Hockey and unpredictable chaos are pretty much synonymous, even in the offseason. Every year, some team (or teams) find a way to leave us all stunned with the way that they choose to retool their roster. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise. Other times, we’re left wondering what the hell is wrong with them.
This was technically a short offseason given the pandemic-shifted schedule but, boy, did it ever pack a punch. There was a ton of action keeping us busy and entertained over the summer months, and there were plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way.
As such, let’s dive into some of the weirdest offseason shakeups and discuss which team has had the most bizarre transition to this upcoming season.
6. Seattle Kraken
Anytime you begin the summer with zero players on the roster, you’re going to have a weird offseason by default. But Seattle makes this list for reasons beyond the fact it’s the team’s inaugural season.
The Seattle expansion draft didn’t exactly go the way most people thought it might. Kraken general manager Ron Francis made ZERO pre-draft trades — a stark contrast to the wheeling and dealing that set the stage for a chaotic Vegas expansion draft in 2017.
The Golden Knights were aggressive and effective in arranging handshake deals to draft (or not draft) a specific player, and they were immediately able to leverage their way into a nice stockpile of additional assets on top of the players they drafted. (It's a big reason why Vegas was able to hit the ground running in its first season.) That wasn’t the case with the Kraken, as they made no trades and acquired no additional assets on top of the 30 players that were officially selected.
The lack of pre-draft movement was weird and surprising, especially considering some of the players that were selected by Seattle. Some of the Kraken draft choices were curious and difficult to justify without the element of additional compensation. Gavin Bayreuther over Max Domi or Dean Kukan? Morgan Geekie over Nino Niederreiter or Jake Bean? Carsen Twarynski instead of Jakub Voracek or James van Riemsdyk? Kurtis MacDermid over … well, anyone else? It was all hard to understand from the outside looking in.
Seattle made some minor deals in the aftermath of the expansion draft but, still, the roster and the stockpile of futures aren't quite what many expected them to be heading into this season. Maybe that’s indicative of general managers around the league learning their lesson in 2017 and not overthinking the process this time around. Or perhaps it’s a sign that Francis and company overplayed their hand and asked for too much as they tried to take advantage of vulnerable teams leading up to the draft.
5. New York Rangers
One of the biggest NHL storylines last season was Tom Wilson basically single-handedly throwing the Rangers organization into a state of chaos. After Wilson went after Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin to little resistance during a game, the Rangers promptly decided that the culture of the team needed to change, and they needed new leadership to pave the way. Things got weird in a hurry. They fired president John Davidson, GM Jeff Gorton and, later, head coach David Quinn.
It quickly became clear this offseason that new GM Chris Drury wants to make the Rangers tougher and more intimidating. They brought in several guys who are known for grit and physicality. They dished out a sizable commitment to Barclay Goodrow, whose depth contributions helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups. They traded Buchnevich’s production for Sammy Blais’ body. They also traded for Ryan Reaves, whose job description may as well read “Hockey player/Tom Wilson antidote” at this point.
Ironically, Reaves is the same guy that the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to trade for years ago when Wilson and the Capitals convinced them they needed to get tougher. And while Reaves has gone on to establish a personal, violent rivalry with Wilson in the years since, his time in Pittsburgh was short and underwhelming. You can make the argument that the Penguins focused too much on adding toughness and let their roster take a step backward in the process, and now some are saying that the Rangers are traveling that same road.
The Rangers’ rebuild was going quite well when they decided they needed to rig the process with explosives. They definitely got tougher over the past few months. But did they get better? Are they closer to taking the next step with the changes they’ve made this summer? We’ll see, but the reality of their offseason juxtaposed with the early aspirations of landing Jack Eichel and/or some other big players … well, there’s a large gap there.
4. Arizona Coyotes
Oh boy, where to begin. For better or for worse, this was an eventful offseason for the Yotes — one that effectively helped begin a massive rebuilding process in Arizona ... or, perhaps, elsewhere.
The Coyotes left little doubt that they were hitting the reset button this summer. They hired a first-time NHL head coach whose specialties include identifying and coaching young players. They also traded captain and franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (also parting ways with top young forward Conor Garland in the process) and were more than willing to turn themselves (back) into a salary cap dumping ground if it meant that they picked up future assets. They used their cap space to take on unwanted contracts (Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, Anton Stralman, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, etc.) in exchange for draft capital.
Some of the moves were unexpected and that’s a big reason why they register on the weirdness scale, but you have to give some credit to the front office for committing to the tank and gutting the roster in pretty effective fashion. They’re projecting to be one of the worst teams in the league next season, and that’s kind of the point. As it stands, they’ve got six skaters signed beyond this season and only three skaters signed into 2023. They have eight draft picks in the first two rounds (three firsts and five seconds) next summer. They’re clearly not trying to win right now.
Then, there’s that eviction notice. The Coyotes were informed this summer that they’re being kicked out of Gila River Arena after this season, meaning they’ll have to find somewhere else to play in 2022. So there’s a whole lot up in the air for this franchise right now.
3. Edmonton Oilers
There was a whole lot of pressure on the Oilers and GM Ken Holland to do something substantial this summer. Another season went by in which Edmonton failed to put enough support around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and it resulted in zero playoff wins. Patience is starting to run out in Oil Country.
And while it’s probably safe to say that the Oilers improved this summer, they still had a lot of questionable moves in the mix. The first was trading for Duncan Keith, as Edmonton sent Caleb Jones and a conditional third-round pick to the Blackhawks for the veteran defenseman.
Taking a flier on a 38-year-old Keith while leaning heavily on his past achievements isn’t unfathomable or unforgivable. Holland is taking a shot on a veteran who might be able to provide some valuable experience and leadership both on and off the ice, and that’s fine. The problem lies more in the price Edmonton was willing to pay for Keith.
A replacement-level roster player AND a third-round pick for a steadily declining vet making $5.5 million for the next two years, with no money being retained by Chicago? That’s not exactly a bargain for the Oilers, especially considering Keith had a very short list of teams he was willing to be traded to (Edmonton, Calgary, Seattle and Vancouver). It seems like Holland decided he wanted Keith and forgot all about the idea of value and leverage.
On top of that, Holland gave a four-year deal to Cody Ceci while losing Adam Larsson and Ethan Bear, so it really feels like the Oilers just rearranged deck chairs on defense this summer. Then, in a summer where goaltending options were plentiful, the Oilers decided their best course of action was keeping a Mike Smith/Mikko Koskinen tandem while giving the 39-year-old Smith a multiyear extension. Smith had a very solid 2020-21 season, but there’s little reason to believe that level of play is sustainable. If goaltending once again presents itself as issue this season, Holland is going to look like a fool.
Credit where credit is due: The Oilers look better up front. They added Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan to help fill out the forward group, and those are some very solid additions. But even the positives still have some concerns. Giving a 29-year-old Hyman $5.5 million annually over seven years when he’s already had notable knee issues? That’s a gamble that I’d be nervous about.
2. Vancouver Canucks
Jim Benning getting weird during the summer? Allow me to prepare my shocked face.
In all seriousness, this was a bit of a wild offseason for the Canucks and there are a whole lot of pieces moving in/out. They had one of the wildest trades of the summer when they sent the No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 draft and Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle to Arizona for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.
It’s easy to have mixed feelings about that swap if you’re a Canucks fan. On one hand, you get the best player in the deal (Garland) and possibly revitalize a declining star in Ekman-Larsson while dumping three unwanted short-term contracts. On the other hand, you have to give up a high first-round pick and take one of the league’s most undesirable long-term contracts, as OEL will be making $7.26 million on Vancouver’s cap through 2027. That could get extremely ugly down the road.
Ultimately, it’s basically just kicking the can down the road. Benning didn’t alleviate Vancouver’s cap issues; he just tried to swap problems now for problems later. For a guy who’s on the hot seat and trying to save his job, it’s an understandable strategy ... if you utilize the immediate savings in a smart way.
Did Benning do that? I’m not sure. He made a few nice pickups in goaltender Jaroslav Halak and center Jason Dickinson but, overall, the team’s biggest issues were largely ignored. The defense still looks like it could be a huge mess. Outside of picking up Ekman-Larsson, the only other real notable addition was Tucker Poolman (on a questionable four-year contract) while Nate Schmidt and Alex Edler left town.
Oh, and did I mention that the Canucks have got just over $10 million in cap space and still need to re-sign RFAs Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes? Yeah, not super ideal.
1. Carolina Hurricanes
There were several head-scratching twists and turns this summer in Raleigh. The first came when the Canes decided to sign Tony DeAngelo, an offensively talented defenseman who was essentially booted off the Rangers thanks to problematic behavior both at and away from the arena (something that has frequently presented itself as an issue for DeAngelo throughout his career). Signing DeAngelo to a short-term, short-money deal can turn into a strong value play for Carolina if things go smoothly, but it’s hard to classify it as “low risk” considering the distraction that DeAngelo has become in recent years.
The Hurricanes also completely hit the reset button on their goaltending situation, which was a stunning development after the season that Alex Nedeljkovic had last season. After finishing his rookie campaign as a Calder Trophy finalist with the league’s best save percentage, the Canes traded Nedeljkovic to the Red Wings instead of paying him a seemingly fair asking price of $3.5 million AAV. Then, making things even more confusing, Detroit quickly signed him to a two-year deal with a lower AAV ($3 million) than the reported asking price.
The deal seemed to suggest that Carolina didn’t really believe in Nedeljkovic as its goaltending solution, for whatever reason, but it remains baffling that the Hurricanes weren’t even willing to give him a chance to prove his performance was sustainable, especially at such a palatable price point.
With Petr Mrazek and James Reimer also moving on via free agency, the Canes signed Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta to fill the goaltending vacancies. At the end of the day, they got older and more experienced between the pipes, but at what cost? Was it worth blowing it up for only $300K in total savings? Time will tell.
The complaints about Carolina being too cheap were only amplified when they decided to let Norris-caliber defenseman Dougie Hamilton walk in free agency. It wasn’t just that the Hurricanes let Hamilton go to a divisional rival. It’s also that they may as well have packed his bags and shoved him out the door. According to The Athletic's Sara Civian, Carolina’s final offer to Hamilton was worth $6.2 million over eight years — almost $3 million less annually than the seven-year, $9 million AAV deal he got from New Jersey.
Then, of course, there’s the whole Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet, and that alone could have landed them on this list. The Canes were responsible for the first successful offer sheet in over a decade, and it was a transaction largely born out of pettiness and revenge.
The Canadiens tried (and failed) to pluck Sebastian Aho from Carolina via offer sheet in 2019, and Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon apparently took that very personally. After waiting in the wings for a couple of years, he saw an opportunity for revenge this summer and seized it, going after Kotkaniemi — a RFA awaiting a new contract from the Canadiens.
As it turns out, revenge can be expensive. For as “cheap” as the Hurricanes are made out to be, they were willing to overpay for Kotkaniemi (one year at $6.1 million, plus first- and third-round picks as compensation to Montreal). He’s a nice young piece with a lot of promise, but it sure doesn’t seem like a coincidence that he’s the guy they aggressively pursued this summer.
But as wild as the actual offer sheet was, the way the Hurricanes handled the entire thing was even weirder. They didn’t try very hard to hide that this deal was at least partially a revenge fantasy. They basically copy-pasted Montreal’s press release from the Aho offer sheet and swapped out the names. The Canes’ official Twitter account announced the news in French. They included a $20 signing bonus on the offer to Kotkaniemi — a not-so-subtle reference to Aho’s jersey number.
If there were a Petty Olympics, the Hurricanes would have emphatically seized the gold medal this offseason.