The 10 NHL Teams That Have Improved the Most in the 2015 Offseason

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistJuly 19, 2015

The 10 NHL Teams That Have Improved the Most in the 2015 Offseason

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    As the temperatures keep rising and the dog days of summer set in, the activity of the NHL offseason activity is slowing to a trickle.

    A few things still need to be done before all the general managers can book out for summer vacation. Salary-arbitration hearings are scheduled to begin on July 20, and many teams still have one or more key restricted free agents who need to be signed to new contracts. 

    Some of the league's big-spending teams also need to find a way to limbo under the salary-cap ceiling while filling out their rosters for next season as best they can. For the most part, though, we now have a pretty good idea of who will suit up where when October rolls around.

    In the aftermath of the draft, free agency and the active trade market that surrounds those two events, here's a look at which teams look like they've made the biggest improvements during this offseason.

    Whether teams finished at the top or the bottom of the standings last year, most of the emphasis here is on their offseason player-personnel moves. Management changes also factor in, so does, to a lesser extent, natural improvement that's expected from a team's existing roster.

    Which teams do you think have navigated the choppy waters of the offseason most successfully? Who do you think will sink like a stone next year?

10. Calgary Flames

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Michael Frolik, Dougie Hamilton

    Players Lost: Brian McGrattan, Raphael Diaz, David Schlemko, Corey Potter

    Why the Team Has Improved: One of the biggest surprises of the 2014-15 NHL season, the hardworking Calgary Flames now have expectations attached to their group after a surprising trip to the second round of the playoffs last spring.

    Young and talented, Dougie Hamilton is just the ticket to help share the workload of the Flames defense—led by Mark Giordano and supported by T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman. 

    Another year older, youngsters such as Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan should also continue to grow their games.

    The Flames need to beware of the weight of those raised expectations. There may be an adjustment period before they move up the food chain from their role as scrappy underdogs.

    Work Left to Be Done: With just over $6 million in cap space available, the Flames face arbitration hearings for three of their young restricted free agents—Josh Jooris, Paul Byron and Lance Bouma, whose 16 regular-season goals marked a big step forward. Gritty playoff sensation Micheal Ferland is also due a new contract.

9. Anaheim Ducks

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Carl Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, Chris Stewart, Brian McGrattan, Kevin Bieksa, Shane O'Brien, Anton Khudobin, Matt Hackett, assistant coach Paul MacLean

    Players Lost: Matt Beleskey, Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri, Tomas Fleischmann, Louis LeBlanc, Francois Beauchemin, James Wisniewski, Mark Fistric, Jason LaBarbera

    Why the Team Has Improved: For a team that came within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, the Ducks have made their fair share of changes.

    Carl Hagelin brings speed and scoring up front, Anton Khudobin provides goaltending insurance in case injuries once again become an issue and new additions Horcoff, Stewart, McGrattan, Bieksa and O'Brien all bring size and snarl every time they step on the ice. 

    Paul MacLean's a smart hockey guy and will be a valuable addition as an assistant to Bruce Boudreau.

    Work Left to Be Done: With more than $16 million in available cap space, the Ducks have plenty of room to sign their two talented restricted free agents, Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg. Beyond that, they'll hope that captain Ryan Getzlaf comes back healthy from the groin injury he suffered in the playoffs.

8. New Jersey Devils

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Kyle Palmieri, John Moore, coach John Hynes, general manager Ray Shero

    Players Lost: Michael Ryder, Martin Havlat, Steve Bernier, Scott Gomez, Bryce Salvador, Mark Fraser

    Why the Team Has Improved: It's a new era in New Jersey, where Lou Lamoriello has stepped away from the general manager's portfolio after 27 years and three Stanley Cups.

    New general manager Ray Shero has started his tenure quietly, trading for Palmieri and signing unrestricted free agent Moore. The Devils may show some growing pains as the team settles into its new identity, but they should improve from their grim 25th-place finish overall last season.

    Work Left to Be Done: Restricted free agent defenseman Adam Larsson is scheduled for his arbitration hearing on July 29, according to NHL.com, but a deal may be reached between the club and the promising youngster before that date.

    Even after Larsson is signed, the Devils will still be lacking depth on defense. Another dependable free agent or two could make life a lot easier for hardworking goaltender Cory Schneider.

7. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Sam Gagner, Colin McDonald, Evgeny Medvedev, Davis Drewiske, Michal Neuvirth, Jason LaBarbera, coach Dave Hakstol

    Players Lost: Zac Rinaldo, Carlo Colaiacovo, Nicklas Grossmann, Ray Emery, Chris Pronger's contract

    Why the Team Has Improved: The Philadelphia Flyers are less than $600,000 below the salary-cap ceiling, but the team should be better next season. Yevgeni Medvedev is a savvy signing from the KHL, Michal Neuvirth is an upgrade as a backup goaltender and Sam Gagner could provide some secondary scoring with the awareness that he's on his last opportunity to prove that he still belongs in the NHL.

    New coach Dave Hakstol should also breathe fresh air into a talented group that underperformed last season under Craig Berube.

    Work Left to Be Done: The Flyers have a boatload of defensive prospects, but they have no roster space to give them NHL opportunities. If Ron Hextall sees enough from Samuel Morin or Shayne Gostisbehere, he could be tempted to move one or more of his current blueliners to start bringing his prospects along.

6. Buffalo Sabres

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Jamie McGinn, David Legwand, Carlo Colaiacovo, Robin Lehner, Jason Akeson, coach Dan Bylsma

    Players Lost: Mikhail Grigorenko, Cody Hodgson, Zac Dalpe, Patrick Kaleta, Andrej Meszaros, Nikita Zadorov, Anders Lindback, Matt Hackett

    Why the Team Has Improved: After a 54-point effort in 2014-15, there's virtually nowhere but up for the Buffalo Sabres to go next season.

    Expect to see new coach Dan Bylsma make quick progress at establishing an identity for a team that will be completely remade down the middle with new centers O'Reilly, Legwand and Eichel joining young incumbents Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart.

    Evander Kane should add firepower and muscle on the wing when he makes his Sabres debut after being acquired from Winnipeg last season.

    General manager Tim Murray got his No. 1 goalie when he acquired Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators to become his new starter. The Sabres also signed Carlo Colaiacovo as a free agent to add some maturity to a young defense led by Zach Bogosian.

    Work Left to Be Done: Not much. With their current roster, the Sabres will have undergone one of the NHL's biggest summer transformations, when they hit the ice on opening night. Don't expect the Sabres to jump right into playoff contention in the Atlantic Division, but do expect them to ice a team that competes every night.

5. Edmonton Oilers

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    Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Connor McDavid, Mark Letestu, Lauri Korpikoski, Andrej Sekera, Eric Gryba, Griffin Reinhart, Cam Talbot, coach Todd McLellan, general manager Peter Chiarelli

    Players Lost: Boyd Gordon, Derek Roy, Matt Fraser, Keith Aulie, Richard Bachman

    Why the Team Has Improved: Talented rookie Connor McDavid is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the changes made by the Edmonton Oilers during the summer of 2015.

    New general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan have been overhauling the entire organization, moving away from the traditional old boys' network that ran things in Oil Country in favor of a fresh approach.

    Edmonton's addressing its NHL-worst defense with new goaltender Cam Talbot and a spruced-up blue line that'll include new faces Sekera, Gryba and most likely Reinhart.

    Up front, McLellan could be the key that finally unlocks the full potential of the team's talented young forwards. He coached Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle to a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Championship in Prague last May before signing on with the Oilers.

    Work Left to Be Done: The Oilers are comfortable in terms of cap space, but they will need to move out some bodies before the season begins, especially on the blue line. Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference could be candidates for trades or even buyouts.

4. Colorado Avalanche

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Carl Soderberg, Mikhail Grigorenko, Blake Comeau, Francois Beauchemin, Nikita Zadorov

    Players Lost: Ryan O'Reilly, Jamie McGinn, Daniel Briere, Jan Hejda

    Why the Team Has Improved: Grizzled defenseman Jan Hejda won't be back, but the Colorado Avalanche have improved their defense with the addition of ageless workhorse Francois Beauchemin, as well as hulking youngster Nikita Zadorov.

    The Avs lost a terrific two-way center when they parted with Ryan O'Reilly, but his contract issues have been a distraction of Rocky Mountain-sized proportion for years. Carl Soderberg and Mikhail Grigorenko should fit in nicely with Colorado's talented young forwards. 

    Work Left to Be Done: The Avalanche look like they're basically set for next season, with $9 million in cap space and just two restricted free agents to ink to new deals—Joey Hishon and Freddie Hamilton.

    They'll be better, but they finished behind Los Angeles and Dallas last season in the tough Western Conference playoff race. The Avalanche will be hard-pressed to pass both those clubs to get back into the postseason picture in 2015-16.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Brandon Saad, Gregory Campbell

    Players Lost: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Mark Letestu, Brian Gibbons, Corey Tropp, Jeremy Morin, Jack Skille

    Why the Team Has Improved: After being hammered by injuries last season, the Blue Jackets' improvement will come largely from within their already-impressive young roster, which caught fire late last season. That improvement will be boosted by one of the summer's biggest prizes—two-time Stanley Cup winner Brandon Saad, who won't turn 23 until October 27.

    The Blue Jackets gave up a lot to get Saad—most notably a steady center in Artem Anisimov and super-skilled prospect Marko Dano, who will get a chance to dazzle in Chicago. But a pairing of Saad and Ryan Johansen could set Columbus up with a lethal top line for many years to come.

    Work Left to Be Done: Nothing, really. The Blue Jackets have put together a full lineup with a $3.7 million salary-cap cushion to allow for more tweaking if needed as the season progresses.

2. Washington Capitals

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: T.J.Oshie, Justin Williams, Zach Sill, Taylor Chorney, Dan Ellis

    Players Lost: Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Curtis Glencross, Mike Green, John Erskine, Tim Gleason

    Why the Team Has Improved: The team that has been knocked out of the playoffs in a Game 7 in its last three postseason appearances addressed a need by signing Mr. Game 7, Justin Williams, as a free agent out of Los Angeles. T.J. Oshie was also added to bring more offensive potency to the Capitals' dangerous first line featuring Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

    Washington took big strides toward becoming a better overall team last season under new coach Barry Trotz. Expect to see that growth continue, particularly as the team's young stars continue to develop.

    Work Left to Be Done: With $10 million in cap space, Washington's headed to arbitration with restricted free agents Braden Holtby and Marcus Johansson, both emerging players who figure prominently in the team's future.

    Once those contracts are inked, the Caps will need to sign a third-line center. Their UFA Eric Fehr has yet to commit to a new team, so he could be back.

1. Dallas Stars

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Players Added: Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Stephen Johns, Antti Niemi

    Players Lost: Ryan Garbutt, Shawn Horcoff, Trevor Daley, Jhonas Enroth

    Why the Team Has Improved: Two key pieces from the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks will make the Dallas Stars better in 2015-16. In exchange for agitator Ryan Garbutt and offensive defenseman Trevor Daley, the Stars acquired top-six scorer Patrick Sharp and promising defense prospect Stephen Johns.

    General manager Jim Nill then went on to sign away the Blackhawks' free-agent defenseman Johnny Oduya—filling the void left by Daley with a responsible, big-minute player.

    The Stars should also improve on their 27th-ranked goals-against per-game average from last season with the addition of new goaltending coach Jeff Reese, who left the Philadelphia Flyers organization in March of last season after helping to guide Steve Mason's career resurrection.

    Reese will oversee the Stars' netminding tandem of incumbent Kari Lehtonen and newcomer Antti Niemi—another ex-Blackhawk with a Stanley Cup ring.

    Work Left to Be Done: Not much. The Stars have 24 roster players signed for next season with $2.3 million in available cap space. Dallas looks to be better at all positions and should be back in contention for a Western Conference playoff spot in 2015-16.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com. Salary cap information from General Fanager.

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