NHL Off-Season Report Card: Central Division
Boston Bruins – Grade: C
Notable Additions: Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes
Notable Subtractions: Dougie Hamilton, Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith
Thus far, the Boston Bruins have been one of the busiest, if not most controversial teams this off-season. In a few days, the Bruins, thanks largely in part to new GM Don Sweeney, made a number of highly debated trades and transactions which completely altered the composition of their roster. Out are Bruins regulars such as Hamilton, Lucic and Smith, while roster players coming to the team are Beleskey and Hayes. The direction of Sweeney and the Bruins has now become especially confusing, as after moving significant players in return for quality first round picks, Sweeney subsequently selected prospects slated to be drafted in the late first to mid second round. Are the Bruins heading towards a re-build, or simply a re-tool? Which ever the case, it will be an interesting 2015-16 season in Boston.
Buffalo Sabres – Grade: A-
Notable Additions: Ryan O”Reilly, Jamie McGinn, Robin Lehner, David Legwand
Notable Subtractions: Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Cody Hodgson
The Buffalo Sabres have enjoyed arguably the most successful off-season in the NHL. The Sabres acquired the highly coveted Ryan O’Reilly, as well as teammate Jamie McGinn from the Avalanche, as well as a potential legitimate starting goaltender in Robin Lehner. On top of this, second overall draft selection Jack Eichel signed a three year entry level contract, indicating his commitment to the Sabres this coming season. Further, a healthy Evander Kane will be ready for opening night, providing the Sabres with yet another elite offensive scoring threat. Resulting from these moves, the Sabres will no longer be an easy victory for opposing teams, as Buffalo could realistically make a playoff push in 2015-16.
Detroit Red Wings – Grade: B+
Notable Additions: Brad Richards, Mike Green
Notable Subtractions: Stephen Weiss, Erik Cole, Daniel Cleary, Marek Zidlicky
In Detroit, the 2015 NHL off-season has been slow in comparison to other teams, however as usual, the Red Wings have quietly made a number of extremely smart off ice decisions. Firstly, the Red Wings have allowed a number of players to become free agents, as those such as Cole and Zidlicky no longer play a significant purpose in Detroit. Those replacing them are Mike Green and Brad Richards. Green will provide an offensive threat from the blue-line, while Richards’ presence down the middle will provide the Red Wings with solid depth while allowing the teams prospects greater time to adequately develop. Not only will these additions strengthen Detroit’s power play, but they will also ensure yet another Stanley Cup Playoffs birth in 2015-16.
Florida Panthers – Grade: C+
Notable Additions: Reilly Smith
Notable Subtractions: Jimmy Hayes, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky
The Florida Panthers have been one of the NHL’s quietest teams this off-season, having only made one significant splash in acquiring Reilly Smith for the Boston Bruins. Otherwise, the Panthers have simply been deciding who won’t play for their team next season. Upshall, Kopecky and Dan Ellis are leaving town as free agents, while Rob Flick enters on a one year contract. The Panthers however are in need of a backup goaltender after the departure of Ellis, so it would appear the Panthers still have work to do before next season.
Montreal Canadiens – Grade: B
Notable Additions: Zack Kassian
Notable Subtractions: Brandon Prust, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra
Similar to the Florida Panthers, the Montreal Canadiens have been relatively quiet this off-season. Zack Kassian was acquired from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Prust, Jeff Petry signed a six year contract extension, while Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn also signed multi-year contract with the Habs. On the other hand, familiar faces are leaving Montreal have not been offered contracts. Mike Weaver and Bryan Allen become free agents, while veterans Sergei Gonchar and Manny Malhotra leave in search of new homes. That being said, the Canadiens really weren’t in a situation in which they needed to make a number of moves. Essentially, the Montreal roster will remain the same, and justifiably so considering they made yet another deep Stanley Cup run this past season.
Ottawa Senators – Grade: B-
Notable Additions: Matt O’Connor
Notable Subtractions: Erik Condra
Despite a quiet off-season in terms of trades and free agent signings, the Senators have made a number of key re-signings which will help to secure their core of young players for the considerable future. Fan favourite Andrew Hammond signed a three year extension, Mark Stone signed a three year extension and Mika Zibanejad signed a two year extension, solidifying key elements of their roster for the next few seasons. The Senators did lose Erik Condra, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent, yet otherwise, the Senators’ roster will essentially the same come next season barring any unexpected moves.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Grade: B
Notable Additions: Erik Condra
Notable Subtractions: Brenden Morrow
For a team as skilled and successful as the Tampa Bay Lightning, a quiet off-season is completely acceptable. Loaded with young, high end talent, the Lightning could have made no changes to their roster this off-season and entered the 2015-16 season with as good a chance as any to hoist the Stanley Cup. As previously mentioned, the Lightning added depth forward Erik Condra via free agency to replace the recently departed Brenden Morrow, while they also inked imposing defender Andrej Sustr to two year contract extension.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Grade: B+
Notable Additions: Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, Shawn Matthias, Daniel Winnik, P.A Parenteau
Notable Subtractions: Phil Kessel, Trevor Smith, Brandon Kozun, David Booth
The 2015 off-season has been a time of significant change for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Committed to a long term rebuild, the Leafs, after selecting Mitch Marner with the fourth overall selection in the draft, continued to add players of tremendous skill yet smaller stature. In the massive, yet not entirely surprising departure of Phil Kessel, the Leafs added top prospects in Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington. In the free agent market, the Leafs then signed a number of depth forwards to short term contracts; players who will presumably be traded at the trade deadline for even more draft picks. However, other than Phil Kessel, the Leafs did not lose many players of importance this off-season, as the likes of Trevor Smith and Brandon Kozun head to Europe, while others such as David Booth, Zach Sill and Eric Brewer have since become free agents. All in all, the 2015 Leafs off-season should be seen as a success, especially so since the team and its fans won’t being seeing much of it in the considerable future.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.