At the start of each NHL season, the baseline goal is the same for every franchise: make the playoffs. Certain teams have internal goals such as making the conference finals, but that can't happen without being one of the top 16 teams in the league.
The journey is long and the haul is heavy. Remaining competitive while battling injuries, fatigue and internal strife throughout an 82-game NHL season is profound and difficult. The process is made a bit easier when general managers and coaches are making the right moves at the right times.
2013 saw several teams that should have been in the hunt fall off for various reasons. For example, the Carolina Hurricanes were decimated by injury and their young kids were unable to step up and fill the voids.
Another year, another battle, though.
Some teams have more to crank on than others. Here are four teams that have some work to do before making an honest run at the playoffs.
Any cap or contract information has been taken from capgeek.com.
Sometimes it seems as though general managers live inside their own little bubble, completely and totally unaware of what is happening around them. They seem insistent on making their own mistakes, as opposed to learning from the follies of others.
Enter the Buffalo Sabres, who could actually learn a lot from the Calgary Flames.
Calgary held onto the likes of Jay Bouwmeester and Jarome Iginla for far too long, effectively bleeding their trade value until the minimal prospect/pick combination was all that they could get in return for their once-franchise cornerstones.
The Sabres now find themselves in a similar position.
Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller have both been important pieces of the puzzle in Buffalo, but GM Darcy Regier recently revealed during a media scrum, per Philly.com, that he's been trying unsuccessfully to move his two blue-chippers.
If he thinks he's having a hard time finding fair value for his prized veterans now, wait until he gets a load of the phone calls he'll receive at the trade deadline. The value of Vanek and Miller effectively drops every day that they remain in Buffalo.
After all, would you rather bring a guy like Vanek in at the deadline and hope he clicks? Or would you prefer to land him before training camp, giving both team and player time to adjust and work things out?
Teams are willing to pay a bit extra for more time with a player, and Buffalo absolutely needs to pull the trigger on these respective deals soon, lest they end up moving both for so-so returns at the deadline.
If general manager Paul Holmgren had an actual plan of attack during the last three years written out on a sheet of paper, it's likely worn thin from eraser marks and ex-outs by now. He's been erratic in managing the Philadelphia Flyers, and, if Puck Daddy is right, the addition of Ron Hextall as assistant GM likely signals an eventual end for Holmgren.
The team is embroiled deeply in cap hell and still desperately needs to re-tool its porous defense. Tack on the need for a legitimate starting-NHL goaltender—unless you're buying into the Ray Emery/Steve Mason combo, in which case, enjoy your Orange and Black colored world—and this is a franchise that has its back up against a wall.
Relief seemed close by when the Flyers announced the buyouts of Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov. That money was then promptly spent on Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit. While those two moves aren't bad by any means, it could easily be argued that they weren't the right ones.
Bryzgalov caught a lot of flack in Philadelphia, because it's a hard place to be a goaltender and the team wasn't winning. Goals were ending up in the back of their nets too frequently and the likes of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek weren't scoring enough.
The Flyers were the eighth-worst defensive team in hockey last season, according to NHL.com, and they addressed that by adding a top-six center and an offensive defenseman while buying out their big-name, big-money goaltender.
There's still a lot of work to be done in Philadelphia.
The Washington Capitals traded for Mike Ribeiro after years of searching for a No. 2 center. They went out and traded top prospect Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat to further solidify the top six. They'd been burned one too many times by being a one-trick pony in the playoffs—if teams could shut down the top unit featuring Alex Ovechkin, then the Caps couldn't come up with an answer.
It was good to see a team learning from the mistakes of the past.
Then free agency v.2013 rolled around, and Washington was unwilling to give Ribeiro the kind of money that he wanted. He left for the Phoenix Coyotes, who also had a gaping hole down the middle. The difference was that the 'Yotes were willing to pay to fix that deficiency.
Washington? They turn to Brooks Laich to center a line that will likely feature Erat and Troy Brouwer.
The Caps clearly haven't seen this as a problem, as they've stood completely pat during the draft and free agency—another ringing endorsement for a team that hasn't won more than a single playoff round since 1998.
Making moves for the sake of making them is a great way to land a franchise in hot water (see Philadelphia), but understanding the deficiencies of your team and addressing them is an important part of building a champion.
Washington has nearly $6 million in cap room, which is an enviable position considering the falling ceiling. With nearly all the teams in the league looking to shed some salary, there must be a deal worth considering for the Caps.
While they were sleeping, the Dallas Stars identified center as a position of weakness and improved it by acquiring Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff across a 24-hour period. Washington could benefit greatly from one solid day of trading like this.
While what Dallas did is an outlier, allowing pieces to leave for nothing (Ribeiro, Alexander Semin) while doing nothing to improve isn't going to get Washington any closer to a championship banner.
Few teams had a more disappointing 2013 campaign than the Carolina Hurricanes. Their consolation prize was the chance to draft top-end center Elias Lindholm. He joins a strong and talented group of prospects that seem ready to make an impact at the NHL level.
Any youngsters that can make an impact in 2014 will be a boon for a 'Canes team that features nearly the entire Staal family tree, Alex Semin and Cam Ward.
The team has a special feeling surrounding it. It may be the family ties. It may be the youth struggling to break through as true professionals. It may be the underdog mentality that naturally stems from a hockey team playing in the south.
Regardless of the why, Carolina seems to only be a piece or two away from being able to make the playoffs. Big performances from players such as Ryan Murphy and Victor Rask could put the team over the top, but adding another defenseman is the top priority right now.
The Fourth Period reported recently that free-agent defenseman Ron Hainsey could be headed to Carolina. A move like this would benefit the team greatly. Adding another top-four defenseman to the mix would ease some pressure off of a guy like Murphy, which would have positive ramifications through an 82-game season.
Add in a more confident and experienced Jeff Skinner, and the 'Canes are only a move or two away from joining the top 16 teams in the NHL.