You might have noticed there weren't a ton of big-name free agents out there on July 1 this year. Yes, there have been a few big names that have moved around, but we haven't seen any Zach Parises or Ryan Suters getting big contracts either, and that's a sign that teams have learned to lock down their young stars early. Instead, we've seen a number of big trades. Teams have learned more and more not to let valuable pieces leave for nothing or to get something for the players they can't sign long term.
Here are some of the big moves of this offseason that I think will have an impact on the 2015-16 NHL season.
I thought Brandon Saad was, arguably, one of the Chicago Blackhawks' three best players during their championship run this spring. Prior to July 1, all of the talk coming out of Saad's camp and from Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, was that making Saad a long-term Blackhawk was a top priority. Somehow it didn't happen.
I think everybody was surprised to see Saad get traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Because of Saad's age, skill and experience in the Chicago organization, it looked like he was pretty untouchable, but I think this simply looks like a case of the numbers just not being met from both sides. Chicago must have done everything it possibly could have to try and make the numbers work, but in the salary-cap era, it's tough to squeeze a player into a loaded cap and it's tough to ask someone to take a hometown discount that's too significant. The Blackhawks must have just not been able to make enough room to keep Saad in their sweater.
Saad still is in a great situation, though. The Blue Jackets struggled for most of last season because of a significant run of injuries, but with the way they finished the season, it's clear to me that this is a Stanley Cup Playoff-caliber team. If the Blue Jackets can stay healthy, get great goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and then adds Saad to the mix, well, I think you can already pencil them in for the top eight in the Eastern Conference next spring.
Phil Kessel's trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Toronto Maple Leafs serves needs for both teams, but there's a few things I can't figure out. Yes, Kessel was a 35-goal scorer on a bad team, though he had a down year last season with only 25. Now he's going to play for a really skilled team, which should mean at least 40 goals this season, but who is going to play defense?
Pittsburgh was bad defensively last season and then lost Paul Martin, who was arguably their best defenseman, to the San Jose Sharks in free agency. Kris Letang is always a question mark health wise and there aren't many other options to count on. When you look at who made deep playoff runs last season, all of those teams have a strong defense in common. Players like Victor Hedman or Duncan Keith had a big impact. The New York Rangers had one of the deepest defense corps in the League and reached the Eastern Conference Final.
Pittsburgh still doesn't have that. Even with Kessel, I don't see how they're going to be a powerhouse in the East with a thin back end.
In Toronto's case, it's great that the Maple Leafs are out from under such a big contract and now they have some flexibility, but who is going to score? Are they counting on Nazem Kadri for 35 goals after re-signing him? The Maple Leafs didn't score very much and now they're without their big offensive weapon. I know they want to change their makeup, but 35 goals a year is hard to find.
GREEN GROWS HIS WINGS
Mike Green is a polarizing player for many people, but I think signing him was a smart move by the Detroit Red Wings. The knock on Green is that even though he is great offensively, his defense suffers. Well, I think he played a lot better defensively last season and I think he showed that if he commits to defense he can be an adequate defensive player on the ice rather than a liability.
What might be more important, though, is that Green will make the Red Wings' power play better. That's the one thing they didn't have last season: an elite power-play defenseman. Green is someone that can carry the puck out of the zone, walk the line, dish the puck and make that smart first pass. Detroit has never had that. Now it does.
Green can be criticized for his defensive play, and it's true that he probably won't be put up against other teams' top lines, but he's a very unique player. You saw in the playoffs how important a power play is. A good one can win you rounds because play is so much tighter and goals are so hard to come by. Green brings an element to Detroit's power play that it hasn't had, and though his defensive impact might be minimal, he's still someone opponents will have to watch and game plan for. I think when it's all said and done, Detroit will look smart for bringing him in.