Which team is the most improved from the end of last season? That is a matter of great debate, so NHL.com asked a group of its staff writers to weigh in on which team has had the best offseason to this point and four out of the nine polled agreed that it was the Florida Panthers. The New Jersey Devils got three votes and the Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers each got one apiece.
Tim Campbell: There is no need to scour lists of transactions or focus on how players will jell with their new teams. Before a single puck is shot or any building of chemistry is attempted during training camps, the team that had the best offseason to date has to be the one that signed the best goalie. It’s a slam-dunk. Signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year contract is an unparalleled upgrade for the Panthers at the most important position. Bobrovsky has two Vezina Trophy wins (2013, 2017), and his goaltending puts more opportunity in front of the Panthers on a nightly basis, just the edge a team needs to make noise when it counts. Other fine additions have been made in Florida, including coach Joel Quenneville and forwards Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly, but it is Bobrovsky who makes the biggest difference in the Panthers’ outlook.
Nick Cotsonika: They weren’t just flashy; they filled specific needs. Florida was ninth in goals (3.22 per game) and second on the power play (26.8 percent) last season. The problem was keeping the puck out of the net, even though the Panthers were 10th on the penalty kill (81.3 percent). Their 5-on-5 save percentage was tied for 29th (.907). Quenneville will bring structure. Bobrovsky will bring saves. During the past seven seasons, his even-strength save percentage is .929, first among goalies who have played at least 250 games. The Panthers also added Acciari, who can play center on the third or fourth line and take pressure off Aleksander Barkov by killing penalties and taking defensive zone face-offs; Connolly, who scored 22 goals last season for the Washington Capitals, an NHL career high; and defenseman Anton Stralman, a veteran who could pair with Mike Matheson.
William Douglas: I’m with Tim and Nick. Florida had the best offseason by signing Bobrovsky and hiring Quenneville. The Panthers lost a very good goalie and leader when Roberto Luongo retired, but he never won the Vezina Trophy. Not only did Florida nab its elite goalie of the present in Bobrovsky, it used the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft to get his heir apparent in Spencer Knight from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Quenneville gives the Panthers a brand name behind the bench who won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks and brings experience working with young talent.
Dan Rosen: Excuse me for jumping on the bandwagon with other colleagues, but the free agents must have brought their sunscreen as general manager Dale Tallon suggested because this has been a terrific offseason for Florida. Quenneville gives the Panthers instant credibility behind the bench, and Bobrovsky does the same in goal. That’s a heck of a 1-2 punch to start with, but that’s not where they’re starting; the Panthers already had a core of talented players who have underperformed. With Quenneville and Bobrovsky, Florida has two of the most important parts of the game covered. The Panthers then added layers by signing Connolly, Acciari and Stralman. That’s a 20-goal scorer and Stanley Cup champion, a shutdown forward and a veteran defenseman with big-game experience. Now Florida is talented, deep and experienced with elite goaltending and Hall of Fame coaching. The Panthers are a playoff team. Book it.
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The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired former Bud David Clarkson’s contract, which will go on LTIR, and a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft from the always wheeling-and-dealing Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for goaltending prospect Garret Sparks. With Sparks moving on, the Leafs signed signed former Philadelphia Flyers keeper Michal Neuvirth to a professional tryout contract, (Pension Plan Puppets)
In addition to acquiring Sparks, the Golden Knights retained the services of defenseman Deryk Engelland by signing the grizzled veteran to a one-year contract that carries a cap hit of $700K. Engelland can earn another $800K in potential bonuses. (Knights On Ice)
Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp was awarded a two-year contract with an average annual value of $2.28 million. His awarded salary fell in the middle of the numbers filed by Copp ($2.9 million) and the Jets ($1.5 million) with the arbitrator. (Arctic Ice Hockey)
The Nashville Predators have signed center Colton Sissons to a seven-year, $20-million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing scheduled for July 26. Last season, Sissons posted career-highs in goals (15), points (30), and plus-minus (+20). (On The Forecheck)
Anton Lindholm re-upped with the Colorado Avalanche, signing a two-year, two-way deal. The 24-year-old Swedish defenseman has appeared in a total of 62 games with the Avs over the last three seasons. (Mile High Sports)