NHL Free Agency early winners: Stars, Rangers, Predators on the upswing

Defensemen found deals early and often, a handful of veterans returned to old homes and NHL free agency kicked off with a flurry of moves across the league.

Some teams paid steep prices for aging reserves. Others made their biggest upgrades beforehand thanks to the trade market. And a few, with headlines that trounced the rest, were obvious early winners of the offseason:

Dallas Stars

Getting Martin Hanzal for a reasonable price was a win for every party involved. The former Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild center should make for an upgrade over Cody Eakin, and his addition is supplemented by an offseason already made admirable by general manager Jim Nill's aggressive approach.

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Ken Hitchcock has himself a re-stocked roster in Dallas. USATSI

Couple Hanzal, in a better-suited role and on a decent contract, with trade acquisitions Ben Bishop and Marc Methot along with new coach Ken Hitchcock, and Dallas is a team to watch.

New York Rangers

Trading both Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta after cutting ties with Dan Girardi all but ensured the Rangers would be in the mix for a splashy addition. They got exactly that by landing Kevin Shattenkirk, the consensus top free agent and both an ideal fit and blatant upgrade as Girardi's defensive replacement. And they did it without dishing out a blank check.

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Kevin Shattenkirk, a 'New Yorker at heart,' will suit up for the Rangers in 2017-18. USATSI

Shattenkirk's underwhelming Washington Capitals stint was a concern, but the gist here is this: The Rangers certainly got better, and they did so at a fair cost.

Nashville Predators

After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, the Stanley Cup runners-up needed to add some offensive talent, especially considering the murky future of Mike Fisher. They got the job done early, inking the Pittsburgh Penguins' Nick Bonino to a four-year deal and reuniting with Scott Hartnell for added depth.

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After winning it all in Pittsburgh, Nick Bonino is headed to Nashville. USATSI

Bonino, on a reasonable contract, should thrive with more time on the ice. Landing blue-liner Alexei Emelin in a trade with Vegas was simply a bonus.

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