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 increasing 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.
Here is an evaluation of what changes clubs in the Pacific Division made:
Out – Erik Gudbranson, Matt Irwin
Unsigned – Ryan Miller
The Ducks are a team in transition, with Corey Perry gone, Ryan Kesler on injured reserve, and Ryan Getzlaf entering the final year of his contract. Players like Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, and Adam Henrique are next in line, while the focus of head coach Dallas Eakins will be to get more out of young players like Sam Steel, Troy Terry and Max Jones.
GM Bob Murray’s main move was sending veteran defenseman Gudbranson’s $4 million salary to Ottawa and replacing him with the more offensive-minded Shattenkirk and to re-sign Grant after trading the depth forward to Philadelphia at the trade deadline.
Grade – C+
In – John Hayden, Johan Larsson, Tyler Pitlick
Out – Taylor Hall, Vinnie Hinostroza, Brad Richardson, Michael Grabner, Carl Soderberg
The Coyotes continue to be an organization in chaos. GM John Chayka and the club went their separate ways in July and Arizona was penalized two draft picks by the NHL for combine testing violations. The club was unable to convince Hall to stay after trading a packing of prospects and picks to New Jersey for the former Hart Trophy winner, and they could not find a suitable package for Oliver Ekman-Larsson after the team captain requested a trade.
The signings of Hayden, Larsson and Pitlick were depth moves to replace the more expensive Grabner and Soderberg, but the budget-conscious Coyotes did not succeed in replacing the offense lost by Hall’s departure.
Grade – D
Out – TJ Brodie, Derek Forbort, Erik Gustafsson, Travis Hamonic, Mark Jankowski, Tobias Rieder, Cam Talbot
Unsigned – Oliver Kylington
The Flames took advantage of an injury-riddled Winnipeg Jets in the qualifying round before bowing out to Dallas in six games. GM Brad Treliving made one of the big gets in free agency signing Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million contract, but lost half of his blueline in free agency (Brodie to Toronto, Gustafsson to Philadelphia, Forbort to Winnipeg, Hamonic and Michael Stone are unsigned). Tanev from Vancouver and Nesterov from the KHL were added to fill spots, but the club is weaker on defense entering the season.
Calgary’s core forwards remained intact in spite of lots of rumors that Johnny Gaudreau was being shopped and they replenished their bottom-six by signing Nordstrom. Simon and Leivo.
Grade – B+
Out – Andreas Athanasiou, Riley Sheahan, Matt Benning, Mike Green
GM Ken Holland was successful in wooing Puljujarvi back from a year in the Finnish League, added Turris coming off his buyout from Nashville as a third line center, and brought in a power-play quarterback in Barrie coming off a bad year in Toronto, but the trade for Athanasiou turned out to be a bust, as the Oilers did not qualify the former Wing after giving up a pair of second-rounders at the deadline.
Grade – B-
LOS ANGELES KINGS
In – Olli Maatta, Lias Andersson
Out – Ben Hutton, Trevor Lewis, Paul LaDue
The Kings are in a similar spot than their Southern California rival, transitioning from the core group that won a pair of Stanley Cups in the decade to a number of promising prospects like Alex Turcotte, Quentin Byfield, and Tobias Bjornfot.
After trading veteran Alec Martinez at the trade deadline, GM Rob Blake plugged the hole on the blueline by swapping with Chicago for Maatta, while hoping that giving former top-10 pick Andersson a fresh start will result in success.
Grade – C+
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Out – Aaron Dell, Melker Karlsson, Joe Thornton
Poor goaltending, the departure of Joe Pavelski, and injuries to key players Erik Karlsson and Logan Couture resulted in the Sharks missing the playoffs after reaching the Western Conference Final in 2019. GM Doug Wilson brought in Dubnyk to split time with Martin Jones or take over as the starter if he continues to struggle, and gave up a third-rounder for former Bruins top prospect Donato.
Grade – B
In – Jayce Hawryluk, Braden Holtby, Nate Schmidt
Out – Oscar Fantenberg, Josh Leivo, Jacob Markstrom, Troy Stecher, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli
The Canucks concerns over their salary cap with Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes needing new contracts next summer kept GM Jim Benning from qualifying Stecher and re-signing Markstrom, Tanev and Toffoli, but adding Schmidt from Vegas for a third-round pick salvaged their off-season.
Vancouver hopes that Thatcher Demko coming off an impressive showing in the playoffs will be able to assume the #1 goaltending duties, but Benning brought in Cup-winner Holtby on a short-term deal as insurance.
Grade – B
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
In – Alex Pietrangelo, Carl Dahlstrom
Out – Deryk Engelland, Paul Stastny, Nate Schmidt, Nick Cousins, Jon Merrill
The Golden Knights won the prize of the 2020 free agent market by signing Pietrangelo to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract, but their inability to clear Marc-Andre Fleury’s remaining two years forced GM Kelly McCrimmon to virtually give away Schmidt to a division rival for a draft pick.
Even after moving Stastny to Winnipeg, Vegas may have to move Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Marchessault or give away a high draft along with Fleury to become cap compliant.
Grade – C