It’s been a wild summer for the NHL. As soon as the Tampa Bay Lightning began their celebration, so too did the offseason moves. A flat salary cap made for some interesting moves for some teams. While we won’t fully know the impact these moves will have on their respective teams, a handful’s moves are worth a head-scratching. These teams have had some of the most confusing NHL offseasons in recent years.
The basis for this piece revolves around teams that made moves that raised an eyebrow or made you say “huh?” when the news broke. Teams that are evidently in a rebuild (Buffalo, Detroit, Ottawa) are not included on this list.
Top Four Most Confusing NHL Offseasons
Before getting into the top four, two teams made some confusing moves but have a little higher potential to work out.
Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, Ethan Bear, Ian Cole, Tony DeAngelo and Derek Stepan have all joined the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason. The team lost Warren Foegele, Dougie Hamilton, Alex Nedeljkovic, Brock McGinn, Jake Bean and James Reimer. Perhaps the most confusing move of the offseason was the trading of Nedeljkovic for Jonathan Bernier, who Carolina didn’t even sign. This was after the 23-year-old netminder became the team’s starting goaltender for the playoffs. The addition of DeAngelo is worth attention as he was bought out by the New York Rangers for off-ice issues.
The reason the Hurricanes aren’t in the top four of this list is that they were able to keep head coach Rod Brind’Amour. If anyone is going to keep Carolina among the league’s top teams as they have been, it’s Rod the Bod.
The Philadelphia Flyers were among the busiest teams this offseason. General manager Chuck Fletcher virtually gave the team a facelift. The team was busy on the trade front, shipping off mainstays Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek. They also dealt Nolan Patrick, Philippe Myers, and Robert Hagg. In return, the Flyers received Cam Atkinson, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Ryan Ellis. They also signed Martin Jones, Keith Yandle and Nate Thompson.
The Flyers made a lot of moves but it’s tough to say if the team got better. They essentially swapped out pieces on what was already a pretty solid core. However, the team did re-sign Carter Hart and got him a backup to challenge for the number one spot. The Flyers have a good enough roster that could contend this season, which is why they’re not among the most confusing NHL offseasons this year. But anything less than success would make this offseason look silly.
Now, to the top four teams with the most confusing offseasons.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins are on this list because they have been awfully quiet this offseason. They signed Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen as depth forwards but that was about it. The Penguins made no changes to their goaltending situation which cost them their series against the New York Islanders.
Yes, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are more than enough to drag Pittsburgh into the playoffs. But when they get there, they’ll likely suffer the same fate as they did in 2020-21. The Penguins’ core only has a couple of good years left in them and more should have been done to ensure another Stanley Cup run.
#3 Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks don’t seem to know whether they are rebuilding or ready to win. The team added Seth Jones, Tyler Johnson, Jake McCabe, Caleb Jones, and Marc-Andre Fleury during the offseason. They lost Duncan Keith, Nikita Zadorov, Pius Suter, and Adam Boqvist.
The Hawks caught one of the biggest offseason fish in Seth Jones, giving up promising blueliner Boqvist in return. Fleury’s initial hesitancy when traded to the team, was confusing. And Tyler Johnson has seen a decline in play over the past couple of years as he enters his 30s.
The Blackhawks got some notable names and will likely be more competitive next season than they were last year. But their moves, with the exception of Seth Jones, were a lot of flash without a lot of substance. Granted, Patrick Kane is still elite and Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach continue to get better, so the Hawks could very well surprise next season.
#2 New York Rangers
The New York Rangers’ confusing offseason began before the regular season even ended. The Tom Wilson incident on Artemi Panarin sent shockwaves through the organization, prompting some front-office shuffling. And it’s pretty clear the team had a goal of getting tougher for times like the Wilson incident.
Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow, Jarred Tinordi, Sammy Blais, and Patrik Nemeth will all join the Blue Shirts this season. The team lost Pavel Buchnevich, Colin Blackwell, and Tony DeAngelo. The Rangers’ offseason isn’t confusing for the moves they did make, rather, for the moves they didn’t.
Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome are both heading into the final season of their deals, set to become unrestricted free agents in 2022. If either of the two were part of the Rangers’ long-term plan, they would have likely been offered extensions by now. As far as the most confusing NHL offseasons have gone, this one is pretty high up there. However, the team does have young players like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Norris-winner Adam Fox, and re-signed Filip Chytil for the next generation.
It seems like general manager Chris Drury made moves in response to the Tom Wilson incident rather than making moves that improved the team. Granted, Gerard Gallant is behind the bench as a new addition, but will likely be a tough season for the Rangers unless some of those young players step up in a big way. At least they have Ryan Reaves to fight Tom Wilson every time they play the Washington Capitals.
#1 Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks want to win now, and that couldn’t be more evident from their offseason moves. Just a year before the bulky contracts of Braden Holtby, Loui Eriksson, and Jay Beagle were set to come off the books, the team traded them away. The Canucks also let Alex Edler walk in free agency and traded away Nate Schmidt. Coming to Vancouver this season is Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, Jason Dickinson, Tucker Poolman, Luke Schenn and Jaroslav Halak.
General manager Jim Benning’s attitude this offseason may be driven by restricted free agent Elias Pettersson’s comments about wanting to win right now. Both Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are in need of new contracts before the season starts.
Vancouver could have easily made small tweaks to its roster this offseason, hope for another year like 2019-20 where they catch some magic and go to the playoffs. Then, next year, they would have a lot more cap space to make some more significant moves. Instead, the Canucks bowed to the pressure of their players and fans and made big moves before all of that.
A healthy Elias Petterson and revived Ekman-Larsson could be catalysts for a good Vancouver team. But if the Canucks see anything other than success from the moves they made this offseason, there could be some disgruntled superstars and surely, some disappointed fans. The Vancouver Canucks have had one of the most confusing NHL offseasons in recent memory.
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