NHL Offseason Bizarro Rankings
The NHL offseason isn’t over yet; it’s only mid-July, which means we still have roughly seven weeks until training camp starts. But it’s mostly over, in the sense that virtually all the big signings, trades, hirings, and firings have already taken place. While we’ll probably get the occasional surprise or two over the next month, we’re well into the summer dead zone now.
And you know what that means: It’s time to fire up the NHL Offseason Bizarro-meter! Last season we debuted the system for a breakdown of the Toronto Maple Leafs summer moves, and the poor thing barely survived. But we’ve spent the year tweaking the hardware, and we paid for the extended warranty, so let’s push things one step further by running through the entire league and seeing which teams’ moves made the least sense.
Here’s a look back at every team’s offseason so far, broken down by division and ranked in order of increasing Bizarro-meter score.
Note: For our purposes, a team’s offseason is defined as everything that happened from the moment it played its final game.
New Jersey Devils
Their offseason so far: They re-signed Jaromir Jagr and added Martin Havlat on a deal that was cheap and low-risk, and Mike Cammalleri on a deal that was not. They’ve also apparently moved on from Martin Brodeur, which we all knew was coming but still seems kind of sad.
But their strangest move was: Signing goaltender Cory Schneider to a seven-year, $42 million deal. Schneider has great numbers in recent years, but they’ve come in only 143 career games, and history tells us that assuming a goalie is a sure thing based on limited action can lead to disaster. That’s the conundrum that comes with signing goalies to long-term deals: By the time they’ve played enough to know what they are, they often don’t have enough years left to justify a long-term commitment.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.3/10. Schneider’s deal is a gamble, although it’s probably one the Devils had to take.
Their offseason so far: The two biggest moves of the offseason were the hiring of beloved former franchise player Ron Francis as GM and Bill Peters as head coach.
But their strangest move was: Not really improving the roster; they tinkered around with some depth additions, but that’s pretty much it.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.5/10. The Francis hiring has been rumored for years, but if he doesn’t get busy soon, the Hurricanes have the potential to be bottom-feeding bad next year.
Their offseason so far: Ron Hextall became GM after Paul Holmgren was “promoted” out of the job, which was pretty weird in its own right. Hextall’s first major move was trading Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger, and he also added Nick Schultz via free agency.
But their strangest move was: Not doing all that much. After years of the Flyers making offseason waves, Hextall has been mostly quiet. Sure, he doesn’t have any cap space to work with, but it’s not like that’s ever stopped this team before.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.5/10. Whoever thought this guy would turn out to be the levelheaded one?
New York Rangers
Their offseason so far: They bought out Brad Richards and avoided overspending to retain free agents like Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle, and Anton Stralman. Their one major free-agent signing, defenseman Dan Boyle, took a discount to come to New York.
But their strangest move was: The Tanner Glass signing was odd, although even that deal was at least relatively cheap.
Bizarro-meter reading: 5.0/10. The New York Rangers are being financially responsible? What planet is this?
Columbus Blue Jackets
Their offseason so far: They re-signed Brandon Dubinsky and added Scott Hartnell in a trade with the Flyers, cementing their status as the team you will always grudgingly pencil in for the final playoff spot in your preseason predictions.
But their strangest move was: Playing hardball with young star Ryan Johansen; the team is insisting on signing him to a short-term bridge deal, which he’s described as “a slap in the face”. This has some potential to get ugly.
Bizarro-meter reading: 6.2/10. Business is business, and there’s a chance this is all forgotten soon enough, but making your best young player feel insulted seems like a risky strategy.
New York Islanders
Their offseason so far: Somewhat surprisingly, the Islanders kept Jack Capuano, who is now somehow the division’s longest-tenured head coach. They drafted Michael Dal Colle with the fifth overall pick, then traded back into the first round to add intriguing talent Josh Ho-Sang. They tried (and failed) to sign Dan Boyle after trading for his rights. And most important, they addressed their biggest weakness by signing goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
But their strangest move was: Spending almost $37 million to sign Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski to four-year deals. Not everyone was a fan of the deals, but Kulemin and Grabovski are both solid possession players who can play both ends, and they’ve been at their best when they play together. The Islanders may have overpaid, but it wasn’t by as much as everyone seems to think.
Bizarro-meter reading: 7.1/10. Wait, the Islanders might actually be good next year? I’m not sure the Bizarro-meter can handle that.
Their offseason so far: After missing the playoffs, the Capitals finally hit the reset button, firing long-time GM George McPhee and coach Adam Oates. They were rumored to be talking to Wayne Gretzky about a front-office role, but that fizzled. They eventually replaced McPhee with his assistant, Brian MacLellan, which seemed like an odd choice for a team looking for a fresh start. They did swing a little bigger on the coaching front, landing Barry Trotz.
But their strangest move was: They spent their free-agent money on a pair of ex-Penguin defensemen: Matt Niskanen, who cost a lot but is still pretty good, and Brooks Orpik, who, uh, cost a lot.
Bizarro-meter reading: 8.4/10. The MacLellan hire sure seems like they had their eye on someone bigger and missed out. And everyone in the world seems to hate the Orpik signing. Getting the most out of that deal will be Trotz’s no. 1 priority, right after he’s finished strangling Alexander Ovechkin.
Their offseason so far: Free agency went pretty well for the Pens — they got Christian Ehrhoff on a cheap one-year deal, and watched a division opponent overpay to take Orpik off their hands. The loss of Niskanen will hurt, as will the trading of James Neal, but the addition of guys like Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, and Steve Downie have improved the team’s depth, which was considered their biggest issue coming out of last year’s disappointing playoff run.
But their strangest move was: That playoff run cost GM Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma their jobs. Shero went first, replaced by Jim Rutherford, but Bylsma was left to twist in the wind for weeks before finally getting his pink slip. Then the Penguins embarked on a comical hunt for a new coach, in which they interviewed half the hockey world and apparently thought they had hired Willie Desjardins, only to see him wind up with the Canucks instead. They eventually settled on Mike Johnston, but the whole process made everyone involved look bad.
Bizarro-meter reading: 8.5/10. How did your interview for the Penguins’ coaching job go? Mine was going great until they asked me why manhole covers are round.
Their offseason so far: The defending Presidents’ Trophy winners are in salary-cap hell. That’s already cost them Jarome Iginla, and it’s prevented them from doing much to improve the roster so far.
But their strangest move was: They said good-bye to beloved enforcer Shawn Thornton, which likely won’t matter much on the ice, but has been a tough move for Bruins fans to swallow.
Bizarro-meter reading: 2.4/10. It wasn’t fun, but this is the sort of stuff that happens in a cap league. Luckily for the Bruins, they still play in the awful East and should be the conference’s top seed again.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Their offseason so far: The Lightning were one of the summer’s busiest teams. They bought out Ryan Malone, then rebuilt their blue line by signing Anton Stralman and trading for Jason Garrison. Up front, they added Brian Boyle and re-signed Ryan Callahan.
But their strangest move was: Signing Brenden Morrow, who sure seems like he’s done, although at least it’s a cheap one-year deal.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.0/10. They were busy, but everything made sense. So much sense, in fact, that some are now calling them the best team in the East. I’m not quite there yet, but Steve Yzerman is building a legitimate contender.
Their offseason so far: GM Tim Murray’s first summer on the job has continued the long rebuild process. They drafted Sam Reinhart, signed Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta, and traded for Josh Gorges.
But their strangest move was: Buying out the seven years left on Christian Ehrhoff’s contract seemed like an odd move, especially considering how much of the front-loaded deal had already been paid off. The move was apparently spurred by cap recapture penalty fears, which is reasonable, but it’s still tough to lose a good asset for nothing.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.1/10. Murray has done an impressive job so far. The Sabres will still be terrible and they know it, but they’re in good hands.
Their offseason so far: They signed David Legwand to fill a hole at center.
But their strangest move was: That hole was created by the trade of captain Jason Spezza, who went to the Stars for an underwhelming return. That deal had been expected since the season ended, although we still don’t quite know why. The Senators seem to want it known that Spezza demanded a trade; others say he wanted out only if the team wasn’t going to spend to build a winner. Given that the team seems pretty clearly committed to not spending, that distinction may end up not mattering.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.4/10. I wonder who’s going to get Bobby Ryan at the trade deadline.
Detroit Red Wings
Their offseason so far: Not much. They re-signed Kyle Quincey to an oddly expensive deal and brought on Tony Granato as an assistant coach (and potential replacement for Mike Babcock, who has only one year left on his deal and says he won’t negotiate once the season starts). But as far as the big roster moves we’re used to seeing in Detroit this time of year, they whiffed on everything.
But their strangest move was: The Red Wings know they don’t have to keep signing Daniel Cleary, right? Like, they’re aware there’s no rule about that in the CBA?
Bizarro-meter reading: 5.2/10. Chin up, Red Wings fans. Think about how much fun it will be to watch Maple Leafs fans get increasingly more excited all season long about stealing Babcock, only to have him sign an extension in Detroit at the last possible moment.
Their offseason so far: The Habs lost Brian Gionta and Thomas Vanek to free agency, as expected, while signing underrated defenseman Tom Gilbert and trading for P.A. Parenteau. They also re-signed veteran Andrei Markov and landed free-agent prospect Jiri Sekac.
But their strangest move was: Trying to trade Josh Gorges to the Maple Leafs, only to have him block the deal with his no-trade clause and choose to go to the Sabres instead. This was weird, right? Gorges claimed he was too emotionally invested in the Habs/Leafs rivalry to go to Toronto, which sounds like a reasonable thing for a player to say, as long as that player is 5 years old. Gorges is not 5 years old, so it’s fair to assume there’s a real story behind his decision that he’s not telling us.
Bizarro-meter reading: 6.4/10. That’s not a bad score, but it could have been so much better if the P.K. Subban negotiations had turned ugly. Instead, the two sides are headed to arbitration. Where were you when we need you, random crazy Philadelphia Flyers offer sheet?
Toronto Maple Leafs
Their offseason so far: So far, the Leafs have mostly tinkered. They signed Stephane Robidas and Mike Santorelli, brought back Leo Komarov, and traded for Roman Polak. Those aren’t game-changing additions, but given this team’s recent track record with more aggressive offseason moves, a little tinkering probably comes as a relief.
But the biggest news came off the ice, with the hiring of Brendan Shanahan as the team’s new president. At a splashy press conference to announce that hiring, CEO Tim Leiweke vowed that big changes were finally coming to the long-struggling organization.
But their strangest move was: About those changes … they didn’t happen. The front office stayed intact. Scouting and player development stayed largely intact. The core of the team has so far stayed intact. Even coach Randy Carlyle, who virtually everyone assumed was toast, not only stayed but somehow even got an extension. Only his three assistants were held accountable, in an unusual move that saw them all fired while their boss kept his job.
Bizarro-meter reading: 6.7/10. Either Shanahan is patiently playing a longer game than he’s getting credit for, or he’s been suckered into the organization’s incessant “nothing wrong here that just trying a little harder won’t fix” mantra. By this time next year, we’ll know the answer.
Their offseason so far: They had the first overall pick in the draft, which they spent a week pretending they were going to trade before using it on defenseman Aaron Ekblad. They hired Gerard Gallant as their new head coach. And then they went absolutely nuts during free agency, signing Willie Mitchell, Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, and Shawn Thornton.
But their strangest move was: Giving free agent Dave Bolland a five-year, $27.5 million deal. Yesterday I named this one the worst free-agent deal of 2014, so I won’t spend another few hundred words beating it up again today. But it was awful.
Bizarro-meter reading: 7.4/10. The Bolland travesty aside, they at least found some decent value on their other signings, and Ekblad looks like a stud. Is it enough to make the Panthers playoff contenders? Probably not even close.
Their offseason so far: They acquired Jason Spezza on the cheap from the Senators, then signed Ales Hemsky to one of the summer’s better free-agent deals to play on his wing.
But their strangest move was: I guess you could question the wisdom of giving up assets in a trade for Spezza rather than targeting a guy like Paul Stastny in free agency, especially since Spezza has just one year left on his deal. But considering how little they gave up for him, that’s nitpicking.
Bizarro-meter reading: 1.5/10. It all made sense. GM Jim Nill is not messing around in Dallas.
St. Louis Blues
Their offseason so far: It’s been a busy offseason, highlighted by the signing of Stastny to a four-year, $28 million deal. They let Ryan Miller walk, as expected, and traded Roman Polak to Toronto for fellow defenseman Carl Gunnarsson.
But their strangest move was: Vladimir Sobotka is headed for the KHL after being unable to reach an agreement on a new deal with the Blues, who chose to give some of that money to Steve Ott instead.
Bizarro-meter reading: 2.4/10. I like the Stastny signing a lot, and it should help the Blues get back to where they were last year — an elite team that can at least put a scare into the Blackhawks.
Their offseason so far: The Avs were big players on both sides of free agency, losing Stastny to the Blues but adding Jarome Iginla.
But their strangest move was: Trading P.A. Parenteau for Danny Briere seems like a step back, which is why it was odd to see the Avs also throw in a draft pick on that deal.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.4/10. The loss of Stastny was expected, and it’s not like the team wasn’t already stacked at center. The Avs will be a fun team to keep an eye on next year — old-school narrative says they’re ready to make the leap to true contender status, while new-school analytics predict a crash and burn.
Their offseason so far: The Thomas Vanek signing that everyone had been predicting since last October ended up happening right on schedule, although it ended up being a lot cheaper than most had expected.
But their strangest move was: Not doing anything (yet) to address the goaltending. That’s understandable in a sense, because they don’t know what the health status of Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom will look like by training camp.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.7/10. If the Wild still need a goalie as the season approaches, does this end up being the landing spot for Martin Brodeur?
Their offseason so far: The roster hasn’t changed much, which is about what you’d expect from one of the league’s best teams. They lost a few spare parts like Michal Handzus and Brandon Bollig to free agency and trades, but more than made up for that by signing Brad Richards to a cheap one-year deal. They also hired Kevin Dineen as assistant coach.
But their strangest move was: Giving Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane matching eight-year, $84 million deals that make them the two highest-paid players (cap-wise) in the league. Any deal that sets a new standard for annual salary will raise eyebrows, although there’s a good case to be made that they’re justified. Besides, if you think these guys got paid, wait until the Steven Stamkos extension next year.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.9/10. Maybe the strangest part of the two mega-extensions is the way they value Kane the same as Toews, even though the latter is a much better player.
Their offseason so far: The big news was the firing of Barry Trotz, the only coach the team had ever had in its 15-year history; he was replaced by Peter Laviolette. Next came the draft-day trade that saw them acquire 40-goal man James Neal from the Penguins for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. They also signed a pair of marginally useful free agents in Anton Volchenkov and Olli Jokinen.
But their strangest move was: With news that Mike Fisher had a ruptured Achilles and will miss a chunk of the season, the Preds were faced with a need for a top-six center, which they filled by signing Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy on Tuesday. Ribeiro’s a big risk to take, but they say they’ve done their due diligence on his reported character issues.
Bizarro-meter reading: 6.2/10. Ribeiro’s an intriguing gamble. He’s probably on his last chance, so you’d have to think he’ll be on his best behavior. If so, the Preds may have found a bargain. That’s a big if, though.
Their offseason so far: They added Mathieu Perreault. That’s basically it. Hey, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?
But their strangest move was: The team, and indeed the entire city, still seem hell-bent on running Evander Kane out of town. You know that thing where you want to break up with someone, but instead of just doing it, you pick a fight with them over every little thing in an attempt to try to force them to break up with you instead? That’s what the Jets are doing to Kane. It’s probably going to work.
Bizarro-meter reading: 8.1/10. If my franchise played in the league’s toughest division, was constantly hampered by bad goaltending, and hadn’t won a playoff game in 14 years, I’d probably go with an offseason plan that wasn’t “try to run one of our best players out of town, but otherwise stand pat.” That’s just me, though.
Los Angeles Kings
Their offseason so far: They re-signed Marian Gaborik. That’s pretty much it.
But their strangest move was: Uh … losing Willie Mitchell? Seriously, the champs barely did anything.
Bizarro-meter reading: 0.0/10. If the NHL offseason is a wild barroom brawl, the Kings are the guy calmly standing in the middle of the chaos, tapping a pool cue in his palm, just waiting to find out who wants to get serious.
Their offseason so far: The Ducks improved relatively cheaply, getting Ryan Kesler via trade and taking a gamble on Dany Heatley in free agency. Oh, and we haven’t had a good “Teemu Selanne comeback” rumor yet, so he may actually be staying retired this time.
But their strangest move was: Clayton Stoner got $13 million over four years? Huh.
Bizarro-meter reading: 2.4/10. You don’t normally think of 116-point teams as needing to load up, but that’s life in the stacked Western Conference. The Ducks have had a good summer.
Their offseason so far: The rebuild continues in Calgary, where the biggest move was the drafting of Sam Bennett with the fourth overall pick. They also addressed the goaltending by signing Jonas Hiller to a reasonable deal, and replaced Mike Cammalleri with the cheaper (but not as productive) Mason Raymond. And they traded for Brandon Bollig, because every mention of a Brian Burke team must contain the word “truculence.”
But their strangest move was: Deryk Engelland’s three-year, $8.75 million deal was genuinely puzzling.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.5/10. The Engelland thing aside, the Flames are slowly but surely making progress.
Their offseason so far: They drafted future stud Leon Draisaitl and added various useful pieces like Mark Fayne and Teddy Purcell while moving on from Sam Gagner. But maybe the bigger story was what they didn’t do: no blockbusters, no wholesale changes, and nobody got fired.
But their strangest move was: Lots of people laughed at their Benoit Pouliot signing, and it’s certainly true that five years and $20 million seems like a lot for a guy coming off a career-best 36 points. I didn’t hate the deal, but I get why others do.
Bizarro-meter reading: 5.3/10. For the most part, the Oilers are staying patient. That’s probably the right call, but man, this team has been treading water forever.
Their offseason so far: The Phoenix Arizona Coyotes subtracted free-agent Radim Vrbata, but added Gagner via trade, which is probably a minor step back. Of course, there’s one more guy they need to replace …
But their strangest move was: The Coyotes bought out Mike Ribeiro, who they’d signed to a big free-agent deal just one year ago. Then they threw him under the bus on the way out. Then they stopped the bus, threw it in reverse, and backed over him a few times. They do not like Mike Ribeiro.
Bizarro-meter reading: 7.2/10. The Ribeiro thing was pretty weird. Also, the name change is going to screw me up every time I write about them for roughly the next six years.
Their offseason so far: The summer started early, with major changes in the front office and behind the bench. Mike Gillis and John Tortorella are out; Jim Benning, Trevor Linden, and Willie Desjardins are in. From there, the Canucks were forced to move Ryan Kesler and Jason Garrison without getting all that much in return, and signed Vrbata.
But their strangest move was: Signing Ryan Miller to a three-year, $18 million deal, even though the recent numbers say he’s not necessarily any better than the much younger (and cheaper) goalie they already have, Eddie Lack. The move made some sense, since Lack is far from proven, but they paid an awfully high price for a move that may not be an upgrade. And now they have an all-star veteran and a promising youngster — which didn’t exactly work out well for them the last time around.
Bizarro-meter reading: 7.3/10. The Canucks certainly haven’t been boring.
San Jose Sharks
Their offseason so far: After another painful playoff exit, the Sharks made their offseason plans crystal clear: change. Change everything. Trade Joe Thornton, or Patrick Marleau, or both. Get a new goalie. Turn over half the roster. GM Doug Wilson had had enough, and it was time to burn it down and start over.
But their strangest move was: Doing … nothing? Well, not quite nothing. They did sign free-agent enforcers John Scott and Michael Haley. So … less than nothing.
Oh, and they made a lot of their fans mad by parting ways with popular TV analyst Drew Remenda. And then made even more of their fans mad by doing this. A pretty solid summer’s work, all around.
Bizarro-meter reading: 9.4/10. Look, I’ve been pretty clear that I think we’re all overreacting to the Kings’ series; the Sharks are a good team, and they don’t need to tear it all apart just because the Cup champs beat them in seven. But the Sharks made it pretty clear they disagreed, and all but promised massive changes. Then they sign a guy like Scott? That’s it? Granted, Thornton and Marleau’s no-trade clauses make things tougher, but Wilson knew about those when he started grumbling about change.
San Jose is still a very good team, but at this point I have no idea where it’s headed or what its plan is. The Bizarro-meter has spoken: The Sharks are the offseason’s strangest team.
Filed Under: NHL, NHL Free Agency, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks