NHL's Top 10 Most Intriguing Teams to Look Forward to in 2011-2012
Any NHL offseason carries a myriad of player movements which reshape every team. Hockey followers must become accustomed to a new look of several teams.
With the changes to many franchises, the 2011-2012 season brings several focal points. Though every team will undoubtedly carry a level of curiosity onto the ice, some are more intriguing than the rest.
No. 10: Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators are not going to make a miraculous one season turnaround and be back in the playoffs in 2012.
However, what makes this team interesting to watch is the new fourth line, with the addition of the NHL's penalty minutes leader Zenon Konopka.
A fourth line containing Konopka, Chris Neil and possibly Francis Lessard will drive the opposition crazy, and may result in many entertaining, fight-filled games.
No. 9: New York Rangers
Falling a shootout short of the playoffs in 2010, the Rangers improved this past season.
Despite making the playoffs, the Rangers failed to make it past the first round for the third consecutive season.
With the signing of the summer's highest-scoring free agent, the Rangers have improved their chances of making a longer playoff run. In order to make room for Richards' contract, New York needed to buy out captain Chris Drury's contract.
The loss of leadership may hurt the Rangers, but the increased firepower will surely be a benefit a team that won with defense in 2010-2011.
No. 8: Chicago Blackhawks
Just 13 months after a Stanley Cup victory, the team has seen many components of that squad leave.
Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, Tomas Kopecky, Brent Sopel, Nick Boynton, Ben Eager and Antti Niemi are no longer with the club. Only nine of the 20 players dressed in the clinching Game 6 remain with the team.
Among newcomers are former Philadelphia Flyers Dan Carcillo and Sean O'Donnell. Also joining the team is Jamal Mayers.
The players combined for a total 32 fighting majors last season and drastically improve the toughness of the squad.
No. 7: Washington Capitals
Two consecutive years atop the Eastern Conference Standings, but nothing more to show for it than a President's Trophy and a series victory against the eighth-seeded New York Rangers.
Much like the San Jose Sharks in the west, the Capitals are a team with a recent history of regular season dominance followed by playoff disappointment.
Among the roster moves this offseason were watching Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm leave to different teams.
Arnott scored 13 points in 20 games over the regular season and playoffs, whereas Sturm contributed 10 points in 27 total games for Washington.
Brouwer and Ward are younger alternates who should contribute similar productivity.
Veteran Roman Hamrlik should contribute more than 30 points from the defensive position.
While changes among skaters may have improved the lineup slightly, the biggest moves made were in the crease.
Semyon Varlamov was sent to Colorado for draft picks, and the Capitals signed free agent Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun was regarded as the second best goaltender on the free agent market after Ilya Bryzgalov. Vokoun has put up impressive numbers for years despite playing behind a lackluster Florida Panthers organization.
Vokoun will join Michal Neuvirth in Washington's goaltending situation.
Will acquiring the 35-year-old be the move that gets the Caps to the next level?
No. 6: New Jersey Devils
After an abysmal first half of the season put the New Jersey Devils at 10 wins and 31 losses, the team completely turned around and went 28-13 to close out the season.
Over an entire year, that's the pace of a 56-game winning team, a total that would lead the NHL in any of the past five seasons.
If the New Jersey Devils can settle issues with Zach Parise's contract and play consistent throughout next season, they will surely make the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers all made the playoffs last season. The Flyers and Penguins are cup contenders, and the Rangers signed this summer's highest-scoring free agent.
If New Jersey is the real deal, the Atlantic Division will be unbelievably stacked.
No. 5: Columbus Blue Jackets
Will the Jeff Carter trade be worth it?
Columbus may have paid too much to acquire the Flyers' leading goal-scorer in giving up a young playmaker in Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall pick in the entry draft.
Despite finishing last in their division, the Blue Jackets made this moves in hopes that a 1-2 scoring punch of Rick Nash and Carter can lead the team to victory.
Columbus also added offensive defenseman James Wisniewski (51 points in 75 games last season) to contribute to their hopes of a playoff run.
No. 4: Los Angeles Kings
The other half of Philadelphia's June 23 blockbuster trades was the deal which sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles. Shortly after the opening of free agency, the presence of Richards helped draw former linemate Simon Gagne to the team as well.
Though Los Angeles lost one of the best prospects in hockey (Brayden Schenn) and a young power forward (Wayne Simmonds), they picked up one of the game's most productive two-way forwards in Richards and a classy, clutch competitor in Simon Gagne.
Drew Doughty is still unsigned as a restricted free agent, but the team has plenty of cap space (about $9 million) to work with, so signing the defenseman should not be a problem.
The addition of Richards and Gagne effectively adds a scoring line for the team that finished with the fifth-most wins in the Western Conference this past season.
No. 3: Florida Panthers
After the NHL salary cap rose, the Florida Panthers went on a spending spree in order to reach the cap floor.
The acquisitions included forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim, Scott Upshall, plus defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski.
Fleischmann produced 31 points in 45 games last season, Versteeg notched 46 in 80 and Kopecky delivered 42 points over 81 games. Goc, Bergenheim and Upshall are reliable for 20-30 points each.
Campbell and Jovanovski are offensive defensemen who can deliver more than 40 points each.
Though Florida suffers a significant downgrade in goal by losing Tomas Vokoun in favor of Jose Theadore, the multitude of added offense might make South Florida's hockey team a playoff contender.
No. 2: Philadelphia Flyers
Uncertainty is one of many words which describe the Philadelphia Flyers following this dramatic offseason. A number of shocking moves has resulted in losing three of the top five point scorers from last season, plus the acquisitions of Jaromir Jagr and Ilya Bryzgalov.
Someone in the Flyers organization finally addressed Philadelphia's need for a legitimate starting goaltender after years of disappointment by trading and signing a 30-year-old who was once nominated for the Vezina Trophy.
In return for Carter and Richards, the Flyers picked up Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmond and Brayden Schenn.
Voracek and Simmonds have both already scored 40 points or more in a season and should continue to improve while surrounded by offensive talent such as Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and James van Riemsdyk.
Schenn is regarded as a similar player to Mike Richards, who he was traded for, and is even listed as hockey's top prospect.
The questions that cannot be answered until Philadelphia takes the ice include; Will Jagr be worth the money, and can Schenn step into the NHL and be a productive player, Did the Flyers improve or decline during this offseason, and will Ilya Bryzgalov really be the goalie that Philadelphia has been waiting for?
No. 1: Winnipeg Jets
Following the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, not many major moves were made regarding the roster.
Tanner Glass, Randy Jones and Rick Rypien were added, while Anthony Stewart and Radek Dvorak found new homes.
Quite simply, it does not matter whether or not the roster has improved. A hockey-crazy city is the winner of the NHL's first relocation in 14 years.
From June 1 to June 3, Manitoba Moose season ticket holders were given priority to purchase season tickets for the Jets.
By the time the option was made available to the general public on June 4, 7,000 tickets had already been sold. Within 17 minutes, 13,000 total season tickets had been sold, plus a waiting list totaling 8,000.
The MTS Centre will be sold out for years to come.
The excitement of a new franchise returning to Canada is undeniable; the city of Winnipeg has been wanting NHL hockey back for 15 years.