With the calendar getting set to flip to September, we take a quick look at some of the teams that improved the most this off-season. (Not necessarily who had the best off-season, but rather who improved their teams the most.) Anthony, Patrick and I debate… Buffalo Sabres By Ryan Porth
Who had the best off-season? Washington, most likely. Who improved the most? Buffalo, undoubtedly.
Owner Terry Pegula’s deep pockets have enabled the Buffalo Sabres – yes, the same Buffalo Sabres that filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003 – to compete with the likes of New York, Detroit and Toronto when it comes to spending money. GM Darcy Regier’s financial handcuffs were taken off this summer and he was able to spend freely; as a result, the Sabres made marked improvement this off-season.
Let’s start with the signing of Christian Ehrhoff. Though he does play the position, he’s not known for his defense. Ehrhoff is a premier puck-moving defenseman that can quarterback a power play with the best of them. Despite the outrageous decade-long contract, Ehrhoff is a great addition to a team that needed some solidity on the man advantage.
Staying on the blue-line, stay-at-home specialist Robyn Regehr was obtained from Calgary in a draft weekend trade. The 31-year-old still has some years left in him and is a perfect complement to the offensive-minded Ehrhoff and two-way up-and-comer Tyler Myers. Regehr’s arrival will be a nice shot in the arm to the defense corps in front of Ryan Miller.
The additions of Ehrhoff and Regehr give Lindy Ruff one of the NHL’s deepest blue-lines to work with.
Regier and Pegula weren’t done. In a semi-shocker on July 1st, the Sabres reeled in Ville Leino, who succeeded in his two years with the Flyers. Leino is versatile in that he can play the center position or on the wing. He adds depth to an offense that has an array of weapons. If his transition from Philly (the only place he’s shown success) goes well, it will turn out to be a nice coup for Buffalo.
What this successful off-season has done for the Sabres is put them in position to make a serious run at the Northeast Division crown this year. When you look at what Regier did this summer, they could easily go from a bubble team last year to a division winner.
Los Angeles Kings By Anthony Curatolo
Spring cleaning and tweaking seemed to be the theme around the NHL this past off-season, but for one team in particular, it was a lot more than small fixes. There was an overhaul of sorts along with additions that can finally help guide the path to being crowned.
For the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings, some familiar workhorses and veteran players will not be returning to the club. Some young studs have been shipped out as well, but in looking at the dynamic and makeup of the on-ice product (as we get to see it on black and white) you have to tip your cap to GM Dean Lombardi on his bold moves.
Departing: Michal Handzus, Ryan Smyth, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Arriving: Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Ethan Moreau and the core that has grown with the Kings over the past few seasons.
Young netminder Jonathan Quick has added another year of top play at the NHL level and is proving to be a very valuable backstop, even over the likes of highly touted youngster, and current backup, Jonathan Bernier. Many feel Bernier is capable of the No. 1 duties as a goalie, but he has quite the young man ahead of him on this depth chart. But when called upon, Bernier delivers. Not too shabby of a duo to put in the paint in L.A.
Quickly, no pun intended, Quick has taken over the spotlight in L.A., making quite the name for himself.
The arrival of Richards, Gagne and Moreau will provide more leadership and grit to the club. Having Richards on board will provide an important physical presence on the ice. With the ‘C’ no longer on his sweater, he may feel less pressure and be able to enjoy his game more, thus providing even more hunger out of him.
Richards joins a core group that starts with captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and, when healthy, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll.
As the young team grows, they age and gain more experience. Back to back playoff seasons will provide more fuel to keep the fire burning under this club. Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are maturing and are only getting better with each year they add to their experience. The improvements come with the territory, as much as the additions.
Gagne is the X-factor to the offense. If healthy, he could be able to match and potentially surpass Ryan Smyth’s numbers – thus easing the departure of Smyth (now in Edmonton) and needed makeup on the offensive side of the puck.
With a healthy season, this Kings team has become one of the top teams in the NHL. I’d pay close attention to them this season.
New York Rangers By Patrick Hoffman
When looking at the teams who improved the most this offseason in the NHL, it is very easy to see that the New York Rangers should be one of the teams discussed.
Going into the off-season, the Blueshirts desperately needed a No. 1 center. As it turned out, the Rangers got the top unrestricted free agent available and the top-line center they craved in forward Brad Richards.
In Richards, the Rangers believe they have someone that, if healthy, can produce on a consistent basis, play in all situations and be a leader. More importantly, the team now has someone they believe can play with Marian Gaborik and get him back to being the 30-goal (or 40) scorer he was during the 2009-10 season.
Secondly, the team was able to re-sign two of their young leaders to multi-year contracts in Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. Callahan, the potential new captain of the team, is probably the hardest-working Blueshirt. He hits, produces, kills penalties, blocks shots and always sets an example when he is on the ice.
With Dubinsky, the Rangers have someone who is probably ready to hit the 30-goal mark and be someone the team can rely on to throw the body around and put pucks to the net. If he is put with the right players, Dubinsky will easily find success this upcoming season.
The team was also smart to re-sign the likes of Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov. Both Boyle and Anisimov scored over 20 goals this season and proved that they are going to be a valuable part of the Rangers' team going forward.
One also cannot forget that the Rangers were able to acquire defensive prospect Tim Erixon. Many scouts and NHL personnel believe Erixon is ready to make the jump to the NHL; should he accomplish that, the Rangers will easily boast one of the league’s best young defensive corps.
Thanks to the offseason signings and acquisitions, the upcoming season is looking very bright for John Tortorella and the Rangers.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.