Every year we sit and wait for the GM to splash out and make the offseason moves that will surely bring the cup to our team the following season. This season, is no different.
Whilst some fans are fizzing to see how the new troops are deployed come opening night, others are cringing at the thought of their results for the season.
So let’s have a quick look into the winners, the losers and the interesting of the 2015 NHL off-season.
Winner: Buffalo Sabres
One might say the Sabres could fall more under the ‘interesting’ category, but whether they are a playoff team or not, they are significantly better.
While 2015 first round pick (2nd overall) and Bauer’s new poster boy, Jack Eichel, is no sure thing because he hasn’t even stepped on an NHL rink yet, he adds at least some depth and skill to a very thin offense from last season.
At 6’2” and reportedly increased to a solid 205 pounds, Eichel definitely has the size to compete in this league. The question surrounding him is whether his publically displayed confidence will be backed up by his play, or will he get shot down and struggle to produce?
Buffalo also made a blockbuster trade with Colorado that brings previously restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly and an established role player in Jamie McGinn to Buffalo.
O’Reilly is an established, solid 2-way centre that will effectively help Buffalo on both sides of the puck. This now gives the Sabres high end potential down the middle but could also make things very difficult.
The incumbent number one centre and 3 time 20-goal scorer Ennis still at the club along with 2015 NHL All Star Zemgus Girgensons being joined by definite top 2 centre O’Reilly, projected generational player Eichel and 2014 first round pick (2nd Overall) Sam Reinhart is a log jam at centre in the making.
The other key move of the Sabres this off-season was bringing in Robin Lehner. Lehner, 24, an established NHL goalie has previously competed for the starting spot in Ottawa. Sporting a solid .914 save percentage he looks the goods to be a starter going forward.
All the offseason moves are also aided by the Evander Kane debut in Buffalo. He was acquired at the trade deadline last season but is yet to play as a Sabre due to a knee injury. He is an establish NHL top 6 winger with speed and size to burn.
Overall these offseason moves in Buffalo see the significantly better, there will be growing pains as the young team (Majority under 24) adjust to the NHL life.
Interesting: Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars
When it came to interesting I couldn’t just choose one team, so I’ll talk about 3 briefly.
Pittsburgh made arguably the biggest splash in the offseason by acquiring 5 time 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel from Toronto. While the only NHL ready play the Penguins gave up in the trade was third liner Nick Spaling, the Penguins let an abundance walk for nothing.
Pittsburgh let top four defenseman Paul Martin (San Jose) and Christian Erhoff (Likely Los Angeles), forwards Steve Downie (Arizona), Blake Comeau (Colorado), Daniel Winnik (Toronto), Maxim Lappiere (Sweden) and Craig Adams and Goalie Thomas Greiss (NYI) walk to free agency.
While trading away third line centre Bandon Sutter, they did bring in plenty of depth up front to make up for that.
The signings of Eric Fehr, Sergei Plotnikov, Matt Cullen and the trades bringing in Kessel, Tyler Biggs, and Nick Bonino, along with the return from season ending injuries of Olli Maata, Kris Letang and Pascal Dupuis give the penguins one of the scariest opening day rosters.
The reason these moves are interesting is because everyone wants to see how a pure goal scorer like Kessel produces when paired with arguably the best player in the world in Crosby.
The uncertainty of an established backup goalie poses a risk as Jeff Zatkoff only has 21 games of NHL experience.
Additionally, the losses of Erhoff and Martin are expected to be filled by young defenseman Olli Maata and Derrick Pouliot.
I believe they will do a fine job, the issues may come when players get injured because the depth chart has progressed but the replacements of that calibre are no longer there to sufficiently fill the void.
Overall the Penguins will be exciting to watch and will be a front runner in the league should they remain healthy.
Edmonton Oilers had a busy off-season.
The clear highlight is the draft choice of the most talked about prospect and projected generation player in Connor Mcdavid with the first overall choice.
Where he fits on their depth chart at center is yet to be determined. However, it surely won’t take him long to leapfrog incumbent number one center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Prior to the draft the Oilers hired former Bruin General Manager, Peter Chiarelli, to replace Craig MacTavish at the helm of the Oilers (Chiarelli won the Stanley cup as GM in 2011).
He then made a great trade acquiring Griffin Reinhart, a 21 year old, 6’4”, defenseman from the New York Islanders. Reinhart will be expected to develop with the Oilers young core into their steady stay-at-home defenseman which will hopefully allow Justin Schultz to fulfil his offensive potential.
The oilers then backed this up by bringing in veteran defenseman Andrea Sekera and center Mark Letestu.
The final move is why I class them as interesting. Last years starting goaltender, Ben Scrivens, was a backup for the Los Angeles Kings prior to being acquired by the Oilers in a hope he would emerge as a starter. It doesn’t look like they are satisfied. So, they have done the exact same thing. They acquired Rangers backup, Cam Talbot, who had a strong run in 2015 with the injury to Henrik Lundqvist. Talbot posted a strong .926 save percentage in his 36 appearances, however, like Scrivens last season, it is still to be determined if he will be able to handle the work load and pressure of being an NHL starter.
Overall, the Oilers did improve. However, solidifying the defense and goaltending, which were the big question marks, may take time while the hopefuls develop into those roles.
The Dallas Stars went after winning pedigree and hit their targets. They acquired wing Patrick Sharp, who has won multiple Stanley Cups and an Olympic Gold medal, in a trade with Chicago that also bought 6’3” defensive prosect, Stephen Jones to Dallas. The cost, however, was Trevor Daley.
Sharp is a 4 time 30-goal scorer who will help make up one of the most electric top 6 forward groups in the league.
The next winner they nailed, to offset the loss of Daley, was Jonny Oduya. They got him through the free agency after Chicago couldn’t make the cap space to accommodate him. Dallas hope Oduya and and Sharp will bring their winning mindset to Dallas and help the leadership group grow.
Dallas also added 2010 Stanley Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi from San Jose. Niemi is a Proven NHL starter who is expected to push Kari Lehtonen for the starters job whilst, at the same time, having a proven NHL goalie there to relieve some of the work load and pressure.
These moves are aided by the return of young power forward Valeri Nichushkin who missed most of last season with hip and groin injuries. Nichushkin will balance out the top 6 with size to complement the very skilful group shall he play to his potential.
Overall Dallas definitely got stronger, however, the biggest question mark that still hasn’t been answered is ‘Who will be their shutdown defensive pair?’
Losers: Boston Bruins
2014/15 saw the bruins surprisingly miss the playoffs. Due to injuries and lack of scoring after the departure of Jerome Iginla the Bruins struggled their way to just miss the Easton Conference wild card spot.
This offseason saw GM Peter Chiarelli, who had been with the club 9 years and led them to the Stanley Cup in 2011, replaced by Don Sweeny.
His first moves don’t boast well with the Bruins fans. He didn’t do much to help them now.
He traded away potential top defenseman (currently top 4), Dougie Hamilton and established power forward, Milan Lucic. This did clear their cap space and bring in a reel of draft picks, however, with ageing defenseman Zdeno Chara (38) and Dennis Seidenberg (34) being relied on to play the majority of the minutes, the loss of Hamilton stings. He was key to their current and future success.
The Bruins also lost Carl Soderberg (44 points last season) and Reilly Smith (40 points last season). For a team whose highest point producer only had 55 points last season, that is a big loss.
The bruins did bring in Matt Beleskey (22 goals for Anaheim last season) and Jimmy Hayes (19 goals for Florida last season) to help offset the loss.
Overall, Boston lost 4 of their top 7 point producers from last season (Soderberg, Lucic, Hamilton and Smith) for no monumental gain that will help them now. They may be in for a tough couple of years, however, they are looking better cap wise and did bring in a few daft choices that may be benefitting in time to come.