We continue to get you ready for the 2021-22 NHL season by taking a look at some of the faces in new places, from veterans looking for a Stanley Cup, to the goaltender carousel, to some teams adding potential impact players, to the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens continuing their restricted free agency beef with another offer sheet. To keep up with all the NHL action this season, subscribe to ESPN+.
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This was probably one of the more shocking moves of the offseason, not only because the Vegas Golden Knights traded the face of their franchise and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, but because they literally gave him away for nothing. There was some concern that Fleury might retire instead of reporting to Chicago, but that did not happen. The question is if he can repeat that same level of performance from a year ago behind a worse defense and in his age 36 season. There is reason for optimism, but also some valid reason for skepticism. At some point, he will slow down, and his 2020-21 performance was a bit of an outlier from his recent seasons.
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The New Jersey Devils made what was perhaps the biggest free-agent signing of the summer when they snagged Hamilton away from the Carolina Hurricanes on a massive seven-year contract that pays him $63 million. Given some of the other contracts signed by defenders this offseason that is probably a team-friendly deal for the Devils. Hamilton is one of the best all-around defensemen in hockey and brings elite offense and possession skills to the Devils, while also being an underrated defender.
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Probably the most intriguing move of the offseason as the Hurricanes pulled off the extremely rare offer sheet. Restricted free-agent offer sheets almost never get signed, and when they do they are almost never successful. But the Hurricanes got Kotkaniemi on a one-year, $6 million deal by taking advantage of a cap-strapped team while also continuing their beef with the Canadiens going back to the unsuccessful Sebastian Aho offer sheet from two years ago. The question is going to be whether or not Kotkaniemi can take a big step forward in his development and make the $6 million price tag, as well as the first-and third-round draft pick compensation, all worth it.
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The Buffalo Sabres‘ latest rebuild is underway, and while Jack Eichel has yet to be traded, they did move another former No. 2 overall pick — and one of their top players — when they sent Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers. Reinhart is a significant addition for a Panthers team that is coming off its best season in franchise history and looks like a Stanley Cup contender entering this season.
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Jones did not want to re-sign with Columbus — a common trend among star players over the years — and was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks for Adam Boqvist and a package of draft picks. It might turn out to be a long-term win for the Blue Jackets given Boqvist’s potential, as well as the draft picks. But the real win for Columbus might be the fact they did not have to pay Jones $9.5 million per season over the next eight years. Jones’ play has dipped significantly in the past two years. Sign of things to come? Or a blip on the radar while playing for a struggling team? The Blackhawks better hope it is the latter.
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The Arizona Coyotes rebuild is in full swing and continued with the blockbuster trade of Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland, one of their top forwards, to the Vancouver Canucks. This is an interesting trade because the best part of the deal for Vancouver might not be the headliner (Ekman-Larsson) given his contract and how much his play has declined the past two years. It might actually be Garland and what he could help do for the forward depth, which has been severely lacking the past couple of years behind their young stars.
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The Blues made a couple of significant moves this offseason to bring in Saad as an unrestricted free agent from Colorado and Pavel Buchnevich in a trade from the New York Rangers. Saad never became a superstar, but he is a great possession driver that can score 20-25 goals while Buchnevich brings top-line talent to the Blues forward group. As long as Vladimir Tarasenko remains healthy and on the team, it should give the Blues a very formidable forward group.
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The Oilers’ big splash in free agency this offseason was to add Hyman on a seven-year contract from Toronto. This is one of those deals that might be a small upgrade in the short term but could quickly become an albatross in a couple of years. He is a fine player. But do you really want to sign a 30-year-old player that is not a superstar to a seven-year contract?
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It was not a shock to see the Minnesota Wild buy out the remainder of Zach Parise’s contract. It was a little bit of a shock to see them do the same with Ryan Suter’s matching contract, sabotaging their salary cap situation for the next few years. Once Suter became a free agent he signed a multi-year deal with the Dallas Stars where he should provide solid depth on an already strong defense that features Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. The Stars could be a sleeper team in the Western Conference this season.
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When the Wild bought out Parise’s contract it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would reunite with Lou Lamoriello, his former general manager from their New Jersey days, on Long Island. And he did, signing a one-year deal to add some scoring depth to a Stanley Cup contending lineup. Parise may not be a top-line player anymore but he can still contribute some offense in the right role, and the price is right for the Islanders getting him on a bargain one-year contract.
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Coleman was a key cog in Tampa Bay’s past two Stanley Cup championships, helping to form a dynamite third line alongside Barclay Goodrow and Yanni Gourde. All three exited Tampa Bay this offseason due to free agency, the salary cap, and the expansion draft. Coleman lands in Calgary on a long-term deal, getting a significant raise from his last deal that made him one of the biggest steals in the league against the cap. He will score 20 goals, drive possession, play with an edge, and defend quite well. He is the total package as a player and a strong pickup for the Flames, even if an expensive addition.
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The goalie carousel was in full swing this offseason with a lot of netminders changing teams. With Philipp Grubauer going to Seattle in free agency, the Avalanche had a big hole in net that needed to be filled. They addressed that by getting Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes for Connor Timmins and a first-round pick. Kuemper has been an underrated goalie the past couple of years and is going to be counted on to be the guy for a Stanley Cup contender. He is going to get a lot of help from what might be the best defense in the NHL.
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The Hurricanes had a sneaky good goaltending duo a year ago and decided to completely overhaul it by trading Alex Nedeljkovic (a Calder Trophy finalist) to Detroit and allowing Petr Mrazek to leave in free agency. They replaced them with the veteran duo of Raanta and Andersen. Three years ago this would have probably been the best goalie duo in the league. Today, given their ages and recent injury history it is a bit of a question mark. A question mark with a high upside. But still a question mark.
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The key for the Flyers this season will be Carter Hart having a bounce-back year in net. They are trying to help him get there by boosting the defense around him with a couple of significant additions and an overhauled blue line. They shipped Shayne Gostisbehere to Arizona in a salary cap clearing trade (getting nothing in return) and then added Ellis, Yandle, and Ristolainen. The Ellis trade is significant because he is a legitimate top-pairing defender, while Yandle brings good value and production in a sheltered role. The Ristolainen trade, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher. He has been one of the worst-performing defensive players in the league for quite some time now and they paid a steep price for him in a contract year.
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Chara is heading back to where it all started. Originally drafted by the New York Islanders and starting his career there, Chara is likely to finish his career on Long Island after signing a one-year deal with the Islanders. He is not a No. 1 defender anymore, but the Islanders do not need him to be with Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock patrolling the blue line for them.
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Another big move for the Flyers this offseason saw them send Jakub Voracek back to Columbus in exchange for Atkinson. Atkinson has been one of the more underrated and overlooked goal scorers in the NHL in recent seasons and could be poised for a big year on a Flyers team that could be a sneaky contender if a couple of things break right for them.
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How do you know the Panthers have taken a big step forward as Stanley Cup contenders? A future Hall of Famer in his 40s still looking for his first Stanley Cup signed a one-year deal with them in free agency. Players like Thornton do not make decisions like that unless they believe that team has a chance to win it all. The Panthers do. Which is a statement we probably do not get to say very often. He may not be a top-line MVP player anymore, but as a bottom-six center, he can still impact a game with his vision, intelligence, defense, and playmaking.
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The Kings are trying to speed up their rebuild by adding a couple of potential impact players at forward. Arvidsson was acquired in a trade with Nashville in exchange for a couple of draft picks, and he should be in line for a bounce-back year. The underlying numbers are still strong and he was crushed by an abnormally low shooting percentage in Nashville. If that rebounds that is a big addition. Danault, meanwhile, is one of the best defensive centers in hockey and should give the Kings some outstanding center depth with Anze Kopitar and rookie Quinton Byfield (when he returns from his ankle injury).
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The Canadiens lost a lot from their Stanley Cup Final roster, with Danault, Kotkaniemi, and Tomas Tatar (New Jersey) all moving on. They replaced them in part by acquiring Dvorak from Arizona and Hoffman as a free agent. Dvorak might actually be a short-term upgrade over Kotkaniemi at center given their current production, but the latter still has more upside. Hoffman has some weaknesses away from the puck but still has an elite shot that could give Montreal 25-30 goals and boost their power play.
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Tuukka Rask remains unsigned and nobody knows when or if he will re-sign with the Bruins. In the meantime, they signed Linus Ullmark to a long-term deal in free agency and have rookie Jeremy Swayman in the mix as well. Ullmark is almost certainly a downgrade from Rask, but he put up respectable numbers on some lousy Sabres teams. The change in scenery could be great for him personally, but it is a bit of an unknown for the Bruins.