NHL Free Agency: 7 Teams with No Hope of Contending Without a Big Signing
Some big-name free agents made headlines this summer when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter decided to take their talents to Minnesota. The Wild should be a better team that can make a strong run at a playoff spot this year.
While many of the free agents have signed new contracts and have made plans to move on, there are a number of players who are still on the market and could have an impact on a team's ability to contend for a playoff spot and perhaps make a decent run in the postseason.
Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, Jason Arnott of the St. Louis Blues, Mike Knuble of the Washington Capitals, and Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings are just a few of the veteran forwards remaining on the market who could make a difference.
On the defensive side, Brett Clark of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carlo Colaiacovo of the St. Louis Blues, Jaroslav Spacek of the Carolina Hurricanes, Pavel Kubina of the Philadelphia Flyers and Matt Gilroy of the Ottawa Senators are still available.
Here's a look at seven teams that have no realistic chance of contending unless they make a free-agent signing before the start of training camp.
Note: Teams not seen on this list—with the exception of the Columbus Blue Jackets—are contenders whether they make a signing or not. The Blue Jackets will not be contenders no matter which free agents they sign.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils were the No. 2 story of the postseason by ripping through the Eastern Conference and making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they fell to the Los Angeles Kings.
However, the 2012-13 season looks like it could be a difficult one for the Devils. They took a major body blow when Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild. He was the best player on the team and a nearly unstoppable force due to his speed, energy, and creativity on the ice.
One player is not necessarily the key to most teams, but the Devils learned how miserable life can be without Parise when he missed the majority of the 2010-11 season with a knee injury and they didn't even make the playoffs.
Bringing in a veteran forward like Shane Doan, Jason Arnott, Daymond Langkow or Tomas Holmstrom could give them more scoring balance and leadership.
The Devils also lost assistant coaches Adam Oates and Larry Robinson. General Manager Lou Lamoriello has an excellent track record and he needs to make one or two moves to bring the team back to contending status.
The Sabres have failed to make the playoffs in three of the last five seasons and they haven't won a round in the postseason since the 2006-07 season.
While the Sabres have made a number of moves in the offseason—including trading for Dallas tough guy Steve Ott—there's no reason to think they are satisfied with their roster and they are confident in their ability to become an impact team in the Eastern Conference.
In addition to Ott, the Sabres added John Scott, while losing Derek Roy (in the trade for Ott), as well as Jochen Hecht and and Brad Boyes.
The Sabres are not a bad team by any stretch. As they stand now, they will be in a battle for the final two or three playoff spots. However, unless they bring in talent, they are not a threat to get past the first round. Defensemen Brett Clark of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carlo Colaiacovo of the St. Louis Blues could be potential targets.
On one level, the Jets are a feel-good story as they prepare for their second season in Winnipeg. The franchise was basically unwanted and unloved in the sports abyss of Atlanta, while they couldn't be more appreciated than they are in Winnipeg.
The story of the little city that could deliver an NHL franchise is a nice one, but watching NHL hockey on an up close and personal basis does not mean the team Winnipeg fans are watching is good.
The Thrashers/Jets franchise has missed the playoffs in five straight seasons. They appear to be good enough and hard working enough to cause problems for teams when they visit Winnipeg, but they are not a consistent team. Adding players like Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky along with goalie Al Montoya should help, but will not turn them into a powerhouse.
Adding a couple of veteran free agents and re-signing Evander Kane are essential for this team to reach contender status.
The Nashville Predators have been one of the NHL's great success stories. They have turned the country music capital into an excellent hockey city and fans have gotten used to a contending team that plays the game in a hard and physical style.
The Predators had one of the best moments in franchise history when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings in their first-round playoff series.
However, they dropped a second-round series to the upstart Phoenix Coyotes and then got hammered at the start of free agency when Ryan Suter signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Wild. Things appeared to go from bad to worse when Shea Weber (pictured above) signed an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers. Disaster was averted when the Preds matched the offer sheet.
Going into 2012-13, they still have Weber and outstanding goalie Pekka Rinne, but they need to make a signing or two of available free agents like Shane Doan, Tomas Holmstrom or Boston's Brian Rolston to get the team back on track. Bringing in a defenseman like Brett Clark or Matt Gilroy won't make up for the loss of Suter, but it will help at least a bit.
The Ducks had a losing year in 2011-12 and have missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.
They are trending negatively. High-scoring winger Bobby Ryan is not happy and could be traded before the start of training camp. The Ducks need to find more offensive continuity, and bringing in a forward who can find the net with regularity would help Bruce Boudreau as he prepares for his first full season in Anaheim.
The Ducks most important addition during the offseason has been defenseman Sheldon Souray, who could be a decent asset because he has size, strength and a big shot. Souray had 6 goals and 15 assists last year for the Dallas Stars.
However, if the Ducks are going to do anything this year, they must add scoring talent through free agency or a trade.
The Coyotes are in big trouble this offseason. After winning two rounds in the playoffs and getting to the Western Conference Finals, the prospects for future success appear to be disintegrating.
The biggest issue is the uncertainty in the front office. Greg Jamison has had the opportunity to take control of the franchise, but he does not appear to have sufficient capital to satisfy the NHL (source: Phoenix Business Journal through The Sporting News).
High-scoring forward Ray Whitney signed a free-agent contract with the Dallas Stars. The Coyotes brought in Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek, but that move could cause a lot of issues this season since Michalek is minus-22 for his career and he makes a lot of mistakes.
The Coyotes could face a major issue if captain Shane Doan does not return. The more time that goes by, the greater the likelihood that he will sign elsewhere.
The Flames are a long way from being an NHL contender.
The results have been brutal in recent years. Not only have the Flames missed the playoffs for the last three seasons, they have not won a playoff series since they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003-04.
The Flames have brought in defenseman Dennis Wideman from the Washington Capitals and Jiri Hudler from the Detroit Red Wings while losing Olli Jokinen to the Winnipeg Jets.
Despite those moves, they still appear to be a team that will be on the outside looking in. Signing one or two of the available free agents might help, but the Flames are a long way from being a serious contender for the 2012-13 season.