While Braden Holtby saw his split with the Washington Capitals coming, Patric Hornqvist, Corey Crawford and Alex Pietrangelo weren't so lucky.
Hornqvist was “blindsided” the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to trade him. Crawford was “devastated” the Chicago Blackhawks were going in another direction. And Pietrangelo was caught off guard when the St. Louis Blues signed another big-money defenseman, moving on from him before he was ready to close the door on staying.
The past several weeks have featured several recent Stanley Cup winners breaking up their championship core by saying goodbye to a key player with his name on the trophy. It's a bittersweet reality in the NHL because of the salary cap, and the departing players are left with at least one Cup ring and the irreplaceable memories of winning — plus the hope they can do it all again with a new team.
“We accomplished what we wanted to do there: We won a championship, and I think that’s something you can never take away," Holtby said after leaving Washington to sign with the Vancouver Canucks. "It was very important to me to find a team that has that same chance and that same structure of an organization and team that can win because that’s what you play for, and I think that’s the opportunity that we have in Vancouver that is very exciting to me.”
The young Canucks look ready to win now, and Holtby gives them another veteran with experience from deep playoff runs after they made it to the second round over the summer.
New Jersey is further away from being a legitimate contender, but Crawford sees plenty of similarities between the Devils and the Blackhawks of more than a decade ago that went on to capture the Cup three times. Instead of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the Devils have Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt in their early 20s and able to grow up together.
“Things change pretty quick in the NHL,” Crawford said after signing with the Devils, who finished last in the Metropolitan Division, have one playoff appearance eight years and no series victories over that time. Chicago made the playoffs once in six years before winning it all in 2010.
“The Hawks did it. They had a young group too, and they got good pretty fast. ... It’s a group that can definitely do the same thing.”