NHL Free Agency: Bad Teams Back in Playoff Contention Thanks to Offseason Deals
Though all December hockey games are now canceled, there is still time to salvage the minimum 48-game season. Where there is a season, there are playoffs, and where there are playoffs, there are last year’s losing teams fighting for redemption.
Several clubs have made drastic roster changes that make them virtually unrecognizable from their last-year counterparts. These teams are anxious to start fresh, and get their newly acquired players on the ice.
Many playoff-missing teams will be postseason contenders because of recent trades and acquisitions. Other clubs have sealed their fates by giving away key players, or neglecting to address their weaknesses—see the Edmonton Oilers, which, despite three first-overall draft picks, have yet to acknowledge their defense.
There are also sure to be some opening playoff positions in both conferences.
In the East, without Zach Parise, the New Jersey Devils will have a hard time making the playoffs. In the West, the Detroit Red Wings’ defensive void, left by Nicklas Lidstrom, leaves them vulnerable to losing their spot.
Here is a list of five previously bad teams destined to be contenders in the 2013 playoffs.
As the lucky recipients of free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Minnesota Wild ought to reach the playoffs. The Wild’s league-low goals per game average (2.02) should be a thing of the past with their new blood.
Parise, the former captain of the New Jersey Devils, led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals. The future hometown hero is just the guy to provide the Wild with some much-needed leadership and scoring.
Suter will provide the Wild with vital power-play support. With Suter quarterbacking power plays, the Wild’s fourth-least successful power play should see considerable improvement.
The package deal of Parise and Suter, worth $196 million combined, addresses the Wild’s weaknesses directly and efficiently. The two mega deals will propel the Wild into the playoffs.
The Carolina Hurricanes made the first big move of the summer trading Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and their eighth overall draft pick for Jordan Staal. The family reunion of Staal with captain Eric Staal was just the beginning of Carolina’s offensive reinforcement.
Once the Minnesota Wild snatched Zach Parise and Ryan Suter up, Alexander Semin became the next sought-after forward. The Canes signed the Russian sniper to an arguably pricey one-year contract worth $7 million.
The potential chemistry between the Staal brothers could be substantial—maybe even Sedin-like. Regardless, Staal is a solid offensive player, having just put up his best season (25 G, 25 A, 50 PTS) despite only playing 62 games.
The Staal brothers along with Semin will provide the Canes with more than enough scoring. It will be a nice change for goaltender Cam Ward to see goals scored on the other side of the rink.
Aside from drafting promising defenseman Jacob Trouba, the Winnipeg Jets have generally stayed off the radar with their pickups. Despite their low-publicity additions, the Jets have been doing a solid job reinforcing every aspect of their game.
First, it is noteworthy that the Jets passed on fifth-ranked Filip Forsberg for Trouba in a very unorthodox fashion. This move proved that the Jets are serious about becoming a formidable defensive team, not just another goal-hungry club.
Instead, the Jets nabbed former Calgary Flame Olli Jokinen just off a 61-point season. The Jets also picked up solid depth forward Alexei Ponikarovsky from the New Jersey Devils for some hardy offensive support.
The Jets even addressed their backup goaltending needs, signing Al Montoya, who is sure to create some friendly competition with fellow backup Chris Mason.
Though the Jets’ additions have not all been A-listers, they are committed to improving their multi-dimensional game play. Their new players are solid enough to earn them a playoff spot.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The goaltending situation in Tampa Bay was horrid—the Lightning tapped Dwayne Roloson out. However, the once-semifinalists took a gamble trading for former backup Anders Lindback, who will have no problem manning the pipes.
Though it was hard to see through the shadow cast by elite goaltender Pekka Rinne, Lindback really has solid potential. The 24-year-old is a young goaltender capable of serving the Bolts for many, many years.
The lightning also bolstered their defense adding Matt Carle to their lineup. With a strong career plus/minus (55) over seven years, the Alaskan will provide some much-needed blue-line relief for the Bolts.
With last year’s leading goal scorer, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis, goals are not an issue for the Bolts. Tampa Bay patched their weaknesses—changes that will see them back into the playoffs.
Promoting Calder Trophy-winner Gabriel Landeskog to captain could be just the move the team needs to spark its success. It worked for the Chicago Blackhawks and Jonathan Toews; there is no reason it cannot work for the Colorado Avalanche.
Colorado is a team of very young but promising talent. Landeskog, who had a solid rookie season (22 G, 30 A, 52 PTS), is an ideal sun to put at the center of their universe.
Previously ranked at the bottom six in goals per game, Colorado was in desperate need of some offense. Paul Statsny and Matt Duchene are solid, but recently inconsistent as young players often are.
Colorado’s signing of assist machine P.A. Parenteau should be just the guy to get the Avs' young guns firing. The former New York Islanders top liner fell one short of the 50-assists mark last season.
Meanwhile, Semyon Varlamov is sure to improve as the “grasshopper” to Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s Mr. Miyagi. The former Washington Capitals backstop won just over half of his games (26 W, 24L) in his first year as a starter.
Under new leadership, the Avs are sure to surprise everyone as serious playoff contenders in 2013.