Offseason winners and losers are not just about teams that did the best (or worst) in adding new players or addressing needs. Sometimes individual players, positions, fans, and even entire hockey countries fall into both categories. In this edition of NHL offseason winners and losers, we are going to look at all of those and more.
Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports
After seeing so many stars leave town and the team be an afterthought in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets retained one star (Patrik Laine) and came out of nowhere to add the biggest star on the free agent market by adding Johnny Gaudreau from the Calgary Flames. It was not the offseason anybody expected from Columbus, but it is not the first time we have seen them go all in (the 2019 trade deadline). It is good to see a front office actually trying to get better instead of just tanking the season. Good for them. Good for their fans.
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Loser: Toronto’s goaltending
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
What are the Maple Leafs doing here? This has been their big question mark in recent years, and to address it, they signed Ilya Samsonov and traded for Matt Murray and his contract. They are banking heavily on two disappointing players to bounce back in a big way. This team is under immense pressure to win (not even the Stanley Cup, but just a single round) and has a roster that should be capable of that. But they are shoring it up with a massive risk in goal. That is the one position you do not want to be bad at.
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Matthew Tkachuk did not want to re-sign in Calgary. He not only got traded to a top team in Florida, but he also cashed in with an eight-year contract extension that will pay him an average annual salary of $9.5 million per season. He got everything he wanted and now gets to play alongside Aleksander Barkov for a potential Stanley Cup contender.
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This one is tough to figure out. In what was already a thin free-agent crop for defenders, John Klingberg entered the offseason as the top available defenseman on the free agent market. He changed agents after going unsigned for a couple of weeks and then had to settle for a one-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks. He did not get the big, multi-year deal and goes to a team that will have a pretty significant uphill climb just to make the playoffs. Not a great summer for him.
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Winner: Second-and-third tier defensemen
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While the offseason may not have been great for Klingberg, it was sensational for the lower tier of defenseman. Ben Chiarot and Erik Gudbranson landed long-term deals with salaries averaging more than $4 million per season. Even Jan Rutta managed to get a three-year deal worth close to $3 million per season in Pittsburgh.
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Loser: Flyers front office
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What a brutal offseason for the Philadelphia Flyers. Not only is the team looking to be lousy, but they showed little to no interest in getting better. They talked a big game about having a blank check in terms of turning this thing around but did not want to do the actual work to make that happen. They did not even attempt signing Gaudreau because, in Fletcher’s words, it was too hard to move salary to make an offer. When compared to the nonsensical moves, the Flyers have made over the past year (paying draft picks to send away Shayne Gostisbehre, acquiring Rasmus Ristolainen for a first-round pick and then re-signing him, etc.), none of it makes any sense and just makes them look really bad as a team. Almost as if they have no plan or direction.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
It was just three years ago that the Dallas Stars bought out the remaining year of his contract, made him an unrestricted free agent, and the best he could do was a one-year bargain basement contract with the Colorado Avalanche. He made the most of that opportunity, became one of the league’s best two-way wingers, played a vital role on a Stanley Cup-winning team, and then turned all of that into an eight-year, $49 million contract with the Avalanche.
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The buyouts for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have created a massive salary cap crunch here and resulted in the trades of Kevin Fiala and Cam Talbot this offseason, while they have been unable to add anybody else due to the incredibly small budget they now have to work with over the next three years. This should still be a good team given the talent that is still returning and on the roster, but it is not as good as it was a year ago. In a tough division, that is not easy.
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Winner: The top goalies
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This is referring to Darcy Kuemper, Jack Campbell, and Ville Husso. All three got relatively strong long-term deals despite some flaws and questions that might follow them around. Kuemper had a rough playoff and was probably the weak link in Colorado, but still managed to land a five-year deal to play for a really good Washington team. Campbell’s inconsistencies and occasional struggles did not stop him from landing a long-term deal to play behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton. Husso, despite not having a considerable track record as a starter, gets a three-year deal worth more than $4 million per year to be the top goalie in Detroit. Let us also not forget about Alexandar Georgiev who, despite a tough year in New York, gets a three-year deal and more than $3 million per year to play behind the best defensive team in the league in Colorado.
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This is subject to change whenever general manager Lou Lamoriello gets around to telling everybody who will be playing for the New York Islanders this season. But so far, this is a bleak-looking offseason. They fired head coach Barry Trotz, missed out on Kevin Fiala and Alex DeBrincat in trades, have not really added anything to a dismal offense. Their only major move to this point is trading the No. 13 overall pick in the draft for a total wild card/project in Alexander Romanov. Maybe Nazem Kadri makes this all look better? Right now, it is tough to see the improvement here. E
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
Josh Norris has only played 125 games in the NHL, but his breakout, 35-goal season for the Ottawa Senators in 2021-22 could not have been more perfectly timed. It landed him an absolutely massive eight-year, $63.6 million contract that makes him a crucial part of their long-term core. If his early shooting percentage number is legit and sustainable, this could be a really good deal for the Senators. But there is a little bit of a gamble there. No matter what, though, it is an excellent deal for Norris both now and in the future.
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Loser: Calgary Flames fans
Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
The Flames had the best top-line duo in the league last season, with Tkachuk and Gaudreau at the top of their lineup, and it was the foundation of a division championship season. Now both of them are gone in one offseason. In fairness, they did get an excellent trade return in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in exchange for Tkachuk. Still, they paid Huberdeau an exceptionally risky contract given his age, while Weegar is eligible for unrestricted free agency. Has to be pretty disappointing.
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Winner: Slovakia hockey
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
This goes back to the NHL draft where for the first time ever, Slovakia produced the No. 1 overall pick in the draft when the Montreal Canadiens selected Juraj Slafkovsky with the top pick. As if that was not exciting enough for Slovakia, they then had the No. 2 overall pick when the New Jersey Devils picked defenseman Simon Nemec. That is the first time ever they had the top two picks in the draft. Just as an added bonus Slovakia had a third player go in the first round when Montreal selected Filip Mesar with the No. 26 overall pick.
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On one hand, the Bruins are getting Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci back on cheap deals. That is good. They will also have Hampus Lindholm signed long-term after acquiring (and re-signing him) at the NHL trade deadline. But this was already a wild card team showing some signs of slowing down, have not really added much, and will have several key players, including Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand, that will be sidelined to start the season. They also still have the looming David Pastrnak contract situation to deal with, as he has just one year remaining on his current deal. They also have the uncertainty of a new coach following the dismissal of Bruce Cassidy and replacing him with Jim Montgomery. Not a terrible offseason, but it could have been better.
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It has been a rocky start for the Seattle Kraken so far, especially after some regrettable decisions and misses in the expansion draft, but this has been a reasonably strong offseason, and it started with Shane Wright, regarded as the top prospect in the draft for months leading up to it, dropped to them with the No. 4 overall pick. Then they signed Andre Burakovsky in free agency to a strong deal and added Oliver Bjorkstrand from Columbus for just a couple of mid-round draft picks in a salary cap move for the Blue Jackets.