Change, for lack of a better word, is good. It brings focus to an organization. Keeps a room fresh. Creates competition. Brings a team closer to its goal. Gives the fans reason to believe … if not now, then next year.
Here’s our list of the 13 most noteworthy, impactful changes that were made during the course of 2013.
13. Panthers sign Tim Thomas
Fifteen months after he embarked on his self-imposed exile, the former Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner came in from the cold to sign with the one team that needed him and could afford him (one year, $3.75 million). It took a few weeks for the 39-year-old to scrape off the rust, but once he found his form, he gave the Panthers the high-end presence between the pipes they’d lacked for the better part of a decade.
12. Senators trade for Bobby Ryan
Daniel Alfredsson’s defection devastated the franchise, but Ottawa’s acquisition of Ryan cushioned the blow for the city’s stunned fans. He didn’t mesh with Jason Spezza the way most expected, but the four-time 30-goal man did find chemistry with Kyle Turris and he settled into the leading role he never would have held in Anaheim. On their end of the deal, the Ducks freed up cap space while adding a trio of high-end assets in Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick that looks a lot better now than it did in July.
11. Avalanche draft Nathan MacKinnon first overall
In the weeks leading up to the Memorial Cup tournament, it was widely believed that the defense-starved Avalanche would select blueliner Seth Jones with the top pick. Jones, after all, had ties to Denver as his father, Popeye, spent time there during his NBA career. Jones had also been given some guidance by Avs legend and current Executive VP of Hockey Operations Joe Sakic. But MacKinnon’s performance at Canada’s junior hockey championship, especially head-to-head against Jones, highlighted a game-changing potential that was irresistible. Once in uniform with Colorado, he paid quick dividends, playing with confidence and creativity to spark the Avs to the best start in franchise history, but only time will reveal the full wisdom of this move.
10. The Alain Vigneault–John Tortorella switch
Proving that one team’s trash is another team’s treasure, the Canucks and Rangers each plucked new coaches out of each other’s dumpster. Vigneault, too soft in Vancouver, had the pedigree to revive New York’s moribund offense. The fiery Tortorella had lost the room in New York, but he was a proven winner motivated to change his mercurial ways. The early returns have been mixed with the Rangers seemingly ill-equipped to execute Vigneault’s game plan. Tortorella has been getting something less than the best out of the Sedin Twins. But the Canucks are rounding into form, while the Rangers continue to flounder. Early winner: Vancouver.
9. The Thomas Vanek for Matt Moulson trade
GM Darcy Regier got the axe after years of grossly mismanaging the Sabres (more on that shortly), but not before he got the drop on Garth Snow. The Isles’ GM gambled that Vanek would juice his team’s offense and get them back on track for a repeat playoff appearance. Instead, he’s sucked the life out of the power play with his penchant for passing in prime shooting areas, and he scored only six goals in his first 19 games with New York as the Isles settled firmly into lottery pick territory. That’s a problem, because their first rounder, and a 2015 second, went to Buffalo along with Moulson, who could get flipped for another high pick. Hand it to Regier–he went out on a high note.
8. Sabres fire GM Darcy Regier
Six weeks have passed since owner Terry Pegula finally ran out of patience with Regier, but Pat Lafontaine, the new director of hockey ops, still hasn’t announced a successor. Yet, simply knowing there will be a different hand on the tiller in Buffalo is good enough for the team’s long-suffering fans. Interim coach Ted Nolan has the team competing hard on the ice, and there’s a feeling that what worked in Colorado (see below) could put the Sabres on the right path as well.
7. Avalanche hire Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy
It created the most confusing hierarchy chart in hockey, but bringing in Sakic as the executive VP of hockey ops, with final say in player personnel decisions, and Roy as hockey ops VP and coach gave the Avalanche the clear leadership that was lacking under Greg Sherman and Joe Sacco. The pieces aren’t all there yet, but there is hope in Denver.
6. Maple Leafs sign David Clarkson
Sure, he was one of the most sought after free agents, but the Leafs made the decision to commit to a seven-year, $36.75 million deal. That’s great if you think Clarkson is a 30-goal, 150 penalty minute guy, but the early returns haven’t been promising. So far, he’s been suspended twice and has chipped in with six points through 24 games. Maybe next year …
5. The Jarome Iginla trade
It was a debacle from the start. Flames GM Jay Feaster waited a year too long, maybe two, to recognize the need for a rebuild, and when he did finally get around to cashing in his most valuable chip, he made the inexcusable mistake of not clearing the deal with Iginla first. The result? A done deal with the Bruins fell apart in full public view, embarrassing both organizations, Iginla and a pair of prospects, before Feaster finally completed the Calgary icon’s desired swap to the Penguins.
4. Devils acquire Cory Schneider
It was the unexpected twist ending to hockey’s longest-running soap opera. After more than a year of trying to deal Roberto Luongo, Vancouver GM Mike Gillis shocked the league by instead swapping his starting goalie’s heir apparent at the 2013 draft. It wasn’t a pain-free solution as Luongo needed time to wrap his head around the fact that he remained a Canuck, and Schneider found himself again serving as a backup to a legend, but long-term, this looks like a winner for both sides. Schneider is ideally suited to be the Devils’ netminder of the future and Bo Horvat, acquired with the draft pick that was sent to the Canucks, is the top-six forward prospect Vancouver’s system lacked.
3. The Jonathan Bernier for Ben Scrivens trade
Despite getting a terrific effort from James Reimer in 2013, Toronto GM Dave Nonis couldn’t resist upgrading his depth between the pipes. “These guys can push each other and we’re going to see some good goaltending because of it,” he said, oblivious to just how good the two would have to be behind the porous defense he’d constructed. Scrivens, meanwhile, showed signs of being an elite goaltender when forced into the starter’s role by Jonathan Quick’s injury, but he may be back on the block with the emergence of rookie phenom Martin Jones. Still, Scrivens kept the Kings in the mix when he had to.
2. Daniel Alfredsson bolts from Ottawa
It was the breakup no one saw coming. After 17 seasons in Ottawa, including 14 as team captain, Alfredsson dumped the Sens to join the Red Wings. But he didn’t leave for money, which even his most diehard fans might be willing to forgive. No, he chose Detroit because he thought the Red Wings gave him a better chance of winning the Stanley Cup. That had to hurt. Considering how badly Ottawa has stumbled this season, he might have been onto something had the Wings not come off their usually regal rails, struggling to win at home and drawing boo bird serenades from the faithful at The Joe as they spiraled out of playoff position during the first half of the season.
1. Stars hire Jim Nill
Hundreds of millions of dollars were committed to on-ice talent over the summer, but not one penny was better spent than what the Stars earmarked for their front office makeover. One NHL executive called the hiring of Nill “a game changer,” and it didn’t take the new GM long to prove him right. With bold strikes like the Tyler Seguin trade, the drafting of Russian wild card Valeri Nichushkin and the hiring of coach Lindy Ruff, Nill reshaped both the roster and the culture of the franchise almost overnight.