It’s September and training camp is just a few weeks away, meaning for all intents and purposes the NHL off-season is over. The key decisions have been made, the big moves have gone down, and we have more than enough information to separate the winners from the losers, and the good off-seasons from the bad ones.
But there’s another way to look at it, and it’s with a question we like to break out every year around this time: Who had the most bizarre off-season?
To be clear, bizarre doesn’t necessarily have to mean bad. In today’s ultra-conservative NHL, taking the most predictable approach is often the worst possible strategy, with more than a few teams over the years playing it safe and coming to regret it. And sometimes a little bit of creativity can work out just fine, even if it leaves us scratching our heads at the time.
But there’s still something fun about watching a team make its way through the off-season and wondering: Wait, what are they doing?
So today, let’s dust off the Bizarre-o-meter and hook it up to all 31 NHL teams division-by-division to see which ones did the best of job of keeping us on our toes and giving us something to talk about over the summer.
The off-season so far: They said goodbye to Colin Wilson in a trade, James Neal in expansion and captain Mike Fisher via retirement. They did lock up Ryan Johansen, albeit at a pricey $8-million cap hit for the next eight years.
But their strangest move was: Giving Nick Bonino more than $4 million a season on a four-year deal seemed like an overpayment for a veteran middle-sixer in an otherwise stingy free agent market.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.6/10. Nothing all that strange here, in an off-season that turned out to be marginally less exciting than last year’s.
The off-season so far: Chuck Fletcher pulled off a four-player deal with the Sabres that saw him add Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno. He also signed UFA Matt Cullen, and got Mikael Granlund locked up on a three-year bridge deal.
But their strangest move was: Wriggling out of a tricky expansion-draft dilemma for the relatively cheap price of Erik Haula and prospect Alex Tuch. Given that they stood to lose a guy like Mathew Dumba or Eric Staal, that was a win.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.8/10. The Wild did well to avoid an expansion disaster. Now the question is whether they’re actually any better.
The off-season so far: After missing the playoffs, the Stars are clearly looking to reload. They added Alexander Radulov, Martin Hanzal and Marc Methot, and finally got around to trading for Ben Bishop a year after we all thought they would.
But their strangest move was: Bringing back Ken Hitchcock for a second stint as head coach.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.5/10. Recycling a Cup-winning coach worked OK for the Ducks last year. Beyond that, it was lots of news, but nothing all that unusual.
The off-season so far: They’ve been largely quiet, although they did fire four assistant coaches and get Brayden Schenn from the Flyers.
But their strangest move was: Trading fourth-liner Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh for a first-round pick. Reaves was a fan favourite, but that’s a heck of a haul for a guy with 51 points over a seven-year career.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.1/10. Sure, Schenn will help, but will it be enough to offset the devastating loss of Nail Yakupov? Time will tell.
The off-season so far: The biggest move saw them upgrade their goaltending, replacing Ondrej Pavelec with free agent Steve Mason on a two-year with a $4.1 million cap hit.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.2/10. Did they overpay on both Mason and Kulikov? Sure. But let’s be honest — the Jets have never been an especially enticing destination for free agents. They probably have to overpay to land the guys they want, and since Kevin Cheveldayoff continues to cling to his no-trading policy, the upgrades have to come from somewhere.
The off-season so far: Stan Bowman played his annual game of Dodge The Salary Cap, and this year that meant trading Niklas Hjalmarsson. They also brought back two former Hawks, with Patrick Sharp signing as a UFA and Brandan Saad returning from Columbus in a deal for Artemi Panarin.
But their strangest move was: The Marian Hossa saga. The star winger will take the year off due to a skin disorder, and his career could be over. While cynics might see it as a convenient cap dodge, we still don’t know how it will impact the four years left on Hossa’s deal.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.2/10. The roster is straining under the weight of some massive contracts, and on paper they should be worse than last year’s team that failed to win a playoff game. Bowman has kept the team a contender for longer than he probably should have been able to; let’s see if he can keep it up for another year at least.
The off-season so far: It’s been relatively quiet. They bought out Francois Beauchemin, made a handful of low-risk pickups and landed NCAA free agent Alex Kerfoot. Beyond that, not much. Hey, if it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
But their strangest move was: Not trading Matt Duchene. Joe Sakic chose not to pull the trigger at the deadline — or do much of anything, really — and we all figured he’d get a better price in the summer. But the deal didn’t happen then either, and now it’s September and Duchene is still twisting in the wind.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 8.5/10. It would be one thing if the team had changed its mind on moving Duchene. But there’s little indication that’s the case, and reports now have the player getting frustrated. At some point, Sakic is going to have to either work harder to find a team willing to meet his price, or lower his expectations to get a deal done. Until then, the league’s worst team is apparently content to hold onto its best trade chip until… well, at this point, we’re not really sure.
The off-season so far: The biggest move was replacing Willie Desjardins behind the bench with AHL coach Travis Green. They lost Ryan Miller, but added Sam Gagner, Alex Burmistrov and Thomas Vanek on cheap-ish deals.
But their strangest move was: Not getting Bo Horvat‘s deal done yet? I don’t know — there’s actually not all that much to choose from.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.4/10. They made a bunch of relatively low-risk moves to bolster a rebuilding roster that will need time to improve. That sounds pretty reasonable, to be honest.
But their strangest move was: Giving Cam Fowler a max-length deal with a $6.5 million cap hit. He had a strong season, but that’s a big contract for a team already tied down with plenty of them.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.2/10. The expansion draft could have been worse, although you wonder if they’ll regret not just buying out Kevin Bieksa.
But their strangest move was: Not re-signing Patrick Marleau, who bolted for the Maple Leafs.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.5/10. We figured that they’d lose one of Marleau of Thornton, if not both. But man, it’s going to take some getting used to seeing the nineteen-year veteran in another uniform.
The off-season so far: After years of rebuilding, it seems like the Coyotes might prefer to win a few games this year. They traded for Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan, parting with some of their stockpile of prospects on the process. They also replaced coach Dave Tippett with Rick Tocchet.
But their strangest move was: The retirement of Shane Doan. We all knew it was coming, but seeing the Coyotes without their long-time captain is going to be weird.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.2/10. They should be better. Will it be enough to contend for a playoff spot? Not this year, but you have to start somewhere.
The off-season so far: Short of saying goodbye to deadline rentals Jarome Iginla and Ben Bishop, they didn’t change the roster all that much. That’s a bit unusual for teams that miss the playoffs.
But their strangest move was: Firing Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter. Two Cups buys you a lot of loyalty, but apparently not an unlimited amount.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.3/10. In turning the front office over to Rob Blake and Luc Robitaille, the Kings become the latest in a long line of teams to decide that the best possible candidates for the job just happen to be former star players. Here’s hoping that works out better than it did in Colorado or Edmonton.
The off-season so far: They landed Travis Hamonic, strengthening what was already one of the best blue lines in the league, managed to re-sign pending UFAs Michael Stone and Kris Versteeg, and nabbed college prospect Spencer Foo. But Sam Bennett still needs a deal, and they haven’t signed Jaromir Jagr yet, even though everyone wants them too.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.0/10. They’re a good goaltender or two away from contending, but Smith and Lack don’t necessarily seem like an upgrade over Brian Elliott. Maybe the gamble works, or maybe the blue line is good enough that it won’t matter. There seems to be plenty of optimism out there.
The off-season so far: They traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, re-signed Kris Russell and bought out Benoit Pouliot. But the biggest news was locking down Connor McDavid with a massive $100-million extension.
But their strangest move was: Giving Leon Draisaitl a $68-million deal. McDavid is a virtual lock to earn every penny of his deal and then some. Draisaitl is a much bigger gamble, given his comparables.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.2/10. Re-signing your own stars isn’t all that bizarre; these days, it’s expected. But we’ve never seen a team throw around this much money on players this young.
The off-season so far: They began to exist, via the June expansion draft that finally gave them a real roster. Other than that, pretty quiet.
But their strangest move was: That whole “stockpiling all the defencemen” strategy, which was meant to stir up the trade market but so far hasn’t yielded all that much.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 8.0/10. There is now a real live NHL team is Las Vegas. It doesn’t get much more bizarre than that.
The off-season so far: They haven’t done much of anything beyond signing Trevor Daley. Given Ken Holland’s recent track record in the UFA market, we’ll call that a win.
But their strangest move was: Exposing Petr Mrazek in the expansion draft, I guess, although they didn’t end up losing him.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.7/10. The Wings still seem reluctant to accept reality and embrace a full rebuild, but at least they’re not doing anything silly to try to load up for a playoff push.
The off-season so far: It’s been largely quiet, with a handful of minor free agents coming and going but no major changes to the roster.
But their strangest move was: Not signing David Pastrnak. Not only have they failed to get a deal done for the talented young RFA, there was even talk of trading him. The Bruins trading a young star right as he enters his prime? What could go wrong?
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.5/10. Those trade rumours were quickly shot down, so nobody panic… yet.
The off-season so far: Another quiet one. Johnny Oduya has been the big addition; they spent most of their time re-signing guys from last year’s surprise run to the conference final.
But their strangest move was: Not figuring out a way to keep Methot. Dion Phaneuf‘s NMC played a role here, obviously, but other teams were able to trade their way out of expansion-draft trouble.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.0/10. We can’t say the Senators blew it on Methot without knowing what the Knights were asking for, but losing the well-respected veteran will sting.
The off-season so far: They finally traded Jonathan Drouin and added some veteran help in Chris Kunitz. And, because this is Steve Yzerman, they got some of their top players re-signed on surprisingly reasonable deals.
But their strangest move was: Signing Dan Girardi to a two-year, $6-million deal. You sell at the deadline and miss the playoffs by one point to create cap space for… this?
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.1/10. Everyone assumes the Lightning will rebound and contend for the division title, and they probably will. But on paper, they’re not actually any better than last year’s team.
But their strangest move was: Signing Marleau. The former Shark has been a great player for two decades and will provide plenty of leadership and at least a little offensive punch. But giving three years at a $6-million hit to a 37-year-old seems risky, especially for a team that’s two years away from a big cap crunch.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 6.7/10. It’s strange enough to see a team that was dead last a year ago shift into win-now mode. But it makes sense — the Leafs really do have a window right now. It’s just hard to see much upside on the Marleau signing for a team that was already strong on the wing.
The off-season so far: The focus has been on the blue line, where Kulikov is out and Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu are in. Speaking of defencemen, Hall of Famer Phil Housley steps behind the bench as the new coach.
But their strangest move was: Firing Tim Murray. We all knew Dan Bylsma’s seat was red hot, but seeing his GM walk the plank too was unexpected.
The off-season so far: They signed Radim Vrbata, bought out Jussi Jokinen, brought back Evgeni Dadonov from the KHL and closed the door on Jagr. They also didn’t torpedo their entire front office, which after last summer we’ll count as progress.
But their strangest move was: The truly weird way they handled the expansion draft. They not only lost 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault, they apparently gave up Reilly Smith to make sure it happened. That’s two-thirds of a decent scoring line gone, from a team that already struggled offensively.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.0/10. Teams that miss the playoffs aren’t supposed to get hammered by expansion drafts, but here we are.
The off-season so far: They extended Carey Price, which was the most important job. They also landed Drouin, then gave Ales Hemsky a low-risk deal and Karl Alzner a high-risk one. But they said goodbye to Andrei Markov, Radulov and Beaulieu, among others.
But their strangest move was: Not adding a top-six centre, which was supposed to top the off-season shopping list. Maybe Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk gets a shot at the job. Or maybe Marc Bergevin heads into yet another season looking for help down the middle.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.2/10. So far, the reviews have not been kind. But whichever way you lean, it’s certainly never boring in Montreal.
The off-season so far: They upgraded their goaltending by trading for Hawks backup Scott Darling, then gave him a four-year deal. They also picked up Marcus Krueger on the cheap via the Knights.
But their strangest move was: Signing Justin Williams, since we figured he’d want to go to a playoff contender. Then again, after this offseason the Hurricanes might be one.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.4/10. It’s been a busy summer, but not an especially strange one for a team that finally seems set to make a postseason push.
The off-season so far: They bought out Scott Hartnell and flipped Saad back to Chicago for Panarin, but lost Gagner to free agency.
But their strangest move was: Trading David Clarkson. That move cost them plenty, including first and second-round draft picks, but getting out of the three years left on that contract is big.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.8/10. Like the Hurricanes, the Jackets generated some headlines but everything made sense.
But their strangest move was: Adding Elliott in net, only because it seemed to make a lot of sense. This is the Flyers goaltending. Something has to go wrong.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.9/10. Ron Hextall’s slow-and-steady approach continues for another season.
The off-season so far: It’s been a busy one, highlighted by winning the draft lottery and landing Nico Hischier with the top pick. They also bought out Mike Cammalleri and Devante Smith-Pelly, signed Brian Boyle and landed top college free agent Will Butcher.
But their strangest move was: Getting Marcus Johansson from the cap-strapped Capitals for pennies on the dollar.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.2/10. Their off-season featured more than a few wins. Their upcoming regular season… probably not so much.
The off-season so far: They’ve made some major changes, including buying out Girardi, signing Kevin Shattenkirk and even bringing in Pavelec.
But their strangest move was: The trade with the Coyotes, which seemed to send mixed messages about whether the Rangers are looking to win now or down the road.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.1/10. Keeping one eye on the present and one on the future is certainly possible, and maybe even ideal. It’s a tricky path to navigate, though.
The off-season so far: Last year, the Penguins went into the off-season as defending champs and managed to essentially keep the roster intact. No such luck this year; after pulling off the repeat, they’ve lost plenty of important supporting pieces, including Bonino, Cullen, Kunitz and (maybe most notably) Marc-Andre Fleury. None of those guys were core pieces these days, but that’s a lot of depth to lose in one summer.
But their strangest move was: Trading a first-round pick for tough guy Reaves in a deal that was widely panned.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.9/10. Powerhouse teams are supposed to lose guys – that’s life in a cap world. The good news is that the Penguins still look like Eastern Conference favourites.
The off-season so far: They made a pair of big trades, adding Eberle and shipping out Hamonic. They also paid a bigger price than anyone else when it came to bribing the Golden Knights, then basically sat out free agency.
But their strangest move was: Not extending John Tavares yet. Yes, every Islanders fan is sick of hearing about this story, but it’s gong to linger over everything they do until the situation is resolved one way or another.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 7.2/10. In terms of player movement, the off-season was quieter than expected for a team coming off a disappointing playoff miss. As much as almost anyone, the Islanders feel like a team that can’t be done quite yet.
The off-season so far: The lost UFAs Shattenkirk, Williams and Karl Alzner, which at least cleared up some cap space. They also lost Nate Schmidt to the Golden Knights after failing to figure out a way to keep George McPhee away from the young blueliner.
But their strangest move was: Spending most of that cap space on a big deal for UFA T.J. Oshie and a massive one for RFA Evgeny Kuznetsov, so much so that they had to turn around and all but give away Johansson.
Bizarro-meter ranking: 8.7/10. Yet another playoff crash-and-burn had fans calling for major changes. But instead of GM Brian MacLellan breaking up the roster, the salary cap largely did it for him. Now the underachieving core is still in place, while key pieces all around them have departed. That seems less than ideal for a team whose window is rapidly closing, if it hasn’t slammed shut already.