3 Teams Score Big in Free Agency
Keeping up with the Penguins is a tall order, but plenty of teams are tackling the task in the opening rounds of free agency. Here are some teams who have made some moves to give themselves a better chance of unseating Pittsburgh from the Stanley Cup throne and to change the complexion of NHL betting in the coming season.
The push starts in the east, where New Jersey, Carolina and Florida have all improved their lots considerably.
Florida won the Atlantic Division last season, but had a disappointing postseason, losing to the New York Islanders in the first round. They've gone about correcting the weaknesses they had in special teams play. Signing former New York Ranger Keith Yandle, along with a group of other defensemen, should help in that cause. They also picked up blueliners Mark Pysyk and Jason Demers, along with goalies James Reimer and Reto Berra, in case Roberto Luongo is slow recovering from offseason hip surgery. Cornerstone blueliner Aaron Ekblad also re-upped for eight years. On the offensive end, the Panthers acquired Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault, and secured new contracts with Reilly Smith, Vincent Trocheck and aging Jaromir Jagr. The Panthers should be set to overcome their Atlantic rivals and go deeper into the postseason.
The Devils and Hurricanes are in the competitive Metropolitan Division and have a long way to go to get where Washington, Pittsburgh and the rest reside. They both won more games than they lost last year, and they've taken some steps to make things even better.
The Devils basically need one thing to vastly improve their standing: scoring. They were 30th in the league in scoring last year while doing rather well in most other major statistical categories. So they picked up a couple of forwards who should help their situation. Taylor Hall comes over from Edmonton, bringing what the Devils hope will add 30 goals to their punch. They also got Pittsburgh's Beau Bennett and signed Vernon Fiddler. Fiddler and Bennett are depth forwards on a team that lacked depth last season. The Devils also upped the ante on defense by getting Ben Lovejoy from the Penguins. He should more than fill the void on defense left by David Schlemko, who went to San Jose. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the Devils secured the services of their leading scorer from last year, Kyle Palmieri. Together with the new contingent, the Devils should go a long way toward making a more balanced team.
Carolina's needs are more encompassing, but the Hurricanes have also made progress. They were in need of both scoring and defense last year, and took steps to improve in those areas. They turned to Chicago for two players. Wingers Teuvo Teravainen and Brian Bickell come over from the cap-strapped Blackhawks. The two came at a bargain, too. Teravainen, who has one year left on his entry-level contract, is the steal of the trade because of his age (21), his high-end potential, and versatility. Bickell is in the last year of a four-year, $16 million contract. The 'Canes also got Viktor Stalberg from the Rangers and Lee Stempniak, who had 51 points last year with both Boston and New Jersey.
Other already-solid teams made moves to hold ground in their competitive divisions. Tops among those is the Tampa Bay Lightning, which went deep into the playoffs the last two seasons. The Lightning re-signed both forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman, who left millions of dollars on the table in terms of what they could have earned.
San Jose, which didn't have enough to overcome Pittsburgh in the championship, helped correct their shortcomings in that series. They added David Schlemko to bolster a defense that wasn't quite good enough against Pittsburgh. The Sharks also added a healthy dose of speed up front by signing winger Mikkel Boedker, who recorded 51 points in two of his last three seasons.
There are plenty of moves left to make, and 24 players have asked for arbitration. But with lineups as they stand now, look for the New Jersey Devils to break through to the playoffs next season and the Panthers to make an honest-to-goodness bid for the Eastern Conference title. The Hurricanes should be much improved, but going very far is still too much to ask of a team still in transition. Just look to them for upsets in NHL game betting early in the season.
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