During the NHL off-season it’s often easier to pick out the teams that didn’t accomplish their goals, as opposed to those who completed their summer shopping lists. Usually you can’t tell who the “winners” are until the product is visible on the ice. But, since I already picked a few clubs that I thought fell short, here are those who landed on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Flyers- Additions: Vincent Lecavalier, Mark Streit, Ray Emery
Okay, I know, there’s an obvious bias here. However, I don’t think picking the Flyers as winners falls entirely in the “homer” category. After all, this franchise made its usual splash this off-season. But it wasn’t just the stereotypical binge-spending we’ve become accustomed to in Philadelphia; no, these were savvy additions. GM Paul Holmgren surely wanted to erase the sour taste left by last summers failures and subsequent debacle of a season. First, the blueline desperately needed some tweaking. So the club brought in former Islanders Captain, and power play specialist, Mark Streit. Now, he won’t necessarily improve the Flyers defensive zone coverage, but he will replace that puck-moving element they lost with Matt Carle’s departure. The 4-year term is questionable for a 35-year old defender, but, atleast in the short-term, it’s a good move.
Next, the Flyers replaced the rapidly declining Danny Briere with longtime Lightning stalwart, Vinny Lecavalier. Lecavalier will bring much-needed size (6’4”) and scoring ability (383 goals) to the second line. And a 1-2 punch of Giroux-Lecavalier at the center position could become the envy of the league. Finally, the most important upgrade was the addition of Flyer retread Ray Emery to alleviate the “loss” of Bryz in net. Emery was stellar (17-1-0, .922sv%, 1.94GAA) for the Blackhawks last season. And he and Steve Mason, in my mind, are a significant upgrade over the streaky production that Bryz brought to the crease.
Some may be underestimating the Flyers after last seasons debacle, but this club has clearly improved.
Dallas Stars- Additions: Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Shawn Horcoff, Sergei Gonchar, Valeri Nichuskin (draft), Dan Ellis
If the Stanley Cup was awarded for off-season performance, the Dallas Stars would be the clear favorites. This is a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since a surprise run to the Conference Finals in 07-08, but they’ve made serious strides during recent months. The first stellar move was the hiring of former Red Wings director of amateur scouting, Jim Nill, as General Manager. Nill immediately put his fingerprints on the franchise by acquiring Russian defender Sergei Gonchar and drafting Russian sensation Valeri Nichuskin. Gonchar is often credited with helping to develop Evgeni Malkin’s North American game while in Pittsburgh and Nichuskin has that type of elite ability. Nill then pulled off the stunner of the off-season by acquiring enigmatic forward Tyler Seguin (and Rich Peverly) from the Boston Bruins. Although controversy swirls around Seguin’s partying ways, he has as much talent as anyone. He, Peverley, and Horcoff (acquired from Edmonton) could form a solid trio at center for the Stars. Besides the off-season acquisitions, Dallas also has talented holdovers Jamie Benn (age 24) and netminder Kari Lehtonen (29). You can never tell how certain additions will mesh on the ice, but on paper, the Dallas Stars have the look of a darkhorse contender.
Detroit Red Wings– Additions: Daniel Alfredsson, Stephen Weiss
Although the Red Wings lost some key players in Valteri Filppula (Tampa Bay), Damien Brunner (UFA), Danny Clearly (UFA), and Ian White (UFA), they probably gained more skill with the additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss. Alfredsson, the longtime Senators captain, surprised everyone when he opted to sign in Detroit instead of Ottawa. Eventhough he’s 40 years of age, he should fit in seamlessly with the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. And Stephen Weiss, 30, will be the perfect second-line center in a deep forward group. Although Weiss struggled a season ago (4pts in 17 games), he had scored atleast 42 points in his last six full NHL seasons, including two 60pt seasons. With an interesting mix of youth and experience, the Red Wings should be dangerous competitors in their first season in the Eastern Conference.
Nashville Predators- Additions: Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg, Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks, Seth Jones (draft)
Normally legitimate contenders, the Predators suffered through one of their worst seasons in franchise history in 2012-13. They lost a top-pairing defenseman in Ryan Suter to Minnesota and their offense was absolutely abysmal. But, despite steering clear of headline names, Nashville was one of the most active teams this summer. They brought in veteran center Matt Cullen and former Blackhawk speedster Viktor Stalberg to add a little offense. Stalberg, one of the fastest skaters in the league, should add a dynamic element that this team sorely lacked a season ago. But, probably the most important addition to the Preds franchise in years, was 4th overall pick Seth Jones. Projected by most experts as the top prospect in this years draft, Jones,18, is expected to fill the massive void left by Suter. He and captain Shea Weber could form a truly stellar top-pairing on the blueline. GM David Poile also added forwards Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks to bring a little grit to the Preds forward group. As long as All-Star netminder Pekka Rinne has a bounce-back campaign, Nashville should rebound in a big way in 2013.
The 2013-14 will be a huge campaign for these four franchises, amongst others. The true winners of the off-season won’t become clear until the actual contests begin. Some teams that look like surefire Cup contenders in August aren’t even in the playoff picture come April. Some new additions will propel their respective squads to untold heights, others will drag their organizations down to cap hell. It’s a crap-shoot that will only reveal the results with time. But, as of right now, the Flyers, Red Wings, Stars, and Predators look like they’ve won the off-season odyssey, if only by a nose.
Up next in the Off-Season Series: Breakout Candidates.