NHL Most Improved Teams In 2017-18
The most improved teams for the 2017-18 NHL season leveraged offseason trades and free agency to great effect. These teams tend to provide solid wagering value, giving you a chance to “buy low” before the rest of the hockey betting world catches on, increasing the cost of betting on them.
Nothing went right for the Dallas Stars last season. They lurched through 82 games with maddening inconsistency, finishing with 79 points and a 34-37-11 record. A peek at the roster reveals a team with talent that shouldn’t finish under .500. As a result, coach Lindy Ruff was excused from his position. New bench boss Ken Hitchcock returns for another tenure with Dallas. Ken’s a disciplinarian, which should tighten up the Stars defense.
Dallas management knows they have enough talent to compete, which lead to an offseason frenzy of personnel moves. The team got rid of their previous goaltending tandem and signed Ben Bishop, who finished top three in Vezina voting for 2016. They also traded for Marc Methot, acquiring the former Senators defenseman from the Vegas Golden Knights.
Offense wasn’t an issue for the Stars, but they went out and signed Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal, gaining a deadly, top-six forward and depth down the middle. Other than the expansion Golden Knights, there isn’t an NHL franchise that enjoyed a better summer than the Stars.
The Arizona Coyotes have no choice but to move on from the Dave Tippett era. Coach Tippett served as a genius bench boss for nearly a decade, leading the desert dogs to a few surprisingly successful seasons. After helping the Coyotes overachieve, he’ll be replaced by Rick Tocchet. The timing’s a bit unfortunate, because the Coyotes lineup improved over the offseason.
Shane Doan and Mike Smith exit along with Dave Tippett, replaced by Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson, solid veterans with proven experience. Alex Goligoski was signed as a free agent, further solidifying the defense. With these moves, talent like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Max Domi will thrive. The Coyotes missed the playoffs by 24 points last year, partially because of injuries to Domi and other important contributors. Moves made in the offseason will give the Coyotes an outside shot of making the postseason.
The 2016-17 regular season was an up-and-down affair for the Calgary Flames. Goaltending from the tandem of Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson didn’t provide consistency until the last part of the season, when the Flames went on a run to make the playoffs. They were swept out of the post season by the Anaheim Ducks, ending the season without ceremony.
Calgary features some of the deadliest young forwards in the league, including Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett.
The lack of goaltending held these budding stars back, along with an average defensive core outside of Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano. So the Flames front office traded a pair of draft picks for Travis Hamonic, creating one of the best blue line foursomes in the league. Mike Smith’s an experienced goaltender who hasn’t played on a solid team in a while. If he stays healthy, he could anchor the Flames defensive effort, providing the entire squad with peace of mind.
Carolina endured a rough start to the season, including inconsistent goaltending which ruined momentum created by a young, speedy core. For all intents and purposes, the Hurricanes were out of the playoff hunt early in the season, so the team let the youngsters loose.
Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner and the rest of Carolina’s young guns went off, finishing the campaign with a surprising push for the post season. They fell short, gaining 87 points, falling to 7th in the Metropolitan Division. Seems like the Canes just need to solidify the D to progress into a playoff contender.
In the offseason, they said farewell to Eddie Lack and picked up Scott Darling, formerly of the Chicago Blackhawks. They also grabbed Trevor Van Riemsdyk from the Vegas Golden Knights, adding another solid young defenseman to the back line. Justin Williams signed with the team in the offseason, adding a veteran scorer to the top six. After an impressive offseason, the Hurricanes might be the most improved team in their division.
Toronto Maple Leafs
After a long tradition of losing, the NHL is getting used to the idea of a winning team in Toronto. The Maple Leafs leaned on their rookies last year, with coach Babcock leading the young squad to a playoff spot. After scaring the Capitals in the first round, the Leafs are a year wiser and stronger. Super sophomores Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander spearhead one of the fastest attacks in the NHL.
The Leafs decided to upgrade their top six further, signing veteran speedster Patrick Marleau to a big contract. He’ll mesh well with the squad, and unlike most experienced forwards, he still has the jets to skate with Marner and Matthews.
Teams never have enough defensive depth, which makes the Ron Hainsey signing noteworthy. Ron defected from the Pittsburgh Penguins, adding a Stanley Cup winner to the Leafs backline. More than any other team, the Leafs can count on internal improvement, because all of their top scorers have yet to hit their prime.
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