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Blue Jackets among NHL.com's "most improved" this offseason

by Dan Rosen / Columbus Blue Jackets


The whirlwind of the NHL offseason has died down and the dog days of summer are starting to set in, which makes it the perfect time to assess and evaluate what has happened since June 15, the night the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup at United Center.

With that, here is a list of the 10 teams (listed in alphabetical order) as identified by NHL.com that have improved the most since the end of last season:

BUFFALO SABRES
Key additions: Dan Bylsma (coach), Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Robin Lehner, Jamie McGinn, David Legwand

No Eastern Conference team has had a bigger makeover this offseason than the Sabres, who acquired Eichel, O'Reilly, McGinn, Lehner and Legwand on the same day (June 26). The Sabres, who hired Bylsma as coach on May 28, could be in line for the biggest season-to-season win improvement in the NHL. They won 23 games last season; 40 wins this season is a realistic goal provided the goaltending holds up and the Sabres get enough from their defense, which is still in need of improvement. Thirty-five wins might be a more reasonable expectation.

Buffalo's top-three centers are now O'Reilly, Eichel (No. 2 pick in 2015 draft) and Sam Reinhart (No. 2 pick in 2014). The latter are hyped only by potential, but odds are they could be competing for the Calder Trophy with another rookie from Edmonton.

Lehner will finally be given a chance to prove he's a No. 1 goalie. He's 23 and coming off a concussion, but Sabres general manager Tim Murray believes he is a starter and it's hard to find someone who knows him better. Murray scouted and drafted Lehner when he was with the Ottawa Senators.

In addition, Evander Kane should be healthy and ready to make his Sabres debut on opening night (Oct. 8 vs. Ottawa). He was acquired in the blockbuster trade with the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 11, but had a season-ending shoulder injury at the time.

CALGARY FLAMES
Key additions: Dougie Hamilton, Michael Frolik

The Flames were a surprising success story last season, but it was hard to imagine their success continuing long-term with the way they were winning. They struggled in the possession game (28th in NHL with 44.43 shot-attempts percentage), making them too reliant on third-period comebacks (League-best plus-36 goal differential after the second period), which after a while are unsustainable. Calgary addressed the concerns with the additions of Hamilton and Frolik.

Hamilton is a 22-year-old potential star who was the Boston Bruins' best defenseman last season based on his 54.93 SAT% and 42 points in 72 games. He steps into a defense that was the most productive last season despite not having Mark Giordano, the Norris Trophy favorite at the time he was injured, for the last 21 games.

Frolik was second on the Winnipeg Jets last season with a 55.22 SAT% and sixth with 42 points, including 19 goals, in 82 games. He can play up or down the lineup in any type of role, be it on a scoring line or a checking line. He won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Key additions: Brandon Saad, Gregory Campbell

The Blue Jackets were crushed by injuries last season and still finished with 42 wins. Provided they stay healthy this season, they could be a playoff team, particularly because of the addition of Saad, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks who is only now entering his prime.

Columbus benefitted from Chicago's inability to come to terms on a contract for Saad because of their salary cap restraints. It's not often 22-year-old two-way forwards with speed and skill become available in a trade. Saad should play left wing on the Blue Jackets' top line with center Ryan Johansen, a combination that should scare every team in the Metropolitan Division.

Campbell is a solid depth signing by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. He has experience and knows his role as a fourth-line center tasked with taking a lot of faceoffs in the defensive zone. He played it well for several seasons with the Bruins.

Read the rest of NHL.com's Top 10 most improved teams HERE.

RELATED LINKS
- Matt Calvert signed to three-year contract
- Saad excited to start new chapter in Columbus
- "What They're Saying" about Brandon Saad
- Milano prepares for chance with Blue Jackets

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