The happenings of the 2018 offseason have given some teams a very different look from when we last saw them on the ice last spring. Some teams made dramatic upgrades to their squads, while other teams seemed to have diminished any quality roster that they had intact. Let’s take a look at some of the teams who are poised for an upward swing in performance during the 2018-19 season.
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The days of the lowly Buffalo Sabres may be on the decline. With a ton of offseason additions and a new rookie in town, Buffalo should start to see an uptick in production this year. First, let’s start with the number one draft pick, Rasmus Dahlin who, without a doubt, will crack the Sabre’s opening night roster. The monster defensemen has the potential for a stunning rookie campaign, and although this may not mean a ton of blue line point production, Dahlin will be able to make those defensive plays that can win games. Rasmus will be supported by some other able-bodied D-men, including Matt Hunwick, Jake McCabe, and Nathan Beaulieu.
As for offense, the Sabres made an array of moves to bolster an offense that finished dead-last in goals in 2017-18. In a massive trade with the St. Louis Blues for center Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo acquired Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, and Tage Thompson this summer. If those additions weren’t enough, Buffalo went out and traded with the Carolina Hurricanes to acquire Jeff Skinner, a three-time 30-goal scorer.
The Sabres didn’t neglect goaltending, either, as they signed free agent goalie Carter Hutton, who compiled a 17-7-3 record, .931 save percentage and a 2.09 GAA with the St. Louis Blues last season. Buffalo has upgraded on all fronts, and other teams would be wise not to underestimate matchups with this redesigned Sabres lineup.
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The Calgary Flames have already been a middle-of-the-pack team for the past few seasons, finishing fifth in the Pacific division last year, with an overall record of 37-35-10 and 84 points. However, there are several factors that I think will make Calgary a more lethal threat this year. For one, this summer they parted ways with former Head Coach, Glen Gulutzan. While they didn’t make a huge upgrade in hiring Bill Peters, who came over after bowing out of his final contract year as Head Coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. That may be the bench change the Flames need to reach that next level.
Coaching changes aside, Calgary also made big splashes in both the trade and free agent markets this summer. On the free agent side of things, James Neal signed a five-year deal with the Flames last July, and is coming off of a 25-goal season last year with the Vegas Golden Knights. Neal’s scoring touch will do nothing but improve Calgary’s offensive capabilities. Two other acquisitions came via a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, which resulted in the loss of Dougie Hamilton, Adam Fox and Michael Ferland for the Flames, but the addition of forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanafin. Most heavily missed will be Ferland’s point production (21 goals and 20 assists in 2017-18), but that should be made up considerably between the two newest Flames in Lindholm and Hanafin, who scored a combined 76 points (26g, 50a) for Carolina last season. Calgary may still not be a Stanley Cup contender, but they should climb even further up the Western Conference ranks this upcoming season.
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The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t exactly been “elite” over the past few years, posting a 2017-18 overall record of 36-35-11, and finishing just six points ahead of last place in the Metropolitan division. Their one offseason downfall was losing Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres for forward prospect Cliff Pu and a few draft picks. Other than that substantial loss, however, the Hurricanes improved drastically, acquiring Michael Ferland, Adam Fox, and Dougie Hamilton from Calgary in a June trade. Ferland, the 26-year-old winger, should be able to immediately contribute to Carolina’s offense, due to the fact that he’s coming off of a 20+ goal season last year with Calgary. Dougie Hamilton is also coming off of a solid year on the blue line, posting 17 goals and 27 assists last year with the Flames. Despite losing one of their top goal-scorers, Carolina more than made up for it with their offseason trades.
On the coaching side, the Canes have a new Head Coach in Rod Brind’Amour, who won a Cup with Carolina in 2006 and tallied 1,184 points over 20 seasons in the NHL with St. Louis, Philadelphia and Carolina.
The Hurricanes made some other minor lateral moves, like adding goaltender Petr Mrazek, who should be able to provide a serviceable tandem with Scott Darling in the Carolina net. All things considered, Carolina’s rise may not come quickly or all at once, but have no doubt, they won’t stay in the trenches forever.
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Daniel is an avid Philadelphia Flyers fan from South Central Pennsylvania. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org