There has been major player movement across the NHL through free agency and trades in the past three weeks.
Defensemen Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis, forward Zach Hyman and a goalie carousel, highlighted by the relocation of Marc-Andre Fleury and Philipp Grubauer, are among the big names included in the movement.
We asked seven NHL.com staff writers to identify the player each believes will have the biggest impact on his new team in the 2021-22 NHL season.
Here are their answers:
Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyers
Ellis, acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on July 17, gives the Flyers an experienced top-pair, right-shot defenseman to play alongside Ivan Provorov that they’ve lacked since Matt Niskanen retired after the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Philadelphia allowed an NHL-high 3.52 goals per game last season, in part because it never found consistent defense pairs. The 30-year-old provides that stability, will positively impact the power play and penalty kill and bring leadership to a new-look group of defensemen, including Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle, as well as top prospects Cam York and Egor Zamula. — Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor
Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks
Acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in a trade July 27, the 36-year-old gives the Blackhawks the experienced goaltender they lacked last season. Fleury won the Vezina Trophy voted as the NHL’s best goalie for the first time after going 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and six shutouts in 36 games, all starts. The Blackhawks made a number of changes on defense, and there’s probably going to be some trial and error while figuring out the best combinations. Fleury should bring a calming and dependable influence in net. — Tracey Myers, staff writer
Philipp Grubauer, Seattle Kraken
One of the most sought-after free agent goalies, Grubauer signed a six-year, $35.4 million contract ($5.9 million average annual value) with the Kraken on July 28 and instantly gave them stability in net. Seattle acquired Chris Driedger from the Florida Panthers and Vitek Vanecek from the Washington Capitals in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21. They have a combined 42 career NHL wins. A week later, they signed Grubauer, the clear No. 1, who has 109 NHL wins, including 30 with the Colorado Avalanche last season, when he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Vanecek was traded back to the Capitals on July 28. Grubauer was second in goals-against average (1.95) and eighth in save percentage (.922) among goalies to play at least 20 games last season and tied for the NHL lead with seven shutouts. The 29-year-old will likely steal more than a few games this season. — David Satriano, staff writer
Dougie Hamilton, New Jersey Devils
Hamilton signed a seven-year, $63 million contract ($9 million AAV) July 28, instantly making the Devils significantly better. The 28-year-old scored 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 55 games last season, averaging 22:43 of ice time per game, and has scored 341 (106 goals, 235 assists) in 607 career NHL games. Hamilton has fashioned himself into an impact player at each end of the ice, finishing fourth for the Norris Trophy, voted to the NHL’s best defenseman, this season. He has bounced around, from the Boston Bruins to the Calgary Flames to the Carolina Hurricanes and now to the Devils but has never quite gotten his due. He’ll have more eyes on him now, given this deal, and I think he’ll open them. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers
Can Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl get better? The Oilers believe the answer is yes and invested in that belief July 28 when they signed Hyman to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract ($5.5 million AAV). With the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hyman played on a line with Auston Matthews, an elite center like McDavid and Draisaitl. The 29-year-old understands the responsibilities of playing with a center who is perennially in the consideration for the Art Ross (most points), Rocket Richard (most goals) and Hart (MVP) trophies. Last season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the top-scoring wing for the Oilers with 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 52 games. Hyman, who has two 21-goal seasons in his NHL career, had 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in 43 games last season. He will provide the depth and cover that will make Edmonton far more dangerous in 2021-22. — Shawn P. Roarke, senior director of editorial
Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks
Any time a team can acquire a 26-year-old franchise defenseman entering his prime like the Blackhawks did in getting Jones in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 23, it’s a game-changer for years to come. He’s the most complete defenseman in the NHL not named Victor Hedman and immediately was rewarded with an eight-year, $76 million contract ($9.5 million AAV). Jones scored 28 points (five goals, 23 assists) in 56 games and was minus-18 last season but look for the change of scenery to revitalize his career. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury might pay dividends in the short term, but Jones will be a cornerstone of the Blackhawks for much of the next decade. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche regrouped quickly after losing Grubauer to the Kraken and acquired a worthy replacement in Kuemper in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on July 28. The 31-year-old was 10-11-3 with a 2.56 GAA, .907 save percentage and two shutouts in 27 games last season for Arizona, which allowed 30.5 shots on goal per game, 18th in the NHL. Joining one of the best puck-control teams in the NHL in Colorado, which allowed an NHL-low 25.4 shots per game last season, Kuemper has a chance to take his game to another level, and help the Avalanche reach one, too. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer