The Biggest Improvement Each NHL Team Needs to Make This Offseason
The first round of the 2013 NHL playoffs is starting to wrap up, but that doesn't mean it's too early to look ahead at what each and every team should concentrate on during the offseason to improve.
Between the draft, free-agency period and training camps, a lot of important choices are made when there isn't any NHL hockey happening out on the ice—when all the action is reserved for board rooms and luncheons.
What separates good teams from the rest of the pack is the ability to identify holes in the lineup and then fill them without overspending. It looks simple on paper, but more than one team in the NHL seems to struggle with the process.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Commit to Bobby Ryan or move him.
Ryan has been the subject of trade rumors for the Anaheim Ducks for a season or two now, and the time has come for the franchise to really decide the future of the four-time 30-goal scorer with the team.
Things haven't always been peachy between player and team, but things seemingly came to a head last June when Ryan told the Camden, N.J., Courier-Post that he'd prefer to be traded, and that his destination would preferably be Philadelphia.
Unless Ryan switches to defense, a move to the Flyers seems unlikely, though anything is possible with Flyers GM Paul Holmgren involved.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Re-sign Nathan Horton, extend Tuukka Rask.
The Boston Bruins are set up well moving forward. The core of the team will remain largely intact, as Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg are all locked up for the forseeable future.
While they have the depth to lose Horton, he's been outstanding with Krejci and Lucic through the first round of the playoffs so far. His health has frequently been an issue, but when he's on the ice he's a bruising, prototypical Bruins forward who would be tough to replace.
Rask, of course, is the goaltender of the present and future for Boston. He cemented himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL in 2013 and will be an RFA at the end of next year. GM Peter Chiarelli has shown his willingness to extend players well before their contract expires—look for Rask to join the aforementioned group of locked-up core guys in the near future.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Stick to the rebuild and trade Ryan Miller.
In April the story broke that Ryan Miller had put his townhouse in Buffalo on the market—not exactly a vote of confidence that he'll be back with the Buffalo Sabres in 2014. (per the Buffalo News)
He had a Patrick Roy-like moment toward the end of the season when he responded to a sarcastic cheer by the hometown crowd after making an easy save with a wave. The crowd seemingly got to Miller, and Miller has seemingly got to the crowd.
Miller has provided more good than bad during his time in Buffalo, but sometimes to successfully rebuild, a team has to move out a few staple veterans. That's the case with Miller here, and the Sabres would do themselves well to get this issue taken care of before the start of the season, preventing what would surely amount to a circus.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Draft well and let the kids continue to play.
The Calgary Flames finally gave way to the inevitable rebuild. Key veterans such as Jarome Iginla were moved at the deadline for futures, and the young players were given a late-season chance to shine.
Both Sven Baertschi and Roman Cervenka responded to the extra ice time with strong performances, and center Mikael Backlund started to cash in on his promise a bit as well.
The prospect pipeline isn't exactly brimming with talent, and the Flames will need to draft well in 2013—especially in the first round where they have a handful of picks to play with. No Mark Jankowski-type selections. Calgary needs to get the strongest players on the board and start building toward becoming a steady NHL team.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Get better defensively.
The Carolina Hurricanes had issues with health during the 2013 season, and it was reflected in their poor record. After trading for Jordan Staal and signing free agent Alex Semin, some better things were expected of this team.
Instead, they sank all the way to 13th in the Eastern Conference.
To be better in 2014, they'll need to be stronger in their own end. A healthy Cam Ward would go a long way toward making that happen. Justin Faulk continuing to improve would be a boon as well. An under-the-radar kind of free-agent signing could be helpful as well.
The 'Canes don't need to lure a big name. Just a steady defender in the mold of Johnny Boychuk of the Boston Bruins or Marc Staal of the New York Rangers.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Stay the course.
When you are largely the best team in hockey for a season, you get to say "this is working." If the Chicago Blackhawks make the kind of noise they want to in the playoffs this year, the main concern could be kicking a Stanley Cup hangover.
With a core of players that includes Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and a scouting team that manages to secure guys like Brandon Saad, the future looks good in Chicago.
Corey Crawford has removed the doubts that he is a starting goalie in the NHL, and the team has been clicking all year long. Anything short of a Cup will be deemed a disappointment, but this is a team that is set up well for the future.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Find a veteran coach and draft Seth Jones.
There are several moves that the Colorado Avalanche could make to get better over the offseason, and almost all of them boil down to different ways to change the culture in the locker room.
Drafting Seth Jones will be a huge boost for this once-proud franchise. Players like this don't come along very often, and the fact that he fell in love with hockey by watching Avalanche games makes this fit all the better.
He'll anchor the blue line for the next 10 to 15 years and be a cultural icon in the sport if he reaches his potential.
Bringing in a veteran coach to install better systems and a must-win attitude would also go a long way for this talented but underachieving squad.
Columbus Blue Jackets
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Find room for Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray.
The Columbus Blue Jackets almost pulled off what no one thought possible after they traded Rick Nash—they almost made the playoffs
It came down to the last day of the regular season, and the Jackets needed the Minnesota Wild to lose to the Colorado Avalanche. That didn't happen, but the sour taste should fade quickly as Columbus looks forward to 2014.
Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray are likely ready to make their NHL debuts. Murray would have a season under his belt if not for season-ending surgery before the first puck was even dropped (per ESPN.com).
He projects as a top-pairing defender and will be an excellent piece on a strong blue line that already includes James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson and Dalton Prout.
Jenner, on the other hand, spent his final season putting up stellar numbers in the OHL (82 points in 52 games) and hasn't looked out of place in the AHL. He's a physical presence and will fit in nicely among the other hardworking forwards on this team.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Steady the management ship and let the young players play.
Most onlookers assumed that the season was done for the Dallas Stars when they traded Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy at the trade deadline.
Instead of fading fast and competing for a high draft selection, the Stars went on to play their best hockey of the year.
Jagr's influence had changed the way Dallas tried to play the game. Once he was gone, they were able to shift to a more north-south game that benefited the forwards on the team greatly.
This is Jamie Benn's team now. Brenden Dillon has evolved into an excellent defender, and players such as Radek Faksa are coming down the line.
The Stars need to resist the temptation to load up on veterans, and instead let their young players take control of this team.
Grabbing Jim Nill from the Detroit Red Wings' front office was an outstanding move and is also worthy of note here.
Detroit Red Wings
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Let some veterans walk and find room for Damien Brunner, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist in the regular lineup.
Dan Cleary, Drew Miller and Ian White have all be outstanding Detroit Red Wings during their time wearing the Winged Wheel. That doesn't change the fact that they need to be allowed to walk so that the Wings can free up enough cash to re-sign valuable young free agents.
The dynamite "third line" of Brunner, Andersson and Nyquist all will require new deals—Brunner will be a free agent, while Andersson and Nyquist are both restricted.
Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl also need new contracts. Looking at this slate of names, it's easy to see why Detroit GM Ken Holland has guarded his cap space so carefully.
What they do with Valtteri Filppula will garner most of the offseason press, but the choices to keep the rest of the young guys under contract outweighs the Filppula situation in importance by a wide margin.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Work on faceoffs.
Even the most talented forwards in the NHL can't score when they don't have the puck. That was the case in 2013 for the Edmonton Oilers, when the likes of Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Jordan Eberle spent the majority of their shifts chasing the puck down instead of applying pressure in the offensive zone.
The Oilers were the worst faceoff team in hockey, starting with the puck just 46 percent of the time.
That means that more than half of the time, the talented Edmonton forwards were chasing the play instead of pushing it. By the time they get the puck back, more often than not it's time to take the red line and dump it in for a change.
Not a recipe for success, especially when a strong attack is supposed to be the team's bread and butter.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Eat a bad short season, draft an elite talent and get healthy.
Casual onlookers may glance at the record of the Florida Panthers from 2013, make an "I told you so" proclamation about how 2012 was a fluke, and then go about their day.
They'd be wrong in leaving this team for dead, however.
The Panthers were decimated by injuries and were forced to ice an AHL-caliber team for long stretches of time over the season. The extra minutes for future stars such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Jacob Markstrom will pay off down the road, and they'll be better in 2014 than they were in 2013.
Florida will have its pick between Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and will continue to build for the future with Dale Tallon at the helm as the GM.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Turn Jonathan Bernier into an asset via trade.
Jonathan Quick is not only the best goaltending option for the L.A. Kings, but he is also one of the very best netminders in all of hockey. Few can match his big-game intensity, and he has already led the Kings to a Cup.
Bernier is a luxury to be sure. However, it may be time to turn arguably the best backup netminder in the league into another kind of asset. Whether it be a roster player, prospect or a pick isn't important. What is important is finding a way to improve elsewhere while moving a seldom-used goalie.
There are multiple teams looking for a starter right now, and L.A. could cash in by moving Bernier. They shouldn't move him just to move him, but exploring each and every option would be wise.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Take a deep breath and get ready for rapid improvement.
The Minnesota Wild barely made the playoffs this season, and were the first team eliminated after facing a fired-up and talented Chicago Blackhawks squad. They need to learn the needed lessons from that series and then move on.
While the sting of 2013 may still be swollen a bit, the core guys on this roster know that they weren't brought in to win this year. They were brought in to compete for the Stanley Cup across several years, and to win it more than once.
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are both in their primes, while Jonas Brodin quickly evolved into a top-pairing defender at the age of 19. Mikael Granlund will also be back in the NHL next season, and he will be better.
This is a team that will have a quick turnaround and should be much improved in 2014.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Re-sign Michael Ryder.
The Montreal Canadiens were one of the feel-good stories in the NHL this season, as they went from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the better ones.
Carey Price suddenly became average over the last six weeks of the season and playoffs, and the end result was a series loss to the Ottawa Senators. They don't have many question marks heading into next season, as much of the same roster will be in place for 2014.
They one guy that they need to re-sign is Michael Ryder. After he was traded from the Dallas Stars, he went on a tear and was one of the most dangerous forwards for the Habs down the stretch.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Find offensive weapons. Any offensive weapons.
There wasn't a more anemic offensive team in the NHL this season than the Nashville Predators. The goaltending was still stellar, but the defense didn't have Ryan Suter around to bail the team out anymore, and it showed early and often.
The trade for Filip Forsberg likely signals a bit of a new direction for the Preds. He's one of the best prospects in hockey, and giving up Martin Erat for him will eventually look like a steal, especially if the Washington Capitals fails to advance beyond the first or second round.
Nashville has the fourth overall selection in the draft, and adding a player like Aleksander Barkov could turn out to be a huge boost moving forward.
Aside from the draft, picking through free agents may not always be Nashville's style, but if they can secure a few more goals by picking up a guy like Brad Boyes or Derek Roy, it would be helpful as well.
New Jersey Devils
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Make a move to prepare for life after Martin Brodeur.
There are several big choices to be made over the summer for the New Jersey Devils. Patrick Elias needs a new deal, and David Clarkson is also a free agent. While both of these moves will have an impact on the Devils, there isn't a departure that would leave this team in ruins.
Unless it was Martin Brodeur who was leaving. Then New Jersey would struggle mightily, even though the greatest Devil ever wasn't exactly outstanding this year.
It doesn't matter if his retirement happens in 2014, 2015 or 2016. Right now there is not a goaltender waiting in the wings to anchor this team in net. Sorry, but Johan Hedberg is not an option here.
New York Islanders
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Make way for Ryan Strome...and maybe upgrade in net.
The New York Islanders pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins to overtime in Game 6 of what many felt was a surprisingly competitive first-round matchup between the first seed and the eighth. That performance was just the tip of the iceberg for the Isles, as the cavalry will be arriving in a big way in 2014.
Ryan Strome is inbound.
Whether he winds up centering the second line or playing on a wing with John Tavares, the 19-year-old is the kind of player who can come into the league and make an impact at this point. He'll be an early favorite for the Calder Trophy and will give New York another outstanding young talent.
Replacing Evgeni Nabokov appears to be a must as well. He is arguably the reason the Islanders were ousted by the Penguins in the first round.
New York Rangers
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Settle on an identity.
Watching the New York Rangers shuffle and re-shuffle their deck over the last year or so has been mildly dizzying.
First, they didn't have enough pure goal-scoring talent, so they went out and traded for Rick Nash over the summer. Then they came to the realization that they were losing games because they were missing the depth they traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nash.
The answer was obviously to trade Marian Gaborik away to those same Jackets, thus reacquiring some of the depth they gave up for Nash in the first place.
This team needs to be allowed to settle in and find an identity again. When the Rangers are winning hockey games and being mentioned as Cup favorites, it's typically when they are playing stingy hockey—when they are laying down in front of everything while scoring timely goals.
New York has been all over the place over the last several months and really needs to be allowed the time to find an identity.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Consider investing in a lucky charm of some sort.
If Daniel Alfredsson decides that he has another year left in the tank, then he would likely be welcomed back with open arms by the Ottawa Senators.
Therefore the most important offseason priority for the Sens is finding a way to stay healthy. They lost their best player at every position for long stretches of time over the season, and one almost forgot how solid Ottawa could be when Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson were playing.
So a rabbit's foot of some kind perhaps? Maybe some kind of hex-removing voodoo (is that they way that works) on the locker room?
Whatever it takes.
If Ottawa is healthy in 2014, they'll be a much more dangerous hockey team than they were in 2013. Which is outstanding news for Sens fans, since they've already progressed to the second round of the playoffs.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Defense, defense, defense.
There isn't a team in hockey with a more expensive payroll than the Philadelphia Flyers. When Paul Holmgren decided to trade Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, some pundits thought that he was trying to avoid "cap hell" by dumping long-term, high-money deals.
Somehow Philly is still bogged down on the money side of things and doesn't resemble a playoff team right now.
The biggest reason for that is a serious lack of defense. No Flyers defender was left untouched by the injury bug this season, but the gaping hole on the blue line is still there even when the top six defensemen in the organization suit up.
There isn't an easy road to fixing this issue—the Flyers need to pray to the hockey gods that they can land themselves an NHL-ready defenseman at the draft in June.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Re-sign Mike Smith.
The Phoenix Coyotes are the most frugal team in the NHL. They aren't able to go out and sign big free agents because of a lack of ownership, and every move that the franchise makes must first be cleared through the league's front office.
If there was ever a time to shell over some bucks, it's now.
Mike Smith has been a steadying factor for Phoenix, who didn't miss a beat after losing Ilya Bryzgalov. Smith was hurt this season, preventing the 'Yotes from making the playoffs. That time off should only strengthen the argument that Smith needs to stay in Phoenix for the team to be successful.
Like all other players though, Smith might be scared off by the lack of stability in Phoenix. It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out over the summer.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Make Evgeni Malkin a Penguin for life.
Evgeni Malkin's contract expires after next season.
That sentence should make the blood of every Pittsburgh Penguins fan run cold. He made $8.7 million over the term of his expiring contract, but if he hits the free market there's no telling what kind of crazy offers will be made.
It's not very often a top-five talent becomes available for nothing but money.
Take the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes and multiply it by at least seven. That's what the Penguins will have on their hands by not extending Geno soon; over the summer would be ideal. If this thing stretches out into the summer of 2014, things could get ugly or interesting—depending on whom you root for.
San Jose Sharks
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Decide whether or not Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are a part of the future, or a piece of the past.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been the faces of the San Jose Sharks for a long time now. Marleau especially, who has been a Sharks lifer since being drafted by the team back in 1997. Ironically he was selected second overall that year, one pick behind Thornton.
The one-two punch may be witnessing a changing of the guard in San Jose, though. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are slowly taking over the team, and the time may be now to let them run with it.
The Sharks had an impressive four-game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs this year. But if the Sharks lose in the second round, and this core fails to do any damage in the playoffs again, a swift change in DNA may be underway for them.
Both Pavelski and Couture have no-movement clauses, but if Marian Gaborik will waive his to go play for the Columbus Blue Jackets, anything is possible.
St. Louis Blues
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: (Seriously) Decide who is The Man in net.
The St. Louis Blues may have one of the best problems in the NHL: They have not one, not two, but three guys who appear capable of being starting netminders in the NHL.
Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak and Jake Allen have all proven themselves capable of leading the Blues. After being cast off earlier in the year, Elliot led St. Louis to the first round of the playoffs before getting outplayed (shamelessly) by Jonathan Quick.
The Blues organization apparently loves Allen and his compete level, while Halak could very well be an outstanding starter if he could stay healthy.
Settle on two of them and move the third for some scoring help. Nothing miraculous or tough about that.
Tampa Bay Lightning
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Figure out the G and the D.
With Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis up front, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to score plenty of goals. That hasn't been the issue for two years now. Goaltending and a suspect defense have caused Steve Yzerman all kinds of headaches, and if Tampa doesn't want to see another season go down the tubes, it needs to solidify both positions.
There's nothing not to love about them aggressively going out and trading for Ben Bishop. They now sport a young, talented goaltending duo that hasn't proven a whole lot between the two of them.
Bishop or Anders Lindback could both turn out to be awesome NHL goalies. Or they could both fizzle out as coulda'-beens.
The Lightning can't afford for the latter to become a reality. More moves like bringing in Matt Carle would be outstanding for Tampa.
Toronto Maple Leafs
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Make sure James Reimer knows he's the man in net.
Reimer put up with one season of floating doubts and open trade rumors from the front office in Toronto. He responded by taking the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time since the advent of the salary cap.
Toronto's management shouldn't expect him to be so cool about it twice. He's held his own the Leafs in their first-round series against the Boston Bruins, and there should be zero question moving forward that he's the man in net.
The argument against him was that he didn't have enough experience. Now Reimer has battled through to the playoffs and given his team every chance to win against a favored opponent.
There will be plenty of articles written about the Maple Leafs during the offseason, suggesting what the team should and shouldn't do. There should be no question mark next to Reimer's name, though. Not now.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Trade Roberto Luongo.
Enough is enough already.
Enough analyzing. Enough posturing. Enough cute quotes to the media, and enough of this circus.
The time has come for the Vancouver Canucks to trade Roberto Luongo. If that means dropping the asking price, so be it. After another meltdown in the first round, this is a team that needs a swift kick in the hockey pants.
There's nothing left to say about the situation that hasn't already been said. Find the best offer for Luongo and take it before 2014 becomes just as self-destructive as 2013. All the professionalism in the world doesn't change the impact that these situations have on the subconsciousness of a team.
Luongo is a distraction. Has been a distraction. And he'll continue to be a distraction until he's wearing another sweater and has played his first game against the Canucks.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Re-sign Mike Ribeiro.
Scoring depth is key for any Stanley Cup-winning team. Ribeiro has provided that in spades for the Washington Capitals, and they'd be making a mistake in letting him walk.
It may seem like forever ago now, but through the first 20 games of the season Alex Ovechkin was an absolute and total non-factor. The Hart Trophy nominee didn't find his game until the final 23 games of the regular season, more or less leaving the Caps looking for other sources of offense through the first month and a half of the 2013 season.
That scoring came from the stick of Ribeiro.
His points and offensive flair kept Washington afloat while the rest of the team settled in with Adam Oates' new system. To let him go now would seem silly and shortsighted.
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Biggest Offseason Improvement: Get better on the power play.
There's no reason the Winnipeg Jets' power play should have been worse than that of the Colorado Avalanche or Florida Panthers.
The weapons on this team are too great for the Jets to have the worst power play in the NHL. 13.8 percent? Really?
Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd can't muster better than that?
The coaches need to take a good, hard look at the power play and fix it over the offseason. Winnipeg can play a style of hockey that draws penalties, but that does no one any good when it takes three or four games worth of extra-man chances to score one goal.