- With most free agent signings on the books and trade activity now sporadic, here's how the NHL's 30 teams stand during the month-long lull before training camps and the World Cup tournament begin.
The future's been drafted. Trades have been consummated. Free agents have been added, and lost.
The new season's not here yet, enough changes have been made to give us an early impression of how each team might rank in 2016-17. Here's an early look, based on what we've see so far this summer.
The Stanley Cup finalists are deeper and faster with the addition of speedy winger Mikkel Boedker. If keeper Martin Jones can match his playoff performance, they'll be the favorites to claim the Pacific Division.
The sting of last spring's playoff failure should provide all the motivation this group needs to get off to a hot start. Their one major addition, center Lars Eller, improves their depth, but he's not the missing piece. This group has to dig deep inside to find that.
Forget about regression. A wild summer of change sees the defending Atlantic champs deeper in net (backup James Reimer) and more mobile on defense (Keith Yandle, Mark Pysyk and Jason Demers). They're ready to take the next step.
The additions of Brian Campbell and Michal Kempny should address the blue line depth problems that cut their 2015-16 season short. Now the questions surround the forward corps. Can Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte and Ryan Hartman handle full-time NHL duty? That's a big ask. This team is still has all-world talent, but could struggle out of the gate.
After the Kings blew a 16-point lead over the Ducks, then bowed out meekly in the first round to the Sharks, there was pressure on GM Dean Lombardi to pump new life into this roster. Instead, cap issues cost L.A. top-six winger Milan Lucic and the best option to patch over the holes on defense was Canadiens castoff Tom Gilbert. That's not going to get it done.
Having lost starting goalie Brian Elliott, captain David Backes and heart-and-soul forward Troy Brouwer, this team simply isn't as good as the one that fell short in the Western Conference Finals. They'll have to figure out quickly whether they can maintain the same identity, or if they need to change it up to reflect the shifting demographics.
The Mika Zibanejad trade was a step forward for a team that needed to get younger, but it still feels like the Blueshirts are on the verge of taking two steps back. The defense that hung Henrik Lundqvist out to dry in the postseason (4.39 GAA, .867 save percentage) is a lingering concern.
Despite their ahead-of-schedule playoff appearance last spring, GM Ron Hextall stuck to his slow-and-steady approach to team building. That's the right move, opening the door for kids like defenseman Ivan Provorov and winger Taylor Leier to grab full-time slots and prove their value. It also likely means another year on the bubble.
GM Ray Shero went all in to improve the league's worst offense, acquiring a “motivated” Taylor Hall in a blockbuster trade with the Oilers. The left wing will add speed, grit and panache to a forward corps that could use all three. Beau Bennett and Vernon Fiddler help with depth, and get the Devils closer to the four-line model. Ben Lovejoy was an underrated pickup for the back end. The Devils might not be a playoff team yet, but they'll be more entertaining as they make their bid.
Hard to figure out why the 'Canes would re-sign Cam Ward, essentially doubling down on a goaltending tandem that finished 29th last season in even-strength save percentage. But that was the only misstep in a summer that saw GM Ron Francis acquire Teuvo Teravainen and Lee Stempniak to fill top-nine roles and juice an offense that finished 27th last year.
For all the excitement about the kids up front—Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nic Petan—Winnipeg's season hinges on improving upon that dismal .903 save percentage at even strength (tied for second-to-last with Carolina). Connor Hellebuyck would seem to be their best hope in net, but he's no sure thing at this point in his career.
Guy Boucher was an interesting hire, but it remains to be seen how the offensive-minded bench boss will fix Ottawa's troubled defensive game. At least GM Pierre Dorion has gifted him with a couple of new weapons up front. Derick Brassard should add some pop, but Chris Kelly's two-way game and experience could prove equally valuable.
A new coach (Glen Gulutzan), new goaltenders (Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson), and a veteran physical presence up front (Troy Brouwer) give the faithful reason to hope for real improvement this season. The Flames still lack the depth needed to crack the playoffs, but they're headed in the right direction.
With Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome, Anton Karlsson, Tyler Gaudet and Laurent Dauphin all pushing for roster spots, the Coyotes are young and getting younger. That's brilliant for the future, but it sets them up as the 98-pound weakling just waiting to get bullied by the established teams.
The Buds enjoyed a terrific summer, adding a No. 1 goaltender (Frederik Andersen) and a future franchise center (Auston Matthews). And with roster spots up for grabs, youngsters like Mitch Marner and William Nylander should make the cut. That infusion of talent makes this a better team, but there are too many holes for the Leafs to be competitive yet.
Loui Eriksson and Philip Larsen should bolster that 27th ranked power play, and Bo Horvat is primed for a breakthrough season, but this team is still a mix of ill-fitting parts. Hard to imagine the Canucks working their way into the playoff mix.
The worst center corps in the league, a young blue line that will rely heavily on a pair of U-23s (Ryan Murray and Seth Jones) and an injection of talent from their Calder Cup-winning AHL club (Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski): Cue up the theme song to Growing Pains and dream of better days ahead.