Mathew Barzal drama.)

Lehner, Markstrom headline the goalie carousel

Let’s be honest: NHL fans (*cough* and maybe media *cough*) might need flashcards to keep track of all the goalies changing teams.

From a drama perspective, the Golden Knights trading for and eventually re-signing Robin Lehner takes a stab at the top goalie story, being that MAF and his agent are still around. (Again … for now?)

Jacob Markstrom going from one West rival (Vancouver) to another (Calgary) could end up just as big if the large netminder proves that his past couple of sneaky-stellar seasons weren’t flukes.

There were plenty of other significant goalie moves beyond those headliners. Braden Holtby going to Vancouver probably should feel like a bigger deal. The Senators certainly invested in Matt Murray believing that he’ll be one of the standout change-of-scenery goalies.

Knowing how unpredictable goalies are, smaller transactions could end up being the bigger game-changers. Considering the Wild’s under-the-radar-elite defense, maybe Cam Talbot could be the gem of this group? Will a lack of change doom the Oilers in net? Did the Islanders make the right move in moving on from Thomas Greiss? Will Devan Dubnyk defy expectations with the Sharks?

Lots of goalie storylines after all the 2020 trades and free agent signings …

Tough times for Lundqvist

… Which brings us to one of the sadder situations. After a buyout by the Rangers, the end of 2020 was already looking tough for Henrik Lundqvist. Signing with the Capitals set the stage for a potentially pleasant comeback story. Then a truly frightening health condition surfaced, prompting open heart surgery for Lundqvist.

It would be great to see a resurgent Lundqvist on the 2021 editions of lists like these. Yet, for most of us, we’d settle for a healthy Hank.

Extensive extensions

Sometimes, the biggest moves are the ones that keep someone in place.

Early in 2020, the Capitals extended Nicklas Backstrom. By keeping skaters like Backstrom, you could argue that the stage was set for Braden Holtby to get squeezed out.

Through the window of extensions and sign-and-trades, you could summarize much of the biggest Canadiens moves — 2020 included. After all, Marc Bergevin didn’t just trade Max Domi for Josh Anderson; he also handed Anderson a bold extension. Both Jake Allen and Joel Edmundson received significant term before playing a single game with Montreal. Oh yeah, and also after some drama, the Canadiens extended heart-and-soul winger Brendan Gallagher. If Bergevin made strong moves, he also locked them in for serious term. If not? Then he overextended himself, and if the floor really falls out, possibly Montreal’s next GM.

Teams enhanced trade investments by signing players to hefty extensions. The Islanders gambled a lot on Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and it’s fair to wonder if the pugnacious forward’s extension made it untenable to keep Devon Toews. It’s understandable if people forgot about the Maple Leafs extending Jake Muzzin amid all of their moves and drama. Keeping Muzzin may end up being more important than swapping Tyson Barrie out for T.J. Brodie, among other Toronto tweaks.

Between free agent signings, trades, extensions, and other bold moves, 2020 was a busy year for NHL transactions. Hockey fans will be fortunate if 2021 ends up anywhere close.

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

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    Teravainen scores late, Hurricanes rally to beat Rangers 3-2

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    NEW YORK – Teuvo Teravainen scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period, Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

    Jalen Chatfield and Stefan Noesen also scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes, who won for the third time in four games.

    With the comeback win, the Hurricanes became the second team – following Boston – to reach the 100-point mark this season as Carolina increased its Metropolitan Division-lead over second-place New Jersey to two points and the third-place Rangers to eight.

    “That was a great effort. All 20 guys contributed and we got what we deserved,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “If we play like that, we’ll be in good shape. This time of year it gets tougher and tougher.”

    Tyler Motte and Kaapo Kakko scored for the Rangers, who had won four straight were 6-0-1 in their last seven. Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves as the Rangers played their third game in four nights – the previous two shutout wins at home.

    “Igor kept us in there as long as he could and we just didn’t have enough in the tank,” Rangers captain Jacob Trouba said. ”They won more battles and played a hard game.”

    Teravainen scored his 11th goal with 2:33 left on a pass from defenseman Brent Burns, redirecting the puck past Shesterkin. The Hurricanes, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1.

    “Somehow they left me open in the back side, great pass by him,” Teravainen said of the winning-goal pass to him in the slot. “We knew this would be a tough night. They have a good team. We knew we had to battle to win this game.”

    The Rangers led 1-0 entering the third and were vying for their third-straight shutout before Chatfield tied the score at 9:49 – the first goal the Rangers allowed in more than eight periods. New York was coming off a 6-0 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night with Shesterkin in goal and a 7-0 triumph over Nashville behind Jaroslav Halak on Sunday.

    Kakko then put New York back ahead 31 seconds later with his 13th goal, only to have Noesen answer right back 18 seconds later to tie it 2-2.

    Motte opened the scoring at the 17-minute mark of the first, knocking the puck past Andersen for his third goal in four games and sixth of the season overall.

    The Rangers hadn’t lost in regulation since a 4-2 defeat on March 4 at Boston.

    “Tonight we didn’t play near well enough to beat that team,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said. ”Honestly, the whole game they outplayed us. They were a lot quicker. They managed the puck real well … We didn’t play our game.”


    Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal played his 729th game with Carolina on Tuesday, tying defenseman Glen Wesley for the second-most games played in franchise history since relocation from Hartford in 1997. Staal, 34, trails only his brother Eric, who played 909 games for the Hurricanes from 2003-16.


    Hurricanes: Host the Rangers on Thursday night to finish the home-and-home set in the opener of a four-game homestand.

    Rangers: At Carolina on Thursday night to open a two-game trip.

    Ullmark’s 40 saves carries Bruins past Senators, 2-1

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    BOSTON – Linus Ullmark made 40 saves, Jake DeBrusk had the go-ahead goal and the NHL-best Boston Bruins continued their pursuit of the league’s record for regular-season victories with a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.

    “I thought he was outstanding and he needed to be,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said of Ullmark. “Unfortunately we gave up a lot of good looks, a lot of odd-man rushes because of our puck management and he bailed us out like he has all year.”

    David Krejci added a power-play goal for Boston, which won its fourth straight.

    Dylan Gambrell scored for the Senators and Mads Sogaard made 33 stops.

    “We had a shooters’ mentality for two periods,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said. “The third period, they’ve won 54 games now, they’re not going to give you an odd-man rush, they’re not going to give you anything. You’re going to have to earn it.”

    The Bruins posted their 54th win and with 12 games left are on pace to break the mark of 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 and matched by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018-19.

    Chasing the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, Ottawa has lost six of seven following a season-high, five-game winning streak.

    Coming off a 3-2 road trip where they won the last three games by a combined score of 15-2 that included two shutouts by backup Jeremy Swayman, the Bruins converted on a two-man, power-play advantage to tie the game at 1 midway into the opening period when Krejci poked in a rebound from the edge of the crease.

    DeBrusk completed a nifty play with Brad Marchand when he collected a pass cutting down the slot at full speed, shifted and tucked a rebound past Sogaard at 15:52 of the first period for his 23rd goal.

    “It was ‘all world.’ I saw him and he fed it through a lot of guys for a breakaway,” DeBrusk said of the pass. “It was one of those passes where I didn’t know what to do. I was going to point at him (after) but I was going too fast.”

    Gambrell’s wraparound score gave Ottawa a 1-0 edge.

    “I thought I played a good game today,” Sogaard said. “I just battled and stayed with it the entire way. … These ones are tough because we were so close.”


    Ullmark stopped 22 shots in the second period with at least a dozen of them high-quality chances. During an Ottawa PP, he jumped from a crouch to make a right-shoulder stop on Alex DeBrincat’s bid from in close.

    “We talked about it,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said of the second period. “We know we’re a good team in the third and wanted to tighten it up for him. … They got a lot of chances that were our own fault in the second.”


    The Bruins highlighted women who work and compete in the sports community, having Olympic gold medalist and Boston Pride defender Kali Flanagan accompany Bruins players during pregame walk-ins along with local high school scholastic award winners. In addition, in-arena host Michaela Johnson handled the PA for the night and they also left yellow roses at the seats of female reporters.

    NOTES: The Senators entered the game as the only team holding an advantage in their series against the Bruins this season, winning twice in three games. … Montgomery said after the morning skate that defenseman Derek Forbort would likely be sidelined with a lower-body injury at least through the rest of the regular season. … DeBrusk, playing on the top line most of the season, is four off his career-high goal total, set in 2018-19.


    Senators: Host Tampa Bay on Thursday.

    Bruins: Host longtime rival Montreal in an Original Six matchup Thursday.

    Boldy’s goal with 1.3 left in OT lifts Wild over Devils

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    NEWARK, N.J. – Matt Boldy scored with 1.3 seconds left in overtime and Filip Gustavsson made a career-high 47 saves to give the Minnesota Wild a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.

    The game was a chippy, defensive struggle. After two scoreless periods, the Devils were outshooting the Wild 22-19.

    Minnesota finally broke through 6:41 into the third when Mason Shaw scored his seventh goal of the season on a wraparound.

    Timo Meier answered for the Devils five minutes later with his 35th goal of the season on a wraparound of his own.

    New Jersey was unable to convert on a late power play, and the teams went to overtime.

    It was a back-and-forth five minutes of extra hockey, with both goaltenders making good saves. After Jack Hughes hit the post for the Devils, the puck caromed off a post to Boldy and he beat the buzzer with his 23rd goal of the season.

    Vitek Vanecek stopped 27 shots for New Jersey.

    NOTES: The Devils are 10-4 in overtime, while the Wild improved to 4-5.


    Wild: Play at Philadelphia on Thursday night.

    Devils: Play at Buffalo on Friday night.

    Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signs extension through 2026-27

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    DENVER – Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar signed a three-year extension that will keep him in charge of the reigning Stanley Cup champions through the 2026-27 season.

    The new deal for the winningest head coach in club history kicks in once the current contract runs out after the 2023-24 season.

    Bednar, 51, is the only person to win championships in the ECHL, AHL and NHL as head coach. He directed the Avalanche to their third Stanley Cup title in team history last season by beating Tampa Bay, the two-time defending champions.

    This season, the Avalanche have dealt with an array of injuries, which include missing captain Gabriel Landeskog all year after he underwent knee surgery in October. But they’re starting to creep closer to being healthy – and working their way up the standings. Colorado is riding a six-game winning streak to remain in a tight race with Dallas and Minnesota for the Central Division crown. The top spot in the Western Conference is in play, too.

    “Jared has done a tremendous job behind the bench and certainly deserves this extension and to continue as the leader of our team,” Joe Sakic, the team’s president of hockey operations, said in a statement.

    It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for Bednar in his inaugural season for Colorado. In 2016-17, his team amassed only 48 points (22-56-4) to finish last in the league. Since then, it’s been full steam ahead for Bednar and the Avalanche. They became the first NHL squad to go from worst to first in a span of four seasons or less since the 1970-71 Bruins, according to research by the team.

    In addition, Bednar has led the Avalanche to five straight playoff appearances – and is closing in on a sixth – to become the first Avalanche coach to accomplish the feat. His 40 postseason wins are the second-most in team history, trailing only Bob Hartley (49).

    “His strength as a communicator, his relationship with the players, the way he prepares each and every day is a huge reason our team has been so successful,” general manager Chris MacFarland said. “He is an exceptional leader.”

    Bednar is currently the third-longest tenured coach in the league, behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper (March 2013) and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan (December 2015).

    “Being able to lead this team over the last seven years has been a privilege,” said Bednar, whose team faces the Penguins on Wednesday. “I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to continue building on what we’ve accomplished so far.”

    Bednar captured a Kelly Cup (ECHL) with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009, along with a Calder Cup (AHL) with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.