NHL Free Agency: One Need Each Team Must Fill If There's a Season
With so many articles on the lockout, I figured it was be refreshing to actually write about hockey rather than the business of hockey.
So far, the NHL has canceled all preseason games scheduled in the month of September. But rest assured the lockout will eventually come to an end, hopefully sooner rather than later.
With that in mind, here is a look at one need each team must fill once the season does get underway. This is not necessarily the only need these teams have, but it is the most pressing.
Feel free to comment if you see a more pressing need elsewhere or you feel what I point out is not a need. Keep in mind I had to come up with one and only one for each team.
Let's hope the season does get under way on time and that training camps open soon.
The Ducks still seem to need more scoring depth.
Their top line slumped last year, falling from 245 combined points in 2010-11 to just 174 last year. Anaheim obviously has to hope they bounce back.
Teemu Selanne is the only real scoring threat after that and he actually led the team in scoring last year. Saku Koivu is a solid setup man on the second line but another goal scorer to fill out the top six or to give the bottom six a little more punch would be a big help for the Ducks.
Tim Thomas is taking a year off which leaves the Bruins goaltending in the hands of Tuukka Rask who did just fine in that role back in 2009-10.
The Bruins haven't changed their roster much this offseason with the exception of Thomas' extended vacation.
Boston could use an experienced backup goalie to turn to in case Rask falters or is injured. Current backup Anton Khudobin is no youngster at 26, but he has only seven games of NHL experience in his career and never more than four in any season.
The Sabres spent the offseason trying to add size and some grit with the likes of Steve Ott and John Scott, but it looks like they can still use some depth on the blueline.
Injuries hampered the Buffalo defensive corps last season, particularly to Christian Erhoff, who missed 16 games, and Tyler Myers who was out of the lineup for 27 times. When either of these two players were unavailable, the Sabres were just 9-18-8.
When you consider that the Sabres only missed the postseason by three points, you can see how vital additional depth on defense can be.
Adam Pardy was added during the offseason, but Buffalo can use a little more depth as we head into the new campaign.
The Flames ranked 24th in goal scoring last season and tried to add some scoring punch during the offseason, even as they lost second leading scorer Olli Jokinen. The big question facing the Flames is did they add enough?
Calgary is hoping for bounce back years from Jarome Iginla and Lee Stempniak and big seasons from Jiri Hudler, rookie Roman Cervenka and young Sven Baertschi. They also figure on Dennis Wideman adding scoring punch from the blueline and new Coach Bob Hartley's more aggressive offensive system to add even more.
Another proven NHL goal scorer would be ideal in Calgary since the Flames are counting on a lot of question marks being answered to produce more goal scoring.
Carolina was very active this offseason, acquiring additional scoring punch in Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal.
The Hurricanes' biggest need now would be some more depth on defense. Justin Faulk looks like an up and coming star, but the team is relying on Joe Corvo, Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison as part of their starting six with little depth behind them.
The Blackhawks have plenty of goal scoring among their top six forwards, grit on their depth forwards and a talented defense corps.
The biggest question mark in Chicago right now remains goaltending. Corey Crawford had a terrible year last season after a strong 2010-11. Ray Emery would be a solid backup behind a more established starter, but with his injury history, it's not clear Emery could start 55 or 60 games at this point in his career if his team needed him to.
Unless Crawford returns to his 2010-11 form, the Blackhawks could see a very talented team fall short of expectations.
The Avalanche have plenty of talented young forwards, but they did not do much to fortify their questionable blueline by only adding Greg Zanon during the offseason.
Zanon will add some grit and size, but the Avs could really use a dynamic offensive defenseman. Erik Johnson is the closest thing they have to an offensive threat on defense. A second "offenseman" would be a good addition to the Colorado power play and take some of the pressure off Johnson.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are a team in transition after trading Rick Nash who has clearly been the best player in the franchise's relatively brief history.
Columbus got quantity in the Nash trade, but no player they received is as big of an offensive threat as Nash was. Columbus was 26th in the NHL in goals scored with Nash and they clearly lack a proven scoring threat and a quality first line center.
The Stars did plenty to address their inconsistent scoring last season, acquiring Derek Roy in a trade and signing veteran offensive forwards Ryan Whitney and Jaromir Jagr as free agents.
Dallas could still use a little more muscle on the blueline, though. Mark Fistric and Aaron Rome fit the bill, but more players with a physical presence would help. The Stars have a few quality defensive prospects in Brenden Dillon, Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth but they are each at least a year away from being regulars in the NHL.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings lost two key defenseman this summer in Brad Stuart and future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.
They tried to sign free agents like Matt Carle and Ryan Suter but wasn't able to land either one of them and will now be relying on youngsters like Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl to play major minutes.
You can't actually replace a player like Lidstrom, but an experienced, reliable defenseman who can add some offense and play some major minutes would be a big help for Detroit in case the youngsters don't step up right away.
The Oilers have loaded up with high draft picks up front and have a bevy of talented, young goal scorers like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and now Nail Yakupov.
While the addition of rookie Justin Schultz helps a bit, Edmonton still needs help on defense, especially if Ryan Whitney continues to struggle with injuries. One or two reinforcements on the blueline would be a big help to the Oilers.
The Panthers were 27th in the NHL in goal scoring a season ago, averaging 2.40 goals-per game. Any improvement in this area will most likely have to come from within.
Florida lost Mikael Samuelsson to free agency, but signed the oft-injured, but talented, Peter Mueller. The Panthers can use some more reinforcements up front. They are relying on the top line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg to at least equal the great season they had a year ago and for the second line of Mueller, Scottie Upshall and talented rookie Jonathan Huberdeau to step it up and provide more scoring punch. That may be asking a lot.
A goal-scoring forward would be a good addition to the Panthers' lineup.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings underachieved offensively most of last season, but the addition of rookies Dwight King and Jordan Nolan to the bottom six and the trade deadline addition of Jeff Carter helped the offense click in the playoffs.
Los Angeles is pretty stacked up and down the lineup, but perhaps a depth defenseman or two in case of injury is their biggest need right now. The Kings have a solid starting six, but could use another experienced blueliner in case of injury.
The Wild made some great additions this summer and it wasn't just Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. Pickups like Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell don't make a lot of headlines, but they do help teams win hockey games.
The addition of Suter should help the development of some of the younger defensemen, but additional depth on the blue line in case players like Marco Scandella and Justin Falk don't develop as quickly as expected would be a solid addition to the Wild lineup right now.
The Canadiens were 19th in the league in goal scoring last season and a dreadful 28th on the power play.
A healthy Andrei Markov would help both areas, but the talented Russian defenseman has only played 20 games over the last two seasons and it remains to be seen if he can be counted on to stay in the lineup.
But even with a healthy Markov, the Habs can really use another quality goal scorer. Montreal had a pair of 30-goal scorers last year in Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole, but no other skater scored more than 17 in a Montreal uniform. A reliable goal getter would really help the Habs get back to the postseason in 2012-13.
The Predators have been a good team for a few years now despite often losing key players in free agency. This year, they lost defenseman Ryan Suter, but managed to retain Shea Weber after matching the Flyers' outrageous offer sheet for the Norris Trophy finalist.
Nashville has usually rolled four lines and tried to wear down opponents, but the Predators have never had a true sniper. They need someone they can rely on to put fear in opposing goalies and who they can rely on to score big goals in the final minutes of close games.
Last year, no Preds' player scored 30 goals, but nine different players scored at least 15. One or two players who can put up 30 would change the dynamic for this hard-working team.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils surprised a lot of people by reaching the Stanley Cup Final last spring, but the loss of team captain Zach Parise but a damper on the offseason in New Jersey.
Despite Parise's departure, New Jersey has more depth at forward than they do on defense. In fact, another offensive defenseman would be a big help to New Jersey. Marek Zidlicky is not very consistent (although he had a strong postseason) while Adam Larsson still hasn't proven he's ready to assume a large role at the NHL level.
Another goal scorer wouldn't hurt, but a puck-moving defenseman would fill an even bigger need for the Devils.
New York Islanders
The Islanders have had a strong first line the past two seasons, but have lacked scoring depth on the other forward lines.
The Isles need players like Michael Grabner and Brad Boyes to return to their previous goal scoring prowess and to help players like Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Nino Niederreiter to live up to their potential.
The addition of Lubomir Visnovsky helps fill the need for a puck-moving defenseman, so more scoring depth would be the Isles' biggest need right now.
New York Rangers
The Rangers had two needs that kept them from advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring. They definitely addressed one of them—goal scoring—when they acquired Rick Nash from Columbus.
The Rangers also needed to upgrade their third defensive pair and have to hope that Michael Sauer can return to health. Overall, a depth defenseman who can be reliable in his own zone and play a solid 15-18 minutes a night is the Rangers' biggest need right now.
Scoring goals was not a problem for the Senators last year. They finished fourth in the league in that category. The biggest issue facing Ottawa as they try to return to the postseason and improve on their eighth place finish in the Eastern Conference is depth on the blueline.
Erik Karlsson won the Norris Trophy for his fine offensive showing, but is a liability in his own zone more often than not. Sergei Gonchar is getting older and is past his prime. Newly acquired Marc Methot will munch minutes, but another big, physical defenseman who could add depth and help kill penalties would fill Ottawa's biggest need right now.
The Flyers still have some questions about their goaltending situation after the inconsistent year Ilya Bryzgalov had. They are committed to Bryzgalov and his large contract and based on his past performance, the 32-year-old Russian should bounce back.
The biggest issue facing the Flyers remains on defense. The loss of Chris Pronger and his 25-30 minutes of ice time per game puts more stress on all of the remaining Philadelphia defensemen and they never quite did recover from the loss of their captain. His return is still a large question mark. Andrej Meszaros is also injured to start the season.
The Flyers also lost Matt Carle and Pavel Kubina since the end of last season while adding Luke Schenn via a trade. That still leaves them with more questions than answers on the blueline and a defenseman who would be steady in the Flyers' end of the ice and could play 25 minutes per game would fill Philadelphia's biggest need.
The Coyotes made the longest playoff run since the franchise joined the NHL in 1979 last spring but ended up losing some key offensive components during the offseason due to the team's ongoing ownership issues.
Without Ray Whitney, the Desert Dogs will turn to the newly-acquired Steve Sullivan to replace Whitney's production. Stronger scoring depth is still the biggest need for the Coyotes. Phoenix had three goal scorers go over the 20-goal mark last year and one of them (Whitney) is now gone. It's not clear whether or not Radim Vrbata can duplicate last season's 35 goal total.
Anyone who watched the Penguins struggle during their wide-open playoff series against Philadelphia knows that this team needs to improve its defense more than anything.
There are many doubts about this current group. Paul Martin needs to show the form he did in New Jersey rather than the inconsistent performances he gave last season. Simon Despres has a bright future but is just a role player at this point in his development.
A solid second pair defenseman would be the best addition the Penguins could have right now.
St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues finished second in the Western Conference last season because of their hard work, excellent team defense and stellar goaltending.
Despite a 49-22-11 record, good for 109 points, the Blues were just 21st in the league in goals scored. The Blues' offense was balanced but lacked an explosive, go-to goal scorer. Only two players scored more than 20 goals for St. Louis last season and nobody reached 25.
A sniper would be the best addition to the St. Louis lineup once the season gets under way.
San Jose Sharks
On paper, the Sharks seem to have nearly everything a team could want. They have talented goal scorers, good grinders and a deep set of defensemen featuring a good mix of offensively minded and physical blueliners. Starting goalie Antii Niemi has already won a Stanley Cup.
Perhaps the biggest need the Sharks have is leadership. For whatever reason, players like Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who are supposed to be the team's leaders, have not been able to help the Sharks reach its potential, especially in the postseason.
A leader can come from anywhere on the ice, but a player who can make those around them better and focus the team on the task at hand come playoff time is the Sharks' biggest need.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have a solid offense that finished 8th in the league a year ago and tried to fill the void on defense by adding players like Matt Carle and Sami Salo.
Goaltending remains the biggest question mark for the Bolts. Tampa Bay acquired Anders Lindback from Nashville, but Lindback has never been a starter at the NHL level and it's not clear whether or not he is ready to assume that role. Mathieu Garon is going to be the backup, but he is considered a marginal starter at best.
An experienced goalie who could start if Lindback doesn't pan out is the Lightnings' biggest need right now.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs were 29th in the NHL in goals allowed last season and they traded away defenseman Luke Schenn during the summer to add more goal scoring in James van Riemsdyk.
The Toronto defense is good with the puck and mobile, but they aren't reliable in their own zone. A bounce back season from Mike Komirarek would be a big help, but the Leafs need more help on defense especially a big blueliner who could play top-four minutes and help them be more effective in their own end of the ice.
That would help young goalie James Reimer improve his play as well, another key for the Leafs if they want to end the league's longest postseason drought this year.
The Canucks are a strong and deep team and they have won the last two President's Trophies to prove it.
They return a similar roster this year and should again be contenders, but their glaring weakness as the season starts is at center. Second line center Ryan Kesler will be out until December at the earliest and third line pivot man Manny Malhotra is an old 32 after suffering numerous injuries throughout his career.
After trading away Cody Hodgson, the Canucks can really use a second or third line center, especially until Kesler is able to return to the lineup.
Like the San Jose Sharks, the Capitals are a very talented group without any glaring weakness on paper. They have plenty of scoring, good grinders up front on the bottom six and a potentially explosive sextet of defensemen. Washington also has two talented young goalies in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.
The Caps really need leadership. Alex Ovechkin doesn't seem to have what it takes to lead this team deep into the postseason and a former assistant coach accused him of living "the rock star lifestyle" last year.
Unless new Coach Adam Oates can help Ovechkin become a better leader, the Caps need to acquire a player who has won a Stanley Cup and can help this team get deeper into the playoffs.
The Jets finished 26th in the NHL in goals allowed despite a solid season from goalie Ondrej Pavelec. The defensive cast will be similar to what the team iced in 2011-12, so improvement here is vital.
The potential is there for some players like to step up their games, especially Zach Bogosian, but some tougher, grittier defensemen would be a good addition to the Winnipeg lineup once the lockout ends.
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