Johnny Hockey comes home
Two years of trade speculation finally drew to a close when John Tavares reached free agency this summer. After almost a decade in New York, the superstar centre opted to leave the Islanders and sign a seven-year, $77 million contract with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite salary cap concerns, the Maple Leafs pulled the trigger on one of the biggest free-agent signings in NHL history. Tavares will join a loaded forward core, consisting of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and possibly William Nylander, too, that will be competitive for years to come.
Karlsson to California
The Ottawa Senators finally traded Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 13 for a number of players and draft picks. Though he had one of his lowest-ever point totals in the 2017-18 season, in the past decade Karlsson has been one of the league’s best defencemen and will be joining a Sharks blueline comprised of fellow stars Brent Burns and Marc-Édouard Vlasic. Karlsson’s acquisition complements the Sharks’ strong existing forward corps and goaltending well—and elevates them to true Stanley Cup contention potential.
#MelnykOut and other Senators problems
This past offseason has been rough on the Senators and their fans. Following the season’s end, news of a major locker-room rift between Karlsson and Mike Hoffman broke, forcing the team to trade each player away. Both Karlsson and Hoffman’s statuses as stars should have fetched the Senators hefty returns, but, in both cases, the yields were underwhelming. As a result, many fans demanded that General Manager Pierre Dorion and owner Eugene Melnyk leave the organization. To make matters worse, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, one of the Senators’ best remaining players, suffered a long-term Achilles tendon injury in training earlier this month. It’s going to be a long season in Ottawa.
The rebuilding Habs
Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin has often come under fire for trading key players for questionable returns. Early in June, he dealt winger Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for centre Max Domi: Despite the Habs’ well-documented need for centre depth, critics pointed out that Domi had significantly less trade value than Galchenyuk and that the trade should have been more than a one-for-one swap. Later on at the draft, Bergevin reached to select centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick despite many more NHL-ready players being available. Fortunately, he ended the summer by pulling off a legitimately good trade, sending captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights for left-winger Tomáš Tatar, skilled prospect Nick Suzuki, and a draft pick.
Ever since his abrupt departure from the NHL for his native Russia in 2013, Ilya Kovalchuk has hinted at returning to the league numerous times. This summer, he went through with the move. Amidst the chaos surrounding Tavares on July 1, Kovalchuk quietly signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings. There may be issues: Kovalchuk will be 35 years old when the season begins, and history has not been not kind to aging players. That said, Kovalchuk put up stellar numbers during his five seasons with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League, and the Kings can reasonably hope that he will be a reliable contributor to an offensive lineup that desperately needs more scoring.