A short Tampa Bay Lightning postseason sparked a fast start to the Detroit Red Wings offseason and trickled down to the Edmonton Oilers, as very different paths lay ahead for the three franchises.
It was all seemingly set in motion last September, when Lighting general manager Steve Yzerman suddenly resigned, citing a decision to return home to his family in Detroit. He remained an advisor, honoring the final year of his team contract, but the proverbial writing was on the wall and the Red Wings legend’s pending hire was the worst-kept secret in hockey.
As the 2018-19 season progressed and the Lightning’s status as the Stanley Cup favorite continued to grow after tying the all-time single-season record with 62 wins, discussion surfaced of this being the greatest team of the salary cap era.
But a first-round sweep by the Columbus Blue Jackets was a black spot on the Lightning’s season. With nothing to show for it, rookie GM Julien BriseBois is tasked with having to re-sign rising star Brayden Point, rebuild the defense, and manipulate nearly nonexistent cap space, suggesting inevitability on the trade front and team regression.
BriseBois on off season changes, “There will be some changes because of our cap situation.” He said it’s “too raw” and too soon right now to address what decisions will be made.— Caley Chelios (@CaleyChelios) April 18, 2019
With a roughly $4.7 million raise for Nikita Kucherov and Point being worth upwards of $8 million, middle-six forwards J.T. Miller, Yanni Gourde, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat are all in the rumor mill as BriseBois searches for cap relief.
Also on the block is Ryan Callahan, whose $5.8 million final year could see BriseBois take a loss by moving a prospect or young, rising asset alongside the veteran.
Meanwhile, the true architect of the record-tying team has taken over in Detroit, as the “Yzerplan” is in motion. The return of “The Captain” has created a wave of hope in Hockeytown, after years of criticism of GM Ken Holland and fading memories of his successes.
In 10 seasons at the helm of the Lightning organization, Yzerman earned praise for his ability to trade, draft, and discover talent all over the place. A Stanley Cup may be the only missing line from his off-ice resume.
But Yzerman’s next task will involve foreseeable hardship as the Red Wings’ deferred rebuild continues. But with his experience and fresh perspective, the Red Wings’ promising young core, exciting prospects, and draft potential have fans dreaming of Stanley Cups again.
Yet, there’s some bittersweetness to the hiring of Yzerman, as Holland’s aforementioned aging successes appear to be growing dimmer for some. After all this is a man who spent more than 35 years with the franchise and was the architect of three Stanley Cup teams, four Presidents’ Trophies, and more than 900 combined regular season and postseason wins.
Amazing to me how people are saying Ken Holland is a bad GM because the Red Wings naturally regressed after decades of dominance, completely ignoring everything he did to make that team the juggernaut it was.— Daniel J. Friedman (@DanJFriedman) May 5, 2019
On the day of Yzerman’s inauguration, Holland was promoted to senior vice president and handed a multi-year extension. His wisdom, experience, and longstanding friendship with Yzerman seemed like a great combination with one of the top GM’s in the NHL.
But less than a month later, Holland would move on from the organization, taking a five-year deal from the Edmonton Oilers as GM and granted full autonomy of the highly criticized organization.
As BriseBois faces the tradeoff that comes from exceptional success and Yzerman instills his vision unto the Red Wings, Holland takes over two of the best players in the NHL, but his task is no simpler than the others’.
The Oilers are among the highest spenders against the salary cap and while Holland has been used to operating at the cap ceiling, he doesn’t have a whole lot of success to show for it in recent years.
Building a team around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl seems easy on the surface, but Holland will need to sort out the mess left behind by Peter Chiarelli, much like Yzerman’s chore in Detroit.
Within that mess was the league’s second-worst penalty kill, fifth-worst goals against, seventh-worst faceoff percentage, and seventh-worst overall point percentage.
A weak team defense and lack of scoring depth has limited the team over the past two seasons after being just one win away from a trip to the conference final in 2017.
No-movement clauses for a declining Milan Lucic, an injury-prone Andrej Sekera, and analytics community punching bag Kris Russell mean a retool is a tall order for a team that many believe should be a contender with McDavid at the forefront.
Fixing the blue line won’t be quick with Sekera and Russell standing on the backend. Short of a trade or cap-strapping buyout, Edmonton’s Cup contention appears a few years off, short of prospects Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard stepping in and playing like 10-year veterans as rookies.
A big summer awaits each GM as they prepare their respective plans for the ensuing draft, free agency, and the 2019-20 season.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.