Last week I stopped at Montreal. I had already gone half again as long as I usually do in the Ramblings. Let’s finish up the teams this week.
First off, an adjustment. A further adjustment. I started off Monday with Chicago being graded an A- when I was reminded of their acquisition of Andrew Shaw. A Band-Aid Boy coming off a career season where all the advanced stats point to fantastic puck luck and over-achievement. So while he fits their team needs and was a justifiable hockey move, from a business standpoint I busted their grade down two slots to a ‘B’. This past week they traded a very good prospect defenseman for a very good prospect forward. Now, we know from recent history that a defenseman is valued much higher than a forward. You see it time and again. So is Alex Nylander a better forward than Henri Jokiharju is a defenseman? Well, no. And in fact, Nylander doesn’t even fill a team need. He’ll just be battling with Dominik Kubalik, Anton Wedin, Dylan Sikura and probably David Kampf for the same roster spot. And that’s not even considering Aleksi Saarela. I don’t like the move and if I had a chance to re-grade Stan Bowman a second time, he slips to a C+ for his July 1st (or thereabouts) moves.
Now let’s get started.
As their hired consultant, I would have advised against signing Matt Duchene. He is precisely the reason why I have a philosophy of only pursuing elite free agents every July 1. Duchene does fill a need, even if he’s a 60-point, second-line center. Which he is. He was in a contract season in 2013-14 and he hit 70 points for the first time. Then he signed his big contract and went four seasons with – at most – 59 points. And then it was another contract year and wouldn’t you know it? Another 70 points. Now he’s signed for seven years and $8 million per year. Three or maybe four years into those eight, Preds fans will be regretting the deal and going to CapFriendly to type his name into the buyout tool.
Last year the top scorer had 64 points. I can’t see Duchene topping that.
New Jersey A-
The Devils got an A+ here for acquiring PK Subban in a trade and then mostly doing nothing. Draft and trade is the way to go. Signing free agents should just be to fill in your depth on the cheap, assuming you can’t land the top dogs. Love it! In one year they ‘technically’ have added Subban, Jack Hughes and Taylor Hall. But then they went and signed Wayne Simmonds. He’s only 30 years old (31 in late August), but his body is so broken down that he’s not the player he once was. And if a summer of healing doesn’t bring back the old Simmonds, he could be painful to watch. However, the Devils were smart in only signing him to one year ($5 million). So they stay in the ‘A’ range.
NY Islanders D-
The New York Islanders kept Jordan Eberle and paid too much. I don’t care if other teams would have paid that or more – there is nothing wrong with letting other teams be stupid. They kept Brock Nelson and paid waaaay too much – he’s making 20% more than Josh Bailey, who’s kicking himself for being nice and signing early. Yes, Lou pretty much slapped their loyal, tenured player in the face with that one. They kept Anders Lee – I like Lee and I’m fine with a team keeping their captain and a proven consistent goal scorer and all-around clutch guy. Then the overrated GM Lou Lamoriello signed Band-Aid Boy goaltender Semyon Varlamov for four years at $5 million per season. He’ll be in the injury ward more often than on the ice, and they had a fine goaltender in Thomas Greiss already. Greiss will get more starts this year, so they’re overpaying a backup. And with Ilya Sorokin coming up, Varlamov will be a backup for much of this deal.
So kudos to the Islanders! Whenever a team doesn’t win a Cup and looks as though they didn’t come anywhere close to winning a Cup, it’s always smart to work really hard in the offseason to keep the same roster together when you had a chance at a new look.
NY Rangers A+
They went after – aggressively – one of the two elite guys available, and they landed him. And besides the Artemi Panarin score, they acquired Jacob Trouba in a trade while taking advantage of a desperate team. Then the Rangers sat tight, avoiding any regrettable overpays from the rest of the free agents, other than depth player Greg McKegg (a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg!).
The Senators signed a lot of lesser names to one-year deals, so they didn’t handcuff their future. And landing Connor Brown was a nice score. The team was wise to play it quiet and let their awesome prospects have a shot. Nikita Zaitsev’s contract with five years still left on it is what dragged the grade down slightly. We all know how this team is doing this year. It will all be worth it – Alexis Lafreniere will be better than Jack Hughes. Best since Connor McDavid.
The Flyers signed a lot of depth players on July 1 and they traded for a couple of experienced defensemen in Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen. Re-signing Brian Elliott as a backup was also a strong move, and none of these moves handcuffed their future. Bravo! But all this was almost out of necessity because they wasted so much money on a player coming off a career season and contract year. Those are two phrases that should always send GMs running. Seven years and $7.14 million per season? For Kevin Hayes? From A+ all the way down to B- right there. Flyers fans will love this guy. This year. Maybe even the year after that. But the last four years of this deal will be painful, trust me.
Tight against the cap with no space to sign players who frankly impressed me in Marcus Pettersson and Zach Aston-Reese. The team was forced to move Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta just to make room. Their return on those trades was great. A bit of a risk, but for the cap hit and future potential I think GM Jim Rutherford did a great job. Whew! Am I right?
But then Jim Rutherford did what Jim Rutherford does. He wasted it. I’m not saying that Brandon Tanev isn’t a good character guy who brings in a lot of intangibles. I’m not even saying he isn’t worth that cap hit ($3.5 million – some team was going to pay it, I wouldn’t have what with his best season coming in a contract year). I’m just saying…why? Just sign your RFAs and then in February trade for one of a dozen Tanevs that will be available from other teams! It’s almost – almost – as confusing as Rutherford clearing cap space and then wasting in on Jack Johnson. It’s almost – almost – as confusing as Rutherford going out of his way to add overpaid and underwhelming Erik Gudbranson. From A+ to B- in one move.
San Jose AAA+++
GM Doug Wilson signed the best unrestricted free agent the NHL has seen in a decade. Then he stayed out of the free agent market. And then he signed Kevin Labanc to a one-year, $1 million contract. I feel an urge to invent a letter that comes before A. How do I grade this to properly reflect what was done here? Do I go back through all the other teams and change them to ‘F’?
St. Louis A+
The Blues signed many of their restricted free agents, including their Cup-winning goaltender Jordan Winnington, and they stayed away from middling and star free agents. What’s more impressive – they have a bit of cap room ($7 million right now, for three RFAs). They didn’t squander it on a Tanev. GM Doug Armstrong has saved his cap room for a rainy day. Bravo. The Blues just won the Cup and have been the best team in the league for the last 60 games. No tweaks needed.
Tampa Bay B
The Lightning are hurting for cap space. Even after trading away a couple of high-salaried players they shouldn’t have bothered getting involved in the free agent market. But they did anyway. To sign…a backup goaltender? Is Curtis McElhinney’s impact as a replacement for Louis Domingue going to be worth squandering what few dollars they have to spare? The total increase is just $150,000 with that signing, but this team is going to need every penny in order to afford Brayden Point. I don’t see the Lightning keeping all three of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn. In fact, I see two of those players being moved.
The Maple Leafs are also hurting for cap space. And like the Lightning, they have a massive RFA contract forthcoming – in this case Mitch Marner. I keep saying that Toronto GM Kyle Dubas needs to trade William Nylander and he keeps doing everything he can to avoid that. He’s been smart. He’s making it work. So far. But eventually I think that’s where it needs to end up. I believe the Mitch Marner situation ends with matching an offer sheet. Dubas managed to shed the contracts of Zaitsev, Brown and Patrick Marleau. He signed Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and Alexander Kerfoot to low contracts, and he shed Nazem Kadri’s contract. Jason Spezza was added for the minimum salary. Great moves overall, and so far this team isn’t any worse than it was last year and is probably a little better (though it will get worse when Tyson Barrie leaves next summer). Lots of moves, mostly done via trade. That’s how you do it. Now Dubas just needs to do the smart thing and trade Nylander.
The Canucks made some great moves, upgrading their defense by adding Tyler Myers, as well as depth guys Jordie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg. The trade for J.T. Miller was a real good addition. But how did spending go? Well, under my philosophy of ignoring all the free agents and filling needs via trade, giving Alex Edler $6 million is ludicrous. Giving Benn $2 million is ludicrous, and even giving Myers – one of the better FA’s available – is a little ludicrous. Fortunately, Benn and Edler are for just two years and won’t harm this team’s future dealings. The Canucks then waited until almost mid-July (as they should have done with Edler, Myers and Benn) and what do you know? Micheal Ferland’s price came down. I think $3.5 million per season is a solid contract, considering he was reportedly offered $4 million per season just a few months ago by Carolina. This is an improved team, no question. Especially when you consider Quinn Hughes joining. But from a business standpoint, this could have been handled cheaper and nearly as well.
Don’t believe me? Wait and see what Jake Gardiner signs for.
Vegas is not only close to the salary cap – they are over the salary cap. So they couldn’t add anyone via free agency anyway. I do like that they got to the cap via trades and savvy expansion picks (which were often made thanks to trades). This organization has been a fantasy owner’s template for how to win fantasy leagues – lots of good trades and pretty much zero time rebuilding (or in this case – just “building”). To ease the cap pressure, GM Kelly McCrimmon traded (there’s that word again) Erik Haula for a good prospect in Nicolas Roy. And he didn’t qualify Tomas Nosek so that he could re-sign him at a lower number because every $100,000 saved really matters (ahem, Washington, below). The Golden Knights are still $3.5 million over the salary cap and to me the next move is to trade Reilly Smith while his value is still high. He’s notorious for fading more and more each year he is with an organization. You’re already seeing it – from 60 points to 53. Trade him now before he gets 48!
The Caps are close to the cap with Christian Djoos, Chandler Stephenson and Jakub Vrana still to sign. They spent free agent frenzy signing cheap players and locking them in long-term. While I would have waited to sign the likes of Richard Panik (four years, $2.75) and Garnet Hathaway (four years, $1.5), I think the most you would save from waiting is $500,000. And that’s worth it. In today’s reality, you have to save that kind of dough. They did free up space by swapping out Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas, and signing Brendan Leipsic on the cheap for $700,000. The Capitals have $4.3 million in cap space to sign their three players. Wouldn’t it be easier if they had $4.8 million? That $500,000 they could have saved really matters.
The Jets have $22 million in cap space, but they left their RFAs for too long. Because they had to sign Jacob Trouba, Patrik Laine, Andrew Copp and Kyle Connor (and Eric Comrie), GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stayed quiet on July 1. He traded Trouba for Neal Pionk and picks, because he knows Pionk will be less of a cap hit when he signs him. He walked away from Marco Dano, Joe Morrow and Nathan Beaulieu when he didn’t qualify them – later signing Beaulieu at a lower cap hit. Really, Cheveldayoff is just doing what he can to keep his current team together, forget about adding or upgrading.
While Slava Voynov has signed a one-year contract to play for Omsk of the KHL and there is no out clause – that is probably the end of it for Voynov in the NHL this year. The KHL season ends on February 27, but Avangard Omsk is a great KHL team that made it to the Final last year. Those playoff games ended on April 19.
Then again, since the contract is just $1.1 million, perhaps Voynov plans to buy himself out of it? I’m not sure the rules and logistics regarding that. Earlier this year an NHL arbitrator ruled that his suspension would be up in midseason of 2019-20 (41 games).
Two years at $4.4 million per season for Jordan Winnington? I’d say the Blues got off easy. I think the dollars are right, but had figured he would get three or even four years. He’s betting on himself. Smart move because the team in front of him will keep winning – all he needs to do is be average. (Something Jake Allen couldn’t do).
I’m taking votes on which player to do an in-depth “Lowdown” for each team in the Fantasy Guide. Voting is done only in the forum. You can vote for Dallas here, and this section will have two polls posted each day. Voting has been closed for Anaheim through Columbus, with Troy Terry, Nick Schmaltz, Jake DeBrusk, Casey Mittelstadt, Noah Hanifin, Andrei Svechnikov, Dylan Strome, Oliver Bjorkstrand (by a mile) and Samuel Girard (also by a mile) as the players the community has selected. Be sure to check in at this section daily for the latest polls and have your say.
The Fantasy Guide is rolling along. It will have a new look this year, just like the other two Guides released in 2019. Much more reader friendly. And I have added (or I guess “changed” is more apt) a feature that will add even more weapons to your arsenal at this year’s fantasy draft. And there also be a chance to win a Google Home (details in the Guide). I’m done Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, Calgary and Carolina – so things are underway! Pre-order here.
One thing I observed…
See you next Monday
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- The Journey: Projecting WJC Outcomes