Offseason Moves Paying Early Dividends in the 2017-18 NHL Season
During every offseason, NHL teams make changes via draft picks, trades and free agency in the hopes of improving their rosters. This year was no exception. Among the notable moves was the Chicago Blackhawks shipping left wing Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets for left wing Brandon Saad.
The Panarin-for-Saad swap provided both clubs with a swift, favorable outcome early this season. Other summer changes, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs signing forward Patrick Marleau and the Vegas Golden Knights selecting right wing James Neal, are also having immediate positive effects.
Here's a look at the offseason moves paying early dividends in the 2017-18 NHL season. Feel free to express your views on this topic in the comments section below.
Dallas Stars Acquire Ben Bishop
The lack of a proven starting goaltender contributed to the Dallas Stars missing the playoffs in 2016-17. To address this problem, they acquired goaltender Ben Bishop from the Los Angeles Kings and signed him to a six-year, $29.5 million contract.
Despite a long injury history, the 30-year-old is considered one of the league's top netminders. A two-time Vezina Trophy finalist (2014 and 2016), he backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.
Thanks to Bishop's goaltending, the Stars have won five of their first nine games. In eight starts, he's posted a 2.38 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. If he can remain healthy and return to Vezina-contending form, Dallas could be playoff-bound this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs Sign Patrick Marleau
After 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Marleau signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His veteran presence is among the reasons the Leafs sit in second place in the Atlantic Division.
Marleau put up impressive numbers during his long tenure with the Sharks. He exceeded 20 goals 14 times and 40 points 17 times. He's their all-time leader in games played (1,493), goals (508) and points (1,082). At 38, there were some questions as to how well he would fit in with the young Leafs. So far, he's had little difficulty adjusting to his new teammates.
Nine games into this season, Marleau's four goals have him tied with Nazem Kadri for third among Leafs' goal scorers. A versatile forward who can skate at left wing or center, he's providing the Leafs with an invaluable measure of experienced forward depth and leadership.
Tampa Bay Lightning Acquire Mikhail Sergachev
When the Tampa Bay Lightning shipped forward Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens for promising defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in June, the assumption was the Habs would become the early beneficiary. Instead, it's the 19-year-old rookie blueliner who's made the more notable early impression.
While Drouin struggles with the floundering Canadiens, Sergachev is already showing the puck-moving abilities that made him the ninth overall selection in the 2016 NHL draft. With four goals and nine points in 10 games, he's the leading scorer among Lightning defensemen and tied for second among NHL rookies with New Jersey Devils blueliner Will Butcher.
Time will tell whether Sergachev can maintain his impressive rate of production. Still, there's no denying he's among the reasons the Lightning sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. He's given their blue line a welcome boost in mobility and offense.
St. Louis Blues Acquire Brayden Schenn
A lack of offensive skill at center hampered the St. Louis Blues last season. To address this need, they acquired Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2017 NHL draft. His addition is a significant reason why the Blues sit in first place in the Central Division 10 games into this season.
Schenn, 26, is a versatile two-way center who can also play on either wing. Over the previous four seasons, he scored 20 goals three times and 40-plus points four times.
The addition of Schenn is working out well for the Blues. He's provided a much-needed offensive boost at center, with nine points in 10 games. At that rate of production, he's on pace for a career-high 70 points, which would exceed his mark of 59 from two seasons ago.
Vegas Golden Knights Select James Neal in the Expansion Draft
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights are off to a historic start, becoming the first NHL team to win seven of its first eight games. One reason behind this early success is Neal's performance as their first-line right wing.
One of the Golden Knights' notable selections in the 2017 expansion draft, the 30-year-old tallied 20 or more goals in each of his nine previous NHL seasons. He's off to an impressive start this term, scoring six goals; his eight points make him Vegas' leading scorer.
It's doubtful the Golden Knights can maintain their torrid pace throughout this season. Given their lack of experienced scoring depth, Neal's stats could decline. Still, he's played a big role in their record-setting start to their inaugural season. A victory Friday over the Colorado Avalanche will be Vegas' fourth in a row and match the longest winning streak at any point by an expansion club in its first year.
New Jersey Devils Add Nico Hischier and Will Butcher
Considered a rebuilding team entering this season, the New Jersey Devils surprised many fans by winning six of their first eight games. One reason for their unexpected strong start is the play of rookies Nico Hischier and Will Butcher.
Hischier was selected first overall in the 2017 NHL draft. The 18-year-old center is tied for third with Kyle Palmieri among Devils scorers, with seven points. Butcher, the winner of the 2017 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, signed with the Devils as a free agent out of the University of Denver. The 22-year-old defenseman's nine points tie him with left wing Taylor Hall for the club scoring lead.
The two youngsters have adapted well to the NHL game. Hischier has quickly developed a strong offensive chemistry centering Hall on New Jersey's top line. Butcher, meanwhile, provides a welcome measure of puck-moving speed and skill previously missing from the team's blue line.
Los Angeles Kings Promote John Stevens to Head Coach
After missing the playoffs last season for the second time in three years, the Los Angeles Kings promoted John Stevens into the role of head coach. The move has paid early dividends, as the Kings opened 2017-18 with seven wins in their first nine games.
Stevens' promotion saw the Kings adopt a more offensive style. They have gone from averaging 2.43 goals for per game last season to 3.44 early in 2017-18. Forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who struggled offensively in 2016-17, lead the Kings in scoring, with 11 points each.
It remains to be seen whether the Kings can maintain that offensive pace, especially with center Jeff Carter sidelined indefinitely with an injured left leg. But there's no denying moving Stevens into the head-coaching role has significantly improved their performance.
Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad
On June 30, 2015, the Chicago Blackhawks traded Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a multiplayer deal. Almost two years later to the day, they reacquired him by sending Panarin to the Blue Jackets in another multiplayer swap.
Saad had two 53-point seasons with the Blue Jackets. However, at times he struggled to remain in a top-six role. Panarin, the 2016 Calder Memorial Trophy winner, had two 70-plus-point campaigns with the Blackhawks skating alongside superstar Patrick Kane.
This trade is one of those rare ones that has immediately worked out well for both clubs. Skating once again alongside center Jonathan Toews, Saad leads the Blackhawks with six goals in eight games. Panarin, meanwhile, leads the Blue Jackets with 10 points playing on their top line.