The Rangers leaped from the ranks of the “status quo” to being one of the most improved teams in the league with the acquisition of Rick Nash, but how have their Eastern Conference competitors fared this offseason?
Here’s a look at which teams have improved, which teams appear weaker and which seem about the same as they were in 2011-2012.
Carolina – The Hurricanes made perhaps the two biggest “name” additions of the offseason, bringing in Jordan Staal and Alex Semin to compliment Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner on what should be a much-improved offensive attack. Giving up Brandon Sutter and letting Bryan Allen go could make for a tough time on the other side of the rink, where Carolina has struggled recently. Still, this team is undoubtedly trending upwards.
Buffalo – The Sabres sent inconsistent center Derek Roy to Dallas for the underrated Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy. Buffalo’s real success this offseason came in June, when the team drafted Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Grigensons in the first round. Grigorenko could make an impact right away and the Sabres suddenly have a few near NHL ready prospects worth talking about.
Pittsburgh – They traded a terrific player in Jordan Staal, but the Penguins will finally have both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby healthy for the start of the season. Whether the two remain in the lineup is a key question, but as long as both superstars are on the ice Pittsburgh will be among the best teams in the league.
Washington – Adam Oates seems destined to be a very good coach in short order and the Caps made a shrewd addition when they traded for center Mike Ribeiro at the draft. Losing Semin looks worse on paper than it will on the ice and Washington may thrive with a little less attention this year.
Tampa Bay – The Lightning were one win away from playing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals but fell off the map completely last season due to lackluster goaltending. Anders Lindback still has a lot to prove, but it won’t take much for him to be an upgrade over Dwayne Roloson. If Tampa can get even halfway decent play between the pipes, the Lightning could be a major surprise. The Lightning also added two capable defenders in Sami Salo and Matt Carle.
Winnipeg – I don’t expect Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky to do much to change Winnipeg’s fortunes. The Jets have been working hard to extend Evander Kane though, so that’s a positive sign.
Ottawa – The Senators are returning basically the same team that took the Blueshirts to seven games in round one of the playoffs. A few young players could make an impact, but that will likely take time.
Toronto – The Leafs actually have some defensive depth, so swapping Luke Schenn for James van Riemsdyk made sense. If JVR can stay healthy, Toronto could be marginally better, but the Leafs still have a long way to go to be a playoff threat.
Montreal – Brandon Prust is beloved by New York fans, but he’s not really a difference maker on the ice. The Canadiens didn’t give Michel Therrien many quality reinforcements for his second stint behind the bench in Montreal.
New Jersey – The Eastern Conference champs lost their captain, Zach Parise, as well as two key coaches in Oates and Larry Robinson. The Devils kept defenseman Bryce Salvador and dinosaur goalie Martin Brodeur, but New Jersey will have a very difficult time replicating its 2011-2012 success.
Philadelphia – The Flyers swung and missed on Parise, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber and watched Matt Carle, Jaromir Jagr and Ilya Bryzgalov’s security blanket Sergei Bobrovsky exit as free agents or via trade. The Schenn acquisition was wise, but the Flyers do appear to be significantly weaker on paper. The development of youngsters Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier could mitigate those key losses though.
Florida – The Panthers waved goodbye to bomber Jason Garrison and replaced him with Filip Kuba. Peter Mueller’s health is the wild card here, but the obvious downgrade from Garrison to Kuba is concerning for a team that overachieved last season. Adding top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau to the mix could be huge though.
Boston – Many believe that Tuukka Rask is capable of playing just as well as Tim Thomas did in his new starting role, but until Rask proves it the Bruins fall in this category. Though Thomas became a bit of a distraction and could never handle a heavy workload, he’s been among the league’s best goalies for the last few years. A disappointing second half may make him seem like less of a loss, but Boston no longer has a rock in goal to count on entering the season.
New York Islanders – This is partly contingent on what happens with defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who the Isles acquired at the draft, but is now trying to work his way out of the deal by citing a forgotten no-trade clause. The Isles still have young talent on the way, but losing P.A. Parenteau was a big blow to an already thin team.