It is officially time to start looking ahead to the 2016-17 NHL season. Hooray!
While there is a lot to analyze when looking at the upcoming year, it’s best to get our bearings. Let’s do that by going division by division, catching up on who’s where, what’s what, which coach is in trouble and why the team that made all those splashes in the off-season will find themselves in the deep end before too long.
We will start this tour around the league with the grand ole Pacific division.
Best Off-Season Acquisition
Mikkel Boedker, San Jose Sharks
So a Stanley Cup Final team that already has two game-changing forwards in Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, two fantastic scoring forwards in Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, and young guys like Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi on their roster and they just landed a speedy scoring winger as well?
Go ahead and pencil in the Sharks for the Western Conference Final. At least.
In fact it was likely losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Cup Final that led the Sharks to seeking out Boedker on July 1. The Sharks saw first-hand what top tier speed can do for a team in the playoffs. While Boedker is certainly not Phil Kessel, he won’t really need to be. He can be a scoring second or third-line winger while guys like Joel Ward and Thornton do their thing in the middle of the ice.
Having said all of that, don’t expect Boedker to be the single missing piece for the Sharks. He’s not a great possession player and he’s not great defensively, even for a right winger. Still, he’s played mostly on bad Coyotes teams his entire career, so skating with this Sharks team will only make him better. He will likely break the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career and for a 26-year-old, $4 million AAV forward, that will do just fine.
Worst Off-Season Acquisition
Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are at least attempting to play big boy hockey here, so they get passing marks for effort. But doing it by essentially replacing Taylor Hall with Milan Lucic is, by all accounts, baffling. Lucic’s 55 points last season would have put him second in points on a struggling Oilers team—behind Hall, of course.
The hockey roster mathematics that the Oilers are doing here is just astounding. First of all, the money spent is a wash. Lucic is a $6 million cap hit, Hall is a $6 million cap hit. But Lucic is 28-years-old and Hall is 24. Lucic puts up 2.17 points per sixty minutes played in his career, Hall puts up 2.52. Lucic last hit the 30 goal mark five years ago, Hall will likely hit the 30 goal mark every year for the next five seasons.
There’s more. On the surface, Lucic is a better possession player, but he’s played on far better teams. Lucic’s career relative Corsi percentage is a puny 1.2 while Hall’s is 4.2, right there with Sidney Crosby. Lucic draws more penalties due to the nature of his game, at a rate of 1.32 penalty minutes per game. Hall draws 0.61 penalty minutes per game. Hall spends that extra minute or so helping his hockey team put points on the board.
Lucic has one thing that Hall doesn’t and that’s a Stanley Cup. I guess the Oilers think that Lucic, and not Hall, is the key to unlocking the postseason. But the numbers do not make any sense. Not to mention Lucic’s playing style is likely to negatively affect the growth of their younger players. If the Oilers do improve this year, it will be because Connor McDavid plays a full season and their defense improves. Lucic will just be along for the ride.
Other Notable Additions
Honestly, most of the acquisitions in the Pacific division are underwhelming, but here are some highlights.
- Radim Vrbata, Arizona Coyotes: Vrbata will help offset the loss of Antoine Vermette and then some. This was a sneaky pick up by the Coyotes. He should step into a top-six role and give Arizona somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 goals and maybe 40 points. With all the young talent on this team, a veteran winger will help.
- Troy Brouwer, Calgary Flames: Should he be on the top line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau (when/if he signs a new contract)? Or helping anchor the third-line with Sam Bennett? Depends on who you ask. Either way, Brouwer might have find a nice home in Calgary. Match made in heaven here.
- Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are eagerly anticipating Eriksson’s partnership with future line-mate Nolan Patrick.
"The addition of Loui Eriksson is reason for Canucks optimism" pic.twitter.com/uCEepxZRst— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) August 3, 2016
Player To Watch
Nic Dowd, Los Angeles Kings
Dowd is a forward prospect from nearby Huntsville, Alabama and you should keep your eye on him. He debuted late last season with the Kings and you probably missed it—he played in five games, didn’t get a point, and didn’t play the rest of the season. But then the Kings signed him to a two-way contract in July and here’s why:
(Skip to 00:18 to avoid the cheesy intro. Or don’t.)
He just does a lot of things well. He’s a bit undersized at six-foot-one, but there’s really no part of the ice that he can’t play well in. He has more of a "middle of the ice" mentality and great hands to go with it, but his size will likely lead him to left wing. If he does stick as a center it will be because of his willingness to go to the front of the net.
Dowd was a seventh-round draft pick from the deep south. How can you not root for that?
Coach or GM On The Hot Seat
I’ll give you two. One is real, the other is imagined.
Randy Carlyle, Anaheim Ducks
No, Randy Carlyle is not really on the hot seat. But he is replacing a coach who just won the Pacific Division for the fourth year in a row. If the Ducks really think they can do better than Bruce Boudreau, Randy Carlyle is one of very few options. But Carlyle is nearly 10 years removed from coaching the Ducks to their only Stanley Cup. The combination of Carlyle’s successful past with the Ducks and Boudreau’s premature ousting puts Carlyle immediately in the hot seat, right? If Carlyle does anything less than take the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Final, he’s not meeting expectations, right?
No, not really. He’s not in the hot seat. And now, the real answer:
Jim Benning, Vancouver Canucks GM
In his tenure, the team has traded Ryan Kesler, traded 27-year-old Eddie Lack and then signed 34-year-old Ryan Miller, and signed an inexplicable extension with Brandon Sutter. Then, most recently, Benning was fined $50,000 by the NHL for tampering with Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban.
For a guy that was supposed to come in and soothe the surging tides after the whole Roberto Luongo - Cory Schneider storm, he has done a pretty questionable job.
Benning’s calling card is drafting, and with nice draft picks like Jake Virtanen and Nikita Tryamkin, his job is intact for now. However, being in the lottery pick conversation every year is not going to cut it in Vancouver. Benning will have to show that he can turn free agent signings into playoff wins. Eriksson was a start, I suppose, but there is a lot of work to be done on this team and the clock is ticking.