NHL Teams with More Long-Term Questions Than Answers
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Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins are preparing for the 2013 postseason. They know when they get through the final three-plus weeks of the regular season, they have a playoff season at hand that could result in great triumph and a celebratory parade in their cities.
General managers Stan Bowman and Ray Shero can feel good about the future as well. While all teams will have moves to make in the offseason, both teams are loaded with talent and have a successful game plan in place.
Most teams cannot match the Blackhawks and Penguins. Some have a lot more long-term questions than answers.
Here's a look at the teams with the most questions going forward.
There are few teams in sports that have the loyal fanbase of the Calgary Flames.
Those fans have not seen a playoff game since 2008-09 and haven't had a memorable playoff run since getting to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003-04.
The Flames finally acknowledged that they didn't have a playoff-caliber team when they traded superstar Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to the St. Louis Blues.
General manager Jay Feaster knows that the team has a lot of rebuilding to do. The Flames are without an identity right now. Feaster has to establish a legitimate strength and build around it. There's a lot of mediocrity on the roster but not much talent.
At the start of the season, the Buffalo Sabres appeared to be in a strong position to challenge the Boston Bruins for Northeast Division superiority.
However, with the season reaching the home stretch, that assessment was incorrect, and the Sabres have few strengths. They are clearly the worst of the Northeast Division teams, 10 points behind the fourth-placed Toronto Maple Leafs.
Head coach Lindy Ruff was fired, and there's a lot of pressure on Darcy Regier. He has to find a new permanent coach, as Ron Rolston is the interim coach at this point.
The Sabres traded key players like Robyn Regehr and Jason Pominville prior to the trade deadline, and the team is now in the rebuilding mode. While Thomas Vanek is one of the league's most skilled offensive players, the Sabres have to decide whether to move him in the offseason or let him play out the remaining year on his contract, since he will be a free agent after the 2013-14 season.
The same holds for Ryan Miller. Both Vanek and Miller may ask to be traded so they can play for a contending team in the future.
The Dallas Stars had high hopes at the start of the season. They brought in veterans Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney during free agency and traded for Derek Roy of the Buffalo Sabres with the thought that they would get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
The Stars were quite competitive in a number of games, but they were not able to turn that battle level into points in the standings. General manager Joe Nieuwendyk made a questionable move when he traded Michael Ryder to the Montreal Canadiens for Erik Cole in February.
By the trade deadline, Nieuwendyk moved Jagr (to the Boston Bruins) and Roy (to the Vancouver Canucks). The Stars have a lot of questions about their future, beginning with Nieuwendyk and head coach Glen Gulutzan.
While Kari Lehtonen is fairly solid in goal, the Stars are going to have to go through the rebuilding process and will have to use the draft choices they received in the trades of Jagr and Roy to get there.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have a mounting list of questions that will have to be answered.
General manager Lou Lamoriello is perhaps the best man in the league to answer these questions, but he has a difficult job nonetheless.
The biggest question hanging over the franchise has to do with the financial situation. Will the Devils be in a position to sign free agents—their own and others—at the end of the season?
What will they do in goal once Martin Brodeur decides to hang up his equipment? David Clarkson is one of the most well-rounded players in the league and his career is on the rise. Will he even consider re-signing with the Devils?
This team made it to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago but lost Zach Parise in the offseason, and the future is not bright.
The questions surrounding the Coyotes franchise are long and never-ending.
Who will own this team? Will the team ever find solvent leadership?
Will they remain in the desert? If they don't, will they move to Seattle and remain in the Western Conference, or will they go to an NHL-hungry area like Quebec City?
If they move to an Eastern Canadian city, what will happen to the league's recent realignment?
On the ice, the Coyotes are on the outside looking in at the playoffs as of April 5, but they are close to the line and could make it to the postseason.
The Coyotes have some talented key players, particularly on the blue line where they are led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
However, the questions hanging over the franchise are all-encompassing, and there are few solutions in sight.
The Florida Panthers surprised a lot of observers when they won the Southeast Division title last year.
They had an impressive first round in the playoffs, losing to the New Jersey Devils in double overtime of the seventh game.
But this year, the Panthers are mired in last place in the Eastern Conference.
That's not necessarily a place they will reside in the future. The question is whether last year's division championship was the fluke, or is it this year's last-place showing that is the function of bad luck.
The Panthers have had a slew of injuries—including losing Stephen Weiss (wrist) and Kris Versteeg (knee) for the full season—that have doomed this team.
General manager Dale Tallon has to decide whether this team has enough talent to rebound next year or whether a full rebuild is in order.