The NHL offseason always tends to bring hope to fan bases looking for their teams to improve for the coming season. And the activities of the 2012 offseason have been especially exciting for non-playoff teams. Minnesota opened its wallet wide to acquire Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Carolina acquired Jordan Staal from the Penguins, and the Stars' many moves included signing ageless superstars Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr. Now that the dust has settled to some degree, we can provide an advanced glimpse of who this year's winners and losers will be.
Categorizing teams as winners and losers is a tricky business. As the saying goes, there are no trophies for winning the offseason. Indeed, the true winners won't be known until next spring, but with the help of a statistic known as Goals Versus Threshold (GVT), we can analyze which teams brought in the most talent, and which lost the most. It may not tell us who will hoist the Cup next June, but it will tell us which rosters improved after a summer of wheeling and dealing.
Just like last year we're using GVT to measure the impact of all the trades and signings. GVT is a player value stat that combines all contributions a player makes on the ice -- on offense, defense, in shootouts and in the crease. Measured in goals relative to replacement-level players, GVT provides an objective barometer to assess the production increases or decreases resulting from offseason moves. Keep in mind that these figures are looking backward rather than forward, so teams relying on rookies or young players with previously limited minutes may receive production totals higher than those you'll see below.
Using hockey's 3-1-1 rule, which states that every three goals scored or prevented get you one extra point in the standings and cost you $1 million, we can estimate the bottom line in the standings by dividing the change in GVT by three.
Team Change in GVT
Tampa Bay +21.5
San Jose +11.1
St. Louis +2.0
Los Angeles 0.0
NY Islanders -0.3
NY Rangers -5.3
New Jersey -23.9
According to GVT, the biggest winner so far this summer has clearly been the Wild. With the limited available pool of elite players, it comes as quite a coup for the Wild to have landed two in Parise and Suter, and therefore no surprise to see them atop the leaderboard. But can they now crack the playoffs?
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Wild were the worst possession team in the league last season and -- on its own -- this dramatic improvement still makes them a bubble team at best. Finishing with 81 points thanks to a hot start driven by high shooting and save percentages, the Wild can hope to gain about 9.5 points in the standings, which would still place them on the outside looking in. To squeeze out those last couple of points, they'll be counting on Parise and Suter igniting existing stars Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, a rising star like Mikael Granlund or receiving unexpectedly stellar performances from their depth signings of Torrey Mitchell, Jake Dowell and Zenon Konopka, who replace the departed Guillaume Latendresse and Mike Lundin.
As mentioned earlier, a player like Granlund isn't included in this study, and if he lives up to his lofty expectations, he could be a factor that pushes the Wild into the postseason.
The Lightning are another non-playoff team to make some serious upgrades recently, beefing up their goaltending with Anders Lindback, their blue line with Matt Carle, Sami Salo and Matt Taormina, and a little more depth up front with Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Wilson. These moves should also raise the Lightning's profile to a playoff bubble team, even with the loss of Ryan Shannon, Bruno Gervais, Sebastien Caron and Michel Ouellet.
Three more non-playoff teams round out the top five, including:
The Jets, who added forwards Olli Jokinen, Alexei Ponikarovsky and a couple of backup goalies in Al Montoya and Mark Dekanich to replace Chris Mason.
The Stars did some re-tooling, waving goodbye to Steve Ott, Mike Ribeiro, Adam Burish and defensemen Adam Pardy and Sheldon Souray in favor of veteran forwards Whitney and Jagr, along with Derek Roy, Cody Eakin and defenseman Aaron Rome.
Finally, there's the Avalanche, who may have lost defensive-minded forward Jay McClement and some spare parts (Ryan Stoa, Cedrick Desjardins and Kevin Porter), but also secured some scoring and depth up front with P.A Parenteau and John Mitchell, and some defensive-minded help on the blue line with Greg Zanon.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, it shouldn't be a shock that the teams dropping off to make way for the Wild's rise are Parise's and Suter's former teams -- the Devils and Predators, who bring up the rear in these offseason standings.
Lacking anyone to replace Parise, not to mention Ponikarovsky, it could be quite a hangover for the Stanley Cup finalist Devils. Though we didn't factor salary into this particular study, Martin Brodeur's two-year deal with a $4.5 million cap hit would produce a GVS (Goals Versus Salary) of minus-10.4 goals, should the legend's mediocre performance of the past two seasons continue. That would make Brodeur's deal the worst contract offered so far this offseason.
On the flip side, the value of older players is normally overlooked in the offseason, resulting in some excellent "moneypuck" contracts. We saw that again this season with the offseason's best signing -- Whitney. The ageless sniper got the same deal as Brodeur, but he produced 24 goals, 77 points and plus-26 plus/minus last season, leading to a 6.3 GVS.
As for Nashville, the Predators' stock was unfortunately already headed down even before the loss of Suter. The second-worst possession team in the league rode some hot luck last season that resulted in virtually every player on the team either achieving career scoring highs or close to it. The loss of Suter, along with the annual exodus of secondary talent like fellow defensemen Jack Hillen and Francis Bouillon, forwards Wilson, Alexander Radulov and Jordin Tootoo and goalie Anders Lindback, leave the Predators with a lot of cap space but not enough veteran talent.
Boston's inclusion at No. 28 overall (minus-14.2 GVT) might surprise some given that the Bruins have largely returned their entire 2011-12 roster. However, the Bruins lost a handful of depth players like Pouliot, Zach Hamill and defensemen Zanon and Joe Corvo. Though they may be replaceable individually, they do add up in the big picture.
The biggest blow, obviously, is the (temporary?) departure of goalie Tim Thomas. Again, understudy Tuukka Rask's limited minutes have handicapped his GVT here since this is a reflection of last season rather than a projection of the season to come. As the Bruins' new No. 1 netminder, he will likely improve on his past GVT figures and make up some (at least) of the gap we see here.
Keep in mind, summer isn't over yet. There remains the potential for blockbuster trades, as well as some key free agents lingering on the market. Given the possibility of more big-impact moves and negotiations in the days ahead, we'll revisit the list prior to the start of the season to see how teams have positioned themselves for the 2012-13 campaign.
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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