NHL offseason

Mock Expansion draft: Devising the Vegas Golden Knights roster (Part II)

(Part I is available here)

Montreal Canadiens: C Tomas Plekanec

The 34-year-old Plekanec is way past his prime, and his 6M paycheck would be a tough pill to swallow for a budget team, yet, as a veteran center used to match up against the other teams’ best pivots, he can definitely help Vegas in the short term. Moreover, in light of the shortage of alternatives from the Habs, the Golden Knights wouldn’t be losing a lot by going for immediate gratification here.

Still, there’s a good chance they won’t take Plekanec, and the next options are defenseman Brandon Davidson and 22-year-old left winger Charles Hudon, whose three productive seasons in the AHL placed him on the verge of the NHL roster.

Nashville Predators: RW James Neal

You’re not supposed to expose a 29-year-old winger with a 40-goal season on the curriculum, yet Nashville’s surplus of defenseman forced David Poile’s hand and Las Vegas should take advantage. For all the promise behind Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg, a Stanley Cup Final run tends to build up complementary players and it would be a shame if they passed on Neal only to get left holding a perennial bottom-six performer or a tweener, which is still a possible outcome for the two forwards.

Moreover, if Neal fails to adapt to Las Vegas and doesn’t re-sign, he still fetches a first round pick from a team willing to bet on his ability to fill the net in spurts.

If selected by Vegas, winger James Neal will be counted on to score a lot of goals

New Jersey Devils: D Jon Merrill

At 5M per year for the next two seasons, oft-injured forward Mike Cammalleri wouldn’t be a wise investment for the Golden Knights, but it’s certainly a challenge trying to pinpoint a valid alternative. Maybe defenseman Ben Lovejoy, Dalton Prout or Jon Merrill can be of use if half the roster gets intoxicated on a night out in Vegas? Is any Golden Knights’ staff member a former coach/GM of Devante Smith-Pelley, Beau Bennett or Stefan Noesen?

I’ll just email Pierre McGuire to find out, but until I get an answer back let’s pencil in Jon Merrill, the youngest, lower-priced defenseman amongst the lot referenced above.

New York Islanders: C Brock Nelson

Garth Snow got super protective of his defensemen, and decided to shield five blueliners and just three forwards before reportedly working out a deal to steer Vegas off a few more players. The various reports diverge on the identity of those – seriously, ponying up to maintain Casey Cizikas?? With that contract??? – so I just picked up the best player remaining, 25-year-old Brock Nelson, who qualifies to ghost a solid “top-six center” rendition by pitching in 20+ goals and 40+ points per season.

Forward Brock Nelson would be a great addiction to Vegas but the NY Islanders may have other ideas

Former 5th overall pick Ryan Strome would also be an intriguing selection for Vegas if they believe there’s a way to unlock his potential, while Calvin de Haan is a RFA in need of a significant raise the Golden Knights shouldn’t be eager to negotiate.

New York Rangers: C Oscar Lindberg

Goalie Antti Raanta is dying to get out from under Henrik Lundqvist’s shadow, but his chances of starring in Las Vegas don’t look promising according to the news emanating over the last few days, consequently drafting him just to trade his rights isn’t the appropriate course of action.

The Rangers have a couple of undervalued forwards lingering around the edges, and I believe Vegas could use a smart, efficient two-way forward like Oscar Lindberg, who not only shores up the lineup but could also grow into a larger role. Jesper Fast fits the same mould but is a winger, while Michael Grabner is flashy but more expensive and a UFA to be in 2018.

Ottawa Senators: D Marc Methot

Dion Phaneuf’s refusal to waive his NTC compelled the Sens to expose Methot, and since experienced, top-four blueliners don’t grow in threes and are always in demand, Vegas should take him and then proceed to explore opportunities to offload his rights. At age 31 and with two seasons to go on his hefty contract, he’s just a strange fit on the Golden Knights roster but his value surpasses any of the other options.

Ottawa’s Marc Methot may be chosen by the Golden Knights but his career could still resume elsewhere

In the improbably case they don’t see a market, nabbing fellow defenseman Fredrik Claesson would make them look clever in a hurry, since the 24-year-old Swede demonstrated during the playoffs that he’s more than ready for regular NHL duty.

Philadelphia Flyers: G Michal Neuvirth

Michal Neuvirth’s two-year, 5M pact with the Flyers reeked of expansion draft bait at the time of its signing, but that doesn’t mean the Czech goaltender is not the appropriate selection here. It would obviously depend on the other goalies Vegas will be tempted to elect (Raanta and Pickard, for example), nonetheless Neuvirth is an excellent guy to dangle around teams in need or to assume a backup role if they decide to jettison Petr Mrazek for a sweet package.

If the option is a forward, Michael Raffl should be preferred to 31-year-old Matt Read, yet Vegas may well wager on Jordan Weal, a deft 25-year-old winger with a few productive AHL seasons under his arm who has yet to stick in the NHL.

Pittsburgh Penguins: G Marc-Andre Fleury

Based on every report coming out of Pittsburgh, Marc-Andre Fleury is poised to become the first starting goalie of the Vegas Golden Knights, and the choice shouldn’t be censured despite an abundance of younger, cheaper – and maybe even better – alternatives. The 32-year-old is not only a recognizable face the Golden Knights can market, and a veteran that oozes a lively, engaging personality inside a locker room that will need time to mesh, but he’s also a goalie used to carry the load throughout a full season, thus stabilizing the net as the team gets off the ground during its first two seasons.

If, for some reason, Vegas opts for another player, expect it to be 25-year-old Bryan Rust, who hustles past Carl Hagelin in a sprint because he’s not hauling a 4M dollars trailer.

San Jose Sharks: D David Schlemko

My first leaning here was veteran Joel Ward, a proven playoff warrior title contenders would skirmish to land in exchange for an interesting haul, yet David Schlemko is the sensible option as the 30-year-old carries a 2.1M cap hit fitting of a no-frills, consistent third pairing defenseman that can move up seamlessly. Danish winger Mikkel Boedker excelled at the desert before while playing for the Arizona Coyotes, but the 12M left on his deal (2020) would hurt in case he doesn’t turn his game around.

San Jose’s unassuming blueliner David Schlemko may play for the Vegas Golden Knights next season

St. Louis Blues: LW David Perron

St. Louis’ incomprehensible decision to shelter fourth line agitator Ryan Reaves will cost them a forward with real value, and Vegas should take the time to profess the correct call. As an UFA in 2018, David Perron’s price has been plummeting for some time, but he’s still a highly skilled attacker many teams would dig in need of an offensive jolt, therefore he may be the man to watch.

Still, not further back on his trail is 24-year-old Dmitrij Jaskin, a player that craves more ice time to showcase his quality, and a plethora of wingers that were once prized prospects but never justified the hype, including Ty Rattie, Nail Yakupov and Magnus Paarjarvi.

Tampa Bay Lightning: D Slater Koekkoek

Taking into account Tampa Bay’s head-scratching resolution to shield Braydon Coburn, it’s probable an handshake agreement is already in place to ensure Vegas as the next destination for 32-year-old Jason Garrison, however there are better options on the table they should explore.

Slater Koekkoek, a former 10th overall pick, boasts decent size and an offensive pedigree that’s primed for a top-four role, therefore the Golden Knights should take the leap on the 23-year-old’s potential or simply go after RFA Andrej Sustr, a more valuable commodity than Garrison. Furthermore, fellow young rearguard Jack Dotchin impressed late in the season for his physical presence and may also be on Vegas’ radar.

Slatter Koekkoek is a young rearguard Vegas should target

Toronto Maple Leafs:  LW Brendan Leipsic

With more than two thirds of the Leafs roster either exempt or protected, Toronto’s list lacks clout but still contains a couple of diamonds-in-a-rough Vegas can explore, namely wingers Kerby Rychel and Brendan Leipsic. While Rychel is bigger, a few months younger, and a former first round pick, he’s still in need of more seasoning at the AHL, a league where 23-year-old Leipsic has nothing left to prove.

As a speedy, high-energy, skilled forward, the former Nashville prospect may be able to crack the Vegas lineup out of training camp and carve an important role on a lower line, injecting life into a forward group that will be short in youth.

Vancouver Canucks: C Brendan Gaunce

The Vancouver Canucks pool is a wasteland where even a below-par defenseman like Luca Sbisa stands out – and not only because of his salary – consequently it’s entirely possible Vegas just throws a dart at the board and moves on. I can envision a scenario where they take on Sbisa’s contract just to flip his rights immediately to a team that still regards him and can fit the ticket under the cap, nevertheless Vegas should just nab center Brendan Gaunce, Vancouver’s first round pick in 2012, and hope he graduates into a reliable checking pivot than can chip in offensively.

Washington Capitals: D Nate Schmidt

German goaltender Philipp Grubauer has posted excellent numbers at every professional level and would make for a great selection, but I can’t shake the feeling Vegas would hit one out of the ballpark by acquiring Nate Schmidt, whose potential is bound to be finally realized in 2017-18. The soon-to-be 26-year-old is a smooth-skating, possession-driving defenseman with good offensive instincts that would thrive in a second pairing role, and the expansion side should be the one to offer him the consistent minutes he’s clamouring for. They won’t regret it.

Nate Schmidt’s burgeoning offensive potential could impact Vegas’ blueline for years to come

Winnipeg Jets: C Marko Dano

Unless the Golden Knights have a deal in the offing for veteran defenseman Toby Enstrom, versatile forward Marko Dano is going to be the player plucked off Winnipeg, and Vegas could do much worse than the talented 22-year-old. A prolific scorer for Slovakia’s youth teams at the international stage, Dano has bounced around a bit since crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 2014, but his hardworking, speedy game should eventually translate into consistent offensive contributions at the NHL level.


Final roster and considerations

The greatest strength of Vegas’ inaugural roster is bound to be its depth in goal and on defence, and coach Gerard Gallant would be wise to magnify those qualities by instilling a smothering defensive system that relies on the mobility of its rearguards and the two-way acumen of some veterans up front.

On attack, as they struggle to manufacture goals due to the lack of game-breaking offensive talent for the first couple of seasons, Vegas should strive to roll four consistent lines that can check and aim to preserve the puck on the right side of the ice. The forward group colligated should be able to achieve that, while a few younger faces like Karlsson, Gaunce, Dano or Leipsic soak in important minutes that will aid in deciphering what their long-term future in the league will be.

Meanwhile, Vegas blueline looks to feature a one-through-six homogeneity that few NHL teams could match, with adequate amounts of mobility and skill scattered around despite the lack of a legitimate, minute-munching No.1 defenseman. They’ll compile a defensive corps that blends a few names who have experienced the hardships of playing against top players on a daily basis (Methot, McNabb, Vatanen, Schlemko), undervalued athletes looking for room to expand their limits (Schmidt, Dumba) and raw youngsters willing to grow (Oleksiak, Koekkoek), moulding a unit that should be the bedrock of the triumphs they may achieve.

Finally, at the net, despite all the uncertainty, it’s already been established that the expansion draft will allow Vegas to draw up its future while banking on an above-average tandem that may steal a few wins along the way and won’t sink their effort, which is something many bottom feeders can’t escape.

In short, don’t expect the Golden Knights to be the lowest ranked team in the closing 2017-18 NHL standings, and prepare for a possible playoff appearance by Year Three provided their brass doesn’t accumulate miscues and manages to hit on the multiple high draft picks to come.


Mock Expansion draft: Devising the Vegas Golden Knights roster (Part I)

NHL hockey in Las Vegas, Nevada, is getting closer and the last major step before the Golden Knights hit the ice is the selection of their roster by virtue of the upcoming expansion draft, the first in the league since 1997.

After months of anticipation, protection lists were disclosed last Sunday giving the Knights 72 hours to make their picks from each one of the other 30 NHL teams, and allowing for a few days of fun in predicting who they’re going to pry away.

Mock drafts are already trickling down the internet, and I decided to take my swing at the piñata, using the exceptional expansion draft tool provided by www.capfriendly.com to help sort through the requirements regarding positions, contract commitments for next season and salary cap considerations.

The overall philosophy that will be followed by George McPhee and his staff to build their squad is a mystery, but we know they’re looking to ice a competitive team from Year 1. Consequently, in this exercise, I’ll be looking for a mixture of useful veterans and promising youngsters that can jell together, prioritizing contracts Vegas can flip for futures right away or at the 2018 trade deadline, and avoiding long term anchors that can submarine their efforts as soon as the glut of draft picks they’re bound to acquire are ready to enjoy prime time in the NHL.

In this article, I’ll name the player I’m expecting Las Vegas to pluck away from each of their opponents, explain my reasoning, and appoint the other alternatives they may have in mind considering other perspectives of roster building. Furthermore, it has been reported that a few teams – namely Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago and the NY Islanders – have already hammered out deals with the Golden Knights to convince them to lay off from some of their prized assets, so I’ll take that into account too.

Well, enough with the introduction, here’s the future Las Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft roster:

Anaheim Ducks: D Sami Vatanen

The Ducks weren’t able to trade Vatanen before the roster freeze on Saturday, and are therefore on the unenviable position of having to surrender the Finn or 25-year-old Josh Manson since I’m having a tough time buying the rumours that GM Bob Murray somehow found a way to safeguard both in side deals with LV. However, if he really did, the price should be exorbitant since the remaining options are depressing.

The Golden Knights would probably be looking at a forward so… 23-year-old LW Nicolas Kerdiles, a former U. Wisconsin standout that rode a point-per-game pace in the AHL playoffs? Maybe Ducks’ fourth line forwards Logan Shaw or Chris Wagner? I don’t know, but I’m sure neither will amount to anything relevant.

Anaheim Ducks’ puck-moving defenseman Sami Vatanen is one of the best options at Vegas disposal

Arizona Coyotes: RW Alexander Burmistrov

If there weren’t so many decent defensemen available, my best “bang for the buck” pick would be 27-year-old Kevin Connauton (1M), but we should just burn a forward spot here, so I’m looking at former 8th overall pick Alex Burmistrov, a tough, skilled, versatile forward that showed signs of life in Arizona (14 pts in 26 Games) after never breaking out in Atlanta and Winnipeg. Alternatively, if they’re looking for warm bodies at center, Peter Holland and his 243 NHL games could be of interest, while Jamie McGinn is a respectable bottom-six forward but there are much better uses for his 3.3M until 2019. As for Teemu Pulkkinen, his stock has fallen so much despite decent AHL totals that I don’t see him as a credible option.

Boston Bruins: G Malcolm Subban

The Golden Knights aren’t touching Matt Beleskey or Jimmy Hayes, and, at age 30, defenseman Adam McQuaid isn’t the shrewdest allocation of 2.75M. Thus, Colin Miller, a RFA in 2018, is the obvious option and he could slot right into the top four, but I would roll the dice on young goalie Malcolm Subban. The former 1st rounder has seen his development hindered by injuries, however he would be a good asset, an option to tend the AHL net right away and an intriguing option for the main role down the road.

Young goaltender Malcolm, Subban would be an interesting pick from the Boston Bruins roster

Buffalo Sabres: G Linus Ullmark

Another promising goaltender pilfered from a team that isn’t stocked with appealing options. Vegas should stay away from Zach Bogosian and Matt Moulson – unless they have a John Tavares trade up the sleeve – and I don’t see how 22-year-old William Carrier moves the needle.

Unsaddled by the likes of Tyler Ellis and Johan Larsson, Carrier is young but lacks upside as more than a bruising forward since his scoring record isn’t stellar dating back to junior and the minors. Conversely, Ullmark is another raw, lanky (6’4) Swedish goalie that, with a bit of work, can be polished into something…or not. But I would take the chance.

Calgary Flames: C Matt Stajan

Veteran Matt Stajan could service the Golden Knights in multiple ways

The 33-year-old Stajan will be an UFA in 2018, and therefore a prime candidate for trade deadline fodder yet, in the meantime, he could alleviate the burden down the middle during Vegas’ maiden campaign. Steady pivots that can run a top-three forward line don’t abound in the expansion draft, and Stajan can ultimately provide more value than 2012 first round pick Hunter Shinkaruk, who has struggled to translate his impressive WHL offensive totals into the professional game, much less the NHL. Moreover, Troy Brouwer’s deal is already shaped like an albatross and it won’t get better over the next three years.

Carolina Hurricanes: RW Lee Stempniak

Not much of a discussion in this case, as Stempniak seems bound to don the jersey of an 11th NHL team. The 34-year-old is still capable of collecting 15+ goals on a top-six role and also fits a dual proposition, representing additional trade bait for the 2018 trade deadline. In alternative, I can also understand if the Golden Knights take a look at 25-year-old Joakim Nordstrom or, even, goalie Eddie Lack, especially if they receive some extra incentive.

Chicago Blackhawks: D Trevor Van Riemsdyk

All signs point to a side agreement between Chicago and Las Vegas that would see the Knights take on both Van Riemsdyk and center Marcus Kruger to relieve the Hawks’ cap situation, hence one of the two should hear his name called Wednesday night. However, if that’s all smoke, I believe the right option would be the 25-year-old defenseman, who still possesses a sizable upside. In the unlikely scenario a different names surfaces, we would probably be looking at Finnish blueliner Ville Pokka.

An opportunity in Vegas could do wonders for the career of defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk

Colorado Avalanche: C Mikhail Grigorenko

The first selection announced will hail from the league-worst Colorado Avalanche and we’re in for a hell of a start. In the lamest sense of the word, as the Avs, naturally, are short in any semblance of unprotected impact players.

They covered the likes of Matt Nieto, Blake Comeau and Sven Andrighetto just because they had no one else, and that’s not a great omen for my choice, 23-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko, the  12th overall pick in 2012 the Sabres gave up on and the Avs are ready to bail out on too. However, he’s a skilled young forward, and to balance out the choices he’s a better fit than goalie Calvin Pickard, who is too valuable to be a third or fourth string option (like Subban and Ullmark) and not good enough to beat the two starting goalies to come.

Columbus Blue Jackets: C William Karlsson

Reports indicate the Jackets are ready to toss a package including a first round pick and a prospect to retain defenseman Jack Johnson, forward Josh Anderson and goalie Joonas Korpisalo, therefore the Knights should have their work cut out for them. William Karlsson is 24 years old, fast improving, as he displayed in the playoffs, and a good third-line center that I think could bump his way up the ladder if necessary. There’s a world where Vegas chooses Matt Calvert instead, but it’s not this one.

Swedish Center William Karlsson could thrive in Vegas in a larger role

Dallas Stars: D Jamie Oleksiak

Provided there’s no extra motivation to grab a goalie like Kari Lehtonen, the best odds regarding the selection from Dallas’ roster may belong to Cody Eakin, but I’m not sure Vegas wants to get stuck with a third line center making 3.85M per year until 2020, and whose upside is the 40-point range. Instead, I would rather clutch my hands on their collection of young defenseman and snatch either 25-year-old Patrik Nemeth or, preferably, hulking yet mobile blueliner Jamie Oleksiak, ready at age 24 to fill a larger role and capable of firing up a crowd with crushing body blows from time to time.

Detroit Red Wings: G Petr Mrazek

The availability of Petr Mrazek was one of the major surprises of Saturday’s unveiling, yet Vegas can’t overthink the issue and should move swiftly to tag the talented Czech goaltender regardless of the supposed character flaws that may have been the basis of Detroit’s decision. The 25-year-old has shown the ability to carry a team on his back for stretches, and could ultimately get peddled or challenged to usurp the starting job.

Petr Mrazek’s destiny is up in the air after the Red Wing’ surprising decision

In the eventuality McPhee gets cold feet, he has other options: young defensemen Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet are there for the taking and both are capable of cracking their defensive rotation next season.

Edmonton Oilers: LW Benoit Pouliot

Vegas would be doing the Oilers a favour by taking 30-year-old Benoit Pouliot, yet there are a few reasons why they should think about it. At 4M per year, Pouliot is expensive for what he brings to the table but not unreasonably so, he can score, his ability to play up and down the lineup could come in handy, he’s an experienced player but not necessarily in decline and, just as relevant, the other options are nothing to write about. Sure, they can yank another goalie in Laurent Brossoit or take a flyer in a dwindling Griffin Reinhart, but they’ll eventually need solid hockey players and Pouliot could assist in securing a few wins.

Florida Panthers: RW Reilly Smith

The Panthers’ protection list elicited a lot of discussion as a result of some interesting choices and, in turn, provided a lot of fodder for Las Vegas staff, as they’ll have, at least, three excellent players to argue about.

At first, I jumped at the opportunity to select defenseman Jason Demers, but a logjam on defence may be brewing so perhaps it makes more sense to split hairs between forwards Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. Coming off a 30-goal breakout season and boasting a trifling 750k cap hit, the tiny Marchessault looks tantalizing but only until you notice he’s a UFA in 2018 and won’t shoot 15.5% forever. Conversely, Smith has a better track record – both from scoring and possession viewpoints – and is signed to a solid 5M cap hit through his prime seasons. He’s the logical choice here.

Florida Panthers’ forward Reilly Smith is one of the best players available in the expansion draft

Los Angeles Kings: D Brayden McNabb

How far down have slid the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup Champions? Despite protecting just four forwards, the Kings’ offense leaks nothing of note since the remaining players are old, broken down and signed for too long (Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik), or simply not good enough (Lewis, Nolan, Clifford). I suppose the Golden Knights scouted Nic Dowd (27 years old) and Nick Shore (24), but it’s difficult to anticipate they’ll be able to venture away from the probable path: selecting 26-year-old blueliner Brayden McNabb, a UFA in 2018 who, at times, partnered Drew Doughty, and then see if they feel like searching for a match to work out a trade.

Minnesota Wild: D Matt Dumba

Chuck Fletcher was another GM that spent the last few weeks trying to solve his expansion draft riddle and, as far as we know, he was unsuccessful, since the Wild ended up exposing many players they would definitely like to keep. The good news, though, is that Vegas can only tap one and it won’t be Eric Staal or Erik Haula.

Marco Scandella would be a strong addiction as a 27-year-old, top-four blueliner signed at 4M until 2020, but I just don’t see how you spurn 22-year-old Matt Dumba, a physical, offensive-minded blue liner just scratching the surface of his potential, and someone who can be part of the foundation of this team for the next decade.

(Please click here for Part II)

Thirty (-one) takeaways from the NHL offseason

One month has passed since the Chicago Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons and, during that time, the landscape of the league suffered important transformations, with two of the most talked-about prospects in a number of years finding their new homes, several unrestricted free agents changing addresses, and a few huge trades shipping elite players out of their misery.

This article started as a draft day impression’s notebook and grew up into a list of takeaways/thoughts/recollections about an NHL offseason that will now inevitably slow down into the dog days of summer. As such, pretty much every team in the league is cited, with a couple relegated to the end. As I projected to do this on a bullet-points structure, I ended up deciding to numerate them just so I could…well, find a title for the article.

To facilitate the search through all this, I highlighted the name of the team mainly featured in every part. Here we go:

1. The Buffalo Sabres and GM Tim Murray had an absolutely terrific draft weekend. They knew they were getting their hands on Jack Eichel, the best consolation prize since Evgeni Malkin and a sure-fire franchise center, but adding a player of Ryan O’Reilly’s calibre was a major coup. The 24-year-old has already six seasons of NHL experience and he’s just what they needed to insulate Eichel during his first season, slotting as a second line center in the future: a solid faceoff man (53.4% in 2014-15) used to be deployed in defensive situations, a top penalty killer, and a two-way force with some scoring touch (28 goals in 2013-14). About to become a UFA in 2016, O’Reilly inked a massive 7 years/52.5M deal a few days later with the Sabres, a cap hit that surprised most fans but which won’t look that high when names like Anze Kopitar and Steven Stamkos agree to new extensions. The 2009 2nd round pick has proven capable of handling first line assignments during his time with the Avs and that will be his job for now, even if in the future he may need to move to the wing. Also, with that value hanging over his head and an expanded leadership role, maybe he’ll get more respect from Selke voters that sometimes undervalued his importance.

Ryan O’Reilly is now a Buffalo Sabre

With Zemgus Girgensons and 2014 2nd overall pick Sam Reinhart primed to stick with the big club this time, the Sabres are set up the middle for a long time, and may even contemplate the idea of parting with Reinhart if they can acquire a stud young defenseman. Girgensons has the talent to be an answer on that third line slot and I’m not sold on Reinhart becoming a major scorer on the NHL with his lack of a distinctive skill. He’s a finesse, playmaking center with good vision, passing and poise but lacks dynamic skating skills and may struggle to adjust to the higher tempo of the NHL.

The price for O’Reilly was steep (31st overall pick, forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and JT Compher and D Nikita Zadorov) and the inclusion of the hulking Russian defenseman hurts, but the team has Rasmus Ristolainen to help cover the void and Jake McCabe, a 2nd round pick in 2012, ready to step on the line-up.

Earlier in draft day, Murray also got a new starting goalie, the talented 24-year-old Robin Lehner, who never took advantage of the chances to claim Ottawa’s net. The Swede, barring another acquisition for the net, will have ample opportunities on the Sabres and must pan out to merit the 21st pick sent back to the Sens for him and veteran David Legwand.

2. Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy finally ceded on keeping the clearly disgruntled O’Reilly and managed to secure an interesting haul. Getting a young top-four D in return was crucial and Zadorov has every tool to fill that need on the near future, possessing size, skating, a strong shot and some bite. Grigorenko had his development completely mismanaged by the Sabres, but the Avs are banking on nurturing a player that was considered a top 5 talent entering the 2012 draft, while Compher may someday amount to an energetic third liner that can add some scoring. Flipping the 31st pick to SJ for the 39th and getting back the 2nd rounder next season was also a smart move by the Colorado Avalanche, although signing Carl Soderberg to a 5 years/23.75M deal doesn’t seem like the best idea for a 29-year-old center with a defined offensive edge that is destined for nothing more than a third line role.

Winger Blake Comeau joined in at the start of free agency, agreeing to a 3-year-deal that improves the team depth on the offense, but the team’s other addiction was more controversial. Francois Beauchemin will help a sub-par backline but 3-years and 13.5M are way too rich for a declining 35-year-old defenseman, even more because they’ll need to extend Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Zadorov in the summer of 2016.

With the 10th overall pick the Avs selected Mikko Rantanen, a Finnish winger that shined at this year’s World Juniors and already has almost two complete seasons under his belt playing against professional players. As a big, supremely skilled right winger, Rantanen will provide balance to a talented and young forward group that will continue to lead the Avalanche going forward, joining, in short term, either Matt Duchene or Nathan MacKinnon on the team’s top two lines.

Finland’s Mikko Rantanen was selected by the Colorado Avalanche

3. With Brendan Shanahan at the top and Mike Babcock on the bench, a new era of accountability and intelligence choices seems to have arrived for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the draft was a perfect example of that. Indeed, Kyle Dubas, the Leafs assistant GM in office, gave a lesson of asset management to the previous occupants of the GM position. After selecting the super-skilled but undersized Mitch Marner with the fourth pick, an hometown boy no less, Dubas traded down twice at the end of the first round to add more picks and prospects to the organization. First, the #24 was sent to Philadelphia for the #29 and a supplementary 2nd round pick (#61), and then he flipped #29 for the 34th and 68th picks. With these three assets, Dubas proceeded to stock his pipeline with skilled players, with D Travis Dermott and FW Jeremy Bracco, who beat Patrick Kane’s US NTDP assist record during the season, deserving approving reviews from draft experts.

With chief amateur scout Mark Hunter driving the bus, the Leafs kept picking up speed and skill through the latter rounds, a welcome difference from the years of searching and valuing “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” above all. To cap it, the Leafs also added 23-year-old defenseman Martin Marincin, a former 2nd round pick that lost space on the Edmonton Oilers system but has already played in 85 NHL games. Marincin is a lanky, mobile blueliner that can add more snarl to his game, but possesses some offensive skills that the Leafs can develop into a middle-pair performer. His promise is certainly worth of a fourth round pick plus a low-level prospect like Brad Ross, a relic of the past after being selected in the 2nd round in 2010 for his hard-nosed style and agitating qualities.

4. The chaotic situation at the draft floor wasn’t ideal to offload the top-earning players on the Leafs roster but, a few days later, the Leafs brass pulled the gun on the biggest blockbuster of the summer, flipping Phil Kessel for more assets. Thus, the mercurial goal scorer was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the talented 19-year-old Kasperi Kapanen, a character, stay-at-home promising defenseman in Scott Harrington, a first and third round picks plus some throw-ins from both sides, comprising a return that failed to impress Toronto’s avid press. However, with the Leafs clearly in rebuild and intent on clearing money from the books, Kessel’s steep cap hit, and lack of other interested suitors, Dubas and Shanahan had to settle for a deal with a Penguins team desperate to add a star player. Retaining 15% of his salary might be a better option than absorbing Rob Scuderi’s contract until 2017, and giving back a 2nd round pick was not in the plans, but the most important thing was achieved: shaking the losing core that sunk the ship throughout the second half of last season.

Daniel Winnik decided to return to Toronto

After solving this situation, Toronto was back to promoting indisputably smart decisions, filling out his roster with several cheap, undervalued, short-term contracts that can be used to acquire more assets down the line, including PA Parenteau for 1.5M, Mark Arcobello for 1.1M and Daniel Winnik for 5.5M over two years. Shawn Matthias at 2.3M, though, was the best of the lot, with the 27-year-old versatile forward primed to build on a great second half of 2014-15 by playing top-six minutes. RFA Nazem Kadri signed a one-year, “show-me” deal and will have ample opportunities to prove himself now that Tyler Bozak’s buddy is not around anymore, while starting goalie Jonathan Bernier has yet to agree to terms with the team.

5. With the addition of a stud blueliner like Noah Hanifin with the fifth pick, the Carolina Hurricanes now have three former top 12 picks in the draft on their defensive cupboard, joining offensive-minded Ryan Murphy and Hayden Fleury, last year’s seventh pick. Ron Francis seems to be building the foundation of his team from the backend, slotting pieces around 23-year-old Justin Faulk, an established all-star calibre rearguard.

However, to buy time for their jewel’s development, Francis managed to improve his defence for now by trading for James Wisniewski, the Ducks’ pricy trade deadline acquisition that saw the entire playoffs from the press box but will have ample opportunities to regain his mojo in Carolina, probably running the first powerplay unit. Moving Anton Khudobin for Wisniewski to make space for Eddie Lack is a lateral move on the net in terms of quality, although the Swede makes less than half in relation to the Russian netminder, always an important factor on a budget team. The former Canucks’ goaltender has one more year before becoming a UFA, mirroring the situation of veteran Cam Ward, and the Canes will closely follow his performance to determine if he can be an important part of their team going forward.

6. Going into July 1, the Canes announced the buyout of the mercurial Alex Semin, which never justified the 35 M/5-year deal signed before the 2013-14 season. The operation will cut 2.3M from their cap space for the next six years but the move was justified by the Russian’s inability to feed on a productive first season with the team (44 pts in 44 games in 2012-13, 61 pts in 122 games since then). The talented Semin has undoubtedly one of the most lethal releases in the league but with his profile on the downswing again, he’ll have to settle for one year, mid-level (probably on the 3-4M range, maybe even less) offers to continue his career in the NHL. A gamble some NHL teams looking for a top-six winger will make and one that could pay off on the right situation.

Alex Semin’s time with the Carolina Hurricanes has ended

7. Another GM that left Florida with a building block for his defensive core was Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall, who saw Ivan Provorov, for a lot of observers the most complete defenseman on the draft, fall to their lap. An all-around, mobile, physical defenseman, the Russian may well become the decade-long franchise blueliner the team has coveted and it’s not out of reach that he sticks with the Flyers in 2014-15. Hextall moved quicky to sign Provorov to an entry-level deal, and he could bring size, agility and some offensive flair to a defence that lacks those qualities.

After Provorov, the Flyers collected a few more pieces for their future, starting by trading up on the latter part of the first round to select Travis Konecny, a skilled, energetic, yet undersized winger, and picking up a pair of athletic, promising goaltending prospects in Sweden’s Felix Sandstrom and Slovakia’s Felix Tomek. In the latter rounds, they kept getting away from the usual Flyers mentality, going with speed and skill instead of grit and physicality, showing that most NHL organizations are learning from mistakes and understanding the evolution of the game.

8. Hextall and the Flyers brass had a good couple of days at the draft but the GM had more up his sleeve when he finalized a trade to get rid of the slow, expensive Nicklas Grossmann, sent to the Coyotes in return for center Sam Gagner, who, in spite of never fully blossoming on the league, can certainly help an offense that relied too heavily on their top guns. Along with Grossmann, Hextall dumped Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona, opening some wiggle room to orchestrate more moves. The Flyers’ legend will continue to make everything in his power to offload the contracts of Vinny Lecavalier and R.J Umberger, but can take solace on the way he completely pickpocketed Boston’s Don Sweeney, prying a 3rd round pick for agitator Zac Rinaldo. And with Michael Neuvirth as the new backup to Steve Mason, the Flyers put on one of the team’s best goaltending tandems in quite some time.

Dougie Hamilton was traded to the Calgary Flames

9. The rookie Boston Bruins’ GM was the talk of draft day and his summer just keeps delivering. Pressed against the salary cap, Sweeney traded two core members of his roster and the returns were less than stellar. First was Dougie Hamilton, the burgeoning 22-year-old defenseman that accrued 42 pts in 2014-15, traded to Calgary for picks 15th, 45th and 52nd in the draft, slightly more than the team would receive for an offer sheet in the range of Hamilton’s salary demands, but nothing close to fair value for one of the best young defenseman in the league.

Meanwhile, Milan Lucic, the emblematic 27-year old left winger, was sent to the LA Kings for the 13th pick, goaltender Martin Jones, and mid-level defensive prospect Collin Miller, on a move intended to clear his 6M cap hit. However, the Bruins had to retain almost half of it (2.7M) and lost a top-six physical forward that, for years, had served as the model of their “Big, Bad Bruins” mantra.

Despite the divisive moves, Sweeney was now armed with the 13th, 14th and 15th pick and everyone thought he would move up to select a blue chip prospect. Wrong! The Bruins made the three consecutive selections and went off-the-board in all three, taking D Jakub Zboril and LW Jake Debrusk, both projected to go in the 20-30 range, plus winger Zachary Senychyn, a late 2nd/early 3rd round talent heading into the draft. The decisions earned scorn from multiple sectors and, even if we’ll have to wait years to realize whether they were the right ones, Sweeney should have definitely managed better his resources if he intended to come away with this trio.

10. A few days later, after taking notice of Jones’ financial demands, Sweeney tossed the goalie he had acquired to the San Jose Sharks, collecting a 2016 1st round pick, and ended his roster retool by signing Matt Beleskey to a surprisingly reasonable 5-years/19M deal, covering Lucic’s loss with a player that cashed out on a career-high 22 goals’ season. He also exchanged forward Reilly Smith for a cheaper secondary scoring threat on Florida’s Jimmy Hayes (a Boston-native…).

In the end, the Bruins downgraded twice on the attack and lost a stud, massively talented young defenseman for picks and some prospects, assets several years away from making an impact at the NHL level. Nonetheless, at least Sweeney followed Hextall’s lead and finally got rid of Marc Savard’s contract in the deal with the Panthers.

Oh, almost forgot, he also blew everyone away by valuing Zac Rinaldo as mid-round-pick-worthy…

11. Milan Lucic will fit right in with LA’s heavy style of hockey, and having him at a 3.3M cap hit until he reaches UFA status next summer is a solid deal for Dean Lombardi and the Kings, but the team won’t be happy with how the rest of the offseason is going on. Losing Justin Williams because they couldn’t match a perfectly reasonable 2-year-offer for the veteran winger stinks, and Andrej Sekera long-term contract with the Oilers was way too rich for another team way up against the cap. The Jarret Stoll drug situation sealed his exit as a pending UFA but Lombardi won’t have the same freedom to get rid of Slava Voynov and Mike Richards, no matter the subterfuges he tries to use.

Milan Lucic’s style will fit perfectly in LA

Jhonas Enroth’s signing to backup Jonathan Quick was wise, replacing Martin Jones, who, like Jonathan Bernier before, outperformed his role and effectively forced the GM’s hand to cash in on an asset. Tyler Toffoli’s 2-year bridge deal, worth a total of 6.5M, represents a compromise that seems to work for both the team and a player on the verge of a scoring outburst.

12. When he traded Jones to Boston, Lombardi didn’t envision the goaltender facing off his former teammates multiples times over the next few years, but Doug Wilson was aggressive moving in for the promising goalie and he got a new starter shortly after sending the UFA rights of incumbent Antti Niemi to the Dallas Stars. Jones inked a 3-year/9M deal with the Sharks and will have every opportunity to carve his spot, with 27-year-old Alex Stalock pushing him like he did with Niemi.

Then, the San Jose Sharks GM pounced twice on the free agency pool to add Paul Martin in order to complement his defensive core, envisioning the steady veteran alongside Brent Burns on the top pair, and improving his scoring depth with former Capital Joel Ward. Both players are 34-years-old and Wilson wasn’t shy about offering multi-year deals (4 to Martin, 3 to Ward) to the pair but, in the short term, his team is definitely improved, an inversion of last summer’s behaviour, where they did absolutely nothing to climb the ladder on the West and were left behind, missing the playoffs.

Former Penguins’ defenseman Paul Martin signed with the San Jose Sharks

13. Before settling for Jones, Doug Wilson went hard after NY Rangers’ Cam Talbot but Henrik Lundqvist’s understudy was ultimately sent to Edmonton, with a 59-game NHL career seemingly impressive enough to merit a place on the Oilers’ quest to find the right starting goalie for the future. Although Peter Chiarelli was able to resist the urge to send a 1st round pick for the 28-year-old unproven netminder, packaging a 2nd, 3rd and 7th round selections is nothing to sneeze at even for a team full of draft assets. Two more picks, the 16th and 33rd, were used to land former 4th overall selection (2010) Griffin Reinhart, a solid all-around defender that has taken more time than expected to break into regular NHL duties and had fallen out of favour inside a stacked NY Islanders’ cupboard.

Reinhart’s addition led to the trade of Martin Marincin, because, obviously, you can’t have too many young defensemen fighting for spots, but the true reinforcement at the position is Andrej Sekera, who, at age 29 and holding a new, shiny 33M deal, will carry the expectations directed at a No. 2D.

14. However, for all the Oilers did, the offseason will always be remembered for Connor McDavid’s arrival. Nothing is left to say about the new Canadian sensation, but look out for the implications on fellow young Center Leon Draisatl, the 3rd overall pick in 2014, who slides on the depth chart, stuck behind McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The German has already expressed his willingness to adapt to the wing, at least for now, and he may need to stick there for some time until another solution emerges, since neither he or Nugent-Hopkins seem suited for a third line role.

15. The beginning of the McDavid era in Edmonton will also mark the full reboot of one the best rivalries in the league, with the Calgary Flames already stocking up to counter the offensive fireworks coming out of Oil Land. In this sense, the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton gives the Flames one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL, with a formidable top-three in Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Hamilton allowing Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell to slide further down the line-up card. Furthermore, Deryk Engelland will spend most of his time on the press box, which makes his compensation seem even more ridiculous (2.7M.PER.YEAR!!!).

Michael Frolik chosed the Calgary Flames over the Winnipeg Jets

The GM Brad Treliving decided to keep the 1A/1B model at the net, re-signing Karri Ramo to rekindle the pair with Jonas Hiller, and he managed to snatch one of the most sought-after forwards on the market, Czech Republic’s right winger Michael Frolik, who will receive 21.5M for 5 years of contract, adding versatility, speed and an impressive two-way game to a team on the upswing. With Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau a year away from the end of their entry-level deals, and Jiri Hudler also set to close his contract in 2016, Treliving did a good job locking up another core player in Swedish center Mikael Backlund, at worst a really capable, possession-driving, third line center with skill.

16. Most of the Pacific Division emblems got better and the current Champions, the Anaheim Ducks, followed their challengers’ lead, enhancing the speed of their attack with the arrival of Carl Hagelin, whose RFA status made him expendable on a cap-strapped NY Rangers team. The 26-year-old winger has a chance to join Perry and Getzlaf on the top line, shatter his career-highs set last year (17G, 35 pts), and bank on it next summer. Obviously, for this to happen, he’ll have to sacrifice money and term now, something GM Bob Murray will have to mull on because his team is miles away (18M) from the cap, making the Ducks a prime example of a clear title contender with roster flexibility due to several low-cost deals assigned to key contributors like Sami Vatanen, Hamphus Lindholm or Rickard Rackell. The gamble on Chris Stewart, re-signing Jacob Silfverberg, and the new figure to Hagelin’s deal will cut into that number, but the team will have a major opportunity, once again, to load up come the trade deadline.

Murray exchanged Francois Beauchemin, who bolted to Denver, for the acquired Kevin Bieksa, saving one year both in contract duration and age, and brought in depth at the goal with Anton Khudobin, allowing some more development time for John Gibson, who figures to be less than thrilled if forced to start the season in the AHL.

17. In Arizona, the disappointment of missing out on McDavid and Jack Eichel will take some more time to go away but GM Dave Maloney made the right decision in holding on to the 3rd overall pick, logically selecting a prototypical No. 1C in Dylan Strome, a highly-competitive kid with size (6-3), skill and speed. He’s definitely not a Messiah but a franchise cornerstone forward to build around, something the Coyotes have lacked for years. Strome may not stick on the NHL in 2015-16, but a youthful injection is coming to Arizona, with top prospects like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Brendan Perlini knocking on the door and several spots on the attack to fill.

Don Maloney (L) selected Dylan Strome (C) with the 3rd pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft

To surround the rookies (and reach the salary floor), several veterans were brought back into the fold, with defensive specialist Boyd Gordon rescued from the Oilers, and the pair Antoine Vermette / Zbynek Michalek choosing to return after being flipped for futures at the trade deadline. Brad Richardson is another solid depth addiction to stabilize the lower offensive lines, while the arrival of Chris Pronger’s contract will certainly inspire Klas Dahlbeck and Brandon Gormley to prove their value to Arizona’s future plans. In the middle of this rebuild, a poor, sad, young man in stalwart defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is already getting ready for another year drowning in the desert.

18. If the Pacific Division has seen some major changes, the Central is surprisingly quiet, with the Blackhawks’ rivals perhaps waiting to see the complete outcome of the 2015 Great Chicago Stampede. Experiencing difficulties to unload the 5.9M due to Patrick Sharp and the 4M Bryan Bickell is scheduled to earn next season, the Stanley Cup Champions shipped out the up-and-coming Brandon Saad, a 22-year-old winger that EVERYONE thought would share the locker room with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for years to come. Stan Bowman wouldn’t go above the 5M threshold on a long-term offer for the sought-after RFA, and decided to trade him to the Columbus Blue Jackets instead of risk being backed into the wall by an offer sheet.

The return, as always happens when you are forced to give up on a talent of Saad’s calibre, isn’t stellar but Bowman looked happy for finally solving the 2nd line central conundrum with Artem Anisimov, a big, two-way player the team had coveted for some time. Getting the 20-year-old Marko Dano, an NHL-ready winger with two years of his entry-level deal yet to burn, was also significant for a team in need of cheap talent to fill attacking roles, and Jeremy Morin should get a chance to crack the lineup. As much as trading Saad hurts, these are the kind of returns that keep good teams always refreshed and ready to contend year after year, and Bowman delivered put on a difficult situation once again.

Brandon Saad will sport a new jersey over the next few years

Also, surrounded by little fanfare but potentially off no lesser importance, the Hawks guaranteed the services of Viktor Tikhonov, who joins his compatriot Artemi Panarin for a combined total of less than 2M, a true bargain for a pair of skilled forwards with potential to fill scoring line roles.

19. However, a difficult summer for the Hawks is just starting and Bowman still has to work the miracle of dumping Bickell somewhere, carving cap space to bring back Marcus Kruger, a player who has shown the willingness to wait due to his burning desire to stay in Chicago. Patrick Sharp, despite his clear decline, still holds some value and the Dallas Stars recently took him off Bowman’s hands, tossing back defenseman Trevor Daley, overmatched last year on Dallas’ first pair, and agitator Ryan Garbutt, on a move that, money-wise, didn’t really made a significant difference.

20. Eliminated by the Hawks in the first round, the Nashville Predators settled for the usual low-profile moves, taking a chance on the puzzling Cody Hodgson, who completely flamed out in Buffalo last season, and signing Barret Jackman to fill the veteran, mentoring role on their defence, probably by the side of Seth Jones on the second pair. The two-year extension for Mike Ribeiro is debatable, in light of the criminal accusations hanging over his head and his age (35), but the Preds didn’t have a lot of options to substitute a player who was effective as their No 1C. Mike Fischer will also be in Nashville for another couple of years after he proved last season that he’s still an effective shutdown guy.

Two other middleman, Craig Smith and Colin Wilson, both 25-years-old, are RFAs coming off deals with a 2M cap hit, and it’s not out of question that they double that after their arbitration hearings.

21. The Dallas Stars need reinforcements on defence, yet GM Jim Nill decided to spend money on a second starting goalie, trading for the rights to Antti Niemi and locking him up quickly to a three-year extension. The move left the Stars with 10.3M stuck on Niemi and compatriot Kari Lehtonen until 2018, but still 8M to use this season and Nill showed no hesitation making a trade for a significant offensive addiction for the third consecutive summer.

Patrick Sharp, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion on the move to Dallas

Patrick Sharp increases the firepower of the NHL’s second-best attack in 2014-15 and also becomes the second player in the team with the biggest cap hit, in front of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, who make a total of 11M for the next two seasons.

With the out-of-nowhere emergence of John Klingberg, the skating acumen of Trevor Daley was expendable, but to come back into the playoffs the Stars still need to add a sure-fire top-four blueliner, even if Stephen Johns, also acquired in the Sharp deal, was already on the verge of Chicago’s roster. With 6M to use, a full complement of players and names like Johnny Oduya, Cody Franson and Christian Ehrhoff still on the market, Jim Nill could take action or wait for what the future holds.

22. The Minnesota Wild offseason is marked by the success in the Mike Reilly sweepstakes, plucking the 21-year-old dynamic offensive defenseman that declined to ink an entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The American spurned several other suitors, notably the Hawks, Rangers and Pens, for a chance to star for his home state team, and they can certainly use a cost-controlled, mobile puck moving defenseman with Jared Spurgeon entering the last year of his deal and Matt Dumba finishing his rookie agreement.

The Wild are also in a bit of a cap crunch, with Erik Haula yet to sign and goalie Niklas Backstrom injured – and, as so, unable to be bought out – but Chuck Fletcher opened space by dumping Matt Cooke. Then, he managed to keep Mikael Granlund on a bridge two-year deal and season saviour Devan Dubnyk with a six-year offer worth 4.3M per year, a solid compromise with a goalie that just 12 months ago was out of the league. Trade deadline acquisitions’ Chris Stewart and Sean Bergenheim didn’t work as expected and were let go.

TJ Oshie is leaving the St. Louis Blues to play in Washington, D.C.

23. After another frustrating end of the season for the St. Louis Blues, changes were undoubtedly on the way and when Ken Hitchcock was brought back, the spotlight switched to some of the most important forwards in the team. Between David Backes, an UFA in 2016, Alex Steen and TJ Oshie, one had to go and the hammer dropped on the American right winger, sent to the Washington Capitals. Although getting Troy Brouwer and a 3rd round pick for Oshie is kind of underwhelming, especially because the physical winger represents a clear downgrade on a team that already lacked game-breaking skill, the message to the core group was delivered loud and clear.

Also decisive and definitive was the commitment, in the form of 8 seasons and 60M, to Vladimir Tarasenko as the team’s cornerstone forward through his prime years, with the Blues hoping the 23-year-old sniper will take on more responsibilities in the fall. The St. Louis outfit appears to have already set its roster after giving Jake Allen two more years to usurp Brian Elliot and prove that he can be a starter on a Cup contender.

24. Oshie left one of the better well-rounded squads in the NHL but he won’t be unhappy to get a chance to nail the spot on the Washington Capitals’ top line, certainly welcoming the opportunity to be the sidekick Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have desired for years. However, Barry Trotz will have another recent arrival vying for the same after the Caps convinced advanced-stats darling Justin Williams to pen a two-year deal with the team. The term and money were an absolute win for GM Brian MacLellan, and surely left some Kings fans exasperated but, more importantly, the Caps upgraded significantly on the right wing position.

Third line center Eric Fehr is still unsigned but it’s not impossible he comes back as soon as they reach an agreement with Braden Holtby, looking for a deal in the 6M range, and forward Marcus Johansson. Evgeni Kuznetsov accepted a two-year bridge deal for 3M per season and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he explodes in a way that resembles his compatriot Tarasenko. The arrivals of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik forced Mike Green into a secondary role at even strength during the season and the parts naturally agreed to move on, with the former 30-goal scorer landing in Detroit.

25. The Red Wings had been looking for a left handed, offensive minded blue-liner for some time and Ken Holland, after being spurned several times over the last summers, finally filled the void, handing a 3-year contract to Mike Green, who was able to keep his 6M cap hit. The reeling Brad Richards also landed in Detroit, for 3M on a one-year-deal, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the buyout of Stephen Weiss, a complete failure during his term with the team, even if some of the funds were also reallocated to a deserved and fair 4-year extension for Gustav Nyquist.

Gustav Nyquist will continue to score goals for the Detroit Red Wings for four more seasons

26. Ray Shero inherited from Lou Lamoriello a roster bare of young talent, especially on the attack, and his first move was to select a big, skilled center with the sixth overall pick in the draft, turning Pavel Zacha into the best and most important prospect the New Jersey Devils have had in years. However, Zacha may still be a couple of seasons away from contributing on the NHL and Shero will have to add some goal scoring until then. The market isn’t stuffed with that but, at least, he has already started to decrease the average age of his roster by adding 24-year-old, New Jersey-born forward Kyle Palmieri for a second round pick to the Ducks.

Several veterans won’t don the Devils’ jersey again, including Scott Gomez and Martin Havlat, but to expedite the renovation maybe Shero can aggressively revive one of his favourite moves as a Pittsburgh Penguins GM, dangling one of his young defenseman (Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson or Jon Merrill) for a similarly-aged prospect up front.

27. The Columbus Blue Jackets have no such problems, with the Saad coup arranged by GM Jarmo Kekalainen netting what could be a perennial running-mate for Ryan Johansen, provided the 22-year-old center forgets about the quarrels of his renovation by the time they sit down to talk again in 2017. Saad’s speed and strength will fit in nicely on a team built on those qualities, and the Jackets top-six now features Johansen, Saad, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell and Boone Jenner, with Cam Atkinson and 20-year-old sophomore Alexander Wennberg bumped to the third line. This is a forward group that should scare their Metropolitan Division opponents’, and if the team builds on last season’s superb finish, watch out.

Ryan Murray’s health will be of paramount importance for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015-16

The backend will need an impressive and injury-free season from the battered Ryan Murray, the 2nd overall pick in 2012, or else the lack of depth could be exposed (being spurned by Mike Reilly really hurts here), but remember they have Sergei Bobrovsky covering the mistakes. This squad is well positioned to battle for way more than a single playoff position and I won’t be surprised to see them squaring for supremacy in the East come the spring of 2016.

28. Severely threatened by Columbus improvements’ are the two teams that have dominated the Division over the last few seasons. The New York Rangers, now under the direction of rookie GM Jeff Gorton, smartly auctioned an overvalued asset like Cam Talbot and replaced him with Antti Raanta, a backup capable enough to fill in for Lundqvist in the 15-20 games he should take to rest. However, they have 10M of cap space to use and some valuable RFA forwards to sign, with the most important, Derek Stepan, poised to hoard a major chunk of the pie. The Ryan O’Reilly extension in Buffalo will certainly be the comparison to use and those aren’t great news for the team, which hoped to agree to a deal starting with a “6”, while now the award may well move above the 7M per year. JT Miller, Jesper Fast and new recruit Emerson Etem, who welcomes the fresh start after never breaking through for the Ducks, are in line for much smaller payments and short-term deals, but the trio should reserve the entire space, with another forward left to close the roster after the cheap signing of Viktor Stalberg.

With little wiggle room, Gorton may be forced to part with one of his defenders, also anticipating the raises that Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes will deserve next year, with Kevin Klein (2.9M) and Keith Yandle, despite being a bargain at 2.65 M (Arizona is picking up half of his check until 2016), on the forefront.

29. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins, already sensing the prime years of the Crosby/Malkin era running out without sniffing another Cup, had to beef up yet again and shipped out more young assets on the Phil Kessel deal, a bet that Jim Rutherford and the organization were once again forced to do. Ponying up their only top-end forward prospect, a former 2nd round pick and the 2016 first round pick almost empties their cupboard, but at least they succeeded in keeping prized young defenders Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta.

Although Kessel is, arguably, the third most lethal sniper in the NHL today, after Ovechkin and Stamkos, and a tremendous weapon to join Crosby or Malkin at even strength, his presence on the powerplay can be even more crucial. His left shot stationed on the right side could open up precious space so that the two-headed monster could work on the left, maybe turning a scary but unbalanced unit into a mass destruction device. With Kessel, the whole Penguins offensive lineup also stretches out better, with the team now holding, when everyone is healthy, as many as ten legit top-nine forwards.

Will the trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins reenergize Phil Kessel?

Rutherford has yet to assemble his entire 4th line, weighing if the time is right to take a chance on untested youngsters like Oskar Sundqvist and Scott Wilson, and he would certainly love to find a taker for Rob Scuderi’s contract, but, for now, the team figures to enter the season with a really young blueline after losing veterans Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff due to cap constraints.

30. Since we got all the way till here, a few quick ideas on the teams missing :

Florida Panthers: parted ways with several veteran forwards (Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Brad Boyes) to open space for home-grown talents like Vincent Trocheck and Quinton Howden;

Montreal Canadiens: re-signed sound top-four defenseman Jeff Petry to a rich six-years/33M deal and swapped Brandon Prust for Zack Kassian, who’s already 24-years-old and missing the boat towards becoming more than a physical, pesky, low-end forward;

New York Islanders: extended forward Anders Lee and defenseman Thomas Hickey on deserved multi-year deals;

Ottawa Senators: smartly locked out last year’s rookie of the year candidate Mark Stone to a reasonable 3 year/10.5M deal, and resisted the pressure to give up on lanky defenseman Jared Cowen, going through a bout of low-confidence;
Tampa Bay Lightning: rounded out the bottom-six with the smart signing of possession-driver, ex-Ottawa Senator, Erik Condra;

Vancouver Canucks: for some reason decided that paying 2.5M to Brandon Prust was what they needed and even threw-in a 5th round pick to make it happen. Cashed in on Eddie Lack after deciding he wasn’t a long-term solution on goal, opening a slot for Jacob Markstrom to prove that he belongs in the NHL. However, Jim Benning was unable to keep the other piece of the Luongo deal, losing Shawn Matthias, an affordable, productive third line option.

Winnipeg Jets: Kevin Cheveldayoff managed to snare Alexander Burmistrov back from the KHL, adding a talented and versatile forward that can play anywhere on the top-nine, and retained, on a two-year deal, Drew Stafford, a key element over the stretch run last season. Michael Frolik, an influential defensive-ace, moved to the Calgary Flames even if the Jets made offers in the neighbourhood of what he got. Really important point to keep in mind: the Jets system is brimming with talent at every position and stellar prospects like Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrisey and Nic Petan can force their way in as early as opening night;

31. Top five Unrestricted Free Agents left in the market and my bet on where they’ll land:

RW Alex Semin (Montreal Canadiens)
D Christian Ehrhoff (Philadelphia Flyers)
D Cody Franson (Columbus Blue Jackets)
D Johnny Oduya (Dallas Stars)
C Eric Fehr (New Jersey Devils)