7 NHL Teams and What They Need to Make the Playoffs This Season
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Last week, I listed teams that I thought were going to miss the playoffs. This week, I am going to focus on teams that might need to add a piece or two if they are going to make a playoff run.
I am going to leave the eight teams out of the mix that I guaranteed to miss the playoffs and analyze those that are on the bubble and what area they are going to need to address to make the jump to a perennial playoff contender.
Will it be a sniper, a playmaker or a defensive presence? Will a goaltender or a new coach make the difference for your team? Do they have the pieces and need some consistency or are multiple additions necessary?
Take a look as I create a wish list for teams who need a little more to seek Lord Stanley's Cup.
Jamison has until Friday to close his deal or Doan has said he is going to take his talents elsewhere
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New owner, goal scoring
First things first. Former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison must close his deal with the City of Glendale ASAP.
He has until Friday, Sept. 15th to do so or his Captain Shane Doan walks and signs with another team.
If the Coyotes lose Doan, it will be extremely difficult for them to make the playoffs. They will have lost their top two scorers (Doan, Ray Whitney) from last season and replaced them with an aging Steve Sullivan and an injury prone David Moss.
Jamison needs to close the deal so they can inject some capital into this team and either buy some offense or trade for some offense. They have a glutton of talent on the blue line and could package a number of their young defensemen for a scorer. Whomever misses the opening day roster from a group including Michael Stone, David Schlemko, Chris Summers, David Rundblad and Brandon Gormley, better have a bag ready as one or more of the aforementioned could be departing Phoenix.
Keith Yandle has been mentioned more than once in trade rumors, but I can't see the franchise letting go of the all-star blueliner.
Dave Tippett is an absolute genius with what he has been able to accomplish with his defensive system, but you feel that his magic will only last so long. If they don't acquire more scoring, I think they will miss the playoffs as Mike Smith can't possibly play better than he did last season.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will lead a young and potent Oilers attack this season
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Top-notch defenseman, goaltending
Nobody is doubting that the Oilers might be the next great offensive team in hockey. They are young and gifted up front with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky among others.
But, the Oilers will only go as far as their defense and goaltending allow. The Oilers finished 23rd in the league last season in goals against. This will have to improve if they are to make the playoffs.
Ladislav Smid has turned into a very solid defenseman for the Oilers. His 15 points and plus four rating were collected playing a lot of minutes last season. The rest of the Oilers defense had a combined plus/minus rating of minus 51. Not good, and it definitely needs to get better. Two of their defensemen are young (Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry) and will get better this season which should give Oilers fans hope.
If your defense is bad, your goalie better be good. Quite frankly, the Oilers need a serious upgrade. Neither Devan Dubnyk or Nikolai Khabibulin are the answer, and the quicker the Oilers can obtain a steady goaltender between the pipes, the quicker they will make the playoffs.
Parise and Suter will have to carry the laod for a Wild team that underperformed last season
Minnesota got a lot better this summer with the additions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. But, Parise, Suter and crew still have a ton of work to do if they plan on making the playoffs and that starts with putting the puck in the net.
The Wild finished dead last in goals scored last season. While many believe that Parise will drastically help them improve this (and I think he will), it might still not be enough for the Wild to win enough games. Dany Heatley had a decent season last year, but scored far less than his career average. The hope is that with their free agent acquisitions, it will be enough to grab that 7th or 8th spot.
I feel that the Wild will be better, but unless they are able to acquire more scoring or their young guns (Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Broziak) continue to elevate their game, it could be a long season and one without the playoffs.
Pominville has to put up big numbers if the Sabres hope to enter the race for Lord Stanley's Cup
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The Sabres are a unique team in the NHL. It seems like they have all the pieces in place on paper. A very good goalie (Ryan Miller), a solid group of defenseman (Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Meyers, Jordan Leopold) and some dynamic scoring (Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, etc.). In my opinion, the Sabres need to do things better with what they have.
Marcus Foligno will get more games to capitalize on his vast array of talents. Corey Tropp and Patrick Kaleta will get the opportunity to be in the lineup on a regular basis and make a difference offensively. Former Calgary Flames Robyn Regehr and Leopold need to have solid years on the blue line, and goalie Miller needs to return to the consistency that placed him amongst the NHL's elite goaltenders.
If the Sabres can get a little bit more out of what they already have, they will make the playoffs next season. If they add another dangerous scorer or a top-notch blueliner, then they could become a scary opponent in the playoffs.
Landeskog will have to shoulder the burden of leadership this season if Colorado hopes to make the playoffs
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Lock-Down a Defenseman
The Colorado Avalanche have the look of a team ready to return to prominence. Their offensive firepower is fearsome (Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau) and they have a duo of goaltenders (Semyon Varlamov, Jean-Sebastien Giguere) who have been spectacular at times in the past.
The one area that needs shoring up in my opinion is the blue line.
Don't get me wrong. Their defensive corp is not bad. Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson are solid top three defensemen and Shane O'Brien is coming off one of his best seasons. But, when it comes to matching up with the NHL's top offensive lines, I don't see the top defense paring that other teams are trying to get their top line away from.
The Avalanche might just bombard people with enough offense and some solid goaltending to get by. But to take the next step, an acquisition of a top notch defenseman might be the place to begin.
The Stall brothers now play together for the Canes as they seek to return to the playoffs this season
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The Carolina Hurricanes have two very solid lines and two that beg a series of questions. The Canes are counting on a number of talented youngsters to carry the load when it comes to producing and playing a very solid checking game.
Jiri Tlusty, Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe are the projected third line and will need to produce some kind of offense to take the pressure off of the Staal brothers and new addition Alexander Semin. Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner will be productive as well. If those three cannot produce, Carolina will have to look outside of the organization for help.
They are counting on a repaired defense to help lower their goals against totals from last season, and adding Joe Corvo will help to try to rectify that. Justin Faulk is a young player that will be counted on to play major minutes and he is ready to contribute. He will be a star.
If the defense can hold up and improve their play, the Canes will have a really good chance to make the playoffs. But, they will need their secondary scoring to kick in to ensure their postseason participation.
Lehtonen will have to be spectacular for Dallas to overtake it's division foes to make the playoffs
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Consistency from their new acquisitions
Dallas tried to address the glaring weakness of offensive production during the offseason. Ray Whitney, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr will help to close the gap on the better teams in the Western Conference.
Questions remain about how much longer Whitney and Jagr can produce at a high level as they age. Both had good seasons this past campaign, but it is only natural to expect a drop off in production. If those two can come close to matching their production from last season, the Stars will make the playoffs.
Roy is an interesting case to me. I think he is ultra-talented and can be a true difference maker on one of the top two lines. Pairing him with Whitney and someone like Michael Ryder will allow his talents to flourish.
All of the new additions will help the worst power play in the league last season, and could make it rather potent if it all begins to click as I expect it to.
The Stars are solid on the blue line and have a young lion in net in Kari Lehtonen. If their new additions can live up to expectations, I expect the Stars to not only make the playoffs, but also make a run at the division this season.