The first puck has yet to drop and most full-time NHLers are on the grip-and-grin circuit.
But, that doesn’t mean the anticipation of a brand new season isn’t killing us.
It’s been quite an eventful off-season since the Capitals hoisted the Cup, punctuated by the draft, free agent signings — some big ones — and a few trades thrown in for good measure.
But, Erik Karlsson is still a Senator, which was one summer deal we were looking forward to, what with all the rumors and innuendo about locker room discord and the Mike Hoffman sell-off.
On the retirement front, it was sad to see the Sedin Twins call it quits, ditto good guys Jarome Iginla and Patrick Sharp. They will be missed.
With all the movement, it’s inevitable that each team will probably have at least one new face in the line-up by the time Montreal and Toronto see the first face-off of th 2018-19 season on Oct. 3.
Here are every NHL team’s most important new player, with some honorable mentions in italics.
31. Anaheim Ducks – D Andrej Sustr
Even though the Ducks were the fourth stingiest team in hockey last year, allowing just 216 goals against, the team still felt it necessary to beef up the defence. And they brought in a very big body in veteran Andrej Sustr, who is 6’7″ without skates. The former Tampa Bay Lightning rearguard brings plenty of regular season and playoff experience to a young corps of defenders which includes Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. Sustr has played in 318 regular season games, logging 63 points and an overall -3 rating as a third pair defenceman. The Plzen born, undrafted Sustr has also skated in 46 playoff games, recording five points and a +8. The Ducks signed him for one year at $1.3 million.
30. Arizona Coyotes – RW Michael Grabner
While the ‘Yotes give blue chip youngsters like 2017-18 top scorer Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini and Christian Fischer time to percolate, veteran scoring winger Grabner will bridge the gap. Known in league circles as “Cy Young”, he has a propensity for scoring far more goals than assists (27 goals, 9 assists with New Jersey and the Rangers last season). In his 10-year career, the lanky Austrian has scored a total of 158 goals, with 91 assists, in 553 games. He has added six goals and six assists in 31 playoff games too. Where he will help immensely is on the penalty kill, especially since Arizona was 19th last year at 79.46 percent efficiency. Grabner is not only a skilled penalty killer, but adept at potting goals when his team is a man or two down, with 20 career shorties.
29. Boston Bruins – G Jaroslav Halak
With super-sub netminder Anton Khudobin gone to different pastures in Dallas, the Bruins need for a reliable back-up netted them 33-year-old veteran Jaroslav Halak. He will cost the B’s $5.5 million over two seasons, but with Tuukka Rask now on the wrong side of 30 himself, the move for a veteran like Halak was a good one. While it would be nice to groom a younger guy like Zane McIntyre, the Bruins have opted to go tried and true and Halak should be a boon to them for a couple of years. He was a starter with the Islanders last season, seeing action in 54 games. He fashioned a 20-26-6 record, with 3.19 goals against average and .908 save percentage, along with his 42nd career shutout. Boston’s goaltending should be in good hands, at least for the near future.
28. Buffalo Sabres – D Rasmus Dahlin
It was a foregone conclusion at this year’s draft that the Sabres would select consensus no. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin. Now the real work begins to incorporate his hockey gifts into a line-up that is drastically changed from the 2017-18 version. The recently traded for Carolina veteran winger Jeff Skinner, which came after a blockbuster that sent Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis for forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson. One other piece of the off-season puzzle was signing super back-up Carter Hutton, who will start in goal for Buffalo this year. As for Dahlin, he has the skill to become an elite level rearguard, having recorded 20 points in 41 games for Swedish Elite League team Frolunda last year, at the tender age of 17. Honorable mentions: Skinner and Hutton.
27. Calgary Flames – D Noah Hanifin
Blockbuster trades involving good to great players for good to great players are the exception in the NHL, not the norm. The Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes pulled one off this summer that should spell good things for both clubs. That deal involved the Flames sending excellent right shooting defenceman Dougie Hamilton, along with forward Michael Ferland to Carolina for emerging star blueliner Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm. Hanifin, the fifth overall pick in 2015, is still just 21 and coming off a third straight season of improved offensive stats. He leaves a youngish blueline corps for a fairly solid and veteran group in Calgary fronted by Mark Giordano. This will no doubt aid in his development as an overall sound defenceman and a future leader. Honorable mention: Lindholm and LW James Neal.
26. Carolina Hurricanes – RW Andrei Svechnikov
As much as swapping young D Noah Hanifin for veteran rearguard Dougie Hamilton will solidify the Hurricanes blue line, the selection of dynamic winger Andrei Svechnikov at no. 2 in the draft my have more far-reaching implications. The Barrie Colts star posted the most goals ever by an OHL rookie with 40 last year and it is that elite level goal-scoring ability that Carolina has lacked in recent years. It is doubtful that the native of Barnaul, Russia will be sent back to junior, especially since scoring winger Jeff Skinner was traded to Buffalo. The ‘Canes, like a few other non-playoff teams, made bold moves to alter their roster, for better — and hopefully not worse. Drafting Svechnikov is for the better. Honorable mentions: D Dougie Hamilton, D Calvin de Haan, G Petr Mrazek.
25. Chicago Blackhawks – RW Marcus Kruger
The Blackhawks were fairly active this off-season, but it remains to be seen if that activity will have any bearing on a team whose formerly glorious core is getting past its best before date. In one big deal, they sent Marian Hossa’s contract, along with forward Vinnie Hinostroza and D Jordan Oesterle to Arizona for winger Marcus Kruger, D Andrew Campbell and three prospects. Kruger comes back to the team that drafted him in 2009, but coming off a sub-par season that saw him demoted to Carolina’s farm team and then later traded to the Coyotes. A checking winger with some playmaking ability, the Hawks are probably hoping that a second go around in familiar surroundings will have a positive impact on Kruger’s game — not to mention the fact that he is healthy, while Hossa is likely done. Honorable mention: G Cam Ward.
24. Colorado Avalanche – G Philipp Grubauer
The Washington Capitals loss is Colorado’s gain. And if the Avalanche want to see if incumbent starter Semyon Varlamov’s bounce back year wasn’t a fluke, then maybe a little pre-season goaltending battle will be a good thing. The Avs traded a second round pick to the Capitals for Grubauer, who was as solid a reserve goalie as any in the NHL. In 100 games with Washington since 2012-13, Grubauer posted a 43-31-11 record, six shutouts, a 2.29 goals against average and .923 save percentage. Colorado signed him to a three-year, $10 million contract extension after the trade and then brought in some blue line insurance in front of him and Varlamov in the person of experienced defenceman Ian Cole. Honorable mentions: Cole and LW Matt Calvert.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets – C Riley Nash
There was a slight changing of the guard in Columbus this summer, with the departures of Matt Calvert, longtime defenceman Jack Johnson and Thomas Vanek. Incoming, of note, is Boston Bruins C Riley Nash. The 29-year-old former first round selection had his best year as a pro, reaching career highs in goals (15), assists (26), points (41) and plus-minus (+16). While he isn’t top notch on the face-off dot at just 48.2 percent efficiency, he’s been clutch in the playoffs, winning 56.9 percent of his draws. Nash has also been an analytics plus, logging a career 51.7 Corsi For on possession and a 101.8 PDO this year (career high). Other than Nash, the Jackets didn’t make any more moves worth mentioning.
22. Dallas Stars – G Anton Khudobin
When Ben Bishop his healthy, there is no reason to worry about quality goaltending. However, if he was to be injured, say due to being overworked, then having a good second option in Big D is paramount. Thus, the acquisition of veteran back-up Anton Khudobin was a coup. In years past, the two-headed monster of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi was an utter failure. However, even with Big Ben in the pipes last year, the Stars still missed the post-season in a tough Western Conference. Khudobin is 32, the same age as Bishop (who is 32 later this year) and has proven his worth in stops with Carolina, Boston (twice), Anaheim and Minnesota. Last year, he was 16-6-7 in 29 starts with Boston, recording a 2.56 goals against average and .913 save percentage. Honorable Mention: LW Blake Comeau.
21. Detroit Red Wings – RW Filip Zadina
The Wings, who aren’t getting any younger up front, will — and should — probably give no. 6 overall pick Zadina every chance to make the starting line-up this fall. And Detroit could use any kind of boost offensively, since they scored but 217 goals in 2017-18, the fourth lowest total in the NHL. Getting veteran Thomas Vanek into the fold was one thing, but the Wings need some fresh legs up front and Zadina can supply that, and more. He scored 49 goals and 45 assists in 66 games with the Halifax Mooseheads last season, his first foray into North American hockey. He’s been a scorer at every level and in the last world junior championships he was second only to the U.S. team’s Kieffer Bellows in goal scoring, bending the twine seven times in seven games. Honorable Mentions: Vanek and G Jonathan Bernier.
20. Edmonton Oilers – LW Tobias Rieder
Missing the post-season, especially the way they did, could not have sat well with the Oilers or the team brass. But, it seems kind of curious that they did little in the off-season to address several shortcomings. Goaltending definitely was a sore point, as well as depth on defence and any kind of secondary scoring ability up front other than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Therefore, the signing of former fourth round pick Rieder might be met with yawns around central Alberta. He had 25 points in 78 games last season split between the Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings, and zero points in his first four NHL playoff games. He was a third line/fourth line option in the desert and L.A. and if he can provide numbers more like 2015-16 (37 points), then his one-year, $2 million deal might look very good.
19. Florida Panthers – LW Mike Hoffman
Florida missed the playoffs by the slimmest of margins last season not because they couldn’t score, but because their goal differential was too close (248 goals for, 246 against). Adding LW Mike Hoffman in the round about sort of way they did (from Ottawa, via San Jose), is a good thing, at least where goal production is concerned. Hoffman had 22 goals and 56 points in all 82 games for Ottawa in 2017-18, but discord in the dressing room, precipitated by off-ice shenanigans, hastened his departure from the Canadian capital. He will slot in nicely as a first or second line left winger and added certified mitts to the powerplay, too. Otherwise, the ‘Cats did not a whole lot else in the off-season, which might not be a bad thing for team chemistry.
18. Los Angeles Kings – LW Ilya Kovalchuk
With the return of Jeff Carter to full health, it’s like the Kings are actually getting two new players in the line-up this fall — superstar sniper Ilya Kovalchuk included. Kovy returns to the NHL on a three-year, $18.75 million contract after a five-season hiatus with SKA St. Petersburg. Well into his 30s (he’s 35) Kovalchuk still has sound offensive instincts and will bring pizzazz behind incumbent star Anze Kopitar. Kovalchuk was better than a point per game in the KHL and had seven points in six games with the champion Olympic Athletes from Russia in the 2018 Winter games. The Kings were exposed as a bit slower and older by the Vegas Golden Knights, so his new team ought to hope he means it when he says he’s “a young 35.”
17. Minnesota Wild – D Greg Pateryn
Of the eight teams that made the playoffs in the Western Conference last season, only one club gave up more goals in the regular season than the Wild’s 232, and that was Colorado with 237. The Wild’s need, then, in the off-season was some defensive balance to go with more offensively gifted rearguards like Ryan Suter and Matthew Dumba. With an eye on the bottom line, the Wild secured the services of stay-at-home defenceman Pateryn. He had his most complete season as a NHLer, playing in a personal high 73 regular season games, with personal bests in points (13), plus-minus (+6), hits (155), blocked shots (148) and average ice time (19:37). Should he continue his upward trend, the three-year, $6.75 million contract he signed might be a bargain.
16. Montreal Canadiens – C Max Domi
We’re not really sure if Montreal’s first round pick (third overall) Jesperi Kotkaniemi is big enough yet for prime time. So, we are going with Max Domi as the most important new player in the center of the hockey universe. Son of Tie is going to find out just how tough playing in the bilingual media fishbowl that is Montreal is. The pressure is squarely on him to prove that he was worth the price of Alex Galchenyuk. More playmaker than goal scorer — which Montreal sorely needs), Domi had nine goals and 45 points in 82 games, his first full campaign since entering the league in 2015-16. The Habs will need another full season, hopefully with a near career high in points, out of Domi if they are going to maximize the trade. Honorable mentions: Kotkaniemi and RW Joel Armia.
15. Nashville Predators – D Dan Hamhuis
Dan Hamhuis career, now in its last few seasons, has come full circle with a return to the Predators. The team drafted him 12th overall in 2001 and he enjoyed six very steady years in the Music City before moving on to Vancouver in 2010. At 35, he is officially the oldest player on the Nashville blue line, yet his offensive production has remained rock steady, even as his ice time has been cut a bit. Last year with Dallas he scored over 20 points (24) for the 12th time in 14 seasons, all while playing an average 20:11 minutes. Adding his veteran presence and leadership can’t be a bad thing, given that the team got bounced from the post-season a little earlier than it planned. His two-year, $2.5 million contract may well be a feather in the cap of GM David Poile.
14. New Jersey Devils – C Michael McLeod
The Devils made so few off-season moves, we were kind of forced to speculate on new blood. And, in Michael McLeod’s case, he isn’t so much new as perhaps ready for his evolution in hockey. Drafted 12th overall in 2016, he is now 20 and has done all he can do in junior hockey with the Mississauga Steelheads, amassing 217 points in 215 games, as well as 46 points in 33 playoff contests. The Devils do have a bit of a glut at center, but a right shooter like McLeod could slide in down the right side, where New Jersey doesn’t have any bigger threat than Kyle Palmieri. McLeod is but one of three players from the top 16 taken in the 2016 draft who haven’t made an appearance in the NHL. It’s his time now.
13. New York Islanders – G Robin Lehner
It may be a long, hard winter in Brooklyn. The departure of John Tavares to Toronto could not have come at a worse time for the Islanders franchise, which has also seen D Calvin de Haan and G Jaroslav Halak go in the off-season. Lou Lamoriello couldn’t keep Johnny T in New York, so there were some stop gap measures, the most notable of which was the free agent signing of veteran netminder Robin Lehner. The Swedish puckstopper signed a one-year, $1.5 million bridge deal and will battle back-up Thomas Greiss for the starting job this fall. His numbers with a bad Buffalo squad last season took a bit of a tumble, with a 14-26-9 record in 53 appearances, a 3.01 goals against average and .908 save percentage. Honorable mentions: C Leo Komarov, LW Matt Martin.
12. New York Rangers – C Filip Chytil
As is the case of our analysis of New Jersey’s off-season moves, or lack thereof, we are going to speculate that lanky Czech center Filip Chytil may crack the line-up this fall for good and have an impact. Taken 21st overall in 2017, the 18-year-old had a nine-game tryout with the big club scoring a goal and two assists and logging a -5. Sent down to Hartford to work on his game, Chytil had 11 goals and 20 assists and was +1 in 46 games. With the exodus of big money help out of the Big Apple, there will be plenty of opportunity for youngster like Chytil and Lias Andersson (19) to make the team out of training camp. He is an elite player who has scored at all levels and there is no reason to believe that given the ice time, he’ll do fine with the Rangers.
11. Ottawa Senators – Mikkel Boedker
Coming the other way in the convoluted Mike Hoffman trade in June was Sharks veteran left winger Mikkel Boedker. After nearly eight seasons with the Coyotes organization, he was dealt to San Jose at the 2016 deadline and after struggling to score in 2016-17, got his some of his offensive game back last year. He played one minute less on average in 2017-18, but scored 11 more points (37 total) than he did the previous season. It will be a tall task to replace the offence vacated by Hoffman, but Boedker did have a 51-point season as late as 2015-16. The Senators aren’t loaded down the left side, so the Copenhagen native has the opportunity to move up, maybe even to the second line. Honorable mention: LW Brady Tkachuk.
10. Philadelphia Flyers – LW James van Riemsdyk
A new old face is back in Philly and we believe James van Riemsdyk may be on track for his first 40-goal season. He should slot in as the Flyers first line left winger — at worst second — taking passes from first-rate centers like Sean Couturier or Claude Giroux. A former Philadelphia first round pick (second overall), the 29-year-old scored a career high 36 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, 11 of them on the powerplay. In that category, the Flyers were middle of the pack last season and JVR’s presence should bump them into the top 10. While it will cost Philly $7 million a season until 2023, they added a player of significant offensive quality without giving up anything from their roster. Honorable mention: D Christian Folin.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins – D Jack Johnson
Getting beat — finally — by the Washington Capitals in the post-season probably wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps exposed some fatal weaknesses on a Pens team gunning for a third straight title, namely defensive depth and goaltending. A bold move was needed and it came in the form of veteran defenceman Johnson, who signed a relatively inexpensive five-year, $16.25 million free agent contract. The 31-year-old American’s production has dipped since a 40-point campaign with Columbus in 2014-15, but he can still play top four minutes. In the last three seasons, too, his powerplay time was reduced, causing his points to fall to just 11 last year. Honorable mention: C Matt Cullen.
8. San Jose Sharks – LW Rudolfs Balcers
The Sharks didn’t do a whole lot this off-season in the free agent game, so we’re looking into the crystal ball. The magic orb tells us that Latvian left winger Rudolfs Balcers has a shot at playing a significant bottom six role with a Sharks team that is a little older than most clubs. The 21-year-old, who was a fifth round choice in 2015, was a force offensively with the Sharks AHL affiliate, the San Jose Barracuda, in 2017-18. He led the team in scoring with 23 goals and 25 assists in 67 games. He added another two goals and two assists in four playoff contests. Balcers did himself a solid at the 2018 world championships as well, scoring four goals and two assists in eight games for an over-matched Latvian squad. Honorable mention: D Ryan Merkley.
7. St. Louis Blues – C Ryan O’Reilly
Desperate times call for desperate measures, especially when your team is the St. Louis Blues. Still looking for that elusive first championship, GM Doug Armstrong pulled out all the stops to augment a roster that could contend in 2019. He plucked a prize pivot from Buffalo in Ryan O’Reilly, at a fairly significant cost, parting with forwards Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund, as well as a 2019 first round pick and a 2021 second rounder. It will be a while before either team can be declared a winner, however, the Blues get a first line center who is in his prime at 27 and coming off the third 60-point season of his career (61). Where he gives the Blues a big boost is on the powerplay, where the team was second last at 15.4 percent efficiency. O’Reilly scored 15 of his 24 goals last year with the man advantage. Honorable mentions: C Tyler Bozak and LW David Perron.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning – G Louis Domingue
The Lightning, who came oh so close to a return to the Stanley Cup finals, didn’t need to do a whole lot in the off-season to get better. They had a 3-2 stranglehold on the Eastern Conference finals against Washington, but couldn’t solve Braden Holtby in games 6 or 7. Thus, the only move of any significance this off-season was re-signing back-up goaltender Louis Domingue to a two-year, $2.3 million extension. The 26-year-old was languishing in the Arizona system before being waived and picked up by the Bolts late in the 17-18 season. He played well down the stretch in relief of Andrei Vasilevskiy, sporting a 7-3-1 mark in 11 starts, with a 2.89 goals against average and career high .914 save percentage.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs – C John Tavares
No one should plan a Stanley Cup parade route in Toronto just yet, but the big-time signing of premier free agent John Tavares signals a sea change in Toronto. GM Kyle Dubas, along with the Leafs management team, get a big feather in their cap for swiping the best ever free agent available in the post-salary cap era. The 27-year-old is coming off his second best offensive season since debuting in 2009-10, scoring 37 goals and 47 assists in 82 games. More importantly, he is a four-time Selke nominee who pays almost as much attention to detail in his own end as in the offensive zone. With his addition, the Leafs are stacked at center, with Tavares, Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri. Dubas still has some work to do to shore up the back end, but brighter days are ahead for Toronto. Honorable mention – LW Tyler Ennis.
4. Vancouver Canucks – C Jay Beagle
It’s going to be a bit of rough adjustment for Stanley Cup winner and excellent two-way center Jay Beagle, going from the penthouse to a bit of an outhouse in Vancouver. The 32-year-old veteran pivot signed a four-year, $12 million pact with the Canucks, who also added depth in forwards Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller. The Canucks needed to get more defensive-minded at forward and in Beagle, they have a guy who will do all the little things right to ensure their goal differential comes back more to even (the Canucks were -41 last year). He can kill penalties, contribute offensively when needed (22 points last year) and win face-offs (58.5 percent effective in 2017-18). Honorable mentions: Schaller and Roussel.
3. Vegas Golden Knights – C Paul Stastny
The magical season the fledgling Golden Knights landed with a resounding thud in the Stanley Cup finals, as they dropped four straight after winning game 1 against Washington. Where they did lack in that five-game set was offence from the middle. Therefore, it was GM George McPhee’s job to augment his relatively young pivot corps via free agency. With John Tavares off the board, McPhee spent some of Vegas slush fund on 32-year-old center Paul Stastny. The 12-year veteran was great for the Jets after being acquired at the deadline, scoring 13 points in 19 regular season contests, followed by 15 points in 17 playoff games. The Golden Knights did an effective job shutting him down in the Western Conference finals, limiting Stastny to an assist in five games. Given some young wingers in Vegas, Stastny will thrive. Honorable mention: D Nick Holden.
2. Washington Capitals – G Pheonix Copley
The champion Caps may suffer from the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover and if back-up netminder Pheonix Copley can’t duplicate former reserve Philipp Grubauer’s netminding, they may be in for a bigger pack of trouble. The North Pole, Alaska native is slated to be the back-up this year after a season and a half with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. It was a tough season for the former St. Louis Blue, as he went 15-17-4 in 41 games for the Bears, with a .896 save percentage and 2.91 goals against. He has just two games of experience in the NHL with St. Louis, stopping 29 of 35 shots. The Capitals like his athleticism and his size (6’4″) and his contract, $650,000 for the 2018-19 season, is easily digestible.
1. Winnipeg Jets – G Laurent Brossoit
It seems that the market in back-up goaltenders was fairly busy this summer. The Jets, who parted with the disappointing Steve Mason in a trade with Montreal and who lost back-up Michael Hutchinson to free agency, were in dire need of a man to spell Connor Hellebuyck once in a while. The Jets found one on the cheap in Oilers reserve Laurent Brossoit, signing him to a one-year, two-way $650,000 contract. Even though his numbers as an Oiler last season seem dismal (3-7-1 record in 14 games, 3.24 GAA and .883 save percentage), Brossoit is still young at 25 and was not in any way aided by the less-than-stellar defence in Edmonton. With more playing time in Winnipeg, and with the Jets superb blue line corps, Brossoit can’t help but improve his bottom line.