The NHL may see some late transactions such as the Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy trades in 2014, or the Patrick Sharp trade in 2015, but for the most part the wheeling and dealing has been done already.
With the NHL Draft and July 1 having come and gone, it is late enough into the offseason to begin to judge teams for what they have done thus far. Every team has made some moves, but only four teams earned our highest (or lowest) grades.
The Panthers have had a better offseason than any team in the NHL, and the competition isn’t even close. Florida started their offseason by replacing the front office that helped bring them to the playoffs, a move that begged questions.
Still, Florida moved forward with a clear vision in mind, looking for undervalued possession players, and looking to lock up their own core players.
This plan began with the acquisition and signing of Keith Yandle, giving the Panthers a top defenseman to play next to Aaron Ekblad, who earned an eight-year extension himself. Florida saw a weakness on the power play and a lack of defensive depth, and covered both concerns with that signing.
Mark Pysyk was later acquired via trade, and Jason Demers was signed to add to the defensive depth, giving the Panthers stronger possession players on valuable contracts.
Another issue the Panthers faced last season was Roberto Luongo being worn down by the end of the season, a problem solved by the signing of James Reimer to a five-year deal. Reimer will play 35-40 games behind Luongo in the near future, and is expected to be his eventual replacement.
Reimer’s 0.922 save percentage behind an awful Maple Leafs defense ranked seventh in the NHL, so the Panthers will have few worries about goaltending going forward.
Finally, Florida made sure their forward depth will not be going anywhere. In addition to adding Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour to the roster, Florida locked up Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck to long term contracts.
Smith was a catalyst offensively during the regular season, but picked up his play even more in the playoffs. Trocheck scored 53 points in his age 22 season, showing an abundance of potential. There is risk involved in extending young talent, but the reward has such great potential that the risk is likely worth it for the Panthers.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Staying near the beach with our picks is the second favorite of the offseason — the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning made very few moves and still have not worked out new deals with Nikita Kucherov or Alex Killorn. Ben Bishop is on the roster despite Steve Yzerman wanting to trade him, and the Lighting had to buyout Matt Carle’s contract.
So why are the Lightning on this list? Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are going to wear Lightning blue and white for years to come.
Stamkos and Hedman both signed eight-year pacts to remain in Tampa Bay, giving the Lightning their clear #1 offensive weapon and clear #1 defensive weapon for the long haul.
They went into the offseason with few needs other than to retain their own talent, and Tampa Bay did that before anyone else could jump on the opportunity. Keeping Hedman, who is likely to be a perennial Norris contender, on board long-term will help the Lightning continue to progress as an organization as well.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are in jeopardy of ending their streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances after a rough offseason to date. Yes, the Red Wings were able to shed Pavel Datsyuk’s contract, but they weren’t able to turn the new-found cap space into any major help.
Detroit needed to replace Datsyuk on July 1, but instead signed 32-year-old Frans Nielsen to a six-year deal, a contract that will likely be regretted by the third year. Detroit handed annual underachiever Thomas Vanek $2.6 million to assist offensively, and signed two-point man Steve Ott on for a fourth line role.
The moves did not address Jimmy Howard’s horrific contract, the need for top line scoring, or the need for a top pair defenseman. There is still time left in the offseason, but if what has happened so far is any indication, the Red Wings are headed in the wrong direction.
The Red Wings may be headed in the wrong direction, but they can take solace in that they have a direction at all. The Ottawa Senators stayed pat on July 1, much like they have all offseason. Their signings have been of the AHL variety, and the headline-grabbing move was hiring Guy Boucher to coach a team that has seemingly no identity.
Ottawa has the Mike Hoffman contract to worry about in addition to depth concerns, the lack of NHL-able defensemen on the roster after Erik Karlsson, and an overall mediocre roster.
Letting one of the few possession drivers on the team in Patrick Wiercoch walk away without even a qualifying offer was a suspect decision — one of the few decisions the Senators have even bothered making this offseason.
With no direction and no splashes made, the Senators appear destined for further decline from their already poor performance in the 2015-16 season.