Imagining Every NHL Team's Worst Nightmare Next Season

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IOctober 25, 2012

Imagining Every NHL Team's Worst Nightmare Next Season

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    Once the season does get under way, each NHL team aspires to improve in the standings, make the playoffs and even win a Stanley Cup.

    While those may be the dreams of each of the 30 clubs, they also have nightmares, a situation that they would least like to avoid at all costs.

    In the spirit of Halloween, here is a look at each NHL team's nightmare for the coming season (besides the cancellation of the season, of course). Whether it's a particular player being injured or lost or some other problem, here are disasters each club hopes to avoid.

    Feel free to add your opinion if you feel I got it wrong, but please say why you feel your chosen situation is worse for the team of your choice.

    And let's hope these things don't happen to each team once the game finally gets started again.

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Ducks have a pair of very talented players who are eligible to be unrestricted free agents next summer.

    The biggest nightmare for Anaheim would be if they are unable to re-sign both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and they have to trade them or end up losing them for nothing.

    Perry, Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan are keys to the Ducks' rebuilding program and losing them now would disrupt the franchise's plans before they can reach fruition.

Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins are entering this season without Tim Thomas, the goalie that helped lead them to their first Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years in 2011.

    Now there are reports that Tuukka Rask has been injured while playing in Europe. The Bruins have no experienced NHL goalies behind Rask, so they are taking a big risk in this area.

    If Rask is injured and unable to play or plays in the NHL but is ineffective as a starter, the Bruins may see a very talented team fall well short of expectations. Poor goaltending would be the Bruins' biggest nightmare this season.

Buffalo Sabres

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    The Sabres have made changes, especially up front where Derek Roy, Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes are gone.

    Buffalo is relying on certain players to improve their offensive output and others to bounce back from poor seasons. Buffalo's big nightmare would be if players like Cody Hodgson, Villie Leino, Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno can't provide enough offense to make the Sabres successful on a consistent basis.

    One more non-playoff year in Buffalo and the team of Coach Lindy Ruff and GM Darcy Regier will almost certainly be gone and the team will be taken in a different direction.

Calgary Flames

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    The Calgary Flames have reinforced their plan not to undergo a complete rebuilding program and to keep their core players in tact while trying to add complimentary pieces and still qualify for the playoffs.

    By far, Jarome Iginla (35) and Miikka Kiprusoff (36) are the two best players on Calgary's roster.

    The biggest nightmare for the Flames would be if their two star players start a significant decline because of age or injury before this team is ready to reach the playoffs again.

    If the Flames get nothing in return for Iginla or Kiprusoff and they falter before the team is strong enough, the franchise could be set back even further for several more seasons.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes were very active this summer, trading for Jordan Staal and signing Alexander Semin to a one-year, $7 million free agent contract.

    While poor seasons by either of these two highly paid and highly touted players would be a disappointment for the 'Canes, a serious injury to goalie Cam Ward would be a disaster.

    Justin Peeters has yet to prove that he is ready to be an NHL starter. Without Ward, the Hurricanes would be unlikely to come anywhere near a playoff berth this season.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Blackhawks look like a team ready to contend for the Stanley Cup. They have a talented group of scorers at the top of their lineup, quality depth and a solid defense.

    The worst nightmare in the Windy City would be if the goaltending doesn't live up to the rest of the talent on the team. Corey Crawford had a shaky season and has yet to prove he has what it takes to lead a team to a Stanley Cup championship.

    Whether its Crawford or some other goalie the Hawks have yet to acquire, the Blackhawks need to settle their goaltending situation. Failure to do so would be a big wasted opportunity in Chicago.

Colorado Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche are relying on a lot of younger players, especially up front. There is plenty of talent here, but the Avs won't win until that talent starts to mature.

    Players like Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly hold the key to the future success of this team.

    The biggest nightmare for the Colorado would be if none of these talented young players showed increased maturity and development. If they don't step up their games, it will be impossible for the Avs to qualify for the playoffs this year and their long term success will be put into question as well.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets had the worst record in hockey last season and traded their top goal scorer during the summer. In a lot of ways, this is a team that is starting over from scratch and has nowhere to go but up.

    Rebuilding a team should start in net. The Blue Jackets have not had quality NHL goaltending since Steve Mason's rookie season of 2008-09, the only year they made the playoffs.

    Mason is back this year but he will have to fight for his job with the newly acquired Sergei Bobrovsky who was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia.

    The worst nightmare for the Blue Jackets is that neither Bobrovsky nor Mason establishes himself as a reliable starter and any improvement the club may show in other areas would be negated by questionable goaltending.

Dallas Stars

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    The Stars finished tied for 22nd in the NHL in goals scored last year. While there is some young talent in the system, the Stars brought in two veteran wingers to add some scoring punch for the coming season.

    Both Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney are 40 years old. For the short term, the Stars biggest nightmare would be if age catches up to both Whitney and Jagr and they are unable to help the Dallas offense.

    The Stars won't make the playoffs this year without respectable contributions from at least one if not both of these veteran forwards.

Detroit Red Wings

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    The Detroit Red Wings are a team in transition. The loss of captain Nicklas Lidstrom leaves a big hole to fill leadership-wise and the trade of Brad Stuart leaves another hole on the Detroit blueline.

    The biggest nightmare for the Red Wings is that they are unable to find an adequate replacement for Lidstrom. They need somebody to take over his role as captain, which will be difficult to do. They also need Niklas Kronwall to step up and become a number one defenseman and for players like Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith to prove they are ready for substantial roles on an NHL blueline.

    Lidstrom has big skates to fill and in both respects, this will be a group effort. If they can't get it done, the Wings will fall in the standings this year.

Edmonton Oilers

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    The Oilers have a lot of young and talented players, especially up front. Few experts doubt that the Oilers are still a year or two away from true contention but young players like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov hold the key to a bright future.

    The biggest short-term question for the Oilers is if they have their goalie of the future on their team. Nikolai Khabibulin is 39 so he is not the future. That leaves 26-year-old Devan Dubnyk who has yet to prove he is an NHL caliber starter.

    The Oilers worst nightmare for the coming season is that Khabibulin starts showing his age and Dubnik is not capable of being a capable number one netminder.

Florida Panthers

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    The Panthers got surprisingly good seasons from players like Kris Versteeg, Jason Garrison (since departed), Jose Theodore and Tomas Fleischmann last year and it got them into the postseason for the first time in a decade.

    The biggest nightmare for the Panthers would be that these players all had career years and cannot duplicate their production from a year ago.

    Even with those contributions, the Panthers were 27th in goals scored last season. They could ill-afford to get less offense in 2012-13 if they hope to return to the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings struggled to score goals nearly all season. Even though they picked things up after the trade deadline, they still finished 29th in the league in scoring.

    While Stanley Cup hangover is a possibility, the biggest nightmare facing the Kings would be a return to the struggles they had scoring goals before the trade deadline. Los Angeles was a team full of talented players who weren't playing up to their potential.

    If the Kings continue to play they did in the playoffs, a repeat is possible. If they play the way they did before the trade deadline last season, they may not even reach the postseason.

Minnesota Wild

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    There is so much hype in Minnesota after the July 4th signing of the two most sought after free agents on the market, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

    The biggest nightmare facing the Wild would be if neither of these players helps improve the league's 30th-ranked scoring offense and the Wild spent a lot of money without getting results.

Montreal Canadiens

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    The Montreal Canadiens finished last in the Eastern Conference last year. Being healthy will help a little bit and the addition of some size and toughness in Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong will also improve some areas of need.

    But the biggest nightmare the Canadiens would face this season would be a long-term injury to goalie Carey Price. The Habs are very dependent on their goalie to win hockey games for them and without Price, they would be left with Peter Budaj as their starter. No offense to Budaj, but he is not in Price's class. The Habs would struggle without their biggest star.

Nashville Predators

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    The Predators had three star players that their team was built around and faced the possibility of losing all of them a year ago. The scorecard is in and Nashville managed to keep two out of three by signing Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber while Ryan Suter moved on to Minnesota.

    The Predators biggest nightmare is that none of their younger defensemen are ready to at least fill part of Suter's role on defense. Players like Ryan Ellis, Jonathon Blum and Roman Josi will have to find a way to fill Suter's skates and the many minutes he played both at even strength and on the power play.

    It also remains to be seen if the the team can fill the leadership that Suter provided.

New Jersey Devils

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    All the talk this summer in New Jersey was about the loss of captain Zach Parise who left to join the Minnesota Wild. The Devils will need to replace his leadership as well as his production.

    The biggest nightmare facing the Devils this season is if Martin Brodeur suddenly starts showing his age. The NHL's all-time leading wins leader is 40 and his backup, Johan Hedberg is 39. If Brodeur suddenly falters, the Devils are up the creek without a paddle. If he continues to play well, they should at least be in contention for a playoff berth.

New York Islanders

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    The Islanders now have a new home (starting in the fall of 2015), but while the off-ice issues have been settled, the on-ice product still needs some work.

    The Isles biggest nightmare this season would be a long-term injury to top center John Tavares. He is by far the most talented offensive player the team has and his loss would make the league's 28th-ranked scoring team's offense even more anemic.

    Tavares is the future of the Islanders and they have to build around him. Losing him for an extended time would be a disaster for the club.

New York Rangers

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    With the acquisition of Rick Nash, the Rangers seem locked and loaded and ready for a run at the Stanley Cup.

    The Rangers biggest nightmare would be the loss of their best player, goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers ranked third in the NHL in goals allowed and "King Henrik" was a major reason.

    Martin Biron is a capable backup, but if he had to start over an extended period of time, the Rangers would not fare as well as they do under Lundqvist.

Ottawa Senators

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    Daniel Alfredsson is by far the greatest player in the modern history of the Ottawa Senators franchise.

    He will be 40 in December and is only under contract for the 2012-13 season.

    At least year's All-Star Game, which was played in Ottawa, the crowd's warm ovation for Alfredsson was one of the highlights of the weekend.

    The Senators worst nightmare would be if the season is lost and the fans never get a chance to see their favorite son take the ice for their team ever again. If Alfredsson retires after this season, his career would end abruptly as a result of the lockout.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers tried to sign several free agents, especially on defense, but were unable to land any big names to replace their injured blueliners.

    Despite the potential holes on defense, the Flyers biggest nightmare would be another inconsistent season from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

    Bryz is signed to a long-term and lucrative contract and that makes him almost impossible to trade. Behind the Russian netminder, the Flyers have journeyman Michael Leighton.

    If Bryzgalov cannot step up his game and meet expectations, a very talented Flyers team will have trouble living up to the very high expectations set for them.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are coming off the most successful season in franchise history. The Coyotes won the Pacific Division title for the first time in franchise history and reached the Western Conference Final for the first time ever as well.

    The biggest nightmare for the Desert Dogs would be the loss of their best player, goalie Mike Smith.

    The Coyotes were 5th overall in the league in goals allowed and Smith was the biggest reason for their success. Jason LaBarbera is a solid backup, but if the 32-year-old had to start for an extended period of time, the Coyotes would be hard pressed to duplicate last season's success.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins exited in the first round of the playoffs last season after their defense fell apart against the Philadelphia Flyers.

    There is plenty of talent on this team and most experts feel they will contend again this season if their defense and goaltending revert back to past form.

    But the biggest nightmare facing the Penguins would be another concussion for Sidney Crosby. "Sid the Kid" has played only 63 games total over the past two seasons.

    Another serious concussion could mean the end of his career which is not something the Penguins want to even entertain.

St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues were below .500 when they switched coaches last November and hired Ken Hitchcock. The results were spectacular: the Blues finished with 109 points and the third best record in the NHL.

    The worst nightmare for the Blues would be that the team tires of the hard-driving and demanding coaching style that Hitchcock thrives on. In each previous stop, Hitchcock has done well, only to have his teams eventually grow weary of his style.

    Hitch says he has learned from his past experiences, but if he wears out his welcome with the players, the Blues formula for success will be short-circuited.

San Jose Sharks

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    The Sharks are a team full of talented veteran leaders like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle. This core group has been together for several seasons now and had plenty of regular season success without reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

    But these core players are getting up there in age. Thornton and Marleau are now both 33 and Boyle is 36. The window for this team to win a Cup is quickly closing. 

    The Sharks worst nightmare is that another year passes and this team again fails to win a Cup. That means this team may have to be rebuilt in the very near future.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning finished dead last in the NHL in goals allowed in 2011-12 with opponents averaging 3.39 goals per game against the Bolts.

    In the offseason, the Lightning took steps to improve this area, acquiring defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo to bolster the blueline and goalie Anders Lindback to improve their shaky goaltending situation.

    The Lightning's worst nightmare is that they remain at or near the bottom of the league in goals against this season. With players like Martin St. Louis and Steven Samkos, the Lightning should have little trouble putting the puck in the net. But a return to the playoffs is unlikely unless there is significant improvement in the club's goals against.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs have not made the postseason since 2004, the longest dry spell in the league and the longest in franchise history.

    Offensively, Toronto finished 10th in the league in goals scored, a solid showing, but defensively, the Maple Leafs were a dismal 29th in goals allowed.

    The Leafs biggest nightmare this season would be if neither James Reimer nor Ben Scrivens manages to establish themselves as a legitimate NHL starting goalie this season.

    While team defense needs to improve, Toronto currently lacks the confidence that having a top notch goalie produces in a team. If they fail to get at least adequate goaltending this season, another year will go by without a playoff appearance in Toronto.

Vancouver Canucks

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    The Canucks are coming off back-to-back President's Trophy seasons but the franchise's first Stanley Cup title has still eluded them.

    The Canucks are a solid and deep team, finishing in the top five in both goals scored and  goals against.

    Vancouver's biggest nightmare involves their goaltending situation. A trade has yet to be worked out for disgruntled backup Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, the new starter, has yet to prove he can be effective starting for 60-65 games. If Schneider is inconsistent, the Canucks may have to look elsewhere on a team that is built to win now.

Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals are starting over again with new Coach Adam Oates taking over for the departed Dale Hunter.

    Even without winger Alexander Semin, the Caps still have plenty of firepower in their lineup and Oates should play a more up-tempo style than Hunter did.

    The Capitals biggest nightmare is that Alex Ovechkin fails to be re-inspired under Oates and continues to put up good but not great offensive numbers.

    Ovechkin's output has been down the past two seasons. After scoring more than 45 goals during his first five NHL seasons, "The Great Eight" has not topped 38 in either of the last two campaigns. Worse yet, some members of the Capitals organization have questioned his dedication to the game.

    An inspired Ovechkin makes the Capitals dangerous. An indifferent Ovechkin makes them a lot closer to average.

Winnipeg Jets

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    The Winnipeg Jets continue their rebuilding program with an emphasis on younger players.

    Last year, the Jets were among the league's best teams at home while struggling to win games away from their new home.

    The Jets biggest nightmare is that their younger players, in particular Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov and Blake Wheeler, fail to mature and develop. That means their efforts to reach the playoffs may take longer than the organization is hoping it would.