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Last year the bottom five teams in the NHL were the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and the New York Islanders. That resulted in a draft where Florida picked first followed by the Sabres, Edmonton, Calgary and the Islanders. The lottery did not really shake things up much.
The New York Islanders were a playoff team in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. A healthy John Tavares back in the lineup, the addition of secondary scoring with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin and the signing of Jaroslav Halak to stabilize the team in net make them look like a playoff contender again.
Edmonton, Buffalo and Florida have all spent significant amounts of money on free agents. Buffalo and Florida had to do it just to reach the cap floor of $51 million. Not all of those teams will have managed to spend their way out of the NHL basement.
The Edmonton Oilers—and I know it sounds like a broken record (has anyone out there actually ever heard a broken record?)—with all their young talent, should not finish last in the West again.
The Oilers had Devan Dubnyk and Ilya Bryzgalov in net for the majority of last season. The consensus is that the combination of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth will be much better. It does remain to be seen how these goaltenders perform with the Oiler defensive team in front of them.
The Oilers over the last few years have attempted to boost their defensive team play. This year they added two large mobile defensemen in Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne. They have also added a couple of mobile 6'3" forwards in Benoit Pouliot and Ted Purcell. They certainly have a size in mind when they are picking players.
The Oilers also want strong skaters. Playoff success in Los Angeles has led a lot of teams to add players who have a profile similar to Jeff Carter. To be clear, neither Ted Purcell nor Benoit Pouliot is Jeff Carter. They have yet to be offensively successful on a consistent basis at the NHL level. Pouliot in particular can be a huge defensive liability. It will be interesting to see how this model works in Edmonton.
The improvement in goaltending alone should be enough to lift the Oilers from the bottom five of the NHL standings. I can't see them making it to the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, but they should no longer be among the worst teams in the NHL. If their young offensive stars catch fire together, who knows what could happen?
The Florida Panthers will have the services of Roberto Luongo, a credible veteran NHL goalie, for an entire year. They have added Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Shawn Thornton, Willie Mitchell, Al Montoya and Derek MacKenzie. That should more than compensate for the loss of Kris Versteeg, Ed Jovanovski, Scott Gomez and Dan Ellis.
The Panthers will re-sign restricted free agent Erik Gudbranson. They need to get Dmitry Kulikov under contract.
They have a pile of prospects they can draw on, including the newly drafted Aaron Ekblad, plus Rocco Grimaldi, Drew Shore, Quinton Howden, John McFarland and Vincent Trocheck. Some combination of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad can be expected to jumpstart the offense.
I think Florida will be just a bit too good to finish 26th or worse in 2015.
That leaves Buffalo to join Calgary as the only two teams from last year's bottom five in this season's bottom five.