2014 NHL Free Agency: Which Big Spenders Improved the Most?

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJuly 5, 2014

2014 NHL Free Agency: Which Big Spenders Improved the Most?

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The action was fast and the dollars were incredible, as the NHL hit the ground running in 2014 free agency. Did any team get better?

    Teams had an extended chance to talk to free agents this season, and the pace was quick when things got underway. The free-agent discussion window gave teams a chance to focus their money on specific targets and spread the wealth.

    Here are the big-spending teams that took impressive steps during the first days of free agency.

10. Buffalo Sabres

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Impact Signings: The Buffalo Sabres' major additions through free agency are Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta and Andrej Meszaros.

    How Much Did They Improve?: The Sabres went on a procurement run in free agency and acquired Josh Gorges from the Montreal Canadiens by trade. Chris Ryndak reported via the team site that Gorges added Buffalo to his roster of trade-list teams. Along with the free agents, the overall improvement in Buffalo is substantial.

    What Does it Mean?: The Sabres still have enormous holes and are not close to contention. The busy free-agent season allows them to reach the cap ceiling and gather players who may have value at the trade deadline. The Sabres remain a lottery team.

9. Edmonton Oilers

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Impact Signings: The Edmonton Oilers' major additions through the free-agent period are Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin.

    How Much Did They Improve?: General manager Craig MacTavish addressed the need for more NHL defensemen and added a quality possession winger in Pouliot. The club badly needs an established center before the end of summer.

    What Does it Mean?: The Oilers are in the treacherous Western Conference, which means they can improve a great deal and not get very far. The current additions should have them moving up from their 28th-place overall showing, but they're still miles from playoff contention. There's work to do in Edmonton.

8. Florida Panthers

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    Impact Signings: The Florida Panthers were heavy shoppers early in free agency. Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell, Derek MacKenzie, Shawn Thornton and Al Montoya all signed with the Panthers July 1. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: Florida GM Dale Tallon is famous for adding free agents six at a time, but 2014 saw more focus and better quality added to the group. The Panthers are still building their team through youth, but this group of free agents is one of quality.

    What Does it Mean?: The Eastern Conference is wide open, and Florida has a chance to compete for a playoff spot. If things don't go well, the Panthers have an impressive group of veterans to trade at the deadline.

7. Vancouver Canucks

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Impact Signings: The Vancouver Canucks signed two big-name free agents: goalie Ryan Miller and winger Radim Vrbata. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: The Canucks traded veteran center Ryan Kesler, receiving youngsters and draft picks in return. The additions of Miller and Vrbata counter Kesler's exit but don't improve the team.

    What Does it Mean?: Vancouver is still a strong NHL team, but it will be hard-pressed to make the postseason in 2014-15.

6. Washington Capitals

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Impact Signings: The Washington Capitals signed defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to major free-agent contracts. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: The Capitals needed defensemen and acquired two of the high-profile players on the market. They'll have more experience on the blue line and be better able to handle injuries.

    What Does it Mean?: Washington spent a great deal of money on two free agents and is a better team. But there are other issues, including scoring depth, and the Capitals are not a playoff team at this time.

5. New York Islanders

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Impact Signings: The New York Islanders enjoyed an exceptional free-agent frenzy. The club added Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and goalies Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: The Islanders did well in shoring up their goaltending, first trading for and then signing Halak. On July 2, the club added Grabovski and Kulemin.

    What Does it Mean?: The Islanders struggled mightily with goaltending and secondary scoring last season. Their free-agent moves solved both problems, and they should be a strong playoff contender.

4. New Jersey Devils

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Impact Signings: The New Jersey Devils spent $25 million dollars on Mike Cammalleri in free agency. The Devils also retained veterans Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr in the weeks leading up to July 1. They made a small bet on talented and injury prone winger Martin Havlat. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: The Devils should have been a playoff team last season, but their attachment to Martin Brodeur clouded the goaltending issue. By moving on from the future Hall of Fame goalie, the club improved greatly. Adding Cammalleri and Jagr to the offense is a major help.

    What Does it Mean?: The Devils are a strong candidate for the postseason in 2014-15.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Impact Signings: The Tampa Bay Lightning delivered for the fans in free agency. On June 25, they retained Ryan Callahan, and on July 1, they added Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: The Lightning have a strong team and their free-agent additions help their cause. When you add in the health of Steven Stamkos, this becomes a trending team.

    What Does it Mean?: Tampa Bay grabbed prominent Rangers in free agency and has a chance to be a Stanley Cup contender if its primary players stay healthy in 2014-15.

2. St. Louis Blues

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    Impact Signings: The St. Louis Blues accomplished what they needed to in free agency, adding offensive center Paul Stastny. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: The Blues had quality players and exceptional depth but lacked an offensive difference-maker of Stastny's calibre. His acquisition takes the pressure off men like David Backes and T.J. Oshie.

    What Does it Mean?: The Blues are a Stanley Cup contender. Stastny is an impact player, and that's an impressive combination.

1. Los Angeles Kings

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    Impact Signings: The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup and then got to work in free agency. Marian Gaborik, Matt Greene, Jeff Schultz, David Van der Gulik and Adam Cracknell all signed before or during the early days of free agency. 

    How Much Did They Improve?: Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi might be the best in the game. The Gaborik signing was the main move, but he also helped defense and forward with depth additions.

    What Does it Mean?: The Kings are an elite NHL team, bordering on dynasty status. Their Achilles' heel has been offense, but retaining Gaborik gives them an outstanding trigger man. The Kings won free agency with one contract.


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