NHL off-season power rankings: Who improved most?

Hugh Burrill caught up with Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban on the golf course to see what the Habs need to do in order to reach the next step.

Is Mike Babcock really worth $50 million? Will Noah Hanifin have a greater career than Dylan Strome when all is said and done? Alex Semin — good for 16 goals or 36?

Of course, only time will reveal the results of the 2015 off-season. But as high school and religion taught me, it’s never too early to judge.

So we’ve ranked how the National Hockey League’s clubs have performed since they stopped playing hockey.

Considering the coaching changes, management overhauls, blockbuster trades, puzzling moves, buyouts and legal issues, we power-rank the 2015 off-season for all 30 teams.

Note that the “previous” ranking is based on how the teams finished the 2014-15 regular season.

Rank Team

Any off-season that begins with Connor McDavid should be half decent. But it’s what happened before the draft (but after the lottery) — securing a bona fide GM in Peter Chiarelli and head coach in Todd McLellan — that should give the Oilers faithful the most hope. Chiarelli wasted no time addressing the team’s weaknesses in net (Cam Talbot) and along the blueline (Andrej Sekera). Mark Letestu is a wise depth signing, and playing hardball with Justin Schultz shows the new-look Oilers are to be taken seriously. Also: Their new alternate sweaters look sick.

Previous: 28


Trader Jim went after it again, this time landing Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks, goalie Antti Niemi from San Jose, and inking Johnny Oduya in free agency. An already loaded offence just got scarier. “We have as good a team on paper as anybody in the league,” says Tyler Seguin.

Previous: 19


Landing franchise pivot Jack Eichel in the draft immediately puts the Sabres in the upper ranks here, but the trades for Robin Lehner and Ryan O’Reilly have instilled faith that GM Tim Murray — aggressive in pursuit of his targets even if he doesn’t always land them (McDavid, Babcock) — is rebuilding the right way. Nice opportunity for Dan Bylsma to get his coaching career back on track with low expectations.

Previous: 30


All in. Jim Rutherford did his best Alex Anthopoulos impression, swinging hard with the Phil Kessel blockbuster. Though proven defencemen Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin are gonzo, the pickups of Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr add nice depth to one of the league’s best forward cores. For all his moves, Rutherford refused to let go of valued youngsters Olli Maata and Derrick Pouliot.

Previous: 15


The Dougie Hamilton trade shook our newsroom and instantly gave Calgary one of the best defences in the West. The addition of solid two-way winger Michael Frolik piled on to the good news. Rebuilds can happen faster than you think. Now, about that expiring Mark Giordano contract…

Previous: 16


Washington traded in some solid role players — Eric Fehr, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward — for bigger-name forwards in Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, which should make them even more fun to watch. After some posturing, Braden Holtby and the Caps realized they’re both better off together, to the tune of five years and $30.5 million. Fair.

Previous: 9


“You bring in a player like Brandon Saad, who’s won two Cups already, it’s a big statement,” says new captain Nick Foligno. Yes, the Saad deal was a shocker, and should give the Jackets enough of a boost to return to the dance. Another Cup winner, Gregory Campbell, was added to a young, exciting core that could still use some blueline help.

Previous: 23


Canucks fans are rightly ticked to see Eddie Lack heading to Carolina for a couple of draft picks, and the GM Ron Francis’s buyout of inherited mistake signing Alex Semin was the right call. James Wisniewski, who had trouble cracking the Ducks’ lineup, will see plenty of ice time now, but the biggest Hurricanes move was drafting Noah Hanifin — a steal at No. 5.

Previous: 26


Could buyout signing Cody Hodgson (one year, $1.05 million) be this year’s Mike Ribeiro? GM David Poile let Cody Franson walk, brought in veteran Barret Jackman for defensive depth, and re-signed key forwards Ribeiro (two years), Craig Smith (five years) and Colin Wilson (four years) without going nuts on term or dollars. Well done.

Previous: 7


Derided of late for a lack of aggression in the front office, San Jose was more active than usual, replacing coach Todd McLellan with Peter DeBoer, signing free agents Joel Ward and Paul Martin, and trading for goalie Martin Jones, who should battle Alex Stalock for the starter’s gig. The club desperately needed a shakeup. Good on them.

Previous: 22


Fairly quiet, the Senators uncrowded their crease nicely by dishing Robin Lehner for a first-round pick — a massive haul considering the returns Cam Talbot and Eddie Lack fetched. They also re-signed all those RFA forwards (Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Alex Chiasson) at prices that won’t irk ownership.

Previous: 13


The Wild did well to lock up No. 1 goalie Devan Dubnyk before he tested the free-agent waters, and short-term, low-risk deals for Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund and Mike Reilly is a prudent way to go. Consider Dubnyk — arguably the NHL’s second-best goalie last season — is only the league’s 22nd highest-paid.

Previous: 11


Re-signing 24-year-old Jakob Silfverberg for four years? Great. Re-signing Ryan Kesler, 30, for six years? Uhhh… Though we understand Bob Murray is seizing his Cup window, we’re not a fan of the term given to Kesler. One-year deals for UFAs Chris Stewart and Shawn Horcoff are smart, low-risk gambles. And the addition of Paul MacLean as an assistant coach makes for a highly quotable bench.

Previous: 3


When you win your conference with no significant expiring contracts, there isn’t much tinkering necessary. Steve Yzerman smartly grabbed two-way forward Erik Condra (modest $1.25-million cap hit), who has played for coach Jon Cooper before. The GM of the Year has not, however, re-signed Steven Stamkos yet. Kind of a big deal.

Previous: 2


He wasn’t cheap ($66 million), but the Flyers refused to fool around with Jakub Voracek and locked him up for the maximum eight years before the puck dropped on his contract year. More impressive? Ron Hextall found trade partners for Zac Rinaldo and Chris Pronger. New coach Dave Hakstol will unveil an uptempo game plan for a largely unchanged lineup.

Previous: 24


The handsy T.J. Oshie was dealt to Washington to clear space for one of the summer’s most necessary re-signings. Vladimir Tarasenko’s eight-year, $60-million monster contract could well end up looking like a bargain with 2020 hindsight. It was a deal they had to make. St. Louis drops a notch, however, for the weird (mis)handling of coach Ken Hitchcock’s one-year renewal.

Previous: 4


Pressured to find some scoring to support his all-world goalie and first-class defence, GM Marc Bergevin rolled the dice on former 40-goal man Alex Semin — a gamble worth taking on a one-year deal. Though a centre would’ve been nice, we think trading Brandon Prust for the younger Zack Kassian was a decent move. Ditto for the re-signing of Jeff Petry, who fit in seamlessly as a deadline rental. Max Pacioretty’s off-ice injury is a bummer.

Previous: 2


Pittsburgh won the Phil Kessel trade, make no mistake about it. But the Maple Leafs are all about culture change and long-term goals and stocking up draft picks — something the new regime of Mike Babcock(!) and Lou Lamoriello(!!) should be able to do if/when the Leafs trade some of their low-risk forwards (Daniel Winnik, Shawn Matthias, P.A. Parenteau, Taylor Beck, Marc Arcobello) at the deadline. The $4.1 million Nazem Kadri scored is more than fair, and if/when he has the season he’s capable of, he’ll earn a sweet raise. Love the challenge.

Previous: 27


Glen Sather traded coveted backup Cam Talbot to the Oilers for draft picks outside of the first round, replaced Carl Hagelin with Emerson Etem, and acquired Chicago third-stringer Antti Raanta to replace Talbot. The Rangers didn’t get sentimental and re-sign Martin St. Louis, helping prompt his retirement, but they did lock up Derek Stepan long-term, avoiding a potentially ugly situation.

Previous: 1


Bad news: Try as they did, the Red Wings lost Mike Babcock. Good news: They had coach Jeff Blashill waiting in the, er, wings (sorry). Re-signing Gustav Nyquist for a fair price and hiring help from veterans Mike Green (too expensive at $6 million per season) and Brad Richards shows fans that the playoff aspirations won’t die with Babcock’s departure.

Previous: 12


For all the Coyotes’ arena lease issues, it speaks volumes that free agents Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek were happy to come back to the desert after being rented away at the trade deadline. With Dylan Strome now joining Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, this could be a fun offence to watch in a few years. Oh, and they gave NHL jobs to John Scott and Anders Lindback.

Previous: 29


Essentially swapping centre Ryan O’Reilly with Carl Soderberg is hardly an upgrade, but the Avs’ relationship with O’Reilly has been shaky for years and at least they got potential in return (Mikahail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov). Losing top-six centres (Paul Stastny, 2014) in back-to-back summers is not a good look, but we like the Francois Beauchemin signing.

Previous: 21


Quiet compared to the rival Caps and Pens, the Islanders let veteran Lubomir Visnovsky go (and reportedly are kicking tires on UFA Marek Zidlicky as a replacement) and Thomas Greiss will now back up Jaroslav Halak (shrug). GM Garth Snow’s big move was trading up on draft night to land two first-round picks (Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier) when he was going in with none.

Previous: 10


The Jets made their big splash mid-season with the Evander Kane deal but wisely retained good fit Drew Stafford and snagged Alex Burmistrov back from the KHL this summer. Free agents Michael Frolik, Jim Slater, Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty all walked, putting pressure on the young forwards to step up this fall. Will be in tough to return to the post-season.

Previous: 14


Some puzzling moves in the Sunshine State — and that does not include re-signing Jaromir Jagr, whom we’d be happy to see skate into his 50s. The Panthers acquired the Reilly Smith (sweet) and Marc Savard’s contract (ugh) from Boston for Jimmy Hayes, then curiously bought out shootout master Brad Boyes, who only had one year remaining on a reasonable-rate contract. GM Dale Tallon did well at the draft, landing arguably the best winger, Lawson Crouse, at the No. 11 spot.

Previous: 20


A messy playoff run came up short and bled into the messy departures of forwards Jarett Stoll and Mike Richards. Throw in Slava Voynov’s jail sentence, and summer 2015 must be hell for Dean Lombardi. (Last year at this time he was summering with the Cup.) We like the Milan Lucic trade, though, and believe he could thrive again in L.A. Here’s a bet: Jhonas Enroth looks much better as backup here than he did in Dallas.

Previous: 18


So the Bruins fired well-regarded GM Peter Chiarelli, left well-regarded coach Claude Julien twisting for weeks, then traded away blue-chip defenceman Dougie Hamilton. Also departing: Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg, Reilly Smith and Gregory Campbell. But, hey, they won the Matt Beleskey sweepstakes, bought some nasty (Zac Rinaldo) and got local boy Jimmy Hayes.

Previous: 17


Dynasty comes with a price. In this case, losing top-six forwards Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp to trade, and top-four defenceman Johnny Oduya to free agency. (Ask Dallas GM Jim Nill — a beneficiary here — and he’ll tell you the Blackhawks’ biggest loss might be blueline prospect Stephen Johns.) “It does feel a lot like 2010,” captain Jonathan Toews said this summer. “All of a sudden we turn our outlook from the positive to the negative of everything. It’s going to be tough for our team and tough for some of our teammates.” And that was before the Patrick Kane investigation.

Previous: 7


Jim Benning came in last summer like a man on a mission, landing key free agents and getting the Canucks back in the playoffs. Now we’re unsure about the direction of the club. Gone are Nick Bonino, Kevin Bieksa, Zack Kassian and Eddie Lack, and defence prospect Adam Clendening. In comes Brandons Prust and Sutter. On paper, one must think this is a step back. (Silver lining: Thumbs up for drafting Brock Boeser.)

Previous: 8


The biggest moves here came above ice level with forever GM Lou Lamoriello taking a back seat then hopping a surprise flight to Toronto. New boss Ray Shero and new coach John Hynes face a difficult task, trying to rebuild a club thin on quality prospects. Dainius Zubrus was cut, and 22-year-old Adam Larsson was locked up for six seasons.

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