We’re well into the summer and that means team rosters are beginning to take shape for the 2013-14 campaign. Which teams have had the best and worst off-seasons (factoring in trades, free agent signings and their haul at the entry draft)? Here’s my view of the top and bottom five:
1. Stars. It’s often said that center is the toughest position to address for an NHL team, but new Dallas GM Jim Nill put the lie to that notion, moving swiftly after joining the franchise to acquire Tyler Seguin, Shawn Horcoff and Rich Peverley. The Stars also had the good fortune to have Valeri Nichushkin – called “a top-three talent” in THN’s Draft Preview – fall to them with the 10th overall selection. Considering Dallas had a decent base of talent to begin with, the infusion of youthful vigor and veteran savvy should keep them in the playoff hunt.
2. Red Wings. Ken Holland didn’t become one of the league’s canniest GMs by accident and he has proved it again – not only with the coup of landing former Senators staple Daniel Alfredsson and ex-Panthers center Stephen Weiss, but also traded down in the draft and selected Anthony Mantha, the Canadian Hockey League’s only 50-goal scorer this past season. Few team architects deal with the demands of the present and the future as well as Holland.
3. Blue Jackets. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen may have been tempted to move one of his three first-round draft picks to get better sooner than later, but in the end he held on to all of them and came away with Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano, an impressive and diverse mix of youngsters. Kekalainen also signed brick wall winger Nathan Horton – and although shoulder surgery will keep him out of the lineup for the start of the regular season, Horton is exactly the type of in-his-prime offensive force the Jackets desperately need. They’ll still be in tough to make the playoffs, but at least they have a better squad today and down the line.
4. Oilers. When he took over the role at the end of last season, new Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish talked like a man intent on effecting a major culture change. So far, he’s backed it up. For starters, bringing in Western Canadian players Andrew Ference and Boyd Gordon via the free agent market ensures that the Oilers (a) become tougher to play against; and (b) have players on the roster who actually want to be in Edmonton. As well, landing skilled winger David Perron from St. Louis for a player (Magnus Paajarvi) completely out of the Oilers’ long-term plans has to be considered a win. And the drafting of Darnell Nurse with Edmonton’s first-round pick is widely seen as a strong selection. They still have holes, but will be more difficult to play against.
5. Predators. Having elite young defenseman Seth Jones drop into their lap has to be considered a sort of karmic retribution for the departure of Ryan Suter to Minnesota last summer. As well, Nashville GM David Poile rejigged his forward corps with solid, if unspectacular players such as Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks and Matt Cullen and gambled that former Hawks winger Viktor Stalberg has room to grow his game. If the Preds get back to doing what they’re famous for doing – making the most out of what they can afford – these signings will be a big reason why.
1. Panthers. We can debate whether passing on Seth Jones in favor of Aleksander Barkov with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft was a bad move. But there’s no debating that Florida has experienced an exodus of talent (Weiss, Filip Kuba) and replaced them with borderline NHLers (Joey Crabb, Matt Gilroy). Dale Tallon may have assembled a strong team four or five years from now, but the big-league roster he currently possesses will likely be right back at the top of the draft lottery next summer.
2. Jets. Sure, Winnipeg missed the playoffs by only four points this past season, but that was in the Eastern Conference. Now that they’re in the West and facing much tougher divisional opponents such as the defending-champion Blackhawks, Blues, and Wild, last year’s efforts won’t bring the same results – especially when they’ve lost Alexander Burmistrov and (most likely) defenseman Ron Hainsey. New arrivals Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik may help to a degree, but the state of the Jets feels like status quo. That should be terrifying to their fans.
3. Canucks. The manner in which the Canucks were dumped in the first round of the playoffs screamed out for significant change in Vancouver’s lineup. Unfortunately, all GM Mike Gillis has done in the off-season is trade his one-time goalie-of-the-future (Cory Schneider) for pennies on the dollar, recommit to a veteran goalie (Roberto Luongo) who has yet to publicly return the sentiment and sign a handful of complementary free agents (Brad Richardson, Yannick Weber). The word yikes doesn’t do justice to the unease many Canucks fans are feeling these days.
4. Capitals. Speaking of teams that finished the regular season strongly but were exposed as Cup pretenders come playoff time, the Caps lost second-line center Mike Ribeiro and Hendricks to free agency and more or less recommitted to their core. They can jump off this list if they do the smart thing and sign former Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski to replace Ribeiro, but even then, this is not a team that is being honest with itself about its chances for success against true championship frontrunners.
5. Sabres. Many (including THN prospect guru Ryan Kennedy) believe the Sabres had one of the strongest drafts of any team in 2013. Be that as it may, their solid future is drowned out by the baffling direction of their current plan. Trading Ryan Miller prior to training camp may remedy that to a degree, but when the only real difference in your roster is the repatriation of Henrik Tallinder, it sends the message that the Sabres’ disastrous 2012-13 season was an anomaly. That message ought to be returned to sender on the quick.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.