NHL offseason, Week 3. Nothing is happening. Nobody is making trades. All the good free agents are gone. We’re reduced to arguing about arbitration hearings. Some poor souls among us have gone completely mad and started covering rookie camps. And, worst of all, we still have another full month of this to go.
And that means it’s time to once again fire up Grantland’s NHL Offseason Bizarro-meter, the highly sophisticated technology that takes into account every decision a team has made during its offseason, weighs them against other options that were available, and then spits out a ranking that I have basically made up based on a complex and proprietary formula.
We took the system for a test run in 2013, using a Toronto Maple Leafs offseason that by now is widely considered one of the worst in league history. Last year, we opened it up to the entire league in an attempt to figure out which team had put together the strangest offseason. The winner: the San Jose Sharks, with an impressive score of 9.4. Can somebody beat that this year? We’re about to find out.
Before we get started, a reminder that “bizarre” doesn’t necessarily mean bad. A team can lose its mind and spend the summer doing a bunch of crazy things that somehow end up working. A team can also play it conservative, make all the expected moves and nothing more, and end up worse off because of it. A high score on the Bizarro-meter doesn’t necessarily mean your favorite team is screwed. But it might be.
Today, we’re going to start in the Western Conference, home of the reigning Stanley Cup winners, the league’s best division, and last year’s Bizarro-meter champ.
Their offseason so far: They managed to keep free agents Drew Stafford and Adam Pardy. But they lost Michael Frolik to free agency, along with midseason pickups Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak.
But their strangest move was: Bringing back Alexander Burmistrov, the young Russian forward they’d taken with the eighth overall pick in 2010 but who bolted for the KHL in 2013. There’s been bad blood between management and Burmistrov, so it was mildly surprising to see him return, but he has talent. He’s a risk, but at a cap hit of just $1.55 million, he’s a reasonable one.
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.8/10. Not much to see here, as the Jets continue their slow-but-steady ascent. The big question is whether slow but steady is going to cut it when the toughest division in hockey keeps getting better.
Their offseason so far: It’s another quiet one, although they did buy out veteran Matt Cooke and let various supporting-cast veterans walk. They also signed college free agent Mike Reilly to a deal that absolutely nobody saw coming except for everybody.
But their strangest move was: Re-signing Vezina finalist and season savior Devan Dubnyk, which wasn’t bizarre because it happened (everyone assumed it would), but because of how long it took (the deal came only a few days before Dubnyk would have hit free agency).
Bizarro-meter reading: 3.9/10. Much like the Jets, nothing jumps out as a mistake. But a veteran team that’s now lost to the Blackhawks three straight years didn’t really get any better, and that makes it tough to see a clear path out of the division for a team that spent big to become a contender.
Their offseason so far: They added a pair of Blackhawks veterans in Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp. The former was a free agent on a nice deal; the latter came in a trade that cost them Trevor Daley, who’d been a useful defenseman and whose skates Oduya will be expected to fill.
But their strangest move was: Signing goaltender Antti Niemi to share crease duties with Kari Lehtonen. Goaltending was an issue last season, sure, but now they’ll be spending well more than $10 million in cap space on the position, which is almost unheard of in today’s NHL.
Bizarro-meter reading: 4.2/10. The moves for former Blackhawks made headlines but weren’t all that bizarre — in theory, they improved themselves and weakened the team they’re chasing. The Stars certainly seem to be in “win now” mode, which is a bit odd given that they didn’t win much last season, but at least for today they look like a playoff team.