The summer is a period of time that no hockey fan truly enjoys. Time seems to stand still and even the glorious weekend seems longer without a hockey game to watch over a cold beer and a plate full of hot, crispy, wings. The summer, the off season, is however the most important part of the hockey season if you really think about it. Starting with the entry draft and moving through the free agent period, to making trades, the summer determines what kind of team any given city will have come the fall. No matter if the moves are for the immediate or the future, the summer is where the ground work is laid for any success a team may have down the road. This summer has is no different and I think a few teams have done well while others, of course, not so much. Let me touch on a few winners in my mind this summer so far.
The Philadelphia Flyers:
This club had maybe the most offensive depth in the NHL. The scary part is that some of the big guns in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are just 24 years old so the room for improvement is still there. The downfall of the Flyers seemed to be two fold. In net, and connected at the hip, the ability to control the puck in their own zone. No one knows for certain if Emery is in fact the answer in between the pipes, but I assure you he very well could be. If you put the office issues aside, Emery can play and play well. The largest impact on the Flyers lineup is Chris Pronger. Did the Flyers pay a massive price to get the hulking defensemen? Yes, they paid to much unless one thing happens, that being the Flyers winning a Stanley Cup in the next 2 or 3 seasons. With Pronger in that lineup I think the Flyers are now one of the favorites to do just that.
The Calgary Flames:
As far as free agents went I considered Jay Bouwmeester the big fish this off season. When the Flames acquired the blueliner from the Florida Panthers prior to July first the Oiler fan in me hoped that the move by the Flames would fail, but the hockey fan in me was forced to congratulate Darryl Sutter in taking a well played chance. A chance that paid off of course with Bouwmeester signing with the Calgary Flames for the long term. The Flames are better with Bouwmeester in the lineup. I also think the key is the fact Kiprusoff could be much better with such an unreal group of defensemen playing in front of him. I do wonder however, if the Flames focused so much on the blueline they have left themselves short up front. Mind you, with the team still stocking up on blueliners in the past week, I can't help but think a trade still might be in the works yet this summer.
The Washington Capitals:
If last year showed us anything the Capitals have a wealth of young budding talent. They also may have found an in house solution to their goaltending question in Simeon Varlamov and no matter how much I like the efforts so far of the off season a large part of this teams success or failure next season will fall on this goalies shoulders. None the less I do like the choices of players picked up by the Capitals since July 1. Mike Knuble is almost the perfect depth forward this team needed. An older, wiser, player that is still putting up good numbers is exactly what the young chaps needed to have both on the ice and in the locker room. The sleeper however is Brendan Morrison. Ask around and you will find out that most hockey fans don't think this guy can play anymore, I don't believe that to be true. If Morrison does in fact earn the 2nd line center spot, he will prove his worth and then some. The Caps have taken another step forward.
The Chicago Blackhawks:
Man, talk about making a splash for the right reasons and then making one for all the wrong reasons with those qualifying offers and the Tallon fallout thereafter. Did anyone see the Hawks being a player for Hossa let alone being the team that signed him? I think not if we are all being honest. The question that has to be asked is simple enough, are the Hawks better with Hossa rather then Havlat. I think the answer is yes, not by much I suppose, but Hossa's durability alone puts him ahead of Havlat in my mind. As per the first three teams the real point of success for the Hawks comes in net, will Huet be able to carry the load? Last year didn't go well for him, but the year before that, during his time with the Caps, did. I think he can play, but admit the jury is still out.
In the end, no matter how juicy the stories are during the summer, they only add fuel to the fire however. I want to see how these teams will do so bad it hurts and I don't think I'm alone.
Then again, this is just a damned opinion.