NHL: One Easy Fix to Make Each Team More Competitive Next Season
With the Los Angeles Kings crowned the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions, teams must prepare for the offseason.
Over the summer, teams review rosters and try to figure out what changes to make to improve for the upcoming year. Some teams need only a tweak or two while some teams opt for a near complete overhaul.
The most glaring issues need to be addressed first and one change might be the difference between a Stanley Cup and another long offseason.
Not a whole lot went according to plan in Anaheim this season. Inconsistent scoring, disappointing defense and average goaltending highlighted the Ducks season.
One Fix: The star players (Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan) must start producing again, but the biggest need for the Ducks is a consistent blueliner or two. Lubomir Visnovsky proved to be the only starting Anaheim defenseman with a positive plus/minus rating at age 35. Cam Fowler, 20, led the blueline crew with 29 points but finished with an abysmal minus-24 rating.
The Bruins finished second in the Eastern Conference but lost to the Washington Capitals in the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the recent announcement of goaltender Tim Thomas's intention to sit out the 2012-2013 season, the issue of goaltending rose in the Bruins' list of problems. However, Tuukka Rask, Thomas' heir apparent proved a capable starter in the 2009-2010 season.
One Fix: The Bruins boast incredible depth but could use a 30 to 40 goal scorer. However, what the Bruins really need is a capable offensive-defenseman to quarterback the powerplay, opening up Zdeno Chara for his booming one-timer, and provide an offensive spark from the back-end. The Bruins defenders scored a mere 34 combined goals this season.
The Buffalo Sabres just missed the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs after an up-and-down 2011-2012 season. Star goaltender Ryan Miller and some other key players dealt with lingering injuries, hindering the Sabres on-ice performance.
One Fix: Miller lacked help in front of him whilst in net for the Sabres. Already blessed with offensively-gifted defenseman on the blueline, the Sabres need a shutdown man.
Calgary, Calgary, Calgary. The Flames missed the postseason for the third straight year despite a late push.
One Fix: The Flames need depth, especially up front. Only Jarome Iginla scored more than 30 goals and only Olli Jokinen and Curtis Glencross recorded more than 20 tallies. Only Minnesota (177) and Los Angeles (194) scored fewer goals during the regular season in the Western Conference than the Flames 202.
The Hurricanes finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons.
One Fix: Jaroslav Spacek finished with a plus-four rating in 34 games, the only Hurricane defenseman to finish with a positive rating. The Hurricanes defense provided a decent amount of offense, but failed to prevent opposing teams from scoring.
Two seasons after hoisting Lord Stanley, the Blackhawks finished in sixth place in the West and lost to the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
One Fix: The problem in the windy city is no secret. Corey Crawford's status as a legitimate starting goaltender is questionable. The 27-year-old benefited from playing on a high-scoring team, helping him to a 30-17-7 record despite a meager .903 save percentage and a 2.72 goals-against average.
The young players in Colorado showed a lot of resilience this season, but failed to make the postseason for a fourth straight season.
One Fix: The Avalanche simply need to wait and hope a few years in the NHL's basement paired with several high draft picks will pay off eventually. The team boasts good potential up front and a promising young goaltender in Semyon Varlamov, but might look to sure up the defense a bit.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The NHL recently rejected a bid by the Columbus Blue Jackets to play in the 2012 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs so the team could "see what it felt like to play after schools let out for the summer."
One Fix: If an analyst could find the one thing to turn around the Blue Jackets and make them a winning team, that analyst would be offered jobs from every single team in the league. There's no one quick fix to make the Blue Jackets more competitive. They need more scoring, stingier defense and legitimate goaltending.
The Dallas Stars finished another subpar season in the Western Conference but showed signs of life at times.
One Fix: While goaltender Kari Lethonen's legitimacy as a starter is up for debate, he could definitely use some more help in front of him from the entire team. The Stars top-six are solid, but the defense could use a stalwart to solidify the blueline.
Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings captain Nick Lidtstrom recently announced his retirement after 20 NHL seasons. Replacing the future Hall of Famer is virtually impossible, but addressing the gargantuan hole on the blueline is issue number one.
One Fix: The Red Wings need to rebuild the blueline with the departure of Lidstrom and the (likely) departure of fellow defenseman Brad Stuart. While the Red Wings forwards are aging, they're still very capable but need the support of a solid blueline crew.
The Edmonton Oilers stocked up on young talent in the forward ranks over the past few seasons, but need to bolster their defense to start competing with the West's elite.
One Fix: The Oilers need a solid two-way defenseman. The Oilers defensemen combined for 17 goals last year and only two finished with a positive plus/minus rating. A top-four defenseman to compliment the young talent up front, and the emerging Devan Dubnyk in net, might finally put the Oilers on track to start contending.
The Florida Panthers surprised many by not only making the postseason, but by winning the Southeast Division over Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
One Fix: The Panthers fell one game short of beating the eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils in a seven-game opening round series, but lacked scoring depth and an elite scorer. The Panthers top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg combined for 70 goals in the regular season, but scoring was sparse after that. A true goal scorer might put the Panthers over the edge, a team that won the Southeast Division despite finishing tied for last in the Eastern Conference with 203 goals scored.
Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings upset the top three seeds in the West to advance to the franchise's second Stanley Cup Final appearance despite nearly missing the postseason altogether.
One Fix: If it ain't broke, why fix it? The Kings underachieved in the regular season but most of the team's stars are scheduled to return for the 2012-2013 season. If the Kings can avoid the dreaded "Stanley Cup hangover" and replace some of the players they will definitely lose to free agency, a repeat is not out of the question.
The Wild started hot but finished near absolute zero on the Kelvin scale. The team scored fewer goals than any other team in the regular season, and finished with a terrible minus-49 goal differential.
One Fix: No Wild defenseman contributed offensively in a significant way. The team dealt Marek Zidlicky to the Devils after he failed to live up to expectations. The defenders scored a combined 11 goals and no-name Jared Spurgeon led the way with only 23 points. The Wild desperately need a two-way defenseman or an offensive-defenseman at the very least.
The Canadiens finished a lackluster year in the Eastern Conference but seem committed to improving in the future.
One Fix: Besides locking up Carey Price in net, the Canadiens need to add more depth scoring. Only five Montréal players finished with goal totals in double-digits. With Marc Bergevin now in place as the Canadiens GM, he'll have to be creative in adding more scoring with little salary cap room.
Many expected big things from the Nashville Predators this season, maybe even a run for the Stanley Cup, but fell short in the second round.
One Fix: It's no secret the Predators need more offense and an actual game changer. Martin Erat led the team with only 58 points and Patric Hornqvist led the team with 27 goals. Alex Radulov, a late addition from the KHL, might be able to provide the offensive spark Nashville has missed for so long. The loss of defenseman Ryan Suter will hurt, but with such a defensive-minded system in place in Nashville, he is replaceable.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils fell short of another Stanley Cup, losing to the Los Angeles Kings after taking down the heavily-favored New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.
One Fix: The Devils might for the first time in a long time need to look at the goaltending position. Martin Brodeur is 40 years old and backup Johan Hedberg is 39. Neither prospects on New Jersey's AHL affiliate, Jeff Frazee or Keith Kinkaid, impressed in Albany this season, meaning they may need to look at some free agents.
New York Islanders
The Islanders finished another forgettable season on Long Island, playing in an extremely competitive Atlantic Division.
One Fix: The Islanders need scoring depth and already tried to address perennial problems in net by signing former NHL All-Star Evgeni Nabakov. However, the biggest need for the Isles is on the blueline. Team captain Mark Streit finished with a respectable 47 points but an awful minus-47 rating. Only four teams gave up more goals than the Islanders this season.
New York Rangers
The Rangers won the Eastern Conference but lost to the surprising New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.
One Fix: The Rangers need more consistent scoring, especially from players not named Marian Gaborik or Brad Richards. Gaborik and Richards shouldered most of the scoring load in the playoffs and parts of the regular season. Only St. Louis and Los Angeles surrendered fewer goals during the regular season, but the Rangers averaged 2.75 goals per game.
The Senators almost upset the New York Rangers in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but fell just one goal short.
One Fix: The team's defense could use a shutdown man, but the biggest need, especially with the possible retirement of long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson, is depth scoring. Scoring dropped off significantly after the team's top line of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson and Norris trophy candidate Erik Karlsson. The Senators have a chance to overhaul the roster with 10 players scheduled to be free agents, including Karlsson, a top priority for the Senators management.
The Flyers hit a hot streak in the opening round of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, defeating the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins, but lost to the New Jersey Devils in round two.
One Fix: The Flyers defense really missed team captain Chris Pronger on the blueline this year, and with the unsure future of Pronger and the possible departure of defensman Matt Carle, that spells trouble. The Flyers blueline looked out of sync in the postseason, even in a first-round win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers should be able to make a good run at a championship next year before several entry-level contracts expire, putting the team's salary cap into question.
Phoenix surprised many by advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, but lost to the Los Angeles Kings in only five games.
One Fix: The Coyotes rode scoring from unlikely sources to the Conference Final appearance, but lacked a legitimate scorer to change games. Radim Vrbata erupted for 35 goals this season, but only veterans Shane Doan and Ray Whitney scored more than 20 times. Add a legitimate scorer or two and the Coyotes might be able to make another run next season.
With stars including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and James Neal up front, and the recent signing of Tomas Vokoun to backup Marc-Andre Fleury in net, only one question mark remains on the team's roster: defense.
One Fix: The team needs a few more shutdown defenseman to bolster the blueline. There are several young blueliners in the Penguins system, but a proven shutdown man would help the high-scoring Penguins.
San José Sharks
Another year, another playoff exit for the San José Sharks. The Sharks made a blockbuster trade before the start of the season, shipping Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Martin Havlat and then acquired defenseman Brent Burns in a separate trade with Minnesota, but with the same result
One Fix: The Sharks need some more scoring throughout the lineup but more importantly need some physicality. Three 30 goal scorers in Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski led the Sharks offense, but production dropped off significantly after that. The Sharks could also benefit from some more physicality to their offensively-gifted lineup.
St. Louis Blues
Compare the St. Louis Blues to the New Jersey Devils. Stingy defense and phenomenal goaltending. The biggest difference: Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise don't play for the Blues.
One Fix: A high-scoring winger to play with David Backes. Backes led the Blues with 24 goals. David Perron played just over half a season and scored 21, but a legitimate scorer could have made all the difference for the Blues this year. They have plenty of cap space, and while there aren't too many scorers available in this year's market, there's definitely a roster spot for a 30-goal scorer.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Things didn't quite work out for the Tampa Bay Lightning after an appearance in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.
One Fix: With the impending retirement of Dwayne Roloson and the fact that Mathieu Garon isn't very good, the Lightning need a starting goaltender. The forwards are good enough and the defense could probably use a top-four defender. A proven puckstopper is the top need for the Lightning.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Burke brought "the Monster" to Toronto, and "the Monster" brought about a .500 record to Toronto.
One Fix: The Maple Leafs need a legitimate goaltender to steal games for the team. While the team's forwards could use some help, the team's defense is substantial despite inconsistent goaltending. Jonas Gustavsson finished 17-17-4 and fellow goaltender James Reimer finished 14-14-4. Perhaps the only thing separating Toronto from a playoff appearance is a consistent, proven goaltender.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what buttons the Canucks need to push to win a championship. The team won the President's trophy the past two seasons and made it to the Stanley Cup Final last season, but couldn't bring home a championship.
One Fix: One or two rugged defensemen wouldn't hurt. A blueliner who isn't afraid to throw his weight around and drop the gloves when needed. The Canucks need some grit in their lineup to compliment their offensive prowess.
The Capitals surprised fans twice this season. The team barely made the postseason, sliding in as the seventh seed in the East, then upset the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in round one.
One Fix: Besides some motivation for team captain Alex Ovechkin (as if winning a Stanley Cup isn't enough) the Capitals need a bit more scoring. The team played well defensively this year and with a lot of grit, but actually slacked in the goal-scoring department compared to recent years. Ovie led the team with a respectable (though mot by Ovie's standards) 38 goals, but only two other players broke the 20-mark.
The Jets finished a respectable first season in Winnipeg after relocating from Hot-lanta this offseason.
One Fix: The Jets need a true starting goaltender to tend net in Manitoba. Neither starter Ondrej Pavelec nor backup Chris Mason posted starter-caliber numbers despite pretty good performances from the Jets forwards and defensemen.