Believe it or not, the 2020-21 NHL season was supposed to begin two weeks ago. This would have been less than a week after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Obviously, this was not the case because of the Coronavirus, but this past week still gave hockey fans something to look forward to: free agency and the NHL entry draft. It may not be opening night, which is tentatively set for January 1, 2021, but hey, it’s something.
The New York Rangers had the honor of selecting Alexis Lafreniere first overall. Lafreniere was the highest rated prospect coming into a draft since Sidney Crosby who played for the same QMJHL team, the Rimouski Oceanic. Another note-worthy selection was the Los Angeles Kings second overall pick Quinton Byfield. The talented center became the highest black player to ever be selected in the NHL draft. That’s enough about the draft, though. Here are the winners and losers of NHL free agency.
Calgary Flames – The Flames are one of the big winners of the last week as they improved an already playoff caliber team. The signings of two ex-Canucks adds insult to injury to their western Canadian rivals as the Flames signed both Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom.
Tanev, a defenseman, came to play inside the bubble and showed how dangerous he really is on both sides of the puck. This earned him a 4-year, $18 million contact, which in my opinion is a steal by Calgary.
Markstrom was Vancouver’s main puck stopper this past season but was replaced by upstart backup Thatcher Demko in the playoffs. With Markstrom’s contract up, the Canucks signed Braden Holtby to a 2-year deal, thus ousting him from British Columbia. This was a big mistake by the Canucks ownership as the 30-year-old goalie still has a bright future ahead of him and will now play for the next 6-years wearing red and yellow, while playing his home games about 600 miles east of Vancouver.
Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets have yet again flown under the radar, which is seemingly what they do every year until the playoffs. Columbus went out and got Max Domi and Mikko Koivu which adds to an already solid, team-oriented roster.
Domi is coming off a down year where he only tallied 44 points in 71 games but is still a solid player. John Tortorella will look for the 25-year-old to get back to his 2018-19 form where he tallied 72 points in 82 games playing for the Montreal Canadiens.
Koivu is entering his age 37 season and has seen his offensive production drop over the past few years. The veteran signed a 1-year deal with the Blue Jackets and should be a great leader both on and off the ice. Couple that with a solid defensive year and Columbus may have found a vital piece to the puzzle in terms of contending for a Cup.
Buffalo Sabres – Yes, the Sabres actually did something positive that was newsworthy. They were able to land Taylor Hall on a 1-year, $8 million deal. Although it is only for one year, this is a major step forward for Buffalo’s ownership and management. With reports swirling that Jack Eichel wants out of town, management finally showed him that they want to win (kinda).
One can speculate that the 2018 Hart Trophy winner was looking for a long-term deal but was unable to find one because of the dip in his production this past season. One can also speculate that the $8 million from the Sabres was Hall’s best AAV (average annual value) and that is why he ended up signing there. Hopefully for the Sabres they have some miracle season where they can lock up Hall long-term, or at the very least get Eichel to stay in Buffalo.
Colorado Avalanche – The Avalanche already have a Cup-contending team and they had no notable losses and a few nice additions this offseason. Colorado signed Andre Burakovsky to a 2-year, $9.8 million deal and traded for veteran Brandon Saad. These additions give the Avalanche two solid pieces and two veteran leaders (Saad has won a Stanley Cup before) to take them over the hump to the next level.
Vancouver Canucks – I already talked about the signing of Braden Holtby, which is a positive, but the Canucks lost a bunch of players to free agency. Besides Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom leaving for Calgary, Vancouver lost key players like Tyler Toffoli and Troy Stecher. The cherry on top of a rough offseason for Vancouver is the trade for Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson falling through because of Ekman-Larsson’s no-trade clause. On the bright side, the Canucks still have a bright future with their young, talented core, but this offseason is a setback in their development as a team.
Florida Panthers – The Panthers were ravaged by free agency over the past week losing both parts of their core and depth pieces. Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman are two core players who are currently unsigned free agents. I am not sure why Florida is not trying to retain at least one of the two members of their core.
Some depth pieces Florida has lost are Mark Pysyk, Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Dominic Toninato and Brian Boyle. Those five players made up almost the entirety of the Panthers’ bottom two lines. Even with the addition of Patric Hornqvist, they lost another depth piece in Colton Sceviour and defenseman Mike Matheson.
These teams either made moves that balanced out or did not do much at all in free agency.
St. Louis Blues – The Blues lost their captain Alex Pietrangelo to free agency, but signed Torey Krug to a 7-year, $45.5 million deal. Krug had been fantastic on the blueline for Boston throughout his career and should fit very well in St. Louis, but the loss of their captain will still sting.
Vegas Golden Knights – The Golden Knights did not lose anyone major this offseason and signed the afore mentioned Alex Pietrangelo. There is only one thing keeping them from being a winner this offseason and that is Pietrangelo’s contract. The defenseman signed a 7-year, $62 million deal with an $8.8 million AAV. Compared to Krug’s contract, who is a comparable player, Pietrangelo is overpaid, but still a great addition.