If you read my last post (all four of you!), you would know that I spent the last two months in the isolation booth that is my camp, sheltered from the daily onslaught of information that plagues anyone who uses the internet. I've been back for a week, now, and I'm slowly reentering the deluge. Little known fact: A lot happens in two months! So here's a little breakdown of the NHL Offseason for each team, from a guy who's just learning about it now. We start in the Eastern Conference, my preferred conference, the one I know just a little bit more about. Alphabetically, of course.
The Bruins sat pretty comfortably on their (oh god this hurts just a little bit) Stanley Cup Champion haunches, choosing not to make any big moves. Instead, they simply replaced parts that they lost in the free agency period. Michael Ryder left, so the Bruins went out and signed Benoit Pouliot from the hated Canadiens. Both Ryder and Pouliot are inconsistent wingers who can sometimes find the net, so its a zero sum acquisition. The Bruins also lost Thomas Kaberle to Carolina, and promptly traded for Joe Corvo- another offensive defenseman. The strategy, then, was just to replace spare parts, to keep the motor running. I'm sure the hope is that some young players--Marchand, Seguin, will continue to evolve into consistent scoring threats, the defense stays strong, and Tim Thomas is even half as good as he was last year (I don't think any Goalie can keep that ridiculous streak up- just look at Ryan Miller last year). The Bruins are betting that the same team-essentially- can do it again.
Well, I pretty much covered this in my last post, but the Sabres were major offseason players for the first time since...well... not since I've ever known. They traded for Christian Ehrhoff (Vancouver), a great offensive defenseman, as well as Robyn Regehr (Calgary), a big, physical defensive defenseman. Their big offensive splash was playmaking center/winger Ville Leino (Philadelphia). They also resigned key members from last years' playoff run: Stafford, Gerbe, Enroth, etc. They lost Tim Connolly to the Leafs, but not many are mourning his departure. Terry Pegula came in as the Sabres new owner and said that the only goal he had was to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo, and these moves reflected that- an improvement on defense and a splash on offense, and a lot of dollars spent to take this team close to the top of the conference. The lack of depth at center is troubling, though.
This team is just about my least favorite in the whole NHL. Team in a market that doesn't deserve a hockey team? Check. Beat the Sabres on the cusp of a Stanley Cup victory behind crappy officiating? Check. CHEERLEADERS? IN HOCKEY? Check. Ugh. Anyway, this team signed Kaberle from Boston and Ponikarovsky from LA, along with some other physical forwards, in an effort, I'm sure, to toughen up. They lost some defensive depth, though, and big winger Erik Cole. Overall, there doesn't look to be much improvement for a team that just missed out on the playoffs last season. They'll probably be around that point again barring some major steps forward on the roster.
Holy jesus, the Florida Panthers made an absurd amount of moves. But for all the praise this spree is getting (ESPN called it the best offseason in the NHL), I can't help but say, Arrested Devolpment style, "Her?" The list of free agents signed is long but unspectacular. The biggest names on it are Sean Bergenheim (Tampa), Kris Versteeg (Philadelphia), Ed Jovanovski (Phoenix) and Brian Campbell (Chicago). The 15 other names on the list are, somehow, less impressive than that. The biggest strength this oft forgotten team had was goaltender Thomas Vokoun, and he fled to Washington, where people care about hockey. The goalie they brought in is Jose Theodore (Montreal), and, well, CuJos been around the block a couple times, getting a little long in the tooth, is no spring chicken...insert your "This guy is OLD" descriptors. The team has been improved, sure- I like the Bergenheim signing and the Kopecky (Chicago)- but not by much. For me, it looks like a mediocre team swapped in a new mediocre team, this time with worse offense. This is a step towards contention, but playoff hockey for the Panthers still seems far off. God, I hope this team moves to Quebec City. (Attn. NHL Moneymaking Department,which is probably understaffed.)
Ah, the team of my future city. That's right, I'm going to McGill this year, and I'll be immersed in one of hockey's epicenters. Also, I might be getting the crap beaten out of me for wearing any Sabres gear. So, I'm going to have to be careful, but I'll also be in a country that cares for hockey above anything else. Anyway, Montreal (the team) didn't do much this offseason. They lost some defenseman and the aforementioned Benoit Pouliot, but signed Erik Cole (Carolina) to beef up the front line and some veteran defenseman. It should be more of the same in Montreal, probably battling Buffalo for 2nd in the Northeast behind Boston. Remember, this is a team that took Boston to seven very close games, so, they didn't need to make tons of improvements to contend near the top of the conference.
New Jersey Devils
A year after signing Ilya Kovalchuk to one of the most absurdly huge, backloaded contracts I've ever seen, the Devils did close to nothing this offseason. They added some tough, gritty forwards, and...well, they didn't lose anyone. It seems the Devils are betting on a return to playoff form because of the return of Zach Parise. Looking over the lines, though, the Devils don't look like they have enough offensive depth to get back. The Devils really need to get a youth movement going, because right now they're a team left behind by time, stuck in the late 2000s.
New York Islanders
Ah, the bastard child of the New York- New Jersey sports scene. The Islanders haven't been relavent since... well, I remember the Sabres played them in the playoffs one year, and they were the eight seed.... well, anyway. The Islanders are in the midst of their own youth revival, led by former number one pick John Tavares. They signed Sean Backman (Dallas) and Brian Rolston (New Jersey) for some more depth up front. They tried to acquire Christian Ehrhoff by trading for his rights, but he refused to sign with the Islanders. Bummer for them, a party for the Sabres. Either way, this is a team to watch in the future, but they're still missing a quality Goalie to take them the next step. The Islanders remain in relative obscurity.
New York Rangers
The Rangers, as they are wont to do, won the one big name on the market this year, Brad Richards (Dallas). Richards is a bona fide top line center, a great scorer, an able passer. He adds some offense to a team that sorely needed it. They didn't sign anyone else of great note, and didn't lose anyone big besides Vaclav Prospal. Hopes are high in New York now, but can Brad Richards bring the Rangers to Stanley Cup contention almost singlehandedly? I lean towards no, given the track record of Rangers free agent signings wilting under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Brad Richards, welcome to the stable of big name free agents! Won a Cup yet? No, not yet? Alright, let's get another one!
Ottawa was a perennial contender in the East for most of the late 2000s, and then last year they fell off the face of the Earth. The core (Spezza, Alfredsson, Michalek) is talented, but old. The 'big' signing the Sens made was Nikita Filatov, the young Russian sniper who has oodles of potential and almost no consistency. Maybe in this system, though, he could blossom. There was also a decent talent drain, with 8 departures. The Senators look ready for another season out of the playoffs, a minor pest in the Eastern Conference.
Oooh, another team I despise (call it being a sore loser, but still, Philly. Yuck.) The Flyers had one of the most newsworthy offseasons', if not the best. They dumped Mike Richards (LA Kings), Jeff Carter (Columbus), Ville Leino (Buffalo), Kris Versteeg (Florida) and Dan Carcillo (Chicago) in an attempt to reinvigorate the team behind a new crop of stars- Claude Giroux and James Van Riemsdyk. They also signed Jaromir Jagr from the Euro-Leagues and Maxim Talbolt from the Penguins, to bolster their depth. Most important, though, was the acquisition of Ilya Bryzgalov, the outstanding goalie from Phoenix. Anyone who watched Philadelphia play musical chairs with their goalies last year could see that goalie should've been far and away their most pressing matter this offseason, and they solved it by getting an elite goalie, which spells trouble for the rest of the Eastern Conference. This team got younger, but also got better, much to my chagrin. They'll challenge Pittsburgh for the Atlantic title and the Eastern Conference itself.
The Penguins didn't bring in anyone special- just some depth on the front line- and didn't lose anyone of note, really, besides Maxim Talbolt. Boring. The key to this offseason was rehabbing stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, and, despite some organizational shadiness, it seems as if those two will be back. This team succeeded last year despite this injuries, and with those two back, will be right back near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is one of the few success stories from the NHL's awful decision to go South of the Mason-Dixon line, and its mostly because they won a Stanley Cup. Last year, they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals and gave the Bruins a pretty tough test. They didn't do much to improve this summer, especially after losing Simon Gagne (LA Kings) and Sean Bergenheim (Florida). The team is banking on the continued production from Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier, and hoping that Dwyane Roloson continues to play beyond his age. It's a bold, misguided strategy, and it'll probably leave Tampa where it was last year- second in the Southeast Conference- but with less playoff success.
Washington is clearly tired of losing in the playoffs. They addressed one of their biggest needs, goalie, by signing Thomas Vokoun, and then added a ton of depth all over the ice, with notables Roman Hamrlik (D, Montreal) and Troy Brouwer (W, Chicago). The Capitals also didn't lose any hugely important pieces- if anything, they cut the fat off this team and made it more playoff ready. The transition they're trying to make is one from "Regular Season Champs" to "Stanley Cup Champs", and with this ambitious set of moves, they look ready to contend, finally.
Ah, the Eastern Conference Winnipeg Jets, aka We're Going to Be in The West Next Season Winnipeg Jets. The biggest move this team made was, obviously, the move from Atlanta to Winnipeg (which is a totally bizarre city... floods are a way of life there. They take flooding like its NOTHING. Oh, my basement's about to flood. Better have a sandbag party!). The team is pretty much the same as last year (some decent new faces, some decent departures), which is mildly interesting, but not talented enough for a playoff run. At least someone will be paying attention to their mediocrity this year.
Alrighty, thats the Eastern Conference. Look in the next couple days for the Western Conference, and maybe something about being in Montreal.