Skip to main content
news

Five most improved teams in Eastern Conference

Addition of Kyle Okposo has Sabres on the right track

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The summer is in full swing, which means facelifts for teams across the NHL.

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford did plenty of work on his roster last season to help win the Stanley Cup. But the foundation was set last summer when Rutherford acquired Phil Kessel in a trade on July 1, traded for Nick Bonino and signed Eric Fehr on July 28 and then signed Matt Cullen on Aug. 5.

Now that holidays in Canada and the United States have passed and the fireworks are over, it's a good time to take stock of what has happened since NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup to Sidney Crosby at SAP Center on June 12.

Here are five teams from the Eastern Conference who, at least on paper, appear to have helped themselves the most this offseason (list in alphabetical order):

Video: Kyle Okposo signs seven-year contract with Sabres

BUFFALO SABRES

Key moves: Signed forward Kyle Okposo (7 years, $42 million); acquired defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in a trade from the Florida Panthers (for defenseman Mark Pysyk).

With Okposo in Buffalo, coach Dan Bylsma can try to have two pairs on his top two lines with centers Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly and wings Okposo and Evander Kane. He can fill out the depth with Tyler Ennis and Sam Reinhart. Buffalo owns the negotiating rights to Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey until Aug. 15. Kulikov gives the Sabres a physical left-handed defenseman and Bylsma the ability to play a balanced blue line with three righties (Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson) and three lefties (Kulikov, Jake McCabe, Josh Gorges). Buffalo acquired backup goalie Anders Nilsson from the St. Louis Blues; they lost goalie Chad Johnson, who signed with the Calgary Flames.

No. 1 on the to-do list: Re-sign Ristolainen, who is a restricted free agent.

Video: CHI@VAN: Blackhawks move the puck, Teravainen scores

CAROLINA HURRICANES

Key moves: Acquired forwards Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks (for a second-round draft pick this year (Artur Kayumov) and a third-round pick next year); signed forwards Lee Stempniak (two years, $5 million) and Viktor Stalberg (1 year, $1.5 million); re-signed goaltender Cam Ward (2 years, $6.6 million).

General manager Ron Francis took advantage of the Blackhawks' salary-cap crunch by acquiring Teravainen and Bickell. Teravainen, who has one year left on his entry-level contract, is the steal of the trade because of his age (21), his high-end potential, and versatility. Bickell is in the last year of a four-year, $16 million contract. The best the Hurricanes can hope for is he regains at least some of the form that helped him get the contract in the first place. Stempniak and Stalberg are solid veterans who help Carolina's depth. Stempniak can be a top-six forward.

No. 1 on the to-do list: Re-sign forward Viktor Rask, who is a restricted free agent after scoring 21 goals and 48 points last season.

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Yandle buries loose puck, evens game

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Key moves: Signed defensemen Keith Yandle (7 years, $44.45 million) and Jason Demers (5 years, $22.5 million), and goalie James Reimer (5 years, $17.5 million); re-signed defenseman Aaron Ekblad (8 year extension, $60 million), forwards Vincent Trocheck (6 years, $28.5 million) and Reilly Smith (5 years, $25 million); acquired defenseman Mark Pysyk in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres (for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov).

The Panthers decided spending on the blue line was the way to go. Starting next season, when Ekblad's new contract begins, Ekblad, Yandle and Demers will cost Florida $18.35 million against the NHL salary cap. Florida's power play, which has struggled for the past three seasons, should be better with Yandle at the point. The addition of Reimer not only buys time for Roberto Luongo to heal from offseason hip surgery, it gives Florida the ability to reduce the workload of the 37-year-old when he returns. Trocheck is a big part of the center depth along with Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad. They each have a long-term contract.

No. 1 on the to-do list: Sign forward Jonathan Huberdeau to a contract extension, if they plan on having him as a big part of their future too.

Video: Analyzing Wednesday's Hall for Larsson trade

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Key moves: Acquired forward Taylor Hall in a trade from the Edmonton Oilers (for defenseman Adam Larsson); signed defenseman Ben Lovejoy (3 years) and forward Vernon Fiddler (1 year); acquired forward Beau Bennett in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins (for a third-round draft pick).

Getting Hall for Larsson was a brilliant move by general manager Ray Shero. Hall, 24, gives the Devils the legitimate top-line goal-scorer they were missing. He should be coming into his own as a player in the NHL and 30-plus goals is expected even though he never scored 30 in his six seasons in Edmonton. Lovejoy is a solid right-handed replacement for Larsson. Fiddler and Bennett are depth forwards on a team that lacked depth last season. Shero should add at least one more veteran defenseman for depth purposes. The Devils did lose defenseman David Schlemko, who signed with the San Jose Sharks.

No. 1 on the to-do list: Re-sign right wing Kyle Palmieri, who is a restricted free agent.

Video: Maple Leafs acquire goaltender Frederik Andersen

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Key moves: Acquired goalie Frederik Andersen in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks and signed him (5 years, $25 million); selected forward Auston Matthews with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft; signed forward Matt Martin (4 years, $10 million) and defenseman Roman Polak (1 year, $2,25 million).

The hope is that Matthews is their No. 1 center for the next decade or longer and Andersen is their No. 1 goalie for at least the next five seasons. Matthews gives Toronto quality center depth with Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Peter Holland behind him. Andersen played 125 games with a .918 save percentage 2.33 goals-against average in three seasons with Anaheim. Martin can be a veteran in a bottom-six role and a leader in the dressing room. Polak, who started last season with the Maple Leafs, is a physical bottom-pair defenseman who could be trade bait if Toronto isn't in the playoff race in February.

No. 1 on the to-do list: Sign Matthews to his entry-level contract.

View More