When the puck drops on the 2020-21 NHL season on Jan. 13, it will have been 10 months almost to the day since seven teams last played a game. Those seven teams — the Red Wings, Senators, Sharks, Ducks, Kings, Devils and Sabres — were all left out of the NHL’s bubble playoffs this summer and therefore have been off the ice for nearly a full year.
A lot has happened in that time, to say the least.
To give you a refresher as each of these teams opens training camp on Thursday, let’s look back at where things stood in March when last season was cut short and recap the biggest changes these clubs made during an incredibly long off-season.
Detroit Red Wings: 17-49-5
Last game: 5-2 loss to Hurricanes on March 10
When we last saw them: Of all the teams in this group, the Red Wings were the only one mathematically eliminated when the season paused on March 12. In fact, their .275 points percentage last season is the worst mark by any team in the salary cap era.
In their second-to-last game, the Red Wings stunned the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning with a 5-4 shootout win. But overall, they lost 11 of their final 15 games.
What’s changed since then: It’s hard to believe since time has done some weird things in 2020, but last season was Steve Yzerman’s first as general manager of the Red Wings. So, after a year of evaluation, the team’s long-time captain was busy making changes.
Justin Abdelkader was bought-out, long-time Red Wings Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Ericsson were not offered new contracts and Trevor Daley retired. In their place, Yzerman added some interesting talent on cheap, short-term contracts including Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Thomas Greiss and Troy Stecher. Plus, he got the Rangers to part with a second-round pick while taking on the final year of Marc Staal’s contract.
There’s no reason to believe the Red Wings will be a playoff contender in 2020-21, but the pain of last season should be the low point of this rebuild.
Ottawa Senators: 25-34-12
Last game: 3-2 loss at Kings on March 11
When we last saw them: The Senators were in the midst of a California road trip when play paused and that state was already dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at the time. As a result, the first NHL player to publicly test positive for the virus was a Senator. Eventually, six players and a broadcaster in the team’s travelling party would test positive after that trip.
Just a couple of weeks earlier, the team traded fan favourite Jean-Gabriel Pageau to the New York Islanders at the deadline, the latest in a long-line of tear-down moves in this rebuild.
What’s changed since then: With two picks in the top five of the draft thanks to the Erik Karlsson trade with the Sharks, the Senators were able to add two important prospects in October. Tim Stuetzle, a speedy forward from Germany, could be in the lineup as early as this season.
After multiple years of tearing the roster down in a rebuild, GM Pierre Dorion found his cheque book and signed veteran winger Evgenii Dadonov and acquired goalie Matt Murray from the Penguins. Murray, a restricted free agent, signed a new four-year contract shortly after the trade. Dorion traded for Derek Stepan, too, adding a few veteran pieces to surround the youth with.
Add in another year of experience for the many talented prospects in the system and the Senators should be noticeably better this season. But in the high-skill Canadian division, getting into the playoffs could still be a challenge.
San Jose Sharks: 29-36-5
Last game: 6-2 loss to Blackhawks on March 11
When we last saw them: The Sharks were far from where they wanted to be by March in a season in which nothing seemed to go right. Despite spending big on players like Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Karlsson in recent years, the team just couldn’t get anything going and by the time the season paused they were limping towards the finish line.
On March 11 the Sharks announced their next three home games would be played without fans in attendance due to rising COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County. Those games, of course, never happened.
What’s changed since then: Despite a poor showing last season, the Sharks only made marginal changes to the roster. Devan Dubnyk was acquired from the Minnesota Wild to platoon in net with Martin Jones while skilled forward Ryan Donato was also brought in from the Wild. Matt Nieto, Stefan Noesen and Patrick Marleau round out the off-season additions, while interim head coach Bob Boughner was given the full-time job.
The most notable move for the Sharks was a loss, with future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton joining the Maple Leafs to get one more crack at a Stanley Cup. Backup goalie Aaron Dell, who at times outplayed Jones last season, also signed with the Leafs.
The Sharks will hold training camp in Arizona due to restrictions in Santa Clara County and don’t know yet where they will be playing home games. When they do hit the ice, they’ll need their best players to return to form to avoid another season like the last one.
Los Angeles Kings: 29-35-6
Last game: 3-2 win over Senators on March 11
When we last saw them: The Kings were on a seven-game winning streak when the season ended, the longest active streak in the league at the time. In fact, the team was a perfect 7-0 in games after the trade deadline and went 8-2-1 after trading Tyler Toffoli to the Canucks on Feb. 17.
Dustin Brown led the way during the streak with four goals and seven points, but the big story was the emergence of rookie Gabriel Vilardi. The 2017 first-rounder dealt with a long-line of injuries early in his career and finally made his NHL debut on Feb. 20. The then 20-year-old had seven points in 10 games, including two multi-point games, before the pause derailed another one of his seasons.
What’s changed since then: The Kings got some draft lottery luck and were able to move up two spots and select power forward Quinton Byfield second-overall. Byfield is expected to report to Kings camp after the world juniors and could see time in the NHL this season.
The only other notable addition the Kings made was acquiring defenceman Olli Maatta from the Blackhawks. Otherwise, it was a quiet off-season for the Kings as the club gets set to give more opportunities to youngsters such as Byfield, Villardi, Alex Turcotte and Tobias Bjornfot.
Anaheim Ducks: 29-33-9
Last game: 4-2 loss to Blues on March 11
When we last saw them: The Ducks were in a transition year last season so the expectations were low. The team struggled to score — with Adam Henrique leading the way with 43 points in 71 games — and they had the second-to-worst power play in the lead, scoring on only 14.7 per cent of their opportunities.
On March 7, in a win over the Maple Leafs, star goalie John Gibson suffered a groin injury and would likely have missed a large portion of the team’s remaining games had the season been completed as planned.
What’s changed since then: Despite their offensive struggles, the two most notable additions the Ducks made came on defence.
With the sixth overall pick, the club selected playmaking defenceman Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters. Drysdale is currently starring for Canada at the world juniors but likely isn’t too far away from the NHL. The Ducks also added veteran defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency.
This season the team will be looking for young forwards Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Isac Lundestrom to take another step to support Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell and Henrique. Still, with not much roster turnover, expectations should remain low for now.
New Jersey Devils: 28-29-12
Last game: 5-2 loss to Penguins on March 10
When we last saw them: The Devils entered last season with playoff aspirations after acquiring P.K Subban and drafting Jack Hughes first overall. But both players struggled in their first season in New Jersey and the rest of the team seemed to follow suit.
The one positive the Devils could take away from last season was the emergence of MacKenzie Blackwood in net. The then 23-year-old appeared in 47 games in his first full NHL season and posted a respectable 2.77 goals-against average and .915 save percentage with three shutouts. For his effort, Blackwood finished sixth in Calder Trophy voting.
What’s changed since then: The biggest addition the Devils made this off-season was hiring Lindy Ruff and his nearly 30 years of experience as their next head coach.
On the ice, the moves were smaller than the year before but new GM Tom Fitzgerald did bring in some veteran talent to add depth. That includes Corey Crawford replacing Cory Schneider as Blackwood’s backup, as well as winger Andreas Johnsson and defencemen Dmitry Kulikov and Ryan Murray.
The Devils will face an uphill climb to the playoffs in the new East Division but if their stars bounce back from last season’s disappointment, they should perform better overall this season.
Buffalo Sabres: 30-31-8
Last game: 3-2 shootout win over Capitals on March 9
When we last saw them: The Sabres likely would have appeared in the playoffs over the Montreal Canadiens had they not lost six straight games before beating the Capitals in their season finale.
Instead, they missed the post-season for a league-leading ninth straight year, a fact that irked Jack Eichel.
“I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” the captain said in May after the NHL announced the Sabres would not be included in the return-to-play playoffs.
What’s changed since then: The Sabres fired GM Jason Botterill and replaced him with Kevyn Adams, who hit the ground running by acquiring Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild in September.
The Sabres then landed one of the biggest names in free agency by signing Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million contract in October. Cody Eakin and Tobias Rieder were also brought in to improve the team’s forward depth.
Still, the biggest question mark for the Sabres is in net and the team enters the 2020-21 season with the same duo of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark, who signed a one-year extension. As the team looks to push for the playoffs in the competitive East Division, Adams will eventually need to find a way to upgrade that position.