Ahh, the third week of August. It’s not just an iconic time for the From The Bleachers crew, -- first week, what’s good?? -- but we’re getting sneaky close to start of the 2018-19 NHL season again.
It’s kind of hard to the see through this hot and humid summer, but NHL training camps are just under a month away from commencement. And while those training camp rosters aren’t even close to what an opening night lineup will look like, let’s take a dive into what happened this offseason anyway.
Without further ado, I present a quick and easy read on my top 3 winners of the 2018 NHL offseason.
I’m going to break up each team’s successes or disappointments into four major categories -- acquisitions, re-signings, departures and growth -- and those should pretty well suffice why these six teams either had a successful offseason.
No, don’t laugh, stop. Seriously stop.
General Manager John Chayka and the Arizona Coyotes didn’t do much this offseason, but legitimately bolstered this team through minute details. Details that really excite summer-hockey me.
Acquisitions: Alex Galchenyuk, Vinnie Hinostroza and Michael Grabner.
Re-signings: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Christian Dvorak.
Departures: Max Domi, Marcus Kruger, Zac Rinaldo and Luke Schenn.
Growth: Literally, like 75 percent of this team.
Or at least it feels like it’s the majority of the team.
The NHL’s third-youngest team of last season (Arizona only trailed Colorado and Columbus by 0.4 of a year) is only going to trend upwards as their core talent age closer to to their prime years.
Headlined by six homegrown products that are all 22 years old or younger, -- Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Christian Fischer, Brendan Perlini and Jakob Chychrun -- the Coyotes can really do one thing at this point, and that is to play the waiting game.
Not only did the Coyotes progress through locking up two top-four defensemen, stealing a former 3rd overall pick from the dumpster fire that is the Montreal Canadiens for limited return and pouncing on an up and coming Vinnie Hinostroza (I really like this move in particular, that guy is a player) after taking the rest of Marian Hossa’s contract from Chicago, but they are going to get better as a result of father time himself.
Will the Coyotes make the playoffs this season? Probably not. But Chayka’s ability to make only positive moves without taking any steps backwards in both personnel and contractual terms is extremely encouraging for the rebuilding Coyotes.
Too lazy; didn’t read - Even if it was through relatively small moves, the Coyotes upgraded their team and most importantly didn’t do anything outright stupid in the offseason.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but wow, the Sabres didn’t completely implode over the summer and Jack Eichel probably won’t need to break anymore sticks in the future.
Not only did they not implode, but they actually improved. Like, substantially.
Acquisitions: Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary and Carter Hutton.
Re-signings: Sam Reinhart (pending).
Departures: Ryan O’Rielly, Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson, Jordan Nolan and Cliff Pu.
Growth: Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Ristolainen and Reinhart.
While both teams got what they needed out of it, the Sabres’ return on the Ryan O’Rielly trade was significant for their respective gaps. Buffalo received proven depth on a team that was previously filled with unproven youngsters and even landed 20-year-old Tage Thompson too, who will flourish in time.
Guys like Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka come into Buffalo as established bottom-six bodies to round out a forward group that never had the support.
The Carter Hutton signing (3 years, $2.75 mil AAV) was a low risk move that has potential to favorably pan out. Although his sample size is pretty small and he has never been a true No. 1 goalie, it’s not like Buffalo is pegged to him the same way Carolina was with Cam Ward circa 2010.
Defensively, adding Rasmus Dahlin is only going to help a team. No, he hasn’t played a single NHL game yet, but I think the Sabres will take him on a pair with Rasmus Ristolainen over Brendan Guhle any day.
Too lazy; didn’t read - Similar to Arizona, Buffalo only improved through both free agency, trades and the draft. Otherwise, it’s a waiting game for the young guns to reach their respective primes.
Toronto Maple Leafs
John. Tavares. That is all, thanks for reading.
No, but really. After signing the biggest free agent in NHL history, Toronto is a scary, scary offensive juggernaut highlighted by insane depth down the middle coming into the new season.
Unlike Arizona and Buffalo, the Leafs are looking to take that next step into elite status and they did just that in the offseason.
Acquisitions: John Tavares, Tyler Ennis, Par Lindholm and Josh Jooris.
Re-signings: William Nylander (pending), Andreas Johnsson and Connor Carrick.
Departures: James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Tomas Plekanec and Matt Martin.
Growth: Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Travis Dermott, Nylander and Johnsson.
The Leafs lost JVR, a 36-goal scorer in 2017-18, and Tyler Bozak, a premiere third-line center to free agency and IT DOESN'T EVEN MATTER.
If that doesn’t say, "flex", I’m not sure what does.
The addition of Tavares is obviously the biggest splash and makes Toronto virtually impossible to match up with offensively -- Pittsburgh and St. Louis might be the only other teams to be able to handle that depth.
Small moves like adding Tyler Ennis on a 1-year, $650k deal provides a safety net to a stacked forward group at little-to-no cost. Disregarding Tavares, it’s those types of low-risk moves that is exactly what makes the offseason a success for Toronto.
Are the Leafs a Cup favorite now? Not quite. Despite the young talent gaining another year of experience and the emergence of Tavares, there needs to be work done on the backend in order for Toronto to take that next step and join the true elite teams in the league.
Too lazy; didn’t read - The Leafs copped John Tavares at no real cost. End of story. Goodnight.
That’s it for now.
I’m sure you're immediately thinking of some snubs on this list, so I’ll leave you with a quick few teams right….now!
Just missed the cut: Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues.
Stay tuned for the biggest losers of the NHL offseason coming soon. Until then, hit my Twitter -- @justin_cait, shameless plug, whatever -- and let me know why you think this short list is completely and utterly incorrect.