The majority of the offseason is complete and the NHL landscape has changed a lot since we last saw on-ice action in June. A lot of players have changed teams, rookies will enter the league and several familiar faces have left the game behind. While players like Tanguay, Zherdev (maybe?) and Prospal still remain available, I feel confident in naming the following five teams as the most improved.
5. New York Rangers:
A lot of teams probably deserve to make this list over the Rangers, maybe Calgary with the addition of Jay Bo, or Atlanta by picking up a supporting cast for Kovalchuk, but I'm going to give spot #5 to the Rangers. There is defense is suspect and overpaid, but when you have Lundqvist in net you can take those chances. The Rangers shocked everyone and added Gaborik, who when healthy is the most skilled player in the NHL. The team also found a way to get rid of Gomez and get a lot back for his overpriced contract (way to go sather!). Higgins will excel in NYR, where he wont be relied upon to score as much as he was in Montreal. The Rangers are much improved, and I still think they'll add another body to replace Zherdev before the puck drops.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs:
The Leafs finished 10th in the league in goals scored last year, which would surprise you when looking at their roster. They lost Antropov and Moore up front, but improvements from a lot of the young offense should help replace those totals. The Leafs finished the year with awful defensive and goaltending stats and thus chose those areas as the ones to address. Komisarek, Beauchemin and Exelby make this team's defense one of the league's best, while Toskala's groin surgery and the addition of "The Monster" should make the Leafs much better between the pipes.
3. New York Islanders:
While you won't see the Islanders go from worst to first, the Islanders made big steps on moving towards a winning record. We start in the crease, where the team added not one starting goalie, but two, giving them a grand total of three. When all three are healthy and playing well, the Isles will be able to trade one of them (not Dipietro of coarse) for even more pieces to their puzzle. The team drafted future superstar John Tavares first overall, giving them the franchise player they desperately needed, while Andy Sutton should make their backend significantly better.
2. Montreal Canadiens:
After what can only be viewed as a failed centennial, the Habs needed to shake things up in a bad way. The team swapped their entire first line of Higgins, Koivu and Kovalev for Cammalleri, Gomez and Gionta, and while I don't know if the team is any better, they changed the chemistry of the team enough to earn them second spot on my list.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning:
A year after the team attempted to build a team around Stamkos, they've done it again. A lot of exits, a lot of enters, but I think in the end this year will be different. The team entered the season last year with a dangerous looking offense, a very weak defense and questionable goaltending. Hedman, Ohlund and Foster are huge additions on the blueline, while a healthy Mike Smith should be good enough for this team to make the playoffs.
Agree? Disagree? Drop by the forums and let me know who you think are the most improved teams. This weekend part two of this will come out, when I decide which five teams have taken a turn for the worst this offseason.