Free agency has been open for one week and already things have begun to slow down. There are still some intriguing players on the board like Tomas Tatar and Kyle Palmieri and some big names left to be traded (cough, Jack Eichel, cough), but for now we already have a pretty good idea of where teams will be at for next season. While there will still be more player movement to come, now feels like a good time to analyze which teams improved the most based on their offseason moves.
There are other variables that will decide how much better or worse a team is next season — team-wide regression, differing usage, breakouts, declines, lineups, rookies, luck, coaching — but this should still provide a solid framework for how much each team has changed on paper. For better or worse.
That’s what we’ll be looking at here as we measure how many wins a team added or subtracted from their roster to date based on their current lineup, while also paying attention to how much salary has been added or subtracted (though that figure will only take into account the players who were brought in or taken out, nothing else). As usual, value is determined using my model, Game Score Value Added.
Here’s how much each team has changed this offseason, from highest value added to most value subtracted.
1. New Jersey Devils
Wins Added: 4.3 wins
Salary Added: $9.9 million
In: Dougie Hamilton, Jonathan Bernier, Ryan Graves
Out: Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Nathan Bastian, Aaron Dell
The Devils are perennially at or near the top of this list every offseason and for each of the last two years, it hasn’t really mattered. Last year they were stuck in an extremely difficult division so they have some excuse for not improving further, but there shouldn’t be one this time around. This time, they need to take an actual legitimate step forward.
When a team pries the best player off the market and spends $9 million per year to do so, they better. The Devils added Dougie Hamilton, an elite No. 1 defenceman who finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting last season, in free agency and that’s a big deal. This isn’t like when they added an injured P.K. Subban hoping for a bounce-back; Hamilton is at the top of his game. New Jersey has long been missing a true No. 1 defender and in Hamilton the team finally has it. Elsewhere on defence, the team also added Ryan Graves, hoping this Ryan actually pans out on the back end unlike Ryan Murray the year before. Graves should be an upgrade too, but Hamilton is obviously the story here.
The Devils also upgraded in net with Jonathan Bernier and that’s the other major difference from last season: Bernier should be the veteran who can steal starts and push Mackenzie Blackwood – like they thought Corey Crawford would be. Crawford was the main reason the Devils showed up so high on this list last year and him retiring instead obviously put a wrinkle into things.
Not this time, as the Devils shored up two big areas of need and should be over four wins better while not adding too much extra salary, relatively speaking. With a little more forward depth, they could be a playoff threat.
2. Edmonton Oilers
Wins Added: 3.8 wins
Salary Added: $8.2 million
In: Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, Cody Ceci, Duncan Keith
Out: Ethan Bear, Adam Larsson, Caleb Jones, Dmitry Kulikov, Jujhar Khaira
There are a number of people out there who didn’t like what the Oilers did this summer, myself included. The defenceman musical chairs where they kept Tyson Barrie and lost Adam Larsson, traded Caleb Jones for Duncan Keith and signed Cody Ceci to a four-year deal while losing Ethan Bear all felt misguided. That the team gave Mike Smith a two-year deal in the hopes he can repeat last year’s magic without any semblance of a strong backup plan also isn’t ideal.
But one area where the team did legitimately improve is up front. The team’s top six looks the best it has in decades and they have added two strong depth pieces on top of that to help out a bottom six that always gets crushed. That’s where much of the value is coming from.
There’s a lot of risks that comes with signing a 29-year-old power forward to a seven-year deal, but Zach Hyman is still a great player who should fit in perfectly with the Oilers. He’s developed into a bonafide top line contributor over the past couple of seasons and has a proven track record playing next to superstars and making their lives easier. Remember Chris Kunitz being the perfect linemate for Sidney Crosby? Edmonton is hoping Hyman can be the same for either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, and I don’t think that’s a bad bet.
Add Warren Foegele to the mix, an elite forechecker who resembles early career Hyman well, and the team has a strong third line left wing addition. Derek Ryan is a massive upgrade over Jujhar Khaira as well. Those three pieces together should give the Oilers one of the best forward groups in the league … just don’t mind the rest of the team.