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McPhee, Wilson did solid jobs improving contenders

by Brian Compton
The summer provides an opportunity for players to unwind after a long hockey season. For general managers? Not so much.

July arguably is the most important month of the year for GMs, who must manage their salary caps while at the same time search for players who can help catapult their team to the next level. Just like any other industry, some end up being more successful than others.

With training camps set to open across the NHL within the next two weeks, takes a look at the most successful GMs this summer:

George McPhee, Washington Capitals -- One of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup last season, the Caps were swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning. McPhee gave his roster somewhat of a makeover this summer, as he landed first- and second-round picks in 2012 from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Semyon Varlamov not long before signing Tomas Vokoun at a bargain price of $1.5 million for one season. McPhee also added some sandpaper to his lineup with the signings of Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern, and upgraded his blue line with the addition of Roman Hamrlik. McPhee also deserves to be commended for his ability to re-sign Brooks Laich to a six-year contract just days before the versatile forward was set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Kings GM Dean Lombardi made an early offseason splash with the acquisition of Mike Richards in June. (Courtesy: LA Kings)
Dean Lombardi, Los Angeles Kings -- There was plenty of talk during the second half of last season that the Kings were going to be major players in the Brad Richards sweepstakes. That changed June 23, however, when Lombardi opted for another Richards, as he acquired Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. Mike Richards, who was Philadelphia's captain, is just entering the prime of his career at age 26, and along with world-class center Anze Kopitar, will make the Kings incredibly strong down the middle. Lombardi, who also added forwards Simon Gagne and Ethan Moreau, still has one big task ahead of him before the season starts -- he must find a way to sign restricted free agent Drew Doughty to a long-term contract. Once he does, the Kings become instant contenders.

Darcy Regier, Buffalo Sabres -- One has to believe nobody was happier about owner Terry Pegula's arrival than Regier, as the Sabres were major players when the free agency market opened July 1. Hoping to make the Sabres annual championship contenders, Regier signed Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract and added forward Ville Leino (six years, $27 million). He also acquired steady blueliner Robyn Regehr from the Calgary Flames to help keep more pucks away from world-class goaltender Ryan Miller. Regier still has some work to do before the season begins as the Sabres are roughly $3.5 million over the salary cap, but it's obvious Buffalo has improved.

Scott Howson, Columbus Blue Jackets -- There's no doubt the pressure is on Howson to deliver some success to the Blue Jackets. Howson was extremely busy this summer, as he landed a No. 1 center to play with superstar Rick Nash with the acquisition of Jeff Carter from Philadelphia. Hoping to upgrade his defense, Howson made a splash in free agency with the signing of James Wisniewski to a six-year deal, and he also added the underrated but oft-injured Radek Martinek. Howson recently signed the reliable Fedor Tyutin to a six-year extension.


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Glen Sather, New York Rangers -- Much like Howson in Columbus, Sather needed to deliver a No. 1 center to the Big Apple. He managed to do just that on the opening weekend of free agency with the signing of Brad Richards to a nine-year deal. Richards, who won a Stanley Cup with current Rangers coach John Tortorella when the pair was in Tampa Bay in 2004, now will skate alongside Marian Gaborik to form one of the more dangerous combos in the NHL. Sather, who has assembled a talented, young core in recent years, also signed key players Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan to extensions. We also should not underestimate Sather's acquisition of defenseman Tim Erixon from Calgary. Erixon, 20, is a highly-touted prospect who likely will be playing on Broadway this season.

Doug Wilson, San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks are in the same boat as the Capitals -- two championship-caliber teams who simply haven't been able to get over the hump. Much like McPhee in Washington, Wilson changed things in San Jose this summer. In two separate deals with the Minnesota Wild, out went forwards Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, along with top prospect Charlie Coyle and a 2011 first-round pick. In return, he added defenseman Brent Burns and forward Martin Havlat. Heatley, who helped the Ottawa Senators reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2007, had 5 goals in 32 playoff games for San Jose. Havlat hasn't played in the postseason since 2009, but in his last 26 playoff games, he has 12 goals. Burns likely will be paired with Dan Boyle to form one of the best defensive pairings in the League. Wilson also deserves credit for the signing of defensive-minded center Michal Handzus and the recent extension he gave Calder Trophy finalist Logan Couture, who will be just a $2.875 million cap hit in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia Flyers -- It wasn't much of a surprise when Holmgren acquired the negotiating rights to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, but the aftermath certainly was. Holmgren managed to secure Bryzgalov's services for nine years, but in the process, he dealt Jeff Carter to Columbus and Mike Richards to Los Angeles. Will those moves help the Flyers in the short-term? Difficult to see how it can, but Philadelphia still has enough talent to be a playoff team. Brayden Schenn, who came over in the Richards deal, has star potential, while 18-year-old Sean Couturier, the eighth pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, has the makings of a tremendous two-way center down the road. Holmgren, who delivered Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot on the opening day of free agency, also recently signed James van Riemsdyk to a six-year extension. The 22-year-old had 21 goals last season, then added 7 goals in 11 playoff games.

Honorable mentions: Dale Tallon (Florida), Chuck Fletcher (Minnesota).

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL
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