Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NHL Off-Season Winners and Losers

With NHL Preseason games officially getting underway, the regular season is just around the corner. While I probably won't get to watch too many games from China, I am excited none the less. Just as I did back on Draft Day, I will look back at the busy off-season and decide on a few winners and losers.

Detroit Red Wings: Plain and simple, the Red Wings win every off-season. Signing Hossa and Conklin from the Penguins helps the Wings, and hurts the Penguins, making the Wings a favourite to repeat. Not only were they able to make such high profile signings, but they still re-signed Brad Stuart with plenty of cap room to spare, meaning this team could end up even better throughout the season. How terrifying is that?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Just as the Red Wings always seem to win, the Leafs always seem to lose in the summer. First off, they were unable to get Sundin to comeback (and appear unlikely to do so), and secondly they paid way too much money for the unproven Jeff Finger. While Nicholas Hagman was a solid singing, he is best served as a second line utility-winger, and hardly the top line forward that the Leafs need. Yes, getting rid of McCabe was a good step, but Mike Van Ryan is hardly going to set the team on fire. It has been 41 years since the Leafs last hoisted the Cup, and if they keep this up, it may be another 41.

Chicago Blackhawks: The only team to have gone longer without a cup than the Leafs seems to be making great strides towards taking the drink in the very near future! Brian Campbell gives Dustin Byfuglin, Brent Seabrook, et al. some much needed experience in the back end, and also gives the Hawks potential to have one of the best powerplays in the league. Snatching Christobal Huet up from the Capitals was another great move, as it makes the declining Nikolai Khabibulin a valuable trading commodity. Because any of the other active goalies to have started their way to a Stanley Cup (Osgood, Gigure, Ward, and Brodeur) will not be traded anytime soon.

Nashville Predators: Only one season removed from losing the core of their team to free agency, the Preds had yet another rough summer. First off, they traded away former starting goalie Chris Mason to a division rival for far less than market value. Secondly, they watch as two of their other division rivals, Chicago and Detroit, have fantastic off-seasons, while making no major signings of their own. Lastly, they watch their most promising young player, Alexander Radulov, sign with a Russian team, despite being under contract. The Predators were lucky to make the playoffs last year, and I don't think that they will have the same luck this time around.

Washington Capitals: They kept the core of one of the best and most exciting teams together, which is certainly a bonus. Resigning Sergei Federov was a very underrated off-season victory for the Captials, as he played excellently with Ovechkin and Semin with the Russians at the World Championship. The Capitals need that magic to continue. Signing Jose Theodore is a huge gamble, plain and simple. Are they going to get the Theodore of last season, or the one before? If the Capitals hope to make it anywhere in the spring, they need him to conquer a lot of his personal and professional demons.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Losing Hossa and Conklin hurt. Losing them to the team that beat them in the finals last year makes it a slap in the face. They also lost Roberts and Malone to Tampa. Granted they replaced them with Satan and Fedotenko, but that still has to be seen as a step down. The Penguins should still be the class of the Eastern Conference, but with the Capitals and Flyers continuing to grow, they needed to make a bigger splash in order to be as far and above as they were last year.

San Jose Sharks: All last season, they were missing that elusive puck moving defenseman. They seemed to have finally found him in Brian Campbell, but he left for Chicago at the start of the off-season, leaving the Sharks in a bit of a rut. However, they traded the under-performing Matt Carle to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Dan Boyle (who reportedly was the Sharks first choice at the trade deadline last year, before he re-signed with Tampa), and signed veteran free agent Rob Blake. All of a sudden, their defense is looking much better than it was back in the spring time. To make it even more terrifying, like the Red Wings, the Sharks have a lot of room against the cap to improve their team over the course of the season.

Vanouver Canucks: Two franchise stalwarts, Marcus Naslund and Brendan Morrison took off for greener pastures, and they were replaced with Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier. Despite Morrison's injuries and Naslund's inconsistencies last season, this has to be seen as a net loss for the 'Nucks. Not only that, they offered FAR too much money to Mats Sundin, and even though he did not sign it, they certainly drove up the market price on aging forwards without Stanley Cup rings, a move that could have long lasting consequences for the franchise. With the Blackhawks, Coyotes, and Oilers on the rise, and the Kings aging another year, the Canucks have to be in contention for the basement of the Western Conference.

Tampa Bay Lighting: What a difference a few months makes? First they re-sign franchise player, Vincent LeCavalier for essentially the rest of his career, and then they draft the next franchise player, Steve Stamkos, and sign him to an entry level deal. As if this is not enough, they free up cap room by trading Dan Boyle, adding Matt Carle (while he underperformed last year, he should benefit from a change of scenery). Then as an encore, they go on a free agent frenzy, signing Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, Vaclav Prospal, and Olaf Kolzig. But wait there is more...the Lightning then pull a great trade and get one of the most promising defensemen in the league, Andrei Meszaros, from their expansion cousins, the Ottawa Senators. To make a good summer even better, they parted ways with the two men responsible for the Lightning's recent misfortunes, Jay Feaster and John Tortorella. While they have only been on the downturn for a few years, we may see the Lighting as an elite team in the NHL again in the very near future.

Until next time,



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