Philipp Grubauer (COL - 31) stops pucks during warmups.

Familiar Faces in New Places

The organizational facelift from season-to-season isn’t uncommon. Contract expirations, prospects moving into primetime and offseason trades and signings make new faces an inevitable reality across 32 NHL clubs. On the July 28 opening of free agency, more than 80 players claimed new homes on one-way deals. More followed in free agency and some via trade and the double-takes are already underway less than a full week into the regular season.

With that in mind, a review of some of the more notable old faces in new towns just might be in order:

Frederik Andersen

The Danish-born goaltender saw what would be his final season in Toronto defined by a nagging injury he tried to play through. While he did see 23 starts in net to lead the team, he did not appear in the Leafs’ seven-game first round series against the Canadiens–Jack Campbell, who the club leaned on heavily in the absence of Andersen at various points, started all 7 and posted an impressive .934 save percentage that couldn’t bail out the scoring woes that showed up last May.

Andersen now finds himself in Carolina, signing a two-year, $9 million deal on the first day of free agency this past July. He and fellow Canes’ newcomer, Antti Raanta will represent an experienced tandem with some recent injury concerns. Meanwhile, Petr Mrazek, formerly of Carolina opted to join Campbell in Toronto. Goaltenders flipping and flopping–on the ice and around teams–isn’t all that uncommon, but Carolina is rolling the dice a bit with its choices and in particular, trying to get two into the rhythms of an entirely new team and defense. An added component to this looking strange is the recent All or Nothing docuseries on Prime Video, which launched on Oct. 1.  This could be the tandem that enjoys enough success to compliment what should be one of the more complete teams in the NHL, but the risk is still there.

Surprisingly, David Ayres remains unsigned in the Carolina-Toronto goalie carousel…

Dougie Hamilton

[Insert Museum joke here]

Hamilton was the big fish leading up to NHL free agency and probably could care less about whatever joke you can find about museums. A combination of being a much-coveted free agent defenseman and the changing landscape of defensemen getting P-A-I-D, helped secure the ex-Bruin, Flame and Hurricane a seven-year deal worth $9 million per season and more than $30 million in signing bonuses with the Devils.

The Devils, who will look to take a step on their rebuild as the team’s youth of Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich and Ty Smith start to take form as contributors that should be around awhile, were able to lure Hamilton with a lucrative offer, the No. 1 defenseman role and power play and the opportunity to help New Jersey return to a level of consistency after making just one postseason since their 2011-12 run to the Cup Final.

Hamilton’s underlying numbers match the “eye test” of an active, puck-carrying and strong-shooting blueliner. In 54 games last season, he managed 42 points (10-32), eight points below his career-high (50) which came in 81 games of the 2016-17 season. He’s stayed healthy since coming into the league and while he’ll take a big chunk of the minutes and power play, Smith, Damon Severson along with newcomer, Ryan Graves and P.K. Subban in his contract season, will all be there to help spread some of the minutes.

Hamilton and the rest of the Devils should take a step forward and that just could mean they’re on-track to being a threat in the East yet again.

Philipp Grubauer & Jaden Schwartz

No side deals and as of writing this piece, just three player trades for the league’s 32nd club. So forgive me if I had the impression early on that the Kraken had decided to go a different route than Vegas did in 2017 and that route was to build it completely up and not live in the shadow of the unheard of success the Golden Knights experienced in 2017-18–advancing to the Cup Final with a mostly castoff-driven squad.

Then came two considerable gets in free agency. Philipp Grubauer, who was the starting netminder on a championship-caliber Avalanche team and Jaden Schwartz, a nine-year mainstay and core part of the Blues’ Stanley Cup in 2019. The pair represent some optimistic signs for the newest franchise enjoying some success early-on. Grubauer, 29, signed a six-year, $35.4 million deal to be the starting goalie for presumably, the first chapter in Seattle’s history and long return back to the NHL. In his last five seasons, the German-born goalie has sported an 81-40-13 record to go with a .919 save percentage. He’s added 19 postseason wins in 32 starts while helping the Avs reach the second round in consecutive years. Of course, that’s far from where the expectations have been in Denver.

In Schwartz, who inked a five-year, $27.5 million deal, the Kraken should be getting a quick-thinking winger with some inconsistency to his scoring but strong defensive abilities in a well-rounded toolkit. Through nine seasons, he’s cracked 20 or more goals and 55+ points four times. He should be able to replicate some of those figures with the opportunities that exist with Seattle. Like Vegas, there’s enough talent to suggest the team will enjoy a bit of success, but the real question is how much of a William Karlsson or Jonathan Marchesault-like season can he replicate?

Marc-Andre Fleury

It might not have been the biggest signing or trade. In fact, it was barely a trade, all things considered. But Marc-Andre Fleury, the longtime Pen turned Vegas goaltender who in the last two seasons started to run out of favor with Golden Knights head coach, Pete DeBoer, finds himself with the Blackhawks in his 18th NHL season. It’s a big upgrade for Chicago, who put most of the workload on first-year NHLer, Kevin Lankinen last season. He’s 36, but is coming off a Vezina Trophy-winning 2020-21 campaign. The Blackhawks, who added Seth Jones via trade and took on Tyler Johnson, a player who could no longer fit in Tampa’s salary cap, but is still an effective forward, are trying to take a step back in the right direction, now six seasons removed from their last Stanley Cup.

“It just seems so far away–the first game of the season,” Fleury said when asked about the whirlwind of the offseason including the surprise move to the Windy City. “I feel like things have been moving quickly and have been busy since we got to Chicago. It’s been good, (it’s) a good bunch of guys, they’re very welcoming–the players and staff. It’s a great organization and city. Just want to win some games now.”

Fleury looking weird in a Vegas jersey circa 2017 meets a very odd looking Fleury in Blackhawks’ red and white. But as he regains No. 1 duties, he’ll have a chance at a more familiar red and white color scheme, perhaps in Beijing later this season.

“I went in 2010 and it was one of my best experiences in hockey,” Fleury said about his lone experience with Team Canada at the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. Fleury, coming off a Stanley Cup in 2009, was behind Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur on the depth chart, but still earned gold with the team. If he gets a chance to go now more than 10 years later, he’d likely be in consideration as the starter.

“It’s such an honor to be able to represent your country,” he said. “Even though I didn’t play, I was happy to be there. Obviously, it’s always in the back of your head.”

In the meantime, Fleury will concentrate on helping the Hawks return to competitive respectability, but it’s an obvious motivator.