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The Four Most Improved Teams During the 2022 NHL Off-Season

It's still early, but these four teams have done the most to improve their roster so far this summer.
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The NHL off-season is all about fresh starts. 

After a dismal campaign the year before, teams can enter the summer with a renewed sense of optimism and a blank canvas upon which to paint their contention masterpiece. 

Some do this better than others. 

So, let's focus on teams that took advantage of their off-season to improve their teams and set themselves up for success in the coming year. 

Ottawa Senators 

In: Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux, Cam Talbot 
Out: Colin White, Connor Brown, Filip Gustavsson, Matt Murray

How could this list begin with anyone else? 

In the span of roughly a week, the Ottawa Senators went from a basement-dwelling team with delusions of grandeur to a sneaky playoff threat with one of the best top-six forward groups in the entire league. 

Oh, and they assembled it for below market value, too. Not bad. Senators fans should be skipping down the street whenever they leave their houses these days. It's a good time to live in Ottawa. 

Finally left to his own devices, Pierre Dorion swung for the fences this summer. His first dinger came by using the Blackhawks' tomfoolery to his own advantage and prying DeBrincat out of Chicago without surrendering a single roster piece. That would be good enough on its own, but Dorion then followed it up by inking Claude Giroux to a wholly reasonable deal at $6.25 million AAV, and then re-upped 35-goal center Josh Norris to a massive eight-year extension that could look wholly decent if Norris thrives with his new star teammates. 

To top it all off, Dorion also cleaned up his mess by jettisoning Matt Murray off the cap and retaining just 25 percent of the struggling netminder's salary in the process. 

The Senators need a defenseman to be taken seriously next season. Probably more than one, really. But at the moment, Dorion has launched his team up the NHL's power rankings and stationed them to be a legitimate player in the best division in hockey. 

That's a job well done in my book. 

Carolina Hurricanes 

In: Brent Burns, Max Pacioretty, Ondrej Kase, Lane Pederson, Dylan Coghlan
Out: Tony DeAngelo, Vincent Trochek, Nino Neidereiter

Swapping out one of the most toxic locker room guys in the NHL for one of the most beloved at practically a net-even cost is some tidy business. 

Sure, Brent Burns is older than Tony DeAngelo and under contract for one more season. But the bearded defender brings the gift of good vibes to Raleigh that DeAngelo simply did not, arriving along with another decent contributor in Lane Pederson to give the Hurricanes some needed upgrades all over their roster. 

The best GMs in hockey take advantage of their opponent's misfortune. And that's exactly what Don Waddell did to Vegas on free agent frenzy day, squeezing the Golden Knights for 30-goal guy Max Pacioretty and somehow getting Dylan Coghlan thrown in for free. 

Oh, and the kicker is that the Hurricanes paid nothing for those two players. Not even a draft pick. 

Sure, losing Neidereiter and Trochek isn't ideal. But given the money that the latter just pulled down in New York, and what the former is likely commanding on the open market right now, what Waddell managed to pull in to replace them with is, frankly, better -- and actually helps the Canes better accomplish their goal of winning now. 

Columbus Blue Jackets 

In: Johnny Gaudreau, Erik Gudbranson
Out: Kevin Stenlund, Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington, Gabriel Carlsson

No matter who you are, if you add Johnny Gaudreau to your team without surrendering any assets, your team automatically becomes one of the most improved in the league. 

That's just a rule. He's that good. 

Gaudreau is so good, in fact, that his shocking decision to sign in Columbus of all places actually offsets a few other warts that might have landed the Blue Jackets on an inverse version of this list -- most notably handing Erik Gudbranson $4 million per year over four years. 

The Blue Jackets basically signed the best and worst deals of free agency. But the former is so good that they honestly could have also signed the golden retriever from Air Bud to a multi-year deal and still walked away better for it. 

He's a very good boy, after all. 

Along with Gaudreau, the Blue Jackets did well in conducting some internal business, agreeing to contract extensions with the likes of Adam Boqvist, Danil Tarasov, and Jack Roslovic, each of whom projects as key core members in Columbus' future. 

After years of mediocrity and listless organizational direction, the Blue Jackets stormed the gates this summer and changed their perception entirely, dropping an entirely new sleeper team into the NHL landscape. 

Los Angeles Kings 

In: Kevin Fiala
Out: Olli Maatta, Troy Stecher, Andreas Athanasiou

The Kings didn't add a ton to their roster this offseason. But the one major piece they did bring in is what lands them on this list. 

Acquiring Kevin Fiala is the move that officially pushes the Kings out of their rebuild and into contention. The 25-year-old is a legitimate top-six winger with borderline first-line talent, someone who injects an entirely new element into their power play and will elevate the performance of those around him. 

Not to mention, the Kings did well to ensure Fiala would have quality options to play with, too. While not dipping their toes into the free agent market much thus far, GM Rob Blake has managed to re-sign Alex Edler, Adrian Kempe, Lias Andersson, and Carl Grundstrom all in the last month, keeping their roster largely intact from last season at an affordable combined price. 

The Kings are a dangerous team now, armed with a solid young core that is now surrounded by a formidable veteran supporting cast. 

Buckle up, folks. The Pacific Division will be extremely interesting next season. 

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