Grading NHL teams’ summer rebuilds
- Checking in on six NHL teams in the midst of their rebuilds and grading their progress in the 2016 off-season.
While every team looks to improve during the NHL's offseason, finding the missing pieces is more critical for clubs in the midst of a rebuild.
We took a look at six teams that are at various stages of remodeling their rosters to see how much each has accomplished so far this summer.
After finishing 30th in goals-against last season, Brad Treliving brought in Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson to shore up his netminding. Both were solid additions who provide an immediate upgrade, although Elliott entering the final year of his deal without an extension yet is a bit of a concern. It's critical that the 31-year-old tend the fort long enough to allow top prospect Jon Gillies to mature into the No. 1 role. He also signed free agent Troy Brouwer. The veteran adds size and snarl to a timid top-six.
Treliving also did a nice job at the draft. Future top-six winger Matthew Tkachuk was an unanticipated windfall with the sixth pick and goaltender Tyler Parsons and center Dillon Dube were good values at 54 and 56, respectively.
The one concern: neither Sean Monahan nor Johnny Gaudreau have signed extensions. Both forwards will get done eventually—there's plenty of time—but it'd be nice to know where they'll slot to understand how their deals will impact the cap moving forward. Grade: B
The Sabres took a huge stride last season, advancing from 30th in 2014–15 to 23rd, setting the stage for what might be the final summer of their rebuild.
General Manager Tim Murray went all in to bolster his 25th-rated offense, signing top free agent Kyle Okposo to a massive seven-year, $42 million deal and trading for the negotiating rights to Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey. The latter might not pay off as Vesey has stated he plans to exercise his right to become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15—but if he signs it'll go down as one of the best deals in franchise history. Murray also may have struck gold with Alex Nylander. The eighth pick in the draft is a dynamic attacker who dazzled observers at the team's recently completed development camp. He's undersized and has work to do on his play away from the puck, but his finishing skills give him a chance to make the roster as soon as this fall.
The trade for Dmitry Kulikov addressed the need for a left-handed defenseman with a bit of sandpaper in his game, but that might not be the last addition to Buffalo's back end. If Murray can add another young, experienced blueliner via trade, this mark will improve. Grade: B
Still no word on a new arena, but the Coyotes have been busy enhancing other aspects of the organization this summer. The bold hiring of whiz kid John Chayka set a fresh new course. Whether he's up to the task remains to be seen. The early returns have been mixed, but there's an undeniably positive energy to the signing.
He quickly addressed the clear need for a top-four defenseman by trading for and then signing Alex Goligoski. At 30, he's more of a stopgap than part of the rebuild, but he'll stabilize the back end long enough to buy time for youngsters like Connor Murphy, Anthony DeAngelo, Dakota Mermis and Kyle Wood to develop.
The decision not to add similar talent up front might backfire, but it creates an opportunity for prospects Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak to step in and contribute. And don't overlook the one-year extension signed by Shane Doan. His importance to the rebuild as a role model in a room filled with young players can't be overstated.
Chayka and his staff deserve high marks for their draft performance, adding two significant pieces in center Clayton Keller and defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Defenseman Cam Dineen could be a steal from the third round.
Trading for Pavel Datysuk's cap hit and not landing a young prospect was a misstep, but that barely detracts from an otherwise strong summer. Grade: B
No one should be surprised that Ron Francis is quietly establishing himself as one of the most promising executives in the game. The Canes GM has cannily committed to building from the back end out, adding another solid piece this summer with top pick Jake Bean. There's not a deeper, more promising crop of young defensemen in the league.
Francis also picked up Julien Gauthier in the first round. The winger has size and high-end finishing skills and looks like a potential top-six fit not too far down the road.
He grabbed immediate help as well, using his cap space to pilfer Teuvo Teravainen from the Blackhawks. The skilled forward brings versatility and top-notch tools, and could thrive given more ice time in Carolina. Lee Stempniak is a nice veteran add to buy time for the development of Gauthier.
They're not a playoff team just yet, they still need to to acquire some scoring and goaltending, but they've taken steps in the right direction. Grade: B
Peter Chiarelli is a man of his word. The Oilers GM strode into the off-season promising core-shaking changes that would reset a failed rebuild.
Chiarelli made one of the summer's biggest moves, swapping cornerstone forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defender Adam Larsson. The move was wildly unpopular in Edmonton, but addressed a glaring need on the blueline. Larsson isn't the power play QB they needed, but he can eat minutes in a shutdown role.
The GM addressed the hole created by Hall's departure with the signing of free agent Milan Lucic and also took advantage of a fortunate drop at the draft to snag NHL-ready winger Jesse Puljujarvi. Both forwards could play top-six minutes this year. Second-rounder Tyler Benson could be a steal. He plays a smart, 200-foot game, but could be a few years off. Drake Caggiula could also see time in 2016–17, though likely in a depth role for now. A free agent signing out of North Dakota, he'll bring much needed speed and grit to the lineup. Grade: A-
Toronto Maple Leafs
No team had more to do this summer ... and no team got more done, starting with their problems in goal. One year after allowing 240 goals (25th in the league), the Leafs will dress Jennings Trophy winner Frederik Andersen as their starter. To be fair, there are questions he has to answer: Can he play 60 games? Can he thrive behind Toronto's young defense? His history in Anaheim suggests he's a clear upgrade over Jonathan Bernier. The backup spot has yet to be addressed (Jhonas Enroth could fit the bill), but the Leafs took a step in the right direction.
GM Lou Lamoriello addressed a shallow defense with by adding two pieces. KHL vet Nikita Zaitsev is a mobile, offensively gifted blueliner who could step onto the second pair. Roman Polak returns after his run to the Stanley Cup Final with San Jose to provide a veteran physical presence on the third pair.
But it's up front where the Leafs took the biggest stop forward. After drafting Auston Matthews, the Leafs have their future No. 1 center. The 18-year-old won't fill that role this season as he'll likely start on the third line behind Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak, but his ascension to the role is inevitable. Adding 2013 first rounder Kerby Rychel via trade with Columbus and both Yegor Korshikov and Carl Grundstrom in the second round of the 2016 draft brings a nice boost to the depth chart. that could pay dividends sooner than later. GRADE: A