After going through a two-month ordeal to complete the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton, 31 National Hockey League clubs returned to some normalcy by making trades and signing free agents to remake their rosters for the 2020-21 regular season.
Unlike previous years, where general managers had the benefit of an increased salary cap due to $5 billion in annual league revenue, clubs were hampered by the $81.5 million salary cap staying flat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not stop them from making moves that may turn out to be consequential when the season begins in January or February.
Here is an evaluation of what changes clubs in the Atlantic Division made:
In – Greg McKegg, Craig Smith
Out – Torey Krug, Joakim Nordstrom
Unsigned – Zdeno Chara, Jake DeBrusk
The Bruins are looking like they will take a step back after posting the league’s best record prior to the pause. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are expected to miss the start of next year after off-season surgeries, GM Don Sweeney refused to make an exception in the club’s salary structure to pay big money to re-sign Krug, to this point has not re-signed RFA Debrusk and the future of team captain Chara is still in question.
Boston will attempt to replace Krug internally with Matt Grzelcyk taking on a bigger role, but their offseason moves of replacing Nordstrom with McKegg and adding free agent Smith will not have a big impact.
Grade – C-
In – Cody Eakin, Taylor Hall, Matt Irwin, Tobias Rieder, Eric Staal
Out – Marcus Johansson, Dominik Kahun, Johan Larsson, Wayne Simmonds, Vladimir Sobotka, Jimmy Vesey
The Sabres ninth straight season without making the playoffs resulted in Jason Botterill being fired and replaced by Kevyn Adams. The rookie GM filled the gaping hole at second-line center with the swap of Johansson for Staal and made the biggest splash in free agency by signing former Hart Trophy winner Hall to a one-year, $8 million contract.
Buffalo used a significant chunk of their cap space to re-sign RFA’s Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, Brandon Montour and Linus Ullmark, and bring back Zemgus Girgensons, but their other moves were mostly re-shuffling the bottom six with the additions of Eakin and Rieder.
Grade – B
DETROIT RED WINGS
In – Thomas Greiss, Jon Merrill, Vladislav Namestnikov, Bobby Ryan, Marc Staal, Troy Stecher
Out – Trevor Daley, Justin Abdelkader, Madison Bowey, Jonathan Ericsson, Johan Franzen, Jimmy Howard
The Red Wings have a long road ahead after their league-worst 17-49-3 record last season. GM Steve Yzerman wisely is not rushing prospects Moritz Seider or Joe Veleno to the NHL and using his available cap space to acquire assets and add support players on short-term deals.
Detroit got a second-round pick from New York to take on the final year of Staal’s deal, signed Greiss and Namestnikov to two-year deals, added Ryan after Ottawa bought the Masterton Trophy winner out, and brought in Stecher after Vancouver passed on qualifying him.
Grade – B-
In – Radko Gudas, Vinnie Hinostroza, Patric Hornqvist, Markus Nutivaara, Carter Verhaeghe
Out – Josh Brown, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Matheson, Mark Pysyk, Colton Sceviour, Lucas Wallmark, Brian Boyle, Erik Haula, Mike Hoffman
Unsigned – Henrik Borgstrom
New Panthers GM Bill Zito made some bold moves out of the gate, trading the albatross contract of Matheson along with Sceviour to Pittsburgh for Hornqvist and adding Nutivaara in exchange for minor-leaguer Cliff Pu.
Veteran Gudas replaces the departed Pysyk and Florida added depth forwards in Hinostroza and Verhaeghe, but to this point has not replaced the 54 goals that Dadonov (who signed with Ottawa) and Hoffman (unsigned) scored last season.
Grade – C
Out – Max Domi
The Habs were one of the few clubs that had the combination of extra draft picks and cap space and GM Marc Bergevin used that to his advantage in trading for Allen to back up Carey Price and acquiring the negotiating rights of Edmundson from Carolina before the blueliner hit free agency.
Montreal extended veterans Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher, and signed Toffoli to add some much-needed scoring punch, but took a calculated risk by swapping Domi for Anderson (who scored one goal in 26 games for Columbus last season) and extending the oft-injured winger for seven years.
Grade – B+
In – Evgenii Dadonov, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Gudbranson, Micheal Haley, Austin Watson, Josh Brown, Matt Murray
Out – Mikkel Boedker, Mark Borowiecki, Craig Anderson, Ron Hainsey
The Senators have a promising young core group led by Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, and Colin White, and GM Pierre Dorion’s offseason task was to add some depth and experience to take some of the pressure off of them.
Ottawa bolstered their blueline in trades with Anaheim and Florida to acquire Gudbranson and Brown, added size on the wing with the acquisition of Watson, and signing of a top-six winger in Dadonov, but the biggest move was the deal for two-time Stanley Cup winner Murray to take over for Anderson as the #1 goalie and signing the 26-year-old to a four-year extension.
Grade – B
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
In – None
Out – Zach Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk, Carter Verhaeghe
Unsigned – Erik Cernak, Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev
Lightning GM Julien BriseBois did not have much time to celebrate his Cup victory before being faced with the dilemma of how to get players looking for new contracts signed and staying under the cap. Tampa could not get any cap relief from placing Tyler Johnson on waivers and over a month into free agency still do not have the space to get Cernak, Cirelli, and Sergachev signed.
Tampa re-signed veterans Pat Maroon and Luke Schenn to economical deals but lost depth on the blueline in Bogosian and Shattenkirk. One possible option may be to place Steven Stamkos on long-term injured reserve if his core muscle issues require surgery, but eventually, Brisebois is going to have to move out a significant salary to make room.
Grade – D
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
In – Joey Anderson, Travis Boyd, TJ Brodie, Zach Bogosian, Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, Jimmy Vesey, Mikko Lehtonen, Alexander Barabanov
Out – Tyson Barrie, Cody Ceci, Kyle Clifford, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, Frederik Gauthier
After a fourth straight early playoff exit, GM Kyle Dubas made significant changes by moving out the salaries of Kapanen and Johnsson for prospects and a first-round pick and using the cap space to address the Leafs need for a top-four blueliner by signing Brodie to a four-year, $20 million contract.
The signings of Simmonds, Bogosian, Vesey, and Barabanov were aimed at adding toughness and depth to a top-heavy lineup loaded with skill, while the addition of future Hall-of-Famer Thornton provides Toronto with veteran leadership.
Grade – A-