NHL Offseason Analysis: Atlantic Division

NHL Offseason Analysis

Atlantic Division

The Atlantic Division is currently the weaker of the two Eastern Conference divisions. However, there are several teams that are poised to be serious threats in the playoffs for many years to come, such as the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Other teams like Boston, Detroit and Montreal will make strong pushes for playoff spots this year, and teams like Buffalo, Ottawa and Toronto are on the rise.

Here is an overview of the offseasons of the eight teams that make up the Atlantic Division: the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs.

2015-2016 Atlantic Division Standings

  1. Florida — 103 pts
  2. Tampa Bay — 97 pts
  3. Detroit — 93 pts
  4. Boston — 93 pts (Missed playoffs)
  5. Ottawa — 85 pts (Missed playoffs)
  6. Montreal — 82 pts (Missed playoffs)
  7. Buffalo — 81 pts (Missed playoffs)
  8. Toronto — 69 pts (Missed playoffs)

 

Boston Bruins

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 42-31-9-93
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 4, Eastern Conference: 9, League: 16
Goals For: 236 (NHL rank: 5)
Goals Against: 228 (NHL rank: 12)
Power Play Percentage: 20.5 percent (NHL rank: 7)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 82.2 percent (NHL rank: 11)
Leading Scorer: Patrice Bergeron (32-36-68)

Atlantic Division

David Backes; via bruins.nhl.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

A few years ago, the Bruins were considered one of the top perennial contenders in the National Hockey League, along with teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, teams that have won three and two Cups in the past six years, respectively. But today, the Bruins head into this season having missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Things have changed.

That’s what made this such a crucial offseason for this club.

The roster itself looks completely different from a few years ago, with a few exceptions, i.e., Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, etc. But Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton are all gone. Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference are gone. The entire Merlot line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton is gone. Carl Soderberg, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley are gone.

Despite having elite talent and a high-end coach in Claude Julien, the Bruins have failed to put together a consistent 82-game effort, with two back-to-back late-season collapses. It was time for a change. Though the team made some massive overhauls of the roster last year, this summer needed to be an offseason to regroup, right the ship and build another championship-caliber roster for the Bruins. Here’s what the Bruins did this offseason.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Locking Up Marchand

The Bruins’ best move of the offseason was re-signing forward Brad Marchand to a reasonable eight-year, $49 million contract extension. The deal comes with an average annual value of $6.125 million.

This is an excellent signing by Boston. Marchand, nicknamed the “Little Ball of Hate,” is coming off the best season of his seven-year NHL career. He set career highs in goals (37) and points (61) and fully established himself as a key leader on the team. The Bruins already have excellent leadership in Bergeron, Krejci and Chara, but Marchand has slowly become the heart and soul of this franchise. His presence has been especially beneficial on the ice since the departure of physical, fan-favorite Milan Lucic.

Considering Marchand’s upward trend in point production and his increased role on the team, signing him for $6.125 million a year is a steal. This type of term and money was the going rate this offseason for unrestricted free agents, including the Bruins’ main offseason acquisition in David Backes. To get Marchand signed to such a low cap hit is an impressive feat. It’s clear that Marchand loves playing for the Bruins and wants to spend his career in Boston. If the Bruins want to bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston, Marchand will play a key role in that effort. Locking him up was a must. Taking care of it now is a smart move for the team.

Backes to Boston

As mentioned, the Bruins also signed free-agent forward David Backes to a five-year, $30 million contract; his deal carries an average annual value of $6 million.

Backes was one of the best forwards available in free agency this offseason. He has served as Blues captain since 2011 and was most recently involved in the Blues’ most successful postseason run in 15 years, scoring 14 points in 20 games.

Backes is a very physical player who can also contribute offensively. Though he is coming off somewhat of a down year in which he scored 21 goals and 45 points in 79 regular-season games, he is capable of more. Backes saw less ice time on the top line in St. Louis last year with the presence of Paul Stastny, which could explain his drop in production. Even if that’s not the case, he should put up 50-60 points this season. He has scored at least 20 goals in six of the past eight seasons, including two seasons in which he scored 31 goals.

Backes will likely earn himself a top-six role, unless Bruins coach Claude Julien decides to use him as the third-line center. One good thing for the Bruins about Backes’ game (so far) is that he rarely misses games. Backes’ versatility in the middle or on the wing should provide Julien with multiple looks, especially if Backes needs to step in for the oft-injured Krejci as the second-line center.

He has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career regular-season games as well as 12 goals and 37 points in 49 career playoff games, all with St. Louis.

Letting Eriksson Walk

Re-signing Marchand and signing Backes were especially essential moves considering the Bruins did not re-sign forward Loui Eriksson, who came to the Bruins in the deal for Tyler Seguin several years ago. Eriksson was the final piece remaining from that deal that sent Seguin to Dallas; however, the team let him walk and will now be without his services. Eriksson had a very strong season last year and reestablished himself as a top scoring winger in the league. He signed with Vancouver and will play with the Sedin twins. Ironically, he signed a five-year, $30 million deal, which is very similar to Backes’ deal. For whatever reason, Boston decided to move on from Eriksson. Perhaps it was size and grit that was the main factor for going with Backes instead considering Eriksson does not play that style of hockey. In addition to playing with an edge, Backes also brings leadership to the table, of which you can never have too much.

The Bruins had a chance to move Eriksson at the trade deadline but decided to hold on to him because the team, at that point, was headed for a postseason appearance. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the team collapsed and failed to make the playoffs, which led to Eriksson walking without any assets coming in return. The Bruins clearly chose Backes over Eriksson; though they are not similar players, each one has a specific set of skills and can contribute offensively.

Along the Blueline

Lastly, the Bruins made some changes to the back end. For one thing, the team re-signed defenseman Torey Krug to a 4-year deal with an average annual value of $5.25 million. This is a hefty contract, but Krug has proven to be worth every penny. Boston had the best power-play in the league for most of the season last year (after a red-hot start), and Krug is a key component of the team’s man-advantage. He also has improved his defensive game over the past few seasons. The Bruins also signed Kevan Miller, 28, to a four-year deal with an average annual cap hit of $2.5 million.

With Chara set to celebrate his 40th birthday in March, investing in a young core of defensemen is smart hockey.

That’s why the Bruins re-signed Colin Miller and Joe Morrow, both 23. It also explains why the team bought out the remaining two years of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg’s contract. In all, the Bruins re-signed five defensemen (though that list does include 35-year-old John-Michael Liles, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal). With Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller on injured reserve, 19-year-old prospect defenseman Brandon Carlo has made the team out of training camp; this will only add more youth and speed to the blueline.

Though most of the core of the team is the same as last year, the Bruins made some beneficial tweaks this offseason that should improve the club’s results. Two consecutive years with late-season collapses is a tough pill to swallow, so Boston wants to make sure that doesn’t happen a third time.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign: D Kevan Miller to 4-year deal with AAV of $2.5 million
  • Re-Sign: D Torey Krug to 4-year deal with AAV of $5.25 million
  • Re-Sign: D John-Michael Liles to 1-year contract at $2 million
  • FA Signing: F David Backes to 5-year deal with AAV of $6 million
  • FA Signing: G Anton Khudobin to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.2 million
  • Re-Sign: D Joe Morrow to 1-year contract at $800,000
  • Re-Sign: D Colin Miller to 2-year deal with AAV of $1 million
  • FA Signing: F Dominic Moore to 1-year contract at $900,000
  • Buyout: D Dennis Seidenberg — 2016-2017 cap savings: $2.83 million
  • Re-Sign: F Brad Marchand to 8-year deal with AAV of $6.125 million

 

Final Thoughts

Will these moves be enough to bring the Bruins back to playoff hockey? It’s hard to say. David Backes was a big signing and should bring back a physical presence the team has not had after once being called the Big Bad Bruins. Locking up key players like Brad Marchand and Torey Krug to long-term deals was not only sensible but proactive. Bringing back Anton Khudobin to serve as Tuukka Rask’s backup was a solid move after backup Jonas Gustavsson struggled last season.

Luckily for the Bruins, the team has a chance to compete for one of three playoff spots in the Atlantic Division, one of the weakest divisions in the league. Though teams like Tampa Bay, Florida and Montreal will be vying for those same spots, the Bruins have a strong chance of earning one. When it comes to the wildcard, that can often get tricky with the strength of the Metropolitan Division, but the Bruins should be able to earn a playoff spot if the team can clean up the late-season trouble.

The ball is in Boston’s court at the moment. There is certainly enough talent throughout the roster to return to playoff form at the least, and there is enough talent to make a deep run in the playoffs as long as there aren’t too many injuries. The team has the option of having three top centers on the first three lines with Bergeron, Krejci and Backes, though Backes could be a valuable addition to one of the top two lines (he has skated on the top line with Bergeron and Marchand during preseason action). Ryan Spooner may have earned the 3C position with such a strong performance last year, and David Pastrnak will hope for a more successful and consistent season without all the injury interruptions. With some rearguards in place to help out Rask, this Bruins team should be able to have a bounceback year. The team may not be the perennial contender it was a few years ago, but reaching the postseason is definitely within reach. This team should not be underestimated.
 
 

Buffalo Sabres

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 35-36-11-81
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 7, Eastern Conference: 14, League: 23
Goals For: 199 (NHL rank: 25)
Goals Against: 215 (NHL rank: 16)
Power Play Percentage: 18.9 percent (NHL rank: 12)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 82.6 percent (NHL rank: 9)
Leading Scorer: Ryan O’Reilly (21-39-60)

Atlantic Division

Kyle Okposo; via NHL.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Buffalo Sabres are coming off one of the most productive and progressive offseasons in a very long time. The team made massive changes last year during the season and in the offseason, and more changes have come this summer. General manager Tim Murray deserves a ton of credit for what he has done.

When you look at the standings, the Sabres finished with 35 more points in the standings this past year than the year before. A 35-point swing is as drastic as it sounds. But more than the numbers, Buffalo was one of the hottest teams down the stretch and remained competitive to the very end, something that could not be said of the team the year before. In fact, the Sabres finished the season on an 8-3-2 run, which should establish the necessary tone headed into the 2016-2017 campaign.

The season started off poorly when newly-acquired goalie Robin Lehner, who was to take his first full-time starter’s gig in the NHL, went down with an injury in the first game of the season. He spent the majority of the year nursing two injuries related to the high-ankle sprain he suffered on opening night. He only started 21 games on the season and finished with a brutal 5-14 record, but Sabres fans are eager to see what a full season with Lehner in the crease will look like.

The best part of the season was the play of Ryan O’Reilly, who stepped up in a big way in Buffalo. O’Reilly scored 21 goals and 60 points in his first year in Buffalo, winning faceoffs at an impressive 56.6 percent clip. O’Reilly settled down a young Sabres team and allowed the young players to develop at their own pace. His value to the team last year cannot be overstated.

Other players deserving of commendation include Evander Kane, who scored 20 goals, Sam Reinhart, who had a strong season with 23 tallies, and, of course, Jack Eichel, who impressed many around the league in his rookie season, scoring 24 goals and 56 points in 81 games.

But Murray brought plenty of other trusted veterans to the fold over the past few seasons, and each one played a role in shaping last year’s 35-point climb.

By no means is this team finished. Assuming the team can stay relatively healthy, there is no reason this team cannot be a bubble team this season, or at the very least in the playoff picture until the end of the year. Multiple players should contribute more this season, including guys like Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons, to name a few.

The team made several moves this offseason to further improve the club. While none of them can be measured on the same scale as the O’Reilly acquisition, drafting Jack Eichel or the giant trade with Winnipeg from the year before last involving Kane and Zach Bogosian, that doesn’t mean these moves are insignificant.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Okposo Signing

The most notable move of the offseason in Buffalo was the free-agent signing of forward Kyle Okposo to a seven-year, $42 million contract. Okposo was one of the most talented forwards available in free agency, and he brings more than just his offensive prowess to the table. Okposo is a strong leader with playoff experience, and he has been a consistent scorer for the Islanders over the past few seasons. He scored 22 goals and 64 points in 79 games this past season and scored 51 and 69 points in the previous two years, respectively. Okposo finished the 2013-2014 season with a 0.97 points-per-game rate; he has followed up that effort with rates of 0.85 and 0.81 points per game in the past two seasons. That level of point production is something the Sabres have been lacking since former offensive stars like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek left the team. Okposo is likely to skate alongside Kane and O’Reilly as the team’s top-line right winger. Soon, he will be a fan-favorite in Buffalo, and while he won’t be playing with someone like John Tavares, he has plenty of talent around him to keep his production at a high rate. Making the team’s top line even stronger only takes pressure off the shoulders of second-liners Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, which can only help their development and contribution to the team.

Re-Signing Risto

The Sabres announced Tuesday that the team has reached an agreement with free-agent defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. The deal, a six-year contract with an average annual value of $5.4 million, wraps up the final item on Murray’s offseason to-do list. This is a fantastic deal for Murray and the Sabres. Ristolainen has the potential to become a franchise defenseman, and finished last season with career highs in goals (9), assists (32), points (41) and power-play points (21). He finished tenth in the NHL in ice time last season, averaging 25:16 per game.

Kulikov Trade

Though defenseman Mark Pysyk had a solid year last year, Murray took the opportunity to acquire the more experienced top-four defenseman Dmitry Kulikov from the Florida Panthers. Kulikov, 25, already has seven NHL seasons under his belt. Though he had a weak offensive season this past year, scoring only one goal and 17 points, he has shown better offensive instincts than Pysyk, who scored a career-high 11 points last year. Pysyk was a smooth passer and a strong possession player, but the Sabres were in need of a left-handed defenseman and acquired a reliable one in Kulikov. Kulikov has scored at least 15 points in six out of his seven seasons but was on pace for 20 points in 68 games in the lockout-shortened season. He is also a more physical player than Pysyk. He joins a defense that includes Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe, Cody Franson and Rasmus Ristolainen. The Sabres will have a strong back end this season.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: 2016 3rd-round pick (76) to Nashville for rights of F Jimmy Vesey
  • Trade: D Mark Pysyk, 2016 2nd-round pick (38) and 2016 3rd-round pick (89) to Florida for D Dmitry Kulikov and 2016 2nd-round pick (33)
  • Re-Sign: F Nicolas Deslauriers to 2-year deal with AAV of $775,000
  • Re-Sign: D Jake McCabe to 3-year deal with AAV of $1.6 million
  • FA Signing: F Kyle Okposo to 7-year deal with AAV of $6 million
  • Trade: 2017 5th-round pick to St. Louis Blues for G Anders Nilsson
  • Re-Sign: G Anders Nilsson to 1-year contract at $1 million
  • Re-Sign: F Marcus Foligno to 1-year contract at $2.25 million
  • Re-Sign: F Zemgus Girgensons to 1-year contract at $1.15 million
  • Re-Sign: D Rasmus Ristolainen to 6-year deal with AAV of $5.4 million

After a strong sophomore campaign, Zemgus Girgensons took a step back last season, scoring a career-low 18 points in 71 games after managing 15 goals and 30 points in 61 games the year before. However, the team needed to re-sign the 22-year-old and reached a reasonable one-year, $1.15 million agreement. Girgensons will have to show management a lot more effort and finesse this season if he is to sign a long-term deal here.

The team acquired goaltender Anders Nilsson from the Blues and signed him to a 1-year, $1 million contract. Nilsson should serve as a solid backup to Lehner after Chad Johnson, who played admirably in Lehner’s absence last season, signed with Calgary in the offseason.
 

Final Thoughts

Buffalo finds itself in a good position. The team is flush with young talent, including many players with a lot of untapped potential and a lot more to give. The O’Reilly trade with Colorado has been an absolute steal so far, especially when considering the pieces sent to Colorado in the deal regressed this past season. Though Kane has his issues in the locker room and off the ice, if he can stay out of trouble he will be part of a very threatening top line in Buffalo and has the chance to have a true breakout season the league has been waiting to see from him for years. The additions of Okposo and Kulikov add depth, talent and reliability to a young team with tremendous promise. If Eichel, Reinhart and Ristolainen can have strong years once again, and if players like Ennis, Moulson and Girgensons can return to form, this team has a real shot at competing for a playoff spot. Heach coach Dan Bylsma and the Sabres are in a really good spot headed into the season, and Buffalo fans have a lot to look forward to.
 
 

Detroit Red Wings

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 41-30-11-93
Playoff Result: Eliminated by Tampa Bay in Conference Quarterfinals (series: 4-1 TBL)
Standings: Atlantic Division: 3, Eastern Conference: 8, League: 15
Goals For: 209 (NHL rank: 23)
Goals Against: 219 (NHL rank: 14)
Power Play Percentage: 18.8 percent (NHL rank: 13)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 81.5 percent (NHL rank: 14)
Leading Scorer: Henrik Zetterberg (13-37-50)

Atlantic Division

Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek; via NHL.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Red Wings embarked on a new journey last season without head coach Mike Babcock for the first time in over a decade. Jeff Blashill stepped in and did an admirable job, extending the Wings’ impressive playoff streak to 25 years. However, the team experienced an early playoff exit courtesy of Tampa Bay for the second year in a row.

Bright spots of the season included the breakout rookie season of Dylan Larkin, who led the team in goals (23) and scored 45 points, including five game-winning goals, on the year. He slowed considerably in the second half of the year but added a much-needed dynamic to a team littered with aging players on the decline.

The team will be without yet another familiar face this upcoming season as Pavel Datsyuk will finish his career in Russia after terminating his contract with the Red Wings. Luckily for the Red Wings, general manager Ken Holland was able to shed his contract from the books, but the team will not be the same without the Magic Man.

Niklas Kronwall was a shadow of his former self, and guys like Johan Franzen proved that durability continues to be a major issue for the team.

There were many personnel changes that had to be made headed into this offseason. Here’s how Holland and co. handled the summer.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Nielsen Signing

Perhaps the Red Wings’ best move of the offseason was signing free-agent forward Frans Nielsen. Nielsen signed a lengthy and substantial deal of six years with an average annual value of $5 million, but he will play a very important role on the team. The term of the contract is more of a concern than the amount considering Nielsen turned 32 in April. However, he brings a lot to the table, especially to a team that will be without Datsyuk moving forward. This will be Nielsen’s first season away from the New York Islanders for which he scored 119 goals and 349 points in 606 career regular-season games and 10 points in 24 career postseason games. Though Datsyuk is not replaceable, Nielsen plays a solid two-way game and will be a key top-six forward for Detroit. It’s unclear if he will be the first-line or second-line center for the team, but he will likely play with captain Henrik Zetterberg. Nielsen is an excellent penalty-killer and can also play the point on the top power-play unit. He also is one of the best in the league on the shootout.

Another Chance for Vanek

The Wings also signed free-agent winger Thomas Vanek to a one-year deal with a $2.6 million cap hit. Vanek is coming off a few down years with Montreal and Minnesota but hopes to return to the type of player he was for the Sabres for years (and for the Islanders for a big chunk of the 2013-2014 season in which he scored 44 points in 47 games). Though Vanek has always been a streaky player, historically he has been a scorer and could add a strong offensive element to a Detroit team that saw a significant collective drop in goal production last season. Specifically, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Niklas Kronwall were down a combined 39 goals last season. Though Vanek won’t be expected to hit the 40-goal mark, he has scored at least 20 goals in 10 of his 11 seasons in the NHL (including four goals in 13 games for the Sabres, 17 goals in 47 games for the Islanders and six goals in 14 games for the Canadiens in 2013-2014). Even though he had a disappointing season for Minnesota last year in which he only scored 18 goals and 41 points in 74 games, Detroit made a low-risk, high-reward move by bringing him in to a system that should shelter him and take some of the pressure away to leave him to just do his thing and score goals. One-year “tryouts,” so to speak, are not always successful, but this could prove to be a very strong move by Holland, especially considering Vanek will be looked to as a top-nine forward rather than the top-line/go-to guy. A return to the Atlantic Division could serve Vanek very well.

Other Important Re-Signs

The team also re-signed two players in defenseman Danny DeKeyser and goaltender Petr Mrazek. DeKeyser signed a massive six-year, $30 million extension. Especially after Kronwall really started to show his age last season, DeKeyser is looking like the defenseman of the future for this Red Wings club. Bringing in the offensive-leaning Mike Green last season was a strong move, but DeKeyser will be looked to as the all-around guy on the back end. DeKeyser is coming off his third straight 20-point season, scoring eight goals and 12 assists in 78 regular-season games. He finished second on the team in average time on ice (21:48) behind only Niklas Kronwall (22:01), according to Hockey Reference. DeKeyser, 26, has 14 goals and 75 points in 234 career regular-season games and two points in 19 career playoff games, all with Detroit.

Mrazek emerged as the no. 1 goalie last year after Jimmy Howard struggled mightily on and off. Though Mrazek did not finish the regular season strong, he established himself as the starting goalie and will assume that role to start the season. He signed a two-year, $8 million extension this offseason. All things considered, Mrazek finished last season with a 27-16-6 record with a 2.33 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and four shutouts. He started three of the Wings’ five playoff games against the Lightning, picking up the team’s only postseason win and going 1-2 with an impressive 1.36 goals-against average, a .945 save percentage and one shutout.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: 2017 3rd-round pick to San Jose for negotiating rights of F Dylan Sadowy
  • Trade: Contract of Pavel Datsyuk ($7.5M cap hit) and 2016 1st-round pick (16) to Arizona for F Joe Vitale, 2016 1st-round pick (20) and 2016 2nd-round pick (53)
  • Re-Sign: F Riley Sheahan to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.075 million
  • Re-Sign: F Drew Miller to 1-year contract at $1.025 million
  • Re-Sign: F Darren Helm to 5-year deal with AAV of $3.9 million
  • Re-Sign: F Alexey Marchenko to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.45 million
  • FA Signing: F Frans Nielsen to 6-year deal with AAV of $5 million
  • FA Signing: F Thomas Vanek to 1-year contract at $2.6 million
  • FA Signing: F Steve Ott to 1-year contract at $800,000
  • Re-Sign: F Teemu Pulkkinen to 1-year contract at $812,500 (later lost on waivers)
  • Re-Sign: F Luke Glendening to 4-year deal with AAV of $1.8 million
  • Re-Sign: D Danny DeKeyser to 6-year deal with AAV of $5 million
  • Re-Sign: G Petr Mrazek to 2-year deal with AAV of $4 million
  • Re-Sign: D Ryan Sproul to 2-year deal with AAV of $625,000

Holland was able to pull off a coup at the draft by trading the remaining year of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes. The Wings would have been on the hook for Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit, which would have significantly hindered Holland’s offseason efforts. Holland sent Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit (and $5.5 million salary) along with the number 16 overall pick to the Coyotes in exchange for Joe Vitale, the 20th overall pick and a 2nd-round pick (53). To be fair, the deal was a gift for Holland, but he deserves credit for making it happen.

Holland handed out a number of other contract extensions to players in the organization, including Riley Sheahan, Drew Miller and Luke Glendening. He also extended Darren Helm to a surprising five-year, $19.25 million deal. That’s quite a hefty contract for a bottom-six forward who had a career-high 33 points in the 2014-2015 season. Holland clearly felt Helm was an important player for this team, but after a while, these types of contracts add up and lead to trouble down the road.
 

Final Thoughts

The Red Wings enter the 2016-2017 season looking to extend the team’s impressive 25-year playoff streak but featuring some brand new faces in prominent roles. Nielsen and Vanek are the main additions to the lineup, with Datsyuk the most notable subtraction as he elected to finish his career in Russia. Based on the law of averages, certain players like Nyquist and Tatar are likely to have bounceback seasons, and Tatar looked solid for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey this September. Glendening had a solid season as a checking forward and was rewarded with a four-year extension. Veteran forward and agitator Steve Ott was brought in to strengthen the bottom-six, and he will add solid leadership, especially in the absence of Datsyuk. Blashill recently expressed disappointment with the camp performances of Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, though Athanasiou’s experience from last season gave him the edge over Mantha in the end. Athanasiou made the most of his limited ice time last season and provided energy and a quick offensive punch. Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet also made the team as the Wings will carry eight defensemen to start the season, but it’s unclear if either will remain with the big club on a long-term basis.

Now that some of the younger players on the team have multiple seasons under their belts, this Red Wings team should be more than capable of putting up substantial offensive numbers to compete for a playoff spot. Mrazek is in a good position to have another successful season, especially after a very strong postseason performance. Though the Wings will look like a different team on the ice this year, the team’s longstanding success will be all too familiar.
 
 

Florida Panthers

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 47-26-9-103
Playoff Result: Eliminated by New York Islanders in Conference Quarterfinals (series: 4-2 NYI)
Standings: Atlantic Division: 1, Eastern Conference: 3, League: 7
Goals For: 232 (NHL rank: 8)
Goals Against: 200 (NHL rank: 24)
Power Play Percentage: 16.9 percent (NHL rank: 23)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 79.5 percent (NHL rank: 24)
Leading Scorer: Jaromir Jagr (27-39-66)

Atlantic Division

Keith Yandle; via foxsports.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Florida Panthers had a season to remember last year, finishing with a franchise-record 103 points and winning the Atlantic Division. The team took major strides in all three zones and put together a fantastic campaign. Many players throughout the lineup contributed. From veteran leaders in Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen and Roberto Luongo to newcomer Reilly Smith to the youth movement in Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck and everyone in between, the Panthers’ success was a true team effort.

Barkov led the team in goals with 28, and Jagr led the team in points with 66. The team had five 20-goal scorers in Barkov, Jagr (27), Trocheck (25), Smith (25) and Jonathan Huberdeau (20). Four players (Jagr, Jokinen, Barkov, Huberdeau) scored 59+ points. The top-line trio of Huberdeau, Barkov and Jagr combined for 184 points on the year.

Luongo started an impressive 62 games on the season, finishing with a 35-19-6 record as well as a 2.35 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and four shutouts. Though he managed only two playoff wins, Luongo finished the postseason with impressive peripheral stats, including a 2.05 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. Unfortunately, Islanders’ goalie Thomas Greiss was even tougher to beat, finishing with a 1.79 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. Backup Al Montoya finished with a 12-7-3 record with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Montoya has since moved on to Montreal, though the Panthers signed goalie James Reimer to a substantial contract to serve as Bobby Lu’s backup.

Though the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Islanders, three of the team’s four losses came in overtime. The fact that the Panthers remained competitive to the end of each game is telling of the club’s culture and ability, which bodes well for Florida moving forward. Smith led the team in playoff production with four goals and eight points in six games.

It was a disappointing and early exit for a team with high expectations, but the Panthers organization has a lot going for it. The team has had an excellent offseason, and despite some recent injury news, things are looking great for the Panthers this season.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Yandle Doodle

The Panthers traded for the negotiating rights of and eventually re-signed defenseman Keith Yandle to a seven-year deal with an average annual value of $6.35 million. Yandle’s game is often criticized as one-dimensional in that his defensive struggles often outweigh his offensive instincts. However, the Panthers were in need of a strong offensive defenseman, especially someone who is effective on the power-play. After all, Florida ranked 23rd in the power-play last season with an abysmal 16.9 percent conversion rate. Yandle has scored 31, 29 and 22 power-play points in the past three seasons, respectively. His 168 career regular-season power-play points make up 45.5 percent of his career regular-season point totals.

Also, Yandle has been one of most productive defensemen in the league for many years. His 325 points since the 2009-2010 season rank third among defensemen behind only Erik Karlsson’s 385 and Duncan Keith’s 330. Yandle has 72 goals and 369 points in 661 career regular-season games with the Coyotes and Rangers. He has 6 goals and 31 points in 51 career playoff games.

Adding Demers

But the team didn’t stop there. On day two of free agency, the Panthers signed defenseman Jason Demers to a five-year, $22.5 million deal. Demers, 28, spent last season with the Dallas Stars but is excited to join the young and exciting Florida roster.

“I want to go somewhere where I have a chance to win,” Demers said after the signing. “They got a lot of young talent, and we can be very competitive for a lot of years. They’ve been building toward this the past two or three years. It’s an exciting time to be in Florida right now.”

Demers will add more depth and experience to a strong blueline in Florida. His contract was one of many in an aggressive offseason by general manager Tom Rowe.

Extending Ekblad

The team also locked up franchise defenseman Aaron Ekblad to an eight-year extension with an average annual value of $7.5 million. Ekblad has been excellent in his two NHL seasons; he took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in his first campaign and put together another strong effort last year. Ekblad’s extension kicks in next season.

But it wasn’t just Ekblad that got locked up long-term.

Keeping the Core

The Panthers also signed Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith and Jonathan Huberdeau to long-term extensions. The Panthers now have the core of the team locked up to long-term deals ranging from five years to eight years. This was obviously an intentional strategy move on the part of Rowe, and it was a smart one.

Reimer For Five

However, the aggressive style of Rowe’s offseason may have gone a little too far considering he signed goaltender James Reimer to a five-year deal with an average annual value of $3.4 million. It makes sense that the Panthers want to have a solid backup goalie for 37-year-old Roberto Luongo. However, Reimer has not been a consistent netminder and has had some truly ugly stretches in his career. Perhaps Rowe believes in Reimer’s ability, especially if he will be backstopping such a deep and strong roster compared to the flawed Toronto teams he has played behind in his career. However, this is still a massive contract for a goalie that should be considered unproven. At the very least it was a large gamble, especially considering the quality and quantity of strong goalies available in today’s market.

Bye-Bye Bolland

Another offseason move that left some fans shaking their heads was the trade involving Dave Bolland. It makes sense why Rowe would want to rid the team of Bolland’s albatross of a contract. Three more seasons at $5.5 million would have been an eyesore on this team’s depth chart. However, giving up prospect Lawson Crouse was an unfortunate consequence of moving this contract. It makes sense why he had to be included in the deal, especially after the Blackhawks traded Teuvo Teravainen along with Bryan Bickell to Carolina earlier in the offseason, but Crouse is a great prospect with a rare combination of size and skill. Even if the deal cleared up cap space necessary to sign other important contracts, it’s still quite a loss for Florida no matter how much talent the roster already has.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: D Erik Gudbranson and 2016 5th-round pick to Vancouver for F Jared McCann, 2016 2nd-round pick and 2016 4th-round pick
  • Trade: 2016 6th-round pick and 2017 conditional 4th-round pick to New York Rangers for negotiating rights of D Keith Yandle
  • Trade: F Rocco Grimaldi to Colorado for G Reto Berra
  • Re-Sign: D Keith Yandle to 7-year deal with AAV of $6.35 million
  • Trade: D Dmitry Kulikov and 2016 2nd-round pick (33) to Buffalo for D Mark Pysyk, 2016 2nd-round pick (38) and 2016 3rd-round pick (89)
  • Re-Sign: D Aaron Ekblad to 8-year deal with AAV of $7.5 million
  • FA Signing: G James Reimer to 5-year deal with AAV of $3.4 million
  • FA Signing: F Colton Sceviour to 2-year deal with AAV of $950,000
  • FA Signing: F Jonathan Marchessault to 2-year deal with AAV of $750,000
  • Re-Sign: F Vincent Trocheck to 6-year deal with AAV of $4.75 million
  • FA Signing: D Jason Demers to 5-year deal with AAV of $4.5 million
  • Re-Sign: F Reilly Smith to 5-year deal with AAV of $5 million
  • Re-Sign: F Derek MacKenzie to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.375 million
  • Re-Sign: F Jonathan Huberdeau to 6-year deal with AAV of $5.9 million
  • Trade: F Dave Bolland and F Lawson Crouse to Arizona for 2017 2nd-round pick and 2017 3rd-round pick
  • Trade: F Connor Brickley to Carolina for F Brody Sutter

As mentioned earlier, the Panthers made some major changes on defense this offseason by bringing in Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. The team also lost defensemen Brian Campbell (free agency–Chicago) and Willie Mitchell (likely retirement), forcing management to reevaluate the back end. To complicate matters further, Florida shipped out two defensemen who have been in the system for five-plus years in Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov. In addition to draft picks, Florida acquired Buffalo defenseman Mark Pysyk along with Canucks forward Jared McCann in those two trades. Both Pysyk and McCann have a lot of untapped potential, and both are former first-round draft picks.

 

Final Thoughts

Oh Captain My Captain

In a very interesting late-offseason development, forward Derek MacKenzie was named captain of the Panthers, with Ekblad and Jussi Jokinen getting the A’s.

“Derek embodies the type of character and work ethic we want a Florida Panther to possess,” Panthers President of Hockey Operations Dale Tallon said. “He is a respected leader both on and off the ice in this organization and within the South Florida community. We are very excited to move forward with Derek as our team’s captain.”

MacKenzie, 35, tallied 13 points in 64 games with Florida last season before signing a two-year extension with an average annual value of $1.375 million. He is now signed through the end of the 2018-2019 season.

Injury News

Unfortunately, the team was dealt a crushing blow recently as news came out that forward Jonathan Huberdeau will miss 3-4 months due to a cut he sustained in a preseason game. Huberdeau signed a six-year extension this offseason and was set to be the left wing on the team’s top line. It’s significant that Huberdeau will not miss the entirety of the regular season considering the nature of the injury, as other players have missed more time with similar skate cuts. However, this is a significant loss for a team looking to put together a consistent 82-game effort to make another Cup run. The Panthers have enough talent up front to manage the situation, but losing one of your top offensive players for 3-4 months is very difficult to process.

This means that other players will need to step up. This potentially could give someone like Jared McCann a bigger opportunity in the lineup. Jonathan Marchessault could also see an increased role in Huberdeau’s absence. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers juggle the lines. The team needs to improve both sets of special teams this season, and not having Huberdeau to do so will make it even more difficult. However, this Panthers team has a lot of depth, a lot of talent and a lot of poise. Though it will not be an easy task, Florida will be able to manage this setback. This is a playoff team that will be a tough contender for many years to come.

Commendable Work

But something must be said about the actions of the Florida organization this offseason. It is not often that a fanbase can put its complete faith in management and have it be rewarded. Sure, not every contract handed out was perfect, and there are certain things that could be changed to improve things further. However, when you take a step back, you realize how lucky the Florida fanbase is.

The Panthers’ organization has fully invested in the core of this team. Not only did the scouting and coaching staff find these players and develop these players to begin with, but now they are being locked up for five- and six-year deals. Building team loyalty from the start like this is the most natural way to grow and nurture a winning environment and a radically-successful team. General manager Tom Rowe shows no signs of slowing down or of being intimidated by anyone or anything around him. His leadership this offseason has been remarkable, and certainly nothing short of heroic.
 
 

Montreal Canadiens

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 38-38-6-82
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 6, Eastern Conference: 13, League: 22
Goals For: 216 (NHL rank: 16)
Goals Against: 233 (NHL rank: 10)
Power Play Percentage: 16.2 percent (NHL rank: 25)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 81.9 percent (NHL rank: 12)
Leading Scorer: Max Pacioretty (30-34-64)

Atlantic Division

Shea Weber; via nhl.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Canadiens entered last season coming off a 110-point regular-season performance the year before and a second-round playoff loss to Tampa Bay, the eventual Conference Champions.

The Canadiens got off to such a strong start that it seemed as though nothing could get in the way of Montreal’s momentum. The team came out of the gate winning the first nine games of the year and had a 17-4-2 record in late November. It was announced that goaltender Carey Price would be out for a while, but backup Mike Condon started out hot, going 2-0-1 in his first three starts, bringing the Canadiens’ record to 19-4-3 at the beginning of December.

Everything was downhill from there, however, with Price missing most of the season and the team missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-2012 season.

Much of that can be attributed to the long-term absence of Price. However, shortly after Price went down, Montreal’s offense disappeared with him. The team proceeded to lose 10 out of the next 11 games in regulation, and after going 19-4-3 to start the season, the team went 19-34-3 to finish it.

Despite the fact that Montreal suddenly had trouble scoring, it became obvious that many team flaws have been covered up by Price’s excellent regular-season play over the past few seasons.

That being said, the Canadiens enter this season with a healthy Carey Price and some radical changes to the lineup. Most notably, P.K. Subban is out and Shea Weber is in after the June 29 blockbuster deal. The Habs also welcome forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw, as well as goaltender Al Montoya, to the fold.

Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and winger Artturi Lehkonen will start the season with the big club after strong training camp performances.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The Subban Trade

It’s not difficult to figure out what the biggest move of the offseason was for Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. Clearly, the Subban-for-Weber deal was the most shocking move of the entire offseason, so it is certainly the most significant for the Canadiens. The reasoning behind the move has been the topic of speculation all summer. Realistically, at least some part of it must have been related to Subban’s personality, whether it bothered Bergevin, head coach Michel Therrien or other players in the locker room. But beyond that, one could make the argument that this move makes more sense in the context of the offseason as a whole, as Bergevin did acquire several players with experience and leadership qualities. That’s not to say that Subban was not a leader, but Weber was the captain of the Predators, and Shaw has two Stanley Cups and plenty of successful playoff hockey on his resume.

Many Canadiens fans consider this one of the top two worst trades in Canadiens history (along with the Patrick Roy deal in which Roy and captain Mike Keane were sent to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Ručinský and Andrei Kovalenko). Bergevin maintains that the trade “will make the Canadiens a better team.”

Bergevin added, “In Shea Weber we get a top-rated NHL defenseman with tremendous leadership and a player who will improve our defensive group as well as our power play for many years to come. Shea Weber led all NHL defensemen last season with 14 power-play goals. He is a complete rearguard with impressive size and a powerful shot. P.K. Subban is a special and very talented player. He provided the Canadiens organization with strong performances on the ice and generous commitment in the community. I wish him the best of luck with the Predators.”

Subban, 27, is one of the most dynamic defensemen in the league. An excellent skater, Subban moves the puck well and creates open ice for himself. He scored six goals and 61 points in 68 regular-season games last season, and he has 63 goals and 278 points in 434 career regular-season games, all with Montreal. He also has 11 goals and 38 points in 55 career playoff games.

Weber, 31, is a bruising two-way defenseman with a rocket of a shot. He scored 15 goals and 45 points in 78 regular-season games last season and has 166 goals and 443 points in 763 career regular-season games, all with Nashville. He also has 13 goals and 28 points in 59 career postseason contests.

However, based on the numbers, the only category in which Weber is better than Subban is goals scored. Plus, Weber is four years older than Subban and is nowhere near as creative on the ice. He also has a complicated contract that will not expire until he is in his 40’s. To be fair, though, he is a more stable force on the back end, and his cannon from the point will find twine a little more often than Subban’s.

Regardless of who won this trade, it is a significant change and will alter the makeup of the Canadiens’ roster and power-play.

Recalling Radulov

The Canadiens signed Radulov to a one-year deal with a cap hit of $5.75 million. The addition of Radulov will be an interesting storyline to follow this season. Radulov has spent the past few seasons in the KHL. According to Bergevin, Radulov has matured since he was last in the NHL; Radulov is known for getting benched in the playoffs for violating team policies as a member of the Nashville Predators. Bergevin even consulted Weber before making the signing official, and Weber apparently vouched for Radulov.

Playing for CSKA Moscow, Radulov has scored 71 points in 46 games and 65 points in 53 games over the past two seasons. Also, he has scored 37 points in 36 postseason games over the past two years with CSKA Moscow. In nine games with Nashville in the 2011-2012 season, Radulov scored three goals and seven points, and he added eight points in nine postseason games.

Signing Shaw

Another significant offseason move was the acquisition of Andrew Shaw. Shaw has been a bottom-six forward in Chicago but always elevates his game in the playoffs and plays with an edge. He has scored clutch goals in his vast playoff experience and knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. Though his contract is a bit long (six years) and a bit rich ($3.9 million per season), Shaw will add a lot of value to his new team.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: F Lars Eller to Washington for 2017 2nd-round pick and 2018 2nd-round pick
  • Trade: Two 2016 2nd-round picks (39, 45) to Chicago for F Andrew Shaw
  • Trade: D P.K. Subban to Nashville for D Shea Weber
  • Draft Pick (2013) Signing: F Artturi Lehkonen to 3-year ELC with AAV of $839,166
  • Re-Sign: F Sven Andrighetto to 1-year contract at $650,000
  • Re-Sign: D Mark Barberio to 2-year deal with AAV of $750,000
  • Re-Sign: F Andrew Shaw to 6-year deal with AAV of $3.9 million
  • FA Signing: G Al Montoya to 1-year contract at $950,000
  • FA Signing: F Alexander Radulov to 1-year contract at $5.75 million
  • FA Signing: D Zach Redmond to 2-year deal with AAV of $612,500
  • Draft Pick Signing: D Mikhail Sergachev to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000

One move that should not be overlooked is the signing of goaltender Al Montoya. Obviously, if Price goes down with a long-term injury, the Canadiens will be in legitimate trouble. However, one thing the team did not have last year was a reliable backup goalie. Montoya fills that role. He had an especially strong season with Florida last year, finishing the season 12-7-3 with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
 

Final Thoughts

Montreal enters this season with strong expectations. Most Montreal fans will excuse last season’s performance as a direct result of not having Price, making this year more of a fresh start than it otherwise might have been. If Price can stay healthy, there’s no reason this team should not be able to compete for a playoff spot. But the team will have to remain healthy to be competitive. Aside from Price, Brendan Gallagher missed almost half of the season last year. He still managed to score 40 points in 53 games, but the team needs him in the lineup on a nightly basis. The team will also be relying on Radulov to step up and deliver the kind of numbers he has been putting up in Russia over the past few seasons.

There are still a lot of question marks in the top six, which consists of Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Lehkonen, Tomas Plekanec and Radulov. This group will have to consistently carry this team offensively. Galchenyuk had a solid year last year as he moved over to the center position, but he will need to be even better this year, especially to keep his linemates going during the season. Lehkonen may only be on the team for nine games, in which case someone would have to move up into that position. Perhaps it would be David Desharnais or Shaw, but there aren’t too many bottom-six forwards with offensive upside that would be able to move up to the second line and produce right away.

There are also unknowns when it comes to the defensemen. Jeff Petry, who did not have a strong season last year after signing a six-year, $33 million contract, is on injured reserve, and Sergachev (like Lehkonen) may not be a long-term member of this team. Weber is very effective on the power-play, but without Subban’s ability with the puck to keep plays alive, will the first power-play unit be as effective as it has been in recent years? It’s hard to know for sure.

If Price remains healthy, he can fill in the missing pieces and make this a playoff team. He can cover up flaws and imperfections and make save after save throughout the season to keep his team ahead. However, Price’s postseason numbers are concerning for a team looking to make a legitimate Cup run. He produces mediocre playoff numbers and is not the same Carey Price you see in the regular season. If this team is to have any hope of advancing to the later rounds of the playoffs, Price will have to do something he has so far been unable to accomplish in his career: win a playoff series (or at least many games) by himself. If he can finally do that, this team could be a true threat down the stretch.
 
 

Ottawa Senators

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 38-35-9-85
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 5, Eastern Conference: 11, League: 19
Goals For: 230 (NHL rank: 9)
Goals Against: 241 (NHL rank: 5)
Power Play Percentage: 15.8 percent (NHL rank: 26)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 75.8 percent (NHL rank: 29)
Leading Scorer: Erik Karlsson (16-66-82)

Atlantic Division

Derick Brassard; Justin Tang-The Canadian Press

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

Despite late-season heroics two seasons ago, the Ottawa Senators were unable to muster enough momentum to compete for a playoff spot late last year. At one point, the team won seven out of ten games and was sitting at 15-8-5 in December. However, a rough stretch in March in which the team went 4-9 cost the Sens any hope of earning a postseason spot. To a large extent, the goaltending let this team down. In the 4-9 stretch, the Sens gave up 34 goals in the nine losses, just under four goals per game. Even the best offensive teams would have trouble overcoming deficits like that.

But there were several bright spots from last season. For one thing, defenseman and captain Erik Karlsson was incredible, scoring 16 goals and 82 points. He set career highs in assists (66) and points.

For another thing, sophomore forwards Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman proved that they were not one-hit wonders. Both players avoided a sophomore slump and put together strong campaigns. Hoffman scored 29 goals and 59 points, and Stone tallied 23 goals and 61 points. Though linemate Kyle Turris had a terrible season and missed time due to injury, the two wingers had strong seasons and will look to three-peat those performances this season.

A few players had surprisingly strong seasons, such as Zack Smith, who scored 25 goals. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who had a complete season with stellar all-around play, scored 19 goals and 43 points, setting career highs across the board.

The team is going ahead with last year’s goalie tandem of Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond. While Anderson finished the year with 31 wins, his peripheral stats (2.78 goals-against average, .916 save percentage) left much to be desired. Hammond finished 7-11-4 with a similar goals-against average (2.65) and save percentage (.915) as Anderson. The two will need to be much better this season. With the availability of strong goaltenders on the market, don’t be surprised if Ottawa trades for a goalie at some point this year if Anderson and/or Hammond falter.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Dealing for Derick

The Senators made a surprising trade, sending 23-year-old Mika Zibanejad to the Rangers in exchange for center Derick Brassard (draft picks were also involved in the deal). Zibanejad had a breakout season last year, scoring career highs in goals (21), assists (30) and points (51). But Ottawa decided to go with the older, more experienced Brassard, who has alternated between being a top-line and second-line center for the Rangers over the past three-plus seasons since being traded from Columbus.

In the immediate future, this deal benefits the Ottawa Senators. Brassard is a strong playmaker and a clear, established top-six forward. He has been one of the best Rangers in the playoffs over the past several years, and he has plenty of playoff experience, including a trip to the Cup in 2014 and a Conference Finals loss in 2015. He will add scoring and veteran leadership to a team that has missed the playoffs in four of the past eight seasons, losing in the first round in three of the four seasons in which they did reach the postseason.

Brassard is coming off a season in which he set career highs in goals (27) and power-play points (22). He scored 45, 60 and 58 points over the past three years, respectively. He has scored at least 18 power-play points in each of the past three seasons. He finished top-three on the Rangers in goals, assists, points and power-play points. Clearly, Brassard is a dependable player who will bring a mature and refined attitude to a young Ottawa team.

On the flip side, the Senators gave up a strong asset with a bright future in Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad is coming off a breakout season himself, as mentioned earlier. He is a rare breed as a 20-goal and 50-point scorer who has speed, size and skill. Zibanejad is signed through the end of this season but will become a restricted free agent next offseason; his deal carries a $2.65 million cap hit. Brassard has three years remaining on his deal, which carries a $5 million cap hit. The money played at least a small part from the Rangers’ perspective. The $2+ million cleared up in the deal gave Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton more flexibility, and the Rangers were able to get younger and faster while clearing cap space for this season.

In the long run, this move seems unnecessary for Ottawa. Even if the team didn’t want to run into negotiation issues with Zibanejad next summer, that doesn’t explain why the team would give up on such a promising young player. Ottawa has incredible depth and a lot of talented youth in the system, so perhaps that makes Zibanejad at least a little bit more expendable.

However, Brassard should make an immediate impact. Acquiring him gives winger Bobby Ryan a true top-six center to play with, which should help him get back on track. Plus, if the Sens are able to make the playoffs, Brassard’s influence will shine through, without a doubt.

Hoffman Extended

The team also re-signed forward Mike Hoffman to a four-year deal with an average annual value just over $5 million.

Hoffman will make $3.8 million in the first year and $5.65 million in years two, three and four. A no-trade clause will be in effect for the final three years of the contract; the clause states that Hoffman can submit a list of 10 teams to which he would not accept a trade, according to General Fanager.

Hoffman, 26, scored 29 goals and 59 points in 78 regular-season games this past season, completing his second consecutive 25-goal and 40-point campaign (he scored 27 goals and 48 points in 2014-2015). There is plenty of room for Hoffman to grow into an even better scorer and an even stronger all-around hockey player.

Hoffman’s 29 goals and nine power-play goals led the team last year, and his 59 points ranked third on the roster behind Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone. He set career highs across the board, including in goals (29), assists (30), points (59), power-play goals (9) and power-play points (13), to name a few.

Hoffman has 59 goals and 113 points in 186 career regular-season games, as well as three points in six career playoff games, all with Ottawa.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Trade: 2016 1st-round pick (12) and 2016 3rd-round pick (80) to New Jersey for 2016 1st-round pick (11)
  • Trade: F Alex Chiasson to Calgary for D Patrick Sieloff
  • FA Signing: F Michael Blunden to 2-year deal with AAV of $737,500
  • Re-Sign: F Ryan Dzingel to 1-year contract at $750,000
  • Re-Sign: D Fredrik Claesson to 1-year contract at $700,000
  • FA Signing: F Chris Kelly to 1-year contract at $900,000
  • Re-Sign: F Matt Puempel to 1-year contract at $900,000
  • Trade: F Mika Zibanejad and 2018 2nd-round pick to New York Rangers for F Derick Brassard and 2018 7th-round pick
  • Re-Sign: F Mike Hoffman to 4-year deal with AAV of $5.1875 million
  • Draft Pick Signing: F Logan Brown to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000
  • Re-Sign: D Cody Ceci to 2-year deal with AAV of $2.8 million
  • Draft Pick (2015) Signing: F Gabriel Gagne to 3-year ELC with AAV of $742,500
  • Draft Pick Signing: D Maxime Lajoie to 3-year ELC with AAV of $730,000

 

Final Thoughts

The Senators had a relatively quiet offseason. The Zibanejad-Brassard trade certainly made a splash, but all things considered it’s a 2C being traded for a 2C. The team made important moves last season, however, such as trading for defenseman Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf should have a strong season this year, especially since he is no longer “the guy” with the weight of the team on his shoulders. Erik Karlsson will continue to be Erik Karlsson. One player that should have a huge bounceback season is Kyle Turris, who had a miserable season last year. If he, Hoffman and Stone can all contribute at the pace they have been for the past few seasons, that line will be lethal. Plus, Brassard and Ryan can take on some of the pressure as a strong second-line duo.

The big question still remains: are the Ottawa goaltenders good enough to keep this team competitive and to reach the playoffs? Craig Anderson has shown that he can be incredible. It doesn’t always last long, and he is injury-prone, but he has gone on incredible stretches and is capable of being a shut-down goalie. Whether he will or not is impossible to know, but there is still plenty of talent left there. Hammond is much more of an unknown considering he had that one late-season drive (which was incredible) but has since been average. Perhaps if Anderson plays well then Hammond will play well, and if that’s the case then the team will rally around them. This is a team that likes to come together, likes to rally, etc. It will be a collaborative effort this season to bring this team back to the playoffs. It doesn’t seem as though the team has enough in place to reach the postseason, but Ottawa should be very competitive all year.
 
 

Tampa Bay Lightning

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 46-31-5-97
Playoff Result: Eliminated by Pittsburgh in Conference Finals (series: 4-3 PIT)
Standings: Atlantic Division: 2, Eastern Conference: 6, League: 12
Goals For: 224 (NHL rank: 12)
Goals Against: 198 (NHL rank: 26)
Power Play Percentage: 15.8 percent (NHL rank: 28)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 84.0 percent (NHL rank: 7)
Leading Scorer: Nikita Kucherov (30-36-66)

Atlantic Division

(from left) Victor Hedman (77), Alex Killorn (17), Nikita Kucherov (86); via nhl.com

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a strong season, beginning to end. The team finished second in the Atlantic Division with 97 points and made it all the way to the Conference Finals.

Last season also showed that the Tampa Bay Lightning have a lot of resilience. The team was able to overcome injuries to major players, including not having star Steven Stamkos for the first 16 games of the playoffs.

The season certainly had its ups and downs. Perhaps the lowest point of the season was the Jonathan Drouin fiasco, though that has been neatly taken care of since and is no longer an issue (Drouin refused to report to the team’s AHL affiliate and requested a trade). In fact, when Stamkos went down in April for blood clots, Drouin stepped up and played a major role for the Bolts at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs. The team also lost Anton Stralman with a displaced fibula fracture at the end of March; he wasn’t able to return until Game 2 of the Conference Finals series. Further, the team was forced to play without starting goaltender Ben Bishop after he went down with an injury in Game 1 of the Conference Finals series against Pittsburgh.

All teams face significant injuries, but it’s how those injuries are dealt with that truly shows what a team is made of. This Lightning team deserves a lot of credit for persevering. In a season in which many predicted the Lightning would experience a “Stanley Cup hangover,” the team showed a lot of heart and came within one game of making its second consecutive Stanley Cup appearance.

But aside from guys stepping up in the face of injuries, there were a lot of positives from the 2015-2016 campaign.

For one thing, Nikita Kucherov led the team in points and set career highs in goals (30), points (66) and power-play points (25); he was brilliant all season and is only getting better. Victor Hedman continues to emerge as one of the game’s most dominant defensemen. He put up 47 points and was a stable force on the back end. Despite missing 20 games, Ondrej Palat still managed to put up 40 points in 62 games. Brian Boyle posted 20 points for the second consecutive season as Tampa’s fourth-line center. He continues to be one of the most underrated bottom-six players in the league.

Some players took a step back, however.

Tyler Johnson, example, registered a little less than half of his production from the season before (38 points in 2015-2016 compared to 72 in 2014-2015). He was able to rebound with a strong postseason performance, however, earning 17 points in 17 games. While he didn’t take a step back production-wise, Alex Killorn failed to take a significant step forward last season. He finished the year with 14 goals and 40 points in 81 games but scored 15 goals and 38 points in 71 games the year before. Veterans like Valtteri Filppula, Jason Garrison and Ryan Callahan had disappointing seasons. Filppula put up 17 fewer points than the year before. Garrison’s discrepancy was even more noticeable, as he contributed 19 fewer points than in the 2014-2015 campaign. But Callahan takes the cake with a 14-goal and 26-point drop in production.

All in all, the prognosis is positive for the Lightning headed into the 2016-2017 season. The team remains intact after a brilliant offseason by general manager Steve Yzerman. The team was able to retain superstar Steven Stamkos and lock up several of the team’s brightest stars to multiple-year contracts. Though there are some remaining questions surrounding the future of the crease, the Lightning should be able to make the playoffs and take a serious stab at winning the team’s first Stanley Cup since 2004.
 

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Yzerman has done an absolutely masterful job this offseason. He entered the offseason with many strong players to re-sign, including franchise star Steven Stamkos. Here are a few of the best moves he has made.

Stamkos Stays

For starters, the fact that Steven Stamkos is returning to Tampa Bay and will spend the majority of his career in Tampa (barring a future trade) is a testament to the resourcefulness and brilliance of Yzerman. It’s also a testament to the character of Stamkos, however, who could have gone to any team in the league and could have made more money elsewhere. Thanks to some Florida state tax laws, Yzerman’s influence and Stamkos’ desire to win as a member of the Lightning, the superstar signed an eight-year, $68 million extension. This is a steal for Tampa Bay, and it’s rare to see such a talented player in this day and age stay with his team rather than leave for more money. Based on the offseason Tampa has had and on the fact that this team only gets better with time, it’s quite reasonable Stamkos will be rewarded one of these years with a Cup victory of his own.

Other Extensions

The team also handed out long-term extensions to franchise defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Alex Killorn. Hedman’s $7.875 million cap hit was a bargain for the Lightning considering he is becoming one of the absolute best defensemen in the league. Killorn’s seven-year, $31.15 million extension was a little more surprising; however, locking up a player like Killorn (who can play around the lineup and who has size, speed and skill) on a deal that carries a cap hit just under $4.5 million makes a lot of sense. Killorn could play on the top line with Stamkos and Drouin this season (or on the second line with Johnson and Kucherov), so look for him to have a bouceback year.

Protecting the Crease

The Lightning re-signed backup netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy to a three-year deal with an average annual value of $3.5 million. Ben Bishop is in the final year of his contract, which carries a $5.95 million cap hit. The Vasilevskiy signing indicates that Bishop’s days in Tampa Bay are numbered, though Tampa could hold onto him until the trade deadline or through the playoffs. It will depend on how the team is doing and if he can avoid injuries. It’s almost certain that he will not be a member of the Lightning next year, however, even though he has put together three fantastic seasons in a row for the Bolts. That makes the Vasilevskiy signing a strong one. The Lightning will save several million dollars for a few years, assuming Kristers Gudlevskis comes up to serve as Vasilevskiy’s backup. Vasilevskiy played well in the Pittsburgh series after Bishop went down with an injury, and he is the goalie of the future for this Lightning squad.

Kucherov Bridge Deal

Lastly, the Lightning announced Tuesday that the team has signed Nikita Kucherov to a three-year bridge deal with an average annual value of $4.766 million. This is practically highway robbery for the Lightning. The team did not have enough money to offer Kucherov the contract he deserves, which would start at five years and $6.5 million but could go up to eight years and just under $8 million. The deal gives the Lightning three years of breathing room before having to handle that extension.. Kucherov led the team in points last year in the regular season (66) and postseason (19). The fact that he is signed for three years at a cap hit lower than $5 million is almost too good to be true for the Lightning. Kucherov was able to lead the team in points last year despite missing linemate Ondrej Palat for part of the season and despite linemate Tyler Johnson’s poor campaign. There’s no telling what he can accomplish if the Triplets line can get things together this year. Yzerman outdid himself on this one.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • Re-Sign: F Cedric Paquette to 2-year deal with AAV of $812,500
  • Re-Sign: F J.T. Brown to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.25 million
  • Trade: D Anthony DeAngelo to Arizona for 2016 2nd-round pick (37)
  • Re-Sign: F Steven Stamkos to 8-year deal with AAV of $8.5 million
  • Buyout: D Matt Carle — 2016-2017 cap savings: $3,666,667
  • Re-Sign: D Victor Hedman to 8-year deal with AAV of $7.875 million
  • Re-Sign: G Andrei Vasilevskiy to 3-year deal with AAV of $3.5 million
  • Re-Sign: G Kristers Gudlevskis to 1-year contract at $575,000
  • Re-Sign: F Alex Killorn to 7-year deal with AAV of $4.45 million
  • Re-Sign: F Vladislav Namestnikov to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.9375 million
  • Re-Sign: D Nikita Nesterov to 1-year contract at $725,000
  • Re-Sign: F Nikita Kucherov to 3-year deal with AAV of $4.766 million

The team also re-signed bottom-six forwards Cedric Paquette, J.T. Brown and Vladislav Namestnikov, along with defenseman Nikita Nesterov. Brown and Namestnikov set career highs in points last season with 22 and 35, respectively.
 

Final Thoughts

Tampa Bay is poised for another deep playoff run. This team is solid all the way around. The defense is not much to write home about necessarily, but the Swedish duo of Hedman and Stralman is one of the best pairs in the league, and Braydon Coburn is a great skater who is capable of being a solid top-four or top-six defenseman. He was viewed as a let-down in Philadelpia because he was asked to be a top-two guy. Tampa is a much better fit for him, and he should have a stronger season this year. Garrison brings a lot to the table and should increase his point production after a disappointing performance last year. Andrej Sustr and Nesterov round out the group of six, though Slater Koekkoek could bump Nesterov. Garrison and Sustr most likely will be the second pairing, with Coburn and Nesterov/Koekkoek as the third pair. That’s not as impressive as the team’s forwards, but one thing Tampa Bay has is a surplus of strong defensive players. So all things considered, this team should be fine.

One thing the team will want to address is the power-play. Despite all the talent up front, Tampa Bay finished 28th in the league last year with a 15.8 percent power-play conversion rate compared to an 18.4 percent rate in the 2014-2015 season, good enough for 14th place. Considering the team does have so much talent up front, this seems like the type of issue that can be addressed by some tweaks to the units, which is something the coaching staff most likely addressed internally during the offseason.

It would be shocking if the Lightning do not make the playoffs this season. In Tampa’s eyes, anything short of winning the Stanley Cup will be a disappointment. Many teams say that, but it’s more of a reality for this club considering the amount of talent up and down the roster. It’s unclear how the Lightning will handle the Bishop situation, but don’t be surprised if they ride it out through the playoffs to give themselves the best chance of winning. Though there is a lot of talent in the Metropolitan Division, Tampa Bay is one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference and should have little trouble proving that this season.
 
 

Toronto Maple Leafs

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 29-42-11-69
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Atlantic Division: 8, Eastern Conference: 16, League: 30
Goals For: 192 (NHL rank: 28)
Goals Against: 240 (NHL rank: 7)
Power Play Percentage: 15.4 percent (NHL rank: 29)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 81.6 percent (NHL rank: 13)
Leading Scorer: Nazem Kadri (17-28-45)

Atlantic Division

Auston Matthews; Vaughn Ridley-Getty Images

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

Believe it or not, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent season last year. The team finished last in the Atlantic Division, last in the conference and last in the league, but considering the bottomless expectations headed into the season, the Maple Leafs had a productive season.

For one thing, head coach Mike Babcock had a year to adjust to his new surroundings. Considered by many to be one of the top coaches in the league, Babcock had a chance to evaluate players throughout the system to prepare for the years ahead. The Maple Leafs are in the process of a rebuild, and finishing at the bottom of the standings last year turned out to be a blessing. The Maple Leafs won the draft lottery, earning the first overall pick in the draft and thus landing Auston Matthews. Matthews is considered to be a future franchise player, and while Babcock will have him start in a third-line role, Matthews has a very bright future in Toronto and in the NHL.

The Maple Leafs may not be ready for playoff hockey this year, but the team should take major strides in improving its place in the standings. Playoff hockey is not far away for Toronto, but this probably is not the year.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

In the Crease

The biggest change for the Maple Leafs headed into the 2016-2017 season is in net. The team got rid of its two goalies from last season in James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier and is moving ahead with Frederik Andersen and Jhonas Enroth. Toronto acquired Andersen from Anaheim in exchange for a first- and second-round pick and immediately signed him to a five-year extension with a $5 million cap hit.

This is a big move for the Maple Leafs.

Andersen has been stellar for the Ducks over the past few seasons. He’s coming off a strong season in which he finished 22-9-7 with a 2.30 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts. Andersen went 20-5-0 in his rookie season with the Ducks and has had three solid campaigns in Anaheim. He will look to bring that level of play to Toronto, but it will be more challenging for him to play behind Toronto compared to Anaheim. The Leafs took a chance on awarding him such a lucrative contract without testing him in this new environment, but assuming the team can improve in front of him, he should find success. The team also brought in Jhonas Enroth as the backup.

Adding Auston

Drafting Auston Matthews was a franchise-altering move. Though he may start out as the third-line center, Matthews will eventually take over as the team’s first-line center. That may not happen this season regardless of how Matthews plays, but Matthews will have enough talent and insulation to help him in his rookie season in the NHL. He is expected to be a frontrunner for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. It is likely that William Nylander will start out on the wing with Matthews, which could be a deadly combination.

Zaitsev

One move that has gone under the radar is the signing of Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev. This will be Zaitsev’s first year in the NHL. The 24-year-old Russian defenseman scored 26 points in 46 regular-season games last year with CSKA Moscow of the KHL; he added 13 points in 20 playoff games, tied for the most postseason points by a defenseman in the league. Zaitsev has 32 goals and 95 points in 317 career regular-season games in the KHL, as well as 24 points in 51 career playoff games. He will add a much-needed offensive touch to the Leafs’ blueline.
 

Main Offseason Transactions

  • FA Signing: F Nikita Zaitsev to 1-year ELC at $925,000
  • Trade: 2016 1st-round pick (30) and 2017 2nd-round pick to Anaheim for G Frederik Andersen
  • Re-Sign: G Frederik Andersen to 5-year deal with AAV of $5 million
  • Trade: D Scott Harrington and conditional pick to Columbus for F Kerby Rychel
  • FA Signing: F Matt Martin to 4-year deal with AAV of $2.5 million
  • FA Signing: D Roman Polak to 1-year contract at $2.25 million
  • Trade: G Jonathan Bernier to Anaheim for conditional 2017 draft pick
  • Re-Sign: G Garret Sparks to 1-year contract at $575,000
  • Draft Pick Signing: F Auston Matthews to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000
  • Re-Sign: F Josh Leivo to 2-year deal with AAV of $612,500
  • Re-Sign: D Frank Corrado to 1-year contract at $600,000
  • Re-Sign: F Peter Holland to 1-year contract at $1.3 million
  • Re-Sign: D Martin Marincin to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.25 million
  • FA Signing: G Jhonas Enroth to 1-year contract at $750,000

 

Final Thoughts

Toronto is poised for a strong season that should see the Leafs make a jump in the standings. The team is unlikely to reach the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a successful season.

Several players had strong seasons last year, like defenseman Morgan Rielly (who had an electrifying World Cup performance) and forward Leo Komarov. Nazem Kadri will be given a bigger role on the team this year in terms of ice time (he will start the year as the top-line center) and leadership. Mitch Marner figures to make the team, which will add yet another electric offensive element to the roster. The team may be disappointed about not landing Steven Stamkos in the offseason, but general manager Lou Lamoriello and president Brendan Shanahan smartly stayed out of the bidding wars of free agency, with a few minor exceptions.

There are a lot of exciting players on the roster and in the system waiting to make their mark in Toronto history. The focus this year will be to continue to nurture and develop that talent.

If James van Riemsdyk can remain healthy, he will be able to help fill the scoring void left by Phil Kessel, who was traded to Pittsburgh last offseason. A lot will also depend on the play of newly-acquired and newly-inked goaltender Frederik Andersen. The goaltending can’t get much worse than it was last year, however, so the Leafs should see an improvement in that category.

No one expects the Maple Leafs to make a remarkable comeback and reach the playoffs this season. That is unrealistic. But much to the chagrin of the demanding fanbase in Toronto, the Leafs can still have a successful campaign if they aim for building chemistry, developing talent and preparing to be a powerhouse team in a few years.

 



 
Stay tuned for offseason analysis of all four divisions and all 30 NHL teams.
NHL Offseason Analysis: Central Division
NHL Offseason Analysis: Pacific Division
 
Featured Image Credits: Stamkos: Chris O’Meara-The Associated Press; Ekblad: Ronald C. Modra-Getty Images; Radulov: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports; Marchand/Bergeron: Michael Dwyer-AP Photo; Zetterberg/Larkin: Rick Osentosk-USA TODAY Sports; Brassard: Bruce Bennett-Getty Images; O’Reilly/Kane: Harry Scull Jr.-Buffalo News; Andersen: Kelvin Kuo / USA TODAY Sports