Monday, September 16, 2019

The Bizarro-meter looks back on the Eastern Conference offseason

We made it. With training camps now in full swing around the league, the NHL offseason is officially over. Teams had their chance to remake their rosters, hire new people and set a course for the upcoming season. Now, that season is here. Pencils down, everyone. (Not you, teams with unsigned RFAs. You still have work to do.)

Looking back on the last few months, some teams did well. Some teams came up empty. And some teams, well, they just got weird. Those are the teams I’m interested in. As a diehard fan of Team Chaos, I’m always happy to see a team do things that confuse the rest of us. And that’s where the Bizarro-meter comes in.

I wrote my first Bizarro-meter column way back in 2013 when I was trying to make sense of the infamous Maple Leafs offseason that saw them make a series of truly confusing moves. Did it work? It did not. To this day, nobody has been able to figure out what the Leafs thought they were doing that summer. But the concept was fun and morphed into an annual league-wide ranking. And now it’s time to blow the dust off of the Bizarro-meter, plug it in and spit out some 2019 ratings.

As always, remember that a bizarre offseason is not necessarily bad. Sometimes, the decisions that leave everyone scratching their heads are the ones that work out the best. And often, a safe, by-the-numbers approach is exactly the wrong choice for a team that needs a more creative approach. This isn’t about picking winners and losers. It’s about recognizing those teams who failed at the NHL’s prime directive of being dull and predictable.

We’ll do this by division, starting with the Atlantic and Metro today and wrapping with the Pacific and Central tomorrow. As always, we’ll work our way up the scale as we go.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

The offseason so far: They didn’t do much, which was no surprise. They’re already good, the cap situation is manageable and Don Sweeney never makes trades during the summer and we’ve all just apparently decided to act like that’s not weird. Their biggest story was probably yesterday’s Charlie McAvoy signing to a thoroughly team-friendly deal, which might have been surprising from another team but was par for the course for the Bruins.

But their strangest story was: Jeremy Jacobs not being the owner anymore. He’s keeping the team in the family, handing it over to his six children, and will presumably still have an important voice in guiding the franchise. But one of the most influential names in modern NHL history will be stepping back, which will take some getting used to.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.2/10. I guess Jacobs felt it was important to make his exit at the right time. Maybe now he can explain the concept to Brad Marchand.

Buffalo Sabres

The offseason so far: They didn’t make any blockbusters like last year’s Ryan O’Reilly or Jeff Skinner moves, but they did add Marcus Johansson in free agency and swung deals for Colin Miller, Jimmy Vesey and Henri Jokiharju. The bigger move was bringing in Ralph Krueger to replace Phil Housley behind the bench.

But their strangest story was: Not really addressing the goaltending. It’s back to the tandem of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark, which was a bust last year (especially in the second half). There’s something to be said for consistency and not just chasing last year’s hot hand, but the status quo is a gamble.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.1/10. They were busy. But given the pressure on Jason Botterill and company to finally breakthrough, you wonder if they were busy enough.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The offseason so far: The first real offseason of the Julien BriseBois era didn’t produce many big headlines. Unloading Ryan Callahan’s deal helped, and they did well on the J.T. Miller trade. Their main goal was to clear out some cap deadwood, and they did it well.

But their strangest story was: The fact that their offseason started in April, not June. But mainly the lack of a Brayden Point deal, largely because we all assumed he was going to sign some ridiculously team-friendly contract that would make fans of every other team tear their hair out. And he still might, at least if the Lightning get their way. It’s just taking longer than we thought.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.5/10 for now, pending whatever happens with Point.

Florida Panthers

The offseason so far: They upgraded on and off the ice, landing two of the biggest free agents in the sport in Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky. They also added Anton Stralman and Brett Connolly.

But their strangest story was: Roberto Luongo announcing his retirement. Wait, players can do that? They don’t just have to come up with a suspicious “injury” and finish their career on the LTIR?

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.8/10. The Panthers were certainly among the biggest newsmakers of the offseason. But it feels like we had Quenneville and Bobrovsky penciled in here since January, so nothing they did felt all that surprising.

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