The offseason has been a busy one so far. A lot of teams have gotten better through free agency, the draft, and trades with other teams. It’s hard to name just one team because a lot of teams have had solid offseasons so far and it’s not even the halfway point of July yet. So which team has won the offseason thus far?.
The Arizona Coyotes were one of the teams who were busy leading up to the NHL Entry Draft, and they improved their team in a big way. Despite parting ways with longtime head coach Dave Tippett and captain Shane Doan, the Desert Dogs have been howling when it comes to their offseason. They acquired Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers last month, which gives the ‘Yotes a legitimate No. 1 center and a No. 1 goaltender. Stepan, who is only 27-years of age, scored 17 goals and 55 points with a plus-19 rating in 81 games played with the BlueShirts this season. He has already been to three Conference Finals and a Stanley Cup Final, which should give him a legitimate shot at getting a letter on his jersey with Doan leaving. Raanta was one of the best backup goalies last season with a 2.26 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He is a major upgrade from Mike Smith, who got shipped to the Calgary Flames this offseason and had a 2.92 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. The Coyotes also got some help on the backend, trading Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. Hjalmarsson is a great defensive defenseman who should help the Coyotes recover from the third-worst goals against in the league last season (260). He has also won THREE Stanley Cups in Chicago, and will bring even more veteran experience to go along with youngsters Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Dylan Strome.
Following their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, the Nashville Predators are looking to close the deal next year. So far this offseason, they’ve acquired center Nick Bonino and winger Scott Hartnell via free agency, and Alexei Emelin in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. Bonino, 29, played the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and played a significant role in the playoffs. He had 18 goals and 37 points in 80 games played in Pittsburgh last season, mostly playing on the third-line. Bonino is expected to get promoted to the second-line in Nashville depending on whether or not veteran forward Mike Fisher returns for another season. He should help the Predators take the next step and, with his playoff experience, Nashville is my pre-season pick to win the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup. Scott Hartnell may have been bought out by the Blue Jackets a few weeks ago, but he’s a solid addition on his one-year, $1 million deal. He had 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games played with Columbus last season, which is not bad at all. And for just $1 million, that’s a bargain. Hartnell is a veteran leader who could help this team take the next step along with Bonino. He can also stick up for the team’s young players like Filip Forsberg and Pontus Aberg. Fans already know about the great Top 4 defense that Nashville possesses, but they weren’t done from there… they acquired aforementioned Alexei Emelin to help bolster that defense. He played a Top 4 role with the Canadiens last season and finished the year with a plus-1 rating. His offensive numbers may not jump off of the page, but he will help stabilize the defense even more than it was this past season. Predators General Manager David Poile still has a lot to do this summer, with restricted free agents Ryan Johansen and Victor Arvidsson to sign, but assuming he gets those contracts done, the Preds promise to be a favorite to do big things next year.
The biggest winner of the offseason is the Dallas Stars. First, they hired Ken Hitchcock as head coach to replace Lindy Ruff, who was fired after the Stars missed the playoffs. Hitchcock made the playoffs every year with the St. Louis Blues and with his contract expiring this season, he will certainly get a lot of interest. They also acquired goaltender Ben Bishop, and then signed him to a six-year, $29.5 million contract, which should help them in the crease (something that killed them last season). Despite a down year in Tampa Bay, a year in which he saw getting shipped to the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline, he has been a Vezina Trophy finalist in two of the last three seasons. He won 35 or more games in each of the three full seasons he spent with the Lightning. He had a career-best .926 save percentage and 2.06 GAA in 2015-16. He may not have had his best year last season, but in his defense, it would have been a lot better if Tampa had been healthy as a team the entire year and if the Kings was a better team. Dallas also helped address a league-worst 260 goals against last season when they acquired defenseman Marc Methot from the Vegas Golden Knights. Methot may not be known for his offensive prowess, but he finished the year with a plus-13 rating. He and Erik Karlsson were the Senators’ best shutdown pair last season and they shined in the playoffs. Methot should help the Stars’ defense improve from dead last in the league last season. The Stars also went out and signed veteran forward Martin Hanzal to a three-year contract worth $14.25 million. Hanzal gives the Stars more options down the middle as they now have Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Martin Hanzal as their Top 3 centers. He scored 20 goals and 39 points in 71 games played with the Coyotes and Minnesota Wild. Finally, the Stars went out and signed one of the biggest unrestricted free agents on the market, forward Alexander Radulov, to a five-year contract worth $31.25 million. In his first season back in North America, Radulov scored 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games played with the Montreal Canadiens. He is an offensive threat and should fit in nicely with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as teammates.
Stars’ GM Jim Nill has done a great job with his team this offseason, making key additions that position the Stars well for a return to the playoffs. Now it’s up to the players to make their potential a reality.
By Harrison Brown