NHL offseason capped off by blockbuster trades, off-ice drama

The regular season could not be any closer, as there are just two weeks left before the puck officially drops on the 2018-2019 season. But there is still an entire preseason to be played, along with the conclusion of training camp.

At this point, it appeared that all of the major offseason moves were made and the scope of the league was set. But things took a sharp left turn, as two blockbuster deals involving two Eastern Canadian team captains made all the headlines. These trades overshadowed other notable news around the league, specifically the retirement of another legend, a major extension for a bona fide superstar and a rare and unpleasant off-ice incident.

The major storylines, of course, surrounded Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. Both players were captains of their respective teams and key names when it came to trade speculation. Pacioretty and Karlsson were in rather similar situations. Their teams were in shambles; core players were gone and uncertainty among the organizations’ front offices and the team’s direction in the future made for a very tough

Both players were potential trade chips at last season’s deadline, but no deal for either of them materialized. The big question on everyone’s mind was which team these two captains would play for in this upcoming season. That question was answered this past week, as the two stars of their respective hockey clubs will indeed be
wearing different uniforms next season.

Everyone is aware that the Western Conference is absolutely loaded with Stanley Cup-contending teams. But with two pulls of the trigger, the Wild West got even wilder.

On Sept. 9, the Canadiens said farewell to their captain, as they traded Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Tomás Tatar, highly touted prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick. This is a deal that appears to define both teams’ objectives.

The Knights got a player that came off the worst season in his career, with just 17 goals and 37 points in 64 games, but recorded over 30 goals in the prior four seasons. Pacioretty, drafted by Montreal in the first round in 2007, served as captain of the Canadiens since 2015 and recorded 226 goals, 222 assists and 448 points in 626 games since making his debut in the 2008-2009 season. He is entering the final year of his contract and carries a low-risk, $4.5 million cap hit given his outstanding production.

Vegas immediately fixed this issue by signing Pacioretty to a four-year, $28 million extension the day after acquiring him. Rumors were flying that the Los Angeles Kings had a deal in place for the 29-year-old left winger during last year’s trade deadline.

However, that deal fell through after the two parties could not agree on a contract extension. Pacioretty is joining a team that reached the Stanley Cup finals in its inaugural season. The Knights are out to prove that last season was no fluke, as they hauled in some huge pieces this offseason, specifically Pacioretty and top-tier center Paul Stastny from the Winnipeg Jets.

As for the Canadiens, it is clear that the team is in a state of rebuilding. The core pieces of Montreal’s successful years during this decade, including Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Lars Eller, Alexander Radulov and Alex Galchenyuk, are all playing elsewhere.

However, the team still owes major amounts of money to defenseman Shea Weber and goaltender Carey Price. Those contracts are looking like a giant regret, as Weber could not stay healthy, highlighted by his offseason knee surgery that will keep him out for the first few months of the regular season, and Price has declined in goal-scoring. To put this into perspective, Price’s eight-year, $84 million contract extension kicks off this upcoming season. In regard to the assets they received for Pacioretty, Tatar has 228 points in 427 games with the Detroit Red Wings and Golden Knights, but underperformed during his short time in Vegas. Suzuki was Vegas’ first-round pick in 2017 and recorded 100 points in 64 games last season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack.

Karlsson’s situation was far more intriguing. Everyone was eager to know where the two-time Norris Trophy winner and long-time Senators captain will play next season. Several teams expressed deep interest during last season’s trade deadline. The Golden Knights could not complete a potential deal at the deadline, and Karlsson remained in Ottawa. Karlsson’s camp reportedly rejected an eight-year, $80 million extension from the Senators, as they felt he was being undervalued for his status among the league’s defensemen.

This offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars made efforts to put a deal together and acquire the elite blue-liner. But it was an unlikely candidate that swooped in and ended the suspense. The San Jose Sharks, who are among the top teams in the West, had all the assets necessary to lure the Senators’ general manager Pierre Dorion into trading Karlsson and were not going to pass up on the opportunity. After a summer’s worth of breathless speculation, the Karlsson trade watch finally reached its conclusion.

On Sept. 13, the Senators traded Karlsson, along with Francis Perron, to the Sharks in exchange for forwards Chris Tierney, Josh Norris and Rudolfs Balcers, defenseman Dylan DeMelo, a conditional 2019 second-round pick, a conditional 2020 first-round pick and a conditional 2021 second-round pick, respectively.

The Dallas Sharks are out to make a statement that they are serious contenders for the Stanley Cup. Karlsson pairs up with fellow Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns and adds to an absolutely loaded core led by Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Tomás Hertl and Marc-Édouard Vlasic.

Karlsson, who has led NHL defensemen in scoring during four of the last eight seasons and has finished first or second in Norris Trophy voting four times — winning in 2012 and 2015 — led the Senators to an incredible 2017 playoff run that saw his team pull within a game of the Stanley Cup final.

Last season, however, Karlsson took months to recover from an offseason ankle surgery that limited him to 71 games, his lowest total in five years. He still recorded 62 points, a terrific number for a defenseman. As loyal as Karlsson was to the Senators organization and the city of Ottawa, he had to be dealt, given the direction the Senators were going in. In less than a year, the Senators went from being one win away from the finals in 2017 to an absolute dumpster fire the following year.

The Senators were patient in dealing Karlsson, as they wanted to receive as much in return as possible for him. They did just that, and Ottawa acquired young and talented prospects, experienced young players and high draft picks that could end up being better than their current value, given certain circumstances.

However, Ottawa still has Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan and Matt Duchene on the roster at very high-risk cap hits. Ryan was targeted as the so-called “throw-in” in a Karlsson deal, but his $7.25 million cap hit halted any chance of that happening. Duchene drastically underperformed last season, after being acquired by Ottawa. Senators fans will be dealing with a very ugly situation for the coming years, but do have the necessary pieces for a bright future.

Among these two blockbuster deals, other activity around the league made serious headlines.

The Stars ended their potential fiasco with star forward Tyler Seguin. After rumors that he would be traded before his contract expires, Dallas re-signed Seguin to an eight-year, $78.8 million extension. With this deal inked in place, the Stars keep their two best offensive producers in Seguin and captain Jamie Benn.

On a more off-ice and unpleasant note, Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson was handed down a hefty suspension by the NHL for the entire preseason and the first 27 regular-season games as a result of a domestic assault incident in July.

Watson pleaded no contest to a domestic assault charge in July, receiving probation. He also must complete 26 weeks of a batterer intervention course. The NHL Players’ Association will reportedly appeal this suspension.

The NHL is the only one of the four major North American sports leagues that doesn’t have a domestic violence policy. Instead, the NHL assesses incidents on a case-by-case basis.

The collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players allows the NHL to suspend players who are under criminal investigation.

The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames kicked off the preseason in the league’s China Games initiative in Shenzhen, furthering the NHL’s goal to expand globally. Boston won 4-3 in a shootout.

Capping off the major headlines is the retirement of longtime Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. After dealing with a degenerative back condition and other injuries, Zetterberg called it a career after 15 seasons with Detroit.

The Swedish star accumulated 337 goals, 623 assists and 960 points in 1,082 games for the Original Six club and led them to a Stanley Cup in 2008 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s most valuable player.

Due to the fact that Zetterberg has three years remaining on his contract, he is not officially retired, but he has made it official that his hockey career is over.

October 3, 2018

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Felix Malamud

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