NHL Off-Season Power Rankings: Who’s improved most (so far)?

Newest Flames d-man Travis Hamonic joins HC @ Noon to discuss the chance to live out his dream playing NHL hockey in Western Canada, what he’ll add to an already awesome blueline in Calgary.

Countless signings, multiple trades and more than five weeks have passed since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted sport’s most storied chalice, officially triggering hockey’s off-season.

With drafts entry and expansion, free agency’s opening, coaches fired and hired and RFA cases settled and less so, the league has undergone some drastic roster shuffling over the past 40 days.

We step back to evaluate the NHL landscape and rank the moves its 31 general managers have made so far this summer in our NHL Off-Season Power Rankings.

While there’s still plenty of time to tinker and trade, some clubs have improved for the better and others have taken a step back — on paper, of course.

All teams have been ranked from 1 through 31 according to off-season performance only. (This is not an order of strength heading into 2017-18 but strictly an assessment of recent front office moves.)

The “previous ranking” number assigned to each franchise indicates their official standings finish in 2016-17.

Rank Team
1

Once Brad Treliving got his own contract, the dude put in overtime. Keeping UFA Michael Stone and adding Travis Hamonic gives the Flames one of the best D cores in the NHL. Mike Smith isn’t young but he’s solid and should be motivated to play for a team with a chance. And retaining complementary forwards Micheal Ferland and Kris Versteeg for $1.75 million cap hits is a tidy bit of business on Treliving’s part.

Previous: 16

2

Either Steve Yzerman is part genius, or there’s something to this “athletes don’t like paying taxes” thing. The Bolts locked up RFAs Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat for reasonable rates, secured one of the most enticing defence prospects (Mikhail Sergachev), and took a reasonable two-year gamble on Dan Girardi for blue-line depth.

Previous: 18

3

The Most Aggressive GM Award goes to Jim Nill. A year too late, but he patched up his goalie issues by landing Ben Bishop. The Stars also benefitted from the lottery, stole Marc Methot from Vegas for peanuts, and outbid competitors for UFAs Martin Hanzal and Alex Radulov. Radek Faksa should be a fantastic value signing, too. New/old coach Ken Hitchcock would probably love one more D-man, but this is a roster that can make noise in the Central.

Previous: 24

4

A quiet slow-builder, Ron Francis is shrewdly improving his team. Adding Justin Williams, Scott Darling, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marcus Kruger helps. But we’re big fans of the prices he paid on re-signing Jaccob Slavin ($5.3 million cap hit) and Teuvo Teravainen ($2.86 million). The Canes still need another scorer.

Previous: 21

5

Columbus got a taste and, with Pittsburgh and Washington’s rosters weakening, is now going after it. The Jackets took advantage of Chicago’s cap strain to score Artemi Panarin in a shocker. Their own cap pressure forced a Scott Hartnell buyout and a Sam Gagner walk, but they’ll use that dough on RFAs Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson.

Previous: 8

6

The Maple Leafs’ dip into the UFA pool marks a gear shift from “happy to be here” to “we’re coming for ya.” Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey and Dominic Moore — three character vets who’ve been to Round 4 — add maturity and experience to a young, speedy group. We still believe Toronto needs one more D-man, though.

Previous: 15

7

We like the early returns on new GM Jason Botterill, who is coming off like a decisive man with a plan. After what he accomplished in Nashville, Hall of Famer Phil Housley looks like the ideal choice for coach. Adding Benoit Pouliot, Chad Johnson and Marco Scandella were financially responsible moves. Now we’re eager to see how Botterill deals with Jack Eichel’s extension and Evander “Trade Rumour” Kane’s impending free agency.

Previous: 26

8

As they brace themselves for the Sedins’ (final?) contract year, the Canucks brass gave a young coach (Travis Green) a chance and made a series of smart, short-term UFA signings: Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto and Anders Nilsson. Now, let’s see where Bo Horvat’s number falls…

Previous: 29

9

One of just a few teams to lose a good player to Vegas (Oscar Lindberg), New York used its cash flow to buy out beloved but declining Dan Girardi, then flipped that cap space into Kevin Shattenkirk — a hometown-discount victory. The trade of No. 1 centre Derek Stepan to Arizona throws a ton of pressure on Mika Zibanejad (an RFA awaiting arbitration) to elevate and stay healthy.

Previous: 11

10

The Golden Knights still need to offload a defenceman or two, but George McPhee’s patience is to be commended. Vegas is reportedly having no issues selling tickets, so stocking up on draft picks (12 of them in 2019 already) and rental players (James Neal, David Perron) and thinking long-term is looking like a smart decision.

Previous: -

11

GM Bob Murray gave up prospect Shea Theodore to keep Vegas’s greedy palms off his defence core, asserting the club’s intent to win now. We approve of the Patrick Eaves re-signing (especially at a modest three years) and bringing in two goaltenders — Ryan Miller (two years at $2 million) and Reto Berra (one year at $700,000) — to support John Gibson.

Previous: 3

12

Instead of rebuilding, the Kings are trying to remain relevant in a division that’s getting faster, younger and tilting north. We like Rob Blake’s reasonable commitments to Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, and a million bucks for Mike Cammalleri could end up being the value buy of the summer. There is still way too much cap space tied up in long-past-their-prime forwards Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown (more than $10 million total), however, and this limits L.A.’s options.

Previous: 22

13

Kevin Cheveldayoff didn’t lose a thing in the expansion draft and made a relative UFA splash by acquiring 26-year-old defenceman Dmitry Kulikov, who’s ready for a bounce-back performance. The Jets finally addressed their goaltending situation by adding Steve Mason, who was probably their best bet having missed out on Brian Elliott, Marc-Andre Fleury or Ryan Miller. Time to snatch a wild-card spot.

Previous: 20

14

As much as we love the Jordan Eberle–for–Ryan Strome trade and the doubling down on Doug Weight, we can’t call this off-season a good one for the Islanders as long as John Tavares remains unsigned. (Props to Garth Snow for milking as much of a return as possible in the Travis Hamonic trade, though.)

Previous: 17

15

A mixed bag. With the state of the Devils’ blue line after trading away Adam Larsson and missing out on Kevin Shattenkirk, unsigned RFA Damon Severson should have plenty of leverage. Mike Cammalleri’s buyout was a surprise, and Ilya Kovalchuk’s KHL decision feels like a missed opportunity. We are a big fan of the Marcus Johansson acquisition, and any June with a lottery-won No. 1 pick (Nico Hischier) is a happy one. The Devils are still blessed with cap space, so Ray Shero might not be done yet.

Previous: 27

16

Connor McDavid deserves every penny he gets. It’s Leon Draisaitl’s deal that will require some finesse. Ryan Strome isn’t great return for Jordan Eberle, but we understand the salary-clearing. The Benoit Pouliot buyout appeared inevitable. And with Calgary bulking up on D, keeping Kris Russell was the right move (even if a lot of fans with Twitter accounts will disagree).

Previous: 10

17

The great Colton Parayko negotiation is still ongoing, and the result could swing the Blues’ position in these ranks. We like the younger returns Doug Armstrong recouped for Jori Lehtera (Brayden Schenn) and Ryan Reeves (stud Russian prospect Klim Kostin), but with Patrik Berglund out until December, the Blues need to beef up their wings.

Previous: 12

18

Love: Nabbing Nolan Patrick second overall, re-upping with promising UFA forward Jordan Weal for a cool $1.75-million cap hit, and scooping Brian Elliott (two years at $2.75 million) when his stock is low.
Don’t love: Unaddressed holes on defence with the departure of Michael Del Zotto. Six years of Shayne Gostisbehere at $4.5 million could haunt Ron Hextall or make him look like a savant. Too early to tell.

Previous: 19

19

The Wild got younger up front by dealing expensive Jason Pominville to Buffalo for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis, a couple of wings whose breakout we’ve been waiting on. But with Marco Scandella gone, we’re not sure they got any better. Tricky, franchise-defining extensions for RFAs Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter await.

Previous: 9

20

No shortage of change in Sunrise. Exposing Jonathan Marchessault, trading Reilly Smith to Vegas, and buying out Jussi Jokinen are all head-scratchers, but we agree it was time for Jaromir Jagr to make room for the millennials. A one-year chance on Radim Vrbata ($2.5 million) is fair, and the Evgeni Dadonov return intrigues us. The Cats got different, but did they get better? Much depends on how new bench boss Bob Boughner unites and deploys a group that appeared fractured and disinterested in April.

Previous: 23

21

As the Predators still await contracts for free agent forwards Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Austin Watson (not to mention UFA Mike Fisher), we can’t yet count a club that lost sniper James Neal and added centre Nick Bonino as dramatically improved.

Previous: 2

22

Joe stays, Patty goes. Though we love Thornton almost unconditionally, $8 million is no-joke money for a 38-year-old whose knee just got turned to Jell-O. Doug Wilson did the smart thing in locking up Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones, but with Marleau gone, we can’t say the Sharks improved this summer. Mikkel Boedker needs a rebound.

Previous: 13

23

The most dramatic overhaul of the summer sees the departure of core personalities Dave Tippett, Shane Doan, Mike Smith and Radim Vrbata. In comes Niklas Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan. Nice additions, both. But can you really contend for a playoff spot with a rookie head coach (Rick Tocchet) and the goalie tandem of Antti Raanta and Louis Domingue?

Previous: 28

24

Locking up Carey Price was a must, albeit an expensive one. Bringing in homegrown Jonathan Drouin is great for P.R., but we’re not sure the Habs got any better. GM Marc Bergevin surrendered his best trade chip (Sergachev) and still needs a puck-moving defenceman and a No. 1 centre. Not paying Alex Radulov the money Dallas gave him was the right thing, but unless Alex Galchenyuk becomes a force they trust, the Canadiens will lose their Atlantic title. Has Andrei Markov signed yet?

Previous: 7

25

Detroit’s fancy new seamless video screen is sexy. The roster less so. GM Ken Holland is preaching a run at the playoffs, but we don’t see it. Too much cap space is tied up in the crease ($9.3 million), and now the club’s relationship with scorer Tomas Tatar is on rocky footing.

Previous: 25

26

If the Ottawa Senators return to the conference finals after letting Vegas/Dallas take Marc Methot for nothing, I’ll eat this keyboard. Smart, modest commitments were made to shutdown centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau and potential Craig Anderson incumbent Mike Condon, but Pierre Dorion bungled the treatment of Dion Phaneuf—a guy they’ll need as Cody Ceci and Thomas Chabot take time to develop. (P.S. Kyle Turris can be re-signed long-term at any point now, a critical contract for this franchise.)

Previous: 4

27

Any off-season that begins with your second straight victory parade can’t be all bad. Still, the Pens lost chunks of their championship heart with the departures of Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Ron Hainsey, Chris Kunitz, Rick Tocchet, and did I miss anyone? Justin Schultz got taken care of, but RFAs Conor Sheary and Brian Dumoulin still need contracts. Not a fan of the Antti Niemi add, but I think Reaves is a massive upgrade from Tom Sestito in the bodyguard role. This team needs a 3C.

Previous: 1

28

The Bruins feel stuck. Boston lost a decent young D-man in Colin Miller to Vegas, bought out Jimmy Hayes’ bad contract, and let nice contributors like Drew Stafford and Dominic Moore slip away. We’re not sold on their goaltending or blue-line depth, and dynamic 21-year-old sniper David Pastrnak still needs a contract.

Previous: 14

29

Stan Bowman made good on his vow to make changes after an embarrassing Round 1 sweep to the 16th-seed Predators. Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Marcus Kruger, Brian Campbell, Scott Darling and (likely) Marian Hossa won’t play for the Hawks this season. Yikes. Brandon Saad, 24, and Patrick Sharp, 35, are back, but is that enough? This is how a salary cap can take down a giant.

Previous: 6

30

It’s July 19. Do you know who employs Matt Duchene? Colorado, still. The NHL’s last-place team found no relief in the draft lottery, and unless Jared Bednar can squeeze something out of Nail Yakupov that the Oilers and Blues could not, it’s difficult to picture the Avs being much better than they were in 2016-17.

Previous: 30

31

We can’t blame the Capitals for pushing all in for a Cup in ’17, but the aftermath hasn’t been pretty. Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt are all gone. After hefty, inevitable raises, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov now all make more than $5 million a season. Ouch.

Previous: 5