Your Call: Which Canadian non-playoff team is most improved?

TSN.ca Staff
7/6/2011 5:17:05 PM
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After a season that saw only two Canadian clubs reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, hockey fans north of the border are hoping that their teams have made the changes necessary to get them into the post-season.

With seven NHL rinks now on Canadian soil, which teams have improved their playoff chances the most?

Calgary Flames
2010-2011 Record: 41-29-12
10th in Western Conference

The Flames finished just three points shy of the post-season last year in the tightly contested Western Conference. While it's no consolation, their 94 points would have been enough to sneak into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference's eighth spot.

Calgary responded by making a run at this off-season's biggest free agent, Brad Richards. Much like their playoff push in March and April, the Flames stayed in the race until the end but came up empty-handed.  

Despite missing out on Richards, the Flames have kept busy since the end of the season, trading veteran defenceman Robyn Regehr and underwhelming forward Ales Kotalik to the Buffalo Sabres for 24-year-old defenceman Chris Butler and 22-year-old centre Paul Byron.

Butler may end up as one of the Flames' top four defenders, but the consistency Regehr brought to the blueline in Calgary will be tough to replace.

Edmonton Oilers
2010-2011 Record: 25-45-12
15th in Western Conference

The Oilers are in the fortunate position of having a young roster that will simply improve with another year of experience. Their young core added yet another weapon through the draft with first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

It remains to be seen whether Nugent-Hopkins will follow the path of last year's top pick Taylor Hall, who joined the club right away and was able to contribute.

Edmonton was able to bring back veteran forward Ryan Smyth through a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. Smyth sounds more than happy to return to Edmonton and will provide leadership for the new youthful version of the team.

The Oilers had a busy Canada Day, signing forward Ben Eager, centre Eric Belanger, forward Darcy Hordichuk and defenceman Cam Barker. They also traded defenceman Kurtis Foster to Anaheim for veteran defender Andy Sutton.

After finishing last in the entire league, the Oilers have the longest road back to the playoffs but there is plenty to get excited about on the ice in Edmonton.

Toronto Maple Leafs
2010-2011 Record: 37-34-11
10th in Eastern Conference

Much like the Flames, the Maple Leafs were left at the altar by Brad Richards. However, Brian Burke didn't let that stop his club from raking in talent.

A day after they swung and missed on Richards, the team signed former Sabres centre Tim Connolly. If you put his injury history aside, Connolly is almost a point a game player over the last two seasons, while playing in 141 of a possible 164 games. The 30-year-old playmaker will likely line up with Phil Kessel on the Leafs' top line.

Toronto also acquired 23-year-old defenceman Cody Franson from the Nashville Predators, along with centre Matthew Lombardi in exchange for Brett Lebda, Robert Slaney and a conditional fourth round pick. Franson has potential to develop into a solid player on the Leafs blueline and while Lombardi is an injury risk similar to Connolly, he has the skill to improve their offensive attack.

Prior to free agency, the Maple Leafs traded for defenceman John-Michael Liles, who will fill the puck-mover role that was left open when Tomas Kaberle was dealt to Boston. The 30-year-old has the ability to quarterback the team's power-play, something Toronto is hoping he can make good on.

Winnipeg Jets
2010-2011 Record: 34-36-12 (Atlanta Thrashers)
12th in Eastern Conference

Just the fact that an NHL team will take the ice in Winnipeg next season should be considered a win for hockey fans north of the border, but the Jets will be looking to make some post-season noise in their first season back in Winnipeg.

The team avoided arbitration with their captain Andrew Ladd, who led the team with 29 goals and 59 points last season. Outside of that move, the Jets have been one of the quieter teams on the free agent front, inking forwards Rick Rypien and Tanner Glass, as well as defenceman Randy Jones and Derek Meech.

They may not be the most flashy signings, but they will provide new head coach Claude Noel with more depth in his lineup as he tries to increase the team's win total of 34 from last season.

Ottawa Senators
2010-2011 Record: 32-40-10
13th in Eastern Conference

Things will look different in Ottawa for the 2011-12 season, with Paul MacLean taking over behind the bench. With Ottawa's AHL affiliate coming off a Calder Cup win, this season may be the perfect time for the Senators to give some of their prospects a chance to prove their worth in the NHL.

The Senators landed Zenon Konopka in free agency, formerly of the New York Islanders. Konopka is a good character player who can win his fair share of faceoffs and will fit in nicely in the nation's capital.

Bryan Murray took a flyer on forward Nikita Filatov, a former sixth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The Columbus Blue Jackets were unable to develop the Russian-winger, so they decided to part ways, sending him to the Sens for a third-rounder. It's a move with little risk and plenty of reward if the Senators can find a way to harness his talent.  

Goaltender Alex Auld will also don the Ottawa jersey in the fall, signed to be a backup for Craig Anderson.

So, which Canadian team that failed to make the playoffs has the best chance at reaching the post-season next year?

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