2012 NHL Free Agency: 4 Teams That Quietly Got Better

Kevin Boilard@@KevinBoilardCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2012

2012 NHL Free Agency: 4 Teams That Quietly Got Better

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    Sometimes, with all the transactions that occur during NHL free agency, it’s difficult to keep track of every roster move for all 30 teams in the league.  While some teams make a splash by signing big-name talent to headlining lucrative contracts, other teams like to go unnoticed during free agency.  Many teams have undergone quiet roster adjustments this offseason, becoming better squads while still flying under the radar.

    The Minnesota Wild have garnered a lot of media attention by grabbing coveted free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.  Because of these acquisitions, the Wild are expected to make the leap into the NHL’s elite.  The Dallas Stars are another team that has made a lot of noise this summer, signing 12 players since July 1 in an attempt to regain power in the Pacific Division.

    However, there are a few other teams that have yet to make a flashy free-agency move, but are poised for just as much success.  This article will highlight four teams that have made significant improvements this offseason without nabbing all the headlines.

New York Rangers

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    The Rangers finished first in the Atlantic Division with a 51-24-7 record.  It will be difficult to improve on last year’s 109 points, but through the first couple weeks of free agency, New York has already made some interesting pickups.

    New York has bolstered their offensive attack by adding three centers and three wingers.  Center Jeff Halpern, who signed with the Rangers for a one-year, $700,000 deal, according to Renaud Lavoie of RDS, played last season with the Capitals.  He only put up 16 points in 69 appearances last year, but Halpern is an NHL journeyman that will add experience to the Rangers lineup.

    New York also added wingers Taylor Pyatt and Arron Asham to add depth at forward.  Pyatt and Asham may not be the most attractive fantasy options, but they are consistent offensive producers that could thrive while playing under head coach John Tortorella.

Ottawa Senators

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    Ottawa made some big moves on the first day of free agency, but have been quiet ever since.  Their three acquisitions on July 1 may have been overshadowed by the Parise/Suter signings three days later. 

    On opening day the Senators signed forward Guillaume Latendresse as well as OHL prospect Shane Prince.  Latendresse, 24, has tremendous upside as a scorer for the Senators.  He could even see time on Ottawa’s power play.  Prince, the team’s second-round pick (61 overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, established himself as a legitimate scoring threat in the OHL with 90 points during the 2011-12 season.  He will attempt to carry that scoring capability over into the NHL.

    The Senators also landed defenseman Marc Methot in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Since Filip Kuba left Ottawa for the Florida Panthers, there will be a defensive vacancy for Methot to fill right away.

    The Senators have gone for quality, not quantity, this offseason.  These three acquisitions should help Ottawa make a push for the Northeast Division title in 2012-13.

Montreal Canadiens

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    After finishing last place in the Northeast Division in 2011-12, the Montreal Canadiens finally appear to be going through a much-needed rebuilding year.  Even though the Canadiens are not anticipating a great deal of success next season, new General Manager Marc Bergevin has put together an intriguing unit for 2012-13.

    Montreal’s most important move in free agency was re-signing their standout netminder Carey Price to a six-year, $39 million deal, according to Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet.  Price will have to live up to his contract for he plays a large part in the Canadiens future plans.

    In addition to acquiring some gritty players that will compete for role positions, Montreal also signed winger Brandon Prust, who spent last season with the Rangers, and defenseman Francis Bouillon from the Nashville Predators.  Neither Prust nor Bouillon have been known to be prolific scorers, but they should strengthen the Canadiens’ defensive efforts.  Prust is an enforcer that has racked up 150+ penalty minutes in each of the past three seasons.

    While the Canadiens may not rise to the top in 2012-13, they are at least taking some small steps in the right direction.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Tampa Bay finished in the middle of the pack in the Southeast Division last season.  The Lightning fought mediocrity all season but eventually posted an unimpressive 38-36-8 record.  However, the Lightning have made all the necessary moves to return to the top of the Eastern Conference.

    Defensively, Tampa Bay made a couple big signings, bringing in Matt Carle and Sami Salo.  Aside from Suter, Carle may have been the best defenseman in this year’s free-agency class.  Salo will bring a lot to Tampa Bay as well.  He has averaged over 20 minutes on the ice per game in each of the past nine seasons.  He has tremendous scoring potential for a defenseman and may be inserted into the Lightning’s power-play unit.

    Don’t think that Tampa Bay did not ignore their offensive needs this offseason.  They also brought in winger Benoit Pouliot, who scored 16 goals and 32 points last season with the Boston Bruins, in addition to resigning Teddy Purcell to a three-year extension, which has an average payoff of $4.5 million a year, according to Lavoie.

    Tampa Bay has made significant improvements to both their offense and defense.  At this point, it looks like the Lightning are poised for a run at the Southeast Division title and a return to the playoffs.