NHL Offseason Bizarro Rankings: Eastern Conference EditionSteve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images
Welcome to part two of the offseason Bizarro-meter rankings, in which we look at all the decisions made by every team in the NHL and try to figure out which team has had the weirdest summer. Yesterday, we went through the Western Conference, where the Anaheim Ducks rode one of the worst contracts in recent league history to land an impressive score of 9.2 and clubhouse-leader status.
Can somebody from the East beat that score? Let’s find out …
Their offseason so far: They said goodbye to UFAs Mike Green, Joel Ward and (presumably) Eric Fehr. They used some of that cap space to sign Justin Williams away from the Kings, and also landed T.J. Oshie in a trade with the Blues. Pretty solid moves all around, really, and nothing that didn’t make sense.
But their strangest move was: Letting goaltender Braden Holtby remain unsigned. After yet another strong season, Holtby seems poised to move into the top tier of NHL goaltenders. But he still doesn’t have a new contract, and barring a last-minute settlement he’ll go to arbitration today with the two sides far apart. Those last-minute settlements almost always come, and there’s a good chance one will have already been announced by the time you read this. Actual arbitration hearings in the NHL are rare but notoriously brutal, and they can be particularly rough on goaltenders. The Caps wouldn’t really put their young superstar through that … would they?
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.3/10. That’s assuming they avoid arbitration with Holtby. Bump it up to 7.5/10 if they don’t.
New York Islanders
Their offseason so far: In terms of signings and trades, they haven’t done much. Adding backup goalie Thomas Greiss was pretty much it.
But their strangest move was: GM Garth Snow went into the draft without a first-round pick, and left with two thanks to some aggressive wheeling and dealing. That included trading former fourth overall pick Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers for a mid-round first and early second, a deal that most seem to think the Islanders won handily.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.5/10. “Garth Snow, downright solid NHL general manager” is a thing I will never get used to.
Their offseason so far: Their big move was trading for Eddie Lack, who’ll come in as Cam Ward’s backup but be starting full-time by November. That allowed them to flip Anton Khudobin for James Wisniewski, upgrading a blue line that will also welcome no. 5 overall draft pick Noah Hanifin. All in all, a fairly solid summer.
But their strangest move was: Their owner launched into a weird tirade against former GM Jim Rutherford, the Penguins, and Phil Kessel, which wasn’t actually a “move” per se but was still really strange.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.2/10. I admit, I did not have “Carolina and Pittsburgh” in my “Who will emerge as the Tupac and Biggie of the hockey world?” office pool.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Their offseason so far: They pulled off a shocker by landing Brandon Saad in a trade with the Blackhawks. It didn’t come cheap, costing them a package that included (but was not limited to) useful forward Artem Anisimov and prospect Marko Dano and then a six-year, $36 million extension for the young winger. Still, Saad has a chance to develop into a first-line power forward, and guys like that aren’t available very often.
But their strangest move was: Not doing all that much else. For a team that was never really in the playoff race last season, is adding one player enough?
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.7/10. Saad makes them better, both now and in the future. He won’t be enough to make them a playoff team on his own, so they’ll hope for continued development from other young players and some better luck than last season’s train wreck.
New York Rangers
Their offseason so far: They’ve been busy, trading Cam Talbot for picks, replacing him with Antti Raanta, and dealing Carl Hagelin for the not-as-good-but-cheaper Emerson Etem. They also said goodbye to Martin St. Louis, who announced his retirement.
But their strangest move was: Replacing Glen Sather as GM with Jeff Gorton. The move was expected — Sather is 71, and the team’s refusal to let other teams interview Gorton for openings was a giveaway that he’d be taking over in New York sooner rather than later. But it’s still going to be strange to see someone other than the cigar-chomping Sather running the show for the Rangers.
Bizarro-meter reading: 5.3/10. Oh, and speaking of longtime GMs stepping aside …
New Jersey Devils
Their offseason so far: They drafted Pavel Zacha, traded for Kyle Palmieri, and signed John Moore. They also got younger, mostly by herding half of last season’s roster onto an ice floe and watching it slowly drift off to sea.
But their strangest move was: Lou Lamoriello stepping down as GM, and later resigning as team president; he was replaced by Ray Shero, who then hired John Hynes as the league’s youngest head coach and parted ways with longtime scout David Conte. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Devils change coaches every few months, but having someone other than Lamoriello running the show will take some getting used to.
Bizarro-meter reading: 6.1/10. There are hockey fans in their early 30s who have no memory of anyone other than Lamoriello running the Devils (making those people just eight years too young to play on last season’s roster).
Their offseason so far: After making a splash in free agency last summer, they were relatively quiet on the market this year. They said goodbye to a big chunk of their depth, and didn’t add much with the exception of undrafted Russian prospect Sergei Plotnikov, who could challenge for a top-six spot.
But their strangest move was: Landing Phil Kessel in the offseason’s biggest trade. On the surface, the deal is a good one for Pittsburgh — the Penguins didn’t give up all that much, and Kessel should score 40 goals playing with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. But for a team that was already among the most top-heavy in the league in terms of cap distribution, adding Kessel only makes the situation more extreme. They can always add depth at the deadline, but an injury to the wrong guy could torpedo their season.
Bizarro-meter reading: 6.2/10. The Pens are clearly in win-now mode, which makes sense — with Crosby and Malkin still in their prime, now is not the time for a slow rebuild. They’re going to be a scary team to play next season, and lots of fun to watch. We’ll see if that translates to more wins.
Their offseason so far: The Flyers have been yet another Metro team that’s been largely quiet, at least on the player front. They gave Michael Del Zotto an extension and brought in Jason LaBarbera and Michal Neuvirth to compete for the backup job behind Steve Mason. They also traded Nicklas Grossmann for Sam Gagner in that weird Chris Pronger trade we mentioned yesterday, made noise about buying Gagner out, and then kept him.
But their strangest move was: They hired Dave Hakstol from the college ranks as their new head coach. Hakstol isn’t especially well-known in NHL circles, but he’s young and well-respected. The track record of college coaches in the big leagues isn’t great, though.
Bizarro-meter reading: 6.8/10. But seriously, they traded Chris Pronger two days before he was selected for the Hall of Fame. What a world.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Their offseason so far: They added Erik Condra. That’s about it. When you’re the consensus best team in the conference, you don’t need to do all that much.
But their strangest move was: Not re-signing Steven Stamkos … yet. We all know it’s coming. Stamkos doesn’t hit unrestricted free agency until 2016, so there’s no real urgency here, and recent history tells us that star players always sign before they hit the open market. So don’t panic, Lightning fans. (Unless this drags on for a few more weeks, in which case maybe panic just a little.)
Bizarro-meter reading: 1.2/10. (Slams laptop shut.) What? No, you were looking at Photoshops of Stamkos in a Leafs uniform!
Their offseason so far: They … uh … hosted the draft? Beyond that, not all that much.
But their strangest move was: They made one significant trade, swapping Jimmy Hayes for Reilly Smith in a deal that also saw them take on Marc Savard’s contract. Even that wasn’t all that weird, because we’d already done the whole “Former star who doesn’t play anymore gets traded” thing.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.2/10. Hey, when things are going well, don’t mess with success, right? (Checks standings.) Uh … Panthers?
Detroit Red Wings
Their offseason so far: They watched Mike Babcock walk to a division rival, which wasn’t great, but they had a good young replacement ready to go in Jeff Blashill. On the player side, they signed Brad Richards to a deal that was reasonable, and Mike Green to one that probably wasn’t, but in both cases kept the years down to minimize risk.
But their strangest move was: Buying out Stephen Weiss. Not because it was surprising — he’d been awful — but because it was a reminder that they’d signed him in the first place. We’re used to seeing other teams make boneheaded moves in free agency, but the Wings are supposed to be one of the smart ones.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.9/10. Oh look, the Wings will probably be good again, who could have seen that coming?
Their offseason so far: The Senators have been mostly quiet, focusing most of their offseason energy on resigning key young players like Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad. They also landed undrafted college goalie Matt O’Connor, but lost Condra to free agency.
But their strangest move was: Re-signing Andrew Hammond. Hammond was a nice story last season, but giving him a three-year extension meant the team would have to trade one of Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson. They chose Lehner, and got a pretty nice return from the Sabres. But with Anderson having just turned 34, Hammond’s long-term prospects a question mark and O’Connor a few years away, a team that seemed stacked with goaltending could find itself without a sure-thing starter soon.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.0/10. Hammond aside, the Senators continue to make mostly smart moves.
Their offseason so far: They didn’t do much in free agency beyond re-signing some of their own guys, most importantly defenseman Jeff Petry, who got a six-year deal. They made one trade, swapping Brandon Prust for the younger Zack Kassian.
But their strangest move was: Not really doing much to improve the roster, especially on the offensive side. The Habs are already a good team, as the past two years have shown, so there’s no need for an overhaul. But with Carey Price in his prime, you’d think there might be more pressure to keep up with the young Lightning at the top of the Eastern standings. There’s still time, but so far it’s been eerily quiet.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.1/10. What’s French for “meh”? (Clicks over to Google Translate.) Probably should have seen that coming.
Their offseason so far: The biggest moment of the Sabres’ offseason came on April 18, when they lost the draft lottery and, with it, their season-long dream of drafting Connor McDavid. That was a rough start, and things got rougher when they thought they’d landed Babcock, only to have him choose the Leafs at the last moment.
The good news is that both of those disappointments came with excellent consolation prizes, in the form of Jack Eichel and Dan Bylsma. And GM Tim Murray kept on adding talent, trading for Robin Lehner and Ryan O’Reilly. Combined with the return of the injured Evander Kane, those moves figure to make the Sabres a much better team in 2015-16. Granted, it would hard to be any worse than last season’s Sabres, but we’re staying positive here.
But their strangest move was: Signing O’Reilly to a seven-year, $52.5 million extension. That’s a ton of money for a guy who’s cracked 60 points only once in his career, but it’s possible that it could work out well for Buffalo. O’Reilly is a strong two-way player and he’s only 24, so the Sabres are buying at least a few of his prime years. He’ll be the team’s no. 1 center until Eichel is ready for the role, at which point he’ll drop down to become one of the league’s best no. 2s.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.5/10. It’s been a busy spring and summer, and a fascinating few months to watch. But bizarre? Not especially. Murray has a plan, and he’s following it. Now we find out whether they can flip the switch and start winning.
Their offseason so far: Everyone take a deep breath …
First, they fired Peter Chiarelli and replaced him with Don Sweeney. Then they spent a lot of time thinking about firing coach Claude Julien, but didn’t. Then Sweeney traded Dougie Hamilton to the Flames, in a deal everyone agreed was terrible. Then he traded Milan Lucic to the Kings, in a deal that everyone agreed was pretty good. Except that they got a goalie they didn’t really need, which was bad, but then flipped him to the Sharks for a first-round pick, which was good.
(Another deep breath … )
Then Sweeney used his three consecutive first-round picks on players whose consensus rankings were all lower then where the Bruins took them, which may have been bad but we won’t know for a few years. Then he went two days without doing anything, and everyone sort of calmed down and figured maybe they were overreacting to everything. Then he traded for Zac Rinaldo, and everyone’s heads exploded. Then he found a taker for Marc Savard’s contract, and everyone put their heads back together with duct tape and agreed that was pretty smart. Then he signed free agent Matt Beleskey to a five-year contract that was both smart and dumb at the same time, which shouldn’t even be possible but somehow was, because the Bruins had transported us all to a land where basic human logic no longer has any meaning.
But their strangest move was: All of it. Please, don’t make me choose just one. It would be like asking me to pick one of my kids as my favorite, if my kids were a series of hockey transactions that alternated between smart and dumb. Remember in the 1980s when Bret Saberhagen was good in odd-numbered years and bad in even-numbered ones? That’s Sweeney, except he switches every day. I don’t understand any of it. I have no idea if Sweeney has an end game, or a vague plan, or even has any idea at all what he’s doing. But I don’t want him to stop. I spend every waking moment refreshing the Google search results for “Don Sweeney transaction,” and I don’t plan to stop until opening night.
Bizarro-meter reading: 9.5/10. The Bizarro-meter has spoken. The Boston Bruins are this year’s winner, and it’s not even especially clo- … wait, I’m being handed an update from the breaking news desk ..
Toronto Maple Leafs
Their offseason so far: They made leaguewide headlines, first by landing Babcock after all the insiders said they were out of the running, and then by trading Kessel. They also had a busy draft weekend, stockpiling picks and focusing on skill and speed at the expense of size, and spent most of free agency adding solid depth guys on smart, low-risk deals. And they did it all without a general manager! Hey, weird, the Bizarro-meter just started shooting sparks everywhere.
But their strangest move was: Hiring Lou Lamoriello as GM, which they just did this morning.
Uh … what?
Let’s get this straight. The team that had been steadily reinventing its front office, getting in on the cutting edge of new hockey thinking by hiring people like Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas and (reportedly) targeting other teams’ young front-office stars for their vacant GM role, suddenly swerves everyone by hiring the oldest of the old school. And Brendan Shanahan, after assembling a new-age collective of bright young minds who seemed to be making decisions by committee, scraps that whole plan by bringing in a guy who doesn’t exactly have a reputation for playing nice with others and handing him the keys to the whole operation. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Unless … maybe Lou isn’t really coming in as a traditional GM, the title on his business cards be damned. Remember, he’s 72, and cited that as a reason for stepping down in New Jersey. Is he really going to go back to the grindstone as a day-in, day-out GM?
I’m betting no. I think the Leafs just hired themselves a consultant, one with plenty of experience and a long list of NHL contacts and quasi-friendships that will prove crucial in the rebuilding of the roster to come. And they kill two birds with one stone, by getting everyone to stop nagging them about not having a formal GM.
I think this is still Shanahan’s show. I think either Dubas or Hunter is still the GM in waiting. And I think Lamoriello comes in as the veteran figurehead, taking some of the heat off the younger guys while mentoring them for however long it takes until Shanahan is confident enough to put them in charge permanently.
That would make at least a little bit of sense. It’s the only way any of this does. It’s still bizarre, almost incomprehensibly so, but it would it be just enough to keep the planets aligned.
But still. Lou Lamoriello works for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That doesn’t look right. It never will.
Bizarro-meter reading: 9.8/10. The Maple Leafs have pulled a stunning upset to steal a sure-thing victory from the Bruins at the last possible moment. (Which, by my count, makes them even.)
Filed Under: NHL, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals