Unusual season, unusual playoffs (or play-ins), the COVID Cup, and definitely a very unusual off-season. Teams across the NHL have to deal with a new reality, one that has seen NHL revenues crash to almost nothing. The effect on everyone is enormous. Teams and league laying off staff. A salary cap originally predicted to be around the $88 million mark had General Managers planning their signatures. With it staying at $81.5 million for the foreseeable future, players in search of contracts are squeezed into lesser deals. Some, too greedy to start with, find themselves without a job. GMs try to unload salary to be cap compliant, instead of adding to it as they were planning. And they have to do all of that while thinking of the upcoming Expansion Draft next summer.
However, every NHL team is in the same boat. All but one, the Vegas Golden Knights, for whom the NHL has given every tool to succeed. They don’t have to submit a protection list as the Seattle Krakens cannot pick one from their team. Just add that one to the pile of questionable decisions made by the NHL under Gary Bettman.
Adding the players in and out of each team for the entire NHL, some of the decisions made by each GM, would be a lot of work. Since I’m not getting paid for this, but because I do it out of passion, let’s just focus on the Atlantic Division. Let’s look at what the GMs have done so far, in mid-October, in preparation for, hopefully, the 2020-21 season. Although it looks like we will have to call it the 2021 season as no more games will be played in 2020.
I feel like I have to put a disclaimer as I don’t know each team’s prospects, I went by what I could find. So if you’re a fan of one of those teams, I apologize in advance as some names are likely on the list and shouldn’t be, or vice versa. Further, I have added the pending UFAs as “out”, but some of them might still re-sign with them.
Here’s what the picture looks like for each of the Atlantic Division’s teams:
With this rough and incomplete picture, which team(s) do you feel is the most improved? Which ones have regressed? Is the Atlantic getting tighter, closing the gap between the bottom teams from 2019-20 to now? It sure seems like it, doesn’t it?
The team at the very top, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are the most negatively affected. Those moves don’t necessarily reflect on the work done by Julien BriseBois, but rather on the tough decisions he’s had to made to be cap compliant after winning the Stanley Cup. The loss of Torey Krug in Boston is monumental. A top-pairing defenseman not replaced is very difficult to overcome, and their core is aging. It seems like Toronto, Florida, Buffalo and Ottawa moved laterally for the most part, while Detroit has slightly improved. This is not hard to do you will say when the team was more than 20 points behind the next team in the standings!
When I look at this, even trying to remain unbiased, the biggest improvements were done by Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens. The only substantial piece they have lost is Max Domi, which should be compensated (and more) by the arrival of the man he was traded for, Josh Anderson. Then, you replace Keith Kinkaid by Jake Allen. You add Joel Edmundson to your defense without losing anyone. You replace Nick Cousins by Tyler Toffoli. They lose Nate Thompson and Dale Weise, although they have Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and Lukas Vejdemo ready to make a push.
Yes, the Canadiens are, in my humble opinion, the most improved team in the Atlantic Division. I’m pretty sure that if we did the same exercise with all Divisions, with each and every team, the Habs would be amongst the most improved teams in the entire NHL. That’s speaks directly to the work of Bergevin and to the fact that team owner and President Geoff Molson made the right decision in keeping is hockey man in place when he easily could have fired him. Go Habs Go!