Surprise! Last week was the last Outsider's perspective, but we got ourselves an Insider! Joining us is the one, the only, AJ Haefele from the up and coming BSN Denver. I know what you're thinking. How can we do just one article with him?!?! Well we aren't! This will be a two parter. The first part will be more general NHL info and the second part will be more Avs-related. Keep in mind, his answers were before Christian Ehrhoff signed with LA so they may have changed since them.
Let's start with Free Agency. Were there any signings that surprised you? (This could be by term, $$ or team) If so, why?
I think in general the thing that surprised me most in free agency was how often the $4M mark came up. Somehow on the open market guys like Beleskey and Frolik snagged prices right around $4M and yet RFAs left and right were pulling in the same deals. When you consider the "power" UFAs have, that's probably what has surprised me the most.
In terms of individual signings, I loved Washington waiting out the market and getting Justin Williams for $3.25M per year. Considering he's likely to see time either on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom or alongside the youngster Kuznetsov, he's a great addition to that forward corps. It's low-risk in every sense and I'm really blown away that Williams wasn't able to get a bigger deal than that. In terms of fit and value, that's probably my favorite contract signed in free agency this summer.
The only contract signed this summer that made me laugh the mocking laugh was when Vancouver signed Brandon Sutter after trading way too much to get him. When you consider Blake Comeau scored 2 fewer points in 19 fewer games played than Sutter and look at the respective contracts they received it's kind of amazing. What is Vancouver doing? Are they rebuilding? Trying to squeeze as much juice out of the Sedins as possible? What exactly are they trying to accomplish? If there's a team in the West that's clearly stuck in no-man's land, it's Vancouver. That deal is so bad.
In your opinion, what were the top three value signings during Free Agency?
Instead of repeating the Justin Williams response, I'll start with Cody Hodgson in Nashville. This is one of the reasons David Poile has been so successful in a limited market like Nashville. He consistently extracts good value from contracts and isn't afraid to take chances on the buy-low candidates. He did with it with Ribeiro last year and it paid off in a big way for him. Now he's rolling the dice again with Hodgson and I think he'll have a nice revival in the style Peter Laviolette is going to have the Preds play.
Next is the Viktor Tikhonov deal by Chicago. I love that kid's game and think he's going to be a very strong player in their bottom 6 and they got him for pennies. In a summer where Chicago had to extract maximum value with every NHL decision they made, I think this is my favorite move. He probably won't put up 30 points but I think he's going to be a very good two-way player and one of the reasons they won't see as much drop off as they could have.
For my third, I would say PA Parenteau for $1.5M in Toronto but scoring 50 points for a bottom 5 team strikes me as pretty irrelevant regardless of his contract so I'll arbitrarily dismiss him and go with the deal signed by Jakob Silfverberg. He's still only 24, is a key player on Anaheim's PK, and I believe is only just beginning to show what kind of offensive player he is capable of being. The Hagelin deal in Anaheim is good, too, but I'm giving the nod to Silfverberg's deal because of his all-around solid play.
So far, who do you believe had the best off-season (including the draft)? The worst? Why?
I hate to add more fuel to the fire (hue) but it's really hard not to love what Calgary has done this summer. Their acquisition of Dougie Hamilton was more a stroke of luck than genius (Boston turned down better offers from both Colorado and Columbus) but in the end they got the job done. Period. They followed it by signing Hamilton to a reasonable long-term contract and still had themselves a productive draft despite limited picks, especially their excellent value selections of Oliver Kylington and Andrew Mangiapane. They re-signed Mikael Backlund, a very good defensive center, to a good value deal and then made the UFA splash by bringing in the solid Michael Frolik at a reasonable rate. They didn't get any worse and only strengthened their short and long-term futures without selling the farm or making any bad monetary commitments. A damn fine summer in Calgary by Brad Treliving.
For worst summer, it's hard not to look at the LA Kings as having the nightmare the rest of the league is glad someone else lived. LA finally failed to flip the switch late in the regular season and missed the playoffs, then followed it up with a calamity of a summer. They failed to re-sign Andrej Sekera after trading a 1st round pick and very good defensive prospect Roland McKeown, lost Williams to Washington, traded for the overrated (in my opinion) Milan Lucic just in time to have to pay him big-money next year, watched Jarrett Stoll drag the organization through the embarrassment of a drug-related arrest and then lost the key locker room cog to the Rangers, had the Mike Richards saga play out against the contrast of the organizations continued support for Slava Voynov, whose own courtroom issues came to an ignominious conclusion but has yet to be reinstated by the NHL (you know, because he was serving a jail sentence), and goes into next season with the looming question of Anze Kopitar's inevitable mega-extension hanging over the organization (how the Kings are going to get away paying him less than what CHI did for Toews/Kane I'm not sure but good luck). Oh, I somehow forgot all about the part where they traded Martin Jones to the East under the premise of keeping him away from the Pacific, only to watch mad man Don Sweeney trade him to San Jose, which was hilarious for everyone else, and then turned to Jhonas Enroth as their solution at backup goaltender. Lol.
Let's shift to expansion. Both Las Vegas and Quebec have entered Stage 3 of expansion. When and How do you feel expansion should happen? Should anything change?
I've said all along I felt there should be one team expanding per season. I think it's unfair to one of the teams to give one the first overall pick and the other the second. I also don't like the idea that two organizations are building themselves from the fodder of the other 30 teams at the same time. That's 100 new NHL deals to sift through and having them raid the cabinets simultaneously would decrease the overall talent pool imo. It's a pipe dream but I'd love for Vegas to start in 2016 and Quebec to start in 2017. Oh well.
Around the NHL, who do you think will have a big breakout season?
Other than the obvious choices of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, are there any other rookies that you're excited to watch this year (recently drafted or otherwise)?
Without knowing which guys are making teams out of camp, this is a bit of a tough one. I'm curious to see how Sam Bennett does in Calgary but not exactly excited, you know? If Nikolaj Ehlers makes the Jets roster, count me as definitely excited to see how he does because his level of dominance in the Q last year was something special. I love his game and players like him always are my favorite to watch. He's not very big but he's so fast and skilled with the puck that I think he could help bring an offensive dimension the Jets have been sorely lacking. Of course, now that I've gone on this whole tangent about him he won't make the roster and my only valid answer is a half-hearted shrug for Sam Bennett.
What team comes out of the gate this year and surprises everyone (either positively or negatively).
I think not nearly enough has been made of the fiasco going on up in Vancouver. They randomly sell good players for very little (Bieksa and Lack dealt for 2nd and 3rd round picks, respectively) and then pay out the nose for Sutter in both trade and contract, then give Derek Dorsett a 4-year deal and pay Luca Sbisa like he's Brad Stuart, because he basically IS Brad Stuart except he's 25 and really terrible. They have committed years and money to players who are really bad and their best players are the Sedins, Alex Edler and....a whole bunch of guys. I think they're going to be really bad this year.
In the East, I think Columbus gets healthy and blows the doors off some teams. That's a really well-built roster but the shaky blue line depth means they HAVE to stay healthy in order to live up to their potential. Zach Werenski can't get to that lineup fast enough. I can't wait to put money on them in Vegas when they're sitting on the board at like 50:1 odds. This is gonna be great.
Big thanks to AJ for taking the time to answer these questions!! AJ can be followed on twitter at @AJHaefele (RIP Bacon Crush), give him a follow!