It’s been a while since my last post as I wanted to see how things shook out through the draft and free agency…things can change a lot in a couple of weeks.
Now some observations although the free agency period, which began with a bang, has since sputtered with some “big name” UFA’s like Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Franson still looking for a new home.
1) Winners and Losers
To my eye the biggest winners in the past couple of weeks have been the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.
The Oilers, as expected, walked away from the draft with a transformational player in Connor McDavid, a solid add to their defense in Andrej Sekera and a decent bet in goal in Cam Talbot. I’m still from Missouri when it comes to Talbot since he has never been a full time starter in the NHL and many goalies wilt under that pressure but at least as some pundits, notably Darcy McLeod at his Because Oilers blog have shown, is that Talbot is a pretty good bet.
Sekera, to me is a solid 2nd pairing D and even new GM Peter Chiarelli has been referencing him that way so, like every season since Chris Pronger bolted, the Oilers remain without a bonafide top paring D and that likely limits their ability to succeed in the playoffs until rectified either through trade or the faint hope that one of Oscar Klefbom and/or Darnell Nurse develop into that player and, of course, there’s a chance that newly acquired (the Oilers paid way too much) Griffin Reinhart could reach that level but his development would seem to indicate only second pairing upside.
Down the QE II in Calgary, there are no such issues. With the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton the Flames have, arguably 3 top pairing D on the roster in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. And with another couple of very mobile puck moving defensemen in Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell, the Flames D has quickly become the best in the NHL.
It’s also worth noting that after stealing Hamilton, the Flames also stole another pair of highly rated defensemen in the draft…Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington…who, if they live up to their scouting reports will keep the Flames pipeline full for a decade.
And that doesn’t even take into account FA defenseman Kenney Morrisson another RH puck moving defenseman who the Flames signed out of Western Michigan and saw him put up 6 points in 10 AHL games at the end of the season.
Another player acquisition that hasn’t got nearly enough ink is Michael Frolik. The Flames, despite having ELEVEN centres on their roster, were thought to be weak at RW and Frolic was the perfect addition there.
Frolik (a former 10th overall pick) is a big capable 2 way forward who should be able to score 25 goals and 50 points at @2RW with one of the Flames sparkling you centres and Calgary D men feeding him the puck.
The Flames now have 16 legit NHL forwards on their roster PLUS Sam Bennett so it’ll be interesting to see what assets they can turn that excess into before the season kicks off.
That the Flames have essentially finished a rebuild in two seasons is remarkable…that they’ve been able to do it while still possessing $7M in free cap space is nothing short of astounding.
While the Flames are now set on D forever and a day, the Oilers are stuck with the largest collection of bottom pairing D I’ve ever seen. Justin Schultz, Eric Gryba, Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin and Reinhart (for now) will need some sorting out soon although Nikitin and Ference will at lest drop off due to attrition.
Over the Rockies, I think we can find the team that is likely the biggest loser in the offseason.
The Vancouver Canucks, who seemed so obsessively focused on moving a goaltender, traded Eddie Lack for peanuts after spending years developing him.
The Canucks acquired 3rd pairing D Matt Bartkowski in free agency but sent away Kevin Bieksa for a 2nd round pick next season so I’d think that’s a wash at best.
They followed up that move by sending enigmatic power forward Zack Kassian to Montreal for a 31 year old Brandon Prust which probably gives lie to the notion that the Canucks want to get younger…a real head scratcher.
When all that was said and done, the Canucks launched a nuclear strike on their management staff sending away the highly respected Laurence Gillman, AGM Lorne Henning and Director of Player Personnel Eric Crawford and then, days later, sent their long time athletic therapist packing too.
The team is now firmly in the grasp of POHO Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning so now it’ll be abundantly clear whose ass is on the line if things keep going sideways.
One other note that raised my eyebrow is news that Daniel Sedin has put his $5.8 million dollar Vancouver mansion up for sale.
Finally, we come to the Toronto Maple Leafs who pulled the trigger on the long awaited Phil Kessel trade to help clear cap space and miasma.
I don’t share the belief that the Leafs got hosed in the deal because they got centre Nick Spaling, forward Kasperi Kapanen, defenceman Scott Harrington, plus first- and third-round picks from 2016.
It’ll all depend on how Kapanen and Harrington develop and, of course, what that 1st round pick turns into next year but I expect it will be awhile before we can draw any firm conclusions.
In the meantime, Kessel may come close to 50 goals playing alongside Crosby of Malkin in Pittsburgh.
The Leafs will likely throw another couple of high priced vets (Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul) overboard before the season starts so I imagine they will be firmly in the race for Austin Matthews next season.
I suppose that’s not a bad place to start a rebuild as some observers think Matthews who missed draft eligibility this season by only 2 days may be even better than Connor McDavid and the 2015 draft may be even deeper than 2015. More here.
We’ll take a close look at another rebuilding team in the next few days…the Buffalo Sabres could get very good very quickly.