Free agency 2018: winners, losers, and the Ottawa Senators

A month into the NHL offseason, clear groups of winners and losers have emerged. It's been wild so far, with Tavares heading to Toronto, Kovalchuck shipping over to L.A., and Karlsson probably leaving Ottawa for who knows where (aka Trump's golf course in Scotland). Some teams are pulling themselves out of the basement of the NHL and turning their franchises around while others are trying to shoot themselves in the foot only to have the bullet miss and ricochet directly into their temple. 

Because we always like to end on a high note, let's take a look at some of the teams who can't wait for football to start in the fall.

1. The Ottawa Senators

My goodness. I mean from a Senators fan's perspective, it can't possibly get any worse right? Every single thing Ottawa has done since the solstice has completely backfired. The whole Mike Hoffman debacle seems like ages ago. The Sens sent him thousands of miles out west only to have him end up back in the division the same day.

That was a pretty bad start to begin with, but Ottawa sent their best forward packing for the sole purpose of keeping their captain Erik Karlsson on the team. And how has that turned out for them?

Aaaaaand they lost him. For about a minute the Golden Knights seemed like Karlsson's new home. It was out of the division, the Knights had a lot of young talent to offer the Sens, everything seemed ideal. Aaaaaaand then those rumors went quiet.

But wait!

That's it! Dallas! It's like Vegas but not full of sand and young hockey prospects who can help rebuild a cascading franchise! All the Senators need to do is package Bobby Ryan's garbage contract into it and then everyone wins!

Oh wait that's right the Stars have a capable front office and half a brain. If you're Dallas there's no need to sign Bobby Ryan when you already have Jamie Benn signed to $9.5 million and have Faska and Shore to back him up on the left wing. 

After the Stars deal fell through, Karlsson to Tampa seemed like the only logical thing left on the table. It seemed so logical that Twitter assumed a deal had been done before the Senator's front office inevitably bungled it.

That about sold it for everyone reading the Erik Karlsson twitter feed. The Lightning were about to rename themselves the Tampa Bay Warriors. As you could have predicted, Karlsson ain't in Florida a week after being "confirmed" traded to the Lightning.

The Lightning and Senators continued to talk over the next few days, only to end with nothing and for Ottawa to go crawling back to the Lonestar State.

Who the hell knows where this guy is ending up at this point? Tampa? Dallas? Moscow? They all seem equally likely. Who could've predicted that the organization who was one goal away from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance only to flush all that hope and talent down the St. Lawrence is continuing to spiral out of control. Just pack up and move to Quebec or Hamilton so we don't have to watch this anymore.

At least they got Brady Tkachuck. That can't end badly ...

2. The New York Islanders

Though the Islanders offseason has been tragic, at least it's not as bad as Ottawa's. Obviously the biggest story for the Islander's so far was Tavares leaving for Toronto. Never a good sign that you're star captain leaves the team to be a townie. 

Not only was Tavares signing with Toronto devastating, but it was made 100x worse by the Islanders doing everything in their power to keep him. To be fair, everything meant signing Barry Trotz for a ridiculous amount of money and hiring Lou Lamoriello all within the past couple of months when they had over a year to resign him, but at least they showed him he was wanted. 

Masked by the Tavares signing was the departure of goalie Jaroslav Halak and center Chris Wagner to the Bruins (love it). The Islanders are essentially going all in on Barzal, which isn't necessarily a bad idea, but like Tavares, there isn't a team to surround him with. Barzal was supposed to be part of the supporting cast to Tavares, not the front-and-center guy. 

Since New York never got to use their $14 million in cap space to pay Tavares and lost the opportunity to sign some players at the start of free agency, they're left restructuring contracts and signing guys like Ross Johnston and Leo Komarov to long term deals. The Islanders right now are a team half built for Tavares and half built for a bunch of guys to share equal roles. That's a recipe for disaster.

3. The San Jose Sharks

Before you say "whoa whoa whoa, the SHARKS???? They're still the 2nd best team in the Pacific! They've got Evander Kane! Logan Couture! Marc Edouard Vlasic! All signed for the long term! How could they possibly be losers?" The reason why they're on this list is because they failed in signing the big name guy they tried so hard to get. It seemed like either Kovalchuck or Tavares was destined for the Bay Area, but both fell through. Could they land Karlsson? Anything is possible right now, but they sure don't need him and sure don't seem to be in the mix for him. 

The Sharks are still going to make the playoffs this year. Will they make the Finals? Maybe. Will they win a Cup? No. Not with their current roster. Without that big name star they freed up so much cap space for, they'll still remain a team who gets knocked out early in the playoffs.

So much money and nothing to spend it on. Sad!

Honorable Mention: The Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens

They've been a trainwreck for years. Now they've lost the Sedin Twins and replaced them with ... Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. Goodness gracious the Bruins actually killed their franchise. That's what you get for rioting and destroying your city after you lose the Cup Final.

I'll also throw in the Canadiens just for the hell of it. They suck. It's fantastic.

Now let's get into some winners. It's pretty obvious who's up first...

1. The Toronto Maple Leafs

Yeah not too difficult to see that one coming. John Tavares. That basically does it.

Live look at Nassau County...

So much depth. So much talent. The Leafs are the clear front runners for first place in the Atlantic and probably first overall in the Eastern conference. When Nazem Kadri is your 3rd liner and you have to make a decision between Auston Matthews and John Tavares for first and second, you know you've got a hell of a chance to win the Cup.

Remember when the Leafs were as bad as the Sabres? That was fun.

2. The Calgary Flames

Here's one you didn't expect. Calgary actually making moves which benefit their roster and turn their team into threat rather than a guaranteed wild card seed in the playoffs. Calgary stockpiled up on future picks, mostly taking them away from the Islanders. While their draft wasn't noteworthy, what did turn heads was the signing of James Neal from Vegas. Huge pick, and a good one too. They'll have a fantastic first/second line with him on either one.

Earlier this summer, the Flames acquired Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm from Carolina while sending away Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland, as well as a prospect. Both teams improve with this trade, but the Flames get noticeably better. The Flames desperately needed to improve offensively, which adding Lindholm and Neal both accomplish. Defensively, Hanifin locks down the left side of the ice. Since the Pacific is unbalanced, yet overall improving, I can see the Flames firmly sealing the third spot in the division, possibly fighting the Sharks for the 2nd seed. 

3. The Arizona Coyotes

Here. They. Come.

Will it be this year that they make the playoffs? Probably not, but the Avalanche snuck in with less likely chances so anything is possible.

So what did the Coyotes do? The biggest move they made was trading Max Domi to the Canadiens in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk is an upgrade from Domi. He's a goal scorer which is what Arizona has needed for a long, long time. They were able to keep Ekman-Larsson for eight years and have enough talented prospects to make up a junior hockey team. The Coyotes aren't competitors... yet. They're in the winners category just because their off-season has been so good in terms of rebuilding and locking down the only guys who have actually helped the team win games. Expect in 2019-2020 the Coyotes make a push for the playoffs.

Honorable Mentions: Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres

The Flyers signed JVR for five years. They don't have any stand out lines, but all around, they can attack you with all four and produce results. They were a playoff team barely this year, but have a chance to make a push with the Penguins bottoming out.

The situation in Buffalo could only get better. Their offense still heavily relies on Jack Eichel, but their defense improved substantially with the addition of Rasmus Dahlin in the draft. The Sabres also signed Carter Hutton who had been a reliable goalie for the Blues in his two year tenure with St. Louis. The Sabres won't make the playoffs this year, but they'll for sure not be in last place in the Atlantic. Ottawa has that locked up for the foreseeable future.

 

And no! I will NOT put the Kings on the winners board. They're too old and have all their old guys locked up for three years. They may be an improved team this year but they'll be the new Vancouver as early as 2019.

Can't wait till the season starts and all the teams I mentioned above do the exact opposite of how I'm predicting they'll do. Congrats to the New York Islanders for winning the Stanley Cup next year I guess.

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