Now that the ’18 NHL Entry Draft and the frenzy that is the league’s free agency period are in the rear view mirror (for the most part), here is a ranking of the five teams that improved the most with the acquisitions and moves they made this past offseason.
Lets’s start with a few honorable mentions before working out way to the top.
Key Additions: G Antti Raanta, D Niklas Hjalmarsson, F Michael Grabner, F Brad Richardson, C Christian Dvorak, F Marian Hossa, F Alex Galchenyuk, F Marcus Kruger
Key Additions: F Derek Ryan, F James Neal, F Elias Lindholm, F Mark Jankowski
Key Additions: D Sam Morin, F James Van Riemsdyk, D Christian Folin
These are the five teams that I feel had the most productive and improved offseasons, as they trend upward heading into the 2018-19 season:
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Although the loss of Jeff Skinner, their top goal scorer over the past few seasons does hurt (which is why they aren’t ranked higher), adding the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland and the ’18 2nd overall pick, Andrei Svechnikov, vastly improves what is already an up-and-coming team. The Hurricanes now arguably feature the (Nashville being the peak) defense corps in the league. The league needs to pay attention to Carolina, as they could and should challenge for a playoff spot this year. As long as the goaltending, that now rests on the shoulders of Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek, improves from last season (which finished with a Goals Against over 3.05 and Save Percentage below .900%).
4. Detroit Red Wings
Now, hear me out before you poo-poo all over my choice here. I realize that the Detroit Red Wings are not going to be very good this year. However, the Wings did improve with the additions of veterans Tomas Vanek up front and Jonathan Bernier in net, along with a ridiculous draft heist of both Filip Zadina at #6 overall and Joseph Veleno at #30. Signing Dylan Larkin to a long-term deal proves the vision for this franchise as well. This is a team that should be poised enough to compete and not get blown out on a nightly basis, unlike some other teams in the Eastern Conference (here’s looking at you Senators and Canadiens). The big negative however, and what hurts their ranking on this list, is the revelation that perennial All-Star and captain, Henrik Zetterberg probably won’t play this entire upcoming season.
3. St. Louis Blues
One name: Tyler Wotherspoon. Just kidding. On a serious note, adding Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak and David Perron are huge upgrades for this team that needed major support around superstar Vladimir Tarasenko. O’Reilly and Bozak are two of the top face-off men in the entire NHL. Basic logic tells us that when you win more draws, you possess the puck more frequently, which means your team is more likely to be on the offensive side of the rink. Jake Allen has emerged as the goalie everyone thought he should be and the defense in front of him is formidable. The Blues should be a top team in the Western Conference again this year. That said, I’m of the belief that it’s a “put-up or shut-up” season for this franchise.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
Any time you can add a star to your roster, you are instantly better. But adding a true “superstar” like John Tavares is almost unheard of. Tavares, a nearly point-per-game player, represents the biggest free agent signing in the Cap-Era and probably the biggest free agent signing in Maple Leafs history (which is a lengthy one). Toronto now has the deepest forward group in the NHL, with the ability to roll three uptempo lines at you, that each feature a 30+ goal scoring center man (Tavares with 37 goals, Auston Matthews with 34 and Nazem Kadri with 32). They figure to be a matchup nightmare for the rest of the league and by all accounts, we’re about to embark on an exciting new age of Maple Leafs hockey. For the first time in over 50 years, the Leafs are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender (and damn, does it feel good to write that).
1. Buffalo Sabres
As a Leafs guy, it makes me sick to my stomach to admit this, but the Buffalo Sabres will actually be a good team this season.
With highly touted #1 overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin as the centerpiece of your blue line and Jack Eichel as your top forward/center, this youthful squad will be just fine. Adding Jeff Skinner to the wing will add some severe offensive punch into the lineup as well. Trading Ryan O’Reilly hurts, but the return from that trade is going to payoff well. Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Bergland are both capable players and will help to round out a solid front end for the Sabres. That all being said, there are still some lingering questions. Is Cater Hutton a true starting goalie? Can Phil Housley actually coach? Being (another) transition for Buffalo, it can’t be worse than last year, can it?