2013 NHL Free Agency: What Each Lottery Team Needs to Make Playoffs Next Season

Isaac SmithAnalyst IJune 22, 2013

2013 NHL Free Agency: What Each Lottery Team Needs to Make Playoffs Next Season

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    The 2013 NHL free-agency period is right around the corner. For all teams, especially lottery teams that didn't make the playoffs, free agency means a chance to get better.

    Yes, the NHL draft provides a consolation in a higher first-round draft choice to those teams that fail to qualify for the postseason, but the playoffs are still a pipe dream away for a lot of franchises.

    Although there is parity across the NHL on a general scale with the salary cap in place, the fact remains that not all teams are in position to qualify for the playoffs if next season were to start today or prior to free agency.

    If making the playoffs is the goal—as it should be after the No. 8 seed 2012 Los Angeles Kings won it all—then teams just need to be good enough to make the playoffs.

    With that being said, here is what each lottery team needs from free agency to make the playoffs next season.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets were oh so close to making the playoffs but were eliminated after the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild won in the last game of the regular season. The Blue Jackets finished tied for points with the Wild with 55, but they were edged out on regulation and overtime wins.

    Columbus finished on an 8-2 run over its last 10 games, including winning its last three games of the season before being eliminated.

    But as far as free agency is concerned, the Blue Jackets need only worry about re-signing their own free agents than going after others.

    The Jackets' "free agent-like move" was acquiring Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline from the New York Rangers.

    Per CapGeek, Columbus has $18.4 million in cap space, and will likely need all of it to re-sign Artem Anisimov, Vinny Prospal, Colton Gillies and Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.

    The Jackets also need a backup goalie, as Michael Leighton's contract is up, and they should also consider re-upping Blake Comeau after he put up five points in nine games after being acquired from Calgary.

    After starting the season 5-12-4, Columbus finished the season 19-5-3, falling just short of making the playoffs.

    Things are definitely looking bright in Columbus, it is just a matter of keeping the momentum going forward into next season.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Most Winnipeg Jets fans will point to the last two games of the Jets' season (both losses) as reason why the Jets didn't make the playoffs. After all, the Jets finished just four points out of the playoffs with 51 points and they would have had the tiebreaker on the eighth-place New York Islanders.

    So why did their season fall apart?

    Simply put, the Jets did not give their goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, enough time off for the amount of work that he was doing.

    Pavelec made the second-most saves on the second-most shots faced, while playing the third-most minutes out of any goalie in the regular season.

    While the Jets have $28.3 million in cap space, per CapGeek, they also have eight restricted free agents to re-sign, and that doesn't even touch the seven unrestricted free agents that they have as well.

    Jets management needs to take a look in the mirror and decide which players it wants to keep and which players it doesn't, as the list is large.

    Players like Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler are no-brainers to re-sign at forward, but there are six restricted and unrestricted free agents on defense, so naming names will be a little bit more complicated there.

    Bottom line, though, the Jets need to find a capable and competent backup goaltender.

    Pavelec played 44 games this season, starting 3-8-1 and losing six of eight at one point before losing the final two games of the season. A backup goaltender would effectively supplement Pavelec when need be.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes missed the playoffs by four points as well, seeing their 2012 Pacific Division title go to waste as they couldn't get back to the playoffs.

    The big difference? Team defense.

    The 'Yotes fell from seventh in the NHL at 2.48 goals against per game to 19th this season at 2.72 goals against per game.

    Whether it was the number of regular-season and playoff games played by Mike Smith in 2012 (83) or the departure of the physical, gritty defenseman Michal Rozsival, the Coyotes just didn't seem to have it on defense.

    The Coyotes also finished 19th in total offense, at just 2.60 goals per game, so they could stand to improve in that regard too.

    But unless Dave Tippett instills a more "offense-first" system in Phoenix, don't look for the Coyotes to improve that much even if they do re-sign their free-agent skaters in Lauri Korpikoski, Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Chipchura, Boyd Gordon and Michael Stone.

    That being said, going forward into this offseason, the Coyotes should be looking at re-signing Mike Smith, who is a UFA and possibly looking elsewhere than Jason Labarbera for a backup goaltender, as he will want a raise from his $1.25 million cap hit, per CapGeek.

    The Coyotes need another grizzled defenseman to become relevant in the playoffs.

    Rob Scuderi would be a good fit if the Coyotes can convince him to come to the desert (or wherever they end up before next season, if not Phoenix). Scuderi brings toughness and a shot-blocking ability to the table.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    It seems that every hockey fan or hockey pundit has a way to fix the Philadelphia Flyers. Newsflash—the Flyers don't need to be "fixed." The only thing that the Flyers need is some stability.

    But what does that mean exactly?

    Well, for starters, it involves not going over the salary-cap limit by millions of dollars. CapGeek has the Flyers as the only team with negative cap space as of June 22.

    With the agreeing to terms with Mark Streit and the looming buyout of Danny Briere, the Flyers just need some team chemistry. Yes, they missed the playoffs, but they also started 2-6 in a 48-game season, which puts most teams behind the eightball.

    The Flyers have already made their move in free agency, agreeing to terms with Streit. Any other moves that may happen will likely be as a result of trades and not free agency.

    What will help the Flyers get back to the playoffs and success in the playoffs starts from the net and goes out, as their team GAA was 2.90 or 23rd overall.

    If the goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov can get his alter ego in check and the Flyers can get back to the hard-nosed defense that has brought them success over most of the past decade, they will make the playoffs next season.

Dallas Stars

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    The Dallas Stars missed the playoffs by seven points, finishing with 48 points.

    While it would be easy to pin the Stars' missing the playoffs on their 2.94 team GAA, the fact remains that they blew a fair share of third-period leads as well.

    Dallas finished 27th in the NHL in winning games when leading after two periods, winning just 70.6 percent of the time.

    Although the Stars signed Lindy Ruff, an obvious improvement on former head coach Glen Gulutzan, they will likely get no better in giving up second-intermission leads, as Ruff's Sabres last year were even worse than Dallas in that regard.

    The Stars have $13.8 million in cap space right now, per CapGeek, and they only really need to re-sign a few low-budget forwards, Jordie Benn on defense and Richard Bachman in goal.

    After that, the Stars will feel free to hit the free-agency market looking for a right wing who can put the puck in the net, as they traded away Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr last season.

    Ryder had 14 points in 19 games for the Stars, while Jagr had 26 points in 34 games. While Dallas doesn't exactly have the high-caliber draw that some of the other big-market teams do, it might be able to get a Pascal Dupuis or Brad Boyes-type of player if it can throw the right dollar amount on the table.

    Getting a top-six right wing (or even two) combined with a more mature defense next season could push the Stars back into the playoff picture.

New Jersey Devils

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    It was a long, frustrating, shortened 2013 season for the New Jersey Devils.

    The Devils offense without Zach Parise was just dreadful, and Ilya Kovalchuk missed 11 games with an injury. That resulted in the Devils being shut out four times and being held to just one goal on 11 different occasions. The Devils finished with the third-worst goals per game in the NHL at 2.29.

    This offseason, Devils management has a lot of thinking to do.

    With nine free-agent forwards, the Devils will look to re-sign key figures such as Patrick Elias and David Clarkson who were among the top three in scoring for New Jersey with 36 and 24 points, respectively.

    While New Jersey missed the playoffs by only seven points, it probably felt like a lot more than that to fans who had a hard time watching their team minus Kovalchuk (injured down the stretch) and Parise (who departed last season).

    The Devils must re-sign quite a few forwards, as they only have eight NHL forwards signed but $24.8 million in cap space to use, per CapGeek.

    New Jersey's management also needs to look at re-signing restricted free agent, Adam Henrique, as he is part of the long-term future of the franchise.

    If the Devils can't get more of their high-profile forwards signed, they will have a tough time competing for a playoff spot next season.

Buffalo Sabres

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    The Buffalo Sabres are going to need more help winning than usual next season.

    That is because the Sabres are getting the Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers added to their division next year. With two eight-team divisions and only eight playoff spots on the line, and a new coach coming in eventually, they will be up to their necks trying to make the playoffs.

    So where do they start?

    They have $14.4 million in cap space per CapGeek, so they have some money to throw around. The Sabres need to re-sign Cody Hodgson first and foremost. After that, they can retain Bryan Flynn and Mike Weber but let their UFAs go.

    Buffalo also re-upped backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth for two years, so it is set in the net. But the Sabres need a scorer—possibly the bought-out Danny Briere would return to Buffalo and be a good fit.

    The Sabres also need a top-six player to replace Jason Pominville, their longtime captain.

    But above all, the Sabres need another big body that can go to the net. That need would almost certainly be met in David Clarkson.

    Although Clarkson would likely rather go to a contender, the Sabres would have the money to throw at him if they only chose to re-sign their restricted free agents.

    The Sabres also only missed the playoffs by seven points, but with a team 2.90 GAA, the Sabres need to address their defensive system as well with a new coach come next season.

Edmonton Oilers

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    The Edmonton Oilers missed the playoffs by 10 points, but it was really a familiar ending to the past few Oilers seasons. The difference was that this season didn't involve the Oilers finishing dead last in the NHL or winning the NHL draft lottery. The Oilers finished seventh last in the NHL with just 45 points.

    But what do they need to make the playoffs in 2014? Some size would be good to start.

    Although the Oilers have six forwards over 200 pounds, the names Mike Brown, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Jones, Magnus Paajarvi, Lennart Petrell and Jerred Smithson don't exactly strike fear for offensive talent in the eyes of opponents.

    The Oilers have the talent in their younger draft picks, but they need to find a free agent to combine the size with talent.

    Again, David Clarkson would be a good bet, but Brenden Morrow, Nathan Horton and Bryan Bickell would all be good targets as well. Not to say the Oilers would get any of these players, but it's always good to put in a best offer for some of these players if Edmonton wants to seriously contend for a playoff spot next year.

    The Oilers also need a backup goalie, as Nikolai Khabibulin is 40 years old and now an unrestricted free agent.

    Although Edmonton is in the middle of a rebuild, it can afford to add some size, while letting a couple of its big-body forwards go who don't produce as much offensively. If it can add some size and skill combined in one player, the team will go even further next year as far as playoff contention is concerned.

Calgary Flames

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    How do the Calgary Flames make the playoffs in 2014 after giving up Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, while having Miikka Kiprusoff consider retirement, per NHL.com?

    Simple. Move on.

    Calgary general manager Jay Feaster has $19.1 million in cap space, per CapGeek, and he needs to use almost all of that cap to bring the Flames back in the running for the 2014 playoffs. Feaster traded Iginla and Bouwmeester and now has three first-round picks in this draft.

    If Kiprusoff retires, Feaster would have an additional $5.8 million to spend, per CapGeek.

    The Flames need to re-sign Anton Babchuk (who missed all but seven games with a shoulder injury), T.J. Brodie and Mikael Backlund as far as their own free agents.

    Then it is "open season" on the rest of the NHL's free agents.

    The Flames had no problems scoring goals but ranked 28th in goals against with 3.27 goals against per game.

    Calgary could take a look at defensemen in that regard. Although Marek Zidlicky and Joe Corvo aren't exactly going to turn heads for the Flames as top-scoring defensemen left on the UFA list, when matched up against Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano, they don't look so bad.

    If it will get them closer to the playoffs and help them defensively, by all means.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    With Cam Ward out of the lineup, the Carolina Hurricanes tanked quickly.

    The 'Canes went from first in their division earlier in the season to third (and third-last in the Eastern Conference for that matter).

    But the Hurricanes look pretty good as a team if they can stay healthy going into this next season. Carolina does need another defenseman or two, but it only has $7.3 million in cap space, per CapGeek.

    If Carolina can figure out a way to obtain a mediocre defenseman off of the market and stay healthy as a team, it has a real shot to make the playoffs, despite being grouped into a new division with the bulk of what is now the Atlantic Division.

    The 'Canes have the luxury of being able to average out their cap space over the one or two defensemen (along with possibly retaining Jared Staal). This puts them at a distinct advantage to win the "money" side of free agency, in terms of offering the most money to a player.

Nashville Predators

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    The Nashville Predators were the No. 4 seed in the 2012 playoffs, so what changed? Ryan Suter went to Minnesota, and the Predators offense and power play struggled as a result.

    The Predators were shut out eight times this season.

    While their defense was marginally forgettable because so much of the blame for this season rests on their offense's inability to do anything, it should be noted that the defense looks like it will be better as Shea Weber has found a new defense partner in Roman Josi.

    So what do the Predators need this offseason in free agency? Well, try targeting the first five players in terms of most points scored.

    Barry Trotz may be a defense-first coach, but he does need some kind of offensive talent to work with if Nashville is going to be relevant offensively.

    The Predators only have $12.1 million in cap space, per CapGeek, but they do have the ability to offer that money to any player on the open market.

    The agents of Mike Ribeiro, Pascal Dupuis and Patrick Elias and other top offensive free agents are going to get a lot of calls from the Nashville Predators if they hit the open market.

    Although not practical to sign most of these players, Predators GM David Poile won't let Nashville come away empty handed in the free agency season.

    Any one of those forwards, combined with the resurgence of Pekka Rinne and the Nashville defense will bring the Predators back into the playoff picture next season.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning have a host of problems. Offense is not one of them.

    Well it is, but one would think that it wouldn't be when they had the top two scorers in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.

    But the Tampa Bay Lightning have the most overpaid captain, let alone player, in the entire NHL. Vincent Lecavalier makes over $7.7 million a season until 2020 when he will be a UFA.

    The Lightning only have $2.4 million in cap space as of June 22, so unless they use a cap compliance buyout on the vastly overpaid Lecavalier, don't look for them to make any major moves in free agency.

    At this point, making the playoffs next year is looking like a long shot considering the Lightning, Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings will be merging with the Northeast division in the realignment.

    If Tampa Bay wants to be competitive next year, it must buy out Lecavalier's contract and use the money to address more pertinent needs like defense and secondary scoring.

Colorado Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche have made a few big moves this season. None of the big moves have had to do with player personnel.

    But the Avs have $10.8 million in cap space, per CapGeek, and will look to use some of that to lock up Milan Hejduk if he wants to come back. The other $8 to $9 million will go toward free agency.

    So where do they spend it?

    Well, with that much money, it would be easy to buy the best player on the market. But with the salary cap going down, per James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail, the season after 2013-14, it is important that they don't spend all of their cap space in this offseason.

    Nevertheless, one big free-agent signing at forward, along with a 14-team Western Conference and eight playoff spots at stake, means that it won't be as hard as some pundits are predicting to be in position for the Avalanche to qualify for the playoffs next year.

Florida Panthers

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    Well, the bad thing about the 2013 Florida Panthers season is that they finished dead last in goals for and goals against.

    The good news is that the only way from here is up. It may sound cliche, but the Florida Panthers did qualify for the playoffs in 2012, winning their division in the process.

    Although it will be more difficult to qualify for the playoffs in 2013-14 with the division realignment throwing the Panthers into the Northeast division with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings, the fact of the matter is that Florida has $18.2 million in cap space, per CapGeek, along with some of its own free agents to re-sign.

    The Panthers need to re-sign either Jose Theodore or Jacob Markstrom. The likely choice, Markstrom, will cost more than the bargain choice of Theodore.

    The good news is that the Panthers have four restricted free agents, meaning that they don't have to give them astronomical increases to get them to stick around.

    Shawn Matthias and Peter Mueller will likely merit raises with 21 and 17 points a piece in this shortened season. But the Panthers will likely stick with status quo paydays for Bobby Butler and Jack Skille.

    After that, the shallow free agency that exists currently is completely available to the Panthers. Although it is hard to get players to come to Florida, GM Dale Tallon knows what it takes to bring top-tier players to Florida, as he did with Brian Campbell a few seasons ago.

    Florida needs some quality offensive players and that would take a substantial strain off of its defense and goaltending. If it can get at least two top-of-the-line top-six forwards, it could contend for a playoff spot next season, despite the long odds right now.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com or CapGeek.com, unless otherwise noted.

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