Much has changed since the St. Louis Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to win their first NHL championship. Trades have occurred, the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver imported a new generation of talent into the NHL pipeline, and the first three weeks of free agency, which began July 1, have combined to drastically alter the landscape of the NHL.
Which team has emerged from this period of rapid and pronounced change as the most improved from the end of last season? That is a matter of great debate, and we have asked several of our NHL.com staff writers to weigh in on which team has had the best offseason to this point.
Here are their thoughts:
Tim Campbell, staff writer
Florida Panthers: There is no need to scour lists of transactions or focus on how players will jell with their new teams. Before a single puck is shot or any building of chemistry is attempted during training camps, the team that had the best offseason to date has to be the one that signed the best goalie. It's a slam-dunk. Signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract is an unparalleled upgrade for the Panthers at the most important position. Bobrovsky has two Vezina Trophy wins (2013, 2017), and his goaltending puts more opportunity in front of the Panthers on a nightly basis, just the edge a team needs to make noise when it counts. Other fine additions have been made in Florida, including coach Joel Quenneville and forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly, but it is Bobrovsky who makes the biggest difference in the Panthers' outlook.
Video: Panthers add Bobrovsky, Stralman, Acciari, Connolly
Nick Cotsonika, columnist
Panthers: They weren't just flashy; they filled specific needs. Florida was ninth in goals (3.22 per game) and second on the power play (26.8 percent) last season. The problem was keeping the puck out of the net, even though the Panthers were 10th on the penalty kill (81.3 percent). Their 5-on-5 save percentage was tied for 29th (.907). Quenneville will bring structure. Bobrovsky will bring saves. During the past seven seasons, his even-strength save percentage is .929, first among goalies who have played at least 250 games. The Panthers also added Acciari, who can play center on the third or fourth line and take pressure off Aleksander Barkov by killing penalties and taking defensive zone face-offs; Connolly, who scored 22 goals last season for the Washington Capitals, an NHL career high; and defenseman Anton Stralman, a veteran who could pair with Mike Matheson.
William Douglas, staff writer
Panthers: I'm with Tim and Nick. Florida had the best offseason by signing Bobrovsky and hiring Quenneville. The Panthers lost a very good goalie and leader when Roberto Luongo retired, but he never won the Vezina Trophy. Not only did Florida nab its elite goalie of the present in Bobrovsky, it used the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft to get his heir apparent in Spencer Knight from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Quenneville gives the Panthers a brand name behind the bench who won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks and brings experience working with young talent.
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
New Jersey Devils: After the Devils failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons (2018 was the exception), this is a pivotal offseason for them. With a combination of good luck (winning the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery) and smart moves, they've nailed it so far. Selecting potential franchise center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft and acquiring defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators gives New Jersey some much-needed star power in addition to a significant upgrade in top-end skill. Signing forward Wayne Simmonds to a one-year contract as an unrestricted free agent was a low-risk move that, if he's healthy, will add to the forward depth and strengthen the power play (he averaged 14 power-play goals per season from 2013-14 to 2017-18). These additions might help the Devils convince forward Taylor Hall to sign an extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2020. If he signs before the season, this offseason will be a home run for New Jersey.
Video: What are the Devils' needs after an active offseason?
Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
Devils: New Jersey went a long way toward bolstering its lineup with Hughes, a top-two center, Subban, a top-pair defenseman, and Simmonds. Hughes should fill a need as second-line center behind Nico Hischier. Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner, can boost the power play, which ranked 21st in the NHL (17.7 percent) last season. Simmonds brings a veteran voice to the locker room and a net-front presence at even strength and on the power play. A healthy Hall will be motivated with the acquisitions in the final season of his contract, and goalie Cory Schneider is ready to build on the 2.46 goals-against average and .921 save percentage he had in 17 games after the 2019 NHL All-Star break.
Tracey Myers, staff writer
Colorado Avalanche: I was already a fan of Colorado's offseason when the Avalanche selected defenseman Bowen Byram with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and signed unrestricted free agent forwards Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, but the trade for center Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Tyson Barrie and forward Alexander Kerfoot was a bold move. The Avalanche were in need of secondary scoring to complement their top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, and Kadri had 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in 73 games last season and 55 points (32 goals, 23 assists) in 80 games in 2017-18 with the Maple Leafs. Colorado has reached the playoffs the past two seasons, and these moves could mean it will do so for several more.
Dan Rosen, senior writer
Panthers: Excuse me for jumping on the bandwagon with other colleagues, but the free agents must have brought their sunscreen as general manager Dale Tallon suggested because this has been a terrific offseason for Florida. Quenneville gives the Panthers instant credibility behind the bench, and Bobrovsky does the same in goal. That's a heck of a 1-2 punch to start with, but that's not where they're starting; the Panthers already had a core of talented players who have underperformed. With Quenneville and Bobrovsky, Florida has two of the most important parts of the game covered. The Panthers then added layers by signing Connolly, Acciari and Stralman. That's a 20-goal scorer and Stanley Cup champion, a shutdown forward and a veteran defenseman with big-game experience. Now Florida is talented, deep and experienced with elite goaltending and Hall of Fame coaching. The Panthers are a playoff team. Book it.
Dave Stubbs, columnist
Devils: Unable to build on its 2018 appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Taylor Hall injured his knee midway through last season, New Jersey sank to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. But then the hockey gods smiled on the Devils with a victory in the draft lottery, allowing them to select Hughes. The subsequent trade for Subban, larger than life at the box office and often on the ice, ramped up the excitement, and the safe one-year signing of Simmonds is also significant. If Hall is at full speed and the offseason retooling works as general manager Ray Shero hopes it will, the Devils will be a fun story and, dare we say, playoff-bound this season.
Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
New York Rangers: My esteemed colleagues make great points, especially when it comes to the additions of Hughes, Subban and Simmonds to the Devils. But I think you have to look across the Hudson River at the impressive job done by New York. Since April 30, the Rangers have signed Artemi Panarin, the top goal-scorer in free agency and one of the best in the NHL; traded for Jacob Trouba, a top-pair defenseman; used the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft to select forward Kaapo Kakko, arguably the best pure goal-scorer available; and traded with the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Adam Fox, a Hobey Baker Award finalist from Harvard University. By the end of this season, all four could (and should) be prominent pieces in the lineup. Panarin, Trouba and Kakko might even play together on the first power-play unit. Will it be enough to get New York into the playoffs? We'll see. But if these moves don't constitute a productive offseason, I don't know what does.
Video: Busy Rangers offseason started with May acquisitions