Revisiting last NHL offseason's more questionable decisions

·8-min read

Where NHL teams left off at the end of last season would be enough to turn more than a few brains into mush.

It was a season in which only a fortunate few were able to test their skills against anyone outside their division. It was a season where many variables — including atmosphere and travel — remained in check. It was a season where the NHL's 18th-best team by record went to the Stanley Cup Final, only to have its run cut short by the only thing that made complete sense all along, the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Still, the irregular events of last season in no way excuse some of the decisions made by teams and executives around the league last summer. So let's revisit the ones that left us scratching our heads — to either pile on, or to admit to our own misjudgements.

Hurricanes exact revenge with Kotkaniemi offer sheet

At first blush, the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet executed by the Hurricanes seemed too good to be true.

It was a perfect and extremely rare intersection between pettiness and revenge, and the best part was that Carolina was adding a once-highly-touted prospect with serious upside on a free transfer — at least in terms of spending from their base of prospects and picks. But once folks had time to digest the immediate cost and what Kotkaniemi might be owed down the line, it was certainly worth asking the question if this gag would hurt the Hurricanes down the road.

Thirty-five games in, it's clear Kotkaniemi is anything but a $6.1-million forward. He has nine goals and 18 points in 36 games. He's playing just over 12 minutes each night as the team's clear and distant fourth-line centre behind Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck, and Jordan Staal. He's 518th in the NHL overall via CapFriendly's cost per point.

It will be fascinating to see how the Hurricanes navigate his restricted free agency and the bloated qualifying offer he's owed as part of the gag—err, his lure to exit Montreal.

Kraken choose Hakstol, Grubauer

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 29: Philipp Grubauer #31 of the Seattle Kraken takes a water break during the third period of a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on December 29, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Christopher Mast/NHLI via Getty Images)
From Seattle's perplexing decisions to the Hurricanes taking a chance on Tony DeAngelo, let's look in on some of the iffier moves made last NHL offseason. (Getty)

It's only become easier to question the Seattle Kraken's tactics and priorities throughout the expansion process as they stumble through this extremely underwhelming inaugural season, but we'll focus on what stood out then and continues to stand out now: the decisions to hire Dave Hakstol as head coach and spend big on netminder Philipp Grubauer in free agency.

The Hakstol decision was particularly perplexing at the time, and nothing about his performance has proven the selection to be otherwise. He had next-to no success in his only previous head-coaching position with the Philadelphia Flyers and had yet to build himself into anything that resembled a specialist when running the defence for Mike Babcock and Sheldon Keefe on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Kraken have not built an identity. They are not improving. They should be far more competitive than they are. And only Hakstol can wear that.

However, there is an inextricable link between coach and netminder. Kraken GM Ron Francis, who has a long history of failing to nail down competent goaltending, did not help his head coach by spending big on Grubauer.

For a franchise that prides itself on its analytical focus, the Grubauer decision was a questionable one then, and a complete failure now. Who could have predicted that the most insulated netminder from last season, and one who performed behind arguably the league's most talented defensive core, wouldn't be able to repeat his results in a newly launched system?

Not to mention, the Kraken had already acquired, in Chris Driedger, the sort of netminder whose developmental trajectory may have matched the organization's.

Vegas uses Fleury money to acquire Dadonov

Trading Marc-Andre Fleury may well have been a necessary evil for the far more streamlined Vegas Golden Knights, at least when gauging expansion success. But to trade the most important figure in the history of the franchise only to turn around and use that money to acquire one of the single-most underwhelming performers from all of last season was simply shocking.

Evgeni Dadonov was a boat anchor for the Ottawa Senators in what was nothing more than a read-through season in the team's efforts to rebuild, and yet a team with Stanley Cup aspirations took the problem off their hands, leaping at the opportunity to bring him in at full price.

It was maybe the single-strangest decision of the entire offseason.

Sure enough, Dadonov has been nothing to write home about — or a far cry still from his prime seasons with the Florida Panthers. He's scored 10 goals and 20 points in 35 games, and seen a modest increase in production thanks in part to more success in his power-play minutes. However his cost-per-point on a $5 million annually salary is still 426th league-wide.

Rangers spill talent to get tough

Most didn't like the results when Tom Wilson forced the New York Rangers to take a long, hard look within.

Trading Pavel Buchnevich and spending big on bottom-six forwards like Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves, among other harder-nosed additions, seemed like a reflexive and misplaced effort from the Rangers to be something they weren't on a path to become, or at least a disruption to something that was being pieced together both intelligently and deliberately.

Of course, the Rangers have performed at a level beyond what most could have expected. Behind Jack Adams front runner Gerard Gallant, New York leads the Metropolitan Division with a 25-10-4 record.

It would be foolish, though, to suggest that moving a point-per-game player like Buchnevich was actually a smart decision, or that Goodrow and Reaves have led this surge. Whether or not this attentiveness to team toughness will pay off is to be determined.

What is clear, however, is that the Rangers had enough talent — in their forward group, on defence, and in goal — to offset the loss of a solid top-six contributor and that the change at coach was warranted.

Hurricanes take chance on DeAngelo

It seemed the Hurricanes sold their soul when they jumped on the opportunity to acquire problem-child Tony DeAngelo in free agency after he was banished by the Rangers last season. To the surprise of many, however, the club has been able to not only absorb the DeAngelo impact, but to extract the very best from him in the process.

DeAngelo has been undeniably effective in his sheltered minutes, producing points at a higher rate than any defenceman not named Cale Makar; he trails the Norris Trophy frontrunner in production rate only fractionally at 2.81 points per 60 minutes.

DeAngelo has been arguably the most productive acquisition of the entire offseason on a $1-million salary.

Hurricanes trade Calder nominee Nedeljkovic

It says something about the Carolina offseason when trading a Calder Trophy nominee wasn't the first- or even second-most polarizing story, but the split with Alex Nedeljkovic was head-scratcher nonetheless.

The Hurricanes didn't predict the netminder's demise; Nedeljkovic has posted strong numbers away from the favourable environment in Carolina, authoring a .918 save rate and a top 10 GSAA for the rebuilding Detroit Red Wings. That said, the Hurricanes might have been correct in their assertion that they could re-build the position through free agency and uncover either comparable or superior netminding in the context of their team and direction.

Carolina has the league's fourth-best total save percentage with Frederik Andersen handling the bulk of the carries. He's at the periphery of the Vezina Trophy discussion after signing a two-year deal worth $9 million in the offseason.

Wild buy out Parise, Suter

When an executive approaches an owner with an expensive idea, the promise should be that it improves the team dramatically. After buying out the two richest contracts in franchise history, not much has changed for the Minnesota Wild.

Now, that's not a horrible thing. The Wild were a strong team with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise combining to take up a large percentage of the payroll last season. This year, they have managed to improve on that, albeit marginally, sitting at .671 in points percentage. They also have maybe a touch more financial flexibility compared to other contenders when looking to improve prior to a postseason run, which is great.

I guess the problem is that serious financial repercussions associated with these buyouts still loom, and that Minnesota GM Bill Guerin hasn't been as aggressive as perhaps he should be to seize the opportunity that this season presents when the cost is only minimal.

We'll have to re-litigate this one at this time next year.

Flyers roll dice with Ristolainen

I'd say it's clear now that a more favourable environment can't turn Rasmus Ristolainen into a No. 1 defenceman — but are we sure the Philadelphia Flyers provide better conditions than the Buffalo Sabres?

Ristolainen's numbers have improved in Philly, but still lag well behind what would be considered advantageous — especially on a contract that pays him $5.4 million.

This was a big mistake.

Leafs protect Justin Holl

Is Nick Ritchie signed if Jared McCann is protected? Some things will only stay a mystery.

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