6 NHL Teams in Danger of a Major Drop-off in 2012-13

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2012

6 NHL Teams in Danger of a Major Drop-off in 2012-13

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    Even as a work stoppage is looming for the NHL, there is still a chance (slim?) that the bluster will come to a halt and that the two sides will come to an agreement.

    Even if they don't, a work stoppage does not have to last a full season, as it did in 2004-05.

    As teams prepare for the upcoming season, many believe that the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings should be in a good position to make a run at another championship. But the team they defeated in the Western Conference finals, the Phoenix Coyotes, may not be in such a good position.

    Uncertainty has surrounded this team since the day they were eliminated by the Kings, and it has not abated.

    Here's a look at six teams that could suffer a major drop-off in 2012-13 if circumstances break against them.

New Jersey Devils

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    The Devils were not a dominant team during the regular season, finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference.

    However, they turned it on in the postseason. They defeated the Florida Panthers in seven games in the opening round when Adam Henrique scored the series-winning goal in overtime.

    They followed that with impressive victories over the Philadelphia Flyers (five games) and the New York Rangers (six games) to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.

    Once they lost to the Kings, the Devils began to get hit hard in the offseason. The biggest loss was Zach Parise's free-agency departure to the Minnesota Wild. Parise is one of the best players and leaders in the league. He is coming off a 31-goal season and always seemed to be involved when the Devils needed a big play.

    Assistant coaches Adam Oates and Larry Robinson were a big part of the Devils' winning formula and they have left. That puts a lot more pressure on head coach Peter DeBoer.

    Goalie Martin Brodeur had a solid postseason, but he is no longer a dominant force in goal. His 2.41 goals against average indicates that he's not going to provide a winning effort on an everynight basis.

    Off the ice, the Devils have huge financial problems that could impact their ability to make moves during the season. All this could lead to a big drop for the team.

Nashville Predators

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    The Predators were in desperate shape during the summer. They lost defenseman Ryan Suter to the Minnesota Wild in the early part of free agency, and general manager David Poile felt wounded by the departure (source: NBCSports.com).

    Things got worse when Shea Weber signed an offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers. The star defenseman was going to move to Philadelphia after agreeing to a 14-year, $110 million deal. However, the Predators saved their own bacon, at least temporarily, by matching the offer.

    The Predators are not considered one of the richer NHL franchises, and they may have a difficult time managing that contract over the long run (source: Tennesseean.com).

    In addition to losing Suter, the Preds lost defenseman Francis Bouillon and forward Jordin Tootoo.

    The Preds seem to have enough talent to remain competitive, but they could suffer a precipitous drop as a result of losing Suter.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers are a high-scoring and explosive offensive team. At least they have been in recent seasons.

    While they have lost Jaromir Jagr (free agency) and James van Riemsdyk (trade) in the offseason, the Flyers seem to have enough on offense. 

    However, their defensive issues may be too much to overcome.

    General manager Paul Holmgren wanted Nashville defenseman Shea Weber and signed him to an offer sheet, but the Predators surprised the hockey world by matching the offer.

    Weber was viewed as a "must-get" in Philadelphia. Veteran defenseman Chris Pronger remains out with concussion-related health issues, Andreas Lilja had hip surgery that will likely keep him out until November or December, and Andrej Meszaros is out indefinitely with an Achilles' tendon injury (source: NBCSports.com through CSNPhilly.com).

    The injuries to the defensive crew along with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's inconsistency could result in a precipitous drop for the Flyers.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    No NHL team is shrouded in more uncertainty than the Phoenix Coyotes.

    Are they going to remain in Phoenix? Where will they move if they do leave?

    The ownership situation is still in limbo. While it appears that Greg Jamison's ownership bid will be accepted, appearances don't always lead to signatures on contracts.

    The deal is not yet completed, and there are no guarantees that it will be done any time soon.

    Longtime Coyotes star Shane Doan seems likely to sign elsewhere if the Jamison ownership group is not in place by Sept. 15. Doan says he wants to remain in Phoenix, but he can't put his name on a new deal unless that situation is resolved.

    Sept. 15 is also the date that Gary Bettman says he will lock out NHL players if a new collective bargaining agreement has not been reached.

    The Coyotes have lost forward Ray Whitney and defenseman Adrian Aucoin in the offseason.

Boston Bruins

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    The Boston Bruins appear to have enough talent to be a serious contender to win their second Stanley Cup in three years.

    However, if the Bruins are going to be a dominant team this season, they are going to have to thrive without Tim Thomas. The goaltending chores have been turned over to Tuukka Rask.

    That's not necessarily disastrous. Rask had a 1.97 goals against average and .931 save percentage when he played regularly during the 2009-10 season. Thomas was injured much of that year and Rask was superb in a backup role.

    However, that season ended badly when the Bruins built a 3-0 playoff lead over the Flyers and lost the next four games. Rask's play has not been stellar since that point.

    It's also one thing to take over for an injured player; it's quite another to become the No. 1 goalie. Rask must prove himself.

    Also, with Rask elevated to the No. 1 spot, the Bruins have uncertainty in the backup goalie position. Anton Khudobin is a solid-looking prospect but he is unproven.

    If the Bruins don't have the goaltending general manager Peter Chiarelli thinks they might, the team could suffer a serious fall.

Detroit Red Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the league's most dominant teams over the last 20 years.

    They could be facing difficulty as they prepare for the 2012-13 season.

    The biggest issue is the retirement of future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. He is perhaps the second-best defenseman in league history behind Bobby Orr, and competing without him will be difficult at best and impossible at worst.

    Head coach Mike Babcock knows that losing Lidstrom will be painful. "We can't replace him. We're not trying to replace him—his quiet confidence and his ability to coach the coach, to run the team with no ego," Babcock told NHL.com.

    The Red Wings also lost defenseman Brad Stuart (San Jose Sharks) and forward Jiri Hudler (Calgary Flames) to free agency.

    The Wings still have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, two of the best players in the league.

    Babcock is also one of the best coaches in the league.

    Still, the Red Wings need defensive help if they are going to maintain their lofty NHL status.