Tampa Bay Lightning 2016 Offseason Plans

Coming off a Stanley Cup Finals appearance against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015, the Tampa Bay Lightning had high hopes for a return in the 2015-2016 season. The team came very close to reaching that goal, losing in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. There were many ups and downs over the course of the year, including some bad luck with injuries that may have prevented the Lightning from raising the Cup this year.

Tampa Bay has a deep and talented roster, and that depth was tested this season. Injuries ravaged the lineup so much that the AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch had to play defensemen as forwards just to fill the lineup. One of the main reasons the team was able to sustain its winning ways was goalie Ben Bishop. Bishop led the NHL with a 2.06 Goals Against Average and was second with a .926 save percentage (among goalies with at least 15 appearances). His injury in Game 1 of the Conference Finals may have been the difference between moving on and going home.

Pending Free Agents: Everyone in the hockey world knows of the impending unrestricted free agency of Steven Stamkos. The 26 year old team Captain is one of the best players in the world, and will be highly coveted by every team in the league. He was forced to miss almost 2 months of the regular season and playoffs because of a blood clot, but that won’t hold back any potential suitors. General Manager Steve Yzerman likely will not offer Stamkos as much as some other teams, so it will be up to him to determine if he prefers the familiarity of the Lightning or the money of a new destination.

Another important free agent (restricted) is 22 year old Nikita Kucherov. The Russian winger led the team in scoring in both the regular and postseason, tallying 19 points in 17 playoff games. He is in line for a significant payday, possibly around $6.5 million per year.

Draft Picks: Tampa doesn’t pick until late in the first round, so it is hard to imagine they will find a prospect ready to play in the pros. A potential option to move up in the draft is to trade disgruntled winger Jonathan Drouin. The 3rdoverall pick of the 2013 draft, Drouin’s time with the Lightning has been tense to say the least.

After being demoted to Syracuse during the season, he left the team and requested a trade. After no trade was made, he returned on fire. He scored 9 goals in his first 10 games in the AHL, and put up 14 points in 17 playoff games. A team looking to make a splash and win soon like the Montreal Canadiens might be interested to deal their top 10 pick for him.

Free Agent Additions: The top free agent targets for the Lightning are their own Stamkos and Kucherov. Other than that, they will likely not be too active in free agency, looking to add some depth and maybe a backup goaltender.

Boston Bruins 2016 Offseason Plans

In March 2016, the Boston Bruins looked destined to return to the playoffs after a one year hiatus. However, the team limped to the end of the season, losing 9 of 12 games and missing out on the postseason because of a tie breaker with the Detroit Red Wings. Once a perennial championship contender, the Bruins have been only average the last two years and may be on the verge of some major changes.

Boston was led by a trio of 30 year old forwards: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Loui Eriksson. The three scored the most points on the squad, while 28 year old Brad Marchand was tops with 37 goals (4th in points). They finished as the 5th highest scoring team in the league, but their defensive and goaltending shortcomings kept them from the postseason. Tuukka Rask, the former Vezina Trophy winner, was simply average this season, in part because of a weak defensive group in front of him.

Pending Free Agents: 30 goal scorer Eriksson is an unrestricted free agent and will almost assuredly take a big money deal somewhere else. With the money the team has invested in Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Rask and 39 year old defenseman Zdeno Chara (total of almost $33M), Eriksson will likely find a new home.

Defenseman Torey Krug is a restricted free agent, but as one of the few young, bright spots on defense, the team will have to give him an extension. Backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson played well, but the team may move on and give the spot to 2012 first round pick Malcolm Subban.

Draft Picks: The Bruins have two first round picks in this year’s draft after acquiring San Jose’s. While neither of the picks are very high (14thand 30th), the team could use them to either move up in the draft or trade for a quality pro. The team desperately needs youth on defense, but at 14, they may be stuck taking a forward instead of reaching for a less talented blue liner.

Free Agent Additions: There are not many top pairing defensemen available as free agents, but the team could make a play for Keith Yandle or Alex Goligoski. Both would be a major improvement over what they have now, but they won’t come cheap. Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie would be an expensive trade target, but he would fill a huge need. Sami Vatanen and Jonas Brodin are also potential trade targets.

Ottawa Senators 2016 Offseason Plans

In a year in which hockey teams across Canada disappointed, it seems appropriate that one of the bigger disappointments was the nation’s capital’s Ottawa Senators. While not thought of as a true Stanley Cup contender, the team was looking to build on its playoff appearance in the 2014-2015 season. Instead, they dropped from 99 to 85 points and missed the playoffs. After the season, Ottawa hired former Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Guy Boucher to fill the same role in their organization.

The Senators’ star player is defenseman Captain Erik Karlsson, the first defenseman in over 40 years to lead the league in assists (66). He also finished tied for fourth among all skaters with 82 points. Another bright spot for the club was second year forward Mark Stone who put up 61 points in 75 games. Assistant Captain Kyle Turris was looking to build on two strong campaigns, but was limited to only 57 games because of injuries. Two veterans occupying a ton of cap space are winger Bobby Ryan and defenseman Dion Phaneuf. While both played fairly well, their combined cap hit of over $14 million per season for the next five years will limit what the team can do in the future.

Pending Free Agents: The top two players up for free agency are both restricted, and will almost assuredly be signed to long term deals. Mike Hoffman led the squad with 29 goals and finished third with 59 points. 22 year old blue liner Cody Ceci had a solid season as well. These two are part of Ottawa’s core moving forward. Fellow restricted free agent defenseman Patrick Wiercioch will not be retained.

Draft Picks: Even though Ottawa could use another top four defenseman, most of the top players at that position will likely be gone when they have the 12thpick in the draft. Several strong forward prospects should be available, and adding some scoring punch is also needed. Centers Michael McLeod and Tyson Jost along with winger Julien Gauthier could all be potential options.

Free Agent Additions: The Senators’ should have sufficient cap room to make a play for a big name free agent. While top free agent Steven Stamkos could potentially be wooed by his former coach, it is unlikely he would sign with Ottawa. New York Islanders winger Kyle Okposo is a young and talented unrestricted free agent that could immediately fill a role on the top line. Defenseman Jordie Benn could be an interesting addition if they could get him for the right price.

Colorado Avalanche 2016 Offseason Plans

 After winning the Central division with 112 points in the 2013-2014 season, the Colorado Avalanche looked to be a team on the rise. A young core of talented future stars seemed destined to only improve. The team has gone in the opposite direction however, notching 90 and 82 points in each of the last two years respectively. After missing the playoffs for a second straight time, Colorado General Manager Joe Sakic will have his work cut out for him this offseason.

The team spent a lot of time in their own zone this season, ranking near the bottom of the league in shots allowed, goals allowed and penalty kill percentage. As a result they were also in the bottom five of shots taken and possession. Those statistics are somewhat surprising considering the talent on the roster. Center Matt Duchene scored 30 goals for the first time in his career and let the team with 59 points. 23 year old Gabriel Landeskog scored at least 20 goals for the 3rd straight season and Nathan Mackinnon (20) added 52 points in 72 games. These personal accomplishments however were not enough to overcome the issues with defense and goaltending. 

Pending Free Agents: It would probably be easier to name the players not up for free agency as opposed to those that are. The organization has more than half of its players (in Colorado and minor league San Antonio) without a contract this offseason. The two most notable are Mackinnon and 24 year old defenseman Tyson Barrie. The two restricted free agents will both be looking for significant raises, which is a problem for a cap strapped team like Colorado. Veterans Jarome Iginla and Brad Stuart are set to make $9 million dollars next season, which truly limits what the team can do.

Another restricted free agent the team will try to keep is goalie Calvin Pickard. The 24 year old outplayed starter Semyon Varlamov, which could make the high priced Varlamov available on the trade market.

Draft Picks: Considering the team’s struggles on defense, and the fact that one of their top blue liners is 35 years old, there is a good chance Colorado will take a defenseman when they pick at number ten. Some options may be Jake Bean, Dante Fabbro and Olli Juolevi.

Free Agent Additions: As previously mentioned, the Avalanche do not have a lot of cap room and still need to sign many of their own players. That being the case, there are rumors swirling the team could trade anyone, including Duchene, Mackinnon and Barrie. If they are able to free up some cap space, the team has been linked to Russian forward Alexander Radulov. After failing in his initial NHL stint in 2012 because of character concerns, it appears Radulov is ready to return the U.S. and Colorado may try to snap him up.

Montreal Canadiens 2016 Offseason Plans

After winning the Atlantic division in the 2014-2015 season, the Montreal Canadiens appeared to be on the verge of something special. Optimism continued to grow when the team won the first nine games of the 2015-2016 season. Soon after, everything fell apart. Reigning Vezina trophy winning goalie Carey Price was injured after 12 games and did not return. His replacements, Mike Condon and Ben Scrivens, were far from acceptable and posted a combined .904 save percentage.

The Canadiens didn’t have enough offense to overcome their poor goaltending. Only two players scored at least 20 goals this season, Captain Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, who both lit the lamp 30 times. Even with All Star defenseman P.K. Subban scoring 51 points (45 assists), the team just couldn’t generate enough offense, especially on the power play. The Canadiens ranked just 25thin the NHL with the man advantage.

Pending Free Agents: Montreal does not have a lot of pending free agents, which is actually a problem for a disappointing team with little cap space. Two players that could be cap casualties are Center David Desharnais and Defenseman Alexei Emelin. The two make over seven million dollars combined, but produced a total -13 rating.

There have been rumors that the team could look to trade Subban as he would likely draw a significant bounty in return. He is signed through the 2022-23 season at nine million dollars a year. He was a top five defenseman in points per game this year, so while he is paid a lot, it would be very hard for the team to replace him.

Draft Picks: Many of the top players will be off the board by the time Montreal makes its pick at number nine overall, so they may be in the position to take the “best player available”. Two forwards that may be available are Michael McLeod and Alex Nylander (younger brother of Toronto Maple Leaf William Nylander). If they decide to take a defenseman, Olli Juolevi or Jake Bean should be available.

Free Agent Additions: Considering their lack of salary cap space, the Canadiens will have a hard time being active in free agency. Kris Versteeg and Kyle Okposo are two forward options the team may consider, but the main sticking point will be finding enough cash. A backup goaltender would likely be wise to add, but this free agent market is extremely thin at the position. Former starters Cam Ward and James Reimer, while no longer able to carry the full load, may be too expensive for the Canadiens to add as Price’s backup.

Buffalo Sabres 2016 Offseason Plans

After finishing with the lowest point total in the NHL for two years in a row, Buffalo Sabres’ fans finally had something to cheer about during the 2015-16 season. The team increased its point total by 27 over the previous year, and drastically improved its goal differential. A combination of players acquired through the draft, trades and free agency combined to make the Sabres a team on the rise.

Leading the way was rookie phenom Jack Eichel, the second overall pick in last year’s draft. He was the team’s top goal scorer, and finished second in points behind Ryan O’Reilly. Fellow rookie Sam Reinhart, the second overall selection in the previous draft, finished just behind Eichel in both goals and points. O’Reilly, acquired in a trade last offseason with Colorado, proved to be more than capable as Buffalo’s top center. Veterans like Brian Gionta and David Legwand combined with Evander Kane, Rasmus Ristolainen and other youngsters to greatly improve the quality of play in Buffalo.

Pending Free Agents: Ristolainen, just 21 years old, is turning into one of the best young defenseman in the game and is a restricted free agent. The Sabres will not let him get away, and will likely sign him to a long term deal. Backup goaltender Chad Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and will probably test the free agent market looking to become a starter after playing well this season. 35 year old Legwand is also an UFA, and the team may decide to move on with a younger option.

One player not up for free agency but likely on his way out is Matt Moulson. He is due five million dollars a year for the next 3 years, a sum way too high for his meager production of just 21 points in 81 games.

Draft Picks: General Manager Tim Murray has made it clear he is looking for a left handed, top four defenseman. There are three of these players expected to go in the top ten of this year’s draft, in which Buffalo will pick 8th. Murray could trade up using his vast draft capital (12 picks this year) to ensure he gets one, or he may wait and take the best player available.

Free Agent Additions: If the Sabres look for defensive help in free agency, the team could add Keith Yandle (New York Rangers) or Alex Goligoski (Dallas Stars). Former Sabre Brian Campbell may be available, but at age 36, it is unclear if the team would want to sign him. Since the free agent market is relatively thin, and Buffalo has so many draft picks and prospects, they can try to acquire a defenseman via trade. Targets include Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues) and Patrick Wiercioch (Ottawa Senators).

Arizona Coyotes 2016 Offseason Plans

The Arizona Coyotes are a team in flux. As of April 27th, 2016, the team has still not confirmed where they will play their home games, who their General Manager will be and the majority of last season’s players are free agents. Even though they improved over their pitiful 2014-2015 season, the Coyotes missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year. The next GM, rumored to be 26 year old analytics guru John Chayka, will have the flexibility to move the team in a new direction this offseason.

One of the main priorities for the new decision maker will be to upgrade a defense and goaltending group that allowed the third most goals of any team in the league. Additionally, they finished third to last in penalty killing. The offense could also use some additional scoring punch as the top scorer on team was defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson with 55 points.

Pending Free Agents: The list of free agents this summer is incredibly long. The most notable player on the market is Captain Shane Doan. Nearing age 40, the league’s longest tenured captain turned back the clock and led the team with 28 goals. It remains to be seen whether he will want to continue playing, and if the team will want him back.

Outside of Ekman Larsson, the only other defenseman not up for free agency is Zbynek Michalek. Also, the team has only one goalie under contract, starter Mike Smith. The team will have to re-sign some of their own free agents, but there could be a potential “house cleaning” as well.

Draft Picks: Since Arizona has two young forwards that will likely make the jump to the pros next season in Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak, there is a good chance the team will select one of the team defenseman with their first pick. Depending on the teams picking in front of them, the Coyotes will likely miss out on top prospect Jacob Chychrun but could still choose from Jake Bean, Mikhail Sergachev or Olli Juolevi.

Free Agent Additions: If Chayka is selected as the new GM, it will be interesting to see if he will bring a “Moneyball” style approach to free agency. While the team should have cap room to land a big free agent or two, he may search for undervalued players to build a more well-rounded squad. There are not a lot of big name defenseman to go after, but Kyle Quincey (Detroit),Luke Schenn (Los Angeles) and Jason Demers (Dallas) may be options. In goal, 24 year old Louis Domingue played relatively well when called on this season and should be re-signed to backup Mike Smith.

Winnipeg Jets 2016 Offseason Plans

After earning 99 points in 2014-2015 and clinching the team’s first playoff berth since moving to Winnipeg in 2011, the Jets plummeted to just 78 points in 2015-2016. Even though they play in arguably the NHL’s toughest division, many thought Winnipeg would be back in the playoffs. However, the team slogged through a rough season and traded away their captain, Andrew Ladd.

On paper, the Jets have the talent to compete. Winger Blake Wheeler led the team with 78 points while playing all 82 games this season. Top center Mark Scheifele, just 23 years old, also performed extremely well offensively. On defense, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are two of the best in the game and Myers is still developing after coming over from the Buffalo Sabres in the trade for Evander Kane. This top talent overshadowed a lack of depth that was evident as the year progressed.

The real bright spot for Winnipeg this season was the emergence of goalie Connor Hellebuyck. The 22 year old was clearly the best netminder on the team, posting a 2.34 goals against average and .918 save percentage in his 26 games. Ondrej Pavelec, and his $3.9 million salary, was far worse than Hellebuyck.

Pending Free Agents: Winnipeg’s top priority will be working out a long term extension with Scheifele. He will be entitled to a significant payday, but the team has been hovering near the bottom of the league in spending so they have the funds. Another restricted free agent, Jacob Trouba, is a 22 year old top four defenseman that will also be looking for big money.

Draft Picks: While the team hopes to win the draft lottery and select Auston Matthews, the odds of that happening are pretty slim. While the team could use some help on defense, an interesting scenario would be selecting Left Wing Matthew Tkachuk. Matthew is the son of former Winnipeg Captain and fan favorite Keith Tkachuk.

Free Agent Additions: While he isn’t a true free agent, the Jets just signed last year’s first round pick, Kyle Connor, to a three year deal. He was on fire as a freshman at the University of Michigan, racking up 71 points in just 38 games. He may get a shot at the pro level sooner rather than later.

Since the team traded away Ladd, there is no true captain on the roster. While some of the young players could be given the role, or maybe even Wheeler, the Jets might look to fill the leadership void from the outside. St. Louis Blues Captain David Backes may be available this offseason. He could provide instant credibility and a winning attitude to a team that needs it.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2016 Offseason Plans

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2015-2016 started out as bad as can be, and never got much better. The team set a record for futility, losing the first eight games of the season in regulation. After firing Coach Todd Richards, John Tortorella came in and compiled a .500 record. The team that many thought would complete for a playoff spot ended up last in the Metropolitan division and second last in the Eastern Conference.

Columbus had a major problem in their own end, allowing the second most goals and the fourth most shots of any team in the league. The squad’s top goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, was hampered with groin injuries that limited him to only 37 games. Even while he was playing, he struggled to a 2.75 Goals Against Average and .908 save percentage. Considering his $7.425 million salary cap hit moving forward, the team will need him to return to form.

The Blue Jackets do have some exciting young talent to build around though. Brandon Saad (23 years old) and Boone Jenner (22) both scored over 30 goals this season. In addition, Cam Atkinson (26) tied Saad for the team lead with 53 points. On defense, Ryan Murray (22), David Savard (25) and Seth Jones (21) give the team a solid core to develop.

Pending Free Agents: The most notable free agent is Jones who was acquired in a mid-season trade. The former number four overall pick scored 20 points in 41 games with Columbus and is still growing. The team does not have a lot of cap room, but will need to use a good chunk of it to keep Jones long term. Right Winger Rene Bourque will likely not be re-signed.

Draft Picks: If the Jackets stay in the number four spot in the draft, they could take the best overall defenseman. However, considering they have Jones and Murray, there is a good chance they will take a top forward. They had to part with their top center, Ryan Johansen, to get Jones and this may be a way to bring back some of that scoring punch. Matthew Tkachuk, son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, could be an option.

Free Agent Additions: Free agency will be limited for Columbus based on their current cap situation. If they will sign someone, they will look for a veteran presence on defense to help develop the younger players. Adam Pardy of the the Winnipeg Jets or Christian Ehrhoff of the Chicago Blackhawks could be players to target.

Calgary Flames 2016 Offseason Plans

            Following a surprising playoff series win in 2014-2015, the Calgary Flames struggled mightily this season. The team will likely drop more than 20 points from last year’s 97. Considering the team’s young stars and offseason acquisitions, it was assumed they would at least be competitive. However, poor goaltending and lower overall scoring will keep them out of the playoffs.

            Calgary’s goaltenders have combined to have the worst goals against average in the NHL. Jonas Hiller has been the most inept, posting a 3.51 GAA and .879 save percentage in 27 games. Youngster Joni Ortio has played relatively well in limited outings. The 24 year has a goals against average of 2.63, similar to fellow goalie Karri Ramo.

            Pending Free Agents: The Flames have many difficult decisions to make this offseason, most important of all to determine who will be their starting goalie next season. Hiller and Ramo will both be unrestricted free agents, with Hiller definitely to be gone. Ortio is a restricted free agent, so if the team sees him as a future contributor, they will need to work on an extension.

            The first priorities to get extensions though are forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Gaudreau is quickly becoming one of the league’s best young players, averaging a point per game this season. Monahan, a year younger than Gaudreau at 21, has 62 points in 78 games played this year. Both players are restricted free agents but the team will likely try to work out long term extensions with both.

            Draft Picks: It is highly unlikely the team will address their goalie issue with one of the first picks in the draft, but they will probably look for one in the middle rounds. Calgary may try to overcome their goaltending deficiencies by adding more scoring punch, so they may look to add the best forward available.

            Free Agent Additions: The free agent goaltender market is pretty thin, with old veterans Cam Ward and James Reimer topping the list. They could try to trade for a goalie like Jimmy Howard from the Detroit Red Wings or pry Matt Murray away from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murray may be available because with the potential expansion draft on the horizon, teams with two quality goalies will only be able to protect one and would rather trade one than lose him with nothing in return. With the large contracts the team will have to give Gaudreau and Monahan, it will be interesting to see if they will have any more room to sign free agents and stay under the salary cap.