NHL offseason transactions set up potentially thrilling 2018 year

The 2018 NHL offseason had a little bit of everything, with a draft loaded with future stardom, off-ice drama, blockbuster trades, marquee free agent signings and the retirement of a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

At the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, several names headlined the event as the field’s top prospects, including Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov and Brady Tkachuk. The Buffalo Sabres held the first overall selection and took Dahlin with their pick.

The young Swedish phenom defenseman was long projected to be the top player in the draft and Buffalo’s victory in the draft lottery guaranteed they'd have this generational talent. Svechnikov, a young dynamic Russian forward, was taken second overall by the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Montreal Canadiens followed up, with their selection of Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick. Other notable selections included Tkachuk going fourth to the Ottawa Senators, Filip Zadina going sixth to the Red Wings, Quinn Hughes going seventh to the Vancouver Canucks and Evan Bouchard going 10th to the Edmonton Oilers.

While the draft was headlined by future stars, the actual offseason put current stars in the spotlight.

Free agency did not officially begin until July 1 at 12 p.m. However, there was no shortage of notable signings leading to that much anticipated day.

The first big move was bringing back a former goal-scoring machine by the name of Ilya Kovalchuk. Rumors swirled around all year long that the Russian superstar was eyeing an NHL return after five years playing pro in Russia.

After spending the last five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League with SKA Saint Petersburg, Kovalchuk signed with the Los Angeles Kings for three years at $18.75 million. The Kings were not done making big signings, as they locked up their star defenseman, Drew Doughty, to an eight-year, $88 million contract extension.

The Washington Capitals also gave their star defenseman, John Carlson, an eight-year extension worth $64 million. The extension bonanza was not over, as the San Jose Sharks gave forward Logan Couture another eight-year one, also worth $64 million.

Additionally, a major trade was executed between the Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes. The Flames acquired forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin in exchange for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox.

These signings and trades led up to the big day, when big names and players began to switch teams and signed new extensions of their own.

The biggest headline was none other than the future location of John Tavares. The elite center and longtime New York Islander was the biggest name on the market and several suitors made convincing pitches. The Islanders, who just added new personnel with Lou Lamoriello as the general manager and Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz behind the bench, thought they had what it took to keep their star put.

But Tavares, after spending his first nine seasons on Long Island, decided to come home and sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A native of Mississauga, Ontario, Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with his hometown club. This immediately made the Leafs serious Stanley Cup contenders, while also having young pieces in place for the future.

What once was a laughingstock organization has turned into a stable, well-oiled machine that just landed the biggest fish in the pond. Pairing Tavares with second-year player Auston Matthews, makes the team arguably the most dangerous one-two punch at center.

Add in forwards Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, defenseman Nikita Zaitsev and goaltender Frederik Andersen and the city of Toronto has hope once again for a potential championship team.

The St. Louis Blues also made major roster changes, as they looked to improve on a disappointing 2017-2018 campaign in which they missed the playoffs. The Blues signed center Tyler Bozak and forward David Perron to add depth and scoring. But their most notable move came in the form of a blockbuster trade.

The Blues acquired center Ryan O’Reilly from the Sabres in exchange for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick.

Both teams came out of the deal winning, as the Blues got a high-scoring, reliable center and the Sabres got more assets for what looks to be a very bright future.

St. Louis also signed Patrick Maroon to a one-year deal, adding to the scoring. It was clear that the Blues were looking to get back on the contender map and they did just that with their transactions.

Several other teams made major roster improvements during the first weeks of free agency, including the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Flames, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights.

The Coyotes have seemed to turn the corner after being a perennial laughingstock. Their young core helped fuel a strong finish last season and that was followed up by some key signings this offseason. They re-signed their top defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year extension, while also re-signing fellow top defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

Arizona also acquired former 30-goal scorer Alex Galchenyuk from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for underachiever Max Domi and added speedy-scoring forward Michael Grabner on a low-risk, three-year deal for $10.05 million.

These pieces, along with young star Clayton Keller, goaltender Antti Raanta and center Derek Stepan have made Arizona a potential playoff contender.

The Flyers made a key signing, but it was a big one, as they brought back James van Riemsdyk on a five-year, $35 million deal. This is Riemsdyk’s second stint with Philadelphia, as he scored 36 goals last season for the Leafs and added major offense and depth to the team.

The Lightning have all the pieces for a championship contender and have locked up some key names long-term.

They re-signed defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward Jonathan Tanner, also known as J.T. Miller, to seven- and five-year extensions respectively, after acquiring them from the New York Rangers at last season’s trade deadline. Tampa Bay also gave their star forward Nikita Kucherov an eight-year, $76 million extension.

The Flames made some huge changes to their roster in addition to their big trade in June, as they added James Neal on a five-year, $28.75 million deal and Derek Ryan on an approximate three-year, $9.38 million deal for additional scoring.

They added James Neal on a five-year, $28.75 million deal and Derek Ryan on an approximate three-year, $9.38 million deal for additional scoring.

The Sabres, in addition to landing Dahlin in the draft and a major haul of assets for O’Reilly, made several improvements. They signed goaltender Carter Hutton to a three-year deal and acquired former 30-goal scorer and Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner from the Hurricanes for prospect Cliff Pu and three future draft picks.

The Bruins did not make any colossal moves and kept it simple, with the signings of goaltender Jaroslav Halák and defenseman John Moore to affordable contracts.

The Golden Knights, who surprised everyone with their magical run to the Stanley Cup finals last season, made some key transactions of their own. They re-signed goaltender Marc-André Fleury and forward Ryan Reaves, but both deals came with some risk.

Fleury is aging and a three-year, $21 million contract means that Vegas is relying on him to play his usual game. Reaves is a physical forward who adds good depth, and his two-year, $5.55 million contract seems less risky. But the Knights did add depth at center with the signing of Paul Stastny. This makes up for the loss of Neal and Perron, as Stastny is a top-tier center who is a potent offensive threat. Vegas also signed Nick Holden and extended Colin Miller to bolster the defense core.

Other teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks, Canucks, Rangers and Red Wings also headlined free agency. They re-signed current roster players, adding defensive depth, scoring, goaltending, championship experience and pieces for the future.

Amid all the trades and signings, the Senators’ star defenseman Erik Karlsson has remained with his club. It is unclear whether he will sign a long-term extension to stay in Canada’s capital or move on to a different team.

The Lightning were rumored to have a deal in place, but insufficient cap space forced Tampa to search for a third team to help facilitate the deal. Teams like the Rangers and New Jersey Devils were the top two of such teams, but they were not willing to take on the hefty contracts of players like Ryan Callahan and Tyler Johnson.

Karlsson has stayed loyal to his team and city, despite the near toxic environment surrounding the Senators. After losing in double-overtime of Game 7 in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa absolutely prolapsed the following season.

They were one of the worst teams in the league, and a major off-ice issue with teammate Mike Hoffman escalated the animosity.

The NHL also lost another recent legend to retirement in Jarome Iginla.

Iginla racked up an incredible career that included 1,554 games, 625 goals, 1,300 points, two Rocket Richard Trophies, an Art Ross Trophy, six All-Star Game selections and two Olympic gold medals representing Canada. He is the Flames’ all-time leader in goals, points and games played, and led Calgary to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, in which they fell just short to the Lightning in seven games.

SportsFelix MalamudComment