It's the best time of year!
Training camps are just around the corner, which means the off-season is about to come to a close. Which general managers did best this summer? Here are five that improved their teams with smart decisions, signings and/or trades.
1. George McPhee, Capitals
Due to McPhee’s shrewd re-shuffling, perhaps the biggest winner of the off-season was the Capitals. As long as the team’s regular season success continues, McPhee may have won himself the 2012 GM of the Year award just with his maneuvering in net!
Semyon Varlamov, who was a disgruntled restricted free agent and threatened to head overseas, was traded to Colorado for a first-rounder, which could easily turn into a top-five or -ten pick next summer. One day later, McPhee turned around and inked Tomas Vokoun to the biggest bargain of the off-season ($1.5 million for one year). In Vokoun, the Caps have an established veteran netminder that shares the team’s desire to win when it counts.
Aside from that, McPhee added Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, who will bring some much-needed size up front. Jeff Halpern returns to Washington and will provide additional depth at center. Roman Hamrlik, though aging, is expected to play a key role on the blue-line.
McPhee can pat himself on the back for his stellar summer. As we sit here in late August, the Caps look like a bonafide Stanley Cup contender.
2. Dale Tallon, Panthers
One of the top stories of the summer was what the Panthers accomplished during the free agent frenzy. GM Dale Tallon made several additions on July 1st alone; it included the signings of Tomas Fleischmann, Ed Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall, Jose Theodore and Sean Bergenheim, among others. Prior to that, Tallon acquired defenseman Brian Campbell in a draft-day trade to boost the blue-line. These moves helped them reach the salary cap floor before you could blink.
Tallon, the former GM in Chicago, has made Sunrise, Fla., the new ‘Blackhawks South.’ He brought in Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky, who were all with him with the ‘Hawks. Perhaps the best thing Tallon has done is liven up the locker room with all of these pickups; Jovanovski, Upshall and Matt Bradley are all known to be great chemistry guys.
They may not make the playoffs, but thanks to Tallon, the Panthers have gone from a conference cellar-dweller to a team that will compete night in and night out.
3. Dean Lombardi, Kings
Lombardi, not exactly known for pulling the trigger on big moves, opted for quality over quantity this summer.
Mike Richards was arguably the most impactful addition made by any team over the summer, as far as it singlehandedly taking a team to the next level. A second-line pivot was at the top of Los Angeles’ wish list back in June. Lombardi delivered. Surrendering Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn for Richards had to be tough for Lombardi, but Richards is a premier center. There are not too many combos at center that are better than what the Kings have in Anze Kopitar and the former Flyer.
The other notable off-season addition in L.A. was Simon Gagne, another ex-Flyer. He fills a need on the left wing after Ryan Smyth was dealt to Edmonton. Though Gagne is injury-prone, he could be a major coup for the Kings if he stays healthy (and is cheaper than Smyth).
The Kings are now well-positioned to make a serious run in the West.
4. Darcy Regier, Sabres
Sabres owner Terry Pegula opened up the checkbook this summer and watched Regier instantly go after high-profile free agents. Buffalo was able to reel in Christian Ehrhoff to a lucrative 10-year deal before the frenzy even commenced. Also, Ville Leino was valued by many teams, and Regier nabbed him as well. Not to mention, they were a player in the Brad Richards sweepstakes before dropping out at the last minute.
Prior to those signings in free agency, Regier traded for Robyn Regehr (and Ales Kotalik) from Calgary. Regehr will make an immediate impact on a blue-line that needed some more stability in the stay-at-home department. The Sabres’ defense corps suddenly looks like one of the deepest and most versatile in the league
Though the Sabres saw a few useful players head elsewhere, this is a team that will be dangerous in the Eastern Conference. Pegula has brought a lot of optimism to the franchise, and backed up his money-spending promise right off the bat. Regier didn’t disappoint as he upgraded the team from playoff contender to co-division favorite.
5. Stan Bowman, Blackhawks
One GM that has garnered enough respect over the last two off-seasons resides in Chicago. Stan Bowman, son of Scotty, has done a superb job in managing under the salary cap and, this summer, bringing in key veterans to surround the dynamite core.
Though losing Campbell and Brouwer will hurt, Andrew Brunette and Steve Montador are valuable veterans that came at a cheaper price. Bowman also added some sandpaper (Dan Carcillo, Sean O’Donnell and Jamal Mayers). Last year’s team wasn’t well-rounded and leaned on the core too much. That shouldn’t be the case in 2011-12.
Patrick Sharp’s contract extension shouldn’t be forgotten, either. With Bowman locking him up for five more years, the team nucleus is signed through 2015 – something many hockey pundits didn’t think would be possible.
Well done, Stan. Well done.
Photo credit: AP
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