The NHL off-season has barely started. It’s also almost over. That’s the way things tend to go in the modern era – we get the draft, some big trades, and the opening of free agency all crammed into a week, and then everything starts to get quiet. And this summer hasn’t disappointed, with some days being crazier than others.
Some of those moves will work out. Others won’t. A few will be utter disasters. And like every off-season, some of the action has resulted in certain names being thrust directly into the hockey world’s spotlight.
Here are a half dozen names that will be getting some extra attention based on what’s happened over the off-season’s opening days.
It’s a little too easy to point to big-money free agent signings as names in the spotlight; that goes with the job. Andrew Ladd, David Backes, Kyle Okposo and every other player who signed a big deal last week will be watched closely next year and beyond, at least until the buyouts start rolling in.
So we’ll limit ourselves to one, and we’ll make it Milan Lucic, if only as an example of how spotlights aren’t always a bad thing. Put simply, nobody was a bigger winner in last week’s bidding wars than Lucic. Not only did he sign one of the largest contracts in recent free agency history, but he landed in a near-perfect situation.
We’re already seeing the narrative built up: Lucic isn’t just going to be a dangerous addition to the Oilers’ top six, he’s going to transform the team’s very identity. He’ll teach them how to win. He’ll scare them straight.
When it’s time to meet his new teammates, he’ll be threatening to crack skulls before he’s even done shaking hands. Hey, he’s been there before.
It’s an irresistible storyline, and it’s one that means that Lucic will get the credit for any improvement the Oilers can show over the next few years. And that’s a great spot to be in, because the Oilers almost certainly will show improvement, and maybe a whole lot of it.
Connor McDavid‘s emergence as the best player in the league will all but guarantee that, and the continued improvement of the team’s other best young players will add support.
Nobody who’s been paying attention over the last decade would ever say that an Oilers playoff push is a sure thing. But it’s close. And whether he plays well or not, Lucic is going to get a big chunk of the credit. Even if he struggles on the ice, the whole intangibles storyline will be too much to refrain from. And if he puts up the type of numbers he’s capable of, he may own the city within a year or two.