5 NHL Teams That Will Be Substantially Improved in 2013
Please let there be an NHL season, please let there be an NHL season, please let there be an NHL season... Please, God!
But while Gary Bettman and company try to find a compromise with the NHLPA on a new collective bargaining agreement, all we can do is hope that the puck will be dropped on time. I do believe that there will be an NHL season next year, but that argument is for a completely different time.
If the puck does drop for the 2012-13 season, here are five teams that will be substantially improved from last year.
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Record last season: 35-36-11; 12th in the Western Conference
The Minnesota Wild have made a bunch of noise this offseason, and Wild fans have to be excited to see their new signings in action. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were both signed to 13-year, $98 million deals, and they both will be looked upon to lead Minnesota back to the playoffs.
Ryan Suter will have to prove that he can be a successful defenseman without superstar Shea Weber on the other side, and Zach Parise will likely play right wing on a line with Mikko Koivu at center and Dany Heatley on the left side, which should definitely spark some offense once the chemistry is formed.
The biggest question mark will be whether or not they have enough depth to compete with the rest of the Western Conference, but with a solid goaltender in Nicklas Backstrom between the pipes, and a new look up front, the Wild will find themselves back in the playoffs. They are however, still outside the realm of Stanley Cup contenders.
Prediction: 44-30-8 record; seventh in the Western Conference
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Record last season: 42-35-5; 10th in the Western Conference
The Dallas Stars are the one team that I am really looking forward to watching play this year after acquiring both Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr in the offseason. The Stars put a lot of money in both players, and while their ages adds up to 82, their point production from last season adds up to 131.
Both veterans should nicely compliment young guns Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn, and Dallas should easily increase their 2.57 goals per game average they had last season. Keep in mind that Kari Lehtonen may be the most underrated goaltender in the game today, and the Stars could not only make the playoffs, but make a serious run as well.
The Stars finished six points out of the playoffs last year, but they were in the hunt for the final spot in the west all the way until mid-March. Had they not lost nine of their final 12 games, there is a good possibility that they would have been playing in late April.
Prediction: 43-26-13 record; sixth in the Western Conference
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Record last season: 32-40-10; 14th in the Western Conference
The Edmonton Oilers have had the first overall draft pick for three consecutive years, and this has to be the year where they find a way to climb out of the gutter in the Western Conference (at least they still finished nine points ahead of Columbus).
Taylor Hall, the first overall pick in 2010, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in 2011, have both been successful since joining the Oilers, and there is no reason to believe that Nail Yakupov, this year's first overall pick, wont follow in their footsteps.
26-year-old goaltender Devan Dubnyk will more than likely be the starter when the season begins, as he posted a respectable 20-20-3 record last year. He will be better this season now that he is comfortable as a starter, and if the Oilers can get some of their defensemen to step up—I'm looking at you Ryan Whitney—they will make the playoffs this year.
Hopefully the Oilers won't have to deal with an injury plague this season, as they dressed 34 different skaters throughout the 2011-12 campaign.
Prediction: 43-30-9; eighth in the Western Conference
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Record last season: 45-26-11; sixth in the Western Conference
It is really difficult to have a team substantially improve when they won 45 games and finished with 101 points last season, but the Blackhawks are going to win the Western Conference this season, and compete with the New York Rangers for the Presidents' Trophy.
There is no way around the fact that the Hawks have both offensive and defensive depth, as well as a core group of leaders who have already proven that they can win the Stanley Cup. The only issue that has plagued Chicago is the guy in between the pipes.
Corey Crawford has yet to prove that he can carry the troops, even though his 30-17-7 record from a season ago may speak otherwise, but he will respond well to his critics in 2013. He has the ability to be great, and now that GM Stan Bowman may begin his search for another goaltender, Crawford will finally be put under pressure from the front office.
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook... there is just too much firepower on the roster for this team not to be at the top of a weakened Western Conference at season's end.
Prediction: 52-22-8 record; first in the Western Conference
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Record last season: 33-33-16; 12th in the Eastern Conference
The Carolina Hurricanes have had the best offseason of any team in the NHL. First, they traded to get penalty kill specialist Jordan Staal to play alongside his brother and team captain Eric Staal, then they signed Alexander Semin to a one-year contract, and most recently they have signed Jeff Skinner to a six-year contract extension.
There is no reason why the Hurricanes cannot only make the playoffs, but make a serious run at winning the Stanley Cup. They have found a leader on the blue line in 24-year-old Jamie McBain, who will surely increase his 27-point total from last season, and Eric Staal could easily get back to 100-points-per-season form now that he has his brother Jordan with him.
Cam Ward is far from being a top-five goaltender in the NHL, but he has the capability and the experience to carry the Hurricanes far into the playoffs. He has 67 wins over the last two seasons and will have the deepest roster playing in front of him in years. Look out for the Hurricanes in 2013.
Prediction: 44-28-10 record; third in the Eastern Conference