5 major team improvements from NHL's early offseason rush

Kaapo Kakko has helped transform the Rangers' wing position. (Getty)
Kaapo Kakko has helped transform the Rangers' wing position. (Getty)

As the collection of talented restricted free agents continues to make life miserable on NHL GMs with one eye on a temporary transition to cottage life, we have hit a bit of a standstill in the open market.

Things can change, but we should have a decent enough idea now, with the draft and start of free agency behind us, of which teams have put themselves in a position to improve on their performance last season.

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Let’s dig a little deeper, though, than merely targeting those who should fare better in the overall standings and instead pinpoint select areas of need that have been plugged effectively across the league.

Wingers in New York

There are improvements dotted all over the Rangers’ roster, but the top six that they will roll out on opening night compared to what was left at the end of last season probably marks the most transformative — and that’s because of who they have brought in at the wings.

With top free agent Artemi Panarin and No. 2 overall selection Kaapo Kakko now in the fold, and expected to play opposite with existing flanks Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, New York might now feature one of the more talented collections of wing talent in the NHL. The company should do wonders for Mika Zibanejad, who, while not a plus No. 1 centre, should be expected to form a highly profitable partnership with Panarin.

And with Vitaly Kravstov and Vladislav Namestnikov in support, that talent on the right and left sides doesn’t necessarily drop off.

Defense in Buffalo

Buffalo finished in the middle of the pack in terms of expected goals against, so it was somewhat unfortunate to rank ninth from the bottom in goals allowed last season, but the Sabres have put themselves in a position to improve on those numbers. Or at least given themselves a better chance to outscore their problems.

Jason Botterill has continued to prioritize his blue line this summer after drafting Rasmus Dahlin No. 1 overall last year and adding Brandon Montour in a trade completed before the deadline. Welcoming Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju in separate deals offers the Sabres two more offensively talented puck movers and power-play options that will help the Sabres maintain a forward-pressing, up-tempo style.

There may be a decision to make on Rasmus Ristolainen, who has been miscast as a No. 1 defender. But if he does remain with the Sabres, he is at the very least better insulated.

Goaltending now, and in the future, in Florida

Florida brass will have one less thing to worry about for the foreseeable future after a summer spent bringing stability to one position in particular. With Sergei Bobrovsky signed to his seven-season mega deal to take care of the crease in the immediate term, the Panthers also spent a first-round selection on one of the top goaltending prospects to hit the draft in some time.

Spencer Knight will knock on the door long before Bobrovsky is ready to surrender the torch, which leaves the Panthers set up for plus contributions in goal for many seasons.

Bottom nine in Colorado

What really makes the Avalanche dangerous now and in the future is that they have maybe the best line in hockey and the cap space to build beneath it. And without having to take from the top unit or use up much of their resources, the Avalanche have made significant improvements to all three lines that shuffle in behind the MacKinnon-Landeskog-Rantanen unit.

With Nazem Kadri now centering the second line, Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi introduced to the middle six, and Pierre Edouard-Bellemare anchoring the fourth unit, the Avs have brought in some pretty significant supporting pieces to lighten the load on the top group without spending all that much.

Star power in New Jersey

Adding a new golden boy in Jack Hughes and the most extroverted player in the NHL in P.K. Subban, no team has seen a bigger relevancy spike than the Devils. Whether it translates to success is still somewhat up for debate, as the height of Hughes and Subban’s powers might never really align, and the spectre of Taylor Hall’s looming unrestricted free agency remains unresolved, but the Devils are certainly much more watchable.

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