Now that we’re into the month of August, the NHL off-season is largely done.
Sure, there are still six weeks until training camps open. But most of the big moves have already happened, and we’ve settled into the dog days of summer when not much is going on.
Most teams have already done the majority of what they’re going to do. And it’s fair to say that some teams had more straightforward summers than others.
And so it’s time to break out the annual Bizarro-meter, in which we rank each team’s off-season based on just how strange it’s been.
Let’s be clear: “bizarre” does not necessarily mean “bad.” An unexpected move or two can work out great, while a conservative approach will often fail miserably.
We’re not judging how well each team performed here. We’re looking at how far out of the range of expectations they went.
So let’s look at each team’s major off-season moves, where “the off-season” is everything that happened after the team played its final game — whenever that ended up being. We’ll do this by division, and we’ll start off with the home of the defending Stanley Cup champs.
The off-season so far: As is typically the case for Stanley Cup champions, they saw some useful depth pieces depart due the salary cap concerns.
But their strangest move was: Not really losing anyone of consequence. That sounds harsh – sorry Jeff Zatkoff, Ben Lovejoy and Beau Bennett – but with the exception (so far) of Matt Cullen, the Pens really haven’t lost any key pieces of their championship roster. That includes Marc-Andre Fleury — at least for now.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.2/10.
There will be more moves to come, as some estimates puts the Penguins over the cap right now. But for now, a largely quiet off-season has been good news.
The off-season so far: It’s been pretty quiet. They swapped around some depth parts and traded for Lars Eller, and that’s about it.
But their strangest move was: Not overreacting to an early playoff exit with a bunch of firings, trades and general scapegoating.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.1/10.
To be clear, standing pat was absolutely the right approach. But given recent franchise history, it represents a change of direction.
The off-season so far: Their biggest move was trading Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad. They also said goodbye to a handful of veterans, including Eric Staal, Dan Boyle and Dominic Moore, clearing room to get Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes re-signed
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.4/10.
Remember when we said that bizarre wouldn’t necessarily mean bad? Some Rangers fans might be wishing that GM Jeff Gorton had made some more unexpected moves, like finding a taker for Rick Nash or (somehow) Dan Girardi. Instead, it’s been pretty standard stuff.
But their strangest move was: Weise probably got a little too much money. Still, whatever happened to the “offersheet Shea Weber” or “trade Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to make room for Ilya Bryzgalov” version of the Flyers?
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.3/10.
I’m still having trouble with the whole “Ron Hextall is calm and rationale” thing, but he clearly has a plan and is sticking to it.
The off-season so far: No team featured more prominently in the free agent market, with the Islanders both landing and losing big names. They signed one of the biggest available in Andrew Ladd, and also added P.A. Parenteau and Jason Chimera. But they lost Kyle Okposo, who headed to Buffalo, as well as Frans Neilsen (Detroit) and Matt Martin (Toronto). Add it all up, and did they get any better? I’m not sure they did.
But their strangest move was: As strange as it was to see a team undergo so much free agency churn, it was a player they kept that sticks out as the strangest. While it was overshadowed by the moves to come, bottom-six forward Casey Cizikas getting a five-year, $16.75-million deal is still a tough move to justify.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.5/10.
Oh, they may also be moving again. Things are never boring for the Islanders.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.7/10. That’s almost entirely for the shocking Hall trade which — it goes without saying — we’ll see again once we get to Edmonton.
The off-season so far: In June, they basically got Teuvo Teravainen from the Blackhawks for free by agreeing to eat Bryan Bickell‘s contract. It was an almost impossibly good deal, and they followed it up with some decent value signings. That continued a few years’ worth of sneaky-smart moves in Carolina. And they even resisted the urge to get all sentimental and bring back Eric Staal. These guys are geniuses!
But their strangest move was: Re-signing Cam Ward, who is no longer an especially good goaltender, to a multi-year deal. These guys are morons!
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.0/10.
I’m honestly not sure what’s going on in Carolina. Did you ever have a kid in your class who was so smart that it got awkward for everyone, so she’d occasionally flunk a test on purpose just to seem normal? That’s the best explanation I can come up with for the Ward signing.
The off-season so far: While they’ve yet to unload any of the big contracts clogging their cap situation, they created some room by buying out Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin. They used some of that room to sign franchise cornerstone Seth Jones to a team-friendly six-year deal.
But their strangest move was: Using the third overall pick in the draft to take a player who wasn’t in the consensus Big Three. Pierre-Luc Dubois is a good prospect who could well turn out to be better than Jesse Puljujarvi. But the pick was still a shocker. Even if Dubois was Jarmo Kekalainen’s guy, you’d think the Jackets would find a way to trade down a few spots first.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.4/10.
Give Kekalainen credit for having the courage to make a pick he had to know would open him up to criticism. But he’d better hope it works out.
The off-season so far: Not much. They signed Mikkel Boedker and that’s pretty much it.
But their strangest move was: None of their best players told the GM to “shut his mouth” and “stop lying.” That’s not all that strange, but it is a nice change of pace.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 1.8/10. After years of wavering between blowing it all up and staying the course, the Sharks have followed up a trip to the Final with a quiet summer. That seems reasonable.
But their strangest move was: Replacing head coach Bob Hartley with Glen Gulutzan may have been a little odd. But only a little.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.1/10. It’s tempting to rate this one “incomplete,” since the Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan extensions are the most important pieces here and neither is done yet. But so far, the Flames have had one of the league’s better off-seasons.
The off-season so far: They lost Milan Lucic to free agency and Vincent Lecavalier to retirement. They also added backup goalie Jack Campbell, who’ll play 20 good games behind their top-tier defensive system and then get flipped to a desperate team in some future off-season.
But their strangest move was: Stripping Dustin Brown of the captaincy, which isn’t usually a move you see elite Cup contenders making.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.2/10.
Brown’s situation is a mess, but giving the “C” to Anze Koptiar hardly feels all that bizarre. The Kings are close to capped out and can’t do much. They may not need to.
The off-season so far: They made a big splash in free agency, signing Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $36-million deal that makes them better today but carries some significant long-term risk. They also re-signed presumptive goaltender of the future Jacob Markstrom, but lost Dan Hamhuis to free agency.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.8/10. The Canucks’ off-season has been widely panned, with some even ranking it as the worst in the entire league. But strange? Not really. All you need to realize is that the Canucks still think they’re contenders. Once you accept that, everything they’ve been doing makes perfect sense.
(Are they contenders? No, of course not – the franchise is clearly delusional. But that makes them wrong, not particularly bizarre.)
Las Vegas TBDs
The off-season so far: They hired George McPhee. That’s it.
But their strangest move was: Existing in the first place.
6.2/10. There’s an NHL team in Las Vegas now. That’s going to take a long time before it stops sounding weird.
The off-season so far: After yet another disappointing Game 7 loss, GM Bob Murray fired Bruce Boudreau and suggested that the team’s core needs to be “held accountable.” But the roster hasn’t changed all that much yet, beyond shipping Frederik Andersen to Toronto. Even the long-rumoured Cam Fowler trade hasn’t happened yet.
But their strangest move was: Re-hiring Randy Carlyle. It’s rare to see a team bring back a coach they previously fired — although not unheard of. And, as you may have heard, Carlyle’s last coaching stint did not go well.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.2/10. In fairness, the contending Ducks are not the floundering Maple Leafs. But going from Boudreau to Carlyle doesn’t seem like an upgrade
The off-season so far: They signed Milan Lucic to a seven-year, $42-million contract that helps right now but will probably look bad by the back half of the deal. They also brought in Jonas Gustavsson as the new backup and had Puljujarvi fall into their lap at the draft.
But their strangest move was: The Hall for Larsson trade. On the surface, trading one of the league’s five best left wingers for an unproven defenceman seems like a disaster, and many fans (and more than a few experts) saw it that way.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.6/10. You’re expecting this to be higher, right? I was too. The Hall trade alone was one of the off-season’s strangest moves, and following it up with the massive Lucic contract felt like doubling down on a bad bet.
But here’s the thing: The Oilers are taking a massive risk here, but it’s one that makes sense. As I’ve written before, GM Peter Chiarelli was like the guy who desperately needed new brakes on his car so he could stop crashing into trees. At some point, you have to stop worrying about price and just get the job done. Cashing in Hall for Larsson was an overpayment, and so was the Lucic deal. But the Oilers couldn’t keep going back to the same core and expecting different results.
Their moves were high-risk. They may not have been especially wise. They were at least a little strange. But they did make a certain kind of sense.
The off-season so far: They aggressively targeted Alex Goligoski, then took Pavel Datsyuk off of Ken Holland’s hands. They also re-signed Shane Doan, and surprised everyone with this week’s buyout of Antoine Vermette.
But their strangest move was: Firing longtime GM Don Maloney, then promoting a replacement who became the youngest GM in NHL history.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 8.1/10.
The Coyotes have Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk on the roster and a GM who’s probably younger than you. Also, from now on when you refer to them as the team in the desert, people will say “which one?” This league can be weird sometimes.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.8/10. Nothing fancy, but the Jets’ future looks better today than it did four months ago.
But their strangest move was: Giving Eric Staal, who doesn’t look like he has much left in the tank, a three-year deal. But at an AAV of just $3.5 million, even that looked like a reasonable risk.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.1/10.
I’ll bump them up a few spots because the fact that Boudreau was available at all was somewhat bizarre, but the Wild have had a solid off-season.
The off-season so far: They traded away a very good young player and lost a bunch of depth because of a cap crunch. You know. Blackhawks stuff.
But their strangest move was: It was probably the Teravainen/Bickell deal, although getting Bryan Campbell to sign for a ridiculous discount was right up there.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.5/10.
Honestly, if any other team had this off-season, it would be ranked a point or two higher. But this is Chicago. Every year, we write them off because of the cap, and every year Stan Bowman finds a way to make it work.
But their strangest move was: Letting the Barrie situation getting to a hearing was strange. So was standing pat after Patrick Roy ripped the team’s core.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.9/10.
Given all the talk of a shakeup, the lack of action is mildly strange.
The off-season so far: They traded Elliott, finally ending a relationship where the trust factor just never seemed to match the numbers. They also lost Troy Brouwer and David Backes, but brought back David Perron, and never did get around to trading Kevin Shattenkirk despite everyone assuming they would.
But their strangest move was: Hiring a new head coach while the old head coach was still employed. Sure, it makes sense, but the whole Mike Yeo/Ken Hitchcock thing still feels odd.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.1/10.
It’s OK to admit that you’re kind of hoping that Hitchcock awkwardly changes his mind mid-season, right?
But their strangest move was: Not addressing the goaltending. If anything, by letting Campbell head to L.A., they got even worse.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.0/10.
GM Jim Nill keeps saying that he trusts his goalies, but nobody believes him — and this rating reflects that. If the Stars actually open the season with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi, bump this score up at least three more points.
The off-season so far: They got Filip Forsberg signed to an extension. But that’s not what anyone will remember.
But their strangest move was: This is obviously the Shea Weber-for-P.K. Subban blockbuster — a trade that saw them unload a potentially crippling contract while getting a younger and (many would say) better player in return.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 8.3/10.
There was no more shocking moment of the off-season than the first time you heard the words “Subban for Weber.” More on this deal in a bit.
But their strangest move was: They haven’t trade Ben Bishop yet, although there’s really no reason that they have to — at least for now.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 1.8/10. Eventful, yes. Bizarre, no. GM Steve Yzerman is good at his job, and also quite possibly a cyborg.
The off-season so far: They saw a bunch of depth guys come and go, but their two big moves were losing Eriksson to free agency and signing Backes.
But their strangest move was: Giving the veteran Backes five years seems like exactly the sort of mistake teams always make on July 1.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.9/10. All in all, pretty standard stuff by GM Don Sweeney and friends, which is probably welcome news after last summer.
The off-season so far: In what probably stands as their most important moment of the last decade, they won the lottery and drafted Auston Matthews first overall (then freaked everyone out by briefly appearing to play hardball on signing him). They also added Matt Martin and Roman Polak, but whiffed on Stamkos.
But their strangest move was: Trading for Andersen, and then giving him $25 million. The trade itself was fine – a little pricey, but fair value if Andersen turns into an above-average starter – but the timing was odd, given the glut of goalies expected to hit the market in advance of expansion. It signaled that the Leafs believe they’re closer to contending than some might think.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.2/10.
Much like the Bruins, Toronto fans will probably take this, given how some recent off-seasons have unfolded.
But their strangest move was: Trading Zibanejad and a second-round pick for Brassard. That’s a decent trade, but it’s the sort of move that you make when you’re in win-now mode. Then again, so was February’s Dion Phaneuf trade.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.6/10.
Here’s the question in Ottawa: what does “win now” mean? If it’s about the Cup, then the Senators still seem like they have a long way to go. If it’s about just making the playoffs and lasting a round or two, then is that really enough?
The off-season so far: They’ve been busy. They failed to land Stamkos, but did sign Okposo to a monster deal. They also traded for Dmitry Kulikov, and have had to deal with the ongoing Evander Kane situation.
But their strangest move was: Trading for the rights to Jimmy Vesey. Not because the deal itself was odd – it was a smart gamble by Tim Murray, even if it doesn’t work – but because the entire Vesey situation has been unusual. It’s rare to see a drafted college player get to free agency, and the rumours of backroom deals have cast an even bigger spotlight on a very good prospect.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.2/10.
Higher if Vesey signs with Toronto six minutes after hitting the market and every Sabres fan loses their mind.
The off-season so far: They were yet another Atlantic team that made room for Stamkos and didn’t land him. They also dumped Datsyuk’s contract in a move that, despite initial concerns, turned out not to cost them much of anything. The combination of those two moves left them with plenty of cap space to work with.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.5/10. Ken Holland is tough to figure out. As best I can tell, fans in Detroit don’t trust him much anymore, while everyone else still thinks he’s one of the league’s best. His work so far this off-season has been… interesting.
The off-season so far: They were one of the busiest teams in the league, adding Keith Yandle, James Reimer and Jason Demers. They also locked up Aaron Ekblad, traded for Mark Pysyk and made the Gudbranson deal with Vancouver.
But their strangest move was: Doing all of that with a new front office, even though they were coming off a great year. The whole Dale Tallon “promotion” was a confusing situation, one that included several respected names being let go.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 8.5/10.
If this is how the organization reacts to a good season, imagine what happens if all this summer’s moves go bad.
The off-season so far: They solidified the backup spot by adding Al Montoya. That was pretty much it.
But their strangest move was: Oh, right, the Subban trade. The deal was a mysterious one, partly because the Canadiens keep hinting that there’s more to the trade but won’t say what, and GM Marc Bergevin has been hammered for making it. Analytics types hate the deal, including the Canadiens’ own expert, whose contract was not renewed shortly after the trade, and then went public with harsh criticism of the move.
But still… character counts, right? That seemed to be the message out of Montreal, right up until the team went out and signed notorious problem child Alexander Radulov. They also added Andrew Shaw, a good player who has two Cup rings from Chicago but was also fined and suspended during the playoffs for using a slur and making obscene gestures at officials. But the guy who gives millions to a children’s hospital is the problem?
Bizarro-meter ranking: 9.4/10.
Hey, maybe this all works out. Weber’s an all-star, Shaw can help, and baggage aside, Radulov’s talent makes him a smart gamble. Assuming Carey Price is healthy, the Habs are a near-lock to be much better next year.
But all that said, it’s awfully hard to figure out what Bergevin is trying to do here, and his refusal to get into specifics, while laudable, isn’t helping confused fans. If he really did choose Michel Therrien over Subban, that seems like the sort of move that could end in disaster – especially if the team struggles again and has to consider a coaching change.
Again, maybe everything comes together and Bergevin comes out of this looking like a genius. But we’re not judging good or bad here – we’re looking for the league’s strangest off-season. And there’s really no question that Montreal’s mixed messages earned them that title.