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The best moves made in the Atlantic Division

August 15, 2019, 8:17 PM ET [8 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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There's not much that hasn't been covered by HockeyBuzz this summer.

I mean, Ryan Wilson and Mike Augello are highlighting players I absolutely forgot existed or am still unsure exist. Jared McCann? Please. That's a MLB catcher. He played for the Braves. You're not fooling me, Gunner. And I'm almost certain the prospects Augello's been listing on his countdown are people he's invented to trick us into talking about the Maple Leafs AS ALWAYS.

But in the dog days of August, it's been a whole lotta just catching up on what you may have missed during the draft weekend and free agent frenzy.

Here are what I'd consider the best moves (and non-moves alike) made in the Atlantic Division.

BOSTON: Not trading Torey Krug for cap relief

The B’s are in a tight cap crunch, and it’s hard to find a perfect way out. But the one thing they will be happy they did not do, assuming this holds between now and Game 1, is trade Torey Krug.

Entering the final year of a four-year, $21 million contract signed in 2016, the Bruins are certainly nearing an obvious ‘decision time’ situation on the 28-year-old puck-mover. And it’s pretty obvious that Krug, who has hit the 50-point mark in all three seasons of that new deal, will be due a considerable raise from that $5.25 million cap hit he’ll skate with in 2019-20.

But the Bruins are 100 percent dug in on winning now, meaning Krug has too much value to move for futures and cap relief alone, and they also don’t have a Krug replacement waiting in the wings.

People are typically quick to point at Matt Grzelcyk as a possible Krug replacement. It makes sense if we look at heights and handedness -- both are 5-foot-9, left-shot D -- but if you watch the two play for… oh I don’t know… even 10 minutes, you’ll quickly realize that they’re completely different players. Despite his size, Grzelcyk is one of Boston’s better shutdown defensemen (the way he breaks up plays with his smarts and stick and seamless jumpstarts play the other way is fantastic), while Krug is their offensive playmaker supreme on the backend. Krug’s vision and ability to move the puck around in the offensive zone is the exact skill-set Bruins fans have screamed about needing for what feels like 12 years now. Grzelcyk really doesn’t have that offensive acumen, nor does he have as powerful a shot as Krug, making the idea of him simply sliding into Krug’s spot without a dropoff a total pipedream.

BUFFALO: Signing Marcus Johansson for no more than two years

A strong playoff run with the Bruins could have and should have made Johansson eight figures. But the market wasn’t what many thought it would be, and Johansson settled for a two-year, $9 million deal with the Sabres. In other words: Johansson’s misfortunate was Buffalo’s gain.

What you look about Johansson is his smooth skating, his ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and his versatility. Both the Devils and Bruins played him on the left and right side this past season, and on their first, second, and third lines. If Johansson can prove to be a fit with Jack Eichel, the Sabres may very well have found themselves a $4.5 million per year top-liner.

But Johansson also comes with a detailed injury history, having missed 79 games over the last two seasons due to injury. With Johansson set to enter his 30s, not locking yourself into more than two years of a player with that kind of track record is about as good as you can play it.

The best part is that the contract is extremely tradeable should the Sabres fail to that next step, as teams probably wouldn’t object to locking themselves into a year and a half (or half season in 2021) of Johansson at $4.5 million. There’s also the fact that Johansson has yielded a pretty solid return in both of his prior departures, netting the Capitals and a second and third-round pick from New Jersey in 2017, while the Devils nabbed a second and fourth-round selection from Boston in 2019.

DETROIT: Not trying to rebuild the Red Wings in one summer

I’m not going to sit here and try to hype up Detroit’s offseason; Valterri Filppula and Patrik Nemeth don’t move the needle that much, and neither does Adam Erne.

But you do have to like Steve Yzerman’s willingness to play the long game with the Red Wings. Missing the postseason in three straight seasons seems like doomsday for Detroit, but Yzerman has maintained that financial flexibility to rebuild the Wngs in upcoming summers.

It wouldn’t be the worst play for the Red Wings to maybe add a few capable veterans on affordable one-year deals with the intention of flipping them at the deadline and accumulating more assets (Detroit has five picks in the first 93 of the 2020 NHL Draft next year).

FLORIDA: Signing Brett Connolly to a four-year, $14 million deal

If you were looking for depth scoring this summer, Brett Connolly was absolutely your go-to guy.

I know how that may sound: In three years with the Capitals, and after the Bruins had no interest in keeping Connolly (even as an affordable pending restricted free agent), Connolly tallied 52 goals and 96 points in 217 games, including a career-best 22 goals, 24 assists, and 46 points last season.

It’s not exactly Rocket Richard material.

But when you look at Connolly’s usage and ice-time over that run in Washington, you’re honestly talking about one of hockey’s top complementary scorers.

Since 2016, Connolly’s 45 goals at five-on-five are actually the 62nd-most among qualifying forwards. But break it down by usage, and Connolly actually has the 11th-best goals per 60 minutes (1.13) among this group. The only names better than him here: Gallagher, Tarasenko, Ovechkin, Kucherov, van Riemsdyk, DeBrincat, Guentzel, Skinner, Arvidsson, and Matthews. Holy smokes.

MONTREAL: Finding a potential minute-eater behind Carey Price

Carey Price is the Montreal Canadiens. Nobody can convince us otherwise.

But Price, even at his gigantic salary, needs some rest if the Canadiens are going to go anywhere in this division. And though the Canadiens haven’t exactly drowned because of their backup goaltenders -- Montreal’s backups are 25-21-9 with a .907 save percentage since Claude Julien took over behind the bench -- having Keith Kinkaid, a goaltender with recent starter experience, is only going to help the Canadiens. (More than that fake-ass offer sheet for Aho ever could, at least.)

While last year seemed like an obvious step back for Kinkaid, there’s something to be said for his workload (he’s played in at least 41 games in back-to-back seasons), and there should be hope that Julien’s system can bring the best out of a goalie who went 34-23-6 with a .914 from 2016 to 2018.

OTTAWA: Not being a public dumpster fire.

It’s been a tough couple of years for the Senators.

From Eugene Melnyk’s, well, interesting personality and approach to an assistant GM’s off-ice misconduct to the cyber-bullying involving the loves of two of your top talents to players openly dumping on the coaching strategy in an Uber. It’s just been a complete nightmare. And for a team that was somehow just one goal away from the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. The good news, at least on the surface, is that the Senators haven’t been in the news this summer.

Celebrate what you can, Ottawa.

TAMPA BAY: Pawning the Ryan Callahan contract off on the Senators

The Lightning could have just stashed Ryan Callahan’s on the long-term injured reserve, but that money would not have been freed up until the first day of the regular season, which would have made getting Brayden Point (and adding Kevin Shattenkirk) a bit difficult for the Bolts. Dumping the final year of Callahan’s deal off on the Senators, and doing it for the low cost of swapping a fifth-round pick for a sixth-round pick, is absolutely worth it (and then some) for the Lightning.

TORONTO: Getting the Avalanche to agree to retaining half of Tyson Barrie’s 2019-20 salary

As you know, the Maple Leafs need every sliver of cap space they can find. And though replacing Nazem Kadri with Jason Spezza is not exactly the greatest plan in the world, there’s no way you can hate the return the Leafs got on the trade that sent Kadri to Colorado, and more specifically, the fact that they got the Avalanche to retain half of Tyson Barrie’s $5.5 million salary for 2019-20.

A right-shot defender, Barrie comes to Toronto after recording at least 53 points in three of his last five NHL seasons, and with a career-high 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) for the Avs a year ago. He also (likely) slides in as Mike Babcock’s de facto No. 1 defenseman on the right side, ahead of Cody Ceci (at least if they’re the Leafs are going to get the most out of him) and Justin Holl.

Now, this doesn’t get Mitch Marner re-signed, which is obviously the greatest challenge for Toronto, but getting a 50-point defenseman on your books for under $3 million certainly helps. And as for the future with Barrie, a pending UFA, in Toronto? The Leafs, like any team in a tight cap situation, are best to take it all year-by-year and worry about Barrie’s unrestricted free agency when it comes.

Which Atlantic Division team had the best offseason?
Tampa Bay

Ty Anderson is a writer, columnist, and weird personality for 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, and has also been part of the Boston Chapter of the PHWA since 2013. In addition to writing, Ty can occasionally be heard on the air at 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and seen and/or heard on the NHL Network every now and then. He will not give you his email, so yell at him on Twitter (@_TyAnderson).
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