With the 2012 Stanley Cup Final underway, just two teams remain playing in this NHL season. The other 28 must look forward to improving themselves for the future.
Whether through free agency, trading or drafting, each team in the league has a need to address this offseason.
Some moves can have an immediate impact (see, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings), but all work of a general manager has an effect on the team eventually. Here are moves that can cause an impact for each team.
Key forwards Teemu Selanne, Jason Blake and Niklas Hagman are upcoming free agents.
The Ducks need to add a forward, and a young one would be optimal. Anaheim is just one year removed from the playoffs. Adding a difference-maker like free agent Zach Parise could get them back in.
Boston should not ignore the fact that stating goaltender Tim Thomas is getting old. His trade value will decline dramatically over the remainder of his contract.
Boston needs to trade him now, or keep him as he declines in playing ability towards retirement. If they decide to keep him, they would be wasting a valuable trade asset. What makes him even easier to trade is that backup Tuukka Rask is certainly capable of being a starter.
Boston could trade Thomas and his $5 million cap hit for something useful while re-signing restricted free agent Rask.
Derek Roy is entering the final season of his contract. The Sabres’ need for bigger forwards is not an inviting situation for the 5’9” Roy, who publicly criticized his coach this past season.
Roy could be traded, with Buffalo using the roster space to add a larger forward.
If the Flames want to get into the playoffs after narrowly missing for the past three seasons, they will need to free some cap space to make the necessary moves.
Trading the overpaid Jay Bouwmeester ($6.68 million cap hit) could open space to sign a scoring forward. Calgary’s offense was 27th among NHL teams in goals scored last season.
Unrestricted free agent forward Alexander Semin of Washington (408 points in 469 career games) could be the answer there.
Despite having quality goaltender Cam Ward in net, the Hurricanes still gave up 248 goals last season, 25th in the NHL. The team is likely to lose defensemen Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek to free agency. This leaves an opening for a much-needed improvement.
Carolina has the cap space and roster spot to go after the top unrestricted free agent defenseman of the summer, Ryan Suter.
The biggest flaw in the Blackhawks’ roster is their lack of high-quality goaltending. While Corey Crawford might be right for some teams (Columbus, Tampa Bay), he does not play on the level Chicago needs him to for success in the Western Conference.
Chicago could trade Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford to a team that wants them, while picking up a starter from another team.
They could pull off a three-team deal including Boston to get Tim Thomas; they certainly have the cap space and Thomas is an upgrade over Crawford. He could get Chicago back to where they were in 2010.
The Avalanche have a strong, youthful core—including Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Wilson and Erik Johnson—that will bring more success as it develops. What the youthful squad needs is additional leadership.
Derek Roy of Buffalo serves as an alternate captain and could likely be on the trade market.
Columbus attempted to bolster their playoff chances last season and it backfired horribly.
This season, they will have to address additional problems. To start, they need a goaltender they can be confident with in the future.
Finally, moving Rick Nash (the subject of many trade deadline rumors) would be productive towards bringing in the necessary pieces for the future.
The worst power-play percentage of the entire NHL belonged to the Stars this season. Part of the issue is their lack of a point-producing defenseman.
One of the best available players for improving this aspect of play is unrestricted free agent Dennis Wideman. The 28-year-old totaled 45 points this season.
Nicklas Lidstrom is not going to be playing much longer, if he returns at all. Additionally, free agent defenseman Brad Stuart could be leaving.
Detroit needs to replace this defense. Luckily for them, they have the cap space to go after the summer’s best available blueliner, Ryan Suter.
Edmonton’s already-stacked youthful offensive corps is going to get even more ridiculous. For the third consecutive season, the Oilers have the first overall pick in the NHL draft and will likely be selecting top prospect Nail Yakupov.
Yakupov is a dynamic scorer, likely to dominate offensively alongside young forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
While this is a great sign of the future for Edmonton, they need to add defense. Matt Carle is an unrestricted free agent who is not very old at age 27.
The Panthers’ lack of offensive depth should be improved this summer. Florida still has plenty of cap space available despite a humongous spending spree during last year’s offseason.
This space could be utilized to go after unrestricted free agent Zach Parise. If that fails, the Panthers could make a move for Rick Nash; they have a very good system of prospects and have plenty to offer Columbus.
Jonathan Quick might be the best goalie in the NHL. The Kings do not need to keep backup Jonathan Bernier, a former first-round pick who could likely be a starter for several NHL teams.
This playoff run seems to suggest the Kings do not really have any weaknesses, but the team did finish 29th in goals scored in the regular season.
The addition of Jeff Carter and the resurgence of Dustin Penner improved that for the playoffs, but if the Kings add anything, look for it to be a forward.
Minnesota’s needs are essentially the same as Dallas: an offensive defenseman who could also help the power play. Minnesota had the fourth-worst power play and the lowest goals scored total in the NHL last season.
Look for them to go after Dennis Wideman also.
If the NHL’s expiring collective bargaining agreement this summer results in a cap penalty-free buyout period, Montreal needs to get rid of Scott Gomez and his $7.36 million cap hit.
Aside from the atrocity that is Gomez’s contract, the team has a clear need for toughness and grit. Free agents such as Zenon Konopka and Brandon Prust bring that, in addition to helpful aspects as a player. They are not single-purpose enforcers like Georges Laraque, the last real tough guy Montreal employed.
Keep the team intact.
The team needed arbitration to keep Shea Weber last summer. He is a restricted free agent once again this offseason. Fellow All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter is also a free agent, but he is unrestricted and open to negotiations with all NHL teams once July 1st arrives.
Keep the captain.
Zach Parise is arguably the top unrestricted free agent this summer, along with Washington’s Alexander Semin and Nashville’s Ryan Suter.
Every team with the resources and desire will be after Parise. New Jersey is reportedly struggling financially, which might make the re-signing even more difficult.
The Islanders finished this past season with a plethora of cap space the team could use to be a force in the free-agent market.
The club may be a few seasons away from competing, so acquiring an older veteran does not make sense.
If the team looks to add anyone significant through trades or free agency, look for a younger player such as 27-year-olds Ryan Suter or Matt Carle, or 28-year-old Alexander Semin.
The Rangers could use a good scorer (who, unlike Marian Gaborik, will be able to come through when it matters the most), but the team does not appear willing to give up what it takes to get one through trading.
Despite apparently being in the running to acquire Rick Nash at the trade deadline, the Rangers did not go through. The team is likely going to have to give up a good young player like Ryan McDonagh or Chris Krieder in order to trade for a big scorer.
The team could go after Zach Parise, who is an unrestricted free agent. Dumping Brandon Dubinsky and his salary would help the team go through with that.
The Senators need to keep James Norris Trophy nominee Erik Karlsson, who is a restricted free agent.
Defense should also be the focus for the team in trades and free agency, since the team’s blueliners—Sergei Gonacher, Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips—are getting older. Ottawa could have enough resources to go after one of the best available defensemen, such as Ryan Suter.
Philadelphia is stuck with Ilya Bryzgalov. Not too many teams are interested in trading for an under-performing goalie with a huge contract. This means backup Sergei Bobrovsky will not be the starter anytime soon.
The Flyers should trade the youthful and promising Bobrovsky for the best offer while signing an inexpensive backup.
Additionally, the team needs to deal with unrestricted free agents Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle. If both walk, the Flyers should utilize their available cap space (which will increase if the salary cap ceiling raises as expected) to go after defense.
The Flyers’ defense was weakened by the absence of Chris Pronger and injuries to different players. With Pronger unlikely to return, the team will need to add a good starting defenseman, especially if Carle is gone as well.
If the Coyotes are going to improve on this season’s run to the Western Conference finals, they will need to re-sign their captain, Shane Doan, while addressing the potential departure of Ray Whitney and Daymond Langkow.
Adding offense should be the focus of the franchise that is ready to compete now.
Sidney Crosby’s contract expires after the 2012-13 season. So does Jordan Staal’s contract.
Both will be unrestricted free agents. While it is hard to imagine Crosby signing elsewhere, Staal will easily draw more of a contract offer than the Penguins will be able to compete against.
With the team almost guaranteed to lose him, they would be smart to trade him for something while they still have him.
The Sharks have a series of possible moves that will help them. A plethora of goalies in their system allows them to potentially trade away starter Antti Niemi, who the team reportedly offered to the Philadelphia Flyers for James van Riemsdyk at this season’s trade deadline.
Additionally, the team could look to sign free agent Paul Gaustad to help their 29th-ranked penalty killing unit. Gaustad ranked 45th among all NHL players with an average of 2:45 shorthanded ice time per game this season.
The biggest potential addition is defenseman Brad Stuart, a free-agent defenseman from the Detroit Red Wings. Stuart laments being away from his family in California and will likely go to one of the three Golden State franchises this summer.
There is no questioning the Blues’ ability to stop other teams from scoring; they were first in the NHL with just 165 goals against this season.
The team could strongly use help on offense, as it was just 22nd in goals scored. What could also help is additional leadership, especially if the team is unable to keep Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner this offseason.
Both Shane Doan and Jaromir Jagr (if he is interested in playing there) would bring both of what St. Louis needs. On a less expensive scale, Mike Knuble is also a free agent.
The Lightning need a goaltender for now, and a goaltender for the future. One great fit could be Jonathan Bernier of the Los Angeles Kings.
Tampa Bay has two picks in the first round (10th and 19th overall) of this year’s NHL draft. If general manager Steve Yzerman finds one of those picks expendable, it could easily be included in a package for Bernier.
Toronto could be in the running for acquiring Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. While Luongo failed in the Canucks’ previous two playoff series, he could be a game-changer for Toronto, getting them to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
It may take a lot to get Luongo from Vancouver, but Toronto has expendable depth on defense and will have high draft picks this year due to a poor regular-season record.
Still, Luongo could come cheaper than expected; despite his skill, he has an enormous contract and the Canucks are probably eager to make Cory Schneider their starter.
The Canucks won back-to-back Presidents' Trophies, but they did not get it done in the playoffs. A big part of the problem was the non-clutch play of starting goalie Roberto Luongo.
The team appears to be making plans to trade Luongo, likely to clear the No. 1 spot for Cory Schneider, who the team will need to give a new contract to this summer.
If Vancouver can get rid of Luongo and make Schneider their man going forward, that will open up opportunities for the team’s future, mostly due to the elimination of Luongo’s huge contract.
Washington will likely be losing Alexander Semin or Dennis Wideman. The team must already face the challenge of re-signing restricted free agenst Mike Green and John Carlson. After dealing with Green and Carlson, there may not be enough left to keep both Semin and Wideman.
Letting the overpaid Semin ($6.7 million cap hit for 54 points in 77 games) go while keeping the other players would be beneficial.
An additional move that could benefit the Capitals would be trading Michael Neuvirth. Braden Holtby proved, through a small but significant sample size, that he is capable of being a starting NHL goaltender. Keeping Neuvirth might be pointless if Washington is confident in Holtby’s abilities moving forward.
Despite finishing eight points short of a playoff spot, the Jets are close to being a playoff team. The young core needs to be improved defensively, but Winnipeg has cap space to burn and this summer has multiple options to improve their blue line.
The team could certainly go after any of the top available defensemen.
Jason Sapunka covers the NHL and Philadelphia Flyers. He is available on Twitter for updates, analysis and commentary.