You could call yesterday the craziest day in NHL off-season history, but you’d be wrong. That would imply that crazy things were happening throughout the day, and with apologies to that already-forgotten Seth Jones extension, that wasn’t the case. No, yesterday featured the craziest half hour in NHL history.
And the emphasis here is on crazy, because on the surface, we saw some truly puzzling decisions being made. Some of the reviews have been downright savage, and I’m pretty sure Hockey Twitter is still smoldering from the full-scale meltdown it underwent as all the news broke. The consensus: Stamkos should have gone to free agency, the Oilers didn’t get anywhere near enough for Hall, and the Canadiens got robbed.
It’s tempting to pile on. But instead, I’m going to follow in the footsteps of some of yesterday’s decision makers and do the opposite of what common sense says I should. I’m going to challenge myself to defend the moves. I’m going to use the power of positive thinking to dig my way through to the other side, or at least try.
Consider it a chance to exercise some contrarian muscles. Let's walk through yesterday's three big stories and see if we can nail down an argument that goes against what the majority seems to be thinking.
As with any challenge, we'll start on the easy level and work our way up.
Level One: Defending Steven Stamkos
Sure, on the surface the timing of Wednesday's decision seems odd. Stamkos has had all year to work out an extension with the Lightning. Instead, he gets within 48 hours of finally becoming the most sought-after free agent in modern NHL history, and that's when he gets cold feet?
But sour grapes from certain fan bases aside, Stamkos's decision makes all the sense in the world. Remember, he's been able to talk to other teams since Saturday, so by this point he knows what the market looks like. He had a chance to test the waters, he knew what other options were out there, and he decided he wanted to stay in Tampa. There's nothing especially odd about that.
Factor in that the Lightning are a very good team with legitimate Cup hopes and could offer Stamkos an extra year, and it makes perfect sense to get a deal done. Sure, it's disappointing if you're a fan of a team that was going to be in the running, or just wanted to sit back and watch the chaos as the bidding war breaks out. But Stamkos went looking for the best possible home, and realized it was right where he'd been all along.
Whew, this is easy! I barely even broke a sweat. On to the next one...
Level Two: Defending the Taylor Hall deal
Uh, can we go back to the Stamkos thing?
OK, the degree of difficulty just got ramped up significantly here. The Oilers traded one of the best left wingers in the world, one who's still just 24 and on a very team-friendly contract.
We all knew it was possible; rumours have had the Oilers moving one of their good young forwards in exactly this sort of deal for years now. But Hall was their trump card, the one arrow in their quiver that they could reach for if they had a shot at the sort of Norris-calibre defenceman that could transform the team. Instead, they used him to get Adam Larsson, who is… well, not that guy.
So yes, this one is a lot tougher to defend. On the surface, it looks like the Oilers panicked here. After years of failing to make the sort of tough but necessary moves that would improve the blue line, they finally screwed up their courage, took the plunge, and then overshot the runway by a mile. After all those years, they worked up the nerve to talk to the pretty girl across the street, then stepped right into an open manhole cover.
Yes, I know I'm using too many mixed metaphors right now. Give me a break, I'm clearly stalling.