Our professional NHL consultant shares his opinions on three teams which strengthened themselves since the offseason began. Go inside to read this highly informative article.
NHL Offseason Free Agency and Trades
We've just completed the first weekend of the 2016 NHL free agency period and it indubitably didn't lack for noteworthy items. As a matter of fact, during the first two days (7/1 & 7/2) of free agency alone, we saw 130 players either sign with a new organization, or resign with their existing team.
If you look forward to trades every July 1st, then you certainly were a bit disappointed by a lack of transactions in this go around. However, there were significant trades which did transpire before free agency consummated last Friday at Noon ET.
In the following paragraphs I'll offer my professional opinion on what teams improved themselves the most since this recent offseason began.
The Winners: Tampa Bay Lightning
Many readers may find this selection a bit odd, especially in light of Tampa Bay not signing any weighty players from other organizations. Nevertheless, it's what they did in order to retain their own unrestricted free agents that became notable. After much speculation about where Steven Stamkos would land on July 1st, Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman was able to resign Stamkos to an 8-year deal two days (6/29) before he was set to hit the open market. Yzerman was also able to retain his top defensemen Victor Headman and valuable backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, both of which were on the cusp of being free agents.
Keep in mind, Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 where they lost to Chicago in six games. Then this past spring, they were defeated by eventual 2016 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh in seven games during the Eastern Conference Finals. They made that most recent deep playoff run despite not having the services of Steven Stamkos (blood clot) for all but one game.
Current (7/5) NHL betting odds at Betonline list Tampa Bay at 11:1 to win the Stanley Cup in 2017. If you were ever going to contemplate making an early wager in this regard, the Lightning appear to be a most logical choice.
The Panthers organization continues their ongoing trend of rising up the proverbial NHL ladder. General manager Dale Tallon was able to resign two of his own key pieces from a season ago. Both Vincent Trocheck (25G-28A-53PTS) and Reilly Smith (25G-25A-50 PTS) opted to stay in Florida. Tallon then went on to add vital components by signing defensemen Jason Demers (UFA-Dallas), goaltender James Reimer (UFA-San Jose), and obtain defensemen Keith Yandle via trade from the New York Rangers.
Florida is coming off a stellar 2015-2016 NHL regular season campaign which saw them crowned as Atlantic Division champions. Of course their early first round playoff exit was a huge disappointment. Yet, considering the young nucleus of players they possess, the future continues to shine brightly.
SportsBetting.com has Florida at odds of 14:1 to captures next year's Stanley Cup. Those are awfully enticing betting odds, and undoubtedly can be deemed for serious consideration when making you early NHL picks.
General Tim Murray has remained aggressive in terms of expediting the rebuild of his club. After all, Buffalo finished dead last in the NHL during the 2014-2014 and 2015-2016 NHL seasons. Subsequently, they made a 27-point improvement last season compared to the previous year. Murray is extremely confident his team can make the playoffs in 2017, and his recent moves are further indicative of that belief.
The Sabres made it very clear they would be a serious bidder when Steven Stamkos became available. Needless to say, that never transpired, and it was time for Plan B. Murray was undeterred, and was able to sign arguably the top available free agent when the wheeling and dealing period got underway last Friday. He inked former New York Islander and UFA Kyle Okposo to a 7-year contract. Okposo has amassed a combined 133 points the last two seasons, and will have a luxury of playing with either of Buffalo's talented centers in Jack Eichel or Ryan O'Reilly. Murray addressed a huge need by obtaining left shooting defensemen Demitri Kulikov in a trade with Florida.
Buffalo is presumably still a year or two away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender, and their 40-1 odds to win it all at BetOnline reflects exactly that. I'm not calling for another 27-point improvement, but making the playoffs is absolutely a realistic expectation.