Monster signings, juicy trades and two weeks have passed since Steven Stamkos hoisted sport’s most storied chalice, officially triggering hockey’s first off-season in autumn.
With a loaded draft class, a couple intriguing free-agency decisions, coaches fired and hired, and RFA negotiations as tricky as ever, the league has undergone some drastic roster shuffling under a flattened salary cap.
We step back to evaluate the NHL landscape and rank the moves its 31 general managers have made so far this summer/ fall in our annual NHL Off-Season Power Rankings: Hate It or Love It Edition.
Word to 50 Cent and The Game.
While there’s still plenty of time to tinker and trade, and a Manila envelope is stuffed with unsettled arbitration cases, some clubs have improved for the better and others have taken a step back — on paper, of course.
All teams have been ranked from one through 31, according to off-season performance only. This is not an order of strength heading into 2020-21 — we’ll get around to that at training camp — but strictly an assessment of recent front office moves.
Love it: Joe Sakic becomes the latest GM to win a Brandon Saad trade. Swiping top-four defenceman Devon Toews from the cap-crunched Isles for picks. Rewarding Ryan Graves, Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin for their career years without going overboard on term.
Hate it: Not convinced Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz is a Cup-winning duo in net.
Love it: Eric Staal trade is a clear win in our books. Taylor Hall should boost Jack Eichel’s mood. Cody Eakin one of the better under-the-radar UFA signings. A league-minimum flyer on Tobias Rieder. Coach Ralph Krueger becoming a selling point in Buffalo. Brandon Montour (one year, $3.85 million) needing to prove it.
Hate it: Goaltending has not been upgraded. Key RFAs Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson and Linus Ullmark still unsigned.
Love it: Securing the best available goalie on the market, Jacob Markstrom, and giving the franchise its first long-term bona fide No. 1 since Miika Kiprusoff. Chris Tanev’s injection of heart, soul and defence. Brad Treliving’s double trade-down on the draft “floor.” Louis Domingue ($700,000) as an inexpensive third-string netminder.
Hate it: So many names floated in trade rumours without actually moving. Wondering if there is enough offence here to get the job done.
Love it: Hendrix Lapierre at 22nd overall could be steal of the draft. No-nonsense veteran coach Peter Laviolette stepping to the plate. Giving Henrik Lundqvist the perfect landing spot at the perfect cap hit ($1.5 million). Re-upping Brenden Dillon for less than $4 million per season. Right-shot defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk sliding in for $800,000.
Hate it: Sad goodbyes for Braden Holtby. Rumours that Capitals didn’t take bubble playoffs seriously enough. Alex Ovechkin still unsigned for 2021-22. Seeing youngsters like Chandler Stephenson and Andre Burakovsky hit their stride in other markets.
Love it: Removing GM Tom Fitzgerald’s interim tag. Not trading Kyle Palmieri yet, because he could be one valuable deadline piece. Taking advantage of the Maple Leafs and buying low on 20-goal guy Andreas Johnsson. Ryan Murray for (checks notes) a fifth-rounder?! Upgrading the Cor(e)y mentor goalie role from Schneider to Crawford.
Hate it: Jersey hasn’t given us an offer sheet yet, despite Mike Futa’s leak that it was something ownership was definitely interested in.
Love it: Great value in Kasperi Kapanen trade by striking early. T.J. Brodie could be the best partner Morgan Rielly has ever had. Zach Bogosian, Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza, Jimmy Vesey, Travis Boyd, Alexander Barabanov, Mikko Lehtonen and Aaron Dell each at $1.5 million or less brings an influx of low-risk depth.
Hate it: Andreas Johnsson traded at low value. Travis Dermott feeling a roster squeeze before he reaches full potential.
Love it: The nerve of owner Bill Foley to shoot for the stars — and hit. Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore could be Canada’s top pairing at the 2022 Olympics. Robin Lehner finally landing a deal with term.
Hate it: Sold Nate Schmidt at pennies on the dollar. Failed to trade Marc-Andre Fleury despite dangling picks and salary retention, which results in a very good but very expensive tandem ($12 million). May miss Paul Stastny more than they think. Too many core players chucked into rumour mill.
Love it: Not wasting any time signing lottery windfall Alexis Lafreniere to his entry-level deal. Braden Schneider at 19th overall isn’t too shabby either. Taking a one-year flyer on Jack Johnson for $1.15 million.
Hate it: Seeing Henrik Lundqvist play his final game as a Ranger in a building without fans. Carrying $13 million cap space in dead buyout money. Getting jacked by Steve Yzerman, who stole a second-round pick by taking Marc Staal’s contract. The potential of arbitration cases Anthony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome and Alexandar Georgiev vaulting the club into cap hell.
Love it: Turn RFA Josh Anderson into a more offensive talent (Max Domi) without needing to over-commit on term. Stockpiling goaltending depth at team-friendly salaries. Mikko Koivu at $1.5 million.
Hate it: Alexander Wennberg not living up to his potential. Ryan Murray traded away for next to nothing. No. 1 centre Pierre-Luc Dubois thus far unemployed for 2020-21.
10. Florida Panthers
Love it: Bill Zito wasting precisely zero time putting his stamp on the roster. Finding a Mike Matheson buyer and bringing in a heart-and-soul guy like Patric Hornqvist. Bargain buys Vinnie Hinostroza, Alexander Wennberg and Carter Verhaeghe.
Hate it: Putting MacKenzie Weegar on the block. Watching offensive weapons (Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov) walk for free when they likely could’ve been dealt at the deadline for decent returns.
11. Winnipeg Jets
Love it: Paul Stastny trade fills Bryan Little void and may keep Patrik Laine happy for another year. Dylan DeMelo eschewing free agency to re-up in Winnipeg at fair value. Nathan Beaulieu, Derek Fobort and Luca Sbisa depth signings guard against blue line injuries.
Hate it: Sounds like Laine — like Jacob Trouba before him — is not long for the Jets, and Kevin Cheveldayoff is under pressure to win a trade that may be impossible to win. Was Laurent Brossoit the best backup goaltending option the Jets could land?
12. Ottawa Senators
Love it: Making all of the draft picks. Killer prospect pool. Evgenii Dadonov’s 25-goal, 70-point potential for three prime UFA years at $15 million. Cap space for days. Josh Brown’s AAV.
Hate it: Erik Gudbranson’s cap hit. A ton of money and term given to Matt Murray in a crowded goalie market. Whatever went sideways with Anthony Duclair. Unfinished business with Connor Brown and Chris Tierney. Worrying if Brady Tkachuk wants to hang around long-term.
13. Edmonton Oilers
Love it: Tyson Barrie was the best reasonably priced power-play quarterback available to slide in for the injured Oscar Klefbom. More Tyler Ennis. With lowered 3C expectations, Kyle Turris has a chance to revive a sagging career. Jesse Puljujarvi lives!
Hate it: In a buyers’ market for goalies, the Oilers are running it back with Mikko Koskinen, 32, and Mike Smith, 38. Andreas Athanasiou going unqualified cements the trade as a loss. Will Oilers regret giving up depth defender Matt Benning?
Love it: Holding six picks in the first three rounds of the 2021 draft. Recruiting an influx of NHL-calibre players — Troy Stecher, Thomas Griess, Sam Gagner, Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Marc Staal — without committing term. Weaponizing cap space for the Staal deal. Still holding $18.7 million below the ceiling.
Hate it: Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha still unsigned. Buyout of Justin Abdelkader will be on the books until 2026. We’re still waiting on a thunderbolt move from Steve Yzerman — Mikhail Sergachev offer sheet? Patience is the prudent course, but it’s not fun for headlines.
Love it: Kaiden Guhle at 16th overall. Tyler Toffoli at a $4.25-million cap hit. Jeff Petry re-upping early. Karl Alzner buyout freeing up space. Jake Allen already agreeing to a paycut in 2021-22. Locking up Brendan Gallagher just when everyone thought things were about to get ugly.
Hate it: In comparison to the rest of the market, Josh Anderson and Joel Edmundson may end up being overpays. Dangling a Phillip Danault trade.
16. Dallas Stars
Love it: Veteran Anton Khudobin getting financially rewarded for a tour de force post-season. Rick Bowness deciding his own future. Disgruntled RFA Julius Honka interested in coming back to North America, a la Jesse Puljujarvi. Reasonable Andrej Sekera extension (two years at $1.5 million).
Hate it: Looking at the age of the top six and wondering if they came two wins short of their best shot at lifting a Stanley Cup. Quiet depth drain up front, as Corey Perry and Mattias Janmark leave.
17. Los Angeles Kings
Love it: Quinton Byfield becoming the highest-drafted Black NHL player in history, getting shoutouts from Magic Johnson and Snoop Dogg. Acquiring Olli Maata on the cheap to eat back-end minutes. Not rushing the rebuild.
Hate it: Kings have $13.6 million in cap space, and we wonder if they cannot weaponize it better to take advantage of the desperate cap-strapped opponents. Realizing the final years of Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar’s prime might be going waste.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 9, 2020
18. St. Louis Blues
Love it: Kyle Clifford (two years at $1 million) plays Blues hockey. Torey Krug is not as good as Alex Pietrangelo, but he’s younger, he helps with lefty-righty balance, he is a power-play maestro — and he comes $2.3 million cheaper every year.
Hate it: Vladimir Tarasenko is still hurt, and no scoring help is on the way. Jake Allen carried a high cap hit for a backup, but can Ville Husso deliver as many wins? Alexander Steen (IR) may have already played his final NHL game.
Love it: Erik Gustafsson for one year. Brian Elliott coming back to support Carter Hart.
Hate it: Have yet to see a move that makes the roster decidedly better than last year’s. Matt Niskanen’s early retirement. Philippe Myers not signed yet.
20. Boston Bruins
Love it: Craig Smith for three years at $3.1 million should be swell value. Bruins still rumoured to be in the mix for UFA scoring help.
Hate it: So many surgeries necessary for key players. Blue line taking a hit with Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara off the roster. The uncertainty surrounding Jake DeBrusk.
21. Anaheim Ducks
Love it: Getting something in return (a fifth-rounder) for Erik Gudbranson’s cumbersome contract. Kevin Shattenkirk getting rewarded with term after a stellar prove-it showing in Tampa. Defence prospect Jamie Drysdale at sixth-overall in the draft.
Hate it: John Gibson still doesn’t have an NHL backup. Road back to relevance still feels like a long one.
Love it: Nate Schmidt for a song. Quickly reacting to Jacob Markstrom loss and securing Braden Holtby short-term and sans expansion protection as a fantastic mentor/partner for Thatcher Demko.
Hate it: With Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and Troy Stecher all departing, it’s difficult to argue that the once-rising Canucks have not gotten worse over the past week. Jake Virtanen could make ’em pay too much in arbitration. Loui Eriksson and Sven Baertchi are still on the books. Bottom six weighing down the cap picture.
Love it: Jack Johnson buyout means admitting to past mistakes. League-minimum deals for Mark Jankowski and Evan Rodrigues may pan out.
Hate it: Matt Murray trade return doesn’t feel like enough for No. 1, Cup-champion goalie. A first-rounder for Kasperi Kapanen looks steep in retrospect. How will trading Patric Hornqvist for Mike Matheson sit in the room?
24. Minnesota Wild
Love it: Kirill Kaprizov finally ready to set North America on fire. Power forward Jordan Greenway extended. Commitment to Jonas Brodin gives defensive defencemen everywhere hope. Already holding Pittsburgh’s first- and third-round picks in 2021 draft. Nick Bonino is a fine stopgap up the middle.
Hate it: Eric Staal for Marcus Johansson. Matt Dumba is still totally getting traded, right? Giving Cam Talbot $11 million in a flooded goalie market.
Love it: Stanley Cup banner coming soon. Role players Pat Maroon and Luke Schenn rewarded for delivering on one-year rental deals.
Hate it: Tyler Johnson on waivers. Steven Stamkos trade-bait rumour. Mikhael Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli and Eric Cernak still unsettled. Losing Carter Verhaeghe for nothing.
Love it: Value signing depth pieces Matt Benning, Brad Richardson and Nick Cousins. Cutting losses with Kyle Turris, an ill fit.
Hate it: Losing Mikael Granlund and Crag Smith for nothing. Still wondering which forwards are going to drive enough offence here.
Love it: By letting good soldiers and solid playoff performers Andy Greene and Matt Martin test free agency, they may be lured back at a lower cost.
Hate it: Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock are unsigned. Patiently developing Devon Toews into a sure-fire top-four defender, then trading him for a couple second-round picks. No offence injection… yet. Aging vets Johnny Boychuk ($6 million) and Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million) still taxing the cap picture.
28. San Jose Sharks
Love it: Doug Wilson’s loyalty to Kevin Labanc is commendable in a cutthroat business. Reports that Erik Karlsson is back to 100 per cent health. If/when Patrick Marleau breaks Gordie Howe’s record, he’ll do it in teal. Matt Nieto for the league minimum.
Hate it: Doug Wilson’s loyalty to Kevin Labanc might actually set the Sharks back. Placing your return-to-playoffs faith in a Martin Jones–Devan Dubnyk tandem like it’s 2017.
Love it: Only bridging Calder finalist Dominik Kubalik after he posted a 19.1 shooting percentage as a 30-goal rookie. Mattias Janmark should be worth every penny of his $2.25 million.
Hate it: Brandon Saad for Nikita Zadorov. Disgruntled Jonathan Toews. Betting on the inexperienced goaltending duo of Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban to carry the day.
Love it: At least they got an asset for Joel Edmundson’s negotiating rights.
Hate it: Justin Williams leaves the NHL poorer in his absence. Exciting team on the rise has cap space and has yet to take a discernable step forward this off-season. Quiet UFA leaking of depth from blue line (Sami Vatanen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Edmundson). Futures of stars Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov up in the air. Kicking tires in the goalie market (Markstrom, Frederik Andersen) but not coming away with an upgrade.
31. Arizona Coyotes
Love it: Darcy Kuemper not traded. Adin Hill extension. Gila River Arena to serve as voting centre.
Hate it: The Oliver Ekman-Larsson saga. Michael Grabner buyout. Giving up so much for Taylor Hall, then losing him for nothing. Not finding a way to land a first-round draft pick — sinful for a franchise on the rebuild.