Offseason Moves Having the Biggest Early Impact on the 2015-16 NHL Season
The offseason offers different options for NHL clubs heading in different directions. Some are loading up for a Stanley Cup run. Others are tearing down their rosters to rebuild for future success.
Whatever moves they make for any variety of reasons can have an effect not only on their own team, but also on the one they're trading with or the teams from which they pilfered free agents.
And although the 2015-16 season is just a few weeks old, some of those moves are yielding some interesting results. The impact can be positive, but it also has the potential to be negative. Some of the perceived biggest moves of the offseason have had little to no impact so far, like the Patrick Sharp trade for the Dallas Stars or the blockbuster Milan Lucic deal between the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings.
It's too early to determine winners and losers or even predict how big the impact will ultimately be for moves like Alex Semin's one-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens or Marek Zidlicky's signing with the New York Islanders. However, we can offer a glimpse at some of the moves that have had an early impact and what the results have been.
Click ahead to see some of the biggest early impacts of those offseason attempts.
The Antti Niemi Acquisition
Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill apparently knew what he was doing when he traded for the exclusive negotiating rights to San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi and then signed him to a three-year deal.
This in spite of the fact he had a starter in Kari Lehtonen for the same three seasons.
While Lehtonen's personal numbers have dipped even more than last year's low point in a relatively strong career, he has a 3-1 record. Niemi, the 32-year-old former Stanley Cup winner (from his time with the Chicago Blackhawks), has been the early standout with a 4-1 record and strong stats, including a .928 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against average.
The Stars are an early contender for the Central Division title.
Mike Green Bolts from Washington
You may notice the picture above is not, in fact, of Mike Green. No, it's the guy still with the Capitals who has most been affected by the departure of the formerly unrestricted free agent—John Carlson.
Carlson is the beneficiary of Green's signing with the Detroit Red Wings this summer. He's picked up even more power-play minutes and has enjoyed an amazing start to the year with 10 points in seven games. He's logging nearly 24 minutes per game and averaging 1.43 points per game—tops among all NHL defensemen and seventh overall.
The Capitals are 6-1 so far. Meanwhile, Green has just one point in seven games, and the Red Wings are 4-3-1.
Buffalo Sabres Put Ryan O'Reilly on Their Radar
During a rebuild, teams looking to soften the blow of the growing pains while bringing younger players through the system often seek out a veteran to help bring the young players along more quickly or to shelter them from top opponents.
In Ryan O'Reilly, the Sabres not only found a buffer for the young players like second-overall draft picks Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, they also snared one of the top two-way centers in the game who is still just 24 himself. The impact has been marginal at first glance, with the Sabres among the worst in the Eastern Conference as expected.
However, O'Reilly has three goals and seven points in eight games and is averaging nearly 21 minutes per game. He has helped the power play work up to the seventh-best percentage so far.
Pittsburgh Picks Up Phil Kessel
This one is having an impact but not the way you might have expected when the Pittsburgh Penguins made a deal to bring Phil Kessel over from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kessel has been a big part of the struggling Pens offense, especially since joining Evgeni Malkin on the second line after the partnership with Sidney Crosby turned out to be a bust. Kessel and the captain had to be separated with the team and its biggest superstar flailing early on.
The split seems to have made the move more positive in terms of impact, but the negative impact on Crosby—who may have been guilty of adopting a pass-first attitude with an accomplished sniper by his side—has been big. He's been held without a point in seven of eight games this year.
Edmonton Oilers Hire Todd McLellan
The coaching turnover in Edmonton has been epic. Six have guided the bench since long-time boss Craig MacTavish was removed in 2009. Three of them were one (or less) and done. None could get a team that was full of talent on paper to play that way on the ice.
Enter Todd McLellan.
McLellan was an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings before taking the lead role with the San Jose Sharks—making the playoffs every season until last year. He parted ways with them in the offseason, and the Oilers wisely snapped him up in the hope he could get the group to play cohesively.
It may be hard to believe a 3-6 record to start the season is anything to be proud of, but there are early signs of a turnaround in Edmonton. The Oilers' penalty kill is stronger this year. They've lost some close games to some very strong teams and beat their biggest rivals, the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, as well as the Detroit Red Wings, in consecutive contests.
If any coach can get the Oilers to come together, it might be McLellan. We can add Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs as an honorary mention here, too, because the team is showing better work ethic and commitment to the possession game.
Florida Panthers Re-Sign Jaromir Jagr
Although the Stanley Cup Playoffs were just about to begin and the ink from the regular-season schedule had barely dried when the move took place, technically, it was the offseason for the Florida Panthers when they re-upped Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal after enjoying his presence for a half season.
What the 43-year-old is doing this season defies logic. He's got six goals and 10 points in eight games to start the season and is buoying the Panthers offense to top seven in the NHL. As a result, the Panthers are in the thick of the early-season playoff mix, separating themselves from the bottom third quickly.
Chicago Blackhawks Ink Free Agent Artemi Panarin
Artemi Panarin played in the KHL as a 17-year-old and didn't make an attempt at the NHL until this season. In the offseason, the Chicago Blackhawks pitched the winning bid for the now 23-year-old winger.
His addition has helped the Hawks remake a potent lineup that lost the likes of Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards in the offseason. Panarin plays a lot like new linemate Patrick Kane. He's smaller but skilled and has great vision and goal-scoring ability. He's started the season with two goals and eight points in eight games.
The Blackhawks have won three straight games after some early inconsistencies due to the roster turnover for salary cap reasons. A big part of the turnaround has been Panarin's contributions and consistency.
The Drafting of Connor McDavid
Another slide talks about the impact Todd McLellan has had on the Edmonton Oilers. This one is all about Connor McDavid, the Oilers' top pick in last spring's draft.
McDavid had a slow start, with no points in three of his first four games. But he's heated up in his last five contests, earning at least a point in each of them and racking up four goals and eight points in that span. It's reminiscent of Johnny Gaudreau's start last season with the Calgary Flames—although the upside on McDavid is more in line with the Evgeni Malkin (85), Paul Stastny (78) and Patrick Kane (72) rookie benchmarks than Gaudreau's leading mark last season.
His impact on the team is most felt by linemate Nail Yakupov, who has gone from bust to breakout in a matter of a month thanks to the talented center he's been paired with. Yakupov was the first overall pick in 2012, but his career-high is 33 points (2014-15), but he was a minus-35 that year. This year, he has two goals, eight points and a plus-one rating through nine games.
I'm not sure who Yakupov should thank most: McLellan or McDavid.
Washington Capitals Double Dip
The Washington Capitals went and signed one of the best free agents on the open market in Justin Williams in July, then made a deal for dynamic winger T.J. Oshie to give them tremendous options on how to deploy their top six forwards.
It has worked out very well, with Oshie joining Alexander Ovechkin on the top line and Williams strengthening the second unit. Oshie has three goals and seven points in seven games and has made the separation of Nicklas Backstrom from Ovechkin easier.
Williams has a goal and six points in seven contests and has found chemistry with Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. The Capitals are the top-scoring team with more than four goals per game and are battling the New York Rangers for the Metropolitan Division lead with three games in hand.
The Martin Jones Trade(s)
Just four days after the Boston Bruins picked up Martin Jones as part of the package from the Los Angeles Kings for winger Milan Lucic, the San Jose Sharks snagged the former Jonathan Quick backup for a first-round pick.
It's silly to suggest that that acquisition has been the difference for the Sharks after the team missed the playoffs last season and has started this year as a Pacific Division contender. However, the 25-year-old has been a strong presence between the pipes for a team that had grown stale at the position and was looking for a more long-term solution there.
Jones is 5-2 with a .940 save percentage and 1.69 goals-against average—all top-10 numbers at this point of the season. He bounced back strong from his first taste of adversity with a two-goal victory after his first pair of losses of the year saw him allow four goals in each.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.