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If you’re not moving ahead, you’re falling behind.
That’s life in the National Hockey League, where the passage of time is an enemy that challenges every club.
Every player has a window of peak performance. The task of each team’s general manager is to try to find a way to assemble a group that peaks together in order to ultimately take a run at the Stanley Cup.
In a salary-cap world, that task is harder than ever. This summer, the challenge of improving a team was made even more difficult by the twists and turns that accompanied the expansion draft.
Here’s a look at six clubs whose offseason roster moves may not be enough to keep pace with the rest of the league when the new season kicks off in October.
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2016-17 Results: 44-31-7, 95 points, third in Atlantic Division, eliminated in first round by Ottawa Senators
Notable Offseason Moves: bought out RW Jimmy Hayes, lost D Colin Miller in the expansion draft, didn’t issue qualifying offer to D Joe Morrow, lost C Dominic Moore, RW Drew Stafford, LW Zac Rinaldo and D John-Michael Liles as unrestricted free agents, signed free agents LW Kenny Agostino and D Paul Postma, signed college free agent forward Anders Bjork
Salary-Cap Situation: $10.1 million in cap space available with 20 players signed, per CapFriendly
To-Do List: sign RFA RW David Pastrnak
The Boston Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2013-14 but for the last three seasons, the team has been middle-of-the-pack. The Bruins have finished with 96, 93 and 95 points and make just one playoff appearance—where they were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last spring.
Rather than make big offseason moves, general manager Don Sweeney is counting on young players to step up and play more important roles next season. Both Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy have shown that they have what it takes to be reliable NHL defensemen.
The group of young Boston forwards that could potentially make the jump is large but unproven. It includes high draft picks like Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn as well as NCAA players like Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Sean Kuraly, who showed a flare for the dramatic in the playoffs last spring.
“I do believe some of these young kids, assuming they’re ready—that could make us a much better, stronger team if we incorporate those younger guys,” coach Bruce Cassidy told Matt Kalman of NHL.com. The Pittsburgh Penguins have set the new standard for incorporating young talent into an established core—that’s the model that Boston will try to emulate.
One young player that has already made an impact is winger David Pastrnak. Just 21 years old, the 25th overall draft pick from 2014 is second in his draft class with 123 career points to date, behind only Leon Draisaitl. He needs a new contract but Brian Lawton of NHL Network suggested on Twitter on Monday that the two sides were at an impasse and a trade could be possible.
A Pastrnak trade or holdout could make it more difficult for Boston to succeed next season by relying on an influx of youth.
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2016-17 Results: 22-56-4, 48 points, seventh in Central Division, missed playoffs, last in NHL
Notable Offseason Moves: bought out D Francois Beauchemin, lost G Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft, didn’t issue qualifying offers to C Mikhail Grigorenko, D Eric Gelinas or D Patrick Wiercioch, lost RW Rene Bourque, C John Mitchell, D Cody Goloubef and D Fedor Tyutin as unrestricted free agents, traded for C Colin Wilson, signed free-agents G Jonathan Bernier, RW Nail Yakupov and D David Warsofsky
Salary-Cap Situation: $11.6 million in cap space available with 18 players signed, per CapFriendly
To-Do List: sign RFA D Nikita Zadorov, shore up the blue line, possibly trade Matt Duchene
The Colorado Avalanche didn’t just finish 30th in the NHL standings last season. Their 48 points were the lowest total by any team since the inaugural season of the expansion Atlanta Thrashers back in 1999-2000. Atlanta debuted with 39 points, back when the NHL still had ties before the shootout was introduced.
After last year’s disaster, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has jettisoned plenty of players from his roster, but he hasn’t brought in much new talent to replace them. Colin Wilson should be a reliable new option down the middle and Nail Yakupov could provide scoring punch if coach Jared Bednar trusts him enough to give him significant minutes—but that’s a big ‘if.’
With Nikita Zadorov still looking for his next contract, the Avs currently have just three NHL regulars signed on the blue line—Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Mark Barberio. David Warsofsky has primarily been a minor-leaguer but could get a look. This year’s first-round draft pick, Cale Makar, is bound for college.
In early July, Adrian Dater of BSN Denver reported that the Avs were looking “to get, at least, a bona-fide, top-four young defenseman back in any deal involving Duchene.” That roster spot’s still open, so perhaps Sakic remains hopeful that he’ll get a trade done before the season begins.
More changes need to be made before Colorado can take a shot at returning to respectability.
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2016-17 Results: 39-35-8, 86 points, fifth in Pacific Division, missed playoffs
Notable Offseason Moves: fired GM Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter, promoted Rob Blake as new GM and John Stevens as new head coach; bought out D Matt Greene, lost D Brayden McNabb in the expansion draft, lost RW Jarome Iginla, LW Teddy Purcell and D Rob Scuderi as unrestricted free agents, traded rights to impending UFA Ben Bishop, signed free agents RW Michael Cammalleri, D Christian Folin and G Darcy Kuemper, invited C Andrei Loktionov and LW Brandon Prust to training camp
Salary-Cap Situation: $6.8 million in cap space available with 21 players signed, per CapFriendly
To-Do List: none
Despite bringing in Ben Bishop and Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in the three years since they won the 2014 Stanley Cup.
Off-ice changes were made when Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter were dismissed but the Kings filled those positions from within, promoting Rob Blake from assistant general manager to vice president and GM and moving John Stevens up from associate coach to head coach.
Meanwhile, the Kings’ on-ice changes have been minimal. Still tight to the cap with a number of contracts that are virtually unmovable, a Matt Greene buyout doesn’t free up enough budget to give Blake any significant room to maneuver.
Mike Cammalleri was a bargain at just $1 million but his last two seasons have seen him score 10 and 14 goals. He won’t be able to supercharge the league’s sixth-worst offense on his own.
Blake’s in a tough spot, and he’ll need to get the Kings turned around in a hurry if he hopes to stop Drew Doughty from walking away as an unrestricted free agent in two years’ time.
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2016-17 Results: 44-28-10, 98 points, second in Atlantic Division, eliminated in Eastern Conference Final by Pittsburgh Penguins
Notable Offseason Moves: lost D Marc Methot in the expansion draft, didn’t issue qualifying offers to D Jyrki Jokipakka or G Matt O’Connor, lost C Tommy Wingels, LW Chris Kelly, LW Viktor Stalberg, RW Chris Neil as unrestricted free agents, signed free agents C Nate Thompson and D Johnny Oduya
Salary-Cap Situation: $4.8 million in cap space available with 22 players signed, per CapFriendly
To-Do List: none
In 2016-17, the Ottawa Senators gained 13 points in the regular season standings and put together their best playoff run in a decade in their first season under new coach Guy Boucher. It’s not surprising that the team has done its best to keep the band together.
Key defenseman Marc Methot was the team’s sacrificial lamb in the expansion draft. Most of Ottawa’s other departures shouldn’t be too impactful, though it feels strange trying to imagine a Senators team without Chris Neil keeping the peace for the first time in 16 seasons.
Next season’s lineup is basically set, with new arrivals Johnny Oduya and Nate Thompson ready to slot in for Methot and Tommy Wingels. Rookie Colin White could also add a spark up front. Other than that, expect another grind ’em out year from the Senators, who will once again lean heavily on captain Erik Karlsson and goaltender Craig Anderson.
If Karlsson’s return from foot surgery doesn’t go smoothly or Anderson falters in net, the Sens will have a hard time preventing a slide down the Atlantic Division standings.
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2016-17 Results: 39-33-10, 88 points, sixth in Metropolitan Division, missed playoffs
Notable Offseason Moves: traded Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera and two draft picks, lost LW Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the expansion draft, lost C Boyd Gordon, D Michael Del Zotto and G Steve Mason as unrestricted free agents, signed free agent G Brian Elliott
Salary-Cap Situation: $5.1 million in cap space available with 20 players signed, per CapFriendly
To-Do List: none
The Philadelphia Flyers dipped by eight points in the standings in 2016-17, enough to push them to sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and well out of playoff contention.
Despite the disappointing year, general manager Ron Hextall has made only a couple of meaningful offseason moves.
Brian Elliott was signed to replace the departing free-agent goaltender Steve Mason. Elliott saves the team some money but after his inauspicious ending with the Calgary Flames last year, it’s still unclear whether he’ll be an upgrade.
At the draft, Hextall also swapped out Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera—largely for the two first-round draft picks that were packaged in that deal. That’s a nice haul for the long term, but it won’t make the Flyers any better in the upcoming season.
Over the last four years, Claude Giroux’s point production has declined from 86 points to 73, then 67, then 58 points last season. That’s a troubling long-term trend for a now 29-year-old team captain during what are supposed to be his prime years.
To get back into the playoff hunt, the Flyers need Giroux to start trending back toward being a point-a-game player. They’ll also need good goaltending from Elliott and for more of their inexpensive youngsters make the jump to the NHL as successfully as Ivan Provorov did last season.
That’s a lot to ask.
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2016-17 Results: 46-29-7, 99 points, third in Pacific Division, eliminated in first round by Edmonton Oilers
Notable Offseason Moves: lost D David Schlemko in the expansion draft, lost C Patrick Marleau and C Micheal Haley as unrestricted free agents, traded D Mirco Mueller, signed free agent LW Brandon Bollig
Salary-Cap Situation: $8.7 million in cap space available with 19 players signed, per CapFriendly
To-Do List: none
Just one year removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s not surprising that the management of the San Jose Sharks is sharply focused on preserving the status quo. Doug Wilson’s biggest moves of the summer were signing goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to long-term contract extensions. Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns will also play the first year of his new eight-year deal this fall.
After reaching free agency, 38-year-old captain Joe Thornton re-upped for another year but his longtime partner in crime, Patrick Marleau, opted for a three-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For the most part, the Sharks have kept the band together and have had a long offseason to rest and recuperate. But the core group goes into the 2017-18 season another year older and without any sure-fire young talent ready to step in to assist.
The last Sharks draft picks who broke through to become NHL regulars were Thomas Hertl and Chris Tierney, who were both selected five years ago in 2012. San Jose’s next two first-rounders, Mirco Mueller and Nikolay Goldobin, were both traded last season after failing to live up to expectations.
Twenty-year-old winger Timo Meier shows promise and the Sharks have had success in recent years in supplementing their lineup with European free agents like Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. Swedish winger Marcus Sorensen will get a shot this fall, but beyond that, it looks like the same old, same old in San Jose.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com. Contract data from CapFriendly.