Forecasting the 4 NHL Teams That Will Regress the Most in 2012-13
The NHL lockout is frustrating fans quite a bit right now, but it's also making it impossible for teams to make moves to improve their roster, because players cannot be traded or signed during a work stoppage.
There are several teams that will regress during the 2012-13 season for reasons that include key players leaving in free agency and important veterans choosing to retire.
Let's look at the four NHL teams that will regress the most this year if the lockout ends.
Detroit Red Wings
There's a whole generation of Red Wings fans who don't what it's like to see their team miss the playoffs, and there's a chance they could learn how this feels this season.
The retirement of team captain and legend Nicklas Lidstrom, along with the departure of Brad Stuart, has decimated the Detroit blue line, which means young goaltender Jimmy Howard will need to play very well on a consistent basis for the team to make the playoffs.
The loss of Jiri Hudler will also have an impact, and for the Red Wings to score enough goals to make up for their inevitable struggles defensively, players such as Valtteri Filppula will need to keep improving.
Filppula scored a career-high 23 goals last year, and will play a larger role in the team's offense with the team in need of more scoring.
Promising young forward Gustav Nyquist will also be expected to have a breakout season, and even though he will likely make tremendous strides in his development this year, asking a player with just 18 games of NHL experience to play an important role isn't ideal.
To contend in the Western Conference this season, head coach Mike Babcock will need a breakout year from young defenseman Brendan Smith, and for veteran forwards such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to be healthy and productive for the whole year. It's unlikely that this "perfect scenario" will actually happen.
The Red Wings certainly won't be a terrible team this season, but they will regress quite a bit while general manager Ken Holland rebuilds his blue line and finds some more scoring depth.
New Jersey Devils
Any team that loses its third-highest scorer and second-best goal scorer is going to take a step back unless that player has been replaced, but unfortunately for the Devils, they have not sufficiently replaced captain Zach Parise since he left to sign with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent on July 4.
New Jersey finished with 102 points in a tough Atlantic Division last season, and without their most complete forward from a year ago, it's unlikely that the current team will achieve that same success.
The Devils ranked No. 15 in goals scored last year and will need another fine season from young forward Adam Henrique to stay in the top half of the league in goal scoring.
For the Devils to compete in an improved Atlantic Division, they will need to play solid defense and get another stellar performance from veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur. Brodeur, 40, has been incredibly consistent throughout his career, but he won't be an elite netminder forever.
With the team likely to score fewer goals this year after the departures of Parise and Alexei Ponikarovsky, there will be more pressure on Brodeur to win games than there was last season.
The Devils will be a playoff contender for one of the lower seeds in the Eastern Conference, but they won't compete for the division or conference titles in 2012-13.
The Panthers' surprising run toward a Southeast Division title was a remarkable story last season, but with every team in the division having gotten better over the summer, it will be tough for Florida to make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in over a decade.
The Capitals and Hurricanes, in particular, will be much more difficult for the Panthers to defeat this season.
If Florida wants to contend for another division title, they will need to score a lot more goals than they did last season.
However, this will be a difficult challenge following the free-agent departure of offensive defenseman Jason Garrison. He ranked No. 5 in goals and points on the Panthers last year, and the team did not replace him with a player of his caliber.
The long-awaited arrival of top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau will improve the team's top-six forward group, but the Panthers will cannot rely on their promising young winger to help them finish better than No. 27 in goals scored per game like they did in 2011-12.
Florida led the NHL last year with 18 points from overtime losses, and there is a good chance that it won't be as fortunate this season, especially since its blue line is weaker and its offense hasn't been improved outside of Huberdeau.
The Panthers would be lucky to finish third or better in the Southeast Division this season.
The Coyotes ranked No. 18 in scoring last season, which is respectable, but they lost their top scorer in Ray Whitney during the summer when he signed a two-year free-agent deal with the Dallas Stars.
Whitney's 77 points, along with his superb playmaking ability, were instrumental in the team's run to the Western Conference Finals, and losing him will be a real challenge for head coach Dave Tippett.
Tippett will need veteran winger Radim Vrbata to have another sensational season after he scored a career-best 35 goals last year and for 36-year-old captain Shane Doan to reach the 50-point mark for the 10th straight season after signing a new four-year contract in the summer.
For the Coyotes' offense to not decline significantly from last season, defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson need to be scoring machines on the blue line. Both of them are capable of scoring 45-plus points, but it's not ideal to place a huge scoring burden on two blueliners.
There's also no guarantee that goaltender Mike Smith will win 38 games again, which was almost as many games as he had won in the three previous years combined (40).
Even though the Coyotes are well-coached, too many things need to go right for them to repeat as Pacific Division champions.
With division rivals the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings likely to have much better regular seasons than they did last year, expect the Coyotes to miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.
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