And just like that, the 2021-22 NHL season is upon us.
Over the past few months, we've watched contenders try to bolster their Stanley Cup aspirations or scramble to keep their band together. The Tampa Bay Lightning lost their entire third line, for example.
We've seen middling clubs commit to hard rebuilds. We've witnessed stars try to force their way out of unhappy situations.
We all spent hours reading over projected protection lists, wondering which players the Seattle Kraken would get a shot at taking. We wondered how the NHL draft would unfold. Which way the lotto balls would fall, which prospects would rise and so on.
The motion of the offseason naturally creates winners and losers, and that's what we're going to take a look at here.
It's worth noting that some of these assessments will inevitably be wrong by the end of the season. And that's A-OK. It's one of the best things about sports. Nothing is set in stone, and each team and player is, at least to some degree, in control of their own destiny.
Can the Arizona Coyotes simply will their way to the level of the Colorado Avalanche? Of course not. But could the former be better than expected, while the latter is worse? Probably not, but the possibility is always there.
That's what makes this opportunity a fun one. One last chance to look back at what's happened and consider what could be before the puck finally drops Tuesday to open the campaign.
Winners: Dougie Hamilton and the New Jersey Devils
Free agency is typically where NHL teams can go sideways most quickly. At the start of the day, a general manager has a cap sheet that looks nice and clean. If you're one of the league's better executives, you may only have one or two slight overpays on your docket.
This offseason was no different, with various organizations handing out brutal deals that will haunt them for years to come—don't worry, we'll get to some of them later.
The New Jersey Devils weren't among the teams that overpaid for their player, securing Dougie Hamilton for seven years and $63 million. There's risk involved in any big-time free-agent deal, but general manager Tom Fitzgerald did well to land the biggest fish in the pond without making a massive overpay.
Hamilton likely came at something of a discount because of his split reputation in hockey circles. Some folks buy him as a legit top-flight defenseman, as evidenced when he finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting last season. Others don't seem so sure.
Take the 28-year-old's former team as the foremost example. Assistant general manager Eric Tulsky was one of the earliest public proponents of analytics, and the Carolina Hurricanes were one of the first teams to start looking for an edge in underlying numbers.
That they passed on Hamilton—especially if he would have signed a deal similar to the one that New Jersey gave him—could be seen as a red flag.
Regardless, public data largely suggests that Hamilton is, at the very least, a legit No. 1 defenseman. And the Devils landed him for the same cap hit that P.K. Subban got when he signed his extension—back in 2014. Not a bad day's work for New Jersey.
Losers: Edmonton Oilers' Blue Line
How you feel about what the Edmonton Oilers did over the offseason probably says a lot about how you view and analyze the game of hockey.
One way to see things is that the Oilers added a grizzled, Stanley-Cup winning defenseman in Duncan Keith. They signed Cody Ceci to shore up their second defensive pair. Goalie Mike Smith was inked to a two-year extension after playing lights out last season.
General manager Ken Holland was active, doing his best to try to get the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2006. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of his maneuvering, however.
For starters, Keith is an absolute shade of his former self. Once considered one of the most steady defensive anchors in the game, he now has a ton of miles on his odometer. There's a monster gap between what Edmonton is hoping the former Chicago Blackhawk can be and what he is at this stage of his career.
He might not be as bad as he's being projected to be, but that doesn't mean that Keith was a savvy add.
Willingly rostering Ceci is another puzzling move by Holland. Like Keith, he might not be as bad as strict analytics subscribers believe, but he's just not the second-pairing defenseman that the Oilers are paying him to be, either. It's another gamble by Holland that he has insight into a player that, by and large, appears to be earning more than he's worth.
The roll of the dice on Smith might be the most perplexing. Yes, he was outstanding a year ago, finishing seventh in GSAA and turning back the clock to his prime. But the reality is that it was the first time in three seasons that he had finished with a positive GSAA, and he's nine years removed from the last time that he played as he did in 2020-21.
Smith will turn 40 in March. Which version do you think is the most likely to show up in 2021-22? He could continue his stellar string of play, but asking him to do so for two more seasons seems misguided.