The NHL off-season featured a ton of roster changes for a lot of teams throughout the league. A lot of free agents were picked up by other teams, there were some significant trades, and there are still some restricted free-agents yet to sign a new contract. A number of head coaching and general manager changes throughout the NHL could also play a huge part in a team’s success. Today I am going to be counting down the top 5 NHL teams that I feel have made the most positive impact on their roster during the off-season.
#5 – Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers are going to be an interesting team this year. I put them on this list strictly because of the people they have brought in that could change the direction this team is moving. Newly-signed GM Ken Holland has an impressive resume, having led the Detroit Red Wings to three Stanley Cups and 25 consecutive years of making the playoffs over his 21 year tenure as Detroit’s general manager. Holland has done a great job this off-season bringing in some new pieces to the Oilers’ team, even with the limited salary cap space he had to work with. He hired Dave Tippett as the organization’s new head coach, and signed some depth players to the team with the likes of Markus Granlund, Josh Archibald, Riley Sheahan, and James Neal. If James Neal can get back to being a 20-30 goal scorer after having a career-worst year last season, then he could play a big role in maybe getting the Oilers back to the playoffs. It won’t be an easy feat, however, as the Oilers are in a very competitive Pacific Division, and Connor McDavid can’t do it by himself.
#4 – New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are going to be a playoff team this year. And depending on how well some of their newly-signed players perform, they could make a deep run. GM Ray Shero has made some great signings, starting with selecting Jack Hughes first overall in this year’s Entry Draft. This kid is going to be a star in this league, you heard it here first. Shero made a big splash immediately after the draft too, trading Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and two second-round picks to the Nashville Predators in exchange for elite defenceman P.K. Subban, who will fit in very nicely with the rest of the defence corps in Jersey. Shero also landed free agent forwards Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds, both of whom I strongly believe will be important pieces of the puzzle. Put these players together with the likes of Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri, and Nico Hischier, and we have a Devils team that could turn into a dark horse Stanley Cup contender down the road.
#3 – Florida Panthers
For a team that has had attendance issues in past seasons, perhaps the successful off-season they had will put more people in the stands? GM Dale Tallon landed one of the most highly-coveted coaches on the market, 3 time Stanley Cup winner and the second-most winningest coach in NHL history, Joel Quenneville. He then followed that up by signing 2 time Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, which was a spectacular pickup to replace the retired Roberto Luongo between the pipes. The Panthers also got some stability on the blue line by plucking Anton Stralman from their state rival Tampa Bay Lightning, and added some depth on forward with the signing of Brett Connolly. This Panthers team is not one to be taken lightly.
#2 – New York Rangers
What’s not to like about the New York Rangers this season? The Rangers went all in on the biggest prize of the off-season, signing top free agent Artemi Panarin to a seven year deal worth 11.642 million dollars a year. They chose top Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko second overall in this year’s draft, and you can expect him to be inserted into the lineup this season and to make an immediate impact. The Rangers also got a steal of a deal on defencemen Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox, two players that will add great depth on the blue line, and forward Micheal Haley should be able to score at least 20 goals this year if he has the right line mates. Even though the Rangers are still considered to be in a rebuild, you can expect second-year head coach David Quinn to lead the team to a significantly better season. I think the Rangers just barely miss the playoffs this year, but they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in seasons to come.
#1 – Toronto Maple Leafs
“We can and we will.” Young GM Kyle Dubas stood by those words and had a very busy and successful off-season this year. There were issues to address for the Maple Leafs after bowing out of the playoffs in Game 7 of the first round to the Boston Bruins for the second straight year. Dubas realized this, and brought in Alex Kerfoot from the Colorado Avalanche, a great young forward that will add depth to the Leafs’ already lethal forward group. He traded enforcer Nazem Kadri to the Avalanche in exchange for defenceman Tyson Barrie, and picked up another solid defenceman in Cody Ceci, both of which should add much-needed stability to the Leafs’ blue line. Finally, they were finally able to sign restricted free agent Mitchell Marner to a six year deal worth just under 11 million a year. The Leafs still have some big questions looming in the future though. How will Dubas manage the salary cap in the future, with over $40 million tied up in four players? Will Frederick Andersen be more consistent in net during crunch time? Will the Leafs finally have enough weapons in their arsenal to get past the curse that is the first round? If the Leafs have any hope of ending a 50 year Stanley Cup drought, one would think this is the year for them to do it. The Toronto Maple Leafs are all in.
Featured image courtesy of Jillian Wagner / NHL Network
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