Detroit — As usual, the NHL offseason has been unpredictable and entertaining.
Maybe it doesn’t have the drama and explosiveness of the NBA. Few sports leagues do.
But the NHL delivers with a large amount of big names changing teams and many organizations consistently changing over because of salary cap implications.
The last two years have also had talent-laden entry drafts, with generational talents (Rasmus Dahlin in 2018, Jack Hughes in 2019) leading the way.
As usual, there have been organizations that appear to have won the offseason, and some that appear to have gotten weaker.
Let’s take a look at the teams that look to have gotten better and worse — and some of who look to be a little bit of both — in the NHL offseason thus far:
► New York Rangers: The Rangers might be done rebuilding. Adding high-scoring forward Artemi Panarin in free agency, trading for defensemen Jacob Trouba (Rochester/Michigan) and Adam Fox, and drafting forward Kaapo Kakko significantly improves this roster. The Rangers might be one quality center away from contending for a playoff spot.
► Colorado Avalanche: What an offseason for general manager Joe Sakic. The Avalanche got better in so many ways — drafting defenseman Bowen Byram, trading for forwards Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky, and signing forwards Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. This is suddenly a deep, balanced team that because of its age, will be good for a while.
► Florida Panthers: What an offseason for GM Dale Tallon. Getting an accomplished coach in Joel Quenneville, a star goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky, and adding a goal-scoring forward in Brett Connolly and quality fourth-liner (Noel Acciari). On top of a young roster that is maturing rapidly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Quenneville take this team far next season.
► New Jersey Devils: The offseason began with winning the draft lottery and ultimately landing forward Jack Hughes. Then, GM Ray Shero acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in a lopsided trade, then signed forward Wayne Simmonds on a team-friendly one-year, $5 million deal. The Devils might not be all the way back, but they’re getting there.
► Dallas Stars: Signing forwards Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry helps the Stars as much in terms of leadership as it does offensively (Perry is coming off serious knee issues and signed a no-risk one-year contract). Defenseman Andrej Sekera could be a good, low-key signing. This is mainly a young roster that should continue to improve.
► Toronto Maple Leafs: GM Kyle Dubas was staring at a salary cap disaster, but appears to be wading through it. Restricted free-agent forward Mitch Marner isn’t signed yet, but the additions of defensemen Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie and forwards Jason Spezza and Alex Kerfoot reshapes this roster nicely. They’ll miss the edge of Nazem Kadri, but the rest of the pieces have been replaceable.
► Chicago Blackhawks: If defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta stay healthy, if goaltender Robin Lehner continues his stellar play from this season, and forward Andrew Shaw sustains his production, GM Stan Bowman might become executive of the year. Chicago looks like a team that could get return to the playoffs.
► Carolina Hurricanes: Montreal did Hurricanes GM Don Waddell a favor by extending a manageable offer sheet to restricted free agent forward Sebastian Aho, which Carolina quickly matched, keeping Aho. Acquiring forward Erik Haula from salary cap-strapped Vegas balanced out being forced to trade defenseman Calvin de Haan. This remains one of the top teams in the East.
► Vancouver Canucks: GM Jim Benning keeps sending mixed signals. The Canucks are young and talented, but instead of staying to that maturing plan, Benning keeps adding veterans, this offseason signing defensemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn, and acquiring forward J.T. Miller. It still might not be good enough to secure a playoff position.
► San Jose Sharks: The Sharks didn’t look capable of re-signing defensemen Erik Karlsson, but GM Doug Wilson made it happen — though losing Joe Pavelski, Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi because of it is a heavy price. Karlsson will be more comfortable in his second season here, and the Sharks will remain legitimate contenders.
► Arizona Coyotes: It would not be shocking to see this team in the playoffs next spring. The addition of goal scorer Phil Kessel gives this goal-starved team a huge lift, and Carl Soderberg is a more than adequate center. There’s a lot of positives happening in Arizona, including potentially positive new ownership.
► Washington Capitals: The Capitals have done a wonderful job of tweaking and remolding their roster amid salary cap issues. Acquiring defenseman Radko Gudas (and re-signing defenseman Nick Jensen late last season), re-signing winger Carl Hagelin (Michigan), and signing forwards Richard Panik and Garnet Hathaway all appear to be quality additions. The Capitals remain a Cup contender.
► Detroit Red Wings: GM Steve Yzerman wasn’t going to make a high-profile signing just for the sake of making one. Forward Valtteri Filppula, defenseman Patrik Nemeth and goaltender Calvin Pickard addressed needs in the organization. What hurts the Wings these days is the continued strength of the Atlantic Division. It’s not going to be easy to move upward anytime soon.
► St. Louis Blues: The Stanley Cup champions will ice basically the same roster that made such a dramtic and inspiring run. There was no reason to mess with anything, and GM Doug Armstrong has kept the roster intact.
► Nashville Predators: The Predators traded away star defenseman P.K. Subban and signed forward Matt Duchene, basically a wash. But the pressure will be on the Predators this season, who face big contract issues the next couple summers.
► Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins created some salary cap space by trading Phil Kessel, and acquired a young talent in Alex Galchenyuk, who could excel with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Acquiring forward Dominik Kahun could be an underrated addition, too. But signing energy forward Brandon Tanev to a silly six-year contract was a severe head-scratcher and dimmed the growing enthusiasm.
► Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning appeared to have some serious cap issues, but GM Julien BriseBois pulled off a masterpiece unloading forward J.T. Miller to Vancouver in a trade and revamping his defense on a shoestring budget. You get the feeling restricted free-agent forward Brayden Point will be re-signed eventually, and the Lightning will remain very, very good.
► Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks were extremely quiet in free agency, placing Livonia’s Ryan Kesler (hip) on long-term injured reserve, and buying out Corey Perry. They’ll go young with new coach Dallas Eakins, and the pieces are there for a significant turnaround next season.
► Los Angeles Kings: The Kings’ roster looked dreary at the end of the season — and it doesn’t look better today, given salary cap issues. New coach Todd McLellan is an upgrade, but the Kings have a long way to rebuild.
► Buffalo Sabres: GM Jason Botterill pulled off a coup acquiring defenseman Colin Miller from cap-strapped Vegas, and adding forward Jimmy Vesey could turn out to be a shrewd move. But the key move here could turn out to be new coach Ralph Krueger, whose enthusiastic, positive nature could be what the Sabres need.
► Philadelphia Flyers: You have to like the effort of GM Chuck Fletcher in acquiring defensemen Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen, and signing forward Kevin Hayes, and getting a quality coach in Alain Vigneault. But a lot will depend on the Flyers holdovers, who largely disappointed last season.
► Calgary Flames: There wasn’t going to be too much changed with Flames roster — and there hasn’t been. It can be argued the Flames could have done better than getting goalie Cam Talbot, but Talbot has had his moments and could stabilize the position. This team might just need a little more experience before going deep in the playoffs.
► Boston Bruins: The Bruins came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup and will have the majority of the roster returning. They’ll miss forward Marcus Johansson, but they’ll acquire someone else at the trade deadline next season. This team will remain competitive.
► Columbus Blue Jackets: Give GM Jarmo Kekalainen credit for going for it at the trade deadline. The Jackets made the playoffs with five significant unrestricted free agents, and now they're all long gone. Signing Gustav Nyquist was a decent add, but the Blue Jackets lack depth and talent to contend.
► Minnesota Wild: The Wild’s window for contending is closing quickly and signing forward Mats Zuccarello, 31, to a five-year contract worth $30 million doesn’t seem fiscally prudent, or makes a Wild a serious contender. This organization is skating toward a rebuild.
► Edmonton Oilers: GM Ken Holland has walked into a difficult situation and has yet to significantly add around star forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, given the Oilers’ salary cap mess. The Oilers signed goaltender Mike Smith, but it’s debatable whether he makes Edmonton much better from a year ago.
► Ottawa Senators: Maybe some of the young players on the way will make a difference, because the offseason additions still don’t rectify all the problems the Senators have. Adding Toronto retread defensemen Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev, and forwards Connor Brown and Tyler Ennis just isn’t good enough.
► Montreal Canadiens: Give the Canadiens credit for extending the offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, but it really had no hope of succeeding. The Canadiens missed the playoffs by two points but haven’t improved enough yet this offseason to make up the difference. And other teams might have passed Montreal.
► New York Islanders: It’s difficult to argue against GM Lou Lamoriello, who often finds a way to build a winner, but replacing goaltender Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov appears risky, and the Islanders couldn’t secure forward Artemi Panarin away from the crosstown N.Y. Rangers. The Islanders sure don’t look as if they’ve improved that much.
► Vegas Golden Knights: This summer was all about getting under the salary cap, and losing forward Erik Haula and defenseman Colin Miller simply because of a cap crunch is a punch to the gut. Still, this is a deep, talented team that will contend for the Stanley Cup.
► Winnipeg Jets: Similar to Vegas, the Jets have been clipped by the loss to defensemen Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers, and with restricted free-agent forwards Kyle Connor (Clinton Township) and Patrik Laine still in need of contracts. The Jets are still awfully good, but a bit weaker today.