• Drew Weber

Atlantic Division Offseason Recap

The Atlantic Division played host to the highest and the lowest of the NHL last season. 

On one hand, it had a record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning squad that finished the year 21 points ahead of everyone else.

But on the other hand, it had the Ottawa Senators—the only team in the league that failed to reach the 30-win mark.

Despite this contrast, only a handful of clubs made notable changes to their roster, perhaps making the Atlantic Division the quietest division of summer.

Tampa Bay Lightning (62 - 16 - 4 , 128 Points)

Additions: (F) Pat Maroon, (D) Luke Schenn, (D) Kevin Shattenkirk, (D) Luke Witkowski, (G) Curtis McElhinney

Subtractions: (F) Ryan Callahan, (F) Adam Erne, (F) J.T. Miller, (D) Dan Girardi, (D) Anton Stralman, (G) Edward Pasquale

Unknown: (F) Brayden Point

The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off the losing end of one of the biggest upsets in NHL history, getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs despite being one of the best regular season teams ever.

As much as Tampa would have liked to keep the group together to prove they could live up to the hype, they had to clear up cap space in order to accommodate the new contracts of Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

One of the ways the Lightning made this space was by trading J.T. Miller and his $5.25 million cap hit to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third-round pick, and a 2020 conditional first-round pick.

A month later, they sent the $5.8 million LTIR contract of Ryan Callahan, along with a fifth-round pick in 2020, to the Ottawa Senators for Mike Condon and a 2020 sixth-round pick.

All of this came in addition to letting defensemen Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman walk in free agency, meaning the Lightning gave up one healthy 40-plus point forward in Miller as well as two blue liners on their roster in exchange for two extra draft picks, a third-string goaltender, and an estimated $16.5 million in cap space.

However, they were able to find cheap players to fill up their roster spots by signing Pat Maroon, Luke Schenn, Kevin Shattenkirk, Luke Witkowski, and Curtis McElhinney in free agency for a combined $5.35 million per season.

That cap space came in handy too, as Vasilevskiy signed an eight-year, $76 million deal that may not have been possible without those moves.

Tampa Bay now has roughly $8.5 million of room until they hit the top of the salary cap.

There’s just one problem: Brayden Point still doesn’t have a contract.

Point recorded a career-high 92 points in 79 games last season, establishing himself as one of the top centers in the league. 

But of the 12 players who earned 92 or more points in 2018-19, only four make under $8.5 million a year, all of whom signed back in 2016 when only six skaters in the entire league made more than that.

Point has become a key piece of the Lightning’s future, but finding a way to sign him while the cap space is below his market value will be difficult.

Boston Bruins (49 - 24 - 9 , 107 Points)

Additions: (F) Par Lindholm, (F) Brett Ritchie 

Subtractions: (F) Noel Acciari, (F) Marcus Johansson, (F) Gemel Smith, (F) Lee Stempniak

Unknown: (D) Charlie McAvoy, (D) Brandon Carlo

The Boston Bruins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7. But rather than making major changes to the roster, Boston’s front office elected to keep together the team that came one win away from winning a championship.

The only notable loss for the Bruins is Marcus Johansson, who recorded 11 points in 22 playoff games while playing on the third line with Charlie Coyle.

However, Charlie McAvoy has yet to sign a contract with the Bruins, meaning he is still an RFA along with Brandon Carlo.

McAvoy has been an impact player in the NHL since he jumped into the league as a 19-year-old defenseman during the 2017 playoffs. Losing him is not an option.

But Boston has just a little over $7 million of cap space to work with, a number that may be too low if McAvoy uses Jacob Trouba’s contract as a reference.

Like so many other teams this offseason, the Bruins have a restricted free agent they absolutely need  to sign, but it’s unclear if they have the necessary cap space to do it at the moment. Usually that means a trade is coming to clear up space or, in some cases, to move the player’s rights.

Toronto Maple Leafs (46 - 28 - 8 , 100 Points)

Additions: (F) Pontus Aberg, (F) Kenny Agostino, (F) Alex Kerfoot, (F) Jason Spezza, (F) Garrett Wilson, (D) Tyson Barrie, (D) Cody Ceci, (D) Kevin Gravel, (D) Ben Harpur 

Subtractions: (F) Nazem Kadri, (F) Patrick Marleau, (F) Connor Brown, (F) Tyler Ennis, (D) Jake Gardiner, (D) Ron Hainsey, (D) Igor Ozhiganov, (D) Calle Rosen, (D) Nikita Zaitsev, (G) Garret Sparks

Unknown: (F) Mitch Marner

The Toronto Maple Leafs once again failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, something they haven’t done since before the 2004-05 lockout.

In response to this, general manager Kyle Dubas made two major trades on July 1.

The first trade was a blockbuster with the Colorado Avalanche that saw Nazem Kadri, Calle Rosen, and a 2020 third-round pick go to Denver in exchange for Tyson Barrie, the rights to Alex Kerfoot, and a 2020 sixth-round pick.

While Toronto improved their blue line by adding Barrie to the group, they also gave up one of the best defensive centers in the game with Kadri. 

Still, Barrie and his projected partner—Jake Muzzin—could be one of the better pairings in the league if things pan out like the Maple Leafs hope they will.

Kerfoot is also a nice pickup for the team. The 25-year-old forward earned 42 points last season and plays responsible, defensive hockey. He may not be Kadri, but he definitely softens the loss.

Soon after the trade, Kerfoot signed a four-year, $14 million deal with the Leafs.

Later that day, Toronto dealt Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and Michael Carcone to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk, and a 2020 third-round pick.

Zaitsev caught a lot of flak in Toronto, even though he put up two straight seasons with a positive plus-minus and recorded nearly-even possession numbers despite starting the majority of his shifts in his own zone.

Replacing him on the Leafs’ roster is Codi Ceci, someone who registered significantly worse defensive numbers, albeit on a terrible Ottawa Senators team.

Another change to Toronto’s defense is the absence of Jake Gardiner.

Gardiner left the team in free agency after earning 245 points in 551 games with the organization. He would go on to sign a four-year, $16.2 million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes.

But the big story of the offseason is Mitch Marner, the 22-year-old RFA who recorded 94 points last year, becoming the youngest player in Maple Leafs history to do so.

Marner's camp has asked for Auston Matthews-level money after his highly-productive campaign.

Toronto technically has no cap space remaining, but putting Nathan Horton, Travis Dermott, Zach Hyman, and the recently-reacquired David Clarkson contract on LTIR should give them enough room to sign the forward.

According to Darren Dreger, the Maple Leafs have offered seven and eight year deals to the tune of $11 million per season plus bonuses. Marner's group turned these contracts down, however, and are instead fighting for a three-year deal that would keep him as an RFA when the contract expires, forcing Toronto to give him a massive offer just to qualify him before that year's free agency window.

Training camp is just around the corner, but we'll have to wait and see what happens in the hockey capital of the world.

Montreal Canadiens (44 - 30 - 8 , 96 Points)

Additions: (F) Nick Cousins, (F) Phil Varone, (D) Ben Chiarot, (G) Keith Kinkade

Subtractions: (F) Michael Chaput, (F) Nicolas Deslauriers, (F) Tomas Plekanec, (F) Andrew Shaw, (D) Jordie Benn, (D) David Schlemko, (G) Antti Niemi

The Montreal Canadiens missed the postseason by just two points last year. But even though the team was close to a playoff berth, they were forced to move out talented players during the summer in order to stay cap compliant.

Both Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen would need pay raises heading into the new season, and Montreal had interest in signing Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot once he hit free agency on July 1.

So, in order to clear up cap space, the Canadiens traded Andrew Shaw and a 2021 seventh-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 2020 second-round pick, a 2020 seventh-round pick, and a 2021 third-round pick.

Shaw came to the team in 2016 when the Canadiens sent two second-round selections to Chicago to  acquire him. In that time, he recorded 96 points in 182 games—including a career-high 47 points last season.

Now three years later, Montreal was able to deal him back to Chicago for almost the same price, getting nearly 200 games of production for essentially swapping a second-round pick for a third-round pick.

The Canadiens also sent Nicolas Deslauriers to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a fourth-round selection in 2020 and elected not to re-sign players like Tomas Plekanec and Jordie Benn to maximize their financial breathing room.

Shortly after the UFA window opened, the team signed Chiarot—their targeted free agent—to a three-year, $10.5 million contract. One week later, they came to terms with Armia and Lehkonen, who each agreed to two-year deals worth a total of $5.2 million and $4.8 million, respectively.

Montreal is now $4 million under the salary cap, and they have an astonishing 12 picks in the 2020 draft. They may have lost some players from trades and free agency, but they were able to compensate for it by clearing up their finances and stocking up on draft picks.

Florida Panthers (36 - 32 - 14 , 86 Points)

Additions: (Coach) Joel Quenneville, (F) Noel Acciari, (D) Ethan Prow, (D) Anton Stralman, (G) Sergei Bobrovsky

Subtractions: (Coach) Bob Boughner, (F) Troy Brouwer, (F) Derek MacKenzie, (F) Jamie McGinn, (F) Riley Sheahan, (D) Bogdan Kiselevich, (D) Jacob MacDonald, (D) Chris Wideman, (G) Roberto Luongo, (G) James Reimer, (G) Michael Hutchinson

Unknown: (F) Denis Malgin

The Florida Panthers have struggled to find success since they got swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.

This year was no different, as they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Management decided enough was enough and elected to fire head coach Bob Boughner, replacing him with former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville.

Quenneville led the Blackhawks during their modern-dynasty in the early 2010s. With him behind the bench, Chicago made nine playoff appearances, won 16 playoff series, and hoisted three Stanley Cups.

While Quenneville had a lot of success in that time, he was coaching a team that possessed skill up and down the lineup. Florida may have elite talent in Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, but the bottom six is nothing like what he had in Chicago.

One more shakeup came in goal with Roberto Luongo announcing his retirement.

Luongo is a future hall of fame netminder who earned a .919 save percentage during his two stints with the Panthers. Even though he put up subpar numbers last season, he will be remembered as one of the greatest goaltenders in Florida Panthers history.

But his absence doesn’t just hurt them in net, it hurts them in cap space too.

That’s because Florida is subject to Luongo’s recapture penalty that was implemented by the CBA after the 2012-13 lockout.

This penalty was mostly created to punish the Vancouver Canucks, who signed Luongo to a heavily front-loaded deal to minimize his cap hit. But since the Panthers also benefited from this contract after they traded for him, they have to handle a small portion of the consequences.

The recapture penalty initiated the moment Luongo retired and will cost Florida roughly $1 million in cap space for the next three seasons.

The Panthers also traded James Reimer to the Carolina Hurricanes for a sixth-round pick in 2020. However, they also got Scott Darling in that deal, whom they needed to buy out. 

With the team buying out the final two years of Darling’s contract, they have two goaltenders on the books who no longer play for the team. This will be the case for the next three seasons.

But, Florida still needed to find someone who could replace their lost netminders and improve on their statistics. That’s why they signed former Columbus Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky to a massive, seven-year, $10 million contract.

Bobrovsky has had an excellent career since joining the Blue Jackets in the 2012-13 season, posting a .921 save percentage and winning two Vezina Trophies over the last seven years.

There is some concern surrounding the Russian netminder’s contract, however.

Signing a 30-year old to a seven-year deal is risky enough, but giving him $10 million a season increases that risk exponentially. If his play declines, as it tends to do with age, the team will be stuck with his cap hit until the deal runs out.

That’s not to mention the 2018-19 season was Bobrovsky’s third-worst year in his career in terms of save percentage (.913).

Buffalo Sabres (33 - 39 - 10 , 76 Points)

Additions: (Head Coach) Ralph Krueger, (F) Marcus Johansson, (F) Jimmy Vesey, (D) Colin Miller 

Subtractions: (Head Coach) Phil Housley, (F) Patrik Berglund, (F) Alex Nylander, (F) Danny O’Regan, (F) Jason Pominville, (D) Matt Tennyson

It’s been over a decade since the Buffalo Sabres last won a playoff series. And, judging by the team still being in rebuild mode, that trend looks like it will continue into next season.

But the Sabres did make some changes that could help them improve over the next 82 games.

The most notable change comes behind the bench, with Ralph Krueger stepping in as head coach to replace Phil Housley.

Krueger has coached just one season in the league—the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign with the Edmonton Oilers—and has a record of 19-22-7. 

Outside of the NHL, though, he coached the Swiss national team in the 2002, 2006, and 2010 Winter Olympics as well as Team Europe in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

He may not have much North American experience, but his resume of coaching underdog teams could help turn the Sabres around.

In terms of roster moves, Buffalo made a few acquisitions over the summer. 

One of those was trading a 2021 third-round pick to the New York Rangers to acquire Jimmy Vesey.

Vesey had a lot of hype around him when he graduated from Harvard after winning the Hobey Baker award, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations at the NHL level.

What’s interesting, though, is the Sabres also sent a third-round pick to the Nashville Predators for the rights to sign Vesey back in 2016. However, he elected not to sign with Buffalo and instead went to New York. 

But after acquiring him from the Rangers, the Sabres became the first team in NHL history to trade for the same player twice by using the same asset.

On top of getting Vesey, Buffalo sent a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 fifth-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights to acquire Colin Miller.

Miller is a solid defenseman who played over 19 minutes a night with Vegas. The only reason he was on the trading block was because the Golden Knights had to stay under the salary cap.

Another notable but small move the Sabres made was sending former eighth-overall pick Alex Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Henri Jokiharju

Nylander has the potential to become a decent player in the NHL, but Jokiharju has also shown serious promise in becoming a strong defenseman in the future. It’s a prospect trade that could pan out or backfire for either team.

On the free agency side of things, Buffalo signed forward Marcus Johansson to a two-year, $9 million deal. 

Johansson put up 30 points in 58 games last season and turned it on in the playoffs for the Boston Bruins next to Charlie Coyle. If he can keep that production going, he could be a valuable player for the team’s middle six.

Detroit Red Wings (32 - 40 - 10 , 74 Points)

Additions: (General Manager) Steve Yzerman, (F) Adam Erne, (D) Patrik Nemeth, (G) Calvin Pickard

Subtractions: (General Manager) Ken Holland, (F) Martin Frk, (F) Tomas Vanek, (D) Niklas Kronwall, (D) Jake Chelios, (D) Libor Sulak, (D) Luke Witkowski

The Detroit Red Wings of today are far from the elite team that dominated the 90s and early 2000s. They are in the midst of a three-year postseason drought after qualifying for the playoffs in 25 consecutive season.

Because of this, the organization is in full rebuild mode. But despite 15 of the team’s last 16 trades acquiring either more picks or higher picks, their prospect pool is rated outside of the top-10 by both Corey Pronman and Elite Prospects. 

But one piece from the Red Wings’ glory days has made his way back to Detroit to change the tide:

Steve Yzerman

The former superstar was named the general manager of the team on April 19 after Ken Holland was promoted to Senior Vice President. Weeks later, Holland became the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers.

Yzerman was previously general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010 to 2018. In that time, the Lightning were an elite team, largely because Yzerman was able to bring talented players to the franchises via trades, free agency, and the draft.

Here to help Yzerman with the management side of things is former teammate and fellow life-long Red Wing Niklas Kronwall.

Kronwall announced his retirement from playing in early September, but immediately accepted a front office role with the team as an advisor to Yzerman.

It’s great the defenseman is staying with Detroit after hanging up the skates, but the team will miss his steady, physical play.

Other on-ice losses for the Red Wings this offseason include Martin Frk, Tomas Vanek, and Luke Witkowski, all of whom left in free agency.

In to replace them are Adam Erne and Patrick Nemeth, who signed contracts with Detroit during the summer. The team also inked goaltender Calvin Pickard to a two-year, $1.5 million deal to play in the minors and support the club in case Jimmy Howard or Jonathan Bernier gets injured.

The Red Wings have a ways to go until they’re competitive, but bringing in someone like Yzerman to build the future is a good way to start turning things around.

Ottawa Senators (29 - 47 - 6 , 64 Points)

Additions: (Head Coach) D.J. Smith, (F) Artem Anisimov, (F) Connor Brown, (F) Ryan Callahan, (F) Tyler Ennis, (D) Ron Hainsey, (D) Nikita Zaitsev

Subtractions: (F) Darren Archibald, (F) Brian Gibbons, (F) Oscar Lindberg, (F) Max McCormick, (F) Magnus Paajarvi, (F) Tom Pyatt, (F) Zack Smith, (D) Erik Burgdoerfer, (D) Cody Ceci, (D) Stefan Elliott, (D) Justin Falk, (D) Ben Harpur, (G) Mike Condon

The Ottawa Senators were a tire fire last season, finishing dead last in the league and creating an environment that drove three of their top four forwards out of the city at the trade deadline.

Ottawa needs to find a way to right the ship, and it all starts with new head coach D.J. Smith.

Smith started his coaching career with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, winning the Memorial Cup in 2015 before being hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant coach.

He has no experience leading his own team at the NHL level, making the task of helping an organization that’s in turmoil even more difficult.

The Senators also made a number of roster moves during the offseason, including a multiplayer trade that sent Cody Ceci, Ben Harpur, Aaron Luchuk, and a 2020 third-round pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, and Michael Carcone.

Zaitsev put up decent numbers and played a defensively responsible game in Toronto, arguably making him an improvement over Ceci on Ottawa’s blue line.

Brown is a decent acquisition for the Senators as well. He registered 29 points in limited ice time with the Maple Leafs, meaning he could produce at a higher rate if Smith plays him more than Mike Babcock did.

Ottawa also made a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, sending over Zack Smith in order to get Artem Anisimov.

Anisimov earned more points than Smith last season, albeit while playing on a much better Blackhawks squad, so perhaps this deal will work in the Senators’ favor. 

In off-ice news, Canada’s capital team sparked some controversy this offseason with they way they handled their finances.

After trading away Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel during the season and letting players walk in free agency, the Senators had a large amount of cap space to work with. 

In fact, the team was more concerned with dropping below the cap floor—set at $60.2 million—than they were with breaking the $81.5 million maximum budget.

The controversy lies in how they are spending money to stay above the cap floor.

Of the $70 million worth of contracts the Senators have that count toward the salary cap, $15 million of it goes to skaters on long term injured reserve (Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, and Clarke MacArthur).

Without those contract, Ottawa would be below the league-mandated payroll.

The issue, however, is how those contracts are paid.

When a player is on injured reserve, the majority of their salary is covered by insurance companies. This means the Senators were able to take on contracts to hit the cap floor without spending any real money. 

So, if a team gave Ottawa a third-round pick to take on a dead contract, like David Clarkson’s, then the Senators would basically get that third-round pick for free since the salary cap won’t be a concern for them this season.

There is currently nothing stopping this practice for cap floor teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if rules were added to prevent it if the CBA gets renegotiated.

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