Kulfan: Red Wings among winners of this wild NHL offseason

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan
 
| The Detroit News

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Detroit — This NHL offseason, for the most part, was bottled into one week.

You had the entry draft and start of unrestricted free agency, along with trades mainly by salary cap-crunched teams looking to unload, all taking place in a matter of days.

There are still teams looking to add and improve — and more than a few unrestricted free agents looking for jobs in this economically challenged time in the NHL.

But there are plenty of conclusions to be drawn already from this wild offseason.

Winners

Buffalo Sabres: Signing Taylor Hall sends a positive message to young disgruntled Jack Eichel (who is tired of the losing). Especially on a one-year contract (worth $8 million) with little risk attached. If Hall and Eichel form offensive chemistry, the Sabres could be dangerous. Acquiring Eric Staal fills a hole at center behind Eichel. Look, the Sabres aren’t complete yet. But on paper, they got significantly better.

Montreal Canadiens: General manager Marc Bergevin promised veterans Carey Price and Shea Weber he’d build a contender around them, and Bergevin is keeping his word. The Canadiens should score more goals with Tyler Toffoli and forward Josh Anderson. Getting defenseman Joel Edmundson and goaltender Jake Allen deepens the roster. This team should be really good.

Colorado Avalanche: As usual, GM Joe Sakic has been sneaky good. Acquiring defenseman Devon Toews for draft picks was a shrewd acquisition, especially after trading defenseman Nikita Zadorov to Chicago for forward Brandon Saad. Acquiring Saad strengthens the Avalanche’s depth. This team keeps getting better.

Vancouver Canucks: Patience proved a valuable virtue for GM Jim Benning, who was looking at cap space problems, yet managed to add goaltender Braden Holtby (after Jacob Markstrom left for Calgary), and adding defenseman Nate Schmidt (for draft picks) after losing Chris Tanev (Calgary). The Canucks might actually be better all the way around.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are better. They never really wanted to lose forward Paul Stastny to free agency two years ago, and now they’ve acquired him back from Vegas for not much. The Jets also were able to re-sign defenseman Dylan DeMelo to a maturing defense. The Jets’ top six forwards are as good as any in the NHL.

Detroit Red Wings: Look, the Red Wings aren’t going to make the playoffs, win the Stanley Cup, but they will be more competitive. After last season’s debacle, that’ll be a step forward. In trading for defenseman Marc Staal, and signing goalie Thomas Greiss, forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, and defensemen Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill (Grand Blanc/Michigan), GM Steve Yzerman made no long-term, big-money commitments but added leadership and improved the roster.

New Jersey Devils: Like the Red Wings, the Devils aren’t going to instantly be contenders. But they used their cap space wisely, adding goaltender Corey Crawford, defenseman Ryan Murray and forward Andreas Johnsson. The Devils are better.

Los Angeles Kings: Drafting Quinton Byfield, adding to an extremely deep prospect pool, and then shrewdly trading for defenseman Olli Maatta, keeps making the Kings stronger.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Considering the salary cap constraints the Maple Leafs always have, GM Kyle Dubas did a nice job. Wayne Simmonds is a character guy who’ll toughen the Leafs, and defensemen T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian strengthen the Leafs, also. Probably not enough to win a Stanley Cup, but the Leafs are more well rounded.

Ottawa Senators: The draft was unbelievable for the Senators, adding forward Tim Stutzle and defenseman Jake Sanderson, who both could be impact players. But acquiring goaltender Matt Murray stabilizes the Senators’ net (although the contract was a bit much) and getting forward Austin Watson (Ann Arbor) from Nashville was a shrewd acquisition, as was Thursday’s signing goal-scoring forward Evgenii Dadonov.

Calgary Flames: You have doubts how the contracts for Markstrom (six years/$36 million) and Tanev (four years/$18 million) will play out in the end, but for right now, they address Flames’ needs, specifically Markstrom. The Flames finally may have stabilized their goaltending.

New York Rangers: Just by winning the draft lottery and getting forward Alexis Lafreniere, this offseason was a success. The Rangers have to be cognizant of their salary cap situation, so signing defenseman and former Michigan star Jack Johnson (one year/$1.15 million) was a no-risk, shrewd move.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Considering Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang aren’t getting any younger, GM Jim Rutherford has done all he could this offseason giving that core one more Stanley Cup chance. Forwards Mark Jankowski and Kasperi Kapanen, and defenseman Mike Matheson, all have the potential to make the Penguins better.

Average 

Vegas Golden Knights: Yes, the Golden Knights signed the best free agent out there in defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. But there was a huge price. In terms of money (seven-year, $61.5 million), getting into serious salary cap issues, and being forced to trade forward Paul Stastny (Winnipeg) and defenseman Nate Schmidt (Vancouver) for nothing. And Vegas has upset goalie Marc-Andre Fleury by re-signing goaltender Robin Lehner, who appears to be the No. 1. There could easily be chemistry issues here.

St. Louis Blues: It’s mildly shocking they couldn’t re-sign Pietrangelo, who appeared to be a lifer in St. Louis. Signing defenseman Torey Krug (Livonia/Michigan State) eases the pain, but it sure seems like the Blues simply could have done more to keep Pietrangelo, an important presence in the Blues’ locker room.

Chicago Blackhawks: The positives in trading for defenseman Zadorov (from Colorado for Saad), and signing forwards Lucas Wallmark and Mattias Janmark is balanced out by not re-signing — or adequately replacing — Crawford. The Blackhawks’ goaltending currently looks scary.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks have been mostly quiet, but getting unrestriced free-agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was a decent move. You wonder if Shattenkirk will have a similar impact that he did with the Lightning, where he played with so much more talent. Drafting defenseman Jamie Drysdale could be a great move in later years.

Edmonton Oilers: Signing defenseman Tyson Barrie (one-year/$3.75 million) was a shrewd move by GM Ken Holland, but re-signing goaltender Mike Smith (one year/$2 million) feels like a miss, considering there may have been better options out there.

Washington Capitals: Signing goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (one year/$1.5 million) was a no-risk move, but you wonder how much an even motivated Lundqvist has left, even in a back-up role. Defenseman Justin Schultz is a nice addition, but the Capitals appear in need of a dramatic move.

Arizona Coyotes: There still might be more brewing, as new general manager Bill Armstrong gets acclimated. If they were to deal defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, which they almost did to either Boston or Vancouver — that would be a dramatic roster shake-up.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes might still be doing with their goaltending, but up to now, they’ve been mostly watching. Signing forward Jesper Fast (three years/$6 million) might be one year too long, but doesn’t hurt the Hurricanes.

Dallas Stars: The Stars were able to maintain, re-signing goaltender Anton Khudobin, who was so good in the playoffs. Being salary-cap crunched, there’s not much else they could do.

Minnesota Wild: GM Bill Guerin has been shaking things up, but whether it makes the Wild better is a question mark. The best move was drafting forward Marco Rossi, but Rossi may not be ready for another year or two.

Ugly

Tampa Bay Lightning: Not yet, but it’s coming. GM Julien BriseBois still hasn’t cleared out probably two key veterans to re-sign three vital restricted free agents. The Lightning won the Stanley Cup, but it’s going to cost them.

Boston Bruins: Not being able to re-sign Krug sure seems like a mistake. Krug appeared to be a fixture. Now they have a hole there to fill, and with offseason surgeries to Brad Marchand (groin) and David Pastrnak (hip), the Bruins need more depth up front.

New York Islanders: The Islanders are up against it in terms of the salary cap, and being forced to trade defenseman Devon Toews for two second-round picks hurts.  

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets cleared out a lot of salary cap space and whiffed on getting any of the big names. Signing forward Mikko Koivu doesn’t hurt, but probably won’t push the Blue Jackets to the next level. Getting forward Max Domi (from Montreal, for Josh Anderson) could help.

San Jose Sharks: Simply staying  healthy should improve the Sharks next season, something they weren’t able to do last season. But there wasn’t much done of note to improve this aging roster.

Nashville Predators: Because of salary cap issues, buying out forward Kyle Turris and only signing defenseman Matt Benning and forward Nick Cousins amount to a dud.

Philadelphia Flyers: Losing defenseman Matt Niskanen to retirement was unexpected and replacing him with Erik Gustafsson doesn’t fully replace Niskanen for a Flyers team that is close to being a Stanley Cup contender.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers fall into this category, just from the perspective that new GM Bill Zito was looking to do big things and wasn’t able to. The Panthers haven’t adequately improved themselves, despite signing forward Alex Wennberg and defenseman Radko Gudas.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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