Matt Duchene

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PHT Power Rankings: Looking at every NHL team’s offseason

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With the 2019 NHL Draft in the rear-view mirror and all of the major unrestricted free agents signed, it is time to check in on how each team has improved (or failed to improve) so far this offseason.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we will be taking a look at the teams that have done the most (and the least) to get better.

Before we get to the rankings we do need to specify something very important: This is NOT a ranking of where each team stands in the league in terms of Stanley Cup contender or playoff status, or a ranking of how good each team is overall. It is simply a look at which teams have had the best and worst offseasons. If you have had a good offseason, you rank high. If you had a bad offseason, you rank low.

Obviously there is still time this summer for teams to get better (or worse), but this is simply a progress report of where their offseason stands right now.

Teams that are significantly better

1. New York Rangers. It would be difficult to have a better offseason than the one the Rangers have had. They added one of the league’s top offensive players (Artemi Panarin), a potential superstar thanks to some draft lottery luck (Kaapo Kakko), and a top-four defender (Jacob Trouba). They did all of that while giving up nothing of significance from their NHL roster. Is it a playoff team this season? That probably depends on how much Henrik Lundqvist has left in the tank, but they are close.

2. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban joining a core that already has Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall makes the Devils a fascinating team to watch. Now they just need to find a way to keep Hall beyond this season. Like the Rangers they may not be a playoff team this season, but they are definitely improved.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Losing Tyson Barrie off the blue line might hurt, but the Avalanche are loaded with young, impact defenders and by trading Barrie they found a perfect second-line center (Nazem Kadri) to complement Nathan MacKinnon … as long as Kadri stays on the ice and out of the player safety office. Along with the additions of Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky they now have some actual scoring depth to support their big three.

4. Dallas Stars. It would not be an NHL offseason without general manager Jim Nill raising another offseason championship banner. Even if Joe Pavelski shows some signs of decline and regresses from his 38-goal output this past season he is still just what the league’s most top-heavy team needed.

5. Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel is the big, headline-grabbing addition but Carl Soderberg could be a nice depth pickup as well. Even if Kessel starts to slow down he should still be able to run the Coyotes’ power play and make a significant impact.

Teams that are probably better

6. Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s contract will almost certainly be an albatross on their salary cap in the next three or four years and probably end up in a buyout, but he might get them to the playoffs a couple of times before that. Bobrovsky is the big name, but don’t sleep on Anton Stralman and Brett Connolly as depth additions.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. Their salary cap concerns were always overblown and they were always going to find a way to get out of them. They not only shed a lot of bad contracts and almost certainly created enough space to re-sign Mitch Marner, but they also managed to add a much-needed top-defender in Barrie. Jason Spezza may not be what he once was, but he should be fine as a third-line center for this team.

8. Chicago Blackhawks. The worst defensive team in the league made two solid additions in Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, then found a starting caliber goalie that just so happened to be a Vezina Trophy finalist this past season.

9. Minnesota Wild. Still do not understand the direction Paul Fenton has this team going in, but Mats Zuccarello is a definite upgrade in the short-term.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene is a nice addition and gives them another impact forward that might help a dreadful power play. So why only “probably” better? Because they had to trade an impact defender for almost nothing to be able to sign him. How much better you think the Predators are depends on whether or not you think they needed Duchene more than Subban. Or, probably more accurately, if you think Duchene is that much more valuable than Subban.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Good teams that have stayed the same

11. St. Louis Blues. It has been a quiet offseason for the champs, adding nothing of significance and losing nothing of significance. Nothing wrong with that when you are parading the Stanley Cup around.

12. Boston Bruins. The Bruins look to be returning mostly the same roster next season, and it will still be a Stanley Cup contender.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Some musical chairs in net, but there should not be much of a drop off. The big win this offseason was Montreal helping them out with Sebastian Aho’s new contract.

14. Washington Capitals. Radko Gudas is probably a better player than Matt Niskanen at this stage of his career. Andre Burakovsky never panned out, but they made a couple of solid depth signings to fill his spot.

15. Calgary Flames. Still a potential Stanley Cup team with one pretty massive flaw in net.

Bad teams that are marginally better

16. Buffalo Sabres. Colin Miller, Marcus Johansson, and Jimmy Vesey are all solid additions for what amounts to very little in cost. That is the good news. The bad news this team still has a long way to go before it is a serious threat in the Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference Wild Card races.

17. Vancouver Canucks. J.T. Miller is pretty good and an upgrade for their forward group, but does this team, in this position, in this stage of its rebuild, need to be doing things like trading a future first-round draft pick or giving Tyler Myers a five-year, $30 million contract? It’s like … you’re kinda better, but what’s the point? The Jim Benning era, folks.

Good Teams that have gotten worse

18. Pittsburgh Penguins. Does swapping Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta for Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun, and Brandon Tanev move you closer to a Stanley Cup? You should have serious doubts about that. At least the speculation on trading Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang turned out to be just that and nothing ever came from it.

19. San Jose Sharks. Keeping Erik Karlsson is significant, but losing Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and returning the same starting goalie is also significant … for the wrong reasons.

20. Tampa Bay Lightning. The salary cap crunch and the RFA status of Brayden Point has resulted in some subtractions to the roster and no significant additions. That makes them a little worse simply by default, but they are still going to be one of the top teams in the league. Instead of 60 games, they might win … 50? 55?

21. Winnipeg Jets. I don’t really want to call Kevin Hayes a “loss” since he only played 20 regular season games with the team, but they have lost a lot off of their blue line with very little coming in to replace it.

22. Vegas Golden Knights. They are going to miss Colin Miller, and might really miss out on Nikita Gusev if they move him before they even realize what they had.

23. New York Islanders. They kept all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, but going from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov in net could be a huge downgrade. Given how important goaltending was to the Islanders’ success this past season that could be a problem.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets. The free agent exodus that everyone expected to happen took place with the departures of Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene (and probably Ryan Dzingel). Gustav Nyquist is a fine pickup on a pretty fair deal, but they still lost a ton. And they still do not have a clear replacement for Bobrovsky.

Bad teams that have stayed the same 

25. Montreal Canadiens. The Aho offer sheet had us excited for about 20 minutes until we realized it was just a waste of everyone’s time. The only solution now is to try and offer sheet someone else!

26. Philadelphia Flyers. Kevin Hayes isn’t bad, but there is no way he plays out that seven-year contract in Philadelphia. They added Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen to their defense about four years after they should have. In the end, downgrading the defense (which I think they did) kind of cancels out whatever upgrade Hayes might be at forward. They have made a lot of transactions to remain right where they were.

27. Edmonton Oilers. Based on the moves this offseason (as well as the lack of moves) it seems likely that another prime season of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is about to be wasted. Such a shame.

28. Ottawa Senators. They brought in a bunch of new faces but nothing that is going to prevent this team from continuing to be one of the worst in the league.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman has a lot of work to do and has been fairly quiet this summer.

30. Anaheim Ducks. They had to get rid of Corey Perry’s contract, but they still have a ton of money tied up in players on the wrong side of 30 (or very close to 30).

31. Los Angeles Kings. So far their effort to rebuild and get younger has involved trading Jake Muzzin and buying out Dion Phaneuf. The longer they drag their feet in gutting this roster the longer this team will remain in the basement.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Free agency: Most long-term contracts will end in trade or buyout

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Exactly six years ago Friday, the Toronto Maple Leafs made one of the most infamous free agent signings in the salary cap era when they inked David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million contract. It was a dubious signing from the very beginning due to Clarkson’s age (he was already 29 years old) and lack of consistent, top-line production in the NHL. Adding to the absurdity was the reception of the contract in Toronto (comparing him to Wendel Clark) and the way then-general manager Dave Nonis defended the signing from any and all criticism by saying, “I’m not worried about six or seven right now. I’m worried about one. And year one, I know we’re going to have a very good player. I believe that he’s got a lot of good years left in him.”

How did that work out?

In year one Clarkson scored five goals in 60 games, was a colossal bust, and was then traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets halfway through year two of the contract for Nathan Horton, another free agent bust from the same offseason whose career would be derailed and ultimately ended by injury. The Maple Leafs knew Horton would never play again and the whole trade was nothing more than a way to shed an albatross contract that looked to be a mistake from the start. It was an obvious — and ultimately legal — circumvention of the league’s salary cap.

Clarkson’s contract is far from the only one that has gotten general managers in trouble for signing a player for too many years in free agency. Almost every time the justification is similar to the one Nonis gave for the Clarkson signing: We’re not worried about four or five years, we just want to win right now.

Most of them never win “right now,” and almost all of them are looking for a way out within two years.

Between the summers of 2009 and 2016 there were 35 unrestricted free agents signed to contracts of five years or longer.

What sort of return did teams get on those investments?

Let’s start with this, showing the result of each signing.

[Related: PHT 2019 Free Agent Signing Tracker]

This only includes players that actually changed teams as UFA’s. It does not include re-signings of players still under contract with their current team (contract extensions), or the re-signing of restricted free agents.

• Fourteen of the 35 players were traded before the end of their contract term. That includes nine players that were traded before completing three full seasons with their new team. Most of these trades were salary dumps or an exchange of undesirable contracts.

• Ten of the contracts ended in a buyout, usually after three or four seasons.

• There are only three players signed during this time period that are still playing out their contracts with their current teams: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in Minnesota, and Michael Frolik with the Calgary Flames. The latter has been mentioned in trade rumors for more than a year now.

• Only four players played out the entire term with the team that signed them: Paul Martin with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anton Stralman with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Brian Gionta with the Montreal Canadiens, and Dan Hamhuis with the Vancouver Canucks.

• Three players had their careers ended by injury before the duration of the contract: Marian Hossa with the Chicago Blackhawks, Ryane Clowe with the New Jersey Devils, and Mattias Ohlund with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

• On average, those 35 players played out just 57 percent of their contract term with the team that signed them. Fourteen of them played out only half of the contract or less.

• If you want to go with the “I don’t care what happens in six years as long as we win the Stanley Cup with this player” argument, the only players in the above sampling that actually won a Stanley Cup with the team that signed them during their contract were Hossa in Chicago and Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik in Washington. The only others to even play in the Stanley Cup Final were Anton Stralman, Valtteri Filpulla, and Matt Carle in Tampa Bay, and Brad Richards with the New York Rangers (he was bought out the following summer after three years of a 10-year contract).

What did teams learn from this sampling?

Mostly nothing, because they have kept doing it.

Between the 2016 and 2018 offseasons there were 13 UFA contracts of five years or more signed, and the early returns are already looking disastrous.

In the summer of 2016 the following deals were signed.

  • David Backes to the Boston Bruins for five years at $6 million per year
  • Kyle Okposo to the Buffalo Sabres for seven years at $6 million per year
  • Frans Nielsen to the Detroit Red Wings for six years at $5.25 million per year
  • Milan Lucic to the Edmonton Oilers for seven years at $6 million per year
  • Loui Eriksson to the Vancouver Canucks for six years at $5.5 million per year
  • James Reimer to the Florida Panthers for five years at $3.4 million per year
  • Andrew Ladd to the New York Islanders for seven years at $5.5 million per year

Not sure there is anybody that would look at any of those contracts just three years later and argue that any of those teams are getting what they hoped to get. Reimer has already been traded so the Panthers could give another long-term deal to a different goalie (Sergei Bobrovsky) this offseason, while the rest of the contracts have all quickly become an albatross for every team that signed them.

There were six contracts signed over the 2017 and 2018 offseasons with Alexander Radulov, Karl Alzner, John Tavares, James van Riemsdyk, Jack Johnson, and John Moore all getting contracts of five years or more.

So far the Radulov and Tavares contracts look to be the best investments and have provided the most return.

Alzner spent time in the AHL this past season, while Johnson has been the subject of trade rumors after just one season in Pittsburgh.

This offseason seven teams have decided to bet against history and take their chances on long-term deals.

  • Vancouver signed Tyler Myers to a five-year contract
  • New York signed Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract
  • Florida signed Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract
  • Pittsburgh signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year contract
  • Nashville signed Matt Duchene to a seven-year contract
  • New York Islanders re-signed Anders Lee to a seven-year contract

History suggests that probably at least five of these players will be playing for a different team within two or three years.

The players that have had the highest chances of playing out most of their contract are the high-end players (first-or second-line forwards; top-pairing defenders) that are still reasonably close to the prime of their careers, so that might be good news for the Rangers and Panarin and maybe — emphasis maybe — Duchene and the Predators.

All of the rest? These look like textbook deals that are destined to end in a salary dump trade or a buyout within a couple of years.

If a player makes it to unrestricted free agency you should know what you are bidding on and adjust your expectations accordingly. It is usually a player that has almost certainly already played their most productive hockey in the NHL, and it is usually a player that their former team didn’t feel was worth the money or term they were going to be able to get on the open market. It is rare that a team allows a player it actually wants to re-sign and values make it to free agency.

Elite players like Tavares and Panarin are the exception.

The end result is a bidding war for a declining player that probably isn’t as good as you think, which then ultimately leads to a team paying a player to NOT play for them (buyout), or trading them for another player another team doesn’t want, or giving up a more valuable asset to entice a team to take your bad contract in a trade.

NHL Free agency: Sometimes the best way to win is to not play.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators invest in their offense by signing Duchene

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The Nashville Predators took a big step toward boosting their offense Monday by signing Matt Duchene away from the Columbus Blue Jackets, paying a big price to land a forward they had long targeted.

Duchene received a seven-year contract worth $56 million. He will be expected to spark the Predators’ scoring attack after a season in which they had the NHL’s worst power play and made a first-round playoff exit.

The 28-year-old center, who calls himself a ”wannabe country singer” in his Twitter and Instagram bio, said the move to Nashville seemed like a ”perfect fit” for him and his family.

”It’s been a place where we’ve wanted to be for a long time,” Duchene said. ”To see it come to fruition is really, really exciting. We love the city. The fans are unbelievable, and the most important part, which is the hockey part, it’s a hell of a team to be joining. I can’t wait to play with those guys, get out there and get started.”

The signing comes just over a week after the Predators traded six-time All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban to New Jersey for defensemen Steven Santi and Jeremy Davies, plus two draft picks. Subban was set to make $9 million each of the next three seasons.

Predators general manager David Poile said after that trade that the move was necessary to create salary-cap space to strengthen the team at the forward spot.

”Let’s call it like it is,” Poile said. ”If we don’t make the Subban trade and get rid of his money, it’s going to be much more difficult to get into the Duchene sweepstakes, if you will.”

Duchene had 31 goals and 39 assists this past season with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, who obtained him at the trade deadline. He also had five goals and five assists in 10 playoff games for Columbus as the Blue Jackets produced a stunning first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing to Boston in the second round.

This wasn’t the first time the Predators had been linked to Duchene, a frequent visitor to the Nashville area.

”It was crazy over the last few years how many times I thought I was going to be a Predator and ended up either in a different place or it just not happening,” Duchene said.

The Predators tried to acquire Duchene from Colorado in 2017 before he was traded to Ottawa as part of a three-way deal in which Nashville added forward Kyle Turris.

”It was talked about in the media the last three years,” Poile said. ”We made no secret, I think, that we were trying to get him. He made no secret that he had an affinity for the city.”

Yet Poile noted he never formally met Duchene until the past week or so as the free agent forward started his selection process. Until then, Poile said his only contact with Duchene had been the occasional nod when they crossed paths.

Duchene said he became even more interested in joining the Predators after speaking to coach Peter Laviolette. Duchene said a conversation with Laviolette that was supposed to take 10 minutes lasted 40-45 minutes as they talked hockey.

”We couldn’t have been more on the same page,” Duchene said. ”He’s a guy who wants to score more goals. As an offensive guy, that makes you drool a little bit when you hear your coach say that. That was awesome. (He’s) a guy that wants to play a get-up-and-go fast style, make plays, be creative, that kind of thing. That was a huge draw for me.”

Nashville lacked scoring punch this past season beyond its top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. That became particularly evident in the postseason, as the Predators failed to score on any of their 16 power-play attempts while losing to Dallas in six games.

Poile believed the Predators needed speed and offense. He considers Duchene one of the NHL’s most potent centers and an ideal candidate to address those two concerns. The Predators gave Duchene a modified no-trade clause for the last three years of his deal, enabling him to list seven teams that can’t acquire him.

Nashville also signed forward Daniel Carr to a one-year contract worth $700,000. The 27-year-old Carr was the American Hockey League’s most valuable player this season, as he had 30 goals and 41 assists for the Chicago Wolves.

Duchene heads to Smashville on seven-year, $56M deal

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When David Poile sent P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils, the hockey world knew something was up.

Yes, Poile had to make room for a pending big-money contract for fellow defenseman Roman Josi, whose current team-friendly deal will be anything but in the near future.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

But he was also clearing cap space for one of the most coveted free agents on the board: Matt Duchene, a player Poile wanted badly — enough to trade Subban from their formidable rearguard.

And now it’s official. Poile got his man, to the tune of seven years and $56 million.

“Our objective this offseason was to bolster our offense, and signing Matt Duchene gives us another dynamic goal-scoring, playmaking center,” Poile said in a statement. “We are excited to add his skill and experience to our top-six forwards and look forward to the next seven years of Matt and his family in Smashville. Matt’s love of country music and passion for the city of Nashville make this partnership a perfect fit.”

Considering some whispers went into the eight-figure range, this seems to be a very good deal.

The Predators now boast quite the spine up front with Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris (whom they acquired in a deal that helped send Duchene from Colorado to Ottawa), Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons (and RFA).

The deal also helps Nashville keep pace in the arms race that is the Central Division.

With the Dallas Stars signing Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera, and the Minnesota Wild locking up Mats Zuccarello, the Preds aren’t being left in the dust. Not in the least.

It should be an interesting day for the rest of the division.

The Winnipeg Jets don’t appear like they’ll be making any big splashes, only signing defensemen Nathan Beaulieu to a $1 million deal. They have to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, both restricted free agents and both in need of big money.

The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, added Joonas Donskoi and re-sign Colin Wilson.

And what will the St. Louis Blues do? They got by just fine this season without a superstar making mountains of money and have yet to do anything.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck.

Trade: Blackhawks get Andrew Shaw back as Canadiens clear cap space

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Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman was up to his favorite offseason activity on Sunday afternoon by acquiring another player he previously traded away.

The Blackhawks announced they have acquired forward Andrew Shaw from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for second-and seventh-round picks in 2020, and a third-round pick in 2021.

The Canadiens are retaining zero salary in the trade, meaning all of Shaw’s $3.9 million salary cap hit over the next three seasons comes off of their books.

That is significant for them as they attempt to be players in free agency (perhaps going after Matt Duchene?) when the signing period begins on Monday. Montreal now has more than $12 million in salary cap space and makes them a contender for any of the top free agents on the market.

The Blackhawks originally traded Shaw to the Canadiens three years ago for two second-round draft picks, one of which was used to select Alex DeBrincat.

In Shaw’s three years with the Canadiens he scored 41 goals and 96 total points in 182 games. That includes a career year this past season when he finished with 19 goals and 47 points in 63 games.

The Canadiens definitely sold high on Shaw this offseason and were able to pick up three more draft picks, giving them 11 selections in the 2020 class.

Ignoring the Blackhawks trend of trying to put the old band back together (in recent years they have re-acquired the likes of Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, just to name a few, after previously trading them away in salary cap clearing deals) it is a curious move for them. For one, it eats up a significant portion of their remaining salary cap space and still leaves them with five roster spots to fill and only around $8 million in cap space to do it. It also is a pretty good sign that they intend to compete this season, not only because they are re-acquiring a veteran player but because that is a lot of draft pick assets to give up for a third-line player that may not really move them that much closer to a championship.

The Blackhawks have been extremely active this offseason as they attempt to return to the playoffs after missing in each of the past two years.

Along with the addition of Shaw, they have also traded for defenders Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in an effort to improve what was one of the league’s worst defensive teams a year ago.

More Blackhawks Offseason:
Blackhawks defense suddenly looks respectable
Penguins trade Maatta to Blackhawks for Kahun, pick
Blackhawks get de Haan from Hurricanes

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.