It’s that time of year again. The Zambonis are being brought back into service after a long period of isolation, final rosters are being finished and each team will once again have an opportunity to hoist the greatest trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup. The National Hockey League is back and the season commenced on Tuesday evening, Oct. 11, with a rematch from last year’s eastern conference finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, as well as a contest later in the evening between divisional rivals Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights.
Every team, regardless of where they stand, are going to have different rosters than what they had last season. It is a big part of the game, mainly due to the fact that the NHL has the hardest salary cap amongst the big four professional sports leagues. Here are some of the biggest moves that happened in the NHL this off-season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets stunned the hockey world by signing longtime Calgary Flames left winger Johnny Gaudreau in free agency. Gaudreau, a South New Jersey native, was long rumored to sign with the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, teams that pushed hard to sign him. What was even more shocking about this move was that Columbus offered less money than these other franchises as well as Gaudreau’s former club, the Flames. The Blue Jackets are adding an absolute stud, a player that racked up 40 goals and 115 points last season. Gaudreau, although short-sized at 5’9 and 165 pounds, is gritty and always provides a big impact on teams. He joins a rejuvenated Columbus team that already features right winger Patrik Laine and young, budding pieces Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger. The future is bright in Columbus, and the team’s fortunes significantly changed after Gaudreau signed a bargain seven-year, $68.75 million contract.
The Flames were left in uncertainty after their longtime best player departed. More bad news arose when another core player, right winger Matthew Tkachuk, requested a trade. The Flames could’ve hit the nuclear button on their current core and begun a long, full-scale rebuild. But fortunately, they did not as they found an ideal trading partner in the Florida Panthers, sending Tkachuk to South Beach in exchange for left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, a future first-round pick and prospect forward Cole Schwindt. The Flames then persuaded Huberdeau, a player who posted 115 points last season and is a pending free agent next season, to stay on an eight-year, $84 million contract extension. Huberdeau brings a different style of play to the table, being an electrifying playmaker whereas Tkachuk is built as a power forward, a style of forward that is big and physical but does not possess as much speed as playmakers, two-way forwards and snipers. Florida, on the other hand, got Tkachuk signed to a very reasonable eight-year, $76 million contract extension at the young age of 24 to play alongside superstar center Aleksander Barkov.
The Ottawa Senators fleeced the sinking Chicago Blackhawks as they acquired young, emerging superstar forward Alex DeBrincat in exchange for the Senators’ first and second-round picks in the 2022 NHL draft, along with an extra third the preceding year. Although the Senators gave up a significant chunk of their draft capital, they found themselves a perfect fit on the left side of their top line in DeBrincat. He will help complement young center Tim Stutzle and captain Brady Tkachuk, bringing his 41 goals and 78 points to the team. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are a complete mess. They did not get enough draft capital for a player who arguably held the highest trade value on a team that not only is projected to be woeful this season but also did not even hold their first-round pick after trading that away for defenseman Seth Jones. The Blackhawks are yes, in full-rebuild mode, but the way they’ve handled their assets this offseason has been beyond catastrophic. It’s only getting worse for a franchise that is recovering from a controversy that arose last season.
The Los Angeles Kings took a big step forward after making the playoffs for the first time in four years last season, acquiring forward Kevin Fiala from the Minnesota Wild. This was a trade that was excellent for both teams, as the Kings acquired a player that would be beneficial to the development of young centers Alex Turcotte and Quinton Byfield, who were drafted fifth overall in 2019 and second overall in the same year, respectively by the Kings. Fiala had a breakout season for a Wild team that dominated last season, posting 33 goals and 85 points in the process. The Wild were trapped in a salary-cap dilemma this offseason due to the buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who both had horrific contracts. They managed to get a first-round pick and a good prospect in defenseman Brock Faber, a Minnesota native. Overall, it was a good deal for a team that is looking to take the next step forward and for a team to get back some decent value in a tumultuous cap crisis.
The New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings took big steps to improve their rosters this offseason. The Devils upgraded by acquiring goaltender Vitek Vanecek and forward Ondrej Palat in free agency, and acquiring center Erik Haula and defenseman John Marino in trades. These acquisitions, in particular the Vanecek one, significantly help their chances of improving. The Devils were one of the worst goaltending teams in the league last season, finishing with a .881 save percentage. Palat brings a wealth of playoff experience from his tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning, signing him to a five-year, $30 million contract that should bring much-needed leadership to the young club. Haula brings stability to the third-line center position, excelling in faceoffs and penalty killing. Marino is also a proven defenseman from his time in Pittsburgh, excelling on both the power-play and penalty-kill as a Penguin. In addition, number two-overall pick defenseman Simon Nemec has made the team a much-needed boost to a team that has had miserable defensive play for years.
The Red Wings, under GM Steve Yzerman, continued their trajectory back towards contention by acquiring goaltender Ville Husso in a trade with the St. Louis Blues and signing forwards Andrew Copp, David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, as well as defenseman Ben Chiarot in free agency. Husso should be a nice compliment to fellow young goaltender Alex Ndeljkovic, who had a mediocre first season in Detroit. Andrew Copp brings versatility and a strong two-way game to the team, excelling as a faceoff specialist and a strong penalty killer for a Rangers team that was close to making the Stanley Cup finals last season. David Perron brings leadership, a scoring touch and lots of experience to the table, Kubalik is a nice depth piece for the third line, scoring thirty goals in the 2018-2019 NHL season with the Blackhawks, and Ben Chiarot is a highly-coveted defensive-defenseman that always has a knack for making defensive units better around him. Detroit is in better hands, and with more promising young talent arising and with a nice budding core in place, they should be in consideration for a wild-card spot this season.