Biggest Question Mark on Every NHL Team If the Season Started Tomorrow

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IDecember 5, 2012

Biggest Question Mark on Every NHL Team If the Season Started Tomorrow

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    This lockout can't go on forever, can it?

    I still think it can't, and with that in mind, here is a look at the biggest question mark each NHL team is facing once the season actually gets underway.

    Obviously, these areas could end up being strengths by the time the season is over, but they are a concern or an issue right now for these teams.

    Feel free to add your feedback on these or discuss an area you feel I missed; discussion is always part of the fun.

Anaheim Ducks

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    Scoring depth remains a question mark for the Ducks. It's hard to believe that a team with Teemu Selanne and a top line as good as Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry could finish 23rd in the league in goals scored last year, but that's what the Ducks did.

    Young prospects like Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem may provide some help soon and the top line should rebound and be more productive than it was last year, but scoring depth remains a question in Anaheim.

Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins remain one of the strongest and deepest teams in the NHL on paper, and they should be Stanley Cup contenders again once the lockout is over.

    Their biggest question mark is in net, where Tim Thomas' decision to take a year off leaves the Bruins with the duo of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin.

    Rask looked good as Boston's starter in 2009-10, but has still never played more than 45 games in any NHL season.

    Khudobin is 26 and has played only seven career games in the NHL. If Rask falters, the Bruins may need to trade for a goalie if they hope to return to the Stanley Cup Final again this season.

Buffalo Sabres

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    Toughness was a big issue for the Sabres last season. Goalie Ryan Miller was run over in his crease during a game in November, and no Buffalo player came to his aid. Opponents questioned the Sabres' heart and cohesiveness after that incident.

    This offseason, the Sabres added some grit when they acquired gritty Steve Ott and enforcer John Scott, but is that enough to make Buffalo a tougher team to play against night in and night out? If it is, Buffalo should contend for a playoff spot. If it's not, the Sabres could be in for an offseason full of big changes both in management and on the ice.

Calgary Flames

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    The biggest question facing the Flames is firepower. Do the Flames have enough goal scorers to increase last year's 24th-best offensive attack?

    Calgary lost its second-leading scorer, Olli Jokinen, to free agency. It is counting on newly-acquired Jiri Hudler and rookie Roman Cervenka to add scoring punch up front and Dennis Wideman to help from the blueline.

    Unless the Flames can improve their attack, they will have trouble qualifying for the playoffs in the very competitive Western Conference.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    For a team that always emphasizes defense first, the Hurricanes were 25th in the league in goals allowed last season, a mark that is clearly not good enough to help Carolina return to the playoffs.

    While reinforcements were bought in to help on offense, like Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, the only addition on the blueline was veteran Joe Corvo, who is back for a third tour of duty with the franchise.

    That means Carolina is relying on the same cast to achieve better results.

    Unless the 'Canes cut down on the goals against, all the firepower in the world won't be enough to make them contenders this season.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Blackhawks are talented, and the core players from their 2010 Stanley Cup title team are largely intact. This should be a contending team.

    In 2011, Corey Crawford took over as the stating goalie in Chicago and he played well, but last year saw Crawford play inconsistently, and the result was an early playoff exit for the Blackhawks.

    If Crawford isn't the answer, Chicago needs to acquire a new goalie before the playoffs start. If it has solid goaltending, Chicago is as good as any other challenger in the Western Conference. If it doesn't, it will be another disappointing end to a season of high expectations.

Colorado Avalanche

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    The Avalanche are known for their young and talented forwards. Players like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly are the hope and future of the franchise, which is in the midst of rebuilding program. The Avs have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

    Despite all this young offensive talent, the Avs finished tied for 24th in goals scored in the league last season. The addition of free agent P.A. Parenteau, a good passer, should help, but the biggest question around Colorado is when will these talented young forwards start to mature enough to have more production than potential.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    After finishing in last place in the league in 2011-12, the Blue Jackets traded away their best goal scorer and most talented player, Rick Nash.

    The Blue Jackets were 26th in the league in scoring with Nash in the lineup, so scoring goals will be a challenge for Columbus.

    The Jackets need players like Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Vinny Prospal to produce more goals than they have in the past.

    There are many other holes to fill in Columbus, but getting consistent goal scoring is an important first step if the Blue Jackets hope to show progress this season.

Dallas Stars

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    The Stars have a few questions entering the new season, including whether the older forwards they bought in, Jaromir Jagr and Ryan Whitney, won't suddenly show their age.

    But the biggest issue in Dallas may be a lack of grit and sandpaper. Trading Steve Ott up front for Derek Roy should add a little offense, but removes grit. On defense, only Aaron Rome and Steve Fistric are truly bangers, but neither of them figures to earn top-four minutes.

    Nineteen-year-old Jamie Oleksiak is 6'7" and certainly has potential, but he's at least a year away from being NHL-ready.

    The Stars need to be a bit more physical on the blueline to help protect Kari Lehtonen and maximize their chances to return to the playoffs.

Detroit Red Wings

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    I'm sure Detroit fans are sick of hearing it, but the Red Wings' biggest question mark remains replacing the two key players they lost from last year's defense corps: Brad Stuart and future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom.

    The late acquisition of Carlo Colaiacovo will help a little bit, but every defenseman on this roster will have to step up and play more minutes in the absence of Lidstrom and Stuart. Also, younger players like Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl will see more NHL action than they have in the past (Kindl played 55 games last year with Detroit, Smith 14).

    If these players can pick up the slack, the Red Wings probably have another playoff year in them, and maybe even a chance at a good playoff run. If not, this could be the longest offseason in Detroit in quite some time.

Edmonton Oilers

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    The Oilers are stocked with young and talented forwards who should provide an explosive offense for the club once they gain maturity.

    Defense, however, remains a question mark for the Oilers. Even with the signing of highly-touted college free agent Justin Schultz, Edmonton has more questions than answers on the blueline. Health remains an issue for Ryan Whitney. The Oilers hope Nick Schultz will be helpful in his own zone, but how much remains to be seen.

    This team needs to be tougher to play against if they hope to climb in the standings.

Florida Panthers

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    The Panthers have plenty of question marks as they look to repeat as Southeast Division champions.

    The biggest is goal scoring. Florida finished 27th in the league last year, and that was with its top line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg all having better-than-expected seasons.

    The Panthers hope that new additions Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller can solidify the second line and provide a compliment to the top trio.

Los Angeles Kings

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    The Kings return the same roster that won the Stanley Cup last year virtually intact. While there are always issues of Stanley Cup hangover, the lengthy lockout will likely alleviate that to a large extent.

    Goal scoring was the biggest issue the Kings had for most of last season, and they finished the year 29th in goals scored.

    The trade deadline acquisition of Jeff Carter and the midseason promotion of Jordan Nolan and Dwight King helped increase goal production late in the season and in the playoffs, but can the Kings maintain that higher goal scoring rate for a full season? The talent level says yes, but Los Angeles still has to back it up with a season-long on-ice performance.

Minnesota Wild

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    The Wild are expected to contend for a playoff spot once NHL hockey resumes. The addition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter should speed up the club's development, but there are still question marks surrounding the team.

    The biggest issue is on defense, where depth is an issue. Can Clayton Stoner stay healthy? Are Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon ready to take the next step in their development? At least some of thee questions need to be answered affirmatively for the Wild to reach the postseason. Having a minute muncher like Suter should only help.

Monteal Canadiens

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    The Canadiens finished last in the Eastern Conference last season, and while they should show some improvement this year, there are still plenty of question marks out there about this team.

    The biggest remains size and grit. New GM Marc Bergevin was determined to make the Habs bigger and tougher to play against, so he went out and acquired Brandon Prust and Francis Bouillon during the offseason. It's a good start, but is that enough? We'll find out once the season gets under way.

Nashville Predators

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    The Predators lost Ryan Suter to free agency over the summer. They've overcome free-agent defections before, but Suter's loss presents a particular challenge.

    Suter played a lot of minutes, and now younger defensemen like Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis have to step up and take on more responsibility.

    In addition, how will no longer having Suter alongside him affect Shea Weber? Josi is most likely going to get the first chance to be paired with Weber, but he's a big step down from Suter and his abilities.

New Jersey Devils

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    The Devils rarely looked like Stanley Cup contenders during the regular season, but they got red-hot in the playoffs and reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    One of the big differences was the play of their defense. Bryce Salvador suddenly became a clutch point producer, Marek Zidlicky learned how to be responsible in his own zone and Anton Volchenkov seemed to turn back the clock by five years.

    The big question is, which defense will we see once the regular season gets underway? Will it be the inconsistent unit the Devils seemed to have for most of the regular season or the group with poise and depth that helped them dominate in the playoffs? If the answer is the second one, the Devils could return to the playoffs; if not, they're a long shot at best.

New York Islanders

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    The Islanders are still building with youth supplemented by a sprinkling of veterans well past their prime. While there are plenty of question marks surrounding this team, their biggest remains supplementary scoring.

    The Isles finished 28th in the league in goals scored last year, and they lost top-line winger P.A. Parenteau to free agency.

    John Tavares and Matt Moulson are proven offensive weapons, but young players like Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Josh Bailey and Nino Niederreiter need to become consistent producers for the Islanders to show improvement this season.

New York Rangers

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    The Rangers were the top seed in the Eastern Conference and reached the conference final for the first time since 1997.

    During the offseason, they acquired Rick Nash from Columbus to give them another offensive weapon to help improve what was a good but not great goal scoring team.

    The biggest question facing the Rangers is defensive depth. The top four blueliners are as good as any in the league, but the third pair struggled in the playoffs, and it cost them against New Jersey.

    Getting Michael Sauer back and healthy would help. Dylan McIlrath is probably still a year away. The Rangers need to improve this area before the playoffs start if they hope to live up to expectations this year.

Ottawa Senators

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    The Senators surprised a few people by reaching the playoffs last season and hope to continue their improvement once the lockout finally comes to a close.

    The Sens were 24th in the league in goals allowed last year, and that needs to be improved. Keep in mind they finished that low despite Craig Anderson's solid play in net.

    Erik Karlsson is an offensive stud, but his play in his own zone is still lacking. The acquisition of Marc Methot and Mike Lundin may help, but this area needs to improve for the Senators to take the next step in their development.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers are loaded offensively, but defensively, they are filled with question marks.

    Chris Pronger's career may be over, and his loss was felt last season when Philadelphia finished 20th in goals allowed. Not good enough for a team that hopes to contend for a championship.

    In addition to losing Pronger to injury, Pavel Kubina and Matt Carle left over the summer, while Andreas Lilja and Andrej Meszaros suffered injuries that will keep them out of action for a good chunk of time.

    The addition of Luke Schenn helps a little bit, but Philadelphia's biggest question mark remains on its blueline.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Goal scoring is again going to be an issue for the Coyotes. They were 18th in the league in goals scored a year ago and lost Ray Whitney, who led the team in scoring.

    Getting Shane Doan back helps a bit, but can Steve Sullivan match Whitney's production? What does David Moss add? Can Mikkel Boedker help pick up the slack?

    The Coyotes score by committee and will need steady contributions up and down their lineup to return to the postseason and go on another long playoff run.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Penguins expected to contend for another Stanley Cup title last year, but instead found themselves out of the playoffs in the opening round after a sloppy and wide-open series against the Flyers.

    Sidney Crosby's health remains a big question mark for the Pens. The trade of Jordan Staal leaves the Pens a little less deep down the middle than they have been in the past. Brandon Sutter is less able to assume a top-six role than Staal was if Crosby is not available.

    With a healthy Crosby, the Pens are included in the conversation of the league's top teams. Without him, they are good but not elite.

St. Louis Blues

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    The Blues had the league's third-best record and gave up the fewest goals of any team in the league last year. Offensively, they were a bit more average, finishing 21st in the league in goals scored.

    The cast is mostly the same in St. Louis, so younger players like Ty Rattie, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz need to help improve the offense. A healthy Andy McDonald would also provide a boost.

    If the Blues can score just a little bit more, their goalies can be a little less emotionally and physically exhausted come playoff time.

San Jose Sharks

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    The biggest question in San Jose is a tough one to quantify: Why is this team less than the sum of its parts come playoff time?

    Looking up and down the Sharks lineup, this team should have more postseason success than it's had. It has been a favorite to win the Stanley Cup every year since the last lockout, and it's had a very strong roster each year.

    Is there a leadership factor missing? Cohesiveness lacking? Just bad luck? The Sharks need to figure this out before the window closes on players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (both now 33).

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    No team gave up more goals than the Lightning last season.

    GM Steve Yzerman had his work cut out for him to change that, but he certainly made an effort, bringing in defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo to improve his blueline and trading for goalie Anders Lindback from Nashville to solidify his goaltending situation.

    Goal remains the Bolts' biggest question mark. Lindback has looked good when called upon, but the big Swede has never played more than 22 games in an NHL season during his career. If he's ready to assume the starter's role, that helps the Lightning a great deal. If he's not, their chances of returning to the playoffs become a long shot.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Maple Leafs finished next-to-last in goals allowed last season with 3.16 goals per game. It's clear that number must be reduced if Toronto hopes to end the longest playoff drought in franchise history.

    What's less clear is whether the duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens has what it takes to get that job done. Reimer has shown flashes, but his consistency over the long run is uncertain. Scrivens is 26, but has played only 12 career NHL games after a good run at Cornell.

    The possibility of a trade for Roberto Luongo remains a real one once the lockout ends, but how much the Leafs would have to give up to get Luongo and how they can fit him under the salary cap without hurting the rest of their roster remain unanswered questions.

    If Toronto cuts down the goals against, it has enough firepower to win more hockey games. If it doesn't, then the longest postseason dry spell in franchise history will be extended.

Vancouver Canucks

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    The Roberto Luongo era in Vancouver will end shortly after the lockout does, according to widely-held press reports.

    The Canucks have won back-to-back President's Trophies and remain one of the league's most talented teams. The biggest question facing Vancouver is whether or not new starting goalie Cory Schneider is ready to be a full-time starter in the NHL. Can Schneider play 65 games and then lead his team deep into the playoffs? He's looked very good when called upon, but has still never played more than 33 games in any one NHL season.

    If Schneider is equal to the task, the Canucks should be contenders once again. If he's not, is there another trade in their future?

Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals will begin the new season with a new head coach in Adam Oates and a new philosophy that is expected to be a bit more offensive-minded than Dale Hunter was last season.

    Identity has been an issue for the Caps in recent years. Under Bruce Boudreau, Washington went from a run and gun offensive-minded club to a more defense-first philosophy. The theory was that defense wins championships, but the new way of doing things was not popular with many of the players (including Alex Ovechkin) and didn't seem to fit the personnel very well.

    Dale Hunter replaced Boudreau midway through last season and was more conservative. It worked to the extent that Washington upset Boston in the first round of the playoffs and gave the Rangers everything they could handle in the second round.

    Oates is expected to find a middle ground. Will his way of doing things be accepted by the team? Will it be successful? In an abbreviated season, will the players have time to adjust? Will Ovechkin be content? These are many other questions will be answered in the next few episodes of "As the Caps Turn."

Winnipeg Jets

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    The Jets return the same group of defensemen that they featured a year ago, and last year, they finished 26th in the league in goals allowed.

    The talent seems to be there with Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian leading the way in front of Ondrej Pavelec. Many of the defensemen in the lineup had injury issues, and a mostly healthy season from this bunch should help.

    Pavelec also needs to be more consistent and the forwards have to do a better job of backchecking.

    The Jets have to cut down on the goals against if they hope to make the playoffs this year.