It’s been a while.
As a summer filled with weddings, fishing, camping and a great deal of SFA is coming to an end, thoughts are once gain turning to hockey.
While I’ve been closely following the minutia of the summer transaction in the NHL, I’ve reached the general conclusion that not much will have changed when the 2016/17 season officially kicks off.
I think this is especially true when it comes to the Western Conference where it appears the powerhouse teams will remain just that while the pretenders have fiddled around the margins a bit but none, with a couple of exceptions, have taken the kind of steps to significantly enhance their chances of post season success.
That’s not to say that there are no curious situations that bear watching and, of course, there may still be a few moves between now and opening night but I think we are close enough to completion to get a read on how the WC teams stack up.
The Ducks’ biggest offseason acquisition was Randy Carlyle. My goodness. Carlyle was brought back to, reportedly, light a fire under the Ducks vets but whether or not that old school approach will work is certainly questionable.
As of this writing, the Ducks still haven’t sorted out their defense with Hampus Lindholm still unsigned and they don’t have room on the roster for blue-chippers Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour so something has to give there and, like most pundits, I expect Cam Fowler may find a new home before the season starts.
The Ducks also, curiously added Antoine Vermette to a centre group that includes Getzlaf, Kesler, Thompson and Rakell (when signed) when their most pressing need seems to be a scoring winger.
This team is all about the future as fuzzy-cheeked GM John Chayka keeps adding to an already deep prospect pool.
That pool features a veritable CHL All Star team:
- Max Domi
- Dylan Strome
- Anthony Duclair
- Christian Dvorak
- Jacob Chychrun
- Lawson Crouse
- Anthony DeAngelo
- Brendan Perlini
Obviously, it’ll take a bit of time but that group is ridiculously strong but I can see the Coyotes taking a big step ahead this season especially since they added Alex Goligoski to help out Ekmann-Larsson on D.
The Flames were my pick as the most successful team in the offseason.
They had some very well-defined needs and filled all of them.
Replacing Bob Hartley with a coach who emphasizes high-speed attack hockey will result in a much more dangerous Flames team.
But even more important is the acquisitions they made in goal with Brian Elliot who had the best save percentage in the league last season (minimum 40 games) and capable backup Chad Johnson.
The Flames were the 4th highest scoring team in the WC last season and, if they can cut GA from worst to even average, they will be a playoff team.
They added 20 goal scorer Troy Brower at no real cost and if draft pick Matthew Tkachuk makes the team out of camp (I think he will) they should be a higher scoring team.
Critics like to point out that the Flames D is weak after you past Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton and,on the surface, that is true but those critics tend to forget that the Flames have some pretty impressive prospects in Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Kenney Morrison bubbling under.
Obviously the Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid and Derek England contracts all represent obstacles but they will all be gone next offseason clearing up almost $12 million in cap space allowing the Flames to fill out their D with more useful players.
With their talent up front (once they sign Gaudreau) this is a team primed for a major move up the standings.
Not much needs to be said about the Hawks and they weren’t busy in the offseason other than trying to stay under the cap but they should be better this season for one reason….Brian Campbell.
Campbell at $1.5 million is a huge steal for the Hawks and addresses their most glaring need for a team that has played with 3 NHL defensemen in the recent past.
Even at 37, Campbell remains an elite puck moving defenseman.
If you’re looking for a team that could surprise this season, look no further. The deletion of Patrick Roy may have a huge impact on this team and, while their D is very questionable, they have enough talent up front to be competitive and lets remember they only missed the playoffs by 5 points last season. Replacing Roy should easily make up that gap.
Old friend Woodguy bet me last week that the Dallas Stars, who won the WC title last season, would miss the playoffs.
I howled at that notion and even gave him 2-1 odds.
His reasoning I guess revolves around the changes Jim Nill has made to his D by letting Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski head elsewhere.
But let’s take a closer look.
Nill also added veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis who came back from injury last season to play very well for the Canucks.
With John Klingberg anchoring the top pairing and Stephen Johns emerging as a bona-fide second pairing ace, the Stars have the foundation for an exceptional young D on the RH side.
At the moment, Hamhuis joins Johnny Oduya, and Jordie Benn as a veteran presence but it’s the next wave that is remarkable.
- Julius Honka
- Esa Lindell
- Jamie Oleksiak
- Patrick Nemeth
- Mattia Backman
- Ludwig Bystrom
Every one of those players is very likely to have NHL careers which, when they join Klingberg and Johns in the next couple of seasons, will give the Stars the best young D in the league.
Honka is pretty much a Klingberg clone having scored 11G and 44P in the AHL last season and is likely ready for the NHL.
A right hand side of Klingberg, Honka and Johns is just ridiculous especially since Dallas has the LH vets to give them cover.
Esa Lindell is a huge LH defenseman who is also NHL ready after posting 14G and 42P in the AHL last season.
At 22 years of age and after playing against men in the AHL and the Finnish league for the past two seasons, he should have no problems easing his way into the NHL given that he’ll be sheltered by Hamhuis, Oduya and Benn.
No need say much about the best offence in the NHL except to say that the Stars, after getting break-out years from Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark in 15/16, added Jiri Hudler to an already ridiculously deep group of forwards.
Not to mention that Jason Dickinson and Devin Shore are reported ready for NHL duty.
We’ll conclude our look at half the WC teams with an assessment of the offseason work of the Oilers’ Peter Chiarelli.
Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I promoted, predicted and expected a Taylor Hall trade to finally get some help on defense.
Problem is, Adam Larsson is a woefully inadequate return for Hall.
Larson may be a top pairing D some day but he isn’t now and you don’t trade a player like Hall for hope. You just don’t.
I expect Hall contributed to his demise with the Oilers with his entitled attitude but the trade leaves the Oilers going into another season with a putative top pairing of Larsson and the perennially injured Oscar Klefbom who has only 107 NHL games on his resume.
Once again we are reminded that the Oilers organization approached their 10 year infinibuild ass backwards are only now addressing their D in a meaningful way.
They have a very nice group of young forwards but the loss of Hall mitigates that fact and the addition of Milan Lucic, while a good move, won’t replace Hall’s value to the team.
Obviously you can’t talk about the Oilers without mentioning Connor McDavid and, if he can remain healthy all year, the Oilers should be able to recover somewhat from the Hall trade.
But a McDavid, RNH, Klefbom or Cam Talbot injury will expose the Oilers’ lack of depth and have them out of the playoffs race by Halloween.
On his blog, Lowetide has released his “reasonable expectations” stating that the Oilers will end the season with a net neutral goal differential, finish 10th in the WC and 21 overall. (he predicted a positive goal differential 3 seasons ago)
In our next post, we’ll take a look at the other teams who will prevent those things from happening.