Predicting Which NHL Teams Will Be Biggest Risers and Fallers in 2013-14 Season
With each new NHL season, there are teams that make large improvements over the previous season and teams that go from the penthouse to the outhouse. This article will examine the five teams that will make the biggest improvement over last season and the five teams that will take the biggest fall.
Since last year was limited to 48 games due to the owners' lockout of the players, we have to judge this list by a percentage of possible points that each team will accumulate versus what they accumulated last season.
Keep in mind that teams that were outstanding a year ago can make the list of teams that will take the biggest fall and still do very well this season, while teams that did very poorly last season can make the improved list and still not come close to sniffing the playoffs.
The teams on this list are in order from the team that will least improve or fall to the most, with the five falling teams listed first.
Feel free to comment on what teams you feel belong on this list or don't deserve to be on this list.
F5. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks had the league's best record last season and won the team's second Stanley Cup in the last four years.
Chicago went an impressive 36-7-5, picking up 77 points in 48 games. Over the course of a full 82-game season, that pace equals 132 points.
That means Chicago could finish 15 points worse than last year's pace and still finish with 117 points, or 35 games over .500.
I expect the Blackhawks to be among the league's best teams and among the favorites to win the President's Trophy. But they had such a great season last year that they can finish with one of the league's best records and still make the list of "biggest fallers."
F4. Anaheim Ducks
Like the Blackhawks, the Anaheim Ducks had one of the best records in the league last year. Unlike Chicago, the Ducks were a surprise.
Last year's record of 30-12-6 puts Anaheim on pace for 113 points over a full 82-game season.
Since the end of last season, the Ducks traded top-line winger Bobby Ryan and received a talented but younger player in return, Jakob Silfverberg. In the long run, this could turn out to be a very good trade, but in the short term, the Ducks may take a step back to take two steps forward.
One of the biggest reasons for Anaheim's unexpected success last season was the outstanding play of the goalies. It is unlikely, however, that both Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth duplicate their outstanding statistics of a season ago.
The Ducks should still be contenders in their division and be a dangerous team come playoff time, but to expect them to duplicate last season's numbers, especially when they won't be surprising anybody anymore, may be too much to ask.
F3. Vancouver Canucks
It's a new day in Vancouver, but will it be a better day? Probably not right away.
Coach Alain Vigneault is off to Broadway to coach the Rangers while ex-Rangers bench boss John Tortorella has arrived in Vancouver to take over the Canucks. Tortorella plays a very a conservative style that requires all of his players, even his stars, to block shots and play defense first. Even if this is a successful system, there will be an adjustment period for the Canucks.
In addition to the coaching change, Vancouver traded its starting goalie, Cory Schneider, to New Jersey on draft day. The starting goalie will now be Roberto Luongo, who has been put through an emotional wringer by the franchise over the past few years.
The Canucks' window of opportunity as an elite team with their present roster is closing. Luongo is 34, and the Sedin twins, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows are all 32. Those players played key roles in the club's recent success.
Vancouver should still be a playoff team in 2013-14, but the odds of the Canucks keeping pace with last season's 101-point pace are unlikely.
F2. Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres finished at .500 last season. If GM Darcy Regier's hints are to be believed, more changes are coming. The Sabres may have a tough time matching last year's record.
After last season, Regier hinted that rebuilding "may require some suffering." That suffering may begin this season.
Players like Tomas Vanek and Ryan Miller have one year left on their contracts. While they are still on the Sabres' roster, logic indicates they may not be with the club much longer if they can get the right combination of younger players and draft picks in return.
Even if those two core players aren't moved right away or at all, the Sabres have major holes that need to be addressed before they can be contenders again.
F1. New Jersey Devils
The Devils also finished at exactly .500 last season. Since that time, however, the club has lost a lot of talent, and the replacements provide a lot more questions than answers.
Last season, New Jersey's top three scorers were Ilya Kovalchuk, David Clarkson and 37-year-old Patrik Elias. Elias is a year older and back, but both Kovalchuk and Clarkson have moved on.
Among the replacements are Jaromir Jagr, a shadow of his Hall of Fame self at 41, and the oft-injured Ryane Clowe.
The additions of Michael Ryder and goalie Cory Schneider will help, especially in the long run, but for the short term, the Devils will struggle to score goals.
In net, Marty Brodeur is probably in his final season. There are plenty of elder statesmen on the Devils roster including Brodeur, Jagr, Marek Zidlicky, Dainius Zubrus and Bryce Salvador.
No team with Brodeur and GM Lou Lamoriello should be completely counted out, but the Devils are looking like a team that should struggle this season.
R5. Phoenix Coyotes
There are plenty of reasons to expect a bounce-back season from the Phoenix Coyotes in 2013-14.
The Coyotes won their division in 2011-12 and went all the way to the Western Conference Final. Last year, they slipped to just 51 points in 48 games and missed the postseason.
For the first time in four years, the Coyotes actually have an owner and are not run by the NHL. They also know they are staying in Arizona for at least the next five years. The stability should help the team's state of mind.
In addition, Phoenix has a quality goalie in Mike Smith. Smith's numbers fell a bit after his career-best season two years ago, but even if his numbers are midway between last season and the season before, the Coyotes will be improved.
The Coyotes also added free agent Mike Ribeiro, who should add some offensive punch to the lineup.
All things considered, the Coyotes are due for some improvement in the coming season.
R4. Edmonton Oilers
Since the Edmonton Oilers began compiling high draft picks a few years ago, experts have been waiting for the team to take a jump and become a contending team again.
This year may be the year that jump truly begins.
Edmonton finished last season with 45 points in 48 games. It was not good enough for management, who changed coaches, bringing in Dallas Eakins as the new head man.
Young forwards like Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov are all potentially explosive offensive weapons, although they have not reached their potential just yet.
The addition of Justin Schultz on defense last season helped strengthen the blue line, while Devan Dubnyk took a step forward in establishing himself as a legitimate NHL starter.
A winning season is not an unreasonable expectation for the Oilers as their young stars continue to mature.
R3. Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators have had one coach and one general manager in their history, and they have found a way to be consistent winners despite usually featuring a limited budget.
Last year was a rare losing season for Nashville. The team finished with just 41 points in 48 games.
The Predators play an aggressive forechecking game. Under coach Barry Trotz, they tend to roll four lines and try to wear opponents down over the course of a game.
Nashville acquired players who fit its system well like Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks and Viktor Stalberg.
In addition, the Preds still have one of the league's best goalies in Pekka Rinne and one of the top defensemen in Shea Weber.
While the Predators still lack a sniper and will probably have to win a lot of 2-1 games, their talented goalie, consistent system and respected coach means they will likely bounce back and contend for the playoffs this season.
R2. Carolina Hurricanes
A lot was expected of the Carolina Hurricanes last season, but key injuries resulted in a poor finish. Carolina finished the season with a 19-25-4 record and missed the playoffs.
The biggest injury was to goalie Cam Ward, who was limited to just 17 games last season. Neither Dan Ellis nor Justin Peters were able to consistently fit the bill.
Ward should be back for 2013-14. That alone is a big reason to expect an improvement from the Hurricanes.
The addition of Mike Komisarek should bolster the defense. Both Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin should be more comfortable in their second seasons in Raleigh.
R1. Colorado Avalanche
Only one team had a worse record than than the Colorado Avalanche, who finished with just 39 points in 48 games.
That number should jump a bit in 2013-14 under new coach Patrick Roy.
The Avalanche added some experience to their lineup when they acquired Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich from Calgary in an offseason trade.
Talented young players like Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Paul Stastny are all potential breakout candidates.
The Avalanche should be an improved club this season, especially since they would improve by 15 points if they can just finish at .500 next season.