10 Changes That Will Have the Biggest Impact on the 2013-14 NHL Season
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If the offseason is any indication, the 2013-14 NHL season will be an interesting one with plenty of story lines to keep fans and pundits entertained. Over the last few months the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils found new ownership groups, several coaching changes have been made and Stanley Cup-contenders have retooled despite already possessing outstanding teams.
Toss in realignment, the Olympic break and the "retirement" of a superstar, and this offseason has been chock full of twists and surprising moments.
Like a good movie, we aren't quite sure how these changes will affect the outcome. All we know is that it's been fun and interesting to watch so far, and we can't wait to see where things go from here.
Phoenix (Arizona) Coyotes Actually Having Some Cash to Burn
IceArizona now owns the Phoenix Coyotes, as per the team's official website. The new group of investors steps in and takes the place of the NHL, which has been running the Desert Dogs on a shoestring budget the last four years. Oddly, the team managed to make the playoffs in three of those four seasons the league ran the team after previously missing the postseason six straight times.
According to thefourthperiod.com, general manager Don Maloney has been given an internal budget to work with. An internal budget beats having your hands tied completely, and the team will now have a bit more wiggle room when it comes to the ability to make moves and improve the team.
Only one season removed from a trip to the Western Conference Final, the 'Yotes have a good young core in place and could make a quick surge to relevancy once again in 2013-14.
When the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg to become the Jets two seasons ago, it was only a matter of time before the NHL decided to realign the conferences and move some teams around. That change occurred during the offseason, and the Eastern Conference is now home to the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While these two teams adjust to new travel schedules, the likes of the Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals will suddenly have to deal with increased competition because of the new division breakdown.
Gone are the whimsy Southeast and Northwest divisions. The league is now broken down into four divisions, which can be viewed here, via Puck Daddy.
Now squads that are used to playing particular teams six times a year will have to adjust to increased competition and (sometimes) more travel. For instance, how will teams in the Atlantic Division deal with traveling from Montreal all the way to Florida for games?
The new schedules and playoff format could have a huge impact on the season, and it'll be interesting to see how things shake down.
Boston Bruins Re-Tooling
After making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three seasons, the Boston Bruins decided not to rest easy. While it would have been easy to say "well that wasn't a half bad run," general manager Peter Chiarelli decided that a facelift was in order.
Gone are Jaromir Jagr, Nathan Horton, Andrew Ference, Anton Khudobin, Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley.
In their places are Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow and several internal pieces that will be moving up in rank.
How will these changes affect one of the strongest teams in the Eastern Conference? Iginla is a clear upgrade over Jagr on the right side, and Eriksson won't have a problem fitting into Boston's two-way identity.
While it's risky to move Seguin, sources such as CSN reported that it was his partying ways that got him traded out of Boston. Without the distraction of a 21-year-old acting like a 21-year-old, will the Bruins be better off?
It's tough to say for sure, but kudos to the Bruins for shaking things up and not wasting any time with a "wait and see" approach.
Vancouver and New York Swap Coaches
Over the last few seasons, it's been written and said on numerous occasions that the Vancouver Canucks needed to be a bit tougher to play against if they wanted to lift that elusive Stanley Cup over their collective head.
It's also been written and said on numerous occasions over the last few seasons that the defensive structure of the New York Rangers was holding back the likes of Brad Richards, Chris Kreider and even Rick Nash.
With the Rangers and Canucks swapping coaches, we'll be able to see whether or not these points were accurate or not.
John Tortorella will likely try to bring at least a bit of his defensive structure to a team that is used to wheeling and cycling freely. Will Vancouver be better off under Torts, who will demand accountability from players that haven't been grilled much over the last few seasons?
The exact opposite question is now an intriguing one for New York.
Can the players that were allegedly held down by a shot-blocking system up the ante and increase their fire power under the offensive-minded Alain Vigneault?
We'll know by the midpoint of the season how the Freaky Friday-esque coaching swap is working out, but one thing is clear: neither the Rangers nor Canucks will have an excuse to fall back on if these coaching changes don't pan out.
After years of blaming shortcomings and disappointments on the guys behind the bench, it's now up to the players to prove that it was the systems and not themselves that led to consistent downfalls.
Bobby Ryan Trade and the Possible Power Shift in the New Atlantic Division
Few players have had to endure more trade rumors over the last two seasons than Bobby Ryan. The Anaheim Ducks finally found a dance partner in the Ottawa Senators and received an outstanding package of prospects and picks in return for the four-time 30-goal scorer.
With the aging Daniel Alfredsson out of town and a clean bill of health heading into the 2013-14 season, the Senators are one of a handful of teams that could end up winning the Atlantic division this year.
While there's some stiff competition for the division banner, Ottawa is in the position to take a big step forward with Ryan leading the charge. Especially if Craig Anderson continues performing like the rest of the league is playing on easy mode and Erik Karlsson can stay healthy.
A recovered Jason Spezza will also be a boon to the club, and the Senators may be one of the most surprising teams in 2013-14.
Changes for the Dallas Stars Should Lead to a Drastic Improvement
It doesn't seem like all that long ago that the likes of Ed Belfour, Mike Modano and Brett Hull were leading the Dallas Stars to their first ever Stanley Cup. That was in 1999, and the following decade-plus hasn't been so kind to the franchise.
2013 marked the fifth straight year that the Stars had missed the playoffs, and a half-decade of sigh-worthy seasons sent ownership looking for ways to make some serious changes.
Being able to tab the highly sought after Jim Nill as the new general manager was a coup for the franchise, and he wasted little time in putting his fingerprints all over the team. He hired Lindy Ruff as coach, adding an immediate sense of security to a club that had been anything but over the last few years.
He then traded away longtime Star Loui Eriksson and solidified the center position by acquiring Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff on the same day.
Nill wasn't quite finished yet, as he managed to grab the risky but talented Valeri Nichushkin with the No. 10 selection at the draft.
All of these changes should benefit Dallas as it tries to make the playoffs and reinvigorate a fanbase that comes out in droves when the team is winning games consistently.
The Olympic Break
While it's not a "change" per se, the Olympic break will have a massive impact on the upcoming season. Every team will be sending off their top players to take part in the international competition in Russia, and the ramifications of the tournament are far reaching and real.
Several teams could end up sending as many as six or seven players from their usual rosters. The jet lag these stars will experience upon returning could alter the outcome of divisional races as squads try to rest their guys back up for the second half of an already grueling regular season schedule.
Then there's the unfortunate chance of injury. Alex Edler's knee on Eric Staal is a perfect example of how one play overseas can derail the entire season of an NHL team.
The Winter Olympics frequently present some of the most entertaining and passionate hockey games to the viewing public. That doesn't mean that they aren't a hindrance to the NHL's season.
Ilya Kovalchuk's Departure
The sudden retirement of Ilya Kovalchuk shocked the hockey world and set it ablaze with concerns about who else might follow in his footsteps and split for the KHL.
His motivations were clear. When a change can benefit both your pocketbook and your family, it can be tough to turn down and his departure will likely be a positive for the New Jersey Devils in the long run.
Let's be honest: Kovalchuk isn't exactly your prototypical Devils player. Now that he's gone, New Jersey saves a boatload of money and can get back to playing the kind of puck that made the franchise so successful for so long.
The echos of Kovalchuk's move will be far reaching and will be heard long after we've forgotten what number he wore or how electric his wrist shot was. If the Pittsburgh Penguins hit a seven-game losing streak, you can bet your bottom dollar (whatever that means) that a reporter will ask Evgeni Malkin about whether or not he's considering bolting for the KHL.
If the Detroit Red Wings miss the playoffs this season, during their locker clean out day somebody is going to inquire about Pavel Datsyuk's future with the team and whether or not he'd leave for Russia.
You get the picture. One man makes a move and suddenly everyone with the same nationality is suspect. It's a storyline we'll have to get used to, as the "Russian factor" is a three-headed behemoth that just doesn't seem to want to die.
New Regime in Colorado
Can the Colorado Avalanche succeed using tactics that have failed for teams such as the Dallas Stars over the last decade or so?
In an attempt to secure a brighter future, the Avs dipped back into their brilliant past and hired Patrick Roy as the team's new coach. Joe Sakic is also Colorado's Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, and he's been overseeing the retooling effort recently.
As the Denver Post wrote last month, the Avalanche are shifting gears from "cutting costs to building blocks." Things are looking better for Colorado already, as per that same article, "a handful of other smaller examples hinted that this was a team that wasn't 100 percent committed to winning. With Sakic and Roy in charge, I don't see that, and not just because the two Hall of Famers have said so."
It's a tough draw to will your way into the playoffs in the super-competitive Western Conference, but we've seen stranger things happen in recent years. Regardless, a healthy Avalanche team is good for the league, and seeing how the once-mighty franchise continues it's internal rebranding will be worth keeping an eye on this season.
The Reality TV-Esque Philadelphia Flyers
There may not be a team in professional sports with a more aggressive team-building approach than the Philadelphia Flyers.
The timeline on the litany of moves that general manager Paul Holmgren has made over the last few seasons is staggering, from the offloading of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to the acquisition of Steve Mason to be the team's starting netminder (perhaps).
The question after every trade and free agent signing will always be the same for every team, regardless of sport or standing: are we better now than we were before?
Looking over the roster from 2013 and comparing it to who will be suiting up for Philly this season, it's tough to imagine the team making any drastic improvements. Ilya Bryzgalov is gone now, and in his place stand Mason and Ray Emery.
Is that honestly an improvement?
Danny Briere is out as well, and he was cut to save money. Holmgren then promptly turned around and handed an aging Vincent Lecavalier a five-year deal. Again, is this a move that will push the Flyers into the playoffs?
Is Mark Streit the stopgap that the team desperately needed on the blue line? We'll know soon enough, and one way or another, it'll be fun to see how one of the most volatile fanbases in the NHL responds to this team in 2013-14.