NHL: Each Team's Biggest Goal for the 2012-13 Season (Beyond Winning the Cup)

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor INovember 5, 2012

NHL: Each Team's Biggest Goal for the 2012-13 Season (Beyond Winning the Cup)

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    It is the goal of every NHL team to win the Stanley Cup at the end of the season, but only one team out of 30 can win it.

    Once the season gets underway, each team will have goals it has set its sights on besides the obvious one of winning a championship.

    Here, we have examined the biggest goal for each of the 30 NHL clubs, whether it's establishing leadership, improving a key position or signing that key pending free agent.

    Feel free to chime in with your opinion if you disagree (or agree) with my analysis; just back it up with facts to support your opinion.

Anaheim Ducks: Re-Signing Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry

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    The Ducks rely heavily on their top line for goal scoring, and two-thirds of that top line are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next summer.

    If Anaheim lost both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, it would be facing a major rebuilding project. The entire direction the team is heading in would immediately change.

    The Ducks need to find a way to keep Getzlaf and Perry or get a lot in return if they must deal them. From there, they can determine what other pieces are needed for the club to return to the ranks of Stanley Cup contenders.

Boston Bruins: Settle Their Goaltending Situation

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    The Boston Bruins are a talented and deep team that is ready to win now. Their roster is very close to the one that won them a Stanley Cup in 2011, with one key exception: goalie Tim Thomas has decided to take a year off and is unlikely to return to Boston after this season is over.

    That leaves the B's with young veteran Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin to split the goaltending duties in 2012-13. Coincidentally, neither of those two goalies are under contract beyond this spring.

    Whether the Bruins are able to win another Stanley Cup or not this season, they need to determine who their goalie is going to be going forward. A deep playoff run which sees Rask establish himself as the franchise's goalie of the future would be a step forward.

    The Bruins should have a few more years near the top of the league as contenders, but without a reliable netminder, their chances of winning another Cup are greatly reduced.

Buffalo Sabres: Make the Playoffs and Be Tougher to Play Against

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    The Buffalo Sabres have two major goals this year, and they are both very important and interrelated.

    The first one is simple: make the playoffs. The Sabres have missed the postseason three of the last five seasons and have not won a playoff round since 2007. If the Sabres miss the playoffs again this year, the odds are pretty strong that Coach Lindy Ruff and GM Darcy Regier will both be fired. That would mean the team would likely undergo significant changes under a new regime.

    The second aspect is that the Sabres have to become tougher to play against. If they fail to accomplish this, their chances of making the playoffs are not great to begin with. When Ryan Miller was run over in November and none of the Sabres protected him, the league was put on notice that Buffalo may lack a certain toughness.

    Regier went out and acquired players like Steve Ott and John Scott to address this issue, but if it isn't adequately solved, the Sabres could be in trouble this season.

Calgary Flames: Reach the Postseason

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    The Calgary Flames need to reach the playoffs. They haven't qualified for the postseason for the past three years and haven't won a playoff series since their run to the Stanley Cup Final back in 2004.

    Management has resisted breaking up the core of the team as some critics suggest they should despite the advancing age of their two best players: forward Jarome Iginla and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Instead, the Flames have tried to build around those two players and added parts like Dennis Wideman via trades or free agency.

    Another year of failure to make the playoffs and a full scale rebuild may become inevitable, especially considering Iginla can become a UFA next summer and Kiprusoff can follow suit the following year.

Carolina Hurricanes: Figure out Alexander Semin's Future

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    The Hurricanes signed free agent winger Alexander Semin to a one-year contract this summer, helping to solidify their top six forward spots.

    Semin is extremely talented, but his production has been a bit uneven over the course of his career.

    If GM Jim Rutherford feels Semin is a good fit in Carolina, he may want to try to sign the talented Russian to a new contract before the trade deadline. If he is not a good fit or doesn't want to stay, Rutherford may consider dealing Semin depending on where the Hurricanes are in the standings and what he can get in return.

    Either way, figuring out Semin's future is a big step towards figuring out what direction the Hurricanes are heading in as a team.

Chicago Blackhawks: Figure out Their Goaltending Situation

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    The Blackhawks are another team that has depth and talent throughout its lineup and won a Stanley Cup as recently as 2010.

    The Blackhawks are still a young team, and they could contend for several more years with the core they have put together. Their biggest goal is to figure out if Corey Crawford is a goalie that can get Chicago back to the Stanley Cup Final.

    In 2010-11, Crawford had a very solid season, but last year, his goals against average jumped by nearly half a goal per game and his save percentage dipped by more than 10 points.

    If Crawford can't recapture his previous form, the Blackhawks have to make a move to bring in another goalie ASAP or risk letting another chance at a long playoff run slip away.

Colorado Avalanche: Watch Their Young Forwards Mature

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    The Colorado Avalanche would love a return to the playoffs in 2012-13, but that may still be a year away.

    The biggest goal for the Avs, however, is to see their group of young, talented forwards show additional maturity. As long as players like Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Paul Stastny continue to show improvement, the team as a whole should continue to trend in the right direction.

    But if these young players fail to develop, the franchise will also lag and the bright future forecast by many experts may be in doubt.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Identify Players They Can Build Around

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets start a new era after the trade of Rick Nash, the best player and goal scorer in the franchise's history.

    In theory, the Jackets have nowhere to go but up after finishing last overall in the league last season.

    The goal for Columbus this year is to show improvement on the ice and identify the players who will be a part of its rebuilding effort going forward.

    The Rangers got the best single player in their deal with Columbus for Nash, but the Jackets need to figure out how and where players like Tim Erixon, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky fit in to their organization. Those players that don't fit can be traded for picks or prospects or players that do.

    Make no mistake, the Blue Jackets rebuilding effort is not going to be a short process, but showing signs of definite progress and identifying the players they want to build around would be a welcomed accomplishment for this organization.

Dallas Stars: Find Core Pieces Beyond Eriksson and Benn

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    The Dallas Stars have two key players in Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

    This year, in an attempt to win as they rebuild with younger players, the Stars brought in veterans like Jaromir Jagr and Ryan Whitney. While these two will add valuable savvy and experience, they are not part of the team's long-term plans.

    Dallas needs to identify the next few pieces of its rebuilding program beyond Eriksson and Benn. If it does that, its long-term future will be much brighter even after Jagr and Whitney have departed.

Detroit Red Wings: Replace Nicklas Lidstrom

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    The Detroit Red Wings have a big challenge ahead: They have to figure out how to replace future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired last spring.

    Lidstrom was one of the best defensemen ever to play the game, added leadership and experience and also played plenty of minutes, all of which only helped make the players around him better.

    Detroit has to figure out how to replace each of the aspects that made Lidstrom so special. Keep in mind that it probably will not all be done by one player, but by a combination of efforts by several players.

    Before the playoffs come around, however, the Red Wings have to figure out what role each blueliner is going to have and how they can best adjust to life without Lidstrom.

    If they figure this out, there is still plenty of talent on the Red Wings roster, and the team should have another successful season.

Edmonton Oilers: Show Their Young Talent Is Developing

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    The Oilers are chock full of young talented forwards after having so many lottery picks in recent years.

    Players like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov hold they key to the future in Edmonton. It is critical for each of these players to show increased maturity both physically and mentally for the future of the franchise to remain bright.

    If the Oilers can accomplish this goal, the foundation of their team becomes more secure.

Florida Panthers: Return to the Playoffs

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    Sometimes, specific accomplishments mean a lot. Last year, for the first time in more than a decade, the Florida Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    This year, the franchise needs to show that it can build on last year's success and that it was no fluke.

    The Panthers organization needs to reinforce the fact that better times are ahead for a fan base that suffered through a long period of mediocre (or worse) hockey. A return trip to the postseason would show the people of South Florida that the Panthers are for real.

Los Angeles Kings: Score More Consistently

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    For most of the 2011-12 NHL season, the Los Angeles Kings struggled to score goals. Despite a late-season improvement that coincided with the acquisition of Jeff Carter at the trade deadline, the Kings still finished 29th in the league in goals scored.

    During the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings did better offensively than they had all season. The biggest goal for the Kings (other than winning another Stanley Cup) is to continue their postseason offensive production. If Los Angeles reverts to its regular season form, it will have difficulty defending its title.

Minnesota Wild: Make the Playoffs

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    While some people feel the signing of big-ticket free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter makes the Wild Stanley Cup contenders, this team needs to learn how to walk before it can learn how to run.

    The Wild has failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, so getting there is a good start.

    Parise and Suter may take a little time to get comfortable with their new club, and this season is likely to be shortened. But the Wild still need to qualify for the playoffs to justify the huge contracts they just handed out to Parise and Suter and to show this team is headed in the right direction.

    Winning a round or two would be icing on the cake, but failure to make the postseason for a fifth straight year would be a huge disappointment in Minnesota.

Monteal Canadiens: Keep Andrei Markov Healthy

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    Andrei Markov is the best defenseman on the Montreal Canadiens, at least until P.K. Subban matures a little bit more.

    The 33-year-old Russian has been MIA in recent seasons, playing a total of just 20 games over the past two campaigns and 65 total over the last three.

    If the Habs get Markov back for even close to a full season, it will greatly improve their power play, their transition game and their overall defensive play.

    If Montreal hopes to return to the playoffs and make big strides in the near future, a healthy Markov would be an important first step.

Nashville Predators: Replace Ryan Suter

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    Despite the departure of Ryan Suter to free agency, the Nashville Predators still have a lot of talent on their roster.

    Still, they have relied on their top defensive pairing of Suter and Shea Weber a great deal in recent seasons, and they have to figure out a way to replace Suter's minutes and production.

    There are several candidates to do it, and it may require a combined effort from several young players to get the job done. Players like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm are among the candidates to assume larger roles.

    If the Predators fail to find the right roles for their defensemen, they may struggle to reach the postseason in 2012-13. If they succeed at this, they will again be a tough team to face come the spring.

New Jersey Devils: Keep Father Time Away from Their Goalies

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    Not too many NHL teams go into the season with two goalies whose combined ages total 79, but the New Jersey Devils will be doing that this year.

    Still, Martin Brodeur, even at 40, is not your average goaltender, and Johan Hedberg has proven himself a reliable backup for New Jersey over the past two seasons.

    But Tampa Bay Lightning fans can tell you that goalies over the age of 40 can "lose it" in a hurry. Last year, they watched Dwayne Roloson go from stud to dud in the course of one summer.

    The Devils have to make sure that Brodeur and Hedberg remain strong in net if they hope to challenge for a playoff berth this season.

New York Islanders: Reach the Playoffs

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    The Islanders haven't reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for five straight years now, and even with their scheduled move to Brooklyn, this franchise needs some success to sell tickets.

    The Islanders have some talented young players like John Tavares and Matt Moulson, but need to support them with additional talent in order to make a playoff run. The maturation of younger players like Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald would be a big help.

    The Isles haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2007. The last time they won a series? Let's just say Al Arbour was still their coach and Bill Clinton was just starting his first term (1993).

    Winning a round may be asking a lot, but just getting to the playoffs now that the arena question is settled would be a huge step forward for this franchise.

New York Rangers: Get Everybody Healthy in Time for the Playoffs

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    On paper at least, the New York Rangers have one of the most talented teams in the National Hockey League this season.

    With the offseason acquisition of Rick Nash, most experts feel the Rangers have what it takes to be true Stanley Cup contenders.

    But in order to do that, the Rangers need to be healthy once the playoffs start. Marian Gaborik had offseason surgery and was already scheduled to sit out the first few months of the season. Nash suffered what was described as a minor injury while playing in Switzerland during the lockout.

    The Rangers also still need to add some depth to their third defensive pair, and an injury on the blueline could be costly.

    If the Rangers are healthy, they have the potential to make a long playoff run.

Ottawa Senators: The Continued Development of Erik Karlsson

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    The Ottawa Senators returned the the playoffs last year and gave the top-seeded New York Rangers all they could handle before falling in seven games.

    Their catalyst was young defenseman Erik Karlsson, who won the Norris Trophy for his outstanding offensive production.

    Still, many critics say Karlsson lacked a solid all-around game. The Senators would love to see Karlsson be better positionally in his own zone and earn more special teams minutes without sacrificing his unique offensive abilities.

    The maturation of Karlsson would give the Senators an even more formidable weapon to build around, especially as captain Daniel Alfredsson's career winds down.

Philadelphia Flyers: Strengthen Their Defense

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    The Philadelphia Flyers have a lot of talent on their roster, but their blueline remains a question mark in large part due to injuries.

    Captain Chris Pronger's career may be over, Matt Carle departed via free agency, while offseason injuries to Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja further depleted Philadelphia's defense corps.

    The only experienced addition to offset these losses was the acquisition of Luke Schenn from Toronto.

    With the inconsistent goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov last season, the Flyers need to have a solid defense in front of him.

    Their offense is championship quality, but unless the Flyers settle their defense, they will have trouble making a deep playoff run this season.

Phoenix Coyotes: Settle Their Ownership Issues Once and for All

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    The Phoenix Coyotes have been owned by the National Hockey League since 2009. That's a long time for the league to own a franchise.

    Until the ownership situation and the franchise's long-term future in Glendale is resolved, everything else is up in the air for this team, and GM Don Maloney will continue to have to get by with a low budget and smoke and mirrors.

    Once the Coyotes have a new owner, their future can take shape. Until then, the players and management have a big question mark hanging over their heads.

    While on the ice, the Coyotes would love to build on last season's division title and run to the Western Conference Final, resolving their off-ice ownership debacle is their biggest dream for the coming season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Keeping Sidney Crosby Healthy

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    When you have a player like Sidney Crosby, arguably the most talented player in the NHL today, you worry about his health.

    "Sid the Kid" has only played a total of 63 games over the past two seasons with post-concussion syndrome, costing him a lot of playing time.

    While Pittsburgh has other issues to think about, including helping Marc-Andre Fleury regain his confidence, they pale in comparison to ensuring that the face of its franchise doesn't have a career-threatening condition.

    If Crosby comes close to playing a full schedule this year, the Penguins should again be a dangerous club to play against.

    Then they can work on an extension for Evgeni Malkin.

St. Louis Blues: Making a Deep Playoff Run

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    The St. Louis Blues made extraordinary strides under Ken Hitchcock last season. After "Hitch" took over in November, the Blues became a hard-working team that was strong in their own zone and very difficult to play against.

    The next step for the Blues would be to make a long playoff run. The last time St. Louis reached the Conference Final was 2001 under Joel Quenneville. There are plenty of teams who can win during the regular season, but fail to advance in the playoffs when it counts.

    To take the next step in their development, the Blues need to at least reach the Western Conference Final this season and to find a little more goal scoring along the way.

San Jose Sharks: A Settled Leadership Situation

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    For all the talent that the San Jose Sharks have on their roster, they still have found postseason success elusive.

    Since the season before the lockout, San Jose has been considered one of the league's powerhouses and a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, but it has yet to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

    Come playoff time, the team just seems to be less than the sum of its parts. Stars like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are starting to get past their primes, so the window for this group may be closing.

    Some kind of leadership change may be needed here, something to change the chemistry of the team. The addition of assistant coach Larry Robinson, a proven winner as a player and coach, may be helpful.

    One way or the other, the Sharks need to find a way to get past this postseason hurdle, or they will go down as one of the best teams in NHL history never to win a Stanley Cup.

Tampa Bay Lightning: To Have an Established Starting Goalie

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    In 2010-11, the Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Final behind the strong goaltending of veteran Dwayne Roloson. Last year, however, Roloson showed his age in a hurry and seemed to fall apart before their very eyes. The Lightning gave up more goals last season than any other team.

    GM Steve Yzerman was determined not to allow a repeat of last year's debacle, so he traded for goalie Anders Lindback from Nashville to compete with holdover Mathieu Garon for the starting position.

    Lindback has played well in limited chances in Nashville, although he has never played more than 22 games in an NHL season. At 24, he should just be entering his prime, so if he is going to establish himself as a bona fide NHL starter, this is his chance.

    If Lindback falters and Garon does not come through, the Bolts are in a tough situation and would have to trade for a goalie. There is enough talent on this team to make the playoffs, but Tampa Bay needs to end the season with an established NHL goalie to have any kind of real success this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Have a Starting Goalie Emerge

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs are the only NHL team not to qualify for the playoffs even once since the last lockout in 2004-05.

    The biggest key to ending the longest postseason drought in Leafs history is finding a quality starting goaltender, something the Leafs have lacked for several years.

    Rumors that the Leafs may acquire Roberto Luongo have died down and GM Brian Burke has denied them, so it looks like the Leafs will start the season with the duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.

    Reimer is only 24, while Scrivens is 26. Neither of them have established themselves as true starting goalies at the NHL level.

    If the Leafs' rebuilding program is to be successful, they will need a quality goaltender and better team defense to improve last year's 29th-ranked group.

Vancouver Canucks: Get Ryan Kesler Healthy for the Playoffs

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    The Canucks remain Stanley Cup contenders just two years after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

    Their biggest obstacle to beating some of the other contenders in the tough Western Conference and winning the franchise's first ever Stanley Cup is the health of second line center Ryan Kesler.

    A healthy Kesler gives the Canucks two solid scoring lines and depth down the middle. Without him, the team is still very good, but not quite as elite.

    While Kesler is expected to miss the first few months of the season, Vancouver needs him healthy and ready to go at full strength once the playoffs get underway.

Washington Capitals: Get the Team United Behind New Coach Adam Oates

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    The Capitals have been a talented team over the past few seasons who have also failed to make the deep playoff run that many experts predicted for them.

    Under Bruce Boudreau, the Caps started as more of a run-and-gun team before switching to a more conservative style that didn't sit well with Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green and some of the other Caps players.

    When Dale Hunter took over as coach, the team played a closer to the vest defensive style that got them to the second round of the playoffs. Hunter decided not to return as coach.

    This year, the Caps start over under rookie head coach Adam Oates. By the end of the season, the Caps need to establish an identity under Oates and get their key players (Ovechkin, Green, Nicklas Backstrom) comfortable with that system so the franchise can move forward to greater heights.

Winnipeg Jets: Improve Their Road Record

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    The Jets franchise seemed very happy to return to Winnipeg, where they had a strong 23-13-5 record at the MTS Centre.

    On the road, however, Winnipeg was just 14-22-5, not a mark that will earn them a playoff berth.

    While remaining stuck in the Eastern Conference doesn't help travel arrangements, the Jets need to get to the .500 mark on the road if they hope to qualify for the postseason.

    This is a young team rebuilding primarily through the draft, so some patience is needed. But if these Jets can learn to play better on the road, they will take a major step forward as a franchise this season.