With the Seattle Expansion Draft and NHL Draft in the rearview mirror, the focus will be on free agency beginning Wednesday, July 28th, 12 pm ET. However, there has been a lot of action over the past two weeks as teams are loading up for next season. It was a quick turnaround, to say the least from the end of the Stanley Cup Final to the start of the offseason. And while the offence is the name of the game during the regular season, come the playoffs defence remains the story. As we saw with the Tampa Bay Lightning. And teams that believe they contend this season are revamping their defence. In this edition of the NHL Notebook, we take a look at the defenders that are trading places as they look to help their new team this season.
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NHL Notebook: Defenders Trading Places
Some of the bigger names on defence found new homes over the past few weeks, lets break down some of the bigger trades and what they mean to their new teams.
The big news from this past weekend was Seth Jones being traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Chicago Blackhawks. He ultimately signed a new eight-year extension worth $76 million carrying a $9.5 AAV. This move was pretty obvious from the start. Once the Blackhawks moved Duncan Keith to Edmonton acquiring his brother Caleb Jones, you knew Seth was going there. It is clear a new era for Chicago and their defence as not only Keith is gone, but Brent Seabrook too. Seth Jones will be the anchor of that defence. With Jonathan Toews coming back, Patrick Kane is still there, along with Kirby Dach the Blackhawks believe they can still win.
Management is trying to do everything in their power to give Kane and Toews another run at the Stanley Cup. Seth Jones is a start in the right direction. Chicago has a young defence no doubt, but they will be able to grow together and possibly win later on down the road. It is a risk worth taking and for the Blackhawks this pays off. But the way Jones is playing and only getting better is worth every penny.
Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis
Speaking of big trades, the Philadelphia Flyers upgraded their defence over the past couple of weeks. First, they acquired Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators. Ellis is a solid addition to the Flyers defence. It was an area of weakness for them last year. It did not help that Matt Niskanen retired before the season started. Ivan Provorov is showing why he’s a number one defenceman in this league, but he can’t do it alone. He needs help. Justin Braun is more suited for the bottom pair defence for the Flyers. With Ellis coming on board, it gives the stability on defence and allows Provorov to go play his game. Ellis is a top-tier defenceman when healthy. And that will be the key for the Flyers.
In addition to Ellis, the Flyers acquired Ramus Ristolainen from the Buffalo Sabres. While his analytics are not the greatest, that is a product of playing in Buffalo. Along with the expectations of being a top pick and expected to turn that organization around. But now in Philly, the expectations will not be as high and he can play on the second pair with Travis Sanheim. Which allows Braun to play with Cam York, if ready or Samuel Morin. Ristolainen can in all situations and if the Flyers can make the playoffs, that is when the best will come out in Ristolainen. In addition, the Flyers acquired Cam Atkinson from Columbus for Jakub Voracek as the changes keep coming.
Another big name that moved this past weekend was Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the Vancouver Canucks from the Arizona Coyotes. Ekman-Larsson stated that last offseason he would go to the Canucks or the Boston Bruins. The Canucks were able to acquire the defenceman along with Conor Garland as they dump some serious salary to the Coyotes in order to sign Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. Though his play has dipped some, general manager Jim Benning believes Ekman-Larsson can get back to being one of the top defencemen in the league again. He will be the Canucks number one defenceman and is a solid two-way player. And in a weak division, the Canucks can get back to the playoffs with OEL back there.
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NHL Notebook: Defenceman Signing
In addition to the defenceman, beginning traded there were two players that signed long-term extensions with their current clubs. Let’s take a look at them.
The Colorado Avalanche have locked up the anchor of their defence as Cale Makar signed a new six-year deal with an AAV of $9 million. Makar won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2019-20 and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy in 2020-21. In 101 career games, Makar has 94 points (20 goals and 74 assists). He makes that defence run. Makar is such a smooth-skating defenceman with gifted offensive talent. Ever since his arrival in the league, he has been setting the world on fire for the Avalanche. Makar has the ability to play in all situations and on both ends of the ice, which makes him so unique.
In addition to Makar, the Dallas Stars a week prior signed the anchor of their blueline Miro Heiskanen to an eight-year extension that carries an AAV of $8.45 million. If you did not know about Heiskanen you sure did during the Stars run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. He was the team’s best player offensive and defensively. Heiskanen recorded 26 points (six goals and 20 assists) as he led the team in scoring in all three categories. Heiskanen is one of the up-and-coming defencemen in the league, who has only scratched the surface as he reaches his Norris Trophy calibre ability.
That does it for this edition of the NHL Notebook, stayed tuned for another one as we prepare for Free Agency this Wednesday.