5 NHL Teams That Improved Dramatically in the 2021 Offseason

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2021

5 NHL Teams That Improved Dramatically in the 2021 Offseason

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The salary cap remaining at $81.5 million for the second straight season didn't prevent NHL teams from bolstering their rosters this offseason. Trade activity resumed following the completion of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final on July 7. Several major signings took place three weeks later when the free-agent market opened.

    Some teams, such as the New Jersey Devils, used free agency to address their need for a top-pairing defenseman. Others, such as the Philadelphia Flyers, shook up their roster with several notable trades.

    Activity in the trade and free-agent markets has slowed entering the offseason dog days, so this is a good opportunity to examine the five clubs that dramatically improved. We'll look at their noteworthy moves and their effect on the rosters. Feel free to express your views in the comments.

Detroit Red Wings

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    General manager Steve Yzerman continues to rebuild the Detroit Red Wings with young talent, but he's also shown a recent willingness to add players to accelerate the process. He made a significant move at this year's trade deadline by shipping Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals for forwards Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, a first-round pick in the 2021 draft and a 2022 second-rounder.

    Yzerman's tinkering continued into this offseason through the trade market. Following the expansion draft, he acquired promising goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes for Jonathan Bernier and a 2021 third-round pick. He also sent Panik and a second-round pick to the New York Islanders for defenseman Nick Leddy.

    A Calder Memorial Trophy finalist last season, Nedeljkovic signed a two-year, $6 million contract. The 25-year-old could become the young starting goalie the Wings have been seeking. Meanwhile, the Isles' need to move Leddy or risk losing him in the expansion draft provided Yzerman with the opportunity to add experienced skill to the blue line.

    Yzerman also made a foray into the free-agent market by inking Pius Suter to a two-year, $6.5 million contract. Despite his promising 27-point performance in 55 games in 2020-21, the 25-year-old center became an unrestricted free agent when the Chicago Blackhawk decided not to qualify his rights. He should be a good fit on Detroit's second or third line.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    General manager Rob Blake acknowledged Drew Doughty's call for the Los Angeles Kings to provide immediate help to the roster. After spending the past two seasons rebuilding with youth, Blake got busy in the trade and free-agent markets, adding veteran skill.

    Blake's first move was to acquire Viktor Arvidsson on July 1 from the Nashville Predators. The 28-year-old right winger has tallied 31-plus goals twice in his career and reached 61 points two times. A swift skater, Arvidsson should provide a boost to a Kings offense whose 2.54 goals-per-game average ranked 27th last season.

    The Kings GM also scooped up one of the summer's top free agents by signing Phillip Danault to a six-year, $33 million contract. A solid two-way center, the 28-year-old Danault played a crucial role in the Montreal Canadiens' march to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. He should fill their second-line center spot while providing promising youngsters such as Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte more time to develop.

    Blake didn't forget the blue line, inking Alexander Edler to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. The 35-year-old managed just eight points with the Vancouver Canucks last season. That could be attributable to the shortened season and a COVID-19 outbreak among the Canucks, though. He tallied 33 points in 2019-20, and his mobility could be a good addition to the power play.

New Jersey Devils

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The New Jersey Devils spent the past three years focusing on building up their roster with promising youth. Except for acquiring a fading P.K. Subban in 2019, they avoided investing heavily in veteran talent in the trade and free-agent markets.

    That changed this summer when they made the biggest splash in the free-agent pool, signing Dougie Hamilton on July 28 to a seven-year, $63 million contract. Unlike Subban, the 28-year-old Hamilton is at the peak of his career. An elite puck-moving defenseman, he should provide a big lift to an offense whose 2.59 goals-per-game average ranked 26th last season.

    In early July, Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald also addressed the need for a big shutdown defenseman by turning to the Colorado Avalanche. With the Avs at risk of losing Ryan Graves to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, Fitzgerald acquired the 6'5", 220-pounder on July 15 for 23-year-old winger Mikhail Maltsev and a 2021 second-round pick.

    Fitzgerald shored up his goaltending depth by signing Jonathan Bernier on July 28 to a two-year, $8.3 million deal to share the duties with Mackenzie Blackwood. On Aug. 5, he brought in some much-needed scoring punch on the wing by inking Tomas Tatar to a two-year, $9 million contract.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Expectations were high for the Philadelphia Flyers entering last season following their fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2019-20. After a sixth-place finish in the East Division, however, general manager Chuck Fletcher elected for major changes.

    Fletcher made several notable moves in the trade market. The first, and biggest, took place July 17 when he shipped defenseman Philippe Myers and forward Nolan Patrick to the Nashville Predators for blueliner Ryan Ellis. Five days later, he sent rearguard Shayne Gostisbehere and two draft picks to the Arizona Coyotes in a cost-cutting deal.

    On July 23, Fletcher dealt Robert Hagg and two draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Rasmus Ristolanen. The following day, he swapped left winger Jakub Voracek to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winger Cam Atkinson.

    Fletcher also dipped into the free-agent pool by adding two players who were bought out by their former clubs. Ex-San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones signed a one-year, $2 million contract, and former Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle inked a one-year, $900,000 deal.

    Ellis addressed the Flyers' need for a top-pairing right-side defenseman. A former 40-goal scorer, Atkinson should bolster their scoring punch. Ristolainen is a risk given his struggles with the Sabres, but the move could help. Jones should be a reliable backup for young starter Carter Hart, while Yandle should bring some power-play production.

Seattle Kraken

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    The Seattle Kraken have only had a full roster since late July. However, general manager Ron Francis' moves in free agency following a lackluster expansion draft landed them on this list.

    Philipp Grubauer's six-year, $35.4 million contract was Francis' biggest move. The 29-year-old goaltender is coming off the best season of his career with 30 wins in 40 starts for the Colorado Avalanche, a 1.95 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and seven shutouts. That performance made him a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

    Francis also added two quality forwards in Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Wennberg. Inked to a five-year, $27.5 million contract, the 29-year-old Schwartz is a skillful two-way winger who has reached or exceeded 55 points five times in his 10 seasons. Wennberg, 26, agreed to a three-year, $13.5 million deal. He has 230 points in 471 games, including a career-best 17 goals last season with the Florida Panthers.

    In just one day, Francis added an established starting goaltender and two proven forwards. Those moves instantly improved the Kraken's depth between the pipes as well as their scoring punch for their inaugural season and beyond.


    Stats via NHL.com. Salary information via Cap Friendly.