7 Teams Facing a Make or Break Season in 2013
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The Los Angeles Kings satisfied themselves and their fans when they roared through the playoffs last spring and raised the Stanley Cup after beating the New Jersey Devils in the Finals.
While head coach Darryl Sutter would love nothing more than to win the Stanley Cup again this season, it would not be the end of the world for the Kings if they didn't do it.
The Kings got their satisfaction last year, just as the Boston Bruins did the year before. The Bruins lost in the first round last spring to the Washington Capitals. While that loss hurt head coach Claude Julien and captain Zdeno Chara, it did not appear to be the end of the world.
This year, there are several teams that must make significant progress during the truncated 2013 season.
Here's a look at seven teams who are in the middle of make-or-break seasons in 2013.
The clock is ticking for the Buffalo Sabres.
More specifically, time is racing for head coach Lindy Ruff. The Sabres missed the playoffs last season and have been on the outside looking in for three of the last five years.
Ruff has been coaching the Sabres since the start of the 1997-98 season. He has only endured one losing season. However, the Sabres are in last place in the Eastern Conference as of Feb. 14 and they have failed to play consistently at any point this season despite the presence of high-scoring winger Thomas Vanek.
The Sabres tried to get tougher and grittier by bringing in Steve Ott and John Scott during the offseason, but the team appears to have taken a step backwards.
If the Sabres don't straighten themselves out and get back to the playoffs this year and perhaps win at least one round, it could be difficult for Ruff to maintain his position.
The Blackhawks have gotten off to a stellar start. They haven't lost a game in regulation as of Feb. 14 and they are playing an aggressive, puck-possession game that is allowing them to dominate the early part of the schedule.
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, but they have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in each of the last two years.
There's pressure on head coach Joel Quenneville to take this team much further this year. If the Blackhawks can maintain their early success and have a long run in the playoffs, this team should survive.
However, if they peter out and lose another first-round series, wholesale changes are quite likely.
The Stars have failed to make the playoffs in any of the last four seasons.
General manager Joe Nieuwendyk went all in during the offseason, bringing in 40-year-old free agents Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney to upgrade the team's offense.
While the Stars like head coach Glen Gulutzan, the heat is on during his second season behind the bench. The same holds true for Nieuwendyk, who has not made the playoffs during his tenure.
The Stars are off to a solid start and if the season ended Feb. 14, the Stars would be in the playoffs. However, their hold on a playoff position is tenuous and they have a lot of work to do if they are going to advance this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed like they were one of the most explosive young teams in the NHL two years ago.
They had explosive scorer Steven Stamkos, veteran Martin St. Louis and solid Vincent Lecavalier leading the way and they won two rounds in the playoffs and made it to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals before they lost a scintillating 1-0 game to the Boston Bruins and went home for the summer.
However, instead of picking up from where they left off, they did not even make the playoffs.
One of the issues was a lack of defense and goaltending.
The Lightning added defenseman Sami Salo and goaltender Anders Lindback to get better in those areas. If Tampa Bay does not make the playoffs this year, head coach Guy Boucher may find it difficult to keep his position and coach this team again next year.
San Jose Sharks
How many more years do the San Jose Sharks have left to be considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders?
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, many thought the Sharks had slipped too much and were no longer in that category.
But the Sharks started with a 7-0-0 record as Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton came out and dominated in the early going.
They have slowed down quite a bit, but that kind of start indicates that head coach Todd McLellan's team still has plenty of firepower.
Is it enough to get going again and then carry the Sharks a long way in the playoffs? If it's not and they flame out early, the current version of the Sharks will likely be broken up.
New York Rangers
The heat on the New York Rangers is incredible this season.
They were clear-cut favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals last year after finishing the regular season with the No. 1 seed.
The Rangers struggled in the postseason. They lost the Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Devils, but that wasn't the entire story. They were extended to seven games by the Ottawa Senators and the Washington Capitals in the first two rounds.
The Rangers added Rick Nash in the offseason to improve their goal-scoring ability and they started the season as a solid Stanley Cup contender.
Head coach John Tortorella appears to have everything he needs to win hockey's ultimate prize.
They have been struggling in the early going. If they can't turn it around quickly, the New York fans will let the Rangers know in no uncertain terms that they are quite disappointed.
Surely, general manager Jay Feaster knows that it is now or never for the current version of the Calgary Flames.
Star forward Jarome Iginla is a free agent at the end of this season, while goalie Miikka Kiprusoff will be a free agent at the end of the 2013-14 season.
The Flames appear to be a mediocre team that would have little chance of advancing if they managed to make the playoffs this season. That scenario seems unlikely.
This is a team that will almost certainly go through major changes in the offseason as it tries to prepare for the future.
The Flames have not made the playoffs since the 2008-09 season. They haven't won a series in the playoffs since they got to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003-04.