After going through a two-month ordeal to complete the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton, 31 National Hockey League clubs returned to some normalcy by making trades and signing free agents to remake their rosters for the 2020-21 regular season.
Unlike previous years, where general managers had the benefit of an increasing salary cap due to $5 billion in annual league revenue, clubs were hampered by the $81.5 million salary cap staying flat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not stop them from making moves that may turn out to be consequential when the season begins in January.
Here is an evaluation of what changes clubs in the Central Division made:
In – Mattias Janmark, Lucas Wallmark, Nikita Zadorov
Out – Corey Crawford, Olli Maatta, Brandon Saad
Unsigned – Drake Caggiula, Slater Koekkoek, Dylan Strome
The Blackhawks benefited from the expanded playoff format and upset Edmonton before losing to Vegas in the first round, but GM Stan Bowman chose to shed salary and go more in the direction of rebuilding and giving young players an opportunity than adding to help out their aging core group.
Chicago retained salary to move out the final two years of Maatta’s contract to Los Angeles and Saad’s final year to Colorado, and opted not to re-sign the 35-year-old Crawford coming off an excellent year. Janmark is a solid depth forward and Zadorov is a big, tough defender, but the goaltending duo of Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia does not inspire any confidence.
Grade – C-
In – Brandon Saad, Devon Toews
Out – Nikita Zadorov, Matt Nieto, Vladislav Namestnikov
The Avs were victimized by injuries in their second round loss to Dallas, but GM Joe Sakic improved their status as a favorite in the Western Conference with the acquisition of two-time Cup winner Saad from Chicago for blueliner Zadorov and swapping a pair of second-round picks to New York for Toews.
Colorado’s well-managed cap situation, 2019 top pick Bowen Byram waiting in the wings, and veteran Ian Cole entering the final year of his contract allowed Sakic to sign Toews to a four-year contract extension.
Grade – A
In – Julius Honka, Mark Pysyk
Out – Martin Hanzal, Mattias Janmark, Roman Polak
Unsigned – Corey Perry
The Stars concentrated on re-signing players that were big contributors to their run to the Cup Final, re-signing Radek Faksa, Denis Gurianov, Roope Hintz, Anton Khudobin, and Andrej Sekera to multi-year extensions.
GM Jim Nill bolstered his blueline depth with the signing of Pysyk and bringing back Honka after a year in Finland, but was unable to replace the offense he will lose with Tyler Seguin out for a sizable chunk of next season.
Grade – B-
In – Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson, Cam Talbot, Kirill Kaprizov
Out – Ryan Donato, Devan Dubnyk, Alex Galchenyuk, Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Luke Kunin
GM Bill Guerin was intent on changing the culture with the Wild after years of mediocrity and made more impact moves than any other clubs, moving out the club’s starting goalie (Dubnyk), team captain (Koivu), second-line center (Staal), and a pair of youngsters (Donato, Kunin).
Talbot replaces Dubnyk in goal, Bonino and Johansson will play up the middle, and Bjugstad could provide size up front if he stays away from injuries. The biggest addition is the signing of Kaprizov from the KHL, who could be a Rookie of the Year candidate.
Grade – B
In – Matt Benning, Mark Borowiecki, Nick Cousins, Brad Richardson
Out – Nick Bonino, Craig Smith, Austin Watson, Kyle Turris, Dan Hamhuis
Unsigned – Luke Kunin
After an early exit in the qualifying round, the most impactful move made by GM David Poile was the buyout of the final four years of Kyle Turris’ contract. The Preds added Borowiecki and Benning for blueline depth after the retirement of Hamhuis and mixed up their forward compliment, trading Bonino for the younger Kunin, moving the final three years of Watson’s contract for a draft pick, and replaced Smith with free agent Cousins.
Grade – B-
ST. LOUIS BLUES
In – Kyle Clifford, Torey Krug
Out – Jay Bouwmeester, Troy Brouwer, Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Allen
Unsigned – Vince Dunn
The Blues moved out an expensive backup goalie in Allen in a trade with Montreal and chose not to put themselves in cap trouble by making Pietrangelo one of the top-five paid defenseman in the NHL. GM Doug Armstrong instead replaced him with Krug in free agency for a more economical AAV of $6.5 million and brought in a tough veteran winger in Clifford.
Grade – B+
In – Derek Forbort, Paul Stastny, Nate Thompson
Out – Carl Dahlstrom, Cody Eakin, Dmitry Kulikov, Dustin Byfuglien
Unsigned – Jack Roslovic
With injuries to Bryan Little and the contract termination of Byfuglien, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff needed to shore up his blueline and add a second-line center. The Jets re-signed defensemen Nathan Beaulieu, Dylan DeMelo, and Sami Niku for depth, but are hoping prospects Dylan Samberg or Ville Heinola are ready to step in.
Up the middle, Winnipeg took advantage of the Golden Knights cap issues and paid a low price for Stastny, who is in the final year of his contract.
Grade – B+