Pacific Division Notebook: Early Off-Season Grades

Hockey News

The first wave of the off-season is over. Teams went to the draft and handled their business by selecting players and making trades. Qualifying offers and re-signs came after that, and finally free agency opened up on Sunday afternoon. Today, with all that behind us, we take some time to grade each team in the Pacific Division on the work they have done to this point.

While reading these grades, it is important to remember that things can and will change. I believe we will see a second wave of free agent signings within the next ten days, and that there will be trades completed between now and the start of training camps in September. I’m just grading what we have seen so far, knowing that the process might not be over yet for teams.

The Grading Scale:

Here’s how the teams will be graded during the exercise:

“A”: Team was flawless, absolutely improved the team and took on virtually no risk in doing so.
“B”: Team was above average, improving the roster but taking on some risk and losing some battles along the way.
“C”: Team was average.
“D”: Below average off-season to this point.
“F”: Wait…..really?

Vegas Golden Knights:

Vegas did not have a first round pick at last month’s entry draft, but they did select eight players in the process. Their top pick was Russian born forward Ivan Morozov, who they took 61st overall. It wasn’t the typical entry draft for a team after just their first season of play, and we likely won’t know much about this class for at least another year and a half.

In terms of free agency, the Golden Knights lost two top-six forwards and gain one. They saw David Perron and James Neal walk away, but did get center Paul Stastny inked to a three-year deal. Tomas Tatar, their big deadline pickup, should be able to fill one of the wing spots left by the Perron/Neal departures.

Grade: C – Vegas did well in getting Stastny signed to a three-year deal at a fair AAV. Losing Perron and Neal hurts, but they have an internal replacement ready to roll. They didn’t overpay for anyone, and I don’t think the roster has really taken a hit this summer. They could still use an upgrade on defense in my mind, however.

Anaheim Ducks:

It’s been an awfully quiet summer for a Ducks team with plenty of questions that need answering. Can Anaheim, with an aging core that looked over-matched in the playoffs, still compete for a Cup? Will Ryan Kesler even be able to play next season? These are question we still do not have an answer for just yet.

Anaheim signed veteran defender Luke Schenn and snagged forward Brian Gibbons, but other than that it’s just been AHL additions for the Ducks to this point. That’s good news for AHL San Diego, but doesn’t really do much other than provide a number three goaltender for the Ducks in Jared Coreau.

Grade: D – I do like Anaheim’s first round pick, Isac Lundestrom, but other than that it’s been a very quiet and ‘meh’ summer for the Ducks. They get a below average grade because, while just about everyone else in the Pacific has improved, they’ve just stood pat and gotten older.

San Jose Sharks:

Doug Wilson swung for the fences, and according to some came up just short of hitting a home run with John Tavares. That didn’t work, but the Sharks did get Joe Thornton signed to a one-year deal worth $5 million yesterday. They have plenty of cap room, and very well could be a player for Erik Karlsson should the Senators decide to move their franchise forward.

The Sharks made five picks at the draft, headlined by taking talented defender Ryan Merkley 22nd overall. They also got Tomas Hertl re-signed, and extended Logan Couture on an eight-year term.

Grade: C – Are the Sharks better than they were at season’s end? No, but they did get two core pieces in Couture and Hertl locked up. Thornton coming back is a nice touch, and if he can stay healthy he should be a factor for this club. Don’t forget, they also re-signed Evander Kane after a strong finish following his trade from Buffalo. The Sharks might not have added, but they certainly didn’t hurt themselves and are, in my mind, the class of the Pacific.

Los Angeles Kings:

Unpopular opinion time: I hate the Drew Doughty contract extension. Doughty, who is 28-years old, agreed to an eight-year deal that will pay him $11 million per season. He’ll be 36 when that contract ends, and likely a far worse player than he is today. There are already signs that Doughty is slowing down despite what some will tell you, and his style doesn’t help the aging process.

The Kings then proceeded to let Tobias Rieder walk while signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal. The 35-year old Russian will make $6.25 million in each season of his deal. That’s a lot of money invested in older players that simply do not have their best days in front of them.

Grade: D – Kovalchuk is a big name and he should be a good player this season for LA, but I don’t think he has a lot of gas in the tank. That contract could prove to be costly in a real hurry for LA. I don’t like the Doughty contract, and when you combine that with commitments to guys like Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar, you see the issue. Yes, that core is good now, but they are all older players with a lot of miles on their legs. There is a ton of risk here.

I don’t think the Kings really got better here, and they are awfully close to being in cap hell without a contending roster.

Calgary Flames:

Well, you can’t say they haven’t been interesting. I love Calgary’s signing of James Neal, but the five-year term is a little much for me. Sure, Neal has two good years in him for sure, but what about those final three seasons? Contrary to the popular opinion, I did not like their trade with Carolina. The Flames sent forward Michael Ferland and defenders Adam Fox and Dougie Hamilton to the Canes for RFA’s Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin.

Hamilton is undeniably the best player in the deal, and to me the forwards are pretty comparable. Add in a strong prospect (even with signing concerns) and you can see why this deal doesn’t make a lot of sense from Calgary’s perspective. I love the Austin Czarnik signing, but was overpaying for Derek Ryan really worth it? Bill Peters certainly seems to think so.

Grade: B – While I don’t like the Hamilton deal, I do think Neal, Ryan and Czarnik help the Flames in a big way for the upcoming season. Hanifin and Lindholm are not bad players at all, and both should be long-term fits in Southern Alberta. Calgary is a much deeper and more talented team, and likely will be playoff bound because of their moves this summer.

There is some risk here with some of the contracts they signed, but the team is better, there isn’t much doubt there.

Edmonton Oilers:

Peter Chiarelli had, in my opinion, his best June and July as Edmonton Oilers GM. Ironic, really, because he couldn’t do much due to his botching of the club’s salary cap. Edmonton signed two quality NHL depth players on the cheap in Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak, while addressing backup goaltender with Mikko Koskinen and seventh defender with Kevin Gravel.

The Oilers also didn’t shoot their brains out with a bad trade. Oscar Klefbom, Milan Lucic, Cam Talbot, Andrej Sekera and Zack Kassian all had down seasons last year, and I’m willing to wager that all of them will be better in 2018-19. Factor in a new coaching staff and a likely special teams rebound and you likely have a playoff team.

Oh, and getting Evan Bouchard at pick ten was a miracle. The club got a steal there.

Grade: C – I think the Oilers are better on paper, but only minimally. Their success, or failure, will be determined by the players on the roster. These guys were good enough in 2016-17, but failed miserably in 2017-18. What will it be this year guys?

Arizona Coyotes:

The Yotes did well in the Max Domi traded, getting a more talented player in Alex Galchenyuk in return. Out of the spotlight of Montreal, I think Gally is better set up for success and wouldn’t be shocked if he returned to his 30 goal ways this winter. Getting Oliver-Ekman Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson locked up was big for GM John Chayka, who also added a little scoring flare in the form of speedy forward Michael Grabner.

Although it was a surprise to hear his name called at the five spot, Barrett Hayton gives Arizona another high-end forward prospect in a system that is already pretty loaded at the AHL and junior level right now.

Grade: B – Arizona improved their roster via trade and free agency with very minimal risk. They re-signed two core pieces and kept their powder dry with the young kids. If they get steady goaltending next season, they could surprise some people.

Vancouver Canucks:

Seriously, does Jim Benning even have a plan? The ‘rebuilding’ Canucks invested heavily in bottom-six veteran Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel, giving each a four-year contract with a $3 million AAV. Tim Schaller got a two-year deal at just under $2 million per season in another puzzling signing.

The Sedin twins are gone, and Vancouver only has one top-line forward now as a result, Brock Boeser. The defense is still a mess, while the goaltending doesn’t look much better from here either. I’m just not sure what the Canucks are trying to do.

Grade: F – Seriously, what is the plan here? Vancouver paid heavily for role players when their issues are much further up the depth chart. Now they have saddled themselves with bad contracts to players that will likely be of little help when they are ready to compete again. If you are going to take on money, you might as well do it via trade and actually get a helpful asset. Vancouver lost big time in this free agency period.

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