Summer of sizzle, fizzle

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Incoming St. Louis Blues president John Davidson faced a daunting task upon arriving at his office for his first day on the job July 1.

"There were not a lot of slots filled on our roster," Davidson said yesterday.

"We needed to do a lot of work."

Less than a month later, Davidson looks at the additions of defenceman Jay McKee, along with forwards Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Dan Hinote and can pause to smile.

"I know a puck has yet to be dropped but I do know this. We've gotten a heck of a lot better between the end of June and now."

With first overall draft pick Erik Johnson having a huge upside, the Blues are one of the teams that have very much improved in what has been a wild and wacky off-season in the NHL.

More than 115 players have changed addresses in the past two months, including big names such as Zdeno Chara (Bruins), Rob Blake (Kings), Chris Pronger (Ducks), Ed Jovanovski (Coyotes), Alex Tanguay (Flames), Todd Bertuzzi (Panthers), Roberto Luongo (Canucks), Brendan Shanahan (Rangers), Marc Savard (Bruins), Jason Arnott (Predators), Pavol Demitra (Wild) and Pavel Kubina (Maple Leafs).

So who have been the winners and losers to this point?

Here are our picks to date:

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THE BIGGEST WINNERS

MINNESOTA WILD

With their building stuffed to capacity almost every night, ownership has been ripped by local media for not shelling out cash to improve the team.

But the locks have come off the vault, allowing general manager Doug Risebrough to bring in Pavol Demitra, Kim Johnsson, Mark Parrish and Keith Carney.

Demitra and fellow countryman Marian Gaborik provide an explosive offensive punch while Johnsson is a perfect fit for the new wide-open game.

It may sound strange, but beware the Wild.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

On the day he arrived in St. Louis, veteran defenceman Jay McKee asked for the phone number of Erik Johnson in order to give encouragement to the first overall pick in the 2006 entry draft.

That is an optimistic sign for a team that had fallen on hard times.

New ownership, the return of Doug Weight and the additions of McKee, Bill Guerin and Dan Hinote are all indications that the ship is being righted.

"We have to re-establish ourselves in the community both on and off the ice," Davidson said.

CALGARY FLAMES

When it comes to plugging holes, no one did it better than the 2004 Stanley Cup finalists.

With great goaltending and a solid defence already in place, the goal-starved Flames traded for Alex Tanguay and signing Jeff Friesen. There also is talk of them making a push for high-scoring Scott Gomez or Brian Gionta of the cap-strapped New Jersey Devils.

Somewhere, Jarome Iginla is smiling. He finally has some help up front.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer might be the best defensive tandem the league has seen in years.

BOSTON BRUINS

Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and first-round pick Phil Kessel should inject pizzazz into this moribund franchise.

PHOENIX COYOTES

Ed Jovanovski will make coach Wayne Gretzky's life a lot easier.

NEW YORK RANGERS

Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward are welcome additions to one of last season's Cinderella squads.

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THE BIGGEST LOSERS

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

What a mess!

First Neil Smith is hired as general manager, then he's out. In comes Garth Snow, who takes over with zero experience.

Even former Islanders players are scratching their heads about the ongoing circus that is taking place on Long Island.

"Weird things happen when there are people involved who are not accustomed to making hockey decisions," one-time Islander Michael Peca said. "Maybe in five years, we'll be talking about the couple of Cups the Islanders have won, but I doubt it."

Join the club.

EDMONTON OILERS

Pity Kevin Lowe.

The Edmonton general manager did a masterful job of piecing together a squad that got to within one win of capturing the Stanley Cup.

His reward?

A mass exodus featuring Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek, Peca and Sergei Samsonov.

Locking up goalie Dwayne Roloson and acquiring forward Joffrey Lupul from the Anaheim Ducks for Pronger will help, but it can't make up for the amount of skill that has bolted out of the City of Champions.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

A lead-footed defence corps sporting the likes of Mike Rathje and Derian Hartcher looked like it was skating in quicksand in a first-round loss to the speedy Buffalo Sabres last spring.

So, how in the world could they allow Kim Johnsson, one of the few blueliners with wheels on the team, to depart for Minnesota?

The addition of veteran winger Geoff Sanderson won't make up for a back end that is painfully slow. And with GM Bob Clarke shackled with little wiggle room under the cap, there could be trouble in the City of Brotherly Love.

BUFFALO SABRES

The departures of McKee and rugged winger Mike Grier, plus the arbitrator's ruling that awarded captain Daniel Briere a one-year, $5- million deal, could create headaches for the budget-conscious Sabres.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

A six-year, $42-million deal to keep Patrik Elias, plus the one-year, $5-million contract awarded to Scott Gomez in arbitration, has left the Devils with a salary cap nightmare. Gomez might be dealt.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Lost Jeff Halpern while failing to bring in help to surround Alexander Ovechkin.

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THE JURY IS STILL OUT ON ...

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Who will flank Mats Sundin on the Leafs' top line next season?

Does this team have enough scoring punch?

Can goaltender Andrew Raycroft get back to his his form of two seasons ago when he was the NHL's rookie of the year?

At least there are no such questions on the blue line, where the additions of Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill should pay immediate dividends.

And Mike Peca will make this a much tougher team to play against, especially with no-nonsense coach Paul Maurice coming in to call the shots.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Unlike many of their weary and wary fans, we're not ready to flush the Sens' Stanley Cup aspirations into the Rideau Canal.

In goal, Martin Gerber is a fine replacement for injury- plagued Dominik Hasek.

Big Zdeno Chara will be missed on the blue line, but give general manager John Muckler credit for bringing in underrated defencemen Joe Corvo and Tom Preissing. Chara looked awful at times in the playoffs.

Up front, Bryan Smolinski and Martin Havlat are gone, but remember that Havlat was injured for most of last season. Besides, there is no shortage of firepower here with Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredssson and Dany Heatley leading the way.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

With Brad Richards, Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis chewing up almost half of the $44-million US cap, the Lightning's roster is undeniably top heavy, creating questions about depth.

The departures of Kubina and ex-Leaf Fredrik Modin will sting, but at least Tampa should be more stable in goal with the arrival of Marc Denis from Columbus.


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