DENVER, CO - APRIL 09: at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

NHL: One player to watch for each team heading into the 2016-17 season  

Anaheim Ducks: Jonathan Bernier

Despite a mountain of talent in the “out” pile, the Anaheim Ducks failed to really make their mark in the “in” pile this offseason, on the playing front at least, instead focusing on re-signing head coach Randy Carlyle, who brought Anaheim to their only Stanley Cup triumph in 2007. As far as the playing stocks go, things only got weirder there, as they effectively swapped impressive young goaltender Frederik Andersen for hit or miss talent Jonathan Bernier, as they were apparently not keen to pay the 26 year old Dane the $5.5 million a year deal he received from new team the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a turn of fate, it was in Toronto where new Ducks goalie Bernier first made his name, posting a .923 save percentage in his debut year with the Maple Leafs. Life has only gotten worse for Bernier since, as he was shipped out to California late last year for way less than he was brought in for. It’s ride or die time for the 27 year old net minder, as he will split time with John Gibson in 2016-17, and will need to be at his best for his team to have consistent season in the cutthroat Western Conference.

Arizona Coyotes: Jamie McGinn

Filling the roster spot vacated by Mikkel Boedker at the trade deadline was always going to be the Arizona Coyotes’ biggest priority this offseason. They did that by signing Jamie McGinn from the Mighty Ducks, who, despite playing on the opposite side to Boedker, still manages to make up for lost production while adding some valuable wing depth behind Max Domi. This is McGinn’s fourth team in three years, and is another chance for the 27 year old to find his permanent home in the NHL after his four-year spell with the Colorado Avalanche ended in 2015. He is a physical power forward who adds scoring and grunt to a relatively young team, and also featured heavily on Anaheim’s league best special teams last year, which will be a great hand for Arizona, who ranked in the bottom five in that category. For all the talk about the Coyotes’ new general manager John Chayka – the youngest in league history, at age 27 – it seems he has his team’s needs well assessed, which should give ‘Yotes fans some confidence heading into 2016-17.

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO – APRIL 09: at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins: David Backes

St. Louis Blues captain David Backes departs Missouri without a Stanley Cup, instead choosing to search for one with the Boston Bruins, however wise that may be. Backes’ moves to Boston also positions himself under the revered Bean Town sporting microscope, given that he is now the second highest paid Bruin to captain Patrice Bergeron. With Loui Erikkson leaving to the Vancouver Canucks, Backes also represents the replacement of a recently created scoring void, despite doing so far less efficiently than the departing Swede, which is where the Backes deal gets perplexing. The Bs opted not to pay Eriksson the six-year, $30 million asking price he commanded, but were happy to do so for the less effective Backes, who is the older man by a year. In the end, Erikkson ended up only costing Vancouver a million more a season, with both players getting paid through to age 37. Whilst this logic doesn’t quite add up to me, it must’ve made sense to Boston’s general manager Don Sweeney, whose side sensationally missed the playoffs last year.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning checks Kyle Okposo #21 of the New York Islanders at center ice during the second period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on May 06, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 06: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning checks Kyle Okposo #21 of the New York Islanders at center ice during the second period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on May 06, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Buffalo Sabres: Kyle Okposo

Such is the NHL salary cap and player market that if one wants any of the best free agents available, they must also be prepared to willing to shelve a fair amount of financial risk. This was no more obvious than on a record day of spending on day one of free agency, which was partly headlined by Kyle Okposo’s seven year, $42 million, relatively team hostile contract with the Buffalo Sabres. As mentioned, it is a bold, risk-lined deal for Buffalo, but one that for the Sabres will hopefully help announce them as one of the future big fish in the Eastern Conference, but is Okposo the player Buffalo think he is? Statistics show that Okposo is a vastly different player when not playing alongside New York Islanders superstar John Tavares, with his shooting percentage dropping 3.87% and his goals per 60 minutes dropping .28. Whilst 19 year old superstar Jack Eichel is no slouch at centre, it will be fascinating to see how Okposo changes the Sabres, or how the Sabres change him.

 

Calgary Flames: Brian Elliott

The Calgary Flames’ goaltending last year was not good. Their best performer, Karri Ramo, ranked 36th for save percentage, and not much better in goals against average, coming in at 31st. Collectively, Calgary’s trio of Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio ranked last in the NHL for their position. It seemed then that it would be a pipe dream (pun intended) for Calgary to add Brian Elliott from St. Louis, who ranked first and third in the league in both those stat categories, but hey, they did. Elliott comes over having never fully won the trust of the Blues coaching staff – yes, that is despite having the second highest save percentage in the league over the past five seasons (.925). This is without doubt a good deal – it’s low risk, high reward, and immediately makes the Flames better. Elliott fetched just a second round pick from the Albertans, compared to the comparatively worse Frederik Andersen, who fetched a first and a second. This leads one to wonder why St. Louis got rid of Elliott in the first place. Some speculate it was in an attempt to re-sign captain David Backes and/or Troy Brouwer, but they both departed. Either way, Elliott is now Calgary real estate, going at $2.5 million a year, and if they want to re-sign him, they’ll have to make the playoffs this season.

Carolina Hurricanes: Teuvo Teravainen

It seemed to catch many off guard – probably including the Carolina Hurricanes – that the Chicago Blackhawks would part with a young player of Teravainen’s quality, coming off his first full season with the organisation, in which he racked up 35 points. Lo and behold, that was the price quoted by Carolina to take the expensive and increasingly unimpressive Bryan Bickell off their hands, and get their heads back above water, and Chicago reluctantly agreed. Nevertheless, Hurricanes fans will be thrilled to add both Stanley Cup champions into their fold, especially the 21 year old Fin, who will be looking forward to a first full season in one position on a team where he will be asked to do plenty of offensive damage. In a bottom five scoring team that has added only himself, the slumping Bickell and veterans Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg, plenty is being asked of ‘Tera’, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts. It will be a vital clue into discovering just how badly the Canes have fleeced the 2015 Cup champions.

Chicago Blackhawks: Brian Campbell

As one of the only NHL quality additions the Blackhawks added this offseason, Brian Campbell almost has to be Hawks’ most important buy for this year. It has been well noted that the defence of the Stanley Cup champions of 2015 was certainly not as strong in 2016, mostly due to depth issues. Campbell certainly addresses that immediately, and at age 37, still operated at a high quality last season as alternate captain for the Florida Panthers. Campbell knows the organisation well. He won the Cup with them in 2010, and still lives in the area with his wife and two daughters. Being expected to step straight into a top four defenseman role, Campbell will be asked to replicate his 31 point season from last year as closely as possible this year. Alongside Michal Kempny, another new addition in Chicago and formerly one of the KHL’s top defenseman, it can be said that a fourth hoisting of Lord Stanley in seven years rests firmly on the broad shoulders of Campbell and co’s defence.

Colorado Avalanche: Joe Colborne

Joe Colborne divided the city of Calgary last year. As a local product, there is always going to be premium amounts of pressure to perform, and Colborne failed to deliver for long stretches of the season (29 0 point games). Despite that, the 6 ft 5, 220 pound forward finished the season with his best return yet – 44 points – which Flames fans still found issue with, writing his efforts off as “garbage time” points. Regardless of your opinion on Colborne, he is 26 years old, coming off a fairly impressive scoring season, and with others areas of redress, his $3 million plus asking price meant he was likely finished in Cowtown. Surprisingly, he signed for less than that – $2.5 million a year for two years with the Colorado Avalanche. Colborne will come in and immediately be of a decent amount of importance to Colorado, given the departures of Mikkel Boedker and Shawn Matthias. As a top six forward, Colborne adds scoring and size (although it has been noted he needs to use the latter better), and can start to carve out a good career in the NHL with a strong debut season with the Avalanche.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Sam Gagner

Life was peachy for Sam Gagner through his first eight seasons in the league. Making his debut in 2007 with the Edmonton Oilers as an 18 year old, Gagner went on to play seven seasons with the franchise, recoding five seasons with 40+ points, and looked as if he was on his way to carving out a great NHL career for himself. A red flag was raised when after 81 games of service to the Arizona Coyotes; he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, with Arizona stating that the organisation believed he was not an NHL quality centre. Odd, for a player who held several records with Edmonton, including Rookie of the Year, most points in a single game and period and most consecutive points. However Don Maloney and co looked like they might be right when Gagner recorded only 16 points in 53 games with Philadelphia last season, including spending some time in the minors – the first occasion that took place since reaching the NHL. He will have a chance to revive his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a fairly low priority faceoff man in their organisation.

Dallas Stars: Dan Hamhuis

The Dallas Stars’ 2015-16 defence only just managed to avoid the bottom 10, but that’s certainly not the idea for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Call it what you want – most will label it “cutting off your nose to spite your face” – but Dallas GM Jim Nill chose not to bow to Vancouver’s steep asking price for Dan Hamhuis at the trade deadline, knowing they could get him in free agency without giving up squat. In doing so, they settled for less during the season and potentially cost themselves a Game Seven victory vs the Blues. Either way, here we are, with Hamhuis getting $3.75 million for two years with the Stars, most likely to start on the ice in defence alongside John Klingberg. Hamhuis is an experienced, stay at home defender who will allow his aforementioned defensive partner Klingberg to roam up the ice and look to move the puck in transition – something he was not as free to do last year when paired with another offensive defenseman in Alex Goligoski. They may have taken the scenic route to get there, but one of the best teams in the NHL has gotten better, improving one of their big weaknesses, and has shilled out almost nothing to do it. You’d be stupid to not be afraid of the Big D in 2017.

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