Jack Hughes, drafted 1st overall by the New Jersey Devils, has been slated as a generational player that could redefine the franchise. (Photo courtesy: Andre Ringuette, NHLI)
It’s been the most tumultuous month and a half in the NHL in a time where there’s not a single game of hockey. The first round of the 2019 draft opened on June 22nd, and free agency was open for business just over a week later on July 1st. Like most years, all eyes were on some specific players and teams.
Jack Hughes, the cream of the crop for this year’s draft class, is being hyped as the next generational player. Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin both hit free agency after some frustrations in Columbus. And teams like Vegas and Toronto had some very troubled waters to navigate with the hard salary cap being $81.5 million for the ’19-20 season.
Now, after the free-agent frenzy, who’s won the offseason? We look into some teams who made the biggest splashes this summer, whether it was via trades, drafting, or free-agent signings. Our writers with Blues Rants all gave their own opinions on whose future looks brightest and what’s next for the winners of the 2019 offseason.
CHRIS MORAN – WRITER/EDITOR
Pick – New Jersey Devils (Notables: Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev)
“Probably the most obvious pick, but New Jersey has assembled a talented, young core. They grabbed Jack Hughes at no. 1, but they’ve also traded and signed young talent to fill the team out. Picks like Dillon Hamaliuk (from Nashville’s pick) and Nikita Okhotyuk (from Boston’s pick) both came in the second round and could see minutes in the NHL as early as this season. They continued their hunt for forwards on both wings as well, landing Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev via trades.
“Their defensive end, which struggled this past season (3.30 Goals Against per game) also gets a huge upgrade. The Devils landed elite defenseman P.K. Subban in exchange for Santini and Davies. Subban’s veteran knowledge of the game and his ability to quarterback the rush and power play should be a tremendous help to younger blueliners like Mirco Mueller and the newly re-signed Will Butcher. Should Taylor Hall and Cory Schneider return to form, New Jersey is a team that should return to playoff form, possibly top five in the Eastern Conference.”
TIM HIRSCH – LEAD WRITER/EDITOR
Pick – New Jersey Devils
“Last season, general manager Doug Armstrong made a blockbuster trade for Ryan O’Reilly, acquired David Perron, Tyler Bozak, and Pat Maroon all in a week. It took some time, but it resulted in the Blues’ first-ever Stanley Cup. Lots of Central division teams made some big moves here and there, but none that could immediately turn the tide in their favor. In the Pacific, teams like San Jose and Vegas mostly had to take off cap space, although Arizona’s acquisitions could prove fruitful.
“In the East, I’d say the Devils, and the Rangers were the biggest movers. Of course, they had the #1 and #2 picks in the draft, which should help them immediately next season. With that, I’d say it’s a safe bet that at least one of those teams could improve to a playoff spot after finishing last in their division. No team impressed me this offseason more than New Jersey, though: they had lots of cap space and started using it, and I think they’ll be significantly better than last year.”
KYLE HANNER – WRITER
Pick – Colorado Avalanche (Notables: Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Bowen Byram)
“The Colorado Avalanche made some big moves of their own this offseason. Already having the best top line in hockey (though Rantanen’s contract is not settled), They landed Cup-winning forward Andre Burakovsky from the Capitals for picks. They also added Joonas Donskoi from San Jose and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare from Vegas. Donskoi and Burakovsky should be perennial 30-point earners for the top 9. It took losing a significant piece in Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot, but the Avs also landed longtime Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri, who will likely see himself as a second-line center between Tyson Jost and Burakovsky.
“Tyson Barrie departed from their blue line, but the void can be filled with rising star Sam Girard and last year’s Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar. Calle Rosen, also acquired in the Kadri trade, should play as a bottom pairing defenseman or at least provide depth on the right side. Finally, thanks to the Ottawa Senators trade for Matt Duchene, Colorado selected left-shot defenseman Bowen Byram in the draft, who should see minutes in the NHL almost immediately. With former first-rounder Erik Johnson and Ian Cole at the helm for their top pair, the blue line could see some strong pairings should their youth players pay off.
“After losing longtime Avs goaltender Semyon Varlamov to free agency, it will be up to Philipp Grubauer to take over the starting spot. His play could be the big question mark, but with the high-end offensive depth and the promising defense, the Colorado Avalanche could see some deep postseason runs the next few years.”
TYSON PLUMLEE – WRITER
Pick – New Jersey Devils
“The team that won the offseason, in my opinion, was The New Jersey Devils. The Devils finished with the 5th-worst goals-for in the league. Taylor Hall’s return to the ice is a long-awaited one for Devils fans, and one that should help with scoring. Also, their number one pick in Jack Hughes is expected to tear up the league to the likes of Crosby or McDavid, alongside another 1st overall in Nico Hischier.
The other standout additions for me include Nikita Gusev on the left to take some heat away from Taylor Hall. In addition, the signing of Wayne Simmonds on right-wing and P.K. Subban on defense is undoubtedly a pair of acquisitions that will move their plus/minus in the right direction. Finally, the Devils re-signed Will Butcher, who shined as an up-and-coming elite defenseman.
A healthy goaltending pair in Corey Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood should give the team some breathing room as they try and make themselves a contender in the east. Both had some career lows this past season, but a bolstering of the defense (at least on the right) should remedy their numbers.
I’m not sure the Cup is in their future this season, but they did pull off some eye-catching moves to put themselves in the conversation of being a team that I would deem a sleeper going into this season. Chemistry and coaching will take a precedent with a collective buy-in from teammates, but the Devils have a very bright future for them in the ’19-20 season.
DARRIN HAMLIN – WRITER
Pick – Dallas Stars (Notables: Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, Andrej Sekera)
“The Stars – after a heartbreaking series loss in last year’s playoffs – only seemed to get better this offseason. They landed a big fish in former franchise captain Joe Pavelski from San Jose, who should be an immediate leader and impact role on the right side for the top 6. The top forwards of Seguin, Benn, and Radulov will undoubtedly produce big numbers (despite some comments by president Jim Lites last season).
“For added depth, they landed another longtime winger from the West Coast – former Anaheim Duck Corey Perry. Despite a prosperous career tarnished with knee injuries, Perry should be another tremendous veteran presence to mentor up-and-coming forwards like Denis Gurianov and Roope Hintz. The team lost rental Mats Zuccarello to the Wild and Jason Spezza to the Leafs, but with new blood in the coaching staff in John Stevens, Rick Bowness, and Todd Nelson, the offense should only improve.
“Depth for defense will be the big question mark for the Stars. They have arguably the best two-way rookie defenseman in Miro Heiskanen, and one of the best right-side defenders in John Klingberg. Esa Lindell still has promise for a top 4 pairing, possibly alongside newly acquired Andrej Sekera. Finally, the Stars selected Thomas Harley, one of the best defenseman chosen in the first round of the draft. This leaves him to find a place within the roster, and Roman Polak and Jamie Oleksiak to try and register minutes.
“With all this in play, and with arguably the best goaltending tandem in the league with Vezina finalist Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin – who’s proved he’s not just a backup – the Stars look poised for an even deeper playoff run.”
PHILLIP MILLER – WRITER/EDITOR
Pick – New York Rangers (Notables: Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kaako, Jacob Trouba)
“While New Jersey is the obvious pick for the best offseason, a “sleeper” team for me is the team a few miles east in the New York Rangers. After a heartbreaking 2OT Stanley Cup loss back in 2014, the Rangers have been on a slow, grinding rebuild. This year, however, they landed the big fish in free agency: the “breadman” Artemi Panarin, who should instantly boost their struggling offense. Another key player was their 2nd overall draft pick, Kaapo Kaako. With their longtime veteran forwards of Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, the new kids like Lias Andersson, Philip Chytil and Brett Howden show a lot of promise up front.
“The Blueshirts lost Kevin Shattenkirk due to the salary cap, as well as forwards Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello, but they filled the forwards with decent depth players. Also, the Rangers acquired Jacob Trouba from the Jets to add to their blue line. Trouba could be the physical injection the Rangers’ defense needed alongside Mark Staal, Brendan Smith, and Brady Skjei.
“The big X-factor that puts New York over New Jersey for me is goaltending. Legendary goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still playing at an elite caliber despite being 37. After him, Alexander Georgiev has undoubtedly been learning under one of the best netminders in the game and has already proven his ability (look at his 55-save win last February against Toronto). Depth for the Rangers will be the big question mark, offensively and defensively, but I like the look ahead for one of the oldest American hockey franchises, which could end with the King finally lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
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