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The Calgary Flames seem destined to take part in an all-Canadian division this season, which could be as little as six weeks away.
With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to look at the best and worst moves each team made this off-season.
I recently looked at the best. Today, I’ll be focusing on the worst.
Move: signing Chris Tanev to a 4 x $4.5M deal
I thought Tanev was underrated for a long time. That’s no longer the case. His defensive game is objectively worsening by year and I don’t really expect that to change now that he’s on the wrong side of 30. He has a ton of hard miles on him, and it sure seems like his body is starting to break down. It’s an uphill battle.
I’m not suggesting Tanev is a useless player and won’t provide anything of worth to Calgary. That’s not the case. But he was never regarded for his offensive game. Defense has always been his calling card and, at this point, his defensive game doesn’t appear to be much more than average. Could he buck the trend and put together a good season? Sure. But I have a hard time believing he can put together *four* good seasons, and that’s what the Flames are paying him to do.
Move: Not upgrading in goal
The Oilers ranked 25th in team save percentage a season ago. Part of the reason, of course, was rather underwhelming defensive play. But they didn’t upgrade defensively at all – in-zone, Tyson Barrie is certainly worse than the injured Oscar Klefbom – so going with the same goaltending tandem, which includes 38-year-old Mike Smith, and expecting different results is probably not going to end well.
I expect the Oilers to pile up their share of wins – it is impossible not to with such a potent offense – but I think their decision to run it back with a subpar goaltending tandem will limit the ceiling of the team.
Move: signing Joel Edmundson to a 4 x $3.5M deal
Playoffs included, Edmundson has averaged 18 points per 82 games for his career. He really doesn’t bring much to the table offensively. That’d be perfectly acceptable if Edmundson was a stout defender but, despite the perception, that’s simply not the case.
Edmundson’s teams always seem to allow shots, chances, and expected goals at a higher rate with him on the ice than without; even when playing lower in the lineup.
Evolving-Hockey.com has Edmundson’s even-strength defense worth -2.2 GAR (Goals Above Replacement) over the last three seasons. That number drops to -3.3 GAR if we zoom out a little further and look at the last five years.
Call me crazy but I think five years of underwhelming defensive results is a long enough period of time to suggest Edmundson is not all he’s cracked up to be defensively. And, again, he isn’t going to put up many points or excel in transition.
I think the Habs bought fairly high on a glorified 3rd pairing defender.
Move: trading for Erik Gudbranson
The Senators need NHL bodies, want some veterans around the kids, had to reach the cap floor, etc, etc. I get the justification behind this type of move. But the Senators could have addressed some of those areas by acquiring somebody who is actually good at hockey.
Gudbranson ranks 421st among 453 eligible defensemen in GAR over the last five seasons. Some of his closest comparables include Nikita Zaitsev (sorry, Ottawa!), Anthony Bitetto, Dion Phaneuf and Adam McQuaid.
He brings nothing to the table in the offensive zone, and gets plenty of unwarranted credit for his play in the defensive zone. From 2017-20, his teams’ share of the goals has been nearly 10% lower with him on the ice. That differential is good for 229/235. Again, we’re looking at somebody who finds his home along the bottom of the barrel.
If the Senators’ goal is legitimately to tank, I like the move. Otherwise it is one they had no business making.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Move: signing Wayne Simmonds to a 1 x $1.5M deal
Simmonds was long one of the game’s best power forwards and he seems like one of the best people you’ll come across in the sport. It is easy to cheer for him.
Unfortunately, his best days appear to be well in the rearview. Simmonds was never a play driver or defensive specialist. He was a physical north-south scorer, and that scoring ability sure seems to be leaving. He doesn’t have the shot to beat goaltenders from a distance, and I don’t think his hands in tight are nearly as good as they used to be.
That really limits what he can bring to the table at this point in his career, as we saw when he left Philadelphia for Nashville; and again last season in New Jersey (and Buffalo).
He’ll provide some edge and leadership to a Toronto team that could use more of it, but I wouldn’t bet on much else.
I don’t really dislike this move – it is a cheap, one-year deal so there isn’t much risk – but I’m a fan of almost everything Kyle Dubas has done this off-season and needed to pick something. So, here we are.
Move: signing Braden Holtby to a 2 x $4.1M deal
Last season 54 netminders played at least 1,000 minutes at 5v5. Holtby ranked 49th in save percentage, and 50th in high-danger save percentage. The Capitals weren’t as good defensively as we have seen in recent years and Holtby just couldn’t hold up (unlike his partner in crime, Ilya Samsonov).
Naturally, this led the Canucks – who ranked 26th in Expected Goals Against/60 and 30th in Scoring Chances Against/60 – to make a two-year, $8.2 million commitment to Holtby.
Holtby is a young 31 so it is possible he rebounds to an extent. But his best days are clearly behind him, he just struggled behind an average defensive team, and now the Canucks expect him to come in and provide quality goaltending behind one of the worst defensive sides in the league. I don’t think that is happening.
What makes this signing worse is how many good goaltenders were up for grabs in free agency. Corey Crawford, for example, has posted a .917 save percentage or better in seven of the last eight seasons. He ranks 3rd among frequent starters in high-danger save percentage over the last three years. And he signed for less money ($3.9M) and the same term.
I just don’t see why a team that relies so heavily on their goaltenders elected to go with a guy coming off a terrible season; despite playing in a better environment than he’ll have in Vancouver.
Move: Not addressing the defense
I don’t really have a problem with any of the moves the Jets did make so I’ll focus on what they didn’t do. And what they didn’t do is upgrade a defense that desperately needed improvement.
The Jets ranked 29th in xGA/60 last season. Only Chicago and New York (Rangers) fared worse in that category.
So what did they do? Elected to run it back with the same group.
Outside of letting Dmitry Kulikov walk, and signing Derek Forbort, they’ve done nothing on the back end. Their top-3 of Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and Dylan DeMelo is not going to stack up favorably against the majority of teams in the league, and they don’t have the depth to make up for it. I mean, Forbort, Nathan Beaulieu and Luca Sbisa make up the cast of characters fighting for the LD2 spot. Not great!
If they enter the season as currently constructed, Connor Hellebuyck is going to have to provide Vezina-caliber goaltending again for the Jets to even sniff a playoff spot.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com and Evolving-Hockey.com
Examining the best move made by each Canadian team
Taking stock of an all-Canadian division
Grading the Flames’ off-season moves
Flames make another smart, low-risk gamble with Josh Leivo
Flames make smart gamble on Dominik Simon
Flames sign Andrew Mangiapane to two-year bridge deal
Flames make risky bet on Chris Tanev
Flames sign Jacob Markstrom to long-term deal