Eight franchises that have improved the most this offseason
Calgary took a significant step forward by establishing Jay Feaster as its next GM
Vancouver made vast changes that should appease an impatient fan base
Sweeping changes in Atlanta could net a playoff berth next season
The change of address cards have been filed -- well, most of them, anyway. New name plates have been glued on the office doors and on the backs of sweaters. And with most of the significant movement of the offseason in the books (other than some free agent in New Jersey, anyway), it's time to assess which teams have done the most to ensure a short-term, or long-term, improvement to their fortunes.
Not all of the moves took place on the ice, and not all will be felt immediately. Change works like that sometimes. But each of these clubs made the sort of formula alterations that give their fans hope for the future.
No points were awarded for the mind-bobbling acquisition of Olli Jokinen, or for adding the fractious presence of Raitis Ivanans. In fact, it's a good bet next season's on-ice product won't be much better than the squad that ended up watching the playoffs from the sidelines last year. But these Flames took a significant step forward when they established a logical -- and looming -- successor for GM Darryl Sutter with the hiring of assistant GM Jay Feaster. The signing of Jokinen stunned the team's fans, but at least gave them hope that Sutter's days of stepping on every single rake, à la Sideshow Bob, are nearly over. Feaster, the architect of the 2004 champs in Tampa, is a proven builder. As soon as he's officially handed the reins, the long, frustrating decline comes to an end.
They changed the locks and forgot to give new keys to Mike Modano and Marty Turco, arguably the two biggest stars in Big D, but this was a case of addition by subtraction. The Stars might not be appreciably better in the standings this season, but by turning the castle over to Kari Lehtonen in net, and by creating an opportunity for building blocks like James Neal and Loui Eriksson to assume a larger presence in the room, the team is taking a bold step into the future. And don't underestimate the long-term impact of first rounder Jack Campbell, a puck-stopping wizard who just might develop into the best goaltender in franchise history.
The most pressing issue facing the B's this summer is finding room under the cap. So far, GM Peter Chiarelli has done little to address that and with scant market demand for his preferred trade bait (Marc Savard and Tim Thomas), he may have to cut a little closer to the bone to make everything work. How he eventually handles this problem will ultimately determine his final grade for the offseason.
That said, Chiarelli managed to tackle his second biggest issue: a team that ranked dead last in offense last season. He turned a package of assets (including Dennis Wideman and a mid-first rounder) into Nathan Horton, a frustrating but still tantalizing first-line winger who might finally tap into his full potential, then used the second overall pick pilfered from Toronto to select Tyler Seguin, a dynamic, Sakic-like center who could contribute to the second or third line next season.
They haven't developed a goalie since Curtis Joseph joined the team more than 20 years ago. They haven't done much better in the free agent or trade markets, either, settling for a succession of stopgap options. So is it really safe to assume Jaroslav Halak is the No. 1 stopper they've longed for?
Sure, he's coming off just one solid season -- and one exceptional playoff run -- so he's no one's idea of a top-10 goalie ... yet. But ask around and you'll find plenty of hockey people who believe he wasn't just a six-week flash in the pan. And honestly, he doesn't have to be the miracle worker he was for the Habs last spring. As long as he provides a reliable presence between the pipes, and maybe steals one here and there, the good times should finally arrive for the promising Blues.