USA TODAY hockey columnist Kevin Allen ranked the teams who have changed their fortunes the most through their use of trades and free agency over the last few days:
1. Detroit Red Wings: When the Red Wings landed Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, it was as if the franchise turned back the clock to the days when they seemed to acquire whomever they wanted on free agent signing day. The Red Wings significantly improved their defense last season, and they improved their offense on Friday. Goal scoring was a problem last season, and it shouldn’t be now. These two moves could re-energize the team’s offensive attack.
2. Edmonton Oilers: The signing of Andrew Ference might be the best fit of the day. This is a veteran defenseman who could stabilize the team’s defensive corps. He’s a leader. He’s a greater dressing room voice. He’s a presence. Plus, they signed defensive-minded Boyd Gordon. These signings could be the pieces this young team needs to grow up. We all know they have offense. These two players will improve their defensive play.
3. Dallas Stars: The addition of two-way center Shawn Horcoff finishes off what has been a very impressive run of changes for new general manager Jim Nill. With the additions of Sergei Gonchar, Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and now Horcoff, he has overhauled the look of this team. There is risk involved in his moves, but you have to take chances to be a champion. No GM has been more aggressive than Nill.
4. Nashville Predators: Signing five players Friday, including potential top six forwards Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg, should allow the Predators to rebound from last season’s disastrous finish. Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom are both high character, gritty role players who will make the Predators harder to play against. Neither Stalberg or Cullen are true offensive stars, but both have the ability to contribute significantly to an offense. Stalberg is big and fast; he has been a 22-goal scorer. He is always dangerous, always one stride away from being on a breakaway. He will have a greater opportunity to carry the load. Cullen is slick with the puck. The hope is he will be a 45- to 50-point guy. This is how the Predators have to win. They have to find bargain players to fit into coach Barry Trotz’s successful system. Carter Hutton upgrades the backup goalie position. Chris Mason didn’t have a strong season.
5. Ottawa Senators: Nobody is saying, “Alfie who?” But general manager Bryan Murray’s ability to land Bobby Ryan in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks helps ease the psychological sting of losing the player who has been the face of the franchise for almost two decades. Ryan, 26, is a four-time 30-goal scorer in an era when 30-goal scorers are not plentiful. They also signed Clarke MacArthur. They are a better offensive team than they were before.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets: Nathan Horton’s injury history scares some folks, but he was still one of the prizes of the marketplace. This signing is important for the franchise because it says Columbus can recruit top free agents, plus it says the Blue Jackets believe they are close enough to act boldly. The Blue Jackets have walked a little prouder and carried their flag a little higher since John Davidson became team president and Jarmo Kekalainen became general manager.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins: The addition of defensive-minded Rob Scuderi is a specific, targeted move made to solve a problem. With Scuderi returned to the team, the Penguins should surrender fewer scoring chances next season. He keeps the puck out of his team’s net. It’s that simple.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: David Clarkson was one of the prizes of this free agent class. He adds toughness and a scoring touch to a team on the rise. It’s another weapon to improve the team’s top six. The re-signing of Tyler Bozak is another important step.
9. Phoenix Coyotes: How long has this franchise been looking for a playmaking center? At least five or six seasons. Mike Ribeiro played well this past season, and he can fill that role.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning: Valtteri Filppula should fill the No. 2 center role for GM Steve Yzerman, who knows him well from his days in the Detroit organization. Filppula has always believed he could perform at a higher level if given the opportunity. He will get his chance to prove that.
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