Not that long ago, the Fourth of July was actually kind of late in the off-season despite falling just three days after the start of free agency.
That’s changed in the past couple of years as a flat salary cap messes with the market and free agents are finding out on the fly what kind of world they’re wandering into as opposed to having a pretty solid idea of how things are going to go at 12:01 p.m. on Canada Day.
This year also features a glut of guys playing for Canadian teams — Connor Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele, Alex DeBrincat, Noah Hanifin — who figure to be traded at some point this summer, to say nothing of the ongoing Erik Karlsson sweepstakes. Yes, the moving and shaking could last well into 2023’s hottest days.
Still, a lot has happened since the Vegas Golden Knights hoisted the Cup three weeks ago, with the NHL Draft and the opening bell of free agency now in the rearview mirror. So while other dominoes are still teetering, let’s identify some early winners and losers from the off-season.
The Jackets weren’t waiting around for anything to fall in their lap — as Johnny Gaudreau did last summer — acquiring the rights to defencemen Ivan Provorov and Damon Severson while playoff hockey was still being contested. Provorov is signed for two more seasons with L.A. eating a portion of his salary after a three-way deal, while the right-shooting Severson — who could have opted for free agency — is now inked to be around for eight years.
At the draft, Adam Fantilli slipped to Columbus at third overall and he’s already got his name on an entry-level deal.
After last year’s injury-riddled debacle, you can bet Jackets fans are already counting down the days to October.
Matt Duchene is one year removed from a 43-43-86 campaign, so when he became a surprise addition to the UFA market — having been bought out on June 30 by Nashville — it was an incredible piece of business by Dallas to add him on a one-year, $3-million contract. The Stars also inked deadline pickup Evgenii Dadonov to a two-year deal worth a total of $4.5 million and he could provide solid value at that number. The Stars forward group can pretty much hang with anyone right now.
We’re doing this with the assumption Vladimir Tarasenko will officially join the Canes in the next little while. Carolina didn’t acquire the elite offensive player you’d love to see the squad get, but adding Tarasenko and scrappy Michael Bunting should help the team find more goals. And if the former can reach back for one of those vintage 35-goal seasons, the Canes will really be in business.
Carolina also grabbed one of the top free agent D-men available in Dmitry Orlov and GM Don Waddell did some important work by re-upping captain Jordan Staal — one of the best defensive centres in the game — and keeping his tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta in place.
Get ready to see Ryan Johansen go way earlier in your fantasy draft than he has been in recent years. You know that No. 2 hole in Colorado could be a perfect fit for him and the Avs, of course, are only playing half his salary for the remaining one year on his contract. It’s a great low-risk bet.
Speaking of your fantasy draft, late-round flyer on Jonathan Drouin, anyone? There might not be a player in the league who was more in need of a scenery change than Drouin, who’s now in a perfect spot to prove he can yet be a relevant offensive player in a middle-six role.
Drouin, of course, came from Montreal and sending Alex Newhook to the Canadiens returned Colorado the 31st and 37th picks in the draft. The Avalanche used the first one to take high-upside D-man Mikhail Gulyayev and the second to snag centre Ross Colton from Tampa Bay.
These additions minus a Stanley Cup hangover could make for a great year in Denver.
New Jersey Devils
When the Devils acquired Timo Meier at the trade deadline, they did so without subtracting a top-flight player from their prospect cupboard. It was a great deal in the moment and looks even better now that Meier inked an eight-year extension to stay in Jersey just before the first round of the draft.
One day before that, GM Tom Fitzgerald nabbed noted playoff performer Tyler Toffoli from the Calgary Flames for Yegor Sharangovich, who basically fell off the map in the second half of this past year. Toffoli is coming off a career-best 34-goal season and, even though it sort of feels like he’s been around forever, the right winger just turned 31 at the start of the playoffs.
The fact alone that Philly, under GM Daniel Briere, is embracing a full rebuild is reason enough to feel good for Flyers supporters. Getting Russian scoring whiz Matvei Michkov in the No. 7 slot at the draft could turn out to be a franchise-defining moment for Philly, even if it’s going to feel like he’s playing on another planet for the next three-plus seasons.
But Michkov wasn’t the lone intriguing pickup at the draft. Briere used the first-rounder acquired in the three-way Provorov trade to snag defenceman Oliver Bonk at No. 22 and Bonk’s London Knights teammate, center Denver Barkey, might be a steal at 95th overall.
It’s a new day in Philadelphia.
Ideally, you get on the winners list by landing a big fish. In the case of the Jets, though, it’s by deftly playing the cards you were dealt. The haul for Pierre-Luc Dubois — headlined by Gabe Vilardi — was masterful work by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff under less-than-ideal circumstances.
It also feels like the Jets secured a future captain in Colby Barlow at 18th overall in the draft.
The Kings actually probably deserve to land in the middle ground between our rigid categories because, as it stands, they’ll enter the season with a battery of Pheonix Copley and Cam Talbot that does not obviously improve on the team’s Achilles heal last year.
That said, the big price for Dubois was something L.A. could afford and the squad managed to keep deadline acquisition Vladislav Gavrikov around on a two-year deal. Put it this way; had (or should) GM Rob Blake snag a top-flight tender, the Kings would rocket to the head of the winners class.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Tyler Bertuzzi was the bell of the free-agent ball in terms of wingers who combine oomph with offence, and next year he’ll be in Blue and White. That’s enough to get you winner status, even if there remains some critical negotiating to do with Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Ilya Samsonov.
I mean, you could call Nashville a winner given it came away with one of the top free agent centres in Ryan O’Reilly. Really, the best category for the Preds might be, “Well…I guess.”
There was just such a great opportunity for a clean slate with Barry Trotz taking over and it seemed like, when Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene were shipped out, Nashville was turning the page. Instead, Trotz brought in O’Reilly and fellow early-30s heart-and-soul guy Luke Schenn. Sure, Nashville could challenge for a playoff spot, especially with Juuse Saros in goal. It’s just that, it’s really hard to see it doing anything beyond squeezing into the playoffs this year, next year and for any number of seasons beyond that.
Maybe it’s because we’re kind of conditioned to seeing Boston acquire and keep pending-UFAs (see Lindholm, Hampus) around, but it was a mild surprise to see both Orlov and Bertuzzi walk out the door — especially after Boston cleared up some space by shipping Taylor Hall to Chicago.
Had Bertuzzi known what the lay of the land was going to be, he might have inked a deal similar to the one he signed in Toronto to stay with Boston. But the B’s had already pivoted and awesome as it is to see Milan Lucic returning to New England, it’s hard to argue things have worked out best for Boston so far.
You sort of hoped Calgary could douse multiple fires simply by firing Daryl Sutter and replacing him with Ryan Huska, but that’s not really how things have gone. Noah Hanifin is almost certainly out and we’ll see how things go with Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund, as all three guys are 12 months away from being able to test the open market.
All we know is — as the return for Toffoli — Sharangovich better rediscover his touch in Calgary because Toffoli is the kind of playoff performer teams surely would have ponied up a first-rounder for had Calgary gone that route.