NHL Offseason Analysis

Pacific Division

In many eyes, the Pacific Division is the considerably weaker division in the Western Conference, paling in comparison to the Central Division in today’s NHL. However, there are three consistent playoff contenders in the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, along with several clubs on the rise. Throw in a few rebuilds and some significant offseason adjustments and you have a group of seven teams that could very well surprise the masses in the 2016-2017 campaign.

Here is an overview of the offseason’s of the seven teams that make up the Pacific Division: the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks.

2016 Pacific Division Standings

Anaheim — 103 pts

Los Angeles — 102 pts

San Jose — 98pts

Arizona — 78 pts (missed playoffs)

Calgary — 77 pts (missed playoffs)

Vancouver — 75 pts (missed playoffs)

Edmonton — 70 pts (missed playoffs)

Anaheim Ducks

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 46-25-11-103
Playoff Result: Eliminated by Nashville Predators in Quarterfinals (series: 4-3 NSH)
Standings: Pacific Division: 1, Western Conference: 4, League: 6
Goals For: 215 (NHL rank: 17)
Goals Against: 188 (NHL rank: 30)
Power Play Percentage: 23.1 percent (NHL rank: 1)
Penalty Kill Percentage: percent 87.2 (NHL rank: 1)
Leading Scorer: Ryan Getzlaf (13-50-63)

Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf knees in front of an empty net after the Ducks’ 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators during Game 7 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The Regular Season

After heading into the season as one of the clear Stanley Cup favorites, Anaheim got off to a disastrous start, so awful it is difficult to understand how it even occurred in the first place. A faulty game-plan with inadequate effort and inconsistent play led to the early stumble. The Ducks finished October with an abysmal 1-7-2 record. But the team turned things around, eventually leading to an impressive first-place finish in the Pacific Division despite all of the dramatic woes of the regular-season grind.

In fact, the Ducks scored 100+ points for the third straight season, making them one of only three teams (St. Louis, Chicago) in the NHL to do so. Despite getting off to a cringe-worthy start, the Ducks finished the season 6-2-2 in the final 10 games and 21-6-4 in the last 31 games. The team went on an incredible 34-10-5 stretch in the final 49 games of the season, winning the Pacific Division for the fourth consecutive year.

The team produced four 20-goal scorers, including Corey Perry (34), Ryan Kesler (21), Rickard Rakell (20) and Jakob Silfverberg (20). At the end of the season, the Ducks finished first overall in the league in power-play percentage (23.1 percent) and first overall in penalty-kill percentage (87.2), the first team to do so since the 1984-1985 New York Islanders. Special teams kept the Ducks in the hunt, and the entire comeback effort was a miraculous display of determination and an unwillingness to go away quietly.

The Postseason

The end of the 2015-2016 story, however, was an all-too-familiar sting. Yet again, Anaheim’s season ended over a Game 7 loss at home after blowing a 3-2 series lead. It was one upset too many, leading to a swift firing of head coach Bruce Boudreau. After all, it was the fourth consecutive year in which the team lost in a game 7 at home, and the fourth consecutive season in which that happened after blowing a 3-2 series lead. Four times was the charm for the Ducks’ organization, which fired Boudreau two days after the Game 7 defeat.

The Offseason

Ironically, Boudreau has been replaced by the same coach Boudreau himself replaced five years ago: Randy Carlyle. Carlyle won a Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, the only Cup in franchise history.

Debora Robinson-NHLI via Getty Images

“I don’t think you could come into a better hockey club, on ice or off,” Carlyle said after he was hired. “It’s hard to find teams of this quality, and I feel very fortunate that I’m the guy they trusted and are showing confidence in to coach this group.”

This will be Carlyle’s second stint with the club and second stint with the team’s leaders, Ryan Getzlaf and Perry, the only remaining players from the 2006-2007 Cup team.

Carlyle certainly is stepping into a positive situation with a talented Anaheim roster at his fingertips. It remains to be seen how Carlyle will affect the team’s play, but it was all-too-obvious that Boudreau was holding this team back.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

Behind the Bench

The Ducks absolutely needed to fire head coach Bruce Boudreau. That was the right decision, and the timeliness of the decision to fire him makes it very clear that the organization was adamant about moving on. This team is way too good to be going out like that year after year, and the Ducks’ organization took care of a major part of the problem. It’s unclear how Carlyle will run things, but Boudreau had to go.

In the Crease

The Options

In anticipation of the Las Vegas expansion draft, which stipulates that teams can protect only one goalie, Ducks general manager Bob Murray had an important decision to make about his two goalies in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. The two have shared starting duties over the past few seasons and have done an excellent job.

Frederik Andersen; Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Andersen finished 22-9-7 with a 2.30 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts. Gibson finished 21-13-4 with a 2.07 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and four shutouts. Andersen started five of the team’s seven playoff games, going 3-2 with a 1.41 goals-against average, a .947 save percentage and one shutout; Gibson played the other two and went 0-2 with a 3.08 goals-against average, a .900 save percentage and zero shutouts.

The Decision

John Gibson; Gary A.Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, Murray decided to go with Gibson as the team’s goalie of the future and therefore traded Andersen to Toronto. Murray received a strong return in the deal, including a 1st-round pick and a 2nd-round pick. The Maple Leafs proceeded to sign Andersen to a five-year contract with an average annual value of $5 million.

Later in the offseason, the Ducks acquired Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who has one year remaining on his contract. Bernier struggled in Toronto, winning only one third of his starts last season. However, he will have a drastically better team in front of him in Anaheim; he should be a great backup this season.

Jonathan Bernier; Chris Young-Canadian Press

Though Andersen is a very talented goalie and was the more impressive of the two in this past postseason, if the Ducks wanted to go with Gibson, it seems as though Murray could not have played his hand any better. Getting a 1st and a 2nd along with a very solid backup without having to give up assets is a tremendous accomplishment.

Free Agency

The Ducks recently signed unrestricted free agent Antoine Vermette to a reasonable two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.75 million. Vermette was bought out by the Coyotes, therefore making him eligible as a free agent. This is an excellent signing by Murray and the Ducks. Vermette is a talented forward who can move around in the lineup. He is excellent on faceoffs, finishing last season with a 55.8 faceoff percentage, according to Puckbase. Vermette can provide tremendous depth up the middle if Anaheim decides to use him as a center. Otherwise, he is an effective winger who plays a two-way game and can contribute offensively; he should put up 30-40 points this season. This is one of the most underrated moves of the offseason by any team.

Main Offseason Transactions

Re-Sign: D Sami Vatanen to 4-year deal with AAV of $4.875 million

Trade: G Frederik Andersen to Toronto for 2016 1st-round pick (30) and 2017 2nd-round pick

FA signing: G Dustin Tokarski to 1-year contract at $600,000

FA Signing: D Nate Guenin to 1-year contract at $600,000

FA Signing: F Mason Raymond to 1-year contract at $675,000

FA Signing: F Jared Boll to 2-year deal with AAV of $900,000

Trade: Conditional 2017 draft pick to Toronto for G Jonathan Bernier

Re-Sign: D Korbinian Holzer to 1-year contract at $700,000

FA Signing: F Antoine Vermette to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.75 million

Vatanen Extension

Defenseman Sami Vatanen has become a very important part of this Ducks team. In his second full season with the club, Vatanen tallied nine goals and 38 points, 19 of which came on the man-advantage. He set career highs in assists (29) and points (38). Anaheim rewarded him by signing him to a four-year extension with an average annual value of $4.875 million. This was a necessary and reasonable deal by the Ducks. A few comparable contracts handed out to similar players include T.J. Brodie’s 5-year, $23.252 million deal and Torey Krug’s 4-year, $21 million deal.

Blueline Rumors

However, there have been plenty of rumors surrounding the Ducks’ defense all summer. After Vatanen signed, defensemen Hampus Lindholm and especially Cam Fowler became the main subjects of frequent trade speculation. Lindholm remains a restricted free agent, which is something that needs to be a top priority for Murray moving forward. Fowler’s name has been the most widely-circulated, though, as he continues to be linked to teams like Detroit, Boston, New Jersey, etc. The Ducks have a very young and very talented defense corps, so the theory behind these rumors is that Anaheim will use someone of Fowler’s caliber to acquire at least one strong top-six forward, if not additional assets. The 24-year-old blueliner is signed through the end of 2017-2018 on a reasonable deal with a $4 million cap hit. Fowler is a very valuable commodity, but no offer has tempted Murray thus far.

Cam Fowler; Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As valuable as Fowler is, the Ducks could use some additional help on offense. Though the top few lines are very strong, the team’s depth has dwindled over the past few seasons, with players like Matt Beleskey, Patrick Maroon, Kyle Palmieri, Mathieu Perreault, Nick Bonino, Emerson Etem and others leaving via trade or free agency. Vermette is a key addition, but the team is in greater need of additional offensive support than it is of another strong young defenseman. That being said, Fowler is too talented to trade away for just a “decent” offer; Murray’s patience is commendable.

Final Thoughts

Unsigned RFA’s

Lindholm and forward Rickard Rakell remain unsigned restricted free agents on the Ducks’ roster. This is something that must be addressed by Murray as soon as possible. Rakell was forced to leave the World Cup and undergo surgery to remove scar tissue resulting from an appendectomy, and Lindholm has seen zero game action as he remains a healthy scratch for Team Sweden. However, it can’t be too soon for Murray to strike some deals to keep both talented players in the Ducks’ lineup. Signing these two players should be priority no. 1.

State of the Roster

At this point, the Ducks have around $7.5 million in cap space with 11 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies signed, according to General Fanager. Though the Ducks have the cap room to make other deals, Anaheim has always been a team with a budget rather than a team that spends to the max. Most of the top-tier free agents have been signed already, though Vermette was a great pick-up. Even if the Ducks could spend more money to bolster the forward lines, it’s unclear if the organization would allow Murray to do so given its strict internal cap limitations.

Signing Mason Raymond to a 1-year deal at a very reasonable $675,000 is a solid depth signing, but the Ducks will need more than the current crop of forwards if they are to make a deep playoff run. There are simply too many other teams in the Western Conference that have more depth and are better suited for a strong playoff push.

Looking Ahead

There will be growing pains with a new coach after five seasons under Boudreau, but this Ducks team should not have too much trouble competing for the Pacific Division title once again. Losing Carl Hagelin in a trade and then David Perron to free agency hurt the team’s depth. Hagelin showed what he is capable of in the playoffs as he helped lead Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup victory, so that trade by Murray was shortsighted and premature. Murray was able to make some strong moves at last year’s trade deadline, though, so he’s always capable of pulling some strings down the road if need be. Murray knows that it may require losing someone of Fowler’s ability and value to land the right combination of players for this team to succeed in reaching the late rounds of the playoffs and competing for the Stanley Cup.

But if this team is to make a serious run at the Cup, there are still changes that need to be made. Anaheim remains a strong contender this year, but Murray still has his work cut out for him.

Arizona Coyotes

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 35-39-8-78
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Pacific Division: 4, Western Conference: 10, League: 24
Goals For: 208 (NHL rank: 24)
Goals Against: 244 (NHL rank: 3)
Power Play Percentage: 17.7 percent (NHL rank: 20)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 77.3 percent (NHL rank: 28)
Leading Scorer: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (21-34-55)

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

The 2015-2016 season for the Arizona Coyotes was a mixed bag. There were some disappointing aspects to the season, but there were also some exciting and encouraging elements as well.

The Regular Season

The year started off with a bang, as the Coyotes started the season 3-0, beating the Kings, Penguins and Ducks in the first three games of the year. Unfortunately, that pace was not sustainable.

The Coyotes went through stretches of inconsistent play and lackluster efforts, often conceding ground they had built up in previous weeks. For example, after winning three of four games in mid-February, the team lost the next seven games in a row. Part of that can be attributed to the loss of goaltender Mike Smith to an injury in December, keeping him out of the lineup until mid-March. But it was that sort of seesaw performance that kept Arizona out of the postseason. Even though Arizona was able to beat the Kings and Ducks on multiple occasions, as well as teams like the Sharks, Stars and Capitals, the team was too inconsistent in the long run to remain relevant at the end of the year.

That being said, the team did remain competitive for the entire season, serving as tough competition for every team in the league, especially playoff and bubble teams. That is a testament to the will of the players and to the effectiveness of the coaching staff, led by head coach Dave Tippett.

New Opportunities

In Net

Christian Petersen-Getty Images North America

Losing Smith in December dealt a huge blow to the team, but it allowed for backup Louis Domingue, 24, to show that he is more than just a serviceable backup. Domingue took his opportunity and ran with it. He finished the year 15-18-5 with a 2.75 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and two shutouts in 35 games last season. While those are not flashy numbers, he did play extremely well for the Coyotes down the stretch. Interestingly, his numbers are pretty similar to Smith’s from last season; Smith finished 15-13-2 with a 2.63 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts.

Plus, Domingue finished in the top five in all four major goalie categories among rookies last season. Specifically, he finished fourth in wins, fifth in goals-against average, third in save percentage and second in shutouts.

In the Office

Matt York-AP Photo

The biggest change for the Coyotes was the hiring of general manager John Chayka, who was the youngest GM in NHL history when he was hired at only 26 years of age. Chayka, now 27, served as assistant general manager last season under Don Maloney, who was fired this offseason after nine years with the Coyotes. Chayka’s focus last year was on analytics, though he was involved with hockey operations and player development as well. The torch has been handed to Chayka, and he has done a brilliant job with the team so far. He has been aggressive and creative in improving this team to be more competitive in the Pacific Division race. He has made several noteworthy moves, which will be discussed in the “Most Significant Offseason Moves” section below.

The Silver Lining

Last season marked the beginning of a new era in Arizona, with several young superstars starting their NHL careers. The two most prominent players were Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, who both had impressive rookie campaigns. In his first NHL season, Domi scored 18 goals and 52 points, finishing second on the team in points. Domi finished third in points and second in assists (34) among all rookies. Duclair, who was acquired in a trade-deadline deal for Keith Yandle two seasons ago, put up 20 goals and 44 points in his first full NHL season, finishing fourth on the team in points. He finished fifth in goals and second in plus/minus (+12) among rookies.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The season also saw the team’s long-time captain, Shane Doan, score the most goals he has scored in a season since his 2007-2008 campaign. His 28-goal resurgence along with the energy of the young talent on the team made for an explosive combination for the Coyotes. The 39-year-old signed a one-year extension this offseason and will have even more talent around him this year, with players like Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak and Lawson Crouse competing for roster spots.

Though the Coyotes failed to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, the team saw an incredible 22-point improvement in the standings (35-39-8-78) after going 24-50-8-56 in the 2014-2015 season. To do that during a rebuild without your starting goalie truly is an impressive feat. The team also improved its goal-scoring pace, scoring 2.54 goals per game compared to the 2.01 goals-per-game rate in 2014-2015.

There is still a lot of work to be done, but the future for the Arizona Coyotes is shining mighty bright.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

John Chayka has been aggressive in an effort to improve the Arizona Coyotes ever since taking over as general manager of the team.

Veteran D

First, Chayka acquired the rights of D Alex Goligoski in mid-June and signed him to a five-year contract less than a week later.

Draft-Day Dealing

At the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (Chayka’s first as general manager), he made a bold move in a trade with the Red Wings. The deal involved Detroit sending the final year of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract, as he is finishing his career in Russia, along with the number 16 overall pick to Arizona in exchange for a roster player (Joe Vitale), the 20th overall pick and a 2nd-round pick (53). Though the contract comes with a $7.5 million cap hit and a $5.5 million salary, Arizona has cap room to spare; Chayka took advantage of the opportunity and made the deal, a strong move and the right move for the team. Arizona ended up taking defenseman Jakob Chychrun with the 16th overall pick, a selection that was considered a steal by many.

Chayka then went on to trade a 2nd-round pick (37) to Tampa Bay in exchange for defensive prospect Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo, 20, was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft (19th overall). He struggled with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL last season and was even a healthy scratch for eight games; however, he has tremendous upside, so it’s yet another young talented prospect Chayka can add to the already-overwhelming pool of prospects Arizona is building.

But Chayka wasn’t finished.

FA Additions

Radim Vrbata; Norm Hall-NHLI via Getty Images

He made several free-agent signings, including wingers Jamie McGinn and Radim Vrbata. Both players are excellent in different ways, but this should add a lot of depth and experience to the team. This will allow a lot of the young prospects to play with veterans. These signings in particular will also improve the team’s overall offense. Vrbata is returning to Arizona on an inexpensive deal after a two-year gig in Vancouver, so it would appear he truly wants to be back with the ‘Yotes. The Coyotes bought out the final year of Antoine Vermette’s contract, which was a bit surprising given his versatility. However, the team needed some flexibility to sign Vrbata, and there are several young centers that should get into the lineup in his stead. Perhaps Vermette did not fit as well as in years past.

Chayka made some more minor signings, like defenseman Luke Schenn and forward Ryan White. These players will add physicality and grit to a young lineup with a lot of skill. Plus, he signed defenseman Connor Murphy to a six-year extension. It was more difficult to negotiate, but Chayka also re-signed defenseman Michael Stone, who had a career year last season.

Another Bold Move

Most recently, Chayka pulled off a trade with the Florida Panthers that involved taking on yet another costly contract. In this case, Arizona acquired forward Dave Bolland, who has three years remaining on a deal with a $5.5 million cap hit. As seen with the Bryan Bickell trade to Carolina earlier in the summer, in order to trade a player with such a bad contract/cap hit, teams must now give up a strong asset in return. In this case, the Coyotes acquired 6-4, 215 lb. winger Lawson Crouse, also a former first-round pick (11).

If you throw in some housecleaning and a few other small signings here and there, you have quite an offseason for a 27-year-old general manager. It’s clear that Chayka is not intimidated by the stature of his position; that’s a very good thing for Arizona moving forward.

Main Offseason Transactions

Trade: 2016 5th-round pick to Dallas for rights of D Alex Goligoski

Re-Sign: D Alex Goligoski to 5-year deal with AAV of $5.475 million

Trade: F Joe Vitale, 2016 1st-round pick (20) and 2016 2nd-round pick (53) to Detroit for contract of Pavel Datsyuk ($7.5M cap hit) and 2016 1st-round pick (16)

Trade: 2016 2nd-round pick (37) to Tampa Bay for D Anthony DeAngelo

Re-Sign: G Louis Domingue to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.05 million

FA Signing: F Jamie McGinn to 3-year deal with AAV of $3.333 million

Re-Sign: D Klas Dahlbeck to 1-year contract at $750,000

Re-Sign: D Kevin Connauton to 2-year deal with AAV of $1 million

FA Signing: F Ryan White to 1-year contract at $1 million

Re-Sign: F Shane Doan to 1-year contract at $3.876 million

FA Signing: D Luke Schenn to 2-year deal with AAV of $1.25 million

Re-Sign: D Michael Stone to 1-year contract at $4 million

Re-Sign: D Connor Murphy to 6-year deal with AAV of $3.85 million

Buyout: F Antoine Vermette — 2016-2017 cap savings: $2,500,000

FA Signing: F Radim Vrbata to 1-year contract at $1 million

Trade: 2017 2nd-round pick and 2017 3rd-round pick to Florida for F Dave Bolland and F Lawson Crouse

The signing of forward Jamie McGinn should not be overlooked or undervalued. His career production is not indicative of the value he brings to a team. He is a strong power forward who can play up and down the lineup. He can take on some of the offensive load and should be able to build chemistry with some of the young, skilled players on the team.

The one important thing Chayka has not yet taken care of is the re-signing of restricted free agent Tobias Rieder. Rieder had a solid season last year with 37 points, setting career highs in goals (14), nearly tripling his assists total from the previous season and almost doubling his points total from the 2014-2015 season. The Coyotes have around $2.3 million in cap space available, according to General Fanager. Depending on who makes the team, there should be plenty of cap space to get a deal done. It’s unclear what the hold-up is, though Rieder is playing for Team Europe in the World Cup at the moment. But re-signing him is a matter that should be addressed as quickly as possible.

It says a lot about the organization’s faith in Chayka to allow him to make moves to acquire significant cap hits and, more importantly for a small-market team, significant salaries. The Coyotes are not generally a cap-ceiling team, but there are a lot of strong contracts in the system. Chayka has already completely remodeled the character of this team in a very short amount of time. There’s no telling what he and this organization can achieve in the near future.

Final Thoughts

The Arizona Coyotes most likely will miss the playoffs this season. However, there are a lot of things to be excited about for the 2016-2017 season. For one thing, Domi and Duclair will return with a full NHL season under their belts. Other talented rookie prospects in the system will have their chance to shine at training camp and potentially make the opening-night roster. The team will be able to put together some pretty outstanding forward lines with players like Domi, Duclair, Vrbata, Hanzal, McGinn, Strome, Doan, Rieder, etc. Bolland could be the team’s fourth-line center, and White significantly developed his offensive ability during his time in Philadelphia. The team does not have any holes on defense, with at least 4-5 solid defensemen plus strong bottom-pairing options in Schenn, Connauton, etc. The main area that needs some work is in net, but the Coyotes have a no. 1 goalie in Smith and a developing backup in Domingue. Though the playoffs may be out of reach, the Coyotes are set for an exciting year.

Calgary Flames

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 35-40-7-77
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Pacific Division: 5, Western Conference: 12, League: 26
Goals For: 229 (NHL rank: 10)
Goals Against: 257 (NHL rank: 1)
Power Play Percentage: 17.0 percent (NHL rank: 22)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 75.5 percent (NHL rank: 30)
Leading Scorer: Johnny Gaudreau (30-48-78)

Photo credit: Will Nault

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

Like the Arizona Coyotes, the Calgary Flames had an up-and-down season. The team experienced a natural regression from the unsustainable play from the 2014-2015 season. Calgary was too inconsistent to muster up enough wins to be a real threat. The team had a hot stretch in early December, winning seven in a row against teams like the Stars, Rangers, Sharks and Predators. However, in the middle of February the season crashed and burned as the team lost 9 of 10 games. But what really cost the Flames any hope of competing for a playoff berth was the goaltending. Simply put, the goaltending was horrific. This contributed to a league-worst 75.5-percent penalty-kill and a league-high 257 goals against.

Heading into the 2015-2016 season, there was a strong possibility that the walls would close in on the Flames. In fact, here are a few excerpts from last year’s HockeyFanLand offseason analysis piece on the Flames:

The thing that Calgary must strive to avoid this season is a second-year collapse, much like the Colorado Avalanche experienced after winning their division and having the third-best record in the league in 2013-2014 and then not making the playoffs and ending up with a top-10 draft pick a year later.

Much like Colorado in 2013-2014, Calgary seemed to play above the stats, above the odds, above the probabilities, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Flames’ upcoming season.

Unfortunately for the Flames, that is exactly what happened. Calgary finished fifth in the Pacific Division and was not the same team that surprised the league the year before. Of course, players like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan still had fantastic seasons, but the effort, the chemistry and the overall performance, not to mention the success, did not compare. The Flames’ strong offseason moves last year did not translate throughout the season, and it was a disappointment every way you look at it.

The good news is that the Flames can put last season behind them and move on. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is bound to have a stronger season in his second year with the club, and talented young players like Sam Bennett should see more consistent ice time. The Flames fired coach Bob Hartley and are moving forward with Glen Gulutzan. The biggest offseason change, however, is that the Flames addressed the team’s weakest link and traded for a true no. 1 netminder in Brian Elliott. The Flames’ goaltending has been holding the club back for several years; it was time for the crease to be addressed once and for all. Elliott should give Calgary a fresh start.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The Black Hole in the Crease

Calgary went through a plethora of goalies throughout the season; not one of them finished with a record above .500, though Niklas Backstrom, who started in three games, finished 2-2. Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo started the season as the Flames’ goalies. However, Ramo was waived October 22 after going 0-3-0 in his first three starts (including the season opener) and posting a horrendous 4.37 goals-against average and .879 save percentage. Hiller sustained an injury that week, forcing the Flames to recall Ramo one week after sending him down. The goaltending situation seemed to play out for the rest of the year in similar fashion, with plenty of poor performances, no true no. 1 and no one to come in and win games for the Flames.

Calgary used four goaltenders throughout the season: Hiller, Ramo, Backstrom and Joni Ortio; Ramo received the most starts with 37. He finished the season 17-18-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and one shutout. He played well at times but was never able to sustain it.

Hiller set career lows in wins (9), goals-against average (3.51) and save percentage (.879) with a 9-11-1 record, including one shutout. The highest goals-against average of Hiller’s career before last season’s 3.51 was a 2.73 in the 2009-2010 season; he recorded 30 wins for the Ducks that year. He had never finished a season with a save percentage below .910 before last year. His 3.51 goals-against average and .879 save percentage were the worst in the league among goalies who played at least 10 games. Hiller was coming off two back-to-back seasons in which he recorded 25-30 wins, but last year was a disastrous one for the Swiss goalie. He is likely done in the NHL.

Ortio started in 19 games and finished 7-9-5 with a 2.76 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and zero shutouts.

Collectively, these numbers are anything but pretty for the Flames. It was clear that something had to be done this offseason.

Enter Brian Elliott

Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

There was ample speculation surrounding the Flames inquiring about several goaltenders on the draft floor in late June, especially regarding Blue Jackets’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. In the end, the Flames decided to trade for Blues goaltender Brian Elliott. This is a solid and overdue move for the team and organization.

Elliott has been outstanding for St. Louis over the past several seasons. Though he will not have the same team in front of him in Calgary, he has been one of the most consistent goalies in a very tight Central Division. His numbers are impressive with goals-against averages in the low 2’s and save percentages around .930. The one knock on Elliott, which may or may not prove to be an issue, is the fact that he has never carried the full load of a true no. 1 goalie. Elliott has always been involved in a timeshare in St. Louis. For a while it was Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, then Elliott and Jake Allen.

According to Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, Elliott is the one who asked for the trade, which means he is eager to have a true no. 1 role in the NHL. He is a solid, consistent and dependable goalie, which is exactly what Calgary needed.

The Flames also signed Chad Johnson to come in on a one-year, $1.7 million deal. Johnson, who has played for the Bruins, Islanders and Sabres, should be a steady backup for Elliott and the Flames.

Young Stars

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The Flames have a lot of young talent on the roster and in the organization, but there are two true superstars in Calgary that stand above the rest: Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

Monahan and Gaudreau have accounted for 267 points over the past two seasons, and both seem to get better game after game. In 2013-2014, Monahan recorded 22 goals and 34 points in his rookie season, finishing fifth on the team in points and second in goals behind only Mike Cammalleri (26). The 2014-2015 season saw Monahan nearly double his production with 31 goals and 62 points on the year, finishing tied for first on the team in goals. Monahan put in another successful campaign this past year, scoring 27 goals and 63 points, trailing only Johnny Gaudreau for most goals (30) and points (78) on the team. In fact, Gaudreau’s 78-point campaign, a follow-up to a 64-point performance the year before, earned him a top-six finish in points in the league.

As it happens, both players were due for contract extensions this summer.

Clearly, re-signing both players was a top priority for general manager Brad Treliving. At the time of this posting, however, only one player has signed on the dotted line.

In mid-August, the Flames signed Monahan to a massive seven-year extension with an average annual value of $6.375 million. Monahan now has the second highest cap hit on the team behind only captain Mark Giordano, who has an average annual value of $6.75 million. It may seem like a lot of money for a player who will be 22 at the start of this season, but the money and term are well-deserved. Performance often cannot be fully judged without the intangibles certain players bring to the game; however, with Monahan it’s not too difficult to notice how talented the former first-round pick (6) is and how significant he is to this organizaiton. All you have to do is look at the numbers.

The same can be said about Gaudreau, though his playing style is very different. The two players complement each other very well, and the duo makes for a lethal top line in Calgary. Gaudreau should command well north of $7 million, but an agreement has not yet been reached. There will not be further discussion regarding the extension until the conclusion of the World Cup, as Gaudreau made it clear he would not negotiate during the tournament. However, Treliving must reach a deal soon to have Gaudreau ready for training camp and the start of the season. Negotiation was tabled for the World Cup but should resume now that Gaudreau and Team North America have been eliminated.

Veteran Addition

Jim Wells-Postmedia

In addition to bringing in backup goalie Chad Johnson, the Flames made one other signing on day one of free agency. The team signed veteran forward Troy Brouwer to a four-year deal with an average annual value of $4.5 million. This is an interesting move.

In many ways, the move makes sense.

Brouwer adds much-needed grit and size (6-3, 213) to the Flames’ roster. He has a lot of veteran experience, including a Stanley Cup win in 2010 with Chicago. Though he’s not top-line material, he could slot in nicely next to Monahan and Gaudreau on the Flames’ top unit. After all, veteran Jiri Hudler had the best season of his career two seasons ago playing on that line. But assuming it’s improbable that Brouwer will come in and score 76 points like Hudler, he should be able to add something to that line. He can go to the front of the net, he can create space for his linemates and he can also score. Brouwer may not be flashy but he is dependable for around 20 goals and 30-40 points a year. That is like clockwork for Brouwer.

Brouwer will be 31 at the start of the season, so the four-year term is still on the side of reasonable given his experience and steady play. Brouwer can play up and down the lineup, which will provide plenty of options for Gulutzan and the rest of the coaching staff.

Plus, he is coming off a long playoff run with St. Louis during which he scored eight goals (some of them very clutch) and 13 points in 20 games.

However, the signing is not without its flaws.

For one thing, the deal involves a full no-trade clause in the first two years and a modified no-trade clause in the second half of the contract. The modified clause enables Brouwer to provide a list of 15 teams to which he would not accept a trade. This also means that the Flames will have to protect Brouwer for the NHL Expansion Draft at the end of the season.

For another thing, the Flames don’t have a lot of cap space. At this point the team has just under $9 million in cap space, according to General Fanager; however, that does not include Gaudreau’s extension, which will eat up most of that. Also, several players will be up for extensions at the end of this year. Though not all of those players are significant to the team’s future, the Flames will be left with three defensemen and zero goalies at the conclusion of this season. Roster spots will have to be filled, which generally means making difficult deals or paying up on July 1.

For those reasons, this move is not a slam dunk. The $4.5 million cap hit is a lot for a 40-point guy. Even though there were many outlandish and irresponsible long-term, expensive contracts handed out July 1, this is still a risky signing. But as they say, anything can happen. The Flames obviously felt strongly about what Brouwer brings to the table.

Main Offseason Transactions

Trade: 2016 2nd-round pick (35) and conditional 2018 3rd-round pick (if CGY re-signs Elliott) to St. Louis for G Brian Elliott

Trade: D Patrick Sieloff to Ottawa for F Alex Chiasson

Re-Sign: F Alex Chiasson to 1-year contract at $800,000

Buyout: F Mason Raymond – 2016-2017 cap savings: $2 million

FA Signing: F Troy Brouwer to 4-year deal with AAV of $4.5 million

FA Signing: G Chad Johnson to 1-year contract at $1.7 million

FA Signing: F Linden Vey to 1-year contract at $700,000

Draft Pick Signing: F Matthew Tkachuk to 3-year ELC with AAV of $925,000

Re-Sign: F Sean Monahan to 7-year deal with AAV of $6.375 million

The team also signed defenseman Nicklas Grossmann and forwards Chris Higgins and Lauri Korpikoski to professional tryout contracts.

Final Thoughts

One story that might bring a black cloud over this team at the start of the year is the controversy surrounding Dennis Wideman’s cross check to linesman Don Henderson. Wideman was suspended 20 games after the late-January incident. Though disputes on the matter are ongoing, it’s unclear how it will affect Wideman’s game and whether he will be targeted by officials.

However, all in all, the Calgary Flames are headed in the right direction. This team does not seem like a playoff team, but that doesn’t mean the Flames can’t have a strong season. Right now, the elephant in the room for Calgary is Gaudreau’s extension. It will get done, but the sooner the better.

Now that the Flames are coming off a disappointing year and not a thrilling playoff push, the start of this season should be more forgiving should the Flames stumble out of the gate. There will be new faces in the locker room, new lines on the ice and new players behind the mask. Monahan and Gaudreau will have to live up to their lucrative contract extensions (assuming Gaudreau signs one). Defenseman Dougie Hamilton will be looked upon to have a stronger year in his second season with the team. The same can be said of forward Michael Frolik, who signed a five-year deal with an average annual value of $4.3 million last summer but managed only 15 goals and 32 points in 64 games last year.

But even if all of that happens, the most important area of focus heading into the regular season is the Flames’ goaltending. It has been a problem for the team for several years, and management went out this offseason and seemingly addressed the issue. It’s highly unlikely Elliott will match his stats from his time in St. Louis. He played behind a structured and sound defensive system under head coach Ken Hitchcock, and the Flames are an inferior team.

But that doesn’t mean Elliott won’t be the answer Calgary has been looking for. He doesn’t have to be perfect, though all eyes will be on him. If nothing else, the Flames have a year to evaluate his play before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It seems like a win-win for Calgary.

Edmonton Oilers

2015-2016 By the Numbers

Overall Record: 31-43-8-70
Playoff Result: Did not make playoffs
Standings: Pacific Division: 7, Western Conference: 14, League: 29
Goals For: 199 (NHL rank: 26)
Goals Against: 242 (NHL rank: 4)
Power Play Percentage: 18.1 percent (NHL rank: 18)
Penalty Kill Percentage: percent 81.1 (NHL rank: 18)
Leading Scorer: Taylor Hall (26-39-65)

via New Jersey Devils

Summary of 2015-2016 Season Results

Though the Oilers’ season had a lot of life to it, the end result was a similar one the hockey world has grown accustomed to over the past decade. The Oilers failed to make a meaningful jump in the standings, finishing last in the Pacific Division and conference and 29th in the league. It was a significant season as the first of rookie sensation Connor McDavid, whom most believe is the best player in his generation and the best player since Sidney Crosby. McDavid’s season was cut in half because of a fluke injury sustained in a November match-up against Philadelphia. However, McDavid still managed to finish third in points per game (1.07) behind only Patrick Kane (1.29) and Jamie Benn (1.09); Pavel Zacha technically finished first but only competed in one game. McDavid’s 16 goals and 48 points in 45 games earned him a Calder nod as a finalist for rookie of the year.

It was also a significant year for goaltender Cam Talbot, his first as a no. 1 goalie in the NHL after serving as Henrik Lundqvist’s back-up in New York. Talbot had an inconsistent but decent year, going 21-27-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. It was unlikely he would recreate his numbers from New York considering he would not be playing behind a strong defensive unit. Management signed Talbot to a three-year extension in January, a deal that carries a $4.166 million cap hit. He let in a few back-breaking goals in the early months of the season and was eventually replaced by backup Anders Nilsson for a six-week stretch. When Talbot returned after Nilsson’s hot streak came to an end, he battled and came away with a 47-save victory against the Bruins. From that point on, he finished the season with a .925 save percentage.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Talbot was streaky throughout the year, going 3-8-1 in one stretch and then 7-2-1 in the next; in fact, in March he earned first star of the week honors after going 3-0 with a 0.65 goals-against average, a .981 save percentage and one shutout. His season contained many ebbs and flows, but his play in the second half of the season was promising, especially for an Edmonton team so starved of good goaltending. When you consider the team in front of him, the fact that he maintained average stats is impressive.

The Oilers maintained the team’s unparalleled luck at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Despite losing out on one of the three draft lottery picks, the Oilers came away with the consensus no. 3 pick in Jesse Puljujarvi after Columbus surprisingly selected Pierre-Luc Dubois with the third overall pick. As Edmonton has made several drastic offseason moves, it’s anyone’s guess as to how things will shape up in Oil Country this season.

Most Significant Offseason Moves

The Trade

via NHL.com

The biggest day of the offseason is generally July 1, day one of free agency. Draft day could be thrown in the mix, and for this year in particular, some would consider the day Jimmy Vesey made his announcement was the most dramatic moment of the offseason. However, there can be no discussion when it comes to the most significant, surprising and league-altering day of the 2016 offseason: June 29 takes the cake 100 times out of 100.

June 29 was marked by a shocking extension and two blockbuster trades. The extension was awarded to Steven Stamkos, who unpredictably settled his future before free agency. Perhaps the most unexpected move of the offseason involved Nashville and Montreal swapping franchise defensemen in Shea Weber and P.K. Subban.

But June 29 presented a second blockbuster trade, with the Oilers sending left winger Taylor Hall to the Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson, a move that completely changes the landscape of both teams involved.

Objectively speaking, there are positive and negative aspects to this deal for the Oilers.

For one thing, the Oilers were in dire need of a puck-moving defenseman, preferably a right-handed one. Adam Larsson checks both of those boxes.

Jim McIsaac-Getty Images

For another thing, after taking advantage of top draft picks for years and years, the Oilers had enough young talent to be able to survive losing a piece of the core to acquire a much-needed defenseman. With Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Leon Draisaitl, etc. available, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli had multiple options.

What made this deal shocking was the fact that Hall was the player involved. Aside from McDavid, Hall was the most talented player on the team. As such, he had the highest trade value. No matter how good Adam Larsson may turn out to be, this was a one-sided deal given Hall’s value and talent. It didn’t make sense at the time.

Hall, who will turn 25 in November, led the team in goals (26) and points (65) last season. He has twice hit the 27-goal mark and has scored 50+ points in four out of six seasons, scoring a career-high 80 points in 2013-2014. He was on pace for 88 points in 79 games during the lockout-shortened season in which he scored 50 points in 45 games. He has 328 points in 381 career regular-season games.

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

In hindsight, one can infer that Chiarelli knew he was going to sign left winger Milan Lucic to a multi-year extension come July 1. Lucic would be capable of playing on the top line, and he, like Hall, is a left winger. It seems as if this is the main reason why Chairelli went ahead with this move. But even if Lucic is a great addition for the Oilers, that doesn’t mean Chiarelli made the right decision.

Larsson is a very talented player who is already signed to a reasonable multi-year deal and who has plenty of untapped potential. Even if other, more notable names were thrown around in rumors, like Colorado’s Tyson Barrie, St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk and Anaheim’s Cam Fowler, that doesn’t mean Chiarelli had access to those players. But trading Hall for Larsson was a lopsided deal. Had the player going to New Jersey been Nugent-Hopkins, most people would not have questioned the move, or at least would not have been so adamantly against it. Perhaps New Jersey wasn’t interested in a center

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