Ranking the 8 NHL Teams Having the Best Offseason so Far
It's been well over a month since the 2020 NHL offseason began following the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite the constraints of a flattened salary cap and ongoing uncertainty over when next season will begin, all 31 clubs were busy adjusting their rosters through trades and free agency.
While several teams were forced to shed salary or struggled to address their lineup needs, others have enjoyed considerable success. Some, like the Buffalo Sabres, made a significant, surprising splash in free agency. Others, like the Montreal Canadiens, improved their rosters with several savvy moves.
Here's our ranking of the eight NHL teams that have made the most of this offseason. It's based on their recent acquisitions and the effects upon their respective rosters.
8. Detroit Red Wings
The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings were an embarrassment during Steve Yzerman's first season as their general manager. They finished with a league-worst 39 points in 71 games and suffered insult to injury by sliding to fourth overall in the 2020 draft lottery. That selection was used on Swedish prospect Lucas Raymond.
Yzerman spent most of last season making minor tweaks as he evaluated his roster. During this offseason, however, he has wasted no time adding some much-needed veteran depth to his young club.
The Red Wings GM used free agency to add two solid forwards in Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov. He brought some stability to his goaltending by signing Thomas Greiss to a two-year contract. He also bolstered his defense by acquiring Marc Staal (and a 2021 second-round draft pick) in a trade with the New York Rangers and bringing in Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill via free agency.
All those deals were economical, short-term acquisitions that should provide experienced skills and leadership to the Wings' young roster. They're still at least two years away from playoff contention, but Yzerman's recent moves mean they won't be pushovers anymore.
7. New Jersey Devils
After serving as the New Jersey Devils' interim general manager last season, Tom Fitzgerald was named full-time GM and executive vice president on July 9. He quickly went about addressing his club's roster needs.
Fitzgerald's biggest move was shaking up his goaltending. He bought out the final two years of former starter Cory Schneider's contract before making a significant splash in the free-agent pool by signing Corey Crawford to a two-year deal. A two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks, the 35-year-old Crawford will split the duties with up-and-comer Mackenzie Blackwood.
The new Devils GM turned to the trade market to bolster his blue line and scoring depth. On Oct. 8, Fitzgerald shipped a 2021 fifth-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Ryan Murray. Two days later, he dealt restricted free agent forward Joey Anderson to the Toronto Maple Leafs for former 20-goal scorer Andreas Johnsson.
Fitzgerald's moves should make the Devils more competitive next season. He might not be done making additions, either. The club still has $17.2 million in salary-cap space, more than enough to re-sign Blackwood and fellow restricted free agent Jesper Bratt. He could also have enough to target a cap-strapped team to add another veteran forward or defenseman.
6. Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has been busy rebuilding his roster for the past two seasons. His club remains another season or two away from playoff contention, but the decisions he made during this offseason should make them more competitive in 2020-21.
With the third and fifth overall picks in the 2020 draft, Dorion selected center Tim Stutzle and defenseman Jake Sanderson. Both join the Senators' growing pipeline of budding young talent who could form the core of a future perennial playoff contender.
Addressing more immediate needs, Dorion acquired goaltender Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward prospect Jonathan Gruden and a 2020 second-round pick. He also signed free-agent winger Evgeni Dadonov to a three-year deal and acquired forward Austin Watson from the Nashville Predators for a fourth-rounder in 2021 and defenseman Erik Gudbranson from the Anaheim Ducks for 2021 fifth-round pick.
Murray, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh, brings steadiness to the Senators' crease. Dadonov replaces the offense of departed winger Anthony Duclair, while Watson and Gudbranson bring short-term grit, toughness and experience. With $12.5 million in cap room, Dorion has the flexibility to make another addition if the need arises during the season.
5. Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames had to shake things up following another early playoff exit. General manager Brad Treliving decided his goaltending and blue line needed work and took appropriate steps to address those issues.
Treliving made one of the biggest signings of free agency, inking former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom to a six-year contract worth an annual average value of $6 million. The 30-year-old was among the best of this year's deep crop of free-agent netminders.
The Flames GM added two more former Canucks to his lineup via free agency. The day after signing Markstrom, Treliving inked defenseman Chris Tanev to a four-year, $18 million contract. Two weeks later, he signed depth winger Josh Leivo to a one-year contract.
For the first time since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2014, the Flames have a reliable starting goalie. Markstrom should provide some much-needed stability between the pipes. Tanev's addition should offset TJ Brodie's departure to Toronto, while Leivo brings a measure of depth to the checking lines.
4. Buffalo Sabres
Kevyn Adams took over as Buffalo Sabres general manager on June 16 as part of a front-office shakeup. A former NHL player, Adams worked in several roles within the team's organization but lacked management experience. So far, however, he appears to have made some good decisions.
Adams' biggest deal was the most surprising, signing Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million contract. The 28-year-old left winger was considered the best forward in this year's unrestricted free-agent market. Convincing the former Hart Memorial Trophy winner to join a team that last reached the playoffs nine years ago was an impressive move.
The Sabres GM added more experience and skill at his second-line center position by shipping Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild for Eric Staal. He also signed veteran depth forwards Cody Eakin and Tobias Rieder to affordable short-term contracts, and avoided arbitration with defenseman Brandon Montour and forwards Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson.
Adams' moves won't turn the Sabres into Stanley Cup contenders. Nevertheless, the additions of Hall and Staal should significantly improve their offensive depth. Their abilities and leadership could provide the Sabres a good shot at ending their nearly decade-long playoff drought.
3. Montreal Canadiens
The retooling Montreal Canadiens raised eyebrows during the 2020 playoffs by upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round before falling to the Philadelphia Flyers in six hard-fought games in the first round. That seemed to spur general manager Marc Bergevin to build upon their surprising performance.
Bergevin's first move was acquiring goaltender Jake Allen (and a 2022 seventh-rounder) from the St. Louis Blues and signing him to a two-year contract extension. The Canadiens have lacked a reliable backup for starter Carey Price for some time. Allen, who won a Stanley Cup with the Blues in 2019, will help Price shoulder the goaltending load.
The Canadiens GM next added some grit and championship experience to his defense by acquiring and signing Joel Edmundson. He followed that by shipping center Max Domi to the Columbus Blue Jackets for power forward Josh Anderson, signing him to a seven-year contract. He then made a splash in the free-agent market, signing versatile two-way forward Tyler Toffoli to a four-year deal.
Bergevin did a fine job addressing his club's biggest needs. Allen, Anderson, Toffoli and Edmundson should substantially improve Montreal's lineup. Combined with promising youngsters such as Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Canadiens should become a strong playoff contender.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights are in win-now mode after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season (2017-18). They reached the Western Conference Final this year for the second time in their short history but were eliminated in five games by the Dallas Stars.
With his club lacking a true No. 1 defenseman, general manager Kelly McCrimmon made the biggest move in this year's free agency by signing former St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract. One of the NHL's elite defensemen, Pietrangelo's addition should keep the Golden Knights among the Stanley Cup contenders for the foreseeable future.
McCrimmon also kept goaltender Robin Lehner in the fold, signing him to a five-year, $25 million contract extension. It was assumed that spelled the end of Marc-Andre Fleury's tenure with the Golden Knights, but he and Lehner will share the goaltending duties next season.
Signing Pietrangelo and Lehner forced McCrimmon to trade center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks. However, Pietrangelo will more than offset Schmidt's departure, while Chandler Stephenson or the promising Cody Glass could replace Stastny.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has garnered a reputation as a savvy offseason wheeler-dealer. Last year, he acquired forwards Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, who both went on to become key members of the Avs' lineup last season.
Sakic's shrewd deal-making continued during this offseason. On Oct. 10, he shipped defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm to the Chicago Blackhawks for winger Brandon Saad and minor league defenseman Dennis Gilbert. Two days later, he sent a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 second-rounder to the New York Islanders for blueliner Devon Toews.
Saad, 28, is a skilled two-way winger who's tallied 21-or-more goals and 47-plus points five times. The two-time Stanley Cup champion will provide a boost to Colorado's secondary scoring. Toews, 26, is a puck-moving defenseman who can play on the left or right side. He'll bring an extra measure of mobility to the Avalanche's blue line.
After finishing second overall in the Western Conference last season with 92 points in 70 games, the Avalanche must be considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders heading into 2020-21. The additions of Saad and Toews should move them even closer to hockey's greatest prize.