NHL offseason recap: Everything you need to know for 2021-22

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BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 30: Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up prior to an NHL game against the New Jersey Devils on January 30, 2021 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Joe Hrycych/NHLI via Getty Images)
The disgruntled Jack Eichel remains with the Sabres. (Photo by Joe Hrycych/NHLI via Getty Images)

A lot has changed in the NHL this offseason.

Unless you're Jack Eichel. Then nothing has changed.

Around the rest of the league, however, a number of announcements, signings, transactions, and news stories have altered how the NHL will look during the 2021-22 season.

While you were enjoying your summer, here's what you missed.

Despite his wishes, Jack Eichel is still on the Buffalo Sabres

The NHL offseason has essentially come and gone, yet disgruntled Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel remains with the team. A lot has happened between him and the franchise this summer, but nothing has been resolved with regards to Eichel's wishes to be traded.

Earlier this offseason and before the NHL Draft, it was reported by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman that the Sabres wanted to move on from Eichel. With both sides looking for a change, it seemed there wasn't much standing in the way of a trade.

Fast forward to late July when Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams spoke to the media about where the team stood on a potential Eichel deal. Adams stated the organization is "in control of the process," and that "we have a player under contract. We don't feel any pressure."

Angering Eichel's camp, his side retorted with a statement explaining their displeasure in how his trade demands have been handled, and how the team has blocked him from undergoing a recommended surgical procedure to correct a herniated disc in his neck.

Roughly one month later in late August, Eichel fired his agents Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli and replaced them with high-profile representative Pat Brisson of the Creative Artists Agency.  

Eichel is still with the Sabres. It remains unclear if he has undergone the recommended surgical treatment or when he will be physically fit to play hockey again.

Evander Kane accused of betting on and fixing NHL games

Evander Kane's wife, Anna, accused the San Jose Sharks forward of betting on and throwing his own games in a string of Instagram posts.

“How does the NHL let a compulsive gambling addict still play when he’s obviously throwing games to win money? Hmm maybe someone needs to address this,” she wrote in one of her posts.

“Can someone ask (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman how they let a player gamble on his own games? Bet and win with bookies on his own games?”

Shortly after the allegations were made, the NHL announced it would conduct an investigation into the situation. Kane then released a statement on the matter, denying the accusations. He also spoke about the topic with ESPN's Linda Cohn, and further denied his wife's claims.

The NHL's investigation into the matter remains open.

NHL players are heading to the Olympics

After sitting out the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, NHL players will be making their return to the Games in 2022.

The NHL and NHLPA were able to pen an agreement with the IIHF that will allow hockey's best players to compete in Beijing.

The decision means NHL action will take a two-week hiatus from Feb. 7 to Feb. 22 as the Olympics occur. 

Hockey fans will get to see a number of young players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews likely participate at their first-ever Olympic Games.

Seattle Kraken join NHL

Not to be forgotten with everything else that has happened this offseason is that the NHL will have 32 teams this upcoming season. The Seattle Kraken have officially joined the league, although the team's underwhelming roster makes it easy to overlook the squad in its first-ever campaign.

Since the above roster was announced, the team has made several moves. Most notably, it's dealt goaltender Vitek Vanecek back to the Washington Capitals for a 2023 second-round pick and signed Jaden Schwartz, Alexander Wennberg, Philipp Grubauer, and Marcus Johansson. Expectations should be tempered for this team, and a Year 1 Vegas Golden Knights-style run to the Stanley Cup final seems improbable.

NHL lays out COVID-19 protocols for upcoming season

The NHL has outlined its health and safety protocols for the 2021-22 season, which include a number of restrictions for players who are not vaccinated.

One of the new rules states that unvaccinated players are prohibited from going anywhere other than the team hotel, practice facility, and arena when on the road. Within the team hotel, players are barred from using the sauna, pool, restaurant, bar, and will not be allowed to have any visitors - including teammates - in their room.

The rules also prevent unvaccinated players from carpooling, and they must undergo a seven-day quarantine prior to the opening of training camps.

Montreal Canadiens lose Jesperi Kotkaniemi in revenge offer sheet

For whatever reason, offer sheets are hardly used by NHL general managers despite the obvious upside of potentially luring an impact player away from another organization.

In 2019, the Montreal Canadiens extended an offer sheet to Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho, which he signed. Almost immediately after the sides agreed to a five-year, $42,270,000 deal, the Canes matched it and kept the young star in Carolina.

This offseason, Hurricanes GM Don Waddell demonstrated that he's not one to let things slide. The executive extended an offer sheet to Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, a move that led many to believe Waddell was seeking retribution on the Habs for doing the same with Aho just two years earlier.

Once the details of the offer sheet were released, it appeared very clear that this was a move made out of pettiness.

Not only did Carolina announce the news in French, but the offer sheet included a $20 signing bonus, which just so happens to be Aho's jersey number.

The offer sheet, which carries a value of $6.1 million for one season, was not matched by Montreal, making Kotkaniemi a member of the Hurricanes. The Canadiens received Carolina's first- and third-round picks in the 2022 NHL Draft as compensation.

Although the Hurricanes insist this was not conducted out of revenge, their actions appear to say something completely different.

Chicago Blackhawks add Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury

The Chicago Blackhawks made a pair of win-now moves this offseason by going out and trading for both Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury.

The team pulled off the Jones deal first, also acquiring a 2021 first-round pick (Nolan Allan) and a 2022 sixth-round pick for defenseman Adam Boqvist, a 2021 first-round pick (Cole Sillinger), a second-round pick, and a 2022 first-round pick. Immediately upon joining the Blackhawks, Jones inked an eight-year, $76,000,000 extension with the squad.

Chicago didn't have to fork over nearly as much to acquire Fleury, only parting with forward Mikael Hakkarainen to bring in the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

Jones will help solidify the team's first defense pairing while Fleury will bring some much-needed stability between the pipes.

New Jersey Devils piece together elite defensive pairing

Very rarely is a team able to construct a new top defense pairing in the same offseason, but the New Jersey Devils somehow managed to do just that this summer.

It started out with New Jersey acquiring Ryan Graves from the Colorado Avalanche for Mikhail Maltsev and a 2021 second-round pick (Sean Behrens). Graves had been a reliable top-four member on a stacked Avs defense group that has routinely been one of the best in the league.

The bigger splash came a couple of weeks later, when the team inked Hurricanes standout Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year contract worth $63,000,000. In three of his last five seasons, Hamilton has finished inside the top 10 of Norris Trophy voting.

Boston Bruins start season without Tuukka Rask on roster

Despite being a common presence between the pipes for the Boston Bruins over the last 12 years, Tuukka Rask enters the upcoming NHL season as an unrestricted free agent.

There are two major reasons why the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner is jobless to begin the 2021-22 campaign. The first is that Rask underwent surgery this offseason to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Rask received the treatment in July and has noted that his recovery time is five to six months.

The second reason why Rask isn't on any squad's roster is that he has no intention of playing anywhere other than Boston. The 34-year-old had the following to say about his current contract status:

"I'm not going to play for anyone else than the Bruins. This is our home," he stated. "At this point of my life and my career, I don't see any reason to go anywhere else, especially with the health I'm looking at now and a recovery time of five or six months. Hopefully it works out that I recover well and we can talk about contracts when the time is right for that."

In addition to voicing his desire to remain in Beantown, Rask explained that he would be a "cheap goalie" for the Bruins.

Depending on how this season plays out in net for Boston, squeezing Rask into the fold could be tricky. The squad inked ex-Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark this offseason, and he actually posted a respectable .917 save percentage despite playing on a putrid Buffalo team a year ago. The Bruins also have up-and-coming netminder Jeremy Swayman, who posted an eye-popping .945 save percentage across 10 starts in 2020-21.

Goaltending musical chairs

This was a busy offseason for netminders in the NHL.

In total, 15 goaltenders switched places this summer in moves that will have an impact on the upcoming season.

Here are the notable goalie transactions from this offseason:

  • Marc-Andre Fleury dealt from Vegas Golden Knights, joins Chicago Blackhawks to become starter

  • Philipp Grubauer leaves Colorado Avalanche to become starting goaltender for Seattle Kraken

  • Boston Bruins add Linus Ullmark with Tuukka Rask's health uncertain

  • Avalanche acquire Darcy Kuemper from Arizona Coyotes, hope he can put team over the top

  • Frederik Andersen seeks fresh start with Carolina Hurricanes after stalled success with Toronto Maple Leafs

  • Jonathan Bernier joins New Jersey Devils, will split starts with MacKenzie Blackwood

  • Petr Mrazek leaves Carolina for Toronto, will form tandem with Jack Campbell

  • Alex Nedeljkovic will start for Detroit Red Wings after being dealt by Hurricanes

  • James Reimer, Adin Hill join San Jose Sharks to form goaltending duo

  • Antti Raanta signs with Hurricanes, will compete with Andersen for playing time

  • Dallas Stars sign Braden Holtby to join Jake Oettinger and Antnon Khudobin in a crowded crease

  • Carter Hutton and Josef Korenar both join Coyotes to form makeshift tandem

  • Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell sign on with Buffalo Sabres

Zach Hyman signs with Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers seem to have finally found a perfect linemate for Connor McDavid.

After years of posting up players like Zack Kassian on his wing, Edmonton made a splash in free agency by inking Zach Hyman to a seven-year, $38,500,000 contract.

Hyman was a very effective player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing a high-energy game while also demonstrating some offensive touch. In 43 contests last season, the 29-year-old produced 15 goals and 33 points in addition to throwing 69 hits.

Four new head coaches signed

The Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken, New York Rangers, and Columbus Blue Jackets all filled their head coaching vacancies this summer.

The Coyotes signed former Ottawa 67's head coach Andre Tourigny to a three-year contract. Tourigny was named OHL coach of the year in each of the past two seasons. He also has some NHL experience to his name, serving as an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche for two seasons and also spending one year as an assistant with the Ottawa Senators.

Dave Hakstol became the first head coach in Kraken history when it was announced that he'd be taking over behind the bench. Hakstol spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach with the Maple Leafs after being fired midway through the 2018-19 campaign as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a 134-101-42 record as a bench boss in the NHL.

After spending the 2020-21 season out of the league, longtime NHL head coach Gerard Gallant signed a four-year deal with the Rangers. Recently, Gallant headed the Canadian men's national team at the 2021 IIHF World Championships and won gold despite the squad dropping its first three games at the tournament. He owns a 270-216-4-51 career record as an NHL head coach and won the Jack Adams award in 2017-18.

The Blue Jackets parted ways with outspoken head coach John Tortorella this offseason and internally promoted Brad Larsen to the position on a three-year deal. Larsen had spent the last seven seasons as an assistant on Tortorella's staff and now will take the reins in his first-ever gig as an NHL head coach. He was the head coach for the AHL's Springfield Falcons before taking on the assistant position with Columbus.

Nashville Predators send Ryan Ellis to Philadelphia Flyers

One of the league's best two-way defensemen was dealt this offseason when the Nashville Predators sent Ryan Ellis to the Philadelphia Flyers for Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick.

Ellis was a stalwart for the Preds in every zone. In five of his last six campaigns, he's topped 30 points and has been an excellent source of blocked shots and hits. After the Flyers led the league with 197 goals allowed last season, Ellis should help the team become much more defensively responsible.

Nashville acquired a hulking defense-first blueliner in Myers, who measures in at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds. Patrick hasn't been able to live up to his lofty draft capital through three seasons with Philadelphia after being selected second overall in 2017.

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