With 2011 NHL training camps just days away, there are still some free agents left on the market that can be difference makers on certain franchises, and there are new signees that will be largely counted on on their new teams to produce and perform to the standards on which they were signed.
We will be going through each NHL team to access their most key signing in the offseason, or to see if there is anyone left on the free agent market for them to sign to help the success of their team in 2011.
The Anaheim Ducks are coming off a 2010 campaign which saw them finish 4th in the Western Conference only to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators. Though most teams would consider where the Ducks finished as a satisfactory season, the Ducks thought of it as a disappointment.
To address holes the Ducks believed they had when it came to depth players, they went out and signed centerman Mark Bell who has been out of the NHL for a few years, but has put up points in the Swiss league over the past couple of seasons. Bell is a guy who can play on the third line, but also put up points that are necessary for any NHL team to find success in the playoffs.
Besides the signing of Bell, the Ducks need to wake up and re-sign one of their own in Teemu Selanne. Selanne may be aging at the age of 41, but he put up 80 points in 2010. Clearly he can still play and make a huge difference in doing so. Sure he played alongside the likes of MVP Corey Perry in 2010, but he is a great complimentary player for the leagues top scorer.
The Ducks look poised to compete again in the Pacific Division in 2011, but if they want to be even more successful Teemu Selanne is a crucial component that they will need in their quest for glory this season.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins are probably the only team in 2011 that free agency doesn't apply to. With the exception of Thomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder leaving the team, the Bruins are virtually the exact same team in 2011 that they were in 2010.
The lack of free agent activity could be a blessing in disguise for the Bruins in 2011 as it allows more of their prospects to get ice time. Tyler Seguin will undoubtedly be on the ice a lot more than he was in 2010, and the departure of Kaberle could mean that Dougie Hamilton could start the season with the big club.
The Boston Bruins seem well prepared for the 2011/12 season, and don't really need to make any improvements going into camp. Look out for them in the east yet again this year.
The Buffalo Sabres squeaked into the playoffs in 2011, and were one of the busier teams in the free agent market in the off season. The Sabres went out and signed big name free agents like Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr in 2011 to vastly improve their 2010/11 team.
Ehrhoff is probably the biggest defensive signing of the off season as he will come into the lineup and directly impact the core of the franchise. No longer do the Sabres have to totally depend on Ryan Miller to save games for them, but can now count on the likes of Ehrhoff and Regehr to limit the shots that get to the net allowing the forwards to focus on putting pucks in the net.
The Sabres look dangerous in 2011/12 and have several new faces that can make a big impact on the results of games this season.
The Carolina Hurricanes finished just two points out of the playoffs in 2010/11, and GM Jim Rutherford did his best to bring players to the 'Canes to help get them over the hump this upcoming season.
Rutherford went out and picked up defenceman Thomas Kaberle to try and bolster the back end, but Kaberle didn't really prove himself in 2010/11 so it will be interesting to see how he fits in the Hurricanes roster. Other than Kaberle, the 'Canes tried to fill the void left by Erik Cole by bringing in Alex Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart. Ponikarovsky has never performed to the potential on which he was drafted, and Stewart has only played one full season in the NHL.
The Hurricanes could use a player like Bryan McCabe to come in and have a more successful back end with veteran presence, but it is unlikely that they could afford him.
All the movement the Hurricanes have done in the off season doesn't look like it is significant enough for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs in 2011/12 which is unfortunate for a team with such upside.
The Calgary Flames are looking to improve on what was a disappointing season last year. The Flames had a late season push, but still managed to fall short of the playoffs finishing 10th in the West.
The team came together and finally found some chemistry getting points from all four lines and getting more balanced goaltending by February. Unfortunately, it was all for not and the Flames still fell short of their ultimate goal of being in the playoffs.
This prompted the Flames to make one major signing in the off season. The Flames went out and signed veteran defenceman Scott Hannan to a one year deal to try and improve a defensive core that saw Robyn Regehr depart in July and one that struggled last season.
The signing of Hannan probably isn't enough to give the Flames the boost needed to go far in 2011/12, but if they have kept their level play we saw in the second half of the season, they should find themselves in a playoff spot come the end of the regular season.
The Blackhawks are coming off a season in which they saw a significant drop in their success as opposed to the past couple of seasons.They found out how hard it is to repeat as champions, and just barely snuck into the playoffs before losing to the Canucks in seven games.
The Blackhawks did not lose any key pieces to free agency, and lucked out when Brian Campbell finally left his lucrative contract for Florida. They did however, bring in a lot of toughness with guys like Steve Montador and Dan Carcillo, but none of the new tough guys will have a season long impact.
One man they brought in was forward Andrew Brunette. The veteran winger has over 700 points in his career and is capable of putting up points even as a 38 year old.
After locking up Patrick Sharp and having the core group of players still under contract, the Blackhawks could benefit on divisional foes who didn't improve and allow themselves to move up in the Western Conference standings in 2011/12.
If Colorado Avalanche fans are hoping their team is the next Chicago Blackhawks with all their young prospects, they might want to think again. Management made so many changes in the off season that the transition into a winning organization again may take a lot longer than anticipated.
The Avs made a bunch of questionable signings in the off season and despite having the likes of Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Rielly, Erik Johnson, and Gabriel Landeskog on the team, their back end is a mess. They lost Adam Foote and John Michael Liles in the off season and tried to improve on that by bringing Shane O'Brien in.
The Avs enter the season with so many questions surrounding their back end and they could use the likes of a Chris Campoli or Craig Rivet to help balance things out. Don't look for the Avs to make the playoffs this year.
Columbus Blue Jackets for most improved team in 2011/12. The Jackets went out and made huge moves in the off-season. They went out and traded for Jeff Carter who is going to tear it up in the west this season alongside captain Rick Nash as well as picking up the negotiating rights to James Wisnewski.
Wisnewski was one of the bigger free agent signings this summer and should make an immediate impact on the long term success of the franchise. Veteran Vaclav Prospal brings a mentorship standpoint to the prospects of the team, and can also chip in when needed to, and is especially effective on the powerplay.
The Blue Jackets are shaping up to have a great season and look like they could finally crack the top 8 in the west.
Dallas Stars fans better get ready for a long season, because their team isn't close to the team that missed the playoffs by two points just one season ago.
The Stars lost their crown jewel this summer, Brad Richards. For what? Nothing. They didn't even come close to replacing him and don't have a standout free agent signing this off season with the exception of Michael Ryder. Ryder needs players to compliment, and the Stars don't have a player that fits in with him.
The Stars need to take a look at a guy like JP Dumont, with some skill that can help put pucks in the net. The Stars today won't be putting up big numbers on the scoreboard, but the one thing they can trust in is their netminding for the first time since Turco left.
We didn't think it was possible for the Detroit Red Wings to improve coming into the season, but they did just that. This season they will come in with a clean bill of health across the board and should get off to a hot start.
To make matters worse for opponents, the Wings brought in the likes of d-man Mike Commodore and Ian White to bolster an already strong back end. The Red Wings should finish in the top two in the west this season and again are a top contender for the Stanley Cup. The dynasty lives on.
Oilers fans have plenty to be excited about in 2011/12. Along with Taylor Hall, they now have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Eric Belanger on the team. The Oilers are one piece away from a very successful run it seems and that could be in goal or secondary scoring.
Oilers fans everywhere rejoiced when the team traded to bring back local hero Ryan Smyth back into the lineup, but he will probably have limited minutes as he is aging, and will most likely act as a mentor to Nugent-Hopkins and Hall.
The Oilers didn't improve significantly on the blue-line, and will still have struggles keeping the puck out of their own net. This is where Bryan McCabe or Chris Campoli could help out, as long as the Oil can afford them.
Again, the Oilers are one or two pieces away from glory, but they are improved from their dismal 2010/11 campaign.
They might as well have called it the summer of the free agent in Florida. The Panthers seemed to sign anyone and everyone. They could be vastly improved, but we won't know until we see all nine players suit up and develop chemistry for the first time.
The Panthers went out and stole Tampa Bay playoff hero Sean Bergenheim from their arch rivals and brought in veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell to man the blue line. In addition Marcel Goc will come in hoping to boost the offense alongside Scottie Upshall, Bergenheim, and Thomas Fleischmann.
The Panthers come into the season with a tremendous opportunity to be successful, but only time will tell.
The LA Kings spent their off season testing the trade waters as opposed to the market. They brought in Mike Richards to bolster an already lethal offense in a trade with the Flyers, and make the team that much better.
When the Kings did sign their two free agents, they made it count. They brought in veterans Simon Gagne and Ethan Moreau to make their team even better than it was in 2010/11. The Kings should be a scary team in 2011/12 and should compete for the Pacific division title with the likes of the Sharks and Ducks.
Much like the Kings, the Wild made all their off season moves on the trade market bringing in Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi from the Sharks.
Gone are the days of Jacques Lemaire and his defense first coaching mentality and the Wild fans will welcome what is poised to be a high scoring offense. The Wild shouldn't be taken lightly this season and could be a darkhorse this year.
In each of the past two seasons the Montreal Canadiens have been within a stones throw of the Stanley Cup Finals, and after losing the likes of Benoit Pouliot, Jeff Halpern, and Roman Hamrlik to free agency, they had to address certain needs.
They did just that by bringing in offensive talent in Erik Cole. Cole has consistently put up points in all nine of his NHL seasons. In addition to Cole, the Habs manage to re-sign many of their own including Hal Gill and Mathieu Darche to continue to have a strong group going into the season.
The Habs should contest yet again for a berth in the Stanley Cup finals in 2011/12.
Besides re-signing Shea Weber via arbitration, the Nashville Predators did next to nothing this off season. Their biggest signing came as Niclas Bergfors who has never put up big points in his career all while losing the likes of Marcel Goc and stay at home defenseman Shane O'Brien.
Luckily for the Preds they still have one year each left with Weber, Pekka Rinne, and Ryan Suter. It seems like all could be leaving after this season. The Preds should compete in the playoffs again in 2011/12, but it is likely to be their last solid season for a long time.
Similarly to the Preds, the Devils did next to nothing in the off season too, at least in terms of free agency.
The Devils are coming off a season in which much of the team underperformed, and they are mostly banking on those individuals to get their game back in 2011/12. If this is the case, the play of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise could very well make or break their season along with the play of sure fire hall of famer Martin Brodeur.
The Devils might want to take a look at Paul Mara or a Nigel Dawes to help in the depth department before training camp begins.
Like many teams this off-season, the NY Islanders depended mostly on trades as a way to improve their team. The Islanders traded for Brian Rolston early on and pretty much stopped there. They did go out and pick up Marty Reasoner in free agency though.
Reasoner has always been able to put up 10-15 goals a season and is more of a role player than anything else. Other than Reasoner the Islanders just ensured their own players with new contracts. The Islanders aren't going to be any better than they were in 2010/11 unfortunately for the few fans that still make it out to Nassau Coliseum, and the team will struggle horribly in 2011/12.
Without a doubt, the boys in blue on Broadway made the biggest splash in free agency this past summer. The New York Rangers won the contest to sign Brad Richards.
Richards will light it up in New York and instantly help the Rangers back to the playoff hunt and give them a shot at the division in 2011/12. Other than Richards however, the Rangers didn't do a whole lot due to lack of cap space after the big signing.
The Rangers don't need to do much more anyways and should put up a good fight this season.
2011/12 is probably the last year the core group of players (Spezza/Alfredsson) will be together in Canada's capital. The Ottawa Senators are giving it one last go, and made it apparent they were trying to save some money when they didn't go out into the free agent market and sign big names.
They did pick up Mark Parrish who one might assume the Sens are hoping will return to form like he was in Minnesota and with the Islanders previous. He will provide some depth for the team if he can stay up with the big club. The Sens lost forward Ryan Shannon in the off season and he was a guy that really performed for them last season. They could look into a player like John Madden to help fill some of the void.
The Sens finished well out of the hunt in 2010/11 and based on their moves in the off season it doesn't look like they are in a hurry to move much this year.
Of all the NHL teams going into this season, the Philadelphia Flyers are probably the most interesting. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren all but cleaned house this past summer trading away franchise players Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, as well as allowing Ville Leino and Sean O'Donnell to walk away to free agency.
The returns the Flyers got in the trades should be interesting to see this season, but there were some free agent signings just as shocking as the trades. The Flyers brought in Jaromir Jagr out of the blue to play on the team this season. Jagr last played in the NHL with the Rangers in 2007/08 and put up 71 points that season. Jagr has proven in his time in the KHL that he can still play, but can he play at the NHL level still?
In addition to Jagr, it seems as though the Flyers have finally addressed their often criticized goaltending issues in signing Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Flyers will be an interesting team to watch this season.
The Phoenix Coyotes went out into the market this summer and went on a signing spree...of grinders. Among those signed was bad boy Raffi Torres who will bring a strong physical presence to the 'Yotes in 2011/12 and chip in when he is feeling streaky.
The Coyotes really wanted to address their hole left by Ilya Bryzgalov in goal. So they went out and re-signed LaBarbera, and signed both Mike Smith and prospect Justin Pogge. It should be interesting to see who comes out of camp as the starter.
The Coyotes should see a bit of a drop off in the standings from last year because of the lack of confidence the players will have when it comes to goaltending, and are sure to face more distractions about the future of the franchise again this season. It is unfortunate as the team itself is pretty good that they have to deal with the distractions everyday.
With the Penguins facing the possibility of starting the season with superstar forward Sidney Crosby, the Pens went out into the market trying to find temporary fixes to what will no doubt be offensive woes to get the season started.
One man they signed who the Pens hope can return to form is Steve Sullivan. Sullivan who is coming off a down year, still has the skills to put up 60 points a season if he can stay healthy. Sullivan should provide the needed offensive boost the Pens will need until Crosby can return to the ice.
This season will be touch and go for the Pens and will largely depend on how successful the team can be without Crosby.
Despite trading away the likes of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in the off season, the Sharks remain one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. The goal of the Sharks was mostly to address issues on the back end as Dan Boyle couldn't handle all the duties as a defenseman.
They traded for Brent Burns and should be much more solid given the addition Jim Vandermeer and Colin White via free agency.
The Sharks also addressed issues at depth positions by adding Michael Handzus who is capable of putting up 40 points and spending time on the PK.
The Sharks will contend for the Stanley Cup again in 2011/12 and they could be better than the team that was on the ice in the 2011 WCF.
After the signing of Jaroslav Halak in 2010, the Blues didn't give themselves much leeway to sign other players. In 2011 however, they went on a little spree.
They addressed holes all over the ice. They added depth on the back end with Kent Huskins and Danny Syvret joining the club. They also added veteran scoring presence with Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott. One player they added who is looking for a career resurgence is Jonathon Cheechoo who spent all of last year in the AHL, and the Blues would like him to perform for the big club.
The St. Louis Blues finished well out of the playoff hunt in 2010/11, but these key new additions could allow them to fight for the eighth and final spot in the west this season.
After losing key components Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim to free agency, the Tampa Bay Lightning may have gotten worse this off season. This is unfortunate because they seemed like they were one step from a Stanley Cup contender team a year ago.
They brought in Ryan Shannon who has potential to be a Bergenheim type player, but only if he has the right chemistry with his linemates. Other than Shannon, none of the new players will have that great of an impact.
The Lightning will have to bet on goaltender Roloson having another stand out year for the team and Steven Stamkos lighting the lamp for 50 more goals this season if they wish to compete for the cup.
After losing out on the Brad Richards sweepstakes, the Toronto Maple Leafs went and got the next best thing, Tim Connolly. Finally they have someone who can play alongside Phil Kessel and provide the success the Leafs thought they were getting when they made the trade a number of years ago.
Other than Connolly, the Leafs brought in a handful of subpar forwards that will most likely play for the AHL club this season.
Connolly can provide the offensive boost the Leafs have been looking for for a number of seasons, and help the Leafs back to the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.
Coming off a tough seventh game loss in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Vancouver Canucks didn't do a whole lot to improve their team in the summer months.
They are going into what is seemingly their last chance to win with the core group of players that have been with the club for many years and did not have very much cap space to spend under to pick up players. Their big signing was that of Marco Sturm who the Canucks are hoping is over his injuries and can return to how he played in 2008 with the Bruins. Sturm is mostly brought in as a depth player, but the Canucks believe he can put up numbers and provide some scoring for the club.
After losing Christian Ehrhoff to free agency, the Canucks should go after another defenseman like Shane Hnidy, but they do have plenty of prospects capable of filling voids on the back end.
The Canucks should be able to make another run for the cup this season, but if they cannot stay healthy it could be game over.
The Alex Ovechkin era Washington Capitals could be the biggest playoff chokers ever. Another post season early round exit and the Caps went out looking for answers in the summer.
After losing Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm to free agency, the Caps went out and scooped up Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward who will give an added level of secondary scoring to a team that seems to be largely counting on its top line for all its point production. Ward, a standout in the 2011 playoffs should light it up in Washington and add to its regular season success.
With the goalie carousel finally over in Washington, the Capitals could finally have a confident goalie who can lead them to a cup in 2011/12. The Caps will surely have a good regular season again, but they still have to prove themselves in the post season.
Finally, hockey is back in Winnipeg. Is it the Winnipeg Jets or the Manitoba Moose though? True North wanted to completely rebuild the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers and they have done just that. They went out and signed up a bunch of former AHL Manitoba Moose grinders and didn't really address any of their problems.
A year ago one could say the Jets were close to a playoff spot, but they have taken a huge step back. When the biggest signing you make is Kyle Wellwood a week before camp begins something is wrong. The Jets could use a player like a Mike Grier, JP Dumont, or Steve Begin to help bolster an offense that is heavily dependent on the success of Evander Kane.
The Jets are pretty solid on the back end and in goal however, they just need to address their offensive issues. Given their tough travel schedule in 2011/12 and poor team, look for the Jets to be in the hunt for that number one overall pick come seasons end.