NHL Teams That Improved the Most During the 2013 Offseason

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistOctober 2, 2013

NHL Teams That Improved the Most During the 2013 Offseason

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    As the puck drops to start the 2013-14 NHL season, we're about to see which teams' offseason moves paid off and which will leave fans frustrated and angry.

    There was no shortage of action in the marketplace this summer with trades, free agents and even compliance buyouts. Additionally, young players and inexpensive journeymen are being given the chance to make names for themselves thanks to the salary restrictions of the new collective bargaining agreement.

    Here's a look at the five teams that have improved the most in the first offseason under a brand-new system. Let's start at the bottom of last year's standings and work our way up.

    Note: All stats from NHL.com.

Edmonton Oilers

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    Last year: 19-22-7 for 45 points, 24th overall. Missed playoffs.

    It's time for the Edmonton Oilers to break out.

    Many years of poor performances have given the Oilers the opportunity to stockpile young talent like no other team in the NHL. This group of stars is beginning to mature and seems committed to staying together in Edmonton.

    The team took strides last year, even sniffing at a playoff spot for a while. This year, big off-ice changes were made with new general manager Craig MacTavish and new coach Dallas Eakins. The new regime added some character players to this year's lineup in addition to continuing to lock up their young stars.

    Edmonton starts the season in a bit of a hole with both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner on the shelf, but the Oilers are deep up front. Their defense has been shored up and their commitment should be stronger.

    This year, expect Edmonton to finally crack the playoff ceiling for the first time since 2006.

Dallas Stars

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    Last year: 22-22-4 for 48 points, 21st overall. Missed playoffs.

    The Dallas Stars franchise drifted for a few years due to financial troubles. Since Tom Gaglardi bought the team in 2011, he has made every effort to rebuild a culture with a strong identity.

    This summer, Gaglardi hired a new general manager, Jim Nill, and a new coach, Lindy Ruff. The team added veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar and forward Shawn Horcoff, traded for mercurial young center Tyler Seguin and named budding star Jamie Benn as team captain. The Stars have also enjoyed a great preseason from rookie Valeri Nichushkin, who looks like an early Calder trophy candidate.

    With an improved identity, look for Dallas to take a good run at ending their streak of five years without a playoff appearance.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Last year: 24-16-8 for 56 points, 14th overall. Lost Western Conference Semifinal to Chicago in seven games.

    Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Detroit Red Wings. After the departure of longtime captain Nicklas Lidstrom, there was even talk that the team might break its 22-year streak of consecutive playoff appearances, the longest in any of the four major professional North American sports.

    Guess again. After a slow start, the Red Wings found their mojo in the second half of the season. They made the playoffs, then knocked off the second seed Anaheim Ducks in the first round and pushed the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks to Game 7 before bowing out.

    For many teams, that result would constitute a very good year, but the Red Wings want more. They signed their goalie Jimmy Howard to a long-term deal and brought in top-end new talent like Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to complement their already-strong core.

    With their move to the Eastern Conference, Detroit's travel burden also will be reduced. Expect the Wings to cause headaches for their new rivals in the new Atlantic Division.

San Jose Sharks

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    Last year: 25-16-7 for 57 points, 11th overall. Lost Western Conference Final to Los Angeles in seven games.

    For most of their existence, the San Jose Sharks have been known as a very good team that hasn't been able to convert regular-season success into a Stanley Cup Final appearance. They've missed the playoffs just once since 1997 and have reached the final four three times, but they carry a reputation as perennial underachievers.

    The Sharks showed plenty of bite in 2012-13. Their regular season was up-and-down but they turned it up in the playoffs, sweeping the favored Vancouver Canucks before pushing the defending champion Los Angeles Kings to seven games.

    In the offseason, the Sharks added buzz-saw Tyler Kennedy. Rookie Tomas Hertl has made the club after an impressive training camp. With young forwards Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture still on the upswing and Antti Niemi coming off his first Vezina trophy nomination, look for the Sharks to be competing for top spot this year in the new Pacific Division.

Boston Bruins

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    Last year: 28-14-6 for 62 points, sixth overall. Lost Stanley Cup Final to Chicago in six games.

    Yes, they went to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last year. You can't get much better than that. But the Boston Bruins finished 10 points behind the Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins during the regular season; their standing should be much better in 2013-14.

    The Bruins have lost key forwards Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin, but they've gained a gem in Loui Eriksson. New addition Jarome Iginla is looking to reward Peter Chiarelli's faith in him after he initially snubbed the Bruins for the Penguins. Already a part of a team known for grit and heart, Patrice Bergeron and Gregory Campbell proved themselves as true warriors during last year's playoffs. Bergeron is becoming recognized as one of the game's best all-around players.

    On defense, the Bruins can look forward to a full season from the promising young group who stepped in so capably during the 2013 playoffs. Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski are fighting for two jobs on the Bruins' blueline, but all three are starting the year with the team.

    The Bruins will be the team to beat in the Atlantic Division in 2013-14.

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