It’s getting late in the summer, people.
With hockey just around the corner, it’s time to look back at what exactly happened in the NHL over the summer. In case you’ve been speed-railing around Europe following your favorite post-thrash band’s reunion tour all summer and you haven’t been able to keep track of the league-wide moves, these division primers will get you all caught up.
We will get started with the Metro then we will hit the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Central.
Best Off-Season Acquisition
Justin Williams, Hurricanes
Without looking, if you were to name the top shot attempt generating players over the last ten years, who would you go with?
We’re talking older vets in their mid 30s, likely among the league leaders in points every year and more than likely the winners of many awards and trophies (and Cups).
Before looking, I independently came up with Joe Thornton, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Henrik Zetterberg.
I did not, however, come up with Justin Williams.
Yet, here he is... 4th on the list.
Williams is not a sniper or a dangler. He’s not an elite goal scorer, sporting only a 9.7 career shooting percentage and a very modest career high 33 goals in a single season (back in ‘06-’07). He’s not all that physically imposing, standing at 6’1” and 190 lbs. He’s not among the most dangerous wingers in the league. He’s not Draisaitl, Tarasenko, Ovechkin, or Kucherov.
But over the years, Williams has proven to be an extremely consistent playmaker, often among the very best every year at generating shot attempts for his linemates. His Corsi-For numbers (above) and Corsi-Rel (5.1 for his career) are both fantastic and you can see that in his play on the ice.
He’s a very patient player, with a knack for timely goals—he has 36 career playoff goals, including seven game winners—and great net front presence, especially on the power play:
He can do a lot with the puck, if asked to do so. Here’s an example of his puck skill and shooting accuracy.
So why is this the best off-season acquisition? Because the Carolina Hurricanes are right there on the doorstep of the playoffs. Sure, they were buried pretty deep in the Metro standings by the end of the year, but they were only eight points out of the final wildcard spot. Late in March, the Hurricanes were on a tear (they beat the Preds 4-2—I remember, I was there) but losing five of their last six games really put a damper on things.
The real key to this addition is how Williams balances out the Canes forward group. Carolina put up a disappointing 2.59 goals per game last year—good for the 20th in the league. Disappointing because guys like Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, and Elias Lindholm were expected to be leading the charge next to young guys like Sebastian Aho and Victor Rask. They were supposed to be great offensively.
But they needed at least one more playmaker to put it all together. Taking a look at @domluszczyszyn’s game score chart for Carolina from late last year, you see there are few weak links in that top nine.
By the way, even with those holes in the lineup, the Canes sported a team game score of .46, which isn’t awful, considering the toughness of their division. The playoff-bound New York Rangers had the same score. The nearly-invincible Columbus Blue Jackets finished with a .49 and they were on fire most of the year.
Justin Williams finished last year with a .67 game score for the Capitals. Even if he doesn’t match his 24 goal, 24 assist campaign from last year, he should fit very nicely into Carolina’s scheme.
Worst Off-Season Acquisition
Ryan Reaves, Penguins
Ryan Reaves set a career high 13 points last year.
The Penguins traded their 1st round pick in the 2017 draft and Oskar Sundqvist to get a guy who set a career high 13 points last year.
Yes, yes, yes, he’s not expected to get points or whatever. He’s supposedly a grit guy who can Protect The Crown©, a guy who uses his fists to Fight Off The Bad Men©. Reaves was involved in six fights during the regular season last year, according to hockeyfights.com. He won five of those six fights.
You know what doesn’t put the puck in the net? Punching.
You know what doesn’t prevent the puck from going in the net? Punching.
You know which team in the hockey universe won’t be affected at all by having this lug on their team? The Penguins.
Doesn’t mean it isn’t a dumb trade and the worst off-season acquisition in the division.
Other Notable Additions
- Artemi Panarin, Blue Jackets: When the trade news came down—that the Blackhawks were sending Panarin to Columbus for Brandon Saad and Anton Forsberg—it really looked like a steal for the Blue Jackets. After some thought, it’s still a nice acquisition for the Jackets, though the Hawks are going to do just fine with Saad, and they have potentially found a new backup goalie in Forsberg. Panarin will probably score 30 goals again, but I’m not sure he will develop much further not being next to Patrick Kane.
- Kevin Shattenkirk, Rangers: Signing a massive four-year deal worth $6.65 million per year, Shattenkirk found a nice home in New York. He will anchor the top pairing, quarterback the powerplay, and help mentor a great young defensemen in Brady Skjei.
- Sebastian Aho, defenseman, Islanders: The other Sebastian Aho, this guy comes in with less fanfare than his nominal counterpart, but still with some fanfare. He looks like an AHL player out of the gate, but will likely find a spot on the Islanders blueline—a blueline that just waved goodbye to Travis Hamonic, who was traded to the Flames.
- Brian Elliott, Flyers: Every four years or so, Elliott has a great half-year. In 2011-12, he put up a ridiculous .940 save percentage on his way to winning 23 of 36 starts for the Blues. Then in 2015-16, he put up a .930 save percentage and won 23 of 38 games. Unfortunately for the Flyers, if this pattern holds, his next great half-season will be in 2019-20, when he is currently scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
- Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Hurricanes: The Canes also managed to nab a cheap bottom pairing defensemen to round out their blueline. Van Riemsdyk isn’t great, but he won’t need to be with the top four that are ahead of him.
- Nico Hischier, Devils: New Jersey is maybe figuring this out. And it only took a #1 pick to connect the dots!
- T.J. Oshie, Moneytown: The Capitals gave Oshie a boatload of cash and even more term to remain in Washington until 2025.
Player To Watch
Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets
On a team full of gifted playmaking forwards, right winger Bjorkstrand could stand the most to gain next season.
He debuted in the ‘15-’16 season and was expected to be a breakout star last year. But after a slow start in ‘16-’17, he was sent back down to Cleveland (AHL), where he stayed for quite a while. After all, the Blue Jackets were tearing up the Eastern Conference, so why mess with a good thing?
Bjorkstrand has an excellent shot, great speed, and loves to attack on the forecheck. Think Kevin Fiala. He apparently “wowed” a lot of Lake Eerie fans during his time there, so last year’s lack of a breakout was somewhat disappointing.
Again, think Kevin Fiala.
Some think he will likely play on the 2nd line with Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him next to Alexander Wennberg on the top line if he has a good camp.
Coach or GM On The Hot Seat
Dave Hakstol, Flyers Coach
Too many Flyers have too much talent to have the kind of season they had last year.
From the beginning of the ‘16-’17 season, Hakstol made mistake after mistake. First, he bungled the goalie situation—never committing to either Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth—leading to a lack of any quality goaltending for almost the entire season. By the time Neuvirth got injured, Mason had zero confidence. Understandably, he struggled.
Then came multiple healthy scratches for young star defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere, none of which made any sense. Gostisbehere wasn’t having a fantastic season, but he’s 24 years old and expected to be the top defenseman on a team that insists upon playing Andrew Macdonald.
It didn’t help that Claude Giroux had the 2nd least productive season of his nine year career, which could either be a product of Giroux getting older or could be a product of Hakstol’s line shuffling.
Either way, a disappointing finish out of the playoffs eventually led to some very loud whispers about Hakstol’s future.
If the Flyers struggle out of the starting block in ‘17-’18, that future could be in jeopardy.