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Neutral Zone Wrap: Team-by-Team Offseason Review

Evan Berofsky

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While you may have been able to relax on the beach or catch up on sleep these last few months, the league's 30 general managers and front offices were way too busy to do likewise. Once last season wrapped up, there was little time to prepare for a draft, the usual free-agent feast and the multitude of transactions required to balance lineups and keep clubs operating within the league-mandated financial constraints.

Here's what you missed since the Blackhawks dynasty claimed another title. We'll break the moves down team-by-team and provide a grade based on all moves, including the ones they didn't make. Please adjust as necessary should any of the teams pick up one of the few recognizable free agents still available (will somebody please sign Cody Franson already?!?).


Red Wings

A disappointing opening-round collapse against eventual Eastern rep Tampa Bay spurred Detroit to address its weaknesses. Mike Green (three years, $18 million) provides the dangerous right-handed shot that has sorely been absent in recent years. Brad Richards (1, $3M) may be past his prime but is rather inexpensive for an experienced vet who will anchor the second or third line. Mike Babcock departed for the opportunity at a tougher challenge. And while a more prominent name could have been named as a replacement, Jeff Blashill doesn't need to familiarize himself with Detroit's solid youth core (like RFAs Gustav Nyquist (4, $19M), Tomas Jurco (2, $1.8M) and Teemu Pulkkinen (1, $0.735M)).


The renaissance in the Queen City may come sooner than expected, thanks to the arrival of a future stud and other key members via trades (not including the much-awaited debut of Evander Kane). Boston University legend Jack Eichel (3, $11.3M) will almost certainly step in and contribute immediately. While Buffalo may have given up some young talent (Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov), it netted one of the better two-way centers in Ryan O'Reilly (7, $52.5M). David Legwand acts as another veteran pivot and offsets the mercy buyout of Cody Hodgson. But the biggest change could be in net, with Ottawa backup Robin Lehner ready to prove he can be a long-term No. 1. Let's not forget Dan Bylsma (and his .669 regular-season winning percentage) now assumes control of bench duties.


Blue Jackets

Provided Columbus doesn't endure another injury-filled season or dismantle its nucleus, this could be a breakthrough season (honest this time). Brandon Saad (6, $36M) gives Ryan Johansen a solid target on the left side. The cost of acquiring Saad (see Blackhawks review) may be significant, but forward depth remains an organizational strength. Management opted for upside when it selected slick puck moving blueliner Zach Werenski (25 in 35 with Michigan) at No. 8, but there's no need to rush the 18-year old.


Mentioning Connor McDavid (3, $11.3M) alone could be enough to complete a team preview, but Edmonton has performed an entire organizational facelift to excite fans for the foreseeable future. New GM, new coach, new attitude. Andrej Sekera (6, $33M) adds scoring punch. Griffin Reinhart required a first-round pick but appears ready to make the jump to the pros. Mark Letestu (3, $5.4M) and Lauri Korpikoski are both undervalued and can help in multiple situations. Cam Talbot (21-9-4, 2.21 GAA, .926 SV%) shone in his stint filling in for Henrik Lundqvist, but the hype should be tempered until the Oilers display any form of defensive competence.


Another lineup that got hit hard during 2014-15, directly contributing to an early playoff exit. Without the big-market scrutiny, Phil Kessel should be able to relax and reclaim his role as one of the league's top snipers. Losing Brandon Sutter to Vancouver was a shock, but the arrival of Nick Bonino will help soften the blow. Eric Fehr (3, $6M) adds an element of responsibility up front. With Paul Martin gone, re-signing promising D-man Ian Cole (3, $6.3M) became a necessity.


The price tag for a platoon goalie might be steep, but Antti Niemi (3, $13.5M) will either overtake Kari Lehtonen or give the incumbent the push to reclaim his throne. Even at 33, Patrick Sharp can still contribute. Cody Eakin (4, $15.4M) has proven he makes everything easier for his teammates. Out went Trevor Daley, but Johnny Oduya (2, $7.5M) will eat up more ice time and prove to be a better fit.



One game away from the conference final, the Caps might have found the missing pieces for future success. Olympic shootout hero T.J. Oshie enhances the attack to rival the league's top lineups. Conn Smythe recipient Justin Williams (2, $6.5M) and his winning resume also joins the crew. With a couple key forwards (Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward) headed elsewhere, it became important to show some love to Evgeny Kuznetsov (2, $6M) and split the difference with Marcus Johansson (1, $3.75M). Now we'll see if the pressure of a huge contract will affect Braden Holtby (5, $30.5M).

Maple Leafs

As much as some would knock Toronto for not receiving enough for Kessel, the deal most importantly relieved the city of a constant distraction. The Leafs were still able to pluck one of Pittsburgh's top prospects (Kasperi Kapanen) and other pieces, including a first-rounder. A new class of role players, with Shawn Matthias (1, $2.3M) and Mark Arcobello (1, $1.1M) preferable to returnee Daniel Winnik (2, $4.5M) and former producer P.A. Parenteau (1, $1.5M). A little waiting will be necessary to watch Mitch Marner (3, $5.325M) in blue-and-white. Matt Hunwick (2, $2.4M) may not be fantasy relevant, but his veteran presence will help guide the next generation of defenders.


The running gag that is the preseason prediction of claiming this is San Jose's year will carry on, but at least there is optimism after retooling. Antti Niemi may never have been an elite netminder, but there's a chance Martin Jones ($3, 9M) could be the next Mike Smith -- or at least someone with greater longevity. Joel Ward (3, $9.83M) can immediately claim a top-six role, while Melker Karlsson (2, $3.25M) was kept aboard to continue his initial success. Paul Martin (4, $19.4M) enhances the D offensive quotient while Brenden Dillon (5, $16.35M) was rewarded for his stellar stay-at-home style.



After a disappointing run, the Avs enter 2015-16 full of hope. With Ryan O'Reilly out of the picture, they're putting a lot of faith in Carl Soderberg (5, $23.75M) to jump into a premier position. Mikhail Grigorenko (1, $0.6M) may yet find his talent in the high altitude. Blake Comeau (3, $7.2M) balances out the high-end skill. A mix of old and new with Francois Beauchemin (3, $13.5M) and Nikita Zadorov (15 in 60 with Buffalo). And 10th pick Mikko Rantanen (3, $4.98M) could start out of training camp and prove himself a Calder contender.


They dominated the West for most of the year but were done in by substandard forward play from anyone past the first line. To combat this shortcoming, Carl Hagelin (4, $16M) is ready to work his tail off. A bit much for Ryan Kesler (6, $41.25M) while Jakob Silfverberg (4, $15M) showed promise toward the end of the season. Will Anaheim come close to maximizing Chris Stewart's (1, $1.7M) potential? At this point in his career, Shawn Horcoff (1, $1.75M) serves as filler. And Mike Santorelli (1, $0.875M) will never headline but doesn't need to and comes as a cheap buy. The slightly younger Kevin Bieksa (2, $8M) replaces Francois Beauchemin while performing similar overall functions.


No major names coming in, but the proven quantities have been secured. Since arriving from Buffalo, Drew Stafford (2, $8.7M) turned back the clock and earned his keep. Alex Burmistrov (2, $3.1M) returns from his two-year KHL sabbatical and says he's matured as a player, which helps if his regular gig will be third-line center. Significant depth on D and arguably the best farm system around (hello, Nikolaj Ehlers) should keep the Jets going. Now only if their goaltending can hold up -- or at least choose a starter and stick with it.


The temptation for falling one step short would be to upgrade talent in the hopes of reaching that next level, but the Bolts didn't need to disrupt the flow. That, and after inking Erik Condra (3, $3.75M), Tampa Bay sits at just less than a million over the cap. So, status quo looks like the way to go.


A couple new names in town but the majority of the moves maintains unity. Cody Hodgson (1, $1.05M) could be a steal if he plays responsibly. Barret Jackman (2, $4M) is the rock to counterbalance all the blueline boldness. No less than six regular forwards received fresh deals, with Craig Smith (5, $21.25M) and Colin Wilson (4, $15.75M) the most lucrative of the bunch. Mike Fisher (2, $8.8M) continues the dream life in Nashville while Mike Ribeiro (2, $7M) earns a well-deserved bonus.



Cap concerns forced the Cup champs to shed some salary, but, honestly, it could have turned out much worse. Remove Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Johnny Oduya and any chance of repeating, but keep it competitive with a few ready recruits. Artem Anisimov (5, $22.75M) can be classified as a faster version of Richards, minus the success. And 2013 first-rounder Marko Dano (21 in 35) impressed early and hopes to keep that going regularly. Trevor Daley (16 goals, 22 assists) is by no means a defensive liability but obviously prefers one end of the ice over the other.


It's official: Vladimir Tarasenko (8, $60M) won the lottery. Giving up T.J. Oshie will hurt, but Troy Brouwer (and his 206 hits) will end up handling more tasks. Let's see some more from Jori Lehtera (3, $14.1M) before anointing him as the second coming of Bernie Federko. Don't discount what Kyle Brodziak (1, $0.9M) brings to the table. St. Louis shed some backline talent (Barret Jackman, Zbynek Michalek), but that only means a couple youngsters get a shot. Jake Allen (2, $4.7M) will need to forget about that shaky performance versus Minnesota if he wants to distance himself from Brian Elliott.


Calgary came out as the biggest beneficiary of the Boston fire sale, as it landed Dougie Hamilton at the draft to bolster an already awesome blueline. On the flipside, the Flames bought the Michael Frolik revival in more ways than one (but mainly the 5, $21.5M deal). Mark Giordano (6, $40.5M) comes off back-to-back injury-plagued seasons but fully deserves the raise. Karri Ramo (1, $3.8M) gets another shot before Joni Ortio assumes his job.


A dump truck of cash materialized for Jakub Voracek (8, $66M), while a smaller vehicle presented Sean Couturier (6, $26M) with a modest sum. Sam Gagner (41 in 81 with Arizona) is 26 but this will be his ninth season in the league. Philly provided Michael Del Zotto (2, $7.7M) the chance to resurrect his career and compensated him accordingly. Seventh selection Ivan Provorov (3, $2.775M) will eventually push for a top spot, but others are ahead of him in the pecking order (namely, Samuel Morin and Shayne Gostisbehere). Michal Neuvirth (2, $3.25M) gives the Flyers a legitimate backup -- and worthy contender -- for Steve Mason.


Multiple distractions surround the organization, but its on-ice product should continue to be exciting. Goodbye, Justin Williams. Hello, Milan Lucic. A modest bump for Tyler Toffoli (2, $6.5M), yet they could've paid pennies to keep a great guy like Jarret Stoll. Probably saved a million or two waiting two months to sign Christian Ehrhoff (1, $1.5M). A new backup in Jhonas Enroth (1, $1.25M), albeit one who won't push Jonathan Quick for starts.



Even if their fan base revolted against ownership, at least there's a sense of loyalty from former players. Both Antoine Vermette (2, $7.5M) and Zbynek Michalek (2, $6.4M) return after performing their rental duties elsewhere. Steve Downie (1, $1.75M) appears to be a solid buy; Brad Richardson (3, $6.25M), um, let's wait and see. Mikkel Boedker (1, $3.75M) can build upon his moderate resume. Time for Arizona to get pumped about Dylan Strome (3, $5.325M). And hey, Coyotes, we know you have cap money to spend but what's with all those signings (over 20 (!)) this summer?


What do you get the team that seemingly has everything? How about a flashy new arena to play in? Not exciting enough? Maybe a pair of first-rounders to grab a couple exciting forwards (Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier)? For someone who's 25 and still has much more room to grown, Anders Lee (4, $15M) looks to be a thrifty purchase. Guess Griffin Reinhart wasn't part of the Isles' current NHL plan based on their projected roster, which includes a bridge deal for Thomas Hickey (3, $6.6M).


Florida looks poised to break out with a well-established base of shiny skill and veteran savvy, so it's no surprise to find it pretty quiet this summer. The only notable transaction concerned swapping Jimmy Hayes to Boston for Reilly Smith. Lawson Crouse (3, $4.9M) also qualifies as an expenditure, though he probably will stick in junior. With the Panthers' available finances (approximately $11.5M in cap room) and an opportunity to reach the next level, one would assume they will make a run at one of the free agents left on the board.


Taking on Emerson Etem (NHL: 31 in 112, AHL: 93 in 119) will be quite the project, not only due to his slow progress to date but getting fans to forget Carl Hagelin went to Anaheim in the deal. No-brainer locking up Derek Stepan (6, $39M), while taking the remaining funds on a smart pickup in Jarret Stoll (1, $0.8M) and an enigmatic talent in Viktor Stalberg (1, $1.1M). After Cam Talbot was set free to seek starting duties, Antti Raanta was acquired to firm up the No. 2 role.


Second-half revelation Devan Dubnyk (6, $26M) was retained for the long haul, a move that will have a better chance of succeeding if the Wild stick to their defensive style. Little to report in terms of free agency, other than plucking NCAA D scoring leader Mike Reilly (2, $1.85M) when Columbus couldn't work out a deal.



Everyone knew Boston desperately needed to cut costs, but it did so at the expense of key ingredients. Netting a trio of first-round picks is far from a terrible haul, but the way GM Don Sweeney went about his business made the Bruins faithful question his intentions. In the prime of his career, Matt Beleskey (5, $19M) found the long-term deal he sought. With a vacancy or two up front, Ryan Spooner (2, $1.9M) and Brett Connolly (1, $1.025M) must get used to regular responsibilities. Adam McQuaid (4, $11M) will also be asked to take on more minutes, though rookie Jakub Zboril (3, $4.05M) may end up being the big blueline beneficiary.


Alexander Semin (1, $1.1M) and Zack Kassian (from Vancouver). Wow. Way to improve the league's 20th best offense. The reason the Habs earn a passing grade comes for saving cash in extending Alex Galchenyuk (2, $5.6M).


They're fine on the back end but still require substantial help when it comes to scoring. Adding Kyle Palmieri and John Moore (3, $5M) will not solve this issue, and first-rounder Pavel Zacha (3, $2.775M) won't be able to help, at least right away. For someone who has mainly disappointed in four seasons, it's amazing the Devils have shown this much faith in Adam Larsson (6, $25M). Since no one has botched Ilya Kovalchuk's KHL contract, perhaps that $14 million in cap space should be spent on something nice?


For a club that surged into the postseason, it is disappointing it couldn't maintain the momentum into the transaction market. Another supplementary scorer or depth defender can still be had for the right price, so perhaps the Sens' spending spree hasn't concluded. Fast-food sensation Andrew Hammond (3, $4.05M) will still have to fight for first chair. And 48-point producer Mike Hoffman (1, $2M) must show his first full year wasn't a fluke. Alex Chiasson (1, $1.2M) really needs to boost his effort if he wants decent ice time.



Brandon Sutter was acquired for a significant haul (Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, second-round pick) and will hurt Vancouver's salary cup the next few years (5, $21.875M). Fan favorite Kevin Bieksa was dismissed for next to nothing. And so much for the Eddie Lack experiment, which leaves a 35-year old with a history of injury problems to carry the load.


Nothing against Noah Hanifin (3, $11.33M) but the Canes didn't really do anything to improve their roster for the upcoming season. Even if the franchise could be moving, it's a good idea to at least put up a front of competent business activity. If only Elias Lindholm (2, $5.4M) could reproduce himself into five other forwards, then Carolina would have a shot at making the playoffs. James Wisniewski was deemed useless in Anaheim's prolonged playoff pursuits but should have better luck cracking this inexperienced contingent. Eddie Lack could never be trusted to be the man in Vancouver and arrives in Carolina to find he has to try and unseat another Canadian veteran.