6 NHL Teams That Will Definitely Be Better in 2012-13
With the start of training camp scheduled to begin shortly—commissioner Gary Bettman may have something to say about that—there are a number of teams that believe they are in a position to improve over their 2011-12 finish.
Nearly every team that finished out of the playoffs wants to believe they have a chance to get better, and teams that fell short of winning the Stanley Cup would also like to think they are ready to climb the ladder and get closer to the promised land.
While every team wants to get better, including the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, it's not usually about desire. It's about making moves and taking concrete steps to improve the roster, the coaching staff and the front office so the on-ice product is better.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, the Anaheim Ducks, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres have made moves that could result in improvement; the six teams featured in this piece will certainly be much better in 2012-13.
The Edmonton Oilers are loaded with sensational talent.
Top-level, young stars ready to show what they can do. They have players like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This year, they will add the explosive Nail Yakupov and defenseman Justin Schultz.
They are not a complete team, and there are questions about the goaltending and the defense.
This season should allow the team to compete hard for a playoff spot all season long. The Western Conference is loaded, so significant improvement won't guarantee a playoff spot, but they should be in the mix through the first week of April.
They will have nights when these magical players put it together and dominate, and they'll have other nights where mistakes will doom them.
But they are going in the right direction, and championship-level hockey is bound to return to Edmonton.
It was time for the Minnesota Wild to make a move.
They did it in the most exciting fashion when they signed free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in July.
Parise and Suter were the two top prizes in free agency, and by signing both stars, the Wild assured themselves that their talent level would go up significantly in 2012-13.
What does this mean in the standings? At the very least, the Minnesota Wild should be a playoff team this season. The Wild have not played postseason hockey since the 2007-08 season.
General manager Chuck Fletcher gave head coach Mike Yeo the core players to become a key factor in the Western Conference. Yeo got off to an impressive start with the Wild last year, but injuries and lack of talent prevented them from capitalizing on their early-season play.
The Wild finished 35-36-11 last year and had 81 points. A 95-point season should be within their grasp this year.
Dead last in the Eastern Conference.
That would be tough for any team to swallow, but when you are the Montreal Canadiens, it is the bitterest of pills to swallow.
There will be no more of that kind of hockey from Les Glorieux in 2012-13. Instead, the Canadiens have brought in a new general manager in Marc Bergevin and a new/old head coach in Michel Therrien to improve the overall structure.
The Canadiens made a couple of moves in the offseason to bring the team more grit. Forward Brandon Prust was a gritty, nasty player with the New York Rangers, and defenseman Francis Bouillon will play with an edge and will keep mistakes to a minimum. That pair will keep opponents from taking liberties with the Canadiens.
The core players on the team include Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Carey Price. Cole and Pacioretty are dependable 30-plus goal scorers. Subban has a world of talent but needs to play with more consistency, and Price can be sensational when he is on his game.
This team will not finish in last place and may even make the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
A year ago, the Lightning were coming off a season in which they fell one game short of playing for the Stanley Cup.
The 2010-11 version of the Tampa Bay Lightning pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost a heartbreaking 1-0 game. While the Lightning were superb in that game, the Bruins were just a tad better.
But instead of building off of that finish, the Lightning started the season in a depression and never fully recovered.
It will be different this time around. The biggest problem the Lightning had was keeping opponents off the board. The defense and the goaltending were lousy.
In the offseason, the Lightning added goaltending prospect Anders Lindback to solidify this shaky position. Lindback is a brilliant talent, but he's not a proven entity. A solid start could be all that Steven Stamkos (60 goals), Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Victor Hedman need to get this team back near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Head coach Guy Boucher should be much happier with the results this year. The Lightning are not a 10th-place team. They should win the Southeast Division.
After winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, the Carolina Hurricanes have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.
That trend should end this season, as general manager Jim Rutherford was determined to get head coach Kirk Muller a much-improved roster.
The biggest moves were bringing in Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins and acquiring sharpshooter Alex Semin from the Washington Capitals.
Just having Muller for a full season should improve the team. They responded nicely to him after Paul "woe is me" Maurice was canned.
Staal will respond to playing with older brother Eric by having a career year. If Semin wants big money, look for a 40-goal year from him.
The Hurricanes have a very solid chance to get back to the postseason.
The Stars are another team that is tried of finishing out of the money.
There's no doubt that the Western Conference is tough, but finishing out of the playoffs for four straight seasons is too much for general manager Joe Nieuwendyk to handle.
This year, the Stars are going for it. They traded tough guy Steve Ott to the Sabres for the highly-skilled Derek Roy. They also signed veteran offensive stars in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. Both Jagr and Whitney have passed their 40th birthdays, but they remain vital components to a playoff run.
The Stars should be able to put the puck in the net, and if they play up to expectations, the playoff dry spell ends this year.
One of the keys is Michael Ryder continuing to play inspired hockey. He scored 35 goals in his first season in a Dallas uniform.