Sabres, Golden Knights, Canucks and Oilers are NHL off-season winners, Habs, Blues, Flames and Coyotes losers

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There are still significant deals to be had this NHL offseason, but here are the early returns on which teams have done so well in moving out and in acquiring players:

Winner: Buffalo Sabres

Admit it, if your team had convinced Taylor Hall to come in on a one-year deal, even at $8 million per, you would have been mighty pleased. Hall has averaged 2.3 points per 60 the past two years, since his MVP season of 2017-18, but team him up with Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin and the Sabres suddenly look dangerous on the attack. The franchise just went from shrouded in negativity, with rumblings of discontent around Eichel, to a team able to bring in a player of Hall’s stature. In other moves, the Sabres brought in still useful Eric Staal, brought back sound puck mover and minute muncher Brandon Mountour on a one-year deal, signed checking centre Cody Eakin and also one of my personal faves, stalwart 3rd-pairing dman Brandon Davidson.


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Loser: Montreal Canadiens

Is there a riskier contract than the seven-year, $5.5 million per deal that Montreal gave Josh Anderson, 26, who was injured last year and scored just one goal in 26 games? Over the past two years, Anderson ranks 238th in even strength scoring for NHL forwards, 1.68 pts per 60, right there with Conor Sheary and Sven Andrighetto. Hmm. To get him, Montreal gave up Max Domi, who ranks 40ths, 2.5 per 60. Hmm. Jeff Petry is a strong NHL d-man but that’s a lot of term and dollars for a 32-year-old NHL dman, four years at $6.25 million. Joel Edmundson is a decent player but didn’t come cheap either. Tyler Toffoli, four years at $4.25 million per, may work out, but that was a stiff price for a winger who ranks 180th for even strength scoring for NHL forwards the past two years. Jake Allan is also pricey at one year at $4.25 million. Anderson, Petry, Toffoli, Edmundson and Allen are all solid NHLers, but Montreal appears to have overpaid, and sometimes significantly, on each deal. Maybe it’s the tax situation in Quebec forcing that dynamic. Whatever the case, in a flat cap era those overpays will end up killing you.

Winner: Vegas Golden Knights

I wonder about team chemistry, what with a team mainstay like Nate Schmidt now gone and another one in Marc-Andre Fleury maybe following. This isn’t the same squad of underdogs that won over so many fans a few years back. It’s now a team of highly-paid over dogs, but it’s hard not to like the work Vegas did, likely bringing in the best goalie and the best d-man on the market in Robin Lehner and Alex Pietrangelo. As a rule, I’m not a fan of major dollars and major term to players entering their 30s, but Pietrangelo is so good he’ll likely be going strong four or five or even six years from now. And if my own favourite team had signed Lehner to his five-year deal at $5 million per, I would have been thrilled. Of course, Vegas had to move out Schmidt and Paul Stastny, both good players. But, overall, the Vegas team looks stronger than ever.


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Loser: Calgary Flames

How can they have lost? They brought in a No. 1 goalie in Jacob Markstrom and a solid d-man in Chris Tanev. My argument is that this is much like the Montreal situation, where the Flames brought in some good players but overpaid for both of them, and maybe significantly overpaid, with Markstrom, who will be 31 soon, getting a six-year deal at $6 million per, and Tanev, 30, getting a four year deal at $4.5 million per. If I were a fan of this team, I’d be exciting about the two players but worried about what happens in two or three years. Players in their 30s can get old awfully fast in the NHL. Of course, Markstrom could prove me wrong for years to come with stellar play. And Calgary still has some dollars to spend so maybe they’ll get some bargains yet this summer.

P.S. I’ll note that the Associate Press had the opposite take on Markstrom in calling the Flames a winner in this market: “The Calgary Flames improved their chances of advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 by adding perhaps the best goaltender on the market. The Flames beat out the competition for Jacob Markstrom with a $36 million, six-year deal. The 30-year-old Markstrom was an All-Star last season and finished fourth in voting for the Vezina Trophy.”

Winner: Colorado Avs

No, the Avs didn’t get Taylor Hall or Alex Pietrangelo, but GM Joe Sakic was smart to stick with his two goalies, Pavel Francouz and Phillipp Grubauer, rather than splurging on Markstrom or some other UFA goalie. He signed some useful returning players in Andre Burakovsky, Ryan Graves and Valeri Nichushkin, used some of his cap space on still productive veteran winger Brandon Saad, then made a shrewd deal, trading two second round picks for Devin Toews, not a big name, but a damn good player.


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Loser: Arizona Coyotes

They were unable to move Oliver Ekmann-Larsson, so now have to repair that rift. They lost UFA Taylor Hall and grinder Vinnie Hinostroza and brought in only Bottom 6 forwards Tyler Pitlick and Johan Larsson. An uninspiring summer for a franchise in disarray. It looks like Arizona wants to shed salary, but can’t do so either because players have No Movement Clauses, and/or they’re paid too much and other teams don’t want to take on their salary, and/or because Arizona is asking too much in return.

Winner: Edmonton Oilers

Hey, I’m an Oilers fan. What did you expect me to say? But this week saw some strong work by Oilers GM Ken Holland. Yes, Edmonton will lose Andreas Athanasiou to free agency and Holland over paid by $1 million on Mike Smith. At the same time, the franchise dodged the bullet of the Markstrom contract, so I’ll consider that a win. And Edmonton got one of the great bargains of the summer, bringing in strong attacker Tyson Barrie on a one-year deat at $3.75 million. Tyler Ennis, who has averaged 1.85 pts per 60 at even strength the past two years (a better number than either Toffoli or Athanasiou, not to mention Josh Anderson), signed for one more year at $1 million. Kyle Turris could prove to be a good buy as well on his two-year deal, while Holland’s work in convincing promising young winger Jesse Puljujarvi to return to Edmonton speaks to the GM’s wisdom and patience.

For the opposite point of view, Ken Campbell of the Hockey News had the Oilers as UFA season loser for failing to bring in Markstrom:
“Since Day 2 of the draft, seven goalies changed teams and none of them ended up with the Oilers. The Oilers swung and missed on Markstrom, which in the long-term might not be such a bad thing for them. But they couldn’t have offered more than the Ottawa Senators did for Matt Murray? They couldn’t have signed a veteran to give them some presence in the crease? The Oilers got a combined save percentage of .869 from Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith in their qualifying-round ouster and they badly need an upgrade in that position.”


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That said, Campbell liked the Turris signing: “In signing Kyle Turris to a two-year deal worth just $1.65 million per season, the Oilers get a player who will actually be suited to the role of third-line center. Turris was never a fit with the Nashville Predators at that pay rate and term, either to their style of play or the role in which he was placed. Going to the Oilers and playing behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl has the potential to bring out the best in a guy who still has something to give.”

Winner: Vancouver Canucks

Things were looking bad, but then they got a top-pairing d-man in Nate Schmidt for a third round pick. Steal of a deal.

Loser: St. Louis Blues

I like Torey Krug’s game fine but replacing Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester with a combo of Krug and Justin Faulk. Hmm. Not ideal. Not close to ideal.

At the Cult

McCURDY: Holland materializes a third-line in three days

LEAVINS: Barrie signing signals shift in market conditions for Oilers — 9 Things

STAPLES: Jesse Puljujarvi returns, and on a two-year deal

STAPLES: Is Kyle Turris the 3C the Oilers have been looking for?

McCURDY: Steady Eddie native Tyler Ennis back in the Oilers fold

LEAVINS: The Oilers land a big UFA fish in the person of Tyson Barrie

STAPLES: The Mike Smith FA signing was not what many anticipated


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