This is the sort of off-season NHL fans dream about, if they even dare.
Chances are, if you’re reading about hockey right now, you’ve daydreamed about big moves before. Maybe it happened on a message board when you were younger (or now, no judging). Perhaps different scenarios popped in your head while scrolling through Cap Friendly, “Beautiful Mind” style.
Sadly, for fans of splashy moves and novelty in general, reality rarely competes with your imagination. At least, that’s been the case most times for NHL fans, who’ve been pressing up their faces at the storefront window while NBA fans get to revel in the latest whims of Lebron James.
Well, if you ever feel silly about spending such time picturing wild, league-changing scenarios, then take heart. For at least one offseason, NHL fans joined NBA devotees in enjoying the flashy new toys.
It almost makes too much sense that the Dallas Stars extending Tyler Seguin echoed the magic of unboxing an NES (even if, technically, Seguin’s extension falls into the more typical NHL pattern of killing drama before it really boils over):
Let’s review some of the biggest moves. When appropriate, we’ll recall how that sort of thing usually turns out.
John Tavares: In my eyes, Tavares joining the Toronto Maple Leafs is the move that stands out the most. He left the team that drafted him (rare) by choice (also rare), with money not being lone factor, and joined his boyhood team despite the immense pressure that will come from playing in Toronto (again, rare).
Depending upon who you believe, plenty of other prominent players would much rather go to a sunny, tax-lenient market, rather than the most hockey-obsessed place on the planet.
Tavares broke the pattern set by Steven Stamkos, in particular. Stamkos was the Great Toronto Free Agent Hope before Tavares, going as far as to tease such passions by liking a Tweet about his possible departure from Tampa Bay. Naturally, that did not happen.
(It’s not a 1:1 thing as the Lightning are and were in a much better situation than the Islanders find themselves in, Lou’s bluster notwithstanding, but the parallels are pretty close.)
Most directly, the Tavares signing is a win for Maple Leafs fans. You can see it in how many Twitter accounts double as months-long victory laps.
It’s a lot of fun for anyone who isn’t preoccupied with worrying about the Maple Leafs too, though. The team will face a lot of pressure to win it all over the next few years, but either way, it’s wildly refreshing to see a scenario that usually only opens in EA NHL video games: a superstar free agent becomes available, and goes to an already-loaded team.
The Maple Leafs were already a lot of fun. Now they’re must-see TV.
Erik Karlsson: The Senators loaded up on quantity in trading away their all-world defenseman and captain, but time will tell if they can successfully complete a rebuild from the wreckage – er, Dumpster? – they find themselves in.
However that goes, the Sharks didn’t give up a ton in present-day value (apologies, Dylan DeMelo and Chris Tierney), considering that Karlsson is a Norris-level defenseman still in his prime.
The Sharks were formidable last season even without Karlsson and with Joe Thornton on the shelf. Adding those two in the mix should make them a serious contender.
But more than that, they’ll be so much fun to watch. As this post details, making this defense corps fit together in the best possible way could be a challenge for head coach Peter DeBoer, yet it’s also a chance for him to engage his inner mad scientist.
It could be highly entertaining even if it doesn’t always work out as well on the ice as it does on paper.
Karlsson finally being traded feels like a relief, and is a reminder of all of those times when a move didn’t happen. There was no swap during the trade deadline or draft weekend, to the point that it almost felt like a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation. Until the wolf showed up, and now the Sharks should be outrageously fun.
Marc Bergevin continues to entertain, for better or worse: During the more barren times, hockey fans could thank – if not exactly respect – Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin for at least one thing: he kept things interesting.
Granted, Bergevin’s version of keeping things interesting is a lot like starting a fire and then gleefully running away, but it’s been quite the spectacle to behold.
The Max Pacioretty trade could very well maintain the Vegas Golden Knights as at least a playoff-viable team, and if more Vegas in your life isn’t exciting, then you’re probably an extremely grumpy person. (Or you just really dislike Imagine Dragons and “Medieval Times.”)
Thanks to the past week’s trades involving Pacioretty and Karlsson, the Pacific Division goes from being the weak link division to an arms race. The hapless drama surrounding Montreal trying to save face while moving Patches was just gravy on top, really.
Actually, the Patches situation was so overwhelming, you kind of forget that the Alex Galchenyuk – Max Domi trade happened during this same offseason. Bergevin is the gift that keeps giving … except if you’re a Habs fan.
Plenty of other teams making big changes
Karlsson, Pacioretty, and Tavares are grabbing a lot of the headlines, yet this summer saw some big changes in plenty of spots, which should make things really interesting for plenty of teams.
- Winds of change: The Hurricanes changed their GM, head coach, and saw some big personnel alterations. Dougie Hamilton‘s now free to visit museums around Raleigh, while Jeff Skinner is gone. Andrei Svechnikov could make an immediate impact. Carolina’s a team to watch in 2018-19.
- Going in with a roar without ROR: Buffalo enjoyed a fascinating summer, too. They landed Skinner, while trading away Ryan O'Reilly in the first big trade of the summer. Carter Hutton is the new guy in net, while they added some interesting pieces such as Conor Sheary. Of course, the biggest addition is landing top pick Rasmus Dahlin; for all we know, he could be worth the price of admission right off the bat.
- Deep Blues: The Blues may enjoy a serious rebound after adding O’Reilly, particularly if Robby Fabbri can stay healthy and Robert Thomas proves to be a tuneful call-up. Bringing back David Perron opens the door for this to be a versatile Blues attack after St. Louis was too top-heavy last season.
- He’s back: It feels like an afterthought, yet the Kings could be a lot more fun to watch late at night if Ilya Kovalchuk ends up being, well, Ilya Kovalchuk. Los Angeles would also enjoy a big boost in watchability if Jeff Carter‘s healthy.
(Also under the “he’s back” heading: James van Riemsdyk returning to the Flyers, giving that team a boost in the “fun” category, as well.)
This post brings about some fun questions, yet one lingers: is this the beginning of a trend of more regular, impactful offseason movement in the NHL? That remains to be seen, particularly in a league where the CBA makes it relatively easy for teams to keep their core players together.
On that note, Taylor Hall wonders if the next CBA might open the door for more excitement and less stability, as he told The Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required) a week ago:
“It’s becoming more accepted in basketball for players to just pick teams,” Hall said. “I have a feeling in the next CBA that the owners are going to push for shorter contracts and I think if they do that, that’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to cause players to do whatever they want with contracts.”
With Seguin, Drew Doughty, Ryan Ellis, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson ranking among the outstanding players who’ve already hashed out extensions instead of playing through contract years, it’s possible that this summer might be an aberration. At least as far as the current CBA goes.
(One would assume that Karlsson’s likely to sign an extension with the Sharks, possibly very soon.)
Still, that doesn’t mean there is no room for drama. Just look at the Columbus Blue Jackets, who need to figure out what to do with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Either way, the true excitement will come when the action starts for the 2018-19 season. If we’re lucky, these new combinations of star players will make plays we couldn’t even dream of.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.