5 NHL Teams That Need to Blow Up the Roster and Start over Right Now
There are many ways to rebuild an NHL franchise that has come upon hard times.
In some instances, a big free-agent signing or a big trade will do the trick. Adding the right player or players changes the team's chemistry and talent level, which can lead to a new attitude and a better product on the ice.
In other instances, however, a bigger rebuild is needed. A team needs to make bigger changes, move some core players and "blow up" the roster.
Here is a look at five NHL teams that presently need to (or are already in the midst of making) make major changes to their rosters if they hope to become contenders again.
Feel free to comment on any teams you feel I may have missed and explain why you feel they belong.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are already in the midst of blowing up their roster.
The club finished dead last in the standings last season, and then traded its best player and all-time leading scorer in Rick Nash.
In return, the Jackets got three younger players in Tim Erixon, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky and a first-round draft pick.
With John Davidson now involved in the team's management, more changes and rebuilding are likely.
The process has just begun, but the Blue Jackets and their fans are hopeful that the process is underway and will lead to better times for this franchise in the future.
Toronto Maple Leafs
No NHL team has a longer playoff drought than the Toronto Maple Leafs. The last time this Original Six franchise qualified for the playoffs was 2003-04.
Say what you want about recently fired GM Brian Burke, he did one great thing for the Maple Leafs: He provided future salary cap flexibility. As of now, the Leafs have just four players under contract for the 2014-15 season.
It's not that there aren't useful players on the roster right now in Toronto, it's just that there aren't enough of them to make a contending team.
As for prospects, there are some future NHLers in the system, but the overall situation is not great. The Hockey News ranked the Leafs' prospects 20th out of 30 NHL teams in their 2012-13 yearbook.
Look for major changes in Toronto over the next few seasons as this club looks to end its recent record of futility. Goaltending and defensive defensemen remain particular needs for the Leafs.
The Calgary Flames continue to confound many outsiders by their refusal to strip down their team and rebuild.
Right now, Calgary's two best players are Jarome Iginla (35), and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff (36). Iginla's contract expires this summer, while Kiprusoff is signed through the end of the 2013-14 season.
Calgary's pool of prospects is routinely considered one of the weakest in the league. The Hockey News Yearbook ranked them 29th in the league prior to the start of this season with only Sven Baertschi (already in Calgary) and this year's top pick Mark Jankowski, considered potential future stars.
The Flames management, led by GM Jay Feaster, continues to try to sign free agents like Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler in an attempt to squeeze into the eighth playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.
A complete rebuild would be better for this franchise in the long run. It could start by trading away older players like Iginla and Kiprusoff for draft picks and/or prospects while they still have value. It may not be popular with fans in the short run, but it would benefit the franchise and those same fans in the long run.
The Flames biggest rivals, the Edmonton Oilers, have followed the total rebuild model and are now stocked with a stable of young forwards that are the envy of many teams across the league. The Flames would do well by following the Oilers' lead.
Perhaps a total rebuild is a bit too strong, but the Washington Capitals need some serious fine tuning if they are to return to their previous winning ways.
The Caps have been a team unsure of its identity in recent seasons. Bruce Boudreau led the Caps to four straight division titles but never got them deep into the playoffs.
Boudreau originally played an aggressive offensive system but changed that in 2010-11 in an attempt to make his team to play a style that would help them win in the playoffs.
Players like Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green did not thrive under the new system and, according to GM George McPhee, Boudreau lost his team.
He was replaced by Dale Hunter last season, who tried to make team more responsible defensively but also clashed with Ovechkin at times. The Caps reached the second round of the playoffs and almost upset the Rangers, but Hunter stepped down at the end of the playoffs and was replaced by Adam Oates.
Oates was at a big disadvantage because of the lockout. As a new coach, he had a limited training camp and no exhibition games to get a feel for his players and implement his new system.
The result is a painfully slow start to the season and a 2-8-1 record in the club's first 11 games.
The Capitals need not panic, but Oates needs time to sort out which players fit into his system well and which do not. Once he does that, there may be more changes in Washington than was expected before the season started.
Don't be surprised if one or more big names are headed elsewhere as the Caps find their new identity and make their roster a better fit for their coach.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings aren't ready for a total rebuild yet, but they are further along in that process than many people thought they were.
Detroit has qualified for the playoffs for 21 consecutive seasons, an incredible record of long-term success. The Red Wings have also retooled while continuing to win many times during that time period, although the modern salary cap makes it that much tougher to do today.
Since the end of last season, the Red Wings lost Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom to retirement, Jiri Hudler to free agency and traded Brad Stuart to San Jose.
Many of their best players are older. Pavel Datsyuk is 34, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg are 32 and Todd Bertuzzi is 38. Even role players like Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Cleary are on the wrong side of 30.
Detroit still has time to see how younger players like Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar and Damien Brunner develop before it makes major changes, but it looks like Detroit is a team in transition and that it may struggle to reach the playoffs for a 22nd straight time.
If these younger players do not become stars or at least very good players, the Wings may need to make some substantial changes in the near future if they hope to remain among the league's elite.