Whenever a team makes big off-season moves, the cranks out there are quick to remind us that Stanley Cups are won in June, not the first day of free agency. (Well…you know.)
Sure, you can’t secure your rings simply by making a few splashy moves, but the heavy lifting when it comes to roster building is done around the draft and free agency. So regardless of how things play out, clear off-season victors like the Buffalo Sabres, $61-million dollar man Alex Pietrangelo and the bigger, stronger, locked-in-Brendan-Gallagher Montreal Canadiens can all take a bow.
But what about teams and players who scored smaller wins? With nearly two weeks now gone since the start of the real off-season wheeling and dealing, we thought it was worth a second look at some of the moves that got lost in the shuffle of Taylor Hall choosing Western New York and Vegas alienating half its roster as it pursued options to clear cap space for Pietrangelo.
Now that the initial roar has died down, the second round of applause for…
To be clear, Jacob Markstrom signing a six-year, $36-million pact with the Flames is a huge deal and was acknowledged as such. It’s understood this was one of the more significant things that happened in the early stages of free agency and makes Calgary better. That said, I don’t think the Flames are roundly praised enough for this play thanks to the maddening phenomenon of contract analysis without context.
We all know you don’t want to spend too much money on goaltending; we all know Markstrom will turn 36 during the final year of his contract. I’m sure Calgary would position itself to win the 2026 Cup, but what they’re really trying to do is get one now. The steamy, chewy sourdough loaf I buy out of the oven at my bakery will be mouldy by the weekend, but I don’t care because I’m devouring most of it in 48 hours.
Calgary’s five-on-five save percentage the past three seasons combined ranks 21st in the league. Markstrom's even-strength save percentage in the past three years is .922, a mark bested by just three stoppers in the NHL who appeared in at least 150 games during that span. Also, Calgary not only snagged the former Vancouver tender from a Pacific Division foe, but the Flames also outbid their hated provincial rival to the north for his services. I’d be curious how many Calgarians have said the sentence, “I wish we would spend more prudently on goalies so Markstrom could play for the Edmonton Oilers.”
You can always take your shot finding value guys on the annual goalie carousel, but there’s something to be said for sitting out that frantic scene because you’re set at the position that can still break your heart like no other.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ acquisition of blue-liner Mike Matheson from Florida, to some degree, reminds me of what the club did in the months leading up to its “we’re back!” championship in 2016. General Manager Jim Rutherford, in moves that drew little fanfare and involved defencemen who had fallen out of favour, picked up Trevor Daley from the Chicago Blackhawks in December of that season, then snagged Justin Schultz from Edmonton at the trade deadline. The only Penguin who averaged more ice time in the 2016 playoffs than Daley was Kris Letang. The next spring, with Letang sidelined by an injury, Schultz led all Pens defencemen with 13 post-season points.
I’m not putting that kind of pressure on Matheson, who has seven years to go with a $4.9-million AAV, but I like the calculated swing. The bounce-back potential for a 26-year-old who had lost his way in Florida is enticing.
Cody Ceci gets kicked around, but signing him as a right-shot, third-pair guy on the cheap for one year works fine for me.
Devils' low-risk, high reward moves
Ryan Murray is not going to turn into Scott Niedermayer, but why not spend a fifth-round pick for a 26-year-old defenceman drafted second overall in 2012 with one year left on his contract who has had horrible injury luck? Great non-gamble.
Corey Crawford had some very solid numbers last season and while I don’t completely get the fit from the goalie’s side of things, he should make a wonderful battery mate for MacKenzie Blackwood and allow the New Jersey Devils to see exactly what they have in the latter. Crawford has a no-trade clause in Year 1 that shifts to an eight-team no-trade list in Year 2. If he performs well and the Devils still aren’t a playoff contender 18 months from now, they could move him at the 2022 deadline for something decent.
Former Toronto Maple Leaf Andreas Johnsson is a speedy add for a club looking to inject youthful skill.
Kings giving Andersson fresh start
The headliner is obviously drafting six-foot-four Quinton Byfield second overall two weeks ago, but I also like the small bit of business GM Rob Blake did picking up Lias Andersson — the seventh overall pick in 2017 — from the New York Rangers for the 60th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Rebuilds should always include a second-chance flier or two and the Swede who infamously chucked his silver medal into the stands a few World Junior Championships ago just never meshed with the Blueshirts. Andersson can put up or shut up in California, and I agree with the Los Angeles Kings’ approach of giving him a platform to do the former.
Bobby Ryan and the Red Wings
Everyone in hockey is rooting for Bobby Ryan to re-discover his game in a new locale. The former Senators forward can leave all that contract baggage behind and start anew on a team that can provide him plenty of quality ice.
It will be a long climb out of the basement for Detroit, but adding pros like Marc Staal, Thomas Greiss, Troy Stecher and Vladislav Namestnikov means the Wings won’t roll over against anybody.