No need to sugarcoat it. We'll probably see Presidents Day sales before the start of NHL training camps, but with the bulk of the wheelin' and dealin' behind us, it's a good time to take a look at what each team was able to accomplish since hanging up the skates for the summer.
The goal here is to assess how well clubs set themselves up for 2012-13 and, to a lesser extent, beyond. The focus is on immediate impact -- how they addressed problem areas or took care of pressing issues. It's impossible to ignore the draft, but unless a team landed a player who could step into the lineup, it was viewed as an ancillary benefit.
So, what do the letters mean? A grade of C means they stayed the course -- whether that's good or bad depends on the team's situation heading into the summer. B suggests a brighter outlook for the season ahead. An A was awarded when a team made significant improvement.
No need to explain the lower marks, eh?
Today we take a look at the Western Conference. You can
They were held to a goal or less in 21 games, so scoring is the top priority. Retaining the ageless Teemu Selanne helps (at least by not creating another hole), but newcomers Daniel Winnik and Brad Staubitz won't exactly strike terror in opposing netminders. Sheldon Souray still has a bomb from the point, but he's easy to defend and less agile than Lubomir Visnovsky -- who may, or may not remain a Duck, depending on an arbitration hearing on Sept. 4. Souray brings a sorely need physical element to the D corps, as will jumbo shot-blocker Bryan Allen, but overall these Ducks don't look any more imposing than the team that missed the playoffs by 15 points last season. If not for the signing of starting-goaltender-in-waiting Viktor Fasth, this could have been a lost summer in Anaheim.
Three straight playoff DNQs , the NHL's fourth-highest payroll and a core of aging stars. In most towns, that's impetus for major change. In Calgary, it's tinker time. GM Jay Feaster may have finally drafted a true No. 1 center in Mark Jankowski, but he's years away from contributing and the last man to take a stab at the job, Olli Jokinen, was allowed to walk to Winnipeg. Free agents Jiri Hudler and Roman Cervenka will get auditions, but they're likely to play second-line roles. Dennis Wideman can be an adventure in his own end, but he should add some spark to the league's 24th-rated offense from the blueline. The best signing might have been coach Bob Hartley. He'll secure an honest effort.
Going by their near absence of activity, it seems GM Stan Bowman isn't losing sleep over consecutive first-round exits, Corey Crawford's play in net, or special teams that ranked among the league's worst. To be fair, Chicago managed to average 103 points over the last four seasons, so maybe an experienced keeper who could challenge Crawford, or a net-front presence who could add some jam to the power play are more like wants than needs. The Hawks will be fine this season, but they'll need those elements by the spring if they hope to avoid making it three one-and-done's in a row.
For a rebuilding team like the Avs, summer is all about small steps. Take care of your free agents, add some veteran support and create opportunities for the young core to grow. GM Greg Sherman extended Matt Duchene and Erik Johnson and re-upped aging Milan Hejduk for one more year, but he's yet to resolve a stewing contract situation with emerging star Ryan O'Reilly. And while Sherman added P-A Parenteau to round out the top-six forwards and John Mitchell to pivot the fourth line, he chose not to add another reliable scorer to take some pressure off the kids and put the team in better position to challenge for a playoff berth. Factor in the loss of penalty-killing weapon Jay McClement and a draft that saw the Avs without picks in the first and fourth rounds, and their offseason feels like a wash.
GM Scott Howson finally resolved the Rick Nash situation, and while many viewed it as a botched job, the truth is that there was no home run to be hit. And, honestly, it's hard to argue that Nash's departure means the Jackets will mine a new rock bottom this season. This is a team that needed a transplant of character as much as talent, and while Nash wasn't a bad guy, he wasn't the right guy, either. So in comes Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon from the trade along with veterans Nick Foligno, Adrian Aucoin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Add in promising defender Ryan Murray from the draft and this is a very different team. Maybe not good enough to climb out of the basement yet, but with change like this comes hope.
They were comically inept on the power play last season, and it cost them a playoff berth. Looking to a pair of 40-somethings like Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney for help is a short-term approach I've taken issue with previously, but their presence should turn the unit into a difference-maker this season. Derek Roy will step in on the second line for Mike Ribiero, who was dealt for prospect Cody Eakin -- the right approach for a team that needs to get younger. The Stars will sorely miss the grit of Steve Ott, and the failure of GM Joe Nieuwendyk to address one of league's weakest defense corps takes some of the shine off the big-name acquisitions.
Used to be that Detroit was the destination of choice for top free agents. Not anymore. Faced with a gaping hole left by the retirement of Nick Lidstrom, the Wings sent flowers and chocolates to every defender on the market but ended up watching from the sidelines as Ryan Suter, Matt Carle and even Sami Salo picked other dance partners. The Wings have spun blueline gold out of straw before, but when you hear they're chasing Carlo Colaiacovo, you know they're in desperation mode. Jordin Tootoo and Mikael Samuelsson add some depth up front, but the Wings clearly regressed over the summer. Their 21-year playoff streak is in jeopardy.
The Oilers keep getting younger, adding the dazzling offensive gifts of first-overall draft selection Nail Yakupov and winning the league-wide auction for ex-Ducks pick Justin Schultz. Tremendous assets both, but can they help the team win this season? Despite all the potential, new coach Ralph Krueger has an uneven mix of talent to work with up front, and the defense lacks leadership and a true shutdown presence. GM Steve Tambellini had a solid summer, though he whiffed on the chance to add a couple of veteran stabilizers. If this team is to improve, it'll come from the maturation of the current kids, not the gifts of the new ones.
It's impossible to overlook that 16-4 run to the Cup, but it's worth remembering that the Kings spent 82 games scrambling for the eighth seed in the West. GM Dean Lombardi is counting on the former being the more accurate reflection of his creation, which will return with a virtually intact roster. He signed Conn Smythe winner Jon Quick to a 10-year deal and held onto his most valuable chip, back-up goaltender Jonathan Bernier, for a more opportune moment. First-rounder Tanner Pearson has the size and experience to crack the roster this season. Last-overall pick Nick Ebert may turn out to be a steal.
What does a shade over $200 million in free-agent spending buy you these days? The NHL's most improved team...at least on paper. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are all-world talents who should catapult Minnesota into the upper sphere of contenders. But some of GM Chuck Fletcher's lesser signings -- speedster Torrey Mitchell, and face-off artist and physical menace Zenon Konopka, for instance -- will be just as critical to putting the Wild over the top by taking care of the business that doesn't make the highlight reels. Add in rookie Mikael Granlund, who is penciled into the second-line center role, and coach Mike Yeo has a lot of new pieces to fit together. Every coach wishes he faced that kind of challenge.
Shea Weber is a Pred for life after GM David Poile broke his budget to match Philly's aggressive offer sheet...and that's the good news. Beyond that, it was a grim summer in Nashville. Ryan Suter's gone, taking his 26:30 average ice time and 25 power play points (both third in the NHL) with him. There's no way incoming veteran Scott Hannan and the team's young prospects can backfill that kind of presence. Poile wisely jettisoned malcontent forwards Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, but has yet to land a top-six forward to pick up the slack. Topped off by a first-rounder sacrificed in the Paul Gaustad deal, this summer marked a huge step backwards for a franchise that was on the verge of something big.
Things are looking bleak in the wake of the finest season in the franchise's history. The Yotes already have lost leading scorer Ray Whitney and top-four blueliner Adrian Aucoin, and there's every chance they could see franchise icon Shane Doan walk away by Sept. 15. Steve Sullivan couldn't score 77 points skating with Sidney Crosby, so he won't be much of a patch for a middling offense or a 29th-ranked power play, but he'll play for 30 cents on the dollar. Nick Johnson and David Moss will scramble for depth roles. Zbynek Michalek returns after failing in Pittsburgh, hoping to recapture his form. And there's still no new owner in place...
Instead of the major roster shake-up that many thought was needed after San Jose's first-round loss to the Blues, GM Doug Wilson left his Sharks virtually intact, bringing in only Adam Burish and Brad Stuart to fill depth roles (unless Stuart can comfortably switch to the left side -- that dexterity would move him up the chart). The splashiest addition was behind the bench, where new associate coach Larry Robinson will attempt to guide a 29th -anked penalty kill into the middle of the pack...and be ready to step up if Wilson decides Todd McLellan is out of ideas.
You can't fault GM Doug Armstrong for standing pat with a club coming off a 109-point season -- second-most in franchise history -- especially when considering they did it with key soldiers Andy McDonald, Alex Steen and David Perron missing long stretches. With deep goaltending, a stout rear guard, a total buy-in of coach Ken Hitchcock's program and a bit of good health, this club should again contend for the conference title. The one major add is internal: 2010 first-rounder Vladimir Tarasenko will vie for a top-six role.
Now that the goaltending reins are in the hands of Cory Schneider, the Canucks have one too many starters. Until Roberto Luongo is dealt, his presence poses a distraction for this team. Former Panther Jason Garrison replaces Sami Salo on a shallow blueline. He's mobile and has some size, and is passionate about playing for the Canucks, a nice add, but GM Mike Gillis failed to address other pressing needs: a reliable third-line center, some size and snarl on the depth lines, and another impact performer for the back end. This team is close, but Gillis needed to do more.