The Stanley Cup Final is great. Legends are made and are forever etched onto hockey’s most hallowed trophy. Yet for the fans of the 28 other teams not in the Final, the excitement for the off-season is even greater, as it gives them a ray of hope that they too can get that much closer to the Cup. Here are three teams that have been taking the necessary steps towards that goal this summer:
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
Let’s face it, recent history hasn’t been kind to the Leafs’ string of decision making. That appears to be changing under the leadership of Brendan Shanahan, who has made a number of smart pickups this offseason.
First, the Leafs had no choice but to ship out Phil Kessel. The relationship between him and the franchise had soured, and the Leafs actually managed to receive decent return for a star with purported attitude problems and a behemoth contract.
For a combined 4.85 million dollars, the Leafs were able to sign serviceable players such as Mark Arcobello, Daniel Winnik, P.A. Parenteau for a total of two years of term total. Especially in Parenteau’s case, a castoff in Montreal, the Leafs took an opportunity to sign a player whose market value was at an all-time low, yet whose potential productivity remains high. Times are changing in Toronto.
2. Edmonton Oilers
When was the last time the Oilers had this good of a summer? Think back to the Chris Pronger signing…that’s how long it’s been. By drafting the best prospect since Sidney Crosby in Connor McDavid, the Oilers now have a legitimate franchise cornerstone to build around (only took four tries).
That was only the beginning of the reversal of Edmonton’s fortunes though. They went out and signed Andrej Sekera, perhaps the best available defenseman on the free agent market. Sekera will bring stability to what has been an otherwise shaky blueline. On a six year deal with a cap hit of 5.5 million dollars, Sekera will still be in his prime for most of the contract.
Newly instated general manager Peter Chiarelli also added goaltender Cam Talbot, who by all indications promises to be a solid starting netminder. Chiarelli’s most important acquisition may have haveactually come behind the bench though with the hiring of Todd McLellan, who was extremely successful implementing a solid two-way system in San Jose. With a new coach not part of the old boys Oilers club and a gem in McDavid, the Oilers are well on their way back to respectability.
3. Calgary Flames
The Flames are coming off one of their most surprising seasons in franchise history. Slated to be a lottery team at the beginning of the season, Calgary improbably not only qualified for the playoffs, but even won a round.
Off of the strong play of Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano, the Flames established an identity as a grinding and hard-working team. However, they were one of the very worst possession teams in recent ahistory, an area that management would have to address were the Flames to repeat that success.
General manager Brad Treliving managed to swipe 22-year old Dougie Hamilton away from the Boston Bruins, giving them a legitimate building block on the blueline alongside Giordano. Along with Hamilton’s arrival, the signing of Michael Frolik and the expected growth of Sam Bennett as well as the rest of the young core should see to it that Calgary’s possession game improves. Once the laughingstock of the league, the province of Alberta has quickly become a rising threat to the rest of the league.