It seems like yesterday that the St. Louis Blues were wobblingly piloting scooters through a Stanley Cup championship parade. The NHL offseason comes and goes so quickly, you can be excused for not being cognizant of every signing, trade, hiring, firing and headline that emerged from the hockey summer.
Fear not! As the 2019-20 season arrives, here’s a chance to catch up on everything that happened since the Stanley Cup was raised, on and off the ice:
Following several controversial blown calls in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL announced a dramatic expansion of its use of video review. Referees who call major or match penalties, other than ones for fighting, will be required to either confirm the call or reduce it to a two-minute minor if an error in severity was made. They’ll also review, at their own discretion, double-minor high-sticking penalties to see if an injury occurred from a player’s own stick or a teammate’s stick rather than an opponent’s stick. If so, no penalty.
A third category of the coach’s challenge was added to goalie interference and offside reviews: Coaches can now challenge plays in the offensive zone that should have resulted in play being stopped before a goal was scored, such as on missed hand passes or pucks that go out of play, both of which happened in last season’s playoffs. Finally, teams can challenge calls as often as they like, but if they’re wrong once it’s a delay-of-game minor penalty, and every time they’re wrong after that it’s a double minor.
The Nashville Predators stunned the hockey world when they traded their superstar defenseman to the New Jersey Devils at the NHL draft for a rather underwhelming return of defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies, as well as two second-round picks.
The Predators felt their deep defensive corps enabled them to trade Subban, 30, for added financial flexibility, as he had three years left on his contract at $9 million annually against the salary cap. The Devils, meanwhile, were one of the few teams with the cap space to take on the deal.
The Predators used that financial flexibility to sign prized free-agent center Matt Duchene, 28, to a seven-year deal with an $8 million annual cap hit. He gives the Predators the center behind Ryan Johansen they’ve sorely missed, and should help what was the worst power play in the NHL last season. Also, he’s a country music fanatic, to further the perfection of the fit.
It was a busy, franchise-redefining summer for the Hudson River rivals.
The Rangers also moved up thanks to the lottery and selected Finnish scoring winger Kaapo Kakko second overall. But he wasn’t the only big addition: The Rangers landed coveted free-agent winger Artemi Panarin, a point-per-game player with Columbus in the past two seasons, with a seven-year, $81.5 million contract; traded for Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba, signing him to a seven-year, $56 million deal; and acquired highly touted 21-year-old defenseman Adam Fox from Carolina.
This rivalry just got a lot more interesting.
Emily Kaplan picks Rangers rookie Kaapo Kakko as a breakout star this season, while Greg Wyshynski likes Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar.
The Blue Jackets went all-in last season and pushed further in the playoffs than ever before, sweeping the Lightning in Round 1 before getting sent home by Boston. Then they watched Duchene (Predators), Panarin (Rangers), two time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (Panthers) and Ryan Dzingel (Hurricanes) sign elsewhere. Expect a John Tortorella-fueled “chip on their shoulders” season from Columbus, as many have written the Blue Jackets off as a playoff team.
The Panthers addressed their goaltending by signing Bobrovsky to a seven-year deal with a $10 million annual cap hit. They hope they addressed every other deficiency on the team by hiring Joel Quenneville, the three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Florida general manager Dale Tallon hired when both were with the Chicago Blackhawks. Now, how will the humidity treat that mustache?
Alain Vigneault, fired by the Rangers in April 2018, was hired by the Philadelphia Flyers, his fourth team since 1997.
Ralph Krueger, fired by the Oilers in 2013, was hired by the Buffalo Sabres. One of the most interesting men in hockey, Krueger most recently coached Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey and was chairman of the English Premier League’s Southampton Football Club from 2014 to 2019.
The Sharks faced a salary-cap crunch after signing Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million contract. Lost in that crunch was a captain: Joe Pavelski, a heart-and-soul player for San Jose since 2006, left for a three-year deal with the Dallas Stars. As camp opened for the Sharks, his locker remained uninhabited, a symbol of the hole left on this team.
As usual, there was plenty of news off the ice for the Coyotes, who welcomed billionaire entrepreneur Alex Meruelo as their latest majority owner and the first one of Hispanic descent in the NHL. The Coyotes made player news, too: agreeing to a trade with the Penguins that sent Alex Galchenyuk to Pittsburgh and brought star right wing Kessel to Arizona, reuniting him with head coach Rick Tocchet.
The risk for the Coyotes is that Kessel is 31 and has three years left on his contract. The hope for the Coyotes is that this elite goal scorer improves an offense that was 29th in the NHL in shooting percentage last season.
For the first time since 2013, a restricted free agent signed an offer sheet. Center Sebastian Aho of the Hurricanes put pen to paper on a five-year, $42-million deal with the Montreal Canadiens … that Carolina announced it would match almost immediately afterward.
Carolina owner Tom Dundon called the episode “a waste of time,” but it did give Aho a front-loaded contract that walks him up to unrestricted free agency, and gave Montreal GM Marc Bergevin the illusion of effort to sell fans.
The biggest soap opera of the offseason played out in the “Centre of the Hockey Universe”:
Just another quiet offseason in the 416.
Along with Marner and Aho, there was a remarkable collection of restricted free agents who kept their teams on varying intensities of pins and needles.
That included forwards Brayden Point (Lightning, three years, $20.25 million), Matthew Tkachuk (Flames, three years, $21 million), Patrik Laine (Jets, two years, $13.5 million), Kyle Connor (Jets, seven years, $50 million), Mikko Rantanen (Avalanche, six years, $55.5 million), Timo Meier (Sharks, four years, $24 million), Brock Boeser (Canucks, three years, $17.625 million) and Travis Konecny (Flyers, six years, $33 million).
Also signing new deals were RFA defensemen Jacob Trouba (Rangers, seven years, $56 million), Zach Werenski (Blue Jackets, three years, $15 million), Ivan Provorov (Flyers, six years, $40.5 million) and Charlie McAvoy (Bruins, three years, $14.7 million). The process was so uncomfortable that some teams jumped on the chance to ink next year’s free agents early, with eight-year deals for Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot, Coyotes center Clayton Keller and Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
For every widely praised signing in the UFA market — Panarin, Duchene and the depth added by the Avalanche and Hurricanes — there were other signings that were a bit more controversial, such as defenseman Tyler Myers (five years, $30 million) to the Canucks, center Kevin Hayes (seven years, $50 million) with the Flyers, winger Mats Zuccarello (five years, $30 million) with the Wild and winger Brandon Tanev (six years, $21 million) with the Penguins.
The salary cap claimed the contracts of several high-profile veteran players, who took their buyout money and left for small-dollar deals with other teams.
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Witness former MVP winger Corey Perry, getting his final two years with the Ducks bought out before signing a one-year deal with Dallas; it was the same for defenseman Andrej Sekera, who signed with Dallas after the Oilers bought out the final two years of his deal; defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk saw his final two years bought out by the Rangers before signing with the Lightning; defenseman Dion Phaneuf had his final two years bought out by the Kings, and is currently a free agent; also available is Patrick Marleau, who was traded from Toronto to Carolina so the Hurricanes could buy out the final year of his deal.
These “lottery ticket” post-buyout veterans have provided varying degrees of success through the years, so we’ll see how it goes for this year’s batch.
Lehner was the comeback story of last season, returning from substance abuse and mental health issues to win the Masterton Trophy, earn a share of the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed and finish third for the Vezina. But the Islanders didn’t tender him a long-term deal, nor did they prioritize him among their free agents.
Then they signed Semyon Varlamov, who is three years older than Lehner, to a four-year deal. Lehner ended up in Chicago on a one-year contract to work in tandem with Corey Crawford. “It just is how it is,” Lehner said. “There’s no hard feelings.”
General managers usually get a run of three to five years before owners issue a verdict on them. Paul Fenton, a highly respected assistant GM with Nashville who took over the Wild in 2018, was fired after just one season. “It wasn’t a good fit. That was really it. The culture wasn’t the same,” owner Craig Leipold said after relieving Fenton in July.
Few groups in the NHL took a hit as massive as the Jets’ blue line. Tyler Myers signed with the Canucks and Ben Chiarot with the Canadiens. Jacob Trouba was traded to the Rangers, where he signed a long-term contract.
Then came the biggest blow: Dustin Byfuglien was granted a leave of absence from the Jets to figure out his future in the NHL. Among average ice time for defensemen, that’s four of the team’s top five. And that could be a significant enough blow to the Jets that their status as a playoff team is in question.
Last season, Williams was like a player/coach for the Hurricanes, and his hearty endorsement of the team’s “Storm Surge” celebrations created renewed enthusiasm and fueled a run to the Eastern Conference final. But after 18 seasons and 1,244 regular-season games, the 37-year-old winger decided to step away from the NHL because the free agent didn’t have “the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having.”
The Flames and Oilers showed that even the most storied rivals in the NHL can put their differences aside when it comes to making problems go away.
Edmonton traded disappointing winger Milan Lucic, with four years left on his contract at $5.25 million annually, for disappointing winger James Neal, with whom the Flames cut ties after just one season. Neal has four seasons left on his deal with a $5.75 million cap hit.
Meanwhile, the teams indirectly swapped goalies: Mike Smith went from the Flames to the Oilers as a free agent, while longtime former Oilers goalie Cam Talbot, who most recently played with the Flyers, signed with Calgary.
Roberto Luongo was the biggest name who called it career after last season, as the Panthers goalie retired with the second-most games played (1,044) and third-most wins (489) in NHL history.
Among those also hanging up the skates were Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward (who spent the majority of his career with the Canes), Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik and former Lightning and Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.
The Avalanche finished with 90 points last season and were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. But with one of the best lines in hockey — Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — a great young defense corps and some smart offseason additions such as Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Colorado is getting championship hype.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman suspended the Capitals forward for three regular-season games after he tested positive for cocaine at the 2019 IIHF World Championship on May 26. That test followed a now-deleted video on social media that showed Kuznetsov in a hotel room with a white powdery substance on a table, and Kuznetsov’s denial that he had taken drugs.
Meanwhile, the IIHF suspended Kuznetsov from international play for four years.
“I promise to do everything in my power to win you back with my actions both on and off the ice,” Kuznetsov said.
The Blues went from last place in January to the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history in June. GM Doug Armstrong mostly kept this team together, other than Patrick Maroon signing with Tampa Bay and a significant preseason trade that saw the Blues acquire defenseman Justin Faulk from Carolina for a package that included defenseman Joel Edmundson.
They elevated coach Craig Berube from interim bench boss to full-fledged head coach. They also signed rookie sensation goalie Jordan Binnington to an intriguing two-year contract extension that walks him up to unrestricted free agency.
The Blues might be different in some ways — no more “Gloria” in the locker room — but they look very much like the team that rolled to the Cup last season.
Seattle isn’t going to play an NHL game until the 2021-22 season, but it’s constructing an impressive management team in preparation for it. Ron Francis, former general manager of the Hurricanes, was hired in that capacity to build Seattle. He’s joined by assistant GM Ricky Olczyk and by Alexandra Mandrycky, a well-regarded voice in the analytics community who was hired as director of hockey administration.
Is it possible that, for only the second time in Gary Bettman’s 26-year tenure as commissioner, the NHL and the NHLPA will negotiate a collective bargaining agreement without a work stoppage?
Yes, actually: Both sides opted not to reopen the CBA before its September 2022 expiration date, as the players were encouraged by cordial talks with the owners. There are still major issues to be sorted out, such as the players’ escrow withholdings and international play, but this is the most optimism surrounding labor talks that the NHL has seen in decades.