2017 NHL Offseason Analysis: Atlantic Division

Atlantic Division

2017 NHL Offseason Analysis

ATLANTIC DIVISION

The Atlantic Division will be very different this year, with lots of summer movement by clubs like Tampa Bay, Florida and Montreal. Though it is still the weaker of the two Eastern Conference divisions, the three playoff slots should be fairly competitive. Here’s an overview of the offseasons of the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.

 

2016-2017 Atlantic Division Standings

  1. Montreal Canadiens — 103pts
  2. Ottawa Senators — 98pts
  3. Boston Bruins — 95pts
  4. Toronto Maple Leafs — 95pts
  5. Tampa Bay Lightning — 94pts (missed playoffs)
  6. Florida Panthers — 81pts (missed playoffs)
  7. Detroit Red Wings — 79pts (missed playoffs)
  8. Buffalo Sabres — 78pts (missed playoffs)

 

Boston Bruins

Atlantic Division

Photo via NHL.com

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 44-31-7-95
Playoff Result: Eliminated in Conference Quarter-Finals by Ottawa (4-2 OTT)
Standings: Atlantic Division: 3, Eastern Conference: 7, League: 13
Goals For: 232 (NHL rank: 13)
Goals Against: 209 (NHL rank: 22)
Power Play Percentage: 21.7 percent (NHL rank: 7)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 85.7 percent (NHL rank: 1)
Leading Scorer: Brad Marchand (39-46–85)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

By all accounts, the Boston Bruins’ 2016-2017 season was not a success. Any season that does not result in a Stanley Cup is technically unsuccessful. However, the Bruins made the playoffs for the first time in three seasons and took a step in the right direction, making it a productive and somewhat encouraging year. After head coach Claude Julien was fired in February, the team really took off and was excellent down the stretch. There were several high-profile injuries in the first-round matchup against the Senators that ultimately lost the B’s the series. However, four of the games went to overtime, so it was about as close as it gets. Brad Marchand became an elite winger after an incredible showing in the World Cup, leading to an extension prior to the start of the season. David Pastrnak finally played to his potential and had an excellent season. Brandon Carlo was solid all year, and fellow rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy was impressive stepping up in the postseason. Though there were some disappointing performances, there’s a lot of potential for this team even if it isn’t what it was five or six years ago.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Paying Pasta

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Pastrnak had a remarkable year, setting career highs across the board in goals (34), assists (36), points (70), power-play goals (10), power-play points (24), game-winning goals (6) and shots (262). He, Patrice Bergeron and Marchand formed one of the best lines in the league. Pastrnak, a former first-round pick, received the hefty extension he was due; it came in the form of a six-year, $40 million deal. This is a very fair deal for both sides, though the $6.66 million cap hit is lower than some expected. It took until just before training camp to get the deal done, but both sides come away happy in this one.
 

Spooner Deal

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Photo by Maddie Meyer-Getty Images

Once again, a Bruins season came and went without the play of Ryan Spooner impressing the masses. Spooner is a source of great frustration for many (most) Bruins fans. The potential is there, the skill is there, but the execution is faulty. Spooner saw a decrease in production last season, recording 11 goals and 39 points after tallying 13 and 49 the year before. The former second-round pick was a topic of constant debate under Julien. Now that Bruce Cassidy is in charge, it’s possible Spooner will take advantage of what could be his final chance this season. Best-case scenario would involve him being a solid two-way third-line center. Unfortunately, his defensive play simply hasn’t been acceptable, even with Bergeron on the team. The confounding issue is that Spooner’s future seemed bright after the conclusion of the 2015-2016 season; he had turned himself into a reliable third-line center and got his point production up to a respectable 49 points. However, he fell far last year, so far that many fans thought he would never play for the black and gold again. His inability on draws and lackluster defensive effort make him a disappointing figure in Boston.

That being said, the team re-signed him to a one-year deal worth $2.825 million. This deal affords Spooner one more opportunity to make things work in Boston. Though the price is a bit high for an inconsistent player, Spooner managed 39 and 49 points in the past two seasons, respectively, so a pay raise was in order. Perhaps playing an entire season under someone other than Julien will enable Spooner to break out of his shell and become a reliable third-line center or winger in this league. There should be some trade interest in the 25-year-old, though he doesn’t make for a promising rental. Unless he really turns things around, this will be his last run with the Bruins.
 

Hayes Buyout

In the summer of 2015, the Bruins traded forward Reilly Smith to Florida and acquired 6-foot-6, 221-pound winger Jimmy Hayes. The restricted free agent was then re-signed to a three-year, $6.9 million extension. However, Hayes went on to score a combined 15 goals and 34 points in two seasons with the Bruins before being bought out this summer. He is coming off a season in which he scored literally two goals and five points in 58 games. On the flipside, Smith excelled in Florida, scoring 25 goals and 50 points in 2015-2016 and 15 goals and 37 points this past year; he has since been traded to the Vegas Golden Knights. The buyout, which cleared up $1.73 million of cap space for the 2017-2018 season, makes sense considering how wasteful Hayes was to this team. Hayes has since signed a one-year deal with New Jersey.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (June 14): D Tommy Cross to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign (June 28): F Noel Acciari to 2-year deal with AAV of $725,000
  • Buyout (June 30): F Jimmy Hayes – $1.73 million cap savings in 2017-2018
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Paul Postma to 1-year contract at $725,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Kenny Agostino to 1-year contract at $875,000
  • Re-Sign (July 5): F Tim Schaller to 1-year contract at $775,000
  • Re-Sign (July 14): G Malcolm Subban to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 14): G Zane McIntyre to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 17): F Austin Czarnik to 1-year contract at $675,000
  • Re-Sign (July 26): F Ryan Spooner to 1-year contract at $2.825 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

F Jimmy Hayes
D Colin Miller (expansion)
D John-Michael Liles
F Dominic Moore
F Drew Stafford

IN

D Paul Postma
F Kenny Agostino
 

Final Thoughts

The Bruins have had a relatively quiet offseason. The one major move was the extension awarded to Pastrnak, who should be worth every penny of that $40 million. Pastrnak is just getting going in his career, and playing him on the second line with David Krejci should help spread out the offensive production and talent up front. Before the deal was signed, rumors circulated indicating Boston might be open to trading Pastrnak; however, re-signing him was the right move. That’s not talent you trade away or play around with. Aside from Pastrnak, the team did a little house cleaning, shuffling the deck a bit with bottom-six forwards and on the back end. Kenny Agostino could be a big pickup for the team but is unlikely to crack the top six. Youngsters Carlo and McAvoy will be starters, which will help fill the void left by Colin Miller, who was selected in the Vegas Expansion Draft. Assuming the Bruins remain aggressive offensively under coach Cassidy, there’s no reason why this team cannot compete for a playoff berth this season.
 
 
 

Buffalo Sabres

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Kevin Hoffman-Getty Images

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 33-37-12-78
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 8, Eastern Conference: 15, League: 26
Goals For: 199 (NHL rank: 24)
Goals Against: 231 (NHL rank: 10)
Power Play Percentage: 24.5 percent (NHL rank: 1)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 77.6 percent (NHL rank: 25)
Leading Scorer: Jack Eichel (24-33–57)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

Despite finishing last in the Atlantic Division, the Buffalo Sabres had an average season last year. The team remained within a few games of .500 for much of the year. While the team was expected to perform better, several things prevented this from happening. The most obvious example was the fact that Jack Eichel sustained an injury on the first day of training camp that kept him out of the lineup for 21 games. He had a spectacular individual campaign, scoring 24 goals and a team-high 57 points; interestingly, he did this in just 61 games. Ironically, his performance was nearly identical to his rookie numbers; however, the fact that he played in 20 fewer games makes it all the more impressive. He finished 12th in the NHL in points per game with a .93 rate. His faceoff ability is a growing concern, but the former second-overall draft choice seems to be everything he was supposed to be. He had some help last season, though. Evander Kane put up a team-leading 28 goals, and eight players scored at least 13 goals on the year. Perhaps most significantly, the Sabres finished the season with the best power play in the league, converting at a 24.5 percent rate. Had Eichel started the season healthy and continued at a .93 points-per-game pace, he could have accrued 75 points last year; this would have put him in the top-10 list of scorers around the league. Kyle Okposo was the team’s biggest signing last offseason but has much more to show his teammates, fans and opponents coming off a health scare that kept him in the hospital for quite some time.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Captain Jack

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres announced Wednesday that the team has re-signed star center Eichel to a massive eight-year, $80 million extension. Reports also indicate Eichel will be named the next captain of the Sabres.

Eichel’s entry-level contract was set to expire at the end of this season; taking care of the deal prior to the start of the regular season will eliminate any chance of distraction, which can only benefit Eichel and the team. While the $10 million cap hit may be a little higher than some expected, this is a momentous signing for the Sabres, and it’s one that had to be made. Eichel has shown he can be an elite forward in this league but has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

Starting the year on a line with Kane and newly-acquired Jason Pominville, Eichel is expected to reach new heights this season. Many believe he will top 85 points, and based on last season’s performance, that seems like a pretty reasonable, if not conservative, projection. The $10 million cap hit will be tied with Anze Kopitar for the fifth-highest cap hit in 2018-2019, trailing only Connor McDavid ($12.5 million) and Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Carey Price ($10.5 million). Though the Sabres’ top two centers (Ryan O’Reilly and Eichel) will have a combined $17.5 million cap hit when Eichel’s contract kicks in next summer, the Sabres had to make a commitment to the face of the franchise. The money could be conceived as a gamble just two seasons into his career, one of which was cut short due to injury, but management clearly believes in Eichel. He will be a Sabre for at least the next nine seasons and can lead this Buffalo team back into contention.
 

Make Your Marco

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Sabres made a significant move by acquiring defenseman Marco Scandella from the Minnesota Wild. Scandella is a solid top-four defenseman but was the odd man out on an extremely strong blue line in Minnesota. The Sabres are in a bit of a revamp under new management, and this was one of several strong offseason moves. This immediately improves the blue line significantly for a team that needs to be stronger defensively. Scandella is not going to score 50 points, but his reliable play in his own end and ability to log 20-plus minutes a night will give Rasmus Ristolainen more opportunities to take advantage of his offensive ability. The fact that Buffalo was able to acquire someone that would be a top-four defenseman on almost every team in the NHL without having to part with one of its strongest forwards or prospects is an impressive accomplishment. Scandella is an especially valuable commodity considering he has three years remaining on a deal that carries just a $4 million cap hit.

Of course, the team also acquired former Sabres captain Pominville as well as a 2018 fourth-round selection. Pominville is coming off a very strong season in which he registered 13 goals and 47 points. He was one of Minnesota’s more consistent players and will start the season on Eichel’s wing. Pominville scored at least 20 goals in seven out of nine seasons with the Sabres, scoring 18 and 19 in the other two seasons (assuming he was on pace for 19 in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season).

The team says goodbye to Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. While Foligno’s character is difficult to replace, the trade is a solid win for Buffalo.
 

Beefing Up the Blue Line

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to acquiring Scandella from Minnesota, Buffalo landed defenseman Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal in exchange for a third-round draft pick. The team subsequently re-signed him to a two-year contract with a $2.4 million average annual value. This is an exceptional pick-up for new general manager Jason Botterill as Beaulieu is coming off a season in which he set career highs across the board. The 24-year-old former first-round pick has plenty of untapped potential and will be a solid addition to Buffalo’s defense.
 

Contract Cleaning

Buffalo has done a nice job of re-signing important players and bringing in fresh faces without dismantling the foundation of the team. For example, re-signing Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Robin Lehner, to name a few, ensures the return of several important pieces of this team. Signing Benoit Pouliot on a one-year deal with a $1.15 million cap hit may not have been necessary, but the risk-free move shows Buffalo is trying to strengthen its bottom-six. Bringing back goaltender Chad Johnson on a one-year contract gives the team a stronger goalie tandem. Both goalies are on one-year deals, but this should allow management to evaluate the situation in net before signing someone long-term. This is a move of patience, and it’s a smart one for a re-building club.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (June 13): G Linus Ullmark to 2-year deal with AAV of $750,000
  • Trade (June 17): 2017 3rd-round pick to Montreal for D Nathan Beaulieu
  • Trade (June 21): 2017 6th-round pick to Vegas to select F William Carrier in expansion draft
  • Trade (June 30): F Tyler Ennis, F Marcus Foligno and 2018 3rd-round pick to Minnesota for D Marco Scandella, F Jason Pominville and 2018 4th-round pick
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Benoit Pouliot to 1-year contract at $1.15 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): G Chad Johnson to 1-year contract at $2.5 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Seth Griffith to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Jacob Josefson to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • Re-Sign (July 8): F Johan Larsson to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.475 million
  • Re-Sign (July 25): G Robin Lehner to 1-year contract at $4 million
  • Re-Sign (July 27): F Evan Rodrigues to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 31): D Nathan Beaulieu to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.4 million
  • Re-Sign (Aug. 17): F Zemgus Girgensons to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.6 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

F Tyler Ennis
F Marcus Foligno
D Dmitry Kulikov
F William Carrier (expansion)
D Cody Franson
F Brian Gionta
G Anders Nilsson

IN

F Jason Pominville
D Marco Scandella
G Chad Johnson
F Jacob Josefson
F Seth Griffith
 

Final Thoughts

The Buffalo Sabres should see a jump in the standings this season even if the team is unable to reach the playoffs. The Eastern Conference is more competitive than ever, and there are a lot of really strong teams that are in better position to strive for playoff contention. That being said, there is enough talent on this roster to make a run out of it, especially if the team can somehow keep players healthy. Zach Bogosian is someone who has been a huge disappointment since arriving in the Kane deal. There is much more depth on the blue line with Ristolainen, Beaulieu, Scandella, Jake McCabe, etc., but Sabres fans would love to see Bogo get back to the strong play he exhibited in Winnipeg. Eichel seems ready for a breakout season, and the Sabres organization just made a major commitment to the soon-to-be 21-year-old center. The Sabres now have a very strong top-six down the middle with Eichel and O’Reilly, who has been extremely consistent for this club. With Sam Reinhart set to start the season as the third-line center, this offense will ice multiple scoring lines. It’s likely that Kane will get dealt at the trade deadline, but he should be motivated to have a big season since it’s a contract year for him. All in all, the Sabres have a lot of new pieces that need to shape up, but this team could start to see significant improvement moving forward.
 
 
 

Detroit Red Wings

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Paul Sancya-AP Photo

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 33-36-13-79
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 7, Eastern Conference: 14, League: 25
Goals For: 198 (NHL rank: 26)
Goals Against: 244 (NHL rank: 5)
Power Play Percentage: 15.1 percent (NHL rank: 27)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 80.8 percent (NHL rank: 16)
Leading Scorer: Henrik Zetterberg (17-51–68)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

After making the playoffs 25 years in a row, Detroit finally succumbed to the darkness last season and broke its sports-wide playoff streak in disappointing fashion. At no point did this club look like a legitimate playoff team, nor did it play like one. Many players took major steps back, including (but not limited to) Dylan Larkin, Riley Sheahan, Darren Helm, Niklas Kronwall and Petr Mrazek, among others. There were some positive takeaways, including Tomas Tatar’s late-season push and 25-goal season, Jimmy Howard’s stellar play in net when healthy and Henrik Zetterberg’s heroic 68-point campaign. Additionally, Andreas Athanasiou was an electric force on the ice, seemingly always on a breakaway or performing a highlight-reel play. However, on the whole, the team was exposed. Detroit’s aging roster and messy cap situation was as glaring as the absence of Pavel Datsyuk, who retired and moved back to Russia last summer. The new season presents a fresh slate for everyone, and many Red Wings will look to take advantage of that. However, general manager Ken Holland, once admired for his crafty drafting, was unable to clean up much of the mess he has created by signing players to bad contracts in recent years. He made a few moves this summer and was able to unload multiple players at the trade deadline in exchange for draft picks. But in all likelihood, it will not be enough to propel Detroit back into postseason play.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Trevor Time

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

On day one of free agency, Detroit signed free-agent defenseman Trevor Daley to a three-year, $9.5 million deal, inking the 33-year-old defenseman in order to stabilize the back end. Daley is coming off back-to-back Stanley Cup wins with the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing key roles in both runs as a depth defenseman. His average of 19 minutes of ice time per game were key, especially in the absence of Kris Letang. Daley brings a strong two-way game with offensive upside to a lethargic Detroit blue line. However, it’s understandable why many fans view this as yet another bad contract doled out by Holland, the worst of them being Darren Helm’s five-year, $19.25 million deal from last summer. Considering Daley will step in as a top-four defenseman for Detroit, the $3.167 cap hit isn’t too unreasonable. That being said, Daley’s performance and production could slip this year or next, which would make it weigh down the cap even more. The low AAV could make him more tradable down the line, though.

The real issue presents itself when you take a step back and look at Detroit’s back end as a whole. With three aging defenders in Kronwall, Ericsson and Mike Green already in the lineup, Daley steps in as number four, leaving Danny DeKeyser as the team’s main viable option moving forward. Holland was right to target a defenseman this summer, but Daley is not the knockout signing the Wings needed.
 

Tatar Sauce

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Red Wings re-signed Tomas Tatar to a four-year deal with a cap hit of $5.3 million. The deal was announced shortly after Tatar indicated he would leave Detroit next summer if the two sides ended up in arbitration. Luckily for both sides, a deal that will keep Tatar in Motown until he is 30 years old was struck. The terms of the deal are somewhat surprising, especially considering Tatar and Gustav Nyquist have long been rumored as trade candidates. However, the player that led the Red Wings in goals last season with 25 will be a key part of this team’s core for at least the next four years. Tatar has missed just 10 games over the past four seasons and has recorded nearly 20 goals each year, including 25, 21, 29 and 19 in the past four seasons, respectively. The deal is comparable to contracts handed out to players like Brayden Schenn, Mika Zibanejad, Nino Niederreiter and Ondrej Palat. While the $5.3 million is a tad high, the Red Wings had to commit and were able to come away with a short-term deal. While this could be considered a slight overpayment, it’s one of the better contracts Holland has handed out in a long time.
 

Sending a Message

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Scott W. Grau-Icon Sportswire

The Detroit Red Wings sent quite a message when the team decided to protect goaltender Jimmy Howard in the expansion draft, opting to expose Petr Mrazek. Mrazek was believed to be the future starter for this club but had a miserable season last year, finishing 18-21-9 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. This was just one year removed from his 2015-2016 performance in which he went 27-16-6 and finished the year with a 2.33 GAA and .921 SV%. He consistently gave up between three and five goals and was never able to stabilize his play for very long. On the flipside, though Howard missed most of the season and started in just 24 games, he was exceptional. His 2.10 GAA and .927 SV% were both career highs, and he was often unbeatable. This presents somewhat of a goalie controversy entering this season, but the move to expose Mrazek takes everything up several notches. Vegas didn’t end up choosing Mrazek in the expansion draft but easily could have taken a chance on the 25-year-old netminder who was considered to be Detroit’s future. Having prospect Jared Coreau in the “wings” gives Detroit some flexibility, but the move was intended to send a message to Mrazek, who didn’t maintain a positive or team-friendly attitude while he struggled.
 

Athana See You Later

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Vaughn Ridley-Getty Images

Holland has yet to reach an agreement with speedster Athanasiou, who remains a restricted free agent. Rumors indicate Athanasiou could be headed to the KHL if contract talks don’t progress. There are several reasons for the holdout. For one thing, Detroit is already cap-straddled, currently sitting $3 million over the cap limit. The team will receive just under $4 million in cap relief once Johan Franzen is placed on long-term injured reserve at the start of the season. However, it’s more than a cap issue, as Holland has stated he will address cap issues through trade or waivers after preseason if need be. Instead, there are underlying factors affecting the situation. Athanasiou has just one full year of NHL experience under his belt. Detroit would prefer to sign him to a bridge deal in order to see what type of player he will be moving forward. Also, the team has to be very careful considering giving Athanasiou too much money this summer could lead to strained negotiations next summer when Larkin and Anthony Mantha become free agents. While the complicated factors are understandable, the problem remains that Athanasiou has too much talent to waste. He finished second on the team in scoring last year with 18 goals and has incredible speed, hands and finishing ability. Detroit cannot afford to lose such a dynamic player; Holland needs to figure something out quickly.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (June 28): D Dylan McIlrath to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • Re-Sign (June 28): D Brian Lashoff to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Trevor Daley to 3-year deal with AAV of $3.16 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Luke Witkowski to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Trade (July 1): Conditional 7th-round pick to Calgary for G Tom McCollum
  • Re-Sign (July 3): D Xavier Ouellet to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.25 million
  • Re-Sign (July 18): F Martin Frk to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 21): F Tomas Tatar to 4-year deal with AAV of $5.3 million
  • Draft Pick Signing (Aug. 5): F Michael Rasmussen to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000
  • Re-Sign (Sept. 5): D Robbie Russo to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000

Key Player Movement

OUT

F Tomas Nosek (expansion)
F Drew Miller
D Brendan Smith
F Tomas Jurco
F Steve Ott
F Tomas Vanek

IN

D Trevor Daley
F Michael Rasmussen
F Martin Frk
G Tom McCollum
 

Final Thoughts

All in all, Detroit will ice a lineup almost exactly the same as last year’s, a team that failed to make the playoffs. Considering many teams in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division got better this offseason, Detroit’s outlook for 2017-2018 isn’t great. There is a lot of talent throughout the lineup, from veterans like Zetterberg and Frans Nielsen to up-and-comers like Larkin and Mantha and solid goal-scorers like Tatar. However, the defense is spotty at best, and the situation in net is a large unknown. It’s possible Holland will use this year to develop the young talent already on the roster and trade away bad contracts and expendable assets while remaining somewhat competitive. There are rumors that Pittsburgh has great interest in Sheahan, and Green and Mrazek could be interesting trade deadline options depending on how things progress during the season. But at the end of the day, Detroit is not the threatening club it has been for a quarter of a century, and the light at the end of the tunnel is obstructed by the tangled mess Holland has built.
 
 
 

Florida Panthers

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 35-36-11-81
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 6, Eastern Conference: 13, League: 23
Goals For: 205 (NHL rank: 23)
Goals Against: 231 (NHL rank: 11)
Power Play Percentage: 17.0 percent (NHL rank: 24)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 85.3 percent (NHL rank: 2)
Leading Scorer: Vincent Trocheck (23-31–54)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Florida Panthers had a surprisingly disappointing 2016-2017 season after making many lineup changes last offseason. The Panthers re-built the back end by bringing in Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk, brought in James Reimer and signed him to a substantial contract to share the load with the aging Roberto Luongo and took a chance on 2014 first-round pick Jared McCann. Injuries proved disastrous for the Sunrise club, as Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau missed extended time. Nick Bjugstad dealt with multiple injuries and was unable to put together a strong campaign. However, several players came out of nowhere and had monster seasons. For example, Jonathan Marchessault scored 30 goals and Vincent Trocheck was one of the most underrated players in the entire NHL. Some of the older vets looked older, such as Luongo and Jussi Jokinen, and the organization as a whole was all over the place. Now that Bob Boughner has taken over behind the bench and Dale Tallon is back in charge, this Panthers club is headed in a new direction and has a newfound focus headed into the 2017-2018 season.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Expansion Surprises

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers turned many heads when the club released its protection list headed into the Vegas Expansion Draft. Most notably, Marchessault was left exposed after putting together a 30-goal, 51-point campaign, as was Reilly Smith just one year into his five-year, $25 million contract. The team also chose to protect Reimer over Luongo and Pysyk over Demers. In the end, Vegas selected Marchessault and also managed to acquire Smith for just a fourth-round pick. Both moves were shocking considering the level of talent both possess. Plus, it was believed that both were key parts of the team moving forward. However, management must have been confident Marchessault’s impressive season was a one-time thing and that Smith’s contract was too costly to bear. After all, Tallon was not the one who signed Smith to that hefty deal. But based on Vegas’ preseason, the Marchessault decision could become a deep regret.
 

Vetting the Vets

The Panthers also said goodbye to veteran wingers Jaromir Jagr and Jokinen. The ageless Jagr was not re-signed despite putting up nearly 50 points. However, there was a clear drop in production from his 66 points the year before. He has just signed a deal with Calgary but went without much interest throughout the summer and training camp. Jokinen’s contract was bought out after a rough season of just 11 goals and 28 points after putting up 60 the year before.

After losing three top-six forwards plus Jokinen, the Panthers would need to re-stock during the offseason.

Re-Stocking the Wings

Atlantic Division

Photo crdit: Matt Slocum-AP

As a matter of fact, the team went out and signed two top-six wingers over the summer, including highly-acclaimed Russian forward Evgeny Dadonov as well as the consistently productive Radim Vrbata.

Many teams around the league had interest in Dadonov, originally drafted by Florida in 2007. He recorded 10 goals and 20 points in 55 regular-season games with Florida between 2009-2010 and 2011-2012. The 28-year-old signed a three-year, $12 million contract. He is coming off a strong season in the KHL in which he scored 30 goals and 66 points in 53 games, adding nine goals and 19 points in 18 playoff games. Dadonov will slot in on the top line with star forwards Huberdeau and Barkov and should have a strong campaign.

Additionally, Florida brought in Vrbata on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. Vrbata is coming off a 20-goal and 55-point campaign with Arizona and should be a reliable scoring winger on the second line. He has topped 20 goals in five out of his last eight seasons, scoring 19 in 2010-2011 and being on pace for 24 in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season. Vrbata is also a strong power-play asset and is effective in the shootout. He and Trocheck will be a solid second-line duo for Florida this year.
 

The Head-Scratcher

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

In what was one of the strangest moves of the offseason, Florida traded defenseman Demers to Arizona in exchange for forward Jamie McGinn. This was bizarre for a few reasons. For one thing, Demers signed a five-year, $22.5 million extension last summer. Like with Smith, however, it was not Tallon who inked this contract, which could have contributed to his willingness to move the 29-year-old rearguard. However, the more interesting aspect of the move relates to McGinn, who is coming off a horrendous 2016-2017 performance. After signing a three-year, $10 million contract with Arizona last year, McGinn finished the season with just nine goals and 17 points in 72 games. His 0.24 points-per-game scoring rate was by far the lowest of his career, and he was ineffective for a team looking for secondary scoring. It seems clear that Florida wanted to rid itself of long-term and expensive contracts. That being said, Demers certainly was worth well more than just McGinn, especially considering the Panthers even retained part of Demers’ salary. This is a terrible move considering what many teams would give up for a top-four defenseman of Demers’ caliber. Considering most of the team is locked up long-term, this move defies logic and is one of the most confusing moves of the offseason.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade (June 21): F Reilly Smith to Vegas for 2018 4th-round pick
  • Re-Sign (June 30): D Alex Petrovic to 1-year contract at $1.85 million
  • Buyout (June 30): F Jussi Jokinen – $2.67 million cap savings in 2017-2018
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Evgeny Dadonov to 3-year deal with AAV of $4 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Radim Vrbata to 1-year contract at $2.5 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Michael Haley to 2-year deal with AAV of $825,000
  • Re-Sign (July 6): D Mark Pysyk to 3-year deal with AAV of $2.733 million
  • Draft Pick Signing (July 19): F Owen Tippett to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000
  • Trade (Sept. 17): D Jason Demers (12.5 percent salary retention) to Arizona in exchange for F Jamie McGinn

Key Player Movement

OUT

F Reilly Smith
F Jonathan Marchessault (expansion)
F Jaromir Jagr
D Jason Demers
F Tomas Vanek
F Jussi Jokinen
G Reto Berra

IN

F Evgeny Dadonov
F Radim Vrbata
F Jamie McGinn
F Michael Haley
 

Final Thoughts

The Florida Panthers enter the 2017-2018 season with many fresh faces, including Dadonov, Vrbata and McGinn, among others. By getting rid of a plethora of forwards, the team does not have as much depth as it had last year. That being said, the Panthers are coming off a very disappointing season. One year removed from winning the Atlantic Division with 103 points, Florida found itself outside of the playoffs with more than a 20-point drop in points. Moves had to be made to address this collapse. It’s hard to tell at this point whether the right moves were made in order to help Florida reach the postseason this year. The team is younger, however, which could be Tallon’s plan. No matter what, there are a lot of things that need to improve this year in order for the team to make its way back to postseason contention. For one thing, the team finished with the worst goal differential in the NHL, as well as with a bottom-10 offense and bottom-10 power play. The penalty kill was one of the best in the NHL, which will be key if the Panthers hope to remain competitive this year. Dadonov and Vrbata will be strong assets up front, but at the end of the day, this offseason’s moves likely will fail to help this team get back in the playoffs.
 
 
 

Montreal Canadiens

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: David Boily-LA Presse

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 47-26-9-103
Playoff Result: Eliminated in Conference Quarter-Finals by NY Rangers (4-2 NYR)
Standings: Atlantic Division: 1, Eastern Conference: 4, League: 7
Goals For: 223 (NHL rank: 15)
Goals Against: 198 (NHL rank: 27)
Power Play Percentage: 19.7 percent (NHL rank: 13)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 81.1 percent (NHL rank: 14)
Leading Scorer: Max Pacioretty (35-32–67)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

Paul Byron and Phillip Danault, two former average bottom-six forwards, stepped up in a big way and had great seasons. Max Pacioretty got off to a slow start but finished the year with 35 goals and 67 points, adding yet another 30-plus goal season to his resume. Alexander Radulov instantly became a fan favorite and proved general manager Marc Bergevin right, finishing the year with 18 goals and 54 points and leading the team in playoff scoring with seven points in six games. Bergevin’s other risky move last offseason, swapping franchise defensemen with Nashville, also proved successful, as Weber had a strong year. He scored 17 goals and 42 points and was sound defensively, quieting the media and fan reaction to the move. Bergevin can’t help the fact that Subban and the Preds made it to the Stanley Cup Final; similarly, the fact that Montreal was eliminated in the first round is not at all on Weber. Carey Price had another strong season, finishing the year with 37 wins, a 2.23 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and three shutouts. While he had another impressive regular season, nominating him for the Vezina Trophy was quite a stretch compared to what Cam Talbot was able to do in Edmonton. That being said, once again Price played poorly in the postseason. He had his moments and played a large part in Montreal’s success, but he was over-matched and outplayed by Henrik Lundqvist and did not steal a game for his team. Despite that, he was awarded with a lucrative extension this summer, which was just one of many offseason moves made by the Canadiens.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Deal for Drouin

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Canadiens made a significant trade this offseason, sending prized defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay in exchange for offensively-gifted playmaker Jonathan Drouin. Drouin set career highs across the board last season, scoring 21 goals and 53 points in 73 games. Though Sergachev is a huge price to pay, landing Drouin is a massive upgrade for this team. There had been endless speculation about whether Alex Galchenyuk would be re-signed, traded or demoted and whether or not he could or should play center rather than wing. Once he re-signed for three years at $4.9 million per, that issue was somewhat put to rest. However, the Drouin acquisition opens a whole new set of opportunities. In fact, Drouin will start the season as the first-line center rather than playing wing as most expected. Drouin will play with Pacioretty and Gallagher, which could set up a huge campaign for him. Management and the coaching staff essentially have said that Galchenyuk is not capable of playing in the middle, but Drouin’s versatility gives them other options with which to work. Danault could always step in as the first-line center, especially after his breakout performance in which he more than quadrupled his previous stats, but Drouin has looked great in the preseason and should be more than fine with the added responsibility.
 

Back-End Maneuvers

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Patrick Smith-Getty Images

The Canadiens have seen a lot of turnover on the blue line. For one thing, Andrei Markov will not return to the team despite interest from both sides; he elected to turn down an extension and will spend the season in the KHL. This is a significant loss for Montreal even though Markov is 38; he has been a consistent and reliable defender for the team for years. The team also will be without defenseman Alexei Emelin, chosen by Vegas in the expansion draft and now a member of the Nashville Predators. Additionally, two trades sent promising young defenders out of town, including Nathan Beaulieu and Sergachev.

On the other hand, Montreal acquired several pieces this offseason to attempt to fill these holes. The most major of these acquisitions is defenseman Karl Alzner. Alzner has not missed a regular-season contest in the last five years; his stability and excellent defensive ability will be welcomed additions to the club. Though he did miss some time in the playoffs this past year and struggled recovering from an injury early in the year, Alzner still managed a decent season and is one of the most underrated shut-down defensemen in the league. The five-year, $23.125 million deal is steep, with the cap hit falling at $4.625 million. At the same time, though, Alzner is a solid top-four and two-way defenseman who is also a great teammate and an even better friend to the media. He could have demanded north of $5.5-6 million, so it’s a very good deal considering the market. Alzner wants to continue to compete for a Cup, and he will do whatever it takes to help the Habs get there.

Lastly, Montreal acquired veteran defensemen David Schlemko and Mark Streit through trade and free agency, respectively. The Schlemko deal was one of the best any team made this offseason. He brings tremendous value and only cost the Canadiens a 2019 fifth-round pick, which is remarkable. His $2.1 million cap hit makes him an even better asset. Streit signed a one-year, $700,000 contract. He should provide some offense for the team and likely will play on the team’s second power-play unit.
 

The Price is Right

Atlantic Division

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Carey Price is considered by many to be the best goalie in the National Hockey League, and he’s the Canadiens’ most valuable player every season. Even though his playoff performances have not been impressive, he is the team’s MVP every year and is a vital part of this club’s future. As such, since Price’s contract was set to expire at the end of this season, Montreal wanted to get ahead of the curve and re-sign its star netminder. The two sides struck a deal, though it certainly is a costly one. Price, 30, signed an eight-year, $84 million extension, which carries a $10.5 million cap hit. When this contract kicks in during the 2018-2019 season, Price will have the highest cap hit among all goalies in the NHL, with a cap hit of $2 million more than the second-place goalie, Lundqvist. Price has yet to prove that he is a winner in the playoffs, but Montreal is happy to have him signed for the next nine seasons.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (June 5): F Andreas Martinsen to 1-year contract at $675,000
  • Re-Sign (June 15): F Charles Hudon to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • Trade (June 15): D Mikhail Sergachev and conditional 2018 2nd-round pick to Tampa Bay for F Jonathan Drouin and conditional 2018 6th-round pick
  • Re-Sign (June 15): F Jonathan Drouin to 6-year deal with AAV of $5.5 million
  • Trade (June 17): D Nathan Beaulieu to Buffalo for 2017 3rd-round pick
  • Trade (June 22): 2019 5th-round pick to Vegas for D David Schlemko and 2018 6th-round pick
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Karl Alzner to 5-year deal with AAV of $4.625 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Peter Holland to 2-year deal with AAV of $575,000
  • Re-Sign (July 2): G Carey Price to 8-year deal with AAV of $10.5 million
  • FA Signing (July 3): F Ales Hemsky to 1-year contract at $1 million
  • Re-Sign (July 5): F Alex Galchenyuk to 3-year deal with AAV of $4.9 million
  • FA Signing (July 25): D Mark Streit to 1-year contract at $700,000

Key Player Movement

OUT

F Alexander Radulov
D Nathan Beaulieu
D Alexei Emelin (expansion)
D Mikhail Sergachev

IN

F Jonathan Drouin
D Karl Alzner
D David Schlemko
F Ales Hemsky
D Mark Streit
 

Final Thoughts

The Habs are coming off the team’s second Atlantic Division title win in the last three years. Losing Radulov and Markov was a tough blow, but replacing those players with Drouin and Alzner is better than most fans could have hoped for. The overall depth, especially on defense, is thinner, but the Canadiens brought in some strong options. Ales Hemsky signed a one-year, $1 million deal and will look to rebound from a hip injury that limited him to just 15 games last year. Both Tomas Plekanec and Gallagher will look to rebound from disappointing 10-goal seasons, but other players throughout the lineup will need to be better, including Andrew Shaw. One concern entering the 2017-2018 season is that the Canadiens produced a lot of offense throughout the year without much depth at forward, meaning it’s possible that could have been an overachievement and therefore difficult to replicate. The team’s lack of scoring was never more obvious than in the team’s first-round loss to the Rangers. Drouin will bring a lot of talent to the lineup, but he can’t single-handedly do it all for Montreal. No matter what, the foundation of Price, Weber, Pacioretty and now Drouin is very strong. The pipeline may not be as fruitful, but one can never fully count out the Canadiens because of Price and Weber. The good news for Montreal is that the Atlantic Division is more unpredictable than ever, so making the playoffs is definitely within reach. What the team is able to do once the postseason arrives is another question.
 
 
 

Ottawa Senators

Atlantic Division

Photo via NHL.com

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 44-28-10-98
Playoff Result: Eliminated in Conference Finals by Pittsburgh (4-3 PIT)
Standings: Atlantic Division: 2, Eastern Conference: 6, League: 12
Goals For: 206 (NHL rank: 22)
Goals Against: 210 (NHL rank: 21)
Power Play Percentage: 17.0 percent (NHL rank: 23)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 79.7 percent (NHL rank: 22)
Leading Scorer: Erik Karlsson (17-54–71)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Ottawa Senators surprised many by making an impressively deep playoff run and coming within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Not only that, Game 7 of the Conference Finals went to double overtime before Chris Kunitz put away the game-winner. It was hard to overcome Erik Karlsson’s injury, though he fought through incredible pain from multiple fractures and torn tendons in his foot and still contributed. Injuries throughout the lineup, however, eventually caught up with the team, though it’s hard to get much closer to reaching the Cup. That being said, there is a lot to be encouraged about from last year’s lineup, and most of that can still be said entering the 2017-2018 season. The team didn’t make too many offseason adjustments, however; in a league where every team is trying to get better every year, that could leave Ottawa in a precarious position, especially given the lingering injuries with which the team is coping. However, if certain players step up again this season, the Sens could find themselves ready for another run come April.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Missing Methot

Atlantic Division

Photo Credit: Errol McGihon-Ottawa Sun

The Ottawa Senators lost a key part of the team’s core in the expansion draft when the Vegas Golden Knights took defenseman Marc Methot. The Senators were unable to protect him as a result of Dion Phaneuf’s no-movement clause and therefore faced the potential of losing Methot, who has played with Karlsson for years and is a key top-four defenseman on this team. However, general manager Pierre Dorian did not do enough to ensure that Methot would stay, and the Senators could pay for that ineffective negotiating moving forward.

Dorian signed veteran defensive defenseman Johnny Oduya to a one-year contract, but he is not a replacement for Mathot. Oduya played just over 18 minutes per game last year with Dallas and Chicago compared to Methot, who tends to play closer to 20 minutes. Oduya is also three years older and a great deal slower. Though he’s a veteran stay-at-home defenseman with a lot of experience and success from his days in Chicago, he will enter the season without having had a chance to develop chemistry with Karlsson, if he’s even going to play on the top pair. The Senators have to hope that the defense, collectively, can try to make up for Methot’s loss by committee.
 

Re-Signs

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Richard A. Whittaker-Icon Sportswire

The Senators had several free agents to re-sign this season, and most were signed to reasonable deals. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who exploded to lead the team in playoff goals with eight, signed a three-year deal with a cap hit of $3.1 million. He is expected to take on a much larger role in the regular season, especially since second-line center Derick Brassard is coming off offseason shoulder surgery.

One player that emerged in Ottawa’s lineup during the regular season was winger Ryan Dzingel, who signed a two-year extension that carries a $1.8 million cap hit. Dzingel scored 14 goals and 32 points in 81 games in his first full NHL campaign. However, he faded in the postseason, scoring just two goals and three points in 15 games. He is coming off a groin injury but has been on the ice with the team in recent days. He is expected to play a top-six role for the Sens this season.

The Senators also went ahead and re-signed backup goalie Mike Condon, who was acquired mid-season from Pittsburgh last year. Craig Anderson had a remarkable season last year and will be the starter again this year, but Condon was solid for the team stepping up when Anderson had to take time off to be with his wife, who was undergoing chemotherapy. The 27-year-old netminder signed a relatively substantial three-year, $7.2 million extension after winning 19 games and posting a 2.50 goals-against average and .914 save percentage with five shutouts. He could challenge for the starter’s gig down the line but will now serve as a reliable backup for Anderson, who recently signed a two-year, $9.5 million extension.
 

Tempting Thompson

Another offseason acquisition made by the Senators was signing defensive center Nate Thompson, who has spent the past three seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. Thompson is a solid faceoff guy and can help round out the bottom six as a reliable center and penalty-killer. With Turris, Brassard, Pageau and Thompson up the middle, not to mention Zack Smith who can play wing and center, the Senators have enough depth to compete. Thompson, 32, signed a two-year deal that carries an average annual value of $1.65 million. This is slightly high given the type of player Thompson is, but Dorian and head coach Guy Boucher clearly feel his presence was necessary.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (June 26): F Tom Pyatt to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.1 million
  • Re-Sign (June 27): F Max McCormick to 2-year deal with AAV of $650,000
  • Re-Sign (June 28): G Mike Condon to 3-year deal with AAV of $2.4 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Nate Thompson to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.65 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Tyler Randell to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Max Reinhart to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 11): D Patrick Sieloff to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign (July 17): F Jean-Gabriel Pageau to 3-year deal with AAV of $3.1 million
  • Re-Sign (July 21): F Ryan Dzingel to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.8 million
  • FA Signing (July 24): D Johnny Oduya to 1-year contract at $1 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

D Marc Methot (expansion)
F Tommy Wingels
F Chris Neil
F Viktor Stalberg

IN

F Nate Thompson
D Johnny Oduya
 

Final Thoughts

With injuries varying in severity to Karlsson, Dzingel, Brassard, Clarke MacArthur and Colin White, who was expected to push for a roster spot this season, Ottawa could struggle to open the season. The biggest issue is Karlsson, who is still considered to be out indefinitely after offseason surgery. He has started to skate but is still early in the process and could miss at least the first month of the season. He and the team are reluctant to rush the injury given his career and importance to the team, but since he’s one of the most dynamic players in the league, his absence will be felt. MacArthur failed his physical and could be dealing with the same concussion issues that kept him out of the lineup for most of the past two seasons. Brassard may not end up missing extended time, but coming back from shoulder surgery can be complicated. Taking all of this into account, plus the loss of Methot in the offseason, the Senators still find themselves in a spot to content for a playoff spot. There is too much talent on the roster, from Karlsson to Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone to Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan and Pageau and Anderson, this team has what it takes to make the playoffs and take another run at the Cup. The injuries will be the main concern for the Senators entering the season and throughout the year. Ryan and Pageau will need to carry over their strong postseason play into the regular season to support the offense; as long as the team continues to employ the 1-3-1 defensive system, the Senators could make their way to the late rounds of the playoffs once again. Methot could be a problem down the stretch, as could the fact that the team failed to add much to the roster over the summer. That being said, don’t count out the Senators, especially if Karlsson and Anderson play the way they did last season.
 
 
 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 42-30-10-94
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 5, Eastern Conference: 10, League: 18
Goals For: 230 (NHL rank: 14)
Goals Against: 224 (NHL rank: 15)
Power Play Percentage: 22.8 percent (NHL rank: 6)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 81.4 percent (NHL rank: 13)
Leading Scorer: Nikita Kucherov (40-45–85)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Tampa Bay Lightning have had an active offseason once again, though the team is doing its best to make up for a very disappointing 2016-2017. It was primarily the injury to Steven Stamkos in November that derailed this club, though the team faced other injuries and received pretty shaky goaltending from both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. In the end, a team that had made it to the Conference Finals two years in a row and made a Stanley Cup appearance in 2014-2015 missed the playoffs entirely. That being said, despite everything that went wrong throughout the year for Tampa Bay, the team fell one point shy of a playoff berth. That’s in large thanks to the outstanding play of Nikita Kucherov, who notched career highs in goals (40), assists (45), points (85), power-play points (32), game-winning goals (7) and shots (246) in just 74 regular-season contests. Aside from Victor Hedman, who also had a career season (16-56–72), most of the team under-performed or missed long stretches. For example, Stamkos and Ryan Callahan missed a combined 129 games. But general manager Steve Yzerman did not panic when his team failed to make the playoffs. Instead, he was active and did what he could to stay ahead of the curve, hoping his team can get back to where it was a few years ago and take a serious run at the Cup.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Dealing Drouin

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Drouin is a bright young star in the National Hockey League. Even though there were major riffs between Drouin and management after he demanded a trade and refused to dress for games with the club’s AHL affiliate the year before last, the dust had settled and things were going well. In fact, Drouin earned a permanent spot with the roster and had himself a very strong season with 21 goals and 53 points, good enough for third on the team in overall scoring and second in goals. Not too shabby for a 22-year-old. However, with the expansion draft looming, Yzerman knew that Tampa Bay was exposed and had to make a move before the actual draft. This is because the rules stipulated that you could only protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, but the team had eight quality forwards that needed to be protected. Therefore, the trade with Montreal was executed and Drouin was sent packing. In return, Yzerman landed highly-touted defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev, who will play a significant role for this team down the line.
 

Deadline/Offseason Moves

Yzerman made several trade deadline deals in order to unload unfavorable contracts, and he did a masterful job. He sent forward Valtteri Filppula to Philadelphia in exchange for Mark Streit (who was then flipped to Pittsburgh) and goalie Ben Bishop to Los Angeles for goaltender Peter Budaj and additional assets. He also shipped Brian Boyle to Toronto. By clearing these contracts, Yzerman was able to make enough room for the important free agents that needed new contracts this summer.
 

Re-Sign and Retain

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett-Getty Images

Speaking of those free agents, Yzerman re-signed key pieces in Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, as well as re-signing several other players in need of new contracts. Johnson signed a very team-friendly seven-year deal that carries a $5 million cap hit. The 27-year-old center has had two down years after recording career highs in goals (29), assists (43) and points (72) in 2014-2015, recording just 19 goals and 45 points in 66 games this past season. That being said, Johnson is an excellent top-six forward for this team and is capable of taking over top-line duties if Steven Stamkos goes down with another injury. Given the seven-year term on the contract, it’s not comparable to too many other contracts handed out, meaning it is a superior contract from Tampa Bay’s perspective. Yzerman did an excellent job in negotiating on this one, and it will remain one of the better contracts moving forward.

Left winger Palat also re-signed over the summer, agreeing to a five-year, $26.5 million extension, which carries a $5.3 million cap hit. This deal is similar to the one the Rangers awarded Mika Zibanejad (five years, $5.35 million cap hit), among others. Palat is coming off a very strong season in which he contributed 17 goals and 52 points in 75 games. He added a career-high 15 power-play points as well. It appears as though Stamkos and Kucherov will be reunited on the top line, thus splitting up the “Triplets” line of Kucherov, Palat and Johnson. However, both Johnson and Palat will be key second-line guys for this team; Yzerman did a nice job locking up both for the long haul.

Additionally, Yzerman re-signed defensemen Jake Dotchin and Slater Koekkoek, as well as defenseman Andrej Sustr.
 

Main Additions

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Bill Wippert-NHLI via Getty Images

Last but not least, and perhaps most importantly, Yzerman brought in several key additions to make up for some of the ability lost in deadline deals or general offseason turnover. The first of those players is veteran defenseman Dan Girardi, who signed a two-year, $6 million contract after being bought out by the New York Rangers. Girardi has lost a step but remains a very reliable defensive defenseman who will eat up tough minutes, allowing someone like Victor Hedman to roam more freely when he’s on the ice. Girardi has tremendous playoff experience as well, much like other former Rangers Anton Stralman and especially Callahan. He’s an excellent penalty killer and shot-blocker and can play the body well. His $3 million cap hit is extremely reasonable, and he’ll also be a veteran presence on the back end to make up for Jason Garrison’s loss via the Vegas expansion draft.

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Peter Diana-Post-Gazette

Additionally, the Lightning brought in four-time Stanley Cup winner Chris Kunitz, who is coming off back-to-back Cup wins with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kunitz signed a one-year, $2 million contract, which will allow him to show what he can be without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and also allows Tampa Bay to retain cap flexibility next summer. Kunitz is 38 years old but is still more than capable of putting up 15-20 goals and 35-40 points and contributing in clutch situations, as evidenced by his series-clinching goal in double overtime against Ottawa, which sent the Penguins to last year’s Stanley Cup Final. His four Cups of experience will be key even though most of Tampa’s roster already has a lot of playoff experience from several deep playoff runs over the last several years. He knows what it takes to win, and he will provide solid secondary scoring on a team that is already one of the better offensive groups in the NHL. It’s likely he’ll take a third-line role but can move up the lineup in case of injury; he’s no stranger to playing with star players, so he can be used anywhere in the lineup and on the power play.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade (June 15): F Jonathan Drouin and conditional 2018 6th-round pick to Montreal for D Mikhail Sergachev and conditional 2018 2nd-round pick
  • Re-Sign (June 18): G Peter Budaj to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.025 million
  • Trade (June 21): Rights to F Nikita Gusev, 2017 2nd-round pick and 2018 4th-round pick to Vegas to select D Jason Garrison in expansion draft
  • Re-Sign (June 26): D Andrej Sustr to 1-year contract at $1.95 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Dan Girardi to 2-year deal with AAV of $3 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Chris Kunitz to 1-year contract at $2 million
  • Trade (July 1): G Kristers Gudlevskis to New York Islanders for F Carter Verhaeghe
  • Re-Sign (July 3): D Slater Koekkoek to 1-year contract at $800,000
  • Re-Sign (July 5): D Jake Dotchin to 2-year deal with AAV of $812,500
  • Re-Sign (July 10): F Tyler Johnson to 7-year deal with AAV of $5 million
  • Re-Sign (July 14): F Ondrej Palat to 5-year deal with AAV of $5.3 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

F Jonathan Drouin
D Jason Garrison (expansion)
G Ben Bishop
F Brian Boyle
F Valtteri Filppula
G Kristers Gudlevskis

IN

D Dan Girardi
F Chris Kunitz
D Mikhail Sergachev
 

Final Thoughts

Yzerman has done an inspired job with the team’s salary cap over the past few seasons. For a team with this much skill, it shouldn’t be feasible for a general manager to retain such talent and make it work in the salary cap era. He made several key trades at last year’s deadline to rid the team of dead weight as well as acquire some assets in the process. Moving Filppula to Philadelphia got his $5 million cap hit off the books. While he is not dead weight per se, it made room for more important players like Johnson and Palat. The same can be said of losing Garrison’s $4.6 million cap hit. Yzerman re-signed franchise players Stamkos and Hedman to reasonable deals last summer, and he has Stamkos, Hedman,Palat, Johnson and Alex Killorn for at least the next five years, while players like Kucherov, Vasilevskiy and Brayden Point are signed for at least the next two seasons. A lot of this season’s success will come down to the team’s overall health. If Stamkos can remain healthy, this team should be able to not only make the playoffs but challenge for the division title. If Vasilevskiy can play the way he did at the end of last season after Bishop was shipped to Los Angeles, this team could very easily make a very deep playoff run and challenge Pittsburgh and other top teams in the conference for a Cup appearance. Tampa Bay is one of the two best teams in the division on paper along with Toronto; it’s just a matter of whether everyone can stay healthy and stay focused, but this team is more than capable of serious Cup contention this season.
 
 
 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Frank Gun-CP

2016-2017 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 40-27-15-95
Playoff Result: Eliminated in Conference Quarter-Finals by Washington (4-2 WSH)
Standings: Atlantic Division: 4, Eastern Conference: 8, League: 14
Goals For: 250 (NHL rank: 5)
Goals Against: 234 (NHL rank: 9)
Power Play Percentage: 23.8 percent (NHL rank: 2)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 82.5 percent (NHL rank: 10)
Leading Scorer: Auston Matthews (40-29–69)
 

Summary of 2016-2017 Season Results

The Toronto Maple Leafs put on a show last season with extraordinary performances by rookies throughout the lineup and a very strong season for goaltender Frederik Andersen in his first year in Toronto. It wasn’t just the rookies, though the combination of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner was as flashy as it gets as the three combined for 191 points on the year. It was also a strong year for head coach Mike Babcock, who took the Leafs from a league-worst 69 points in 2015-2016 to 95 points and a playoff berth in 2016-2017. The Leafs made a valiant effort but were unable to weather the storm Washington sent their way in the first round of the playoffs; however, Toronto came close to knocking out the top seed in the conference and is an early favorite out of the Eastern Conference this season.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Patrick Marleau

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Nathan Denette-The Canadian Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs made a splash on day two of free agency by signing free-agent winger Patrick Marleau to a three-year, $18.75 million contract. Marleau has played his entire 19-season career with the San Jose Sharks but was looking for a longer deal than San Jose was willing to offer. He will join Babcock, who coached him to Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014, as well as an impressive young cast of superstars as he attempts to add the all-illusive Stanley Cup championship to his resume. Despite the fact that Marleau is 38 years old, he remains a speedy winger, which will fit right in with Toronto’s up-tempo pace. It’s likely he’ll start on the team’s third line with Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov as winger Zach Hyman had such strong chemistry with Matthews and Nylander last season. This likely will push Connor Brown to the fourth line, giving the Maple Leafs four lines with talented offensive options. Toronto could be one of the strongest offensive teams in the league and should finish near the top of the league in goals per game. Marleau will see plenty of ice time with Matthews on the power-play, where he should be able to pick up 15-20 points. Though Marleau may not be as explosive as he was a few years ago, he is still good for 20 goals and is a strong two-way forward. This was an excellent signing for the Maple Leafs even if the team is tight against the cap (currently sitting $4.85 million over the limit). Marleau brings a veteran presence with 177 games of playoff experience and will be a great addition to the team on and off the ice. The third year on the contract, which was the difference between Marleau staying in San Jose and leaving for Toronto, could be a problem if his play declines in the next few years. However, it’s a risk well worth taking for this Leafs team.
 

Replacing Assets

Atlantic Division

Photo credit: Peter Diana-Post-Gazette

The two most notable losses this offseason for the Maple Leafs were defenseman Matt Hunwick and center Brian Boyle. To make up for those departures, general manager Lou Lamoriello brought in veterans Ron Hainsey and Dominic Moore, both added via free agency. Hainsey signed a two-year, $6 million deal on July 1. Hainsey is coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Pittsburgh Penguins and can be another veteran sounding board in the locker room, especially as he joins a blue line with five players under the age of 27. Hainsey may not be a speedy rearguard, but considering how much speed the Maple Leafs have throughout the lineup, this should not be an issue for Toronto.

The team also signed veteran Moore to a one-year, $1 million contract. Moore brings 99 games of playoff experience and should be a solid fourth-line center for this club. He won’t rack up the points but is coming off a respective 11-goal, 25-point campaign with the Boston Bruins.
 

Re-Signing Assets

Atlantic Division

Photo via Sportsnet

Toronto also re-signed three key players this offseason, including defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and forwards Hyman and Brown. Zaitsev had a solid season in his first NHL campaign, scoring four goals and 36 points and playing an important role on the team’s power play. He signed a seven-year, $31.5 million extension, which carries an extremely reasonable cap hit of just $4.5 million. This is an excellent signing by the Maple Leafs, as the Russian defenseman is just 25 years old and has his prime ahead of him.

Hyman signed a four-year extension that carries a $2.25 million cap hit. He will remain on the team’s first line with Matthews and Nylander, making this another team-friendly contract. Hyman scored 10 goals and 28 points last season but developed strong chemistry with the young superstars. He is just 25 years old and can continue to play an important role for this team moving forward. Brown also signed a multi-year extension, taking a three-year, $6.3 million deal that carries a $2.1 million cap hit. Though Brown will be demoted to the team’s fourth line to start the season with the acquisition of Marleau, he is coming off a very impressive 20-goal performance and can move up in the lineup if a particular line struggles or in case of injury.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign (May 2): D Nikita Zaitsev to 7-year deal with AAV of $4.5 million
  • Re-Sign (June 30): G Curtis McElhinney to 2-year deal with AAV of $850,000
  • FA Signing (July 1): D Ron Hainsey to 2-year deal with AAV of $3 million
  • FA Signing (July 1): F Dominic Moore to 1-year contract at $1 million
  • Re-Sign (July 1): F Colin Greening to 1-year contract at $750,000
  • FA Signing (July 2): F Patrick Marleau to 3-year deal with AAV of $6.25 million
  • Re-Sign (July 5): F Zach Hyman to 4-year deal with AAV of $2.25 million
  • Re-Sign (Aug. 26): F Connor Brown to 3-year deal with AAV of $2.1 million

Key Player Movement

OUT

D Matt Hunwick
F Brian Boyle
F Brendan Leipsic (expansion)
G Jhonas Enroth
F Peter Holland

IN

F Patrick Marleau
D Ron Hainsey
F Dominic Moore
F Chris Mueller
 

Final Thoughts

The Toronto Maple Leafs did not need to do much this offseason given how successful last year was. The problem the team and its fanbase might experience this year, however, is a setback without any particular notice or reason. Simply put, the Maple Leafs had everything go right last year. A lot of that is because of the incredible talent throughout the lineup and the fine coaching of Babcock. Aside from potential bad breaks, bad luck and mysterious hockey-god activity, the Maple Leafs are favorites to win the Atlantic Division and should once again make a playoff berth with a lot of momentum and endless possibilities. The team was able to overcome minor losses in the offseason with replacement additions, and adding Marleau could prove to be a major win. In the end, though, it will come down to a few things. Can Andersen handle a substantial load for a second year in a row? If he’s unable or proves less durable this season, Toronto will be in trouble with Curtis McElhinney as the team’s backup. Similarly, the team will need to remain relatively healthy. In case of injury, the forward group should be fine with the impressive depth in the organization. It’s the back end that could be exposed if one or two of the top-four guys go down. Zaitsev’s extension and Hainsey’s addition to a group that includes Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner is stronger than last year’s bunch, but the depth on the blue line is still too thin for comfort. This team will score consistently and will have a lethal power play; if enough players get back to help out defensively, this team could be a real problem.
 
 

Featured Image Credits: Marchand: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports; Eichel: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports; Larkin: Associated Press; Ekblad: Rich Graessle-Icon Sportswire; Price: Associated Press; Karlsson photo via NHL.com; Kucherov: Scott Audette-Getty Images; Matthews photo via NHL.com