Last week, we covered the winners I liked in the Eastern Conference through the NHL Entry Draft and Free Agent signing first week. This week, I’m picking my favorites out in the stacked Western Conference.
Not every team made the huge impact moves Nashville did in acquiring offensive defenseman P.K. Subban, but some of the smaller, less publicized moves really improved certain clubs. For example, San Jose scored a coup by signing Mikkel Boedker to a cap-friendly four-year, $16 million deal for a player only 26 years of age and coming into his prime.
Now let’s take a look at a few other winners in the top-heavy West.
Calgary has had a busy offseason to say the least, and they still have some huge loose ends to tie up before we get down to business. Starting Goalie Brian Elliott was acquired and new back-up goalie Chad Johnson is a huge improvement over last year’s hatchet job tandem of Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo. Elliott will bring big game experience and leadership to a young team after leading the St. Louis Blues to the Western Conference Finals.
The Flames also added more grit and experience on the front end with the free agent signing of 30-year-old Troy Brower and his many playoff games and Stanley Cup wins with the Chicago Blackhawks. Brower is another leader who will be pivotal in growing the leadership skills of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.
Speaking of Monahan and Gaudreau, both are Restricted Free Agents who need to be signed, or the Flames will be put out with the cold Alberta winters.
Finally, the NHL Entry Draft must have felt like Christmas for Calgary fans when Matthew Tkachuk was drafted at #5 overall. Tkachuk should start and stay with the big club, and his fantasy prospects are looking good considering he may just line up with Monahan and Gaudreau, who are also top round draft picks.
There are those naysayers who felt the Oilers got fleeced in trading Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson. Let me say that is not so. Larsson was the #4 pick in the 2011 Entry Draft and most defensemen do not even hit their prime until they’re 27 or 28 (unless your name is Drew Doughty). Larsson is only 23 and has already logged 274 career games. Losing Hall is huge, but six years down the road, when Larsson and Darnell Nurse are anchoring the Oilers blue line deep in the playoffs, you will see. To soften the blow of the Hall loss, Edmonton drafted the super-talented Jesse Puljujarvi at #4 overall this year. In the second round, Edmonton snagged Drake Caggiula, who led North Dakota to the NCAA National Championship.
Another great move to fill the Hall void was completed when the Oilers signed free agent beast Milan Lucic to a seven-year, $42 million contract. Lucic will bring his Stanley Cup winning swagger to Edmonton and skate with Conner McDavid, which is going to be fun to watch for Oilers fans. Lucic, McDavid and Puljujarvi should all be owned this upcoming season fantasy wide, and in dynasty leagues as well as single-season formats, McDavid carries plenty of value.
Nashville got better, Nashville got younger, and Nashville got faster. Trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban was one of the biggest swaps in NHL history and the exchange will be bigger if each player delivers a Stanley Cup. I mentioned Weber last week, so let’s talk about Subban and the young Predators. P.K. joins an already established blue line chock full of young stars like Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm, who are all fantasy relevant. Nashville also inked young superstar Filip Forsberg to a six-year extension.
The Predators are headed in the right direction and will be playing in June before long. The best part about the Subban/Weber trade was the fact that Nashville dumped the longer Weber contract, which paid over $7.8 million per season and runs through 2025-26, when Weber will be 41 years old. The team pays Subban more annually, but only through 2021-22, when he is going to be 32 years old.
There were other winners in the West, but these three teams stood out and really bettered their teams in the process. 12 years ago, I was telling a fellow hockey fan at work to watch out for Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington and Los Angeles. Look what’s happened in that time since, and now I’m saying it again. Watch out for Calgary, Edmonton, Nashville and the Florida teams--Tampa Bay and Florida--over the next 10 to 12 years and there will be Stanley Cups in their trophy cases!