Update: After reading the feedback, we have to admit that we did make a mistake in placing the Philadelphia Flyers ahead of a few deserving clubs. We have re-written #5.
Here is a list of the five teams that we [International Hockey Talk] think are the winners off the off-season so far.
5. Atlanta Thrashers
Stanley Cup Champion; Dustin Byfuglien.
The Atlanta Blac Thrashers took advantage of the Chicago Blackhawks cap troubles asthey made a few notable trades this off-season with them. In total the Thrashers traded Joey Crabb, Marty Reasoner, Jeremy Morin, Ivan Vishnevskiy, 1st round pick, and two 2nd round picks for Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, BrettSopel, Akim Aliu. A lot of people have said that they acquired the wrong half of the Chicago Blackhawks, but I tend to not agree with that. Now, don’t get me wrong, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and all of them were big contributors. But Atlanta acquired most of Chicago’s sandpaper. They got a big power forward in Dustin Byfuglien who made the Hawks 2nd round opponents lives hell for the second year in a row. Andrew Ladd, is a physical and verbal player who can score, and hit and be that valuable player to the teams bottom six. Ben Eager is a fighter, but he can hit and contribute offensively sometimes. Brent Sopel knows his limits, which mades him a solid defensive defenseman and a good shot blocker. He should be able to teach Bogosian and Enstrom a few things, due to his experience.
Joey Crabb, and Marty Reasoner are expendable, but Jeremy Morin and Ivan Vishnevskiy are great prospects. Atlanta gets some guys that can help them now and hopefully get them closer to finishing their quest to get back into the playoffs. The Thrashers have also signed veteran goaltender Chris Mason, who I expect to split time with Pavelec. He also should be able to teach the young goaltender a few tricks. They also traded aging center Todd White, who wasn’t going to get any top six minutes, to the New York Rangers for Patric Rissmiller and Donald Brashear. This was solely for the Rangers to get rid of Brashear and the Thrashers will buy him out since they have more cap space.
Thankfully, the Thrashers walked away from Clarke MacArthur after he received a pretty high contract from arbitraition. The Thrashers just need to re-sign two young skilled players, Bryan Little and Niclas Bergfors and if they do, they have a pretty good crop of forwards, reliable defense and pretty solid goaltending.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Zbynek Michalek: 1 Warrior Dolomite: 0
A lot of people including myself had Zbynek Michalek going to Ottawa to play with Milan. All day during July 1st, there wastalksthat Paul Martin was close to signing. Then out of no where the Penguins have signed Michalek, then a little while later they signed Martin. Ray Shero knew he had to try and replace Sergei Gonchar, Jordan Leopold and Mark Eaton. But Sergei Gonchar left the biggest hole, he ran their powerplay. Both Paul and Zbynek are two way defenseman, which is just want every team wants. It’s a win-win situation, you have two guys that play well in their own zone, and make that breakout pass and are a threat to put in your net. But in our opinions, this is a better move in the long run. Gonchar was 36, and wasn’t getting any younger. Was prone to injuries every year. Martin and Michalek are in their prime, at affordable rates. With around 3 million cap space, if Pittsburgh can find someone to replace Guerin, or re-sign him, then that would seal the deal for them this off-season.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
Goaltender Mike Smith stacking the pads.
Steve Yzerman has done a fantastic job, he is an early favorite for the GM of the year. He has re-signed Martin St. Louis, he also got someone to take underacheiving Andrej Meszaros, who was massively overpaid, on a long contract. They have replaced Alex Tanguay, with Simon Gagne. They are going to have a lethal top six, with Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St.Louis, and Simon Gagne. They have also brought in veteran defenseman Brett Clark who will be a stable piece to their defense. Even though they brought in Dan Ellis, it wouldn’t hurt to kick the tires on Antti Niemi. They finally have obtained a legit 3rd line center in Dominic Moore, who will help form a checking line, and be a part of the PK. I’m really uncertain with Mike Smith, goaltending could be their only worry.
2. Vancouver Canucks
Dan Hamhuis preparing for an upcoming collision with Cam Janssen.
For the second straight year the Blackhawks decapitated the Canucks already decapitated defenseman. Vancouver special teams was just brutal in the playoffs. So they have re-modelled their bottom six and defenseman this off-season, they sent under-achieving forward Steve Bernier, Michael Grabner and a 1st round pick to Florida for Keith Ballard. They also signed UFA defenseman Dan Hamhuis, and brought in Manny Maholtra. All of these players should help out in both sides of the rink. They also re-signed speedy forward Mason Raymond to a 2 year deal. The reason Canucks are second, is because nothing significant was lost. Underacheivers Kyle Wellwood, and Pavol Demitra walked, and only loss to the Vancouver Canucks is probably Willie Mitchell, who could re-sign if Bieksa is moved. With Salo on the IR, Bieksa could possibily stay, and with Bieksa, Canucks are a stronger team. With most top tier teams in the West getting worse, and Vancouver getting better, look for them to battle for a top 3 spot once again.
1. New Jersey Devils
Anton Volchenkov preparing to block Sidney Crosby's shot.
Their biggest splash of the off-season has been signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17 year deal only to have it be declined. If they end up signing Kovalchuk, then it just backs up our decision to place them as 1st even more. Regardless, they also have brought in Anton Volchenkov – top notch physical shot-blocking defenseman from the Ottawa Senators, Jason Arnott, big, strong, two-wayveteran forward, Henrik Tallinder, mobile, big-minute logging Swedish defenseman and reliable back-up goaltender Johan Hedberg to relieve some playing time for Martin Brodeur so he can be fresh for the playoffs. They signed two of their Swedish prospects, Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby. Tedenby turned a lot of heads at the World Juniors, both players will be a big part of the club in the future. They also had to waive forward Jay Pandolfo due to cap reasons and eventually bought him out, and may have to move more bodies such as Danius Zubrus and Brian Rolston, if Ilya Kovalchuk is eventually signed.
That is our list ladies, and gentlemen. I would like to say thanks to Roho Nagi, for helping me out and sharing his knowledge for this post, and Gurinder (@Kovalchuk17) as well for helping out with the rankings.