When it comes to NHL clubs that successfully achieved their goals for the 2019 offseason, one can feasibly point to three teams as the “big winners” of the summer. The New York Rangers added superstar winger Artemi Panarin in free agency, signed defenseman Jacob Trouba to a long-term contract and selected 18-year-old Finnish dynamo Kaapo Kakko in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The Colorado Avalanche? They not only traded for former Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri, but also drafted stud defenseman Bowen Byram and added a number of useful bottom-six players such as Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (remember him?) to an already impressive core.
And then, of course, there’s the New Jersey Devils. Not only did New Jersey luck out by winning the draft lottery and selecting American hockey prodigy Jack Hughes with the first overall pick, but they also made a number of big additions, including defenseman P.K. Subban (who they basically stole from the Nashville Predators via trade) and former All-Star MVP forward Wayne Simmonds.
And let’s not forget about former KHL MVP Nikita Gusev, who the Devils acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights for a pair of draft picks. Assuming Gusev pans out for the Devils (which appears likely), his arrival may prove to be the cherry on top for what was an overwhelmingly triumphant offseason for New Jersey.
The Golden Knights, on the other hand, didn’t have an offseason quite as strong as the Devils’. On the contrary, Vegas’ summer could be classified as an obvious misstep, if not an abysmal failure — and the departure of Gusev isn’t the only reason why (though it certainly didn’t make things any better).
Vegas entered the offseason under less than ideal circumstances. With minimal cap space to work with and star center William Karlsson set to become a restricted free agent, president of hockey operations George McPhee and general manager Kelly McCrimmon had little room for error. And with the NHL’s salary cap being lower than the projected $83 million, McPhee and McCrimmon’s goal of building off the Knights’ successful 2018-19 campaign became far more difficult.