McClure took you through the local hockey club’s actions on the opening day of free agency, as I was too busy passing out from every Belgian attack (I passed out a lot). So I thought I’d clean up what went on around the league.
First, it’s probably best to look closer to home and that’s in the Central division. The big move was Jason Spezza going to the Stars for pretty much nothing. One aspect that didn’t get mentioned a whole lot is how this move slots The Ginger Ninja, Cody Eakin, down into the 3rd center role. That’s where he’s supposed to be and don’t be shocked if he becomes one of the better 3rd centers in the West.
While the Stars are going to be tons of fun to watch (and I’m going to go ahead and say they’ll finish ahead of Colorado), there’s questions about their blue line. They have prospects there who could all eat up some of that gap this season. Kevin Connauton, Jamie Oleksiak, and Patrick Nemeth will all get looks. If they can put Sergei Gonchar out to pasture to keep Alex Goligoski (who was fantastic in the last couple months last season) clean, it won’t be as bad as you think. Clearly a team to watch.
The next biggest story was the Blues getting Paul Stastny, which also weakens the Avalanche as they won’t be able to shield Duchene and MacKinnon as well now or they’ll move Ryan O’Reilly into the middle. Stastny is an improvement on what the Blues had, and they were going to be bolstered by the continued growth of Tarasenko and Schwartz along with the arrivals of Jaskin and Rattie. Still, this feels like the year they finally tune out Hitchcock, though I said that last year. And there are questions in net again, though Brian Elliot and Jay Gallon will be better than we all think or want.
The sneaky move was getting Carl Gunnarsson from Toronto, who is a major improvement on Circus Bear Roman Polak. He could easily play with Shattenkirk all year and give the Blues a more solid top four. But defense wasn’t the problem here, was it?
As for the Avs, they’ve hit the gas pedal on what was going to be their regression anyway. Brad Stuart is hilariously bad and if he plays at all he’ll get torched when the Avs go-go game leaving him exposed. They’ve lost Stastny and may lose O’Reilly, and Iginla will put up numbers but not as much not getting as much space in the West. And if they think they’re getting that again from Guenin and Holden, well I can’t help you there.
Expected a little more from Minnesota, and there’s obviously plenty of time. Not sure how much more Vanek gives them over Moulson, who wasn’t bad for them. A lot depends on the development of Granlund and especially Folin on the blue line, but they could use one more d-man for sure. Still, with Granlund moving into the #1 slot and Koivu and Haula behind him, the Wild will be at least as big of a nuisance as they were last year and probably more.
Overall, it feels like the division only got tougher.
The Hawks should petition the NHL to have the Pacific Division playoffs just be reduced to a best of 15 between Anaheim and L.A. Although to be fair, for all the talk of San Jose’s self-immolation all they’ve done so far is jettison Boyle and Stuart and move Burns back to defense (which is moronic but not enough to torpedo the whole operation). The Hawks signing of Richards takes them out of any Joe Thornton derby, and here would have been one of the few places you would think Thornton would go.
The Ducks obviously have really bolstered themselves down the middle, and though their blue line still has questions it’s not a huge reach to count on development of Fowler and Lindholm (though they’re going to have to figure out something elsewhere, as Allen and Beauchemin cannot keep up with other forwards in the West, and I wouldn’t count on Ben Lovejoy to be that effective again).
A word on the Hawks’ Kesler misfire. Just trying to read between the lines here, and with the Hawks being in it until the end but knowing that Saad and Teuvo were untouchable, I can only guess that they centered a deal around Marcus Kruger. But Kruger is not Nick Bonino, even if that sounds strange to some. The problem for Stan when it comes to trades is he had a couple queens and a lot of pawns but no rooks. Everyone wants Saad and Teuvo, but they can’t have them. Beyond that, the tradable chips are just small pieces, be they Danault or McNeill or Ross. The rest who are available are basically salary dumps. As the kids develop more in Rockford that will change, but for now that’s what kept Kesler from coming, at least in my mind.
You remember this. It reared its ugly head the last time the Hawks had to extend Toews and Kane. A brief primer, basically an NHL team can’t have more money committed to next year’s salary than this year’s cap. Right now the Hawks only have $44 million committed to ’15-’16, but that’s with Daydream Nation unsigned. If they get $11 million apiece, now that’s up to $66 million with Saad, Kruger, and Leddy also unsigned. All of them are restricted so you could conceivably wait until after July 1 next year, but Saad especially might just attract an offer sheet. You also might need a little flexibility during the year.
This is why someone is getting tossed overboard for picks. I’m sure Stan would love it to be Versteeg, and Oduya is the name you also keep hearing. Oduya has a modified no-trade, though I’m sure it would be explained he’s walking after the year anyway. Stan’s work isn’t quite finished yet.