Which NHL franchise had the best off-season?

by Andy Stitzer
2019 Fantasy Hockey Week 19 Planner

After two years of disruption, 2021/22 will hopefully be the season when the NHL returns to its normal schedule. But the effects of the pandemic linger, most obviously in the truncated off-season. Tampa Bay Lightning retained the Stanley Cup in July and training camps resumed in September, which means that teams have had to work harder and faster than usual to get ready for the new season.

With less time to work with, there has been more pressure than normal this off-season. So which teams have made the most of the last few weeks? We’ve put together a list of four teams that we think have used the off-season well to significantly strengthen their roster.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings are likely to be one of the poorer teams in the NHL once again this season, but their rebuilding process has continued throughout the last few weeks and they’ve had an excellent off-season that may mean they don’t have too far to go to complete the overhaul.

For a start, they managed to ship some unwanted players, including Darren Helm, Evgeny Svechnikov and Mathias Brome, in free agency, dispensing with a few veterans among those allowed to leave, as aging stars don’t fit the profile of the team they’re building.

Into the squad have come some players who will definitely add to what they have. Pius Suter had a great season as a rookie last year, and Detroit have taken advantage of Chicago’s surprising decision not to bring him back. They’ve also added depth player Mitchell Stephens and solid fourth-line center Carter Rowney, along with arguably the best deal of the summer by bringing in Alex Nedeljkovic, a top goalie, in exchange for Jonathan Bernier and a third-round pick.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto are always among the favorites for Stanley Cup glory with sportsbooks and this time is no different as they are ranked fourth among the 32 contenders.

Some bettors may be wary of wagering on the Leafs after a humiliating first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, which is about as bad as it gets for the Maple Leafs, but they have made some strong decisions as according to WSN.com they aim to do better in 2021-22.

They kept their strong core in place but added some real quality in depth, making them one of the deepest franchises in the Atlantic Division. The departure of Zach Hyman will take some getting over, but the team couldn’t realistically afford to retain him and they have made some shrewd acquisitions.

Ondrej Kase and Michael Bunting are excellent third-line players who can be rated as significant improvements on the players they are replacing while swapping longtime starting goalie Frederik Andersen for Petr Mrazek, who is likely to be the stronger performer this season and who is expected to form a solid partnership with Jack Campbell.

Florida Panthers

Although they finished second to the Hurricanes in the rearranged Central Division last season, Florida actually won one more game than Carolina, who also had three more overtime/shootout defeats.

That is an indication of the strength that already exists in the Panthers’ roster, which is already well known to daily fantasy sport fans, and a solid summer of trade business has further improved their depth. Right-winger Sam Reinhart from Buffalo will be a great addition to the Panthers’ offensive strength, while veteran Joe Thornton is a welcome addition to the fourth line. Their squad will also benefit from a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky and a full season from star blueliner Aaron Ekblad, who missed 21 games of the shortened 56-game season last time.

Thornton’s deal, in particular, was a good example of shrewd business, as he comes in on a one-year $750,000 contract, which helps to keep them around $1m inside the salary cap, after the contracts of a string of key players, including Gustav Forsling and Sam Bennett, were extended.

Edmonton Oilers

After finishing second in their division, the Oilers were swept by Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs, so they will be hoping for better this time round, and with that in mind, they have made some big changes to the roster, which should make them even more competitive.

Trading for the former Blackhawks star Duncan Keith and bringing in the unrestricted free agent Cody Ceci was a solid attempt at addressing the team’s blue line issues, while upfront, Zach Hyman and winger Warren Foegele will give the Oilers’ attack a stronger look. All of these additions, plus the re-signing of goalie Mike Smith, have pushed the Oilers closer to the cap limit, but with superstars Connor McDavid, Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl also on board, the Oilers are aiming to go big this year.

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