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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the NHL off-season


After a hectic start to the NHL off-season that saw hundreds of signings worth an excess of $1 billion in salary, it’s three Pacific Division moves — Viktor Arvidsson in Edmonton, Joel Edmundson in Los Angeles, and Chandler Stephenson in Seattle — that stand out as serious outliers.

In the case of the Edmonton Oilers and CEO of Hockey Operations/interim GM Jeff Jackson, it’s an outlier that offers immense potential upside with very limited risk. In the case of Rob Blake in Los Angeles and Ron Francis in Seattle, we are talking about the sort of outliers that usually end up in contract buyouts and organizational turnover.

Because it’s the summer and hope springs eternal, let’s start on the good side of the ledger with my favourite deal of the summer — the Oilers landing the crafty Arvidsson on a sweetheart contract.

The Good: Viktor Arvidsson, EDM for two years, $4.0 million AAV

In a summer defined by limited cap space and a desire to improve on last year’s Western Conference championship roster, Jackson has done some masterful work. So much so that it’s a bit perplexing why the organization is so bent on finding a general manager to replace the departed Ken Holland. For my money, this is one of the better summers in recent Oilers history.

And it’s not because they landed a big fish, so to speak. This lineup is now much deeper and more robust, particularly at even strength. Buying low on Arvidsson helps them bring more depth competency to the lineup; when he’s healthy, Arvidsson has shown himself to be a masterful playmaker capable of igniting the offence on his own.

A tough run of injuries has slowed his production, but it’s also the reason the Los Angeles Kings moved on. And it’s the reason the Oilers can squeeze in a perfect buy-low candidate into their middle six, one who has a track record of sustained performance:

Whether you are looking at counting stats like goals and assist rates, or more nuanced measures like Goals Above Replacement, Arvidsson’s statistical profile is that of a high-end middle-six forward, and it has been for years. The games played are a bit harrowing from a reliability standpoint, but again, that’s why the Oilers were able to land him on a discounted deal.

Stay healthy in Edmonton, and Arvidsson should cruise to a strong bounce-back season.

The Bad: Joel Edmundson, LAK for four years, $3.9 million AAV

Los Angeles had a bit of a quiet tightrope walk this summer, with restricted free agents Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev in need of new contracts, and had to leverage some cap space to shore up the goaltending position by way of Darcy Kuemper.

I say all that because it, at least in part, is the reason the Kings lost the robust Matt Roy to the Washington Capitals on a six-year deal.

Good teams lose good players all of the time, and the Kings organizationally had to know they were taking a meaningful step backwards with Roy’s exit. To that end, it opened up an important slot on the blueline and likely inside of Los Angeles’ top four. If you want to return to the postseason, you need to replace those Roy minutes with something great.

Something great is not how I would define Joel Edmundson. He’s a sound off-puck defender when he’s on the ice and should provide some degree of defensive stability, as well as eat up minutes on the Kings penalty kill. Those are not small things.

But we are talking about a player who is routinely blown off the ice. The gap between Roy and Edmundson is startling, and yet the salary cap between the two is not. The Capitals are allocating just two per cent more of their salary cap space to Roy relative to what Los Angeles has carved out for Edmundson, and yet the two players look like polar opposites on the ice:

It is fair to acknowledge Edmundson plays both heavy defensive minutes and spent a portion of this stretch with an aggressively rebuilding Montreal team that struggled. But Edmundson also had a cup of coffee in Washington and Toronto, and it was much of the same – negative on-ice differentials, and increasing durability concerns for the veteran.

Roy’s a better player across the board, and that’s most noticeable ironically in the defensive third of the ice. I attribute much of that to Roy’s polished two-way game, and it was clear towards the tail-end of his stint with Los Angeles he was doing a lot of the heavy lifting with partner Vladislav Gavrikov.

The Kings may be proven right letting Roy walk, but ultimately they are replacing his very team-friendly minutes with someone who has been an on-ice anchor for some time now, and that’s before the injuries started creeping up on Edmundson.

Roy is going to have to earn his contract now in Washington; the bigger fear is the slightly cheaper replacement brought in by Blake here not only moves the Kings backwards on the ice, but that they’ll be hunting sometime soon for another body on the blueline. And if that manifests – well, not only did the Kings bludgeon their own blueline, but they will also do it at the cost (or greater) of Roy’s contract this season.

The Ugly: Chandler Stephenson, SEA for seven years, $6.3-million AAV

For years in this space and elsewhere, I have heaped praise on the Vegas Golden Knights for finding Stephenson – a bona fide late bloomer, buried deep on Washington’s depth chart, whose very specific skill set (top-end speed, and an ability to win draws) could be very complementary to stars around the league.

Considering the ridiculously cheap acquisition cost of a fifth-round pick, the player’s age at the time (27), and his team-friendly cap hit ($2.7 million AAV), it was a no-brainer for Vegas. Sticking him on Mark Stone’s hip, a brilliant player whose sole limitation has been his skating speed, was a classic case of the sum of all parts being greater than the whole.

Now, in-his-prime Stone could make a lot of linemates look like this. But when you are signing players to big deals, you want to be reasonably confident they are driving the bus. When I look at a three-year sample of Stephenson playing with (or without) Stone, I see anything but:

Make no mistake, Stephenson is a fine player. But Seattle isn’t investing in a 27-year-old buried fourth-liner with the type of speed that makes most players blush. They are investing in a 30-year old player who looked absolutely dreadful in stretches last year, and has routinely disappointed in minutes where he hasn’t been insulated by high-end teammates.

That’s what made last year so illuminating: with Stone nursing injuries and the Vegas roster much more naked than in years past, Stephenson was doing more of the heavy lifting. That ended with Stephenson scoring 16 goals in nearly a full season, and Vegas being outscored in the process. (Of note: Stephenson has only crossed the 20-goal mark once in his career.)

Paying him on such a lucrative contract creates the perception Seattle sees him as a meaningful driver of play for years in their top six, and the data just screams in the opposite direction. So loudly, in fact, I joked last week this looked like the redux of the Jeff Finger contract – a deal so inexplicable, the evidence loudly suggested then-Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher had mistaken Finger for Kurt Sauer.

I don’t think Francis has mistaken Stephenson for another player here, but If I were a betting man (and I am), I’d wager this money was earmarked for another forward. And when their target or targets weren’t materializing, Stephenson was the pivot. It’s the most logical explanation for a contract I think is set to disappoint with immediacy.

Data via Natural Stat Trick,, Evolving Hockey, CapFriendly (RIP)