NHL.com goes Behind the Numbers to identify which teams have improved during the first week of free agency, which started Oct. 9. Advanced statistics are used to reference key free agent signings, trades or re-signings that will impact teams the most in 2020-21.
The Avalanche did not make a big free agent signing but made several under-the-radar moves that improved them significantly. They acquired defenseman Devon Toews in a trade with the New York Islanders on Oct. 12 for a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and 2022 NHL Draft. They traded defensemen Nikita Zadarov and Anton Lindholm to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Brandon Saad and re-signed restricted free agent forwards Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin on Oct. 10, and RFA defenseman Ryan Graves on Oct. 12.
Toews was the only Islanders defenseman with a positive shot attempts differential during the regular season (plus-2) and was second in points (28) behind Ryan Pulock (35) in 68 games. He tied Pulock for first with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 22 postseason games. Toews joins Avalanche defensemen Cale Makar (plus-82), Samuel Girard (plus-80), Ian Cole (plus-66), Graves (plus-60) and Erik Johnson (plus-50), who each had strong possession metrics last season. He’s an underrated addition who will continue to help their shot-attempts differential and can contribute offensively.
Saad scored 33 points (21 goals, 12 assists) in 58 regular-season games and five points (two goals, three assists) in nine postseason games last season. He was one of three Blackhawks forwards to have a positive SAT (plus-4) with Dominik Kubalik (plus-14) and Andrew Shaw (plus-5) among those to play at least five games. Saad was third among Chicago forwards in average 5-on-5 time on ice per game (13:18) behind Patrick Kane (16:27) and Jonathan Toews (13:47), suggesting he could earn a top-six role in Colorado playing left wing with either center Nathan MacKinnon or Nazem Kadri. The Avalanche found ways to make a positive impact in the offseason without trading any prospects or first-round picks, making them one of the clear beneficiaries so far.
The Sabres signed left wing Taylor Hall to a one-year contract Oct. 11 and acquired center Eric Staal in a trade with the Minnesota Wild for forward Marcus Johansson on Sept. 17. The additions will improve their top-six forward group and give elite center Jack Eichel exposure to the highest-scoring left wing of his NHL career.
Hall scored 52 points (16 goals, 36 assists) in 65 regular-season games for the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes last season and six points (two goals, four assists) in nine postseason games. He led the Coyotes in points per 60 (2.29), impressive considering he averaged the most 5-on-5 time on ice per game (14:12) among Arizona forwards. Hall was fourth among Coyotes forwards in points per 60 (1.79) behind Clayton Keller (3.00), Derek Stepan (2.42) and Brad Richardson (2.00) during the postseason and tied for first in 5-on-5 assists (four) with Stepan. His 5-on-5 production will complement Eichel, who was second on the Sabres in points per 60 (1.98) behind right wing Sam Reinhart (2.12) among those to play at least 10 games.
Another area where Hall can help Buffalo improve is on the power play. He is seventh in power-play points per 60 (7.20) behind Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning (7.90), David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins (7.88), Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (7.59), Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins (7.32), Steven Stamkos of the Lightning (7.32) and Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets (7.30) among those to average at least three minutes on the man-advantage since 2017-18. The Sabres power play ranked 20th last season (18.9 percent) but should improve with Hall’s production. Staal gives Buffalo additional center depth and the 35-year old is still capable of playing big minutes after leading the Wild in 5-on-5 time on ice per game (13:11) among forwards. He and Hall should improve the Sabres’ 5-on-5 scoring and power play this season.
The Canucks signed goalie Braden Holtby to a two-year contract Oct. 9 and acquired defenseman Nate Schmidt in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. They did not re-sign goalie Jacob Markstrom, so Holtby will likely be their No. 1 option this season with Thatcher Demko as the backup.
The 31-year-old was 25-14-6 with a 3.11 goals-against average and .897 save percentage in 48 regular-season games (47 starts) and 2-5-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .906 save percentage in eight postseason games for the Washington Capitals last season. Though Holtby’s GAA and save percentage were each the worst of his NHL career, he still finished eighth among goalies in wins and ranks first at the position with 181 wins since 2015-16. His .922 even-strength save percentage over the same span is tied for 10th with Devan Dubnyk of the San Jose Sharks, John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks, Henrik Lundqvist of the Washington Capitals and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Golden Knights.
The trade for Schmidt could help Holtby find his previous form after the defenseman was plus-129 in shot attempts differential last season, suggesting the Golden Knights outshot their opponent by a wide margin when he was on the ice. He was 24th in the NHL among defensemen, which should help the Canucks, who had one player at the position (Quinn Hughes) finish with a positive SAT (plus-110). Schmidt is a right-shot defenseman capable of playing top-pair minutes and if matched with Hughes, could play a significant role in improving Vancouver’s shot attempts differential. This scenario could lead to a bounce-back season for Holtby, making the Canucks’ offseason moves among the most intriguing so far.