It’s not quite hockey season just yet, but the soft opening of NHL camps across the league this week signifies that it’s not quite the offseason anymore either. Summer is almost over and so is most of the wheeling and dealing from most teams across the league. For many, the focus now turns to seeing what the changes (or lack thereof) turn into on the ice.
But before the on-ice action really picks up, let’s highlight some of the teams that kept us entertained with the most attention-grabbing and chaotic offseasons.
If you needed clear proof that a lot has changed over the past few months and the slate has been wiped clean, the Senators now have an air of respectability heading into a new season. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when you trade for a young, elite goal scorer (Alex DeBrincat) and sign one of the top free-agent prizes (Claude Giroux) in the same week.
Those two additions should give the Sens a pretty formidable top six and a major scoring boost this season, but that’s not the only work they did over the summer. They also handed out a few long-term, big-money contracts to retain Josh Norris and Tim Stutzle. On top of that, Ottawa also improved in net by shipping out Matt Murray and acquiring Cam Talbot from the Minnesota Wild.
The Senators are likely at least a year or two away from becoming a real threat in the Eastern Conference, but they kept extremely busy this offseason and made some major strides toward being taken seriously. Not bad for a team that not too long ago was content just saying, “We’re a team.”
NHL's biggest offseason winners
I can often be overly dramatic, but I feel confident in saying that the Flames are coming off one of the most bizarre summers I can remember from an NHL team in some time. They were clinging to contender status before their two best players essentially forced their way out of town, one via free agency (Johnny Gaudreau) and one via trade request (Matthew Tkachuk).
Losing those two seemed pretty insurmountable, and it felt like a full-scale blowup might be on the horizon. But general manager Brad Treliving, with very little leverage, pulled an absolute rabbit out of his hat by somehow turning Tkahcuk into Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar — a move that helps keep the competitive window open for Calgary. (For reference on how rare a trade of that magnitude is in the NHL, it’s only the second time in league history that two 100-point players have been swapped for one another. The first deal involved Wayne Gretzky.)
In addition to landing Huberdeau (who received a huge extension) and Weegar, the Flames also improved down the middle by trading Sean Monahan to the Montreal Canadiens and signing Nazem Kadri via free agency.
Right now, it’s hard to know if replacing Gaudreau and Tkachuk with Huberdeau, Weegar and Kadri will make Calgary better, worse or just … different. But the fact that we even have to think about it sort of feels like a win. It’s not often you see a team go from contender to potential rebuilder back to contender in the same summer.
Detroit Red Wings
No team spent more money this summer than the Red Wings, and that makes sense considering they had a lot to spend and a lot of areas to improve.
It shouldn’t come as a massive shock that Steve Yzerman kept busy and did pretty good work. He made significant additions at forward (Andrew Copp, David Perron, Dominic Kubalik), defense (Ben Chiarot, Mark Pysyk, Olli Maatta) and even goaltending (Ville Husso).
Like Ottawa, Detroit is still probably a little ways off from being truly competitive in a tough division/conference, but it took some big steps toward watchability and respectability.
Their offseason may not have been as overwhelmingly chaotic as some of the other teams here, but the Hurricanes did make some noteworthy splashes — particularly when it came to veterans.
Carolina brought in former Norris-winner Brent Burns via trade with the Sharks, then acquired Max Pacioretty from the Vegas Golden Knights for essentially nothing — only to see Pacioretty tear his Achilles while training this summer. On top of that, the Canes made a solid, late-summer signing by inking Paul Stastny to a one-year deal.
It seems Carolina put an onus on adding experience as it looks to get over the playoff hump. The Hurricanes identified some pretty viable candidates to help them get better at limited cost. Burns should thrive in Carolina’s point-focused offensive system, while Pacioretty and Stastny should help reinforce the offense and provide two-way depth.
Columbus Blue Jackets
They signed Johnny Gaudreau, which honestly is all that’s necessary to land on this list. Nobody saw that coming and it’s still hard to fully grasp, but we do love some mystery chaos, don’t we?
Columbus also gave Erik Gudbranson a four-year contract worth $4 million annually — a chaotic deal in its own right — and kept Patrik Laine with a four-year extension. It’s tough to know how much the Blue Jackets’ work this summer will move the needle this season, but it was a big win for the franchise to poach a marquee free agent and retain another star player, especially after the exodus Columbus has seen in recent years.
Well, there’s no doubt about it now: The Blackhawks are in rebuilding mode. After making a coaching change and installing Luke Richardson as their new guy, trading Alex DeBrincat, 24, and Kirby Dach, 21, at the NHL Draft really cranked up the chaos meter and got the rebuild wheels in motion.
It felt like those deals might be the first of several major moves by Chicago this summer, but it’s been relatively quiet on the Blackhawks front since then with just a couple of notable one-year, prove-it type contracts (Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou).
There’s been no Patrick Kane trade and no Jonathan Toews trade. With both players heading into the final year of their current deals and the team nowhere near being competitive, it seems like it would make a lot of sense to unload them for future pieces. Ultimately, the players are in control of their future thanks to full NMCs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more to come for Chicago.
A Jack Adams nomination wasn’t enough for Andrew Brunette to shed the interim label and stay behind the bench, and we can probably blame a shaky playoff showing for that. But Florida also wasn’t afraid to make some major shakeups beyond just hiring Paul Maurice.
How often do you see the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners trade their leading scorer the following offseason? That’s exactly what the Panthers did when they dealt Jonathan Huberdeau (and MacKenzie Weegar) for Matthew Tkachuk, who immediately signed an eight-year contract in Florida. It was a pretty stunning turn of events considering Huberdeau has always been a Panthers pillar and losing Weegar might hurt an already somewhat concerning Panthers blue line.
However, Tkachuk is younger than Hubby and comes with long-term cost certainty and an added element of nastiness — something the Panthers could use.
NHL's biggest offseason losers
New York Islanders
The most chaotic thing about the Islanders’ offseason may have been the lack of chaos. Firing Barry Trotz after one disappointing (and largely unlucky) season was a major surprise, and it led us to believe that more big changes might be coming. After all, Trotz led the franchise to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals appearances in the two seasons prior … so the blame couldn’t solely be placed at his feet, right?
But Lou Lamoriello and the Isles have been weirdly quiet all offseason. The only notable move they’ve made to bring in a player outside of the organization was trading for Alexander Romanov at the draft. Seriously, that’s it. It sounded like they had a lot of interest in Nazem Kadri, which makes sense, but ultimately he ended up in Calgary.
I’m not sure what the plan was at the outset, but it doesn’t feel like things went accordingly.