By: Dana Grey
The NHL offseason was full of storyline's, and Dana is here to give you the rundown of everything that happened.
Today I am going to tackle the ins and outs of the NHL offseason, also known as the four-month period of despair for any hockey fan. As the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks continue their third summer celebration in six years, the other 29 teams are already focused on the 2015-2016 campaign. The months of June and July have brought quite a lot of activity with free agency, trades and the exciting possibility of expansion. Let’s dive in.
I want to start off by looking into and examining a few of the teams that made the most moves these past couple of months. These three teams could look very different come early October compared to the end of their respective season’s this past spring. I’m biased, but I would like to begin with the Boston Bruins.
After missing the playoffs for the first time in 7 years, the Bruins wasted no time by firing their GM Peter Chiarelli and promoting Don Sweeney from within the organization to fill the position. As it would become evident soon, the Bruins were going to be sellers right off the bat, as they shipped their 3rd line center Carl Soderberg to Colorado in return for a pick in the 2016 draft.
This would not compare to the magnitude of Sweeney’s next moves as the rising All Star defenseman Dougie Hamilton was traded to the Flames for three picks in this year’s draft. Although Hamilton’s contract was up this year, and he was asking for substantial money, Sweeney felt that their mounting salary cap issues were more of a pressing problem than the teams’ struggling defense pairs.
If the Boston faithful were not baffled by the Hamilton deal, they sure were following Milan Lucic’s departure to LA. The left winger, who had grown his career as a Bruin, won a Stanley Cup with the team, and became an enforcing fan favorite, was dealt for a first rounder, an AHL defenseman and the Kings’ backup goalie, Martin Jones.
Leading up to the draft in late June at the BB&T Center, there was speculation concerning Sweeney’s moves and what grand plan he had for the ammo he had acquired before the draft. After a relatively uneventful and predictable day of selections, the Bruins signed Anaheim forward Matt Beleskey to a 5-year/$19 million contract when free agency opened on July 1st.
The same day, Reilly Smith (and longtime Bruin Marc Savard’s contract) were traded to Florida for Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes. It’s difficult to dissect this frenzy that has been the Bruins’ offseason, but it is safe to say that when the Black and Gold hit the TD Garden ice in October they are going to look very different. I would be shocked if the Bruins remained out of the playoff structure once again, but it’s hard to picture another Stanley Cup banner being raised to the rafters next spring.
Another team with lots of offseason activity was the St. Louis Blues. This is a club that has had recent regular season success but has endured painful playoff defeats at the hands of Western Conference powerhouses in the Blackhawks and Kings. Following another playoff disappointment this past Spring, it is only more clear that the Blues, as they are, do not have what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. However, I would argue that they are close to ending the organizations championship drought, but moves must be made in order for the Blues to better match up with the Cup winners of the past years.
General Manager Doug Armstrong has received extreme criticism for not supplying the team the necessary tools and missing pieces to push them over the hump to a title. Unfortunately, so far this summer, it does not appear that he has achieved this. When free agency began, the Blues lost two of their core members in defenseman Barret Jackman and Olympic sensation T.J. Oshie. It’s hard to find justification for letting go of such a prolific goal scorer and fan favorite as Oshie, but the salary cap is most obvious to blame.
Now, with some room to work, Armstrong turned from seller to buyer and brought in Minnesota forward Kyle Brodziak and a stable defensemen in Andre Benoit to fill the void Jackman left. Other than those moves and the resigning of goaltender Jake Allen and highlight reel scorer Vladimir Tarasenko to substantial contracts, the Blues look relatively unchanged. In an offseason filled with the opportunity for improvement, St. Louis has failed to add that extra factor to create a Stanley Cup winning team. Yes, the Blues will be dominant in the Western Conference, yes they will earn a top seed in the playoffs, but it appears that the prized championship will elude them once again.
Lastly, lets take a look at the Eastern Conference counterpart of the St. Louis Blues that has experienced similar playoff woes. The Washington Capitals seem to be in the conversation for Stanley Cup Champions at the beginning of each year. And how can they not be with the best player in the league suiting up for them every night? Yes, Ovechkin and the Caps have yet to win a Stanley Cup in franchise history despite early round playoff success for a number of years. Just this past spring, they were one overtime Game 7 goal against the Rangers away from reaching the Eastern Conference final.
Washington is beginning to run out of time to win a cup with their core group of stars (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Orpik, Holtby etc.). So, this offseason general manager Brian Maclellan went on the offensive. After losing longtime defenseman Mike Green and 4th line grinder Joel Ward to free agency, the Caps had some salary space to work with.
If Washington wasn’t considered the most powerful offensive team in the league last year, there is no doubt about this season with their acquisitions in the forward position. T.J. Oshie, Drew Stafford and Justin Williams. No, thats not a line from last year’s all star game, those are three of the names that will be joining Ovi and company in the nation’s capital this year. There is not a team or player more hungry or anxious for a Stanley Cup than the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin. With such an explosive offense and steady defense and goaltending, this might be the Washington team that finally makes the short bus ride to the White House with the Stanley Cup in tow.
Now onto some real exciting news. For the past few years, talk of expansion in the NHL has been a constant headline. There has been a group of cities that have continually come up in these discussions: Seattle, Las Vegas, Toronto and Quebec City. It was just recently announced that only two markets filled out the necessary application and paid the $10 million dollar fee by the deadline set by the NHL.
In a press conference, commissioner Gary Bettman revealed that Las Vegas and Quebec City were the two cities remaining in the running for obtaining an NHL team. These two future clubs are almost polar opposites in the sense that one is not a hockey market at all, while the other has been waiting for the return of it’s Quebec Nordiques for 20 years. There is more work to be done but it appears that our 30 team league will be expanding sooner rather than later. With completely reshaped teams, new franchises in the works and even 3 on 3 overtime, there is a lot to look forward to in this upcoming hockey season.