The trite, but vital, mantra to keep one’s head on a swivel applies to a hockey team’s general manager just as much as it does to the players he employs. They are unremittingly tasked with sustaining stability on the roster in the present while planning potential acquisitions for the short-term future and scouting draft prospects for the long-term future.
Outside of planning for the draft, those other aspects of the GM job description press with extra intensity amidst this season’s unique sprinting marathon of 48 games in 99 days.
Each executive needs to keep up and keep tabs to avert any potholes that are more capable of sabotaging a team’s bid for the playoffs, home ice or first place more than they would be during a conventional 82-game campaign.
As it stands now, this regular season is barely one-third of the way finished and the trading deadline is still more than a month away. Nobody is technically out of the hunt for anything yet, but enough has happened for each club to get a read on what is working and what is not.
In addition, long-term needs must still be kept in mind to ensure that no pushes for a booster this regular season leave a franchise prone to an unnecessary mess later on. Some front offices may be better off taking a risk on this season by not taking one on next year and beyond.
Based on the states of their respective teams, here is what each NHL GM should make their immediate priority.
There is not much concerning the Ducks that requires extra supervision at the 15-game mark.
Entering their Sunday night tilt with the Colorado Avalanche, they had one of the NHL's most threatening and balanced strike forces, featuring three players with five goals, six with four and two with three. Of Anaheim's regular skaters, only two are in the red under the plus/minus heading.
Behind all of that, Viktor Fasth boasts an otherworldly transcript at 8-0-0 with a .933 save percentage and 1.78 goals-against average. Crease colleague Jonas Hiller has been decidedly less celestial in seven appearances, but can be trusted to restore stability if need be based on his 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.
One area that could stand to be spruced up is the penalty kill, which was third-to-last in the league entering Sunday's action at 74.1 percent. In case Murray does not witness sufficient improvement in that area, he should be looking out for any potential shorthanded specialists on the market.
Chiarelli knows what the bulk of his Bruins are capable of, seeing as 16 of the skaters who have dressed this season were on the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He should not feel as though he has much to shore up outside of one of the third-line wings.
Chris Bourque, Jay Pandolfo or Ryan Spooner could (emphasis on "could") fit the position well enough. But come playoff time, it would be best to pen an insurance policy and reel in one proven forward who is also in more promising shape to perform in the postseason.
The journeyman Bourque and the rookie Spooner are both uncertain in the way of competitive capacity for the NHL playoffs. The 38-year-old Pandolfo does have a pair of championship rings from 2000 and 2003, but may be too washed up at this point.
In the wake of head coach Lindy Ruff's abrupt dismissal, and with 29 dates left on the 48-game schedule, Regier should not wait until the deadline nears to finalize his 2012-13 roster for the homestretch.
It does not matter if this edition of the Sabres ultimately proves to be a lost cause and/or if interim skipper Ron Rolston proves to be nothing more than just that. Regier needs to figure out how his padded personnel are going to look now and later, which means the remainder of this season, playoffs or not, is the time to set a tone for 2013-14.
Even if they ultimately fall short again, Feaster just might retain his job if he puts forth a team that can verify its valiance over the next two-thirds of 2012-13. Times like this call for no pucks to be left unturned.
If listening to any potential trade requests for the likes of Jarome Iginla and aggressively taking a comprehensive return package is what it takes, Feaster should keep it on the table.
There are those, such as Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, who believe Iginla is starting to lag, but that trend is more likely owed to the team he is playing on. After all, the captain is the Flames' leading playmaker and second-best point-getter, but is being rewarded with a toil to stay out of the basement.
Feaster needs to be open to a possible move in March that can benefit both parties, namely one that sends Iginla to a contender and allows a new-look Flames team to start jelling with a reasonable amount of time left in this season.
Even without the injuries to Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen that necessitated Ryan Murphy’s promotion from major junior, the Hurricanes could stand to bolster their blue line from a quality standpoint.
From Joe Corvo to Justin Faulk to Jamie McBain, the Hurricanes are dense with defensemen who are generally described as offensive specialists. They are all summed up as such by The Hockey News, just to name one analytical source.
Could they get by with those players and the rest of the current brigade when everyone is healthy? Possibly. But to enhance Carolina’s chances of returning to the playoffs and sticking around, Rutherford ought to at least consider renting a more reputedly defensive backliner.
The Blackhawks entered Sunday's action undefeated at 14-0-3 and have been flaunting enviable depth at every position.
Seven of those depth contributors, including four forwards, two defensemen and goalie Ray Emery, are all due to hit free agency this summer. Whether the performances of those seven players is related to the fact that they are playing for extensions cannot be scientifically confirmed, but barring drastic changes in course, Bowman might as well withhold any extensions until after the season.
Sherman and Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco are both in their fourth seasons at their respective posts. So far, their high point has been their first year, when they enjoyed a 26-point improvement on the team they inherited and returned Colorado to the playoffs.
The Avs were dislodged from the bracket in the opening round and have seen no postseason action since. As obvious as it might sound, the topmost ice chip of advice for Sherman in 2012-13 is to, two-year extension from last April aside, plug in the coaching hot seat for the first time.
Less than two weeks into his tenure, Kekalainen is presented with a team that is dead-last in the Western Conference. Furthermore, his placement in the GM position marks another major shift for this perennially luckless franchise on the heels of the Rick Nash trade last summer.
With the Blue Jackets having missed the last three postseasons, finishing fifth in their division each time, Kekalainen's hiring should be taken as nothing short of a calling to reform the team's identity. The remainder of this season should not be thrown away, but player and coaching moves may be in order for this summer regardless of how valiant the current Jackets are in the next two months.
At the end of last month, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News openly envisioned the Stars going into potential fire-sale mode if they were to fall too far away from realistic postseason contention.
The Stars are currently tinkering on the critical borderline in the standings. Rather than wait to start dealing until it appears too late, Nieuwendyk should consider earlier transactions circa mid-March if it means giving the current group a boost en route to improved 2013 playoff odds.
Although the here and now is the most pressing matter at hand, there is no reason why the Red Wings should not give the not-too-distant future a substantive part in the present.
Holland’s Wings are facing postseason uncertainty brought on, in part, by an incessant and widespread injury bug. Two authoritative sources, namely TSN and The Hockey News, each have seven players currently on the Detroit disabled list.
If need be and if practical enough, Holland will certainly want to make external transactions to bolster the wounded roster. At the same time, though, he should also embrace the potential long-term benefit of baptismal fire and give such youngsters as forward Gustav Nyquist, defenseman Brendan Smith (when healthy) and even goalie Petr Mrazek a look.
Mark Fistric has been a decent acquisition from Dallas, retaining a plus-three rating through his first 11 games as an Oiler.
That aside, the Edmonton defense could still use a facelift, preferably in the form of veteran presence. The current 30-somethings on that portion of the roster, particularly the inactive Andy Sutton, are not cutting it and it is showing in that the Oilers have allowed 2.65 goals per game, along with a nightly average of 33.4 opposing shots.
Enough with piling on forwards with the first overall draft pick. Time to start clearing the zone and giving those forwards more chances to deliver results.
Depending on how Jacob Markstrom performs as he gets his chances in the Panthers crease, Tallon ought to consider capitalizing on his goaltending surplus to help shore up his stable of skaters. Journeyman backup Scott Clemmensen would be the logical choice of export in hopes of gaining a little more scoring depth or blue-line stability in exchange.
Either way, instant gratification or not, Markstrom might as well be given more NHL experience now so as to season him for his presumptive rise to the starting job.
This season's Kings' roster is virtually identical to the one that won the Cup last spring. With the lockout delaying the defense of their title, it seemed that having this full a breadth of holdovers for once would pay immediate dividends for the reigning champions.
So much for that. Better rested than their champion predecessors or not, the Kings are sitting outside of the playoff picture (albeit with games in hand) at the one-third mark of 2012-13.
There is nothing wrong with retaining the bulk of a group that brought one's franchise to the pinnacle of success. Even so, Lombardi should relinquish the notion that a man-for-man copy of the 2012 roster will be the key to duplicating success and initiate a fresh spark of stimulus by swapping out any chronic underperformers before the deadline.
In his fourth season with the Wild, Fletcher is strapped for financial breathing room after going all-out on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Any roster tweaks he makes for the balance of this season will need to be done delicately and, therefore, with incredible forward thought.
The recently struggling Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who is approaching free agency and has the priciest cap hit ($4.08 million) among Minnesota skaters without a no-trade clause, is all but a sacrificial solution waiting to happen.
There is not much to complain about and not much to address in the early stages of the GM-coach tandem of Bergevin and Michel Therrien. The Canadiens have two extra NHL-caliber forwards and two extra defensemen on their roster and 21 of those 22 skaters have been in on a 12-4-2 start.
No need to mess with this anytime in the near future. The only conceivable change one could suggest for this season is the addition of another veteran forward in exchange for someone along the lines of Tomas Kaberle or Petteri Nokelainen.
But that is only if rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk are not deemed ready to take on the full rigor of a potentially lengthy playoff run in their first season. It will not hurt to keep an eye on those two as this grind of a compressed season continues and decide if reinforcement is needed before April 3.
Can the Predators, second-round losers in each of the last two seasons, finally get past the halfway mark of the playoffs? Even with a strike force that is currently last in the league with 1.95 goals per game and has been shut out five times already in 2013?
Poile could continue to bank on an ensemble cast coming through at the right moments, or he could pursue an upgrade. The latter approach grows increasingly attractive after the Preds were just blanked on back-to-back nights by Vancouver and Detroit.
Let's see here. In recent memory alone, the Devils have finished first in the Atlantic four times in five years (between 2006 and 2010) and then bounced back from a fluky playoff no-show with first-year skipper Peter DeBoer steering them to the Stanley Cup Finals.
So far in DeBoer's second season, New Jersey is making as sound a case as anybody to claim the top seed in their division once more. He has an appreciably balanced strike force building on a 2011-12 campaign that no doubt replenished many observers' faith in the long-tenured Lamoriello.
This is one case where perhaps the best suggestion to the boss is to just go ahead and keep proving why he has lasted more than a quarter of a century in his position.
If more roster moves are deemed necessary to salvage any hope and dignity for 2013, Snow must walk a delicate path between caution and effectiveness. The last thing he wants, other than a sixth straight postseason no-show, is to overhaul the roster, never mind the coaching staff, too rapidly.
In that unfavorable event, it would be stunning if higher-ups did not conclude that the organization's next change must occur in the GM's office.
Prized offseason import Rick Nash has missed the last three games due to injury and it is not the first time he has sat out for health reasons this season. During the lockout, he had a momentary shoulder ailment while playing in Switzerland.
In light of the repeated injuries, even if they are unrelated, Sather should be working to add one or two pieces of dependable secondary scoring for the homestretch and playoffs.
Last summer, Nash appeared to be the key piece that would nudge the Rangers into the finals. But the way they are structured right now, losing Nash or any other piece of the top six could derail their hopes of returning to the Eastern Conference championship, let alone getting past that round.
Any responsible analyst will be apt to note that, despite the losses on the roster, the Sens are not sufficiently losing in the standings to go anywhere near surrender mode yet. If they hold up, it may be best for their sake to keep the likes of Alfredsson in an effort to build on last year's pleasant surprise.
On the other hand, if hopes for a 2013 playoff passport begin to dissolve too much, Murray needs to be ready to listen to offers and ensure that he gets proper compensation for Alfredsson or any other trade bait.
The latest check of TSN's online injury report has eight Flyers on the wounded list, many of them looking like they will be out for a protracted period.
Meanwhile, no doubt as a byproduct of those numerous injuries, the Flyers' page on capgeek.com has an overload of rostered skaters, reducing them to zero cap space for this season and a mere $2,225,119 projected for 2013-14.
Both of those figures should naturally improve once players return to action and replacements are sent back to the minors. Nonetheless, this should have Holmgren carefully contemplating which pending free agents are worth keeping and how much room can be made for new short-term and long-term acquisitions within this season and during the summer.
Right now, outside of the runaway Anaheim team, the Pacific Division is in gridlock, which renders the Coyotes' outlook mixed. It could be worse, but there could be more comfort as well.
Based on the standings and the stat sheet, not much needs to change at this time, but Maloney needs to be sure he has a read on who is expendable in case an extra piece needs to be added at the last moment for good measure. From this vantage point, a front-running candidate for sacrifice is Steve Sullivan, whose defensive prowess has been unspectacular and whose output has come in brief bunches and predominantly on the power play.
Both they and arguably Deryk Engelland are worth keeping locked in based on the past and present capabilities they have flexed within the organization. But Pittsburgh's persistent defensive difficulties call for Shero to keep the rest of the blue-line brigade on the bubble between now and the trade deadline.
Barring satisfying improvement, Shero ought to consider a move similar to the one that imported Hal Gill in 2008.
The defending Central Division champion Blues were fourth in the Western Conference as of Sunday morning. Not quite where they were at the conclusion of 2011-12, but hardly an alarming falter, especially with 30 games still to come this regular season.
Regardless, this club's core, complete with head coach Ken Hitchcock, still has yet to go for a full-length 82-game ride together. Hitchcock came aboard at the one-month, 13-game mark of last season and there will only be 48 contests this year.
Accordingly, while he need not abstain from making tweaks altogether, Armstrong should be careful not to give up too many pieces of his winning foundation. There is no cause to believe anything other than that these Hitchcock-led Blues are on a favorable path.
This is the fifth season of Todd McLellan's reign as head coach, which began when Wilson hired him in June 2008. That was after Ron Wilson had been let go in the wake of four failed attempts to get the Sharks to the final round of the playoffs despite three seasons of points in the triple digits and a 99-point campaign.
Under McLellan, the Sharks have twice been to the third round, losing each time in a combined nine games, and twice lost in the first round.
This season, Doug Wilson has installed a rather accomplished NHL head coach in Larry Robinson as McLellan's associate.
It is safe to assume that that move was meant to shore up the staff as a whole. But if McLellan continues to oversee untimely underachievement, no one should fault Wilson if he considers pulling a Lamoriello from 2000.
Considering the moves the Lightning made in the offseason, most notably the acquisitions of goaltender Anders Lindback and defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo, their poor efficiency so far boggles the mind.
As a team, the Bolts are averaging more than three goals-against per night. The majority of their skaters (owing in part to their abundant offensive output) are in the plus/minus black, but Lindback's netminding numbers are nothing to boast about.
Tampa is taking a shape not unlike that of the aforementioned Penguins last year. Pittsburgh crashed and burned in the first round when it relied on offensive sugar rushes to compensate for a flimsy blue line and inexplicably poor goaltending by Marc-Andre Fleury.
In turn, Yzerman should take a lesson from that team and consider nudging out Mathieu Garon and seeking a stronger backup to challenge Lindback.
As of Sunday, the Maple Leafs are safely lodged in seventh place in the Eastern Conference at 11-8-0. But remember that they were 28-19-6 and sixth in the conference on Feb. 6 of last season, only to finish 35-37-10 in a homestretch marred by meltdowns on defense.
There may not be many signs of trouble at the moment, but Nonis ought to know not to be prematurely satisfied. Toronto’s current crop of players should be repeatedly reminded that if they do not retain or enhance their pace, the new GM will not hesitate to try someone new.
At 10-3-1 entering Sunday's action, and with their 8-3 loss to Detroit presumably a fluke, the state of the two-time defending President's Trophy-winning Canucks has hardly changed. The topmost concern remains translating regular-season success to the depths of springtime.
Gillis needs to pursue more bottom-six scoring that can supplement the Sedins and other normally dependable forwards. He also should not shy away from relinquishing one of his netminders in order to attain those critical skating pieces.
The Capitals have gone 4-2-0 since starting at an insufferable 2-8-1.
McPhee, who is going on 16 years in his position, needs to hope there is more where Alexander Ovechkin's Saturday hat trick came from. He should also keep monitoring the goalie guild of Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, whose stats still look shabby with a pair of goals-against averages exceeding 3.00 and sub-.900 save percentages.
If stability is not established and playoff hopes start melting, McPhee will need to be ready to act promptly. Holtby and Neuvirth, in particular, could otherwise bring on the end of his tenure by making the export of veteran Tomas Vokoun to Pittsburgh look like a mistake.
Starting on Tuesday, the misplaced Jets will play the remaining 30 games on their schedule in a span of 59 days. That will include 14 road contests all in the Eastern Time Zone and 10 cases of a home and away game being separated by only a single travel day.
The weekend's news of a potential realignment has to be uplifting for all concerned with Winnipeg. And while their current arrangement in the Southeast Division should not be used as an excuse, it can be understood as a circumstance beyond the Jets' control.
In that vein, Cheveldayoff will need to accept the potent possibility of another uphill struggle for his team, but should still do his part to fight for every attainable point. If there is anything worth addressing on his end right now, it is Winnipeg's league-worst penalty kill, which is languishing with 69 percent success.