5 NHL Teams That Will Be Worse in 2012-13
For teams that exceeded expectations last season, duplicating that same success will be a difficult challenge.
Losing key players through free agency and in trades will be obstacles that teams will have to overcome to repeat their strong performances from last year.
Let's look at five teams who will do worse in the 2012-13 season.
Detroit Red Wings
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The Detroit Red Wings will be in an unfamiliar position next season. Nicklas Lidstrom will not lead the team's defense anymore now that he has retired after 20 fantastic seasons. Fellow blueliner Brad Stuart also left the team to join the rival San Jose Sharks.
Forward Jiri Hudler decided to take his talents to the Calgary Flames, leaving the Red Wings with another roster hole to fill.
Losing two top-four defensemen and a top-six forward will be a challenge for the Red Wings, but if there's any team that can overcome these kinds of losses, it's Mike Babcock's men.
Even though there are several holes to fill, general manager Ken Holland would be smart to wait until next summer to make a significant improvement to his roster. The free-agent class in 2013, at least for the time being, is expected to be loaded with high-caliber talent.
With Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard returning, the Wings have too much talent to see their playoff streak end.
However, don't expect Detroit to be a major contender next season, or finish fifth in the West like they did last season. The 2012-13 season will be a mini-rebuilding year for one of the NHL's perennial powerhouse teams.
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Last season, the Phoenix Coyotes were just three wins away from their first ever Stanley Cup Final appearance, but don't expect similar success in Glendale next year.
Ray Whitney leaving the team will have a massive impact on the Coyotes' ability to score goals consistently. There's little reason to believe the Coyotes will improve offensively when they lost Whitney, haven't acquired any other quality forwards through trades or free agency and don't have any top offensive prospects to bring to the NHL roster next season.
Their defense will continue to be the strength of their team, with young players such as Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Brandon Gormley expected to take profound steps in their development.
Between the pipes, Mike Smith will have to duplicate the career year he had last season for the team to repeat as Pacific Division champions. Smith will have to carry the Coyotes since the offense will likely be worse next season.
Captain Shane Doan could re-sign with the Coyotes and they still would be worse next season and fail to finish third in the Western Conference standings again.
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The defensive system that the Nashville Predators have success in won't change next season, but the players responsible for excelling in this system will.
Defenseman Ryan Suter and forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn have left the team, and it looks like captain Shea Weber might be leaving too. But head coach Barry Trotz is still going to use defense and goaltending to win games.
The Predators will have to rebuild next season whether Weber stays with the team or goes to the Philadelphia Flyers via an offer sheet.
Rebuilding doesn't mean that the Predators will be one of the worst teams in the NHL next season, but there's absolutely no chance they finish second in the Central Division or in the top four of the Western Conference again.
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If the Philadelphia Flyers don't get Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators via the offer sheet they reportedly agreed with him, then they will be worse next season.
The likely loss of Chris Pronger for the entire season, in addition to the free-agent departure of Matt Carle, will be incredibly difficult for the Flyers to overcome if they don't sign Weber. There aren't any other defensemen on the free-agent market that can significantly improve the team's blue line.
Unless the Flyers can trade one of their many forwards for another top-four defenseman, they won't get past the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Rangers in the postseason.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov could certainly improve his game, but he doesn't have a reputation for being a clutch postseason performer and isn't a good fit for a hockey market like Philadelphia that puts its players under immense pressure.
New Jersey Devils
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The New Jersey Devils playing in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final was very surprising, and it would be equally surprising if they made it past the first round of the playoffs next season.
The chances that goaltender Martin Brodeur has another good season and a strong playoffs are very slim since he's 40 years old and probably won't have the same offensive support that he had last year.
The reason he won't have as much support from the offense is because captain and second-leading goalscorer Zach Parise left the team to sign a massive 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild in free agency.
Replacing Parise's 31 goals will be difficult for a Devils team that has not brought in any quality forwards to help replace him. Adam Henrique, who was one of the top rookies last season, will continue to improve. Ilya Kovalchuk will also keep playing at a high level. However, there isn't enough offensive depth currently on the Devils' roster for them to be legitimate contenders in the East.
For the Devils to compete in a very tough Atlantic Division, they need David Clarkson to score 30 goals again, and veterans Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora to repeat their impressive scoring totals from last year. It's hard to imagine all three of these scenarios working out for New Jersey.
The Devils won't be awful next season since they still have a strong defense, a veteran goaltender and a good coaching staff. They will make the playoffs, but a seventh or eighth seed will be their best possible finish.