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Predicting Every NHL Team's Fatal Flaw in 2013-14

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

Predicting Every NHL Team's Fatal Flaw in 2013-14

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    Every NHL team has high hopes in training camp.

    Many teams believe they can make a run like the Chicago Blackhawks did last year and raise the Stanley Cup at the end of the year. That may not be realistic, because teams have issues and problems that will derail them at some point in the season or the playoffs.

    Even the Blackhawks. When the Boston Bruins blistered goalie Corey Crawford for five goals in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the goalie appeared to be exposed. The Bruins had found his weakness—shoot the puck high to his glove side—and surely that was going to be the Blackhawks' fatal flaw.

    But it wasn't. Crawford and the Blackhawks survived their fatal flaw and won anyway.

    Here's a look at the biggest issues that could derail each of the league's 30 teams this year.

Anaheim Ducks: Goal-Scoring Depth

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    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    At the start of last season, Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau had to wonder where his team's goals were going to come from besides the first line. With slick Jakob Silfverberg coming from Ottawa to join Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the top line should be able to fill the net.

    But where will the rest of the goals come from? Saku Koivu is an aging veteran at this point and he may not be able to carry his share of the load. Teemu Selanne is back, but the 43-year-old contemplated retirement and he has little left at this point in his career.

    The Ducks have several young and talented players in Emerson Etem, Kyle Palmieri and Andrew Winnik who have had varying degrees of success. They may or may not come through this year. If they don't, the Ducks will have a tough time scoring enough goals.

Boston Bruins: Right Wing Shuffle

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    Last year's Stanley Cup finalists appear to be loaded with enough talent to make another long run in the playoffs.

    But something strange went on in Boston during the offseason. The Bruins lost all three of their right wings and replaced them with new ones. Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr are gone, while Jarome Iginla, Louis Eriksson and Reilly Smith are new.

    Iginla and Eriksson should be able to step into the top two lines, but Smith still has to earn a spot on the team and he could be on the fourth line if he does. As talented as Iginla and Eriksson are, it could take a while for them to fit in with their new teammates.

Buffalo Sabres: Identity

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    The Buffalo Sabres have a lot of problems, but if they are going to rise up and become a playoff team again, they need to forge an identity.

    Are the Sabres a team that rely on goaltending and defense? Are they a speed team? Do they have enough toughness? Can they build a cohesive power play and win games with their special teams?

    They have no identity.

    Ron Rolston enters his first full season as head coach and he must help the Sabres carve out a niche. Thomas Vanek has the skills of a superstar, but he has never demonstrated consistency. Veteran goalie Ryan Miller has been a star, but he appears to be on the downside of his career.

    The Sabres have nothing they can hang their hats on at this point, and the lack of identity may bury them.

Calgary Flames: Defense

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    The Calgary Flames finally went into a rebuilding mode last season when they traded captain Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins late last season. 

    It may take several years before the Flames can contend for the playoffs. They have gotten that message out to their fans, but it seems unlikely that their supporters will put up with that for very long. Impatience will be a big issue.

    However, that's more of a long-term problem. Over the short term, the big issue will be the play of the defense.

    Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano are the Flames' first pair, and while Wideman can shoot and carry the puck and will be a positive on the power play, he is not a great skater nor a tough defender. The Flames will have plenty of wide open spaces and their opponents should have no problems taking advantage.

Carolina Hurricanes: Pitkanen's Injury

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    Joni Pitkanen has been the Hurricanes' best defenseman for the last five seasons. When he broke his heel at the end of last season, it did not seem to be a huge issue because the Hurricanes were not in the playoff race and he would have all summer to recover.

    However, the Hurricanes announced early in training camp that Pitkanen would miss the entire season because of the broken bone. Until the start of training camp it looked like he might miss the first month or six weeks, but he would be able to play the majority of the year.

    That was just false hope, and the Hurricanes are going to need a defenseman like Justin Faulk to step up. That's a lot to ask and the depth-challenged Hurricanes' defense will have a tough time surviving.

Chicago Blackhawks: Stanley Cup Hangover

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    It's been a long time since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and '98.

    There are a lot of reasons no team has repeated since then, but the Stanley Cup hangover is one of the reasons and it could be an even stronger factor this season.

    Here's why: The Blackhawks have had the shortest offseason of any champion in recent history. Because last year's lockout forced the regular season and the postseason to go deeper into the calendar, the Blackhawks had little time to rest, recuperate and rehab.

    Each of the last three Stanley Cup champions—the Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings—all got off to poor starts following their celebratory summers.

    Joel Quenneville has to worry about that and he also has to be concerned about losing backup goalie Ray Emery and going with veteran Nikolai Khabibulin this season. 

Colorado Avalanche: Defensive Proficiency

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    Go back to the NHL draft and the Avs' selection of Nathan MacKinnon. While there is no doubt that he has the kind of skill set that should allow him to be a 30-plus goal scorer relatively early in his career, the Avs had a big need for defensemen.

    They have a lot of young and talented forwards, including Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, but they have little to offer on the defensive end. The Avs gave up 3.12 goals per game last year, a figure that ranked 27th in the league.

    What have they done to improve? They have not added any quality defensemen and that's a questionable decision by management that is likely to impact the team negatively.

     

Columbus Blue Jackets: Intensity from Forwards

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets were not a playoff team last year, but shortly after they named John Davidson as president of the team, the franchise surged.

    The dramatic improvement left the team contending for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and this year they move East. That's where they always wanted to be.

    They are going to look to former New York Ranger forward Marian Gaborik and ex-Boston Bruin sniper Nathan Horton for scoring and leadership. Both men have outstanding skill sets, and Gaborik has eye-catching speed while Horton, who will miss the start of the season after recovering from shoulder surgery, has a wicked wrist shot. However, neither man has been known for his consistency during the regular season.

    Perhaps they have gained the maturity to become the kind of players who bring it every night. If that's not the case, the Blue Jackets will fall short again in 2013-14.

Dallas Stars: Chemistry Issues

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    The slump has grown to five seasons. The Dallas Stars are desperate to make sure it doesn't grow to six.

    The Stars have not made the NHL playoffs since the 2007-08 season. One-time hero Joe Nieuwendyk was fired as general manager and former Red Wing assistant GM Jim Nill was brought it to resolve the situation. He has brought in Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff to take over the top three center spots and veteran Sergei Gonchar to man one of the top defense slots.

    He also hired former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff to give the team more structure behind the bench.

    That's a lot of change that should result in the Stars having more speed and flexibility. However, when they acquired the talented Seguin, they lost the reliable Loui Eriksson.

    Will the new players fit in and simply make the Stars a more dangerous team? Does Ruff still have what it takes to lead a team or is he burned out from all his years in Buffalo? These are the questions that must be answered.

Detroit Red Wings: Maturity on Defense

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    The Red Wings went through their rebuilding phase in about three-quarters of the lockout-shortened season.

    When they lost Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement, it seemed the 2013 season would see them become a team in transition. They were no longer the talented and reliable team that had been the NHL's best franchise for 20 years.

    That scenario played out until the final weeks of the regular season when the Red Wings turned it up and made the playoffs. They won their first-round matchup with the Anaheim Ducks and forced the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to seven games.

    They looked formidable by the end of the year. They have enough talent up and down the roster to be a contender in the Eastern Conference. However, a more detailed check reveals that they have quite a bit of youth on the defensive side.

    How will defensemen like Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl and Kyle Quincey fare over a full 82-game season.? It seems likely they will do quite well, but there will be pitfalls during the year they they will have to avoid.

Edmonton Oilers: Culture Change

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    The conversation about the Edmonton Oilers in recent years has been all about the talented young stars on the roster.

    Prior to this year, it seemed it was just a matter of the young talent coming together and meshing, and when that happened the Oilers would be formidable.

    While the team made a brief run last year at the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, they fell short. Craig MacTavish was brought in to steward the franchise and he tapped Dallas Eakins to coach the team. The two men plan to affect a culture change in Edmonton.

    Instead of the focus remaining on young stars Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who's not available until late October or early November due to a shoulder injury), it's all about the team and accountability. 

    No longer will the Oilers put up with a 10-bell effort one night and a two-bell effort the next. It's not quite that simple, but if Eakins can make sure all players understand the team concept of the game, the Oilers have a chance to make the playoffs. If not, it will be the team's fatal failure once again.

Florida Panthers: Goaltending

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    Dale Tallon has proven to be a savvy general manager when it comes to judging and selecting talent. When he looked at his roster at the start of training camp, he could see potential holes all over, but the biggest problems were in net.

    That's why he signed former Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas to a professional tryout contract. Thomas is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner. While that resume means the 39-year-old Thomas should easily make the team, he took the 2013 season off and therein lies the rub.

    Players don't just take the year off. It's unusual and could indicate that the talented Thomas may have a difficult time fitting in with a new team that finished last in the Eastern Conference last year. 

    Tallon had to take the chance. Jacob Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen are not the kind of goalies you want to go into the battle with. If the desperation signing of Thomas doesn't work, the Panthers will struggle again in 2013-14.

Los Angeles Kings: Missing Key Defenseman

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    The Stanley Cup hangover is finished. The Los Angeles Kings hope to write a new chapter in their history, one that ends with them lifting the prized chalice for the second time in three years.

    The Kings are loaded and should be a force in the suddenly Red Wings-less Western Conference. They have one of the best goalies in the league in Jonathan Quick, a deep group of forwards and a talented and mobile group of defensemen.

    Stop right there. While Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov and Matt Greene should form a talented core of blueliners, they are missing Rob Scuderi, who signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the offseason.

    Scuderi is not a fancy player who is going to join the rush very often. That's not his game. However, he is a hard-nosed block of granite who punishes opposing forwards and helps set the tone for toughness. His absence could be very difficult to overcome.

Minnesota Wild: High Expectations

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    The big moves were made in the summer of 2012 when the Minnesota Wild hit back-to-back home runs when they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in free agency.

    The moves bolstered and improved the Minnesota Wild, which made the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They were eliminated in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks with relative ease.

    Nobody is satisfied in Minnesota, including general manager Chuck Fletcher and head coach Mike Yeo. The Wild added forwards Matt Cooke and Nino Niederreiter as well as defenseman Keith Ballard. The Wild has to continue to climb. That means Parise and Suter have to get better and the new players have to fit in. 

    The surge of adrenaline that signing Parise and Suter gave them has waned. The Wild has to simply get better and keep climbing, or there could be another culture change coming in Minnesota.

Montreal Canadiens: Goaltending Issue

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    The dramatic improvement shown by the Montreal Canadiens last year made the 2013 season a success—at least as far as the regular season was concerned.

    The Canadiens won their division and finished second in the Eastern Conference, but they bombed out in the first round of the playoffs. 

    In the final weeks of the regular season and their five-game playoff loss to the Ottawa Senators, the goaltending slumped badly. Carey Price looked as though he couldn't stop a beach ball and his shoulders slumped regularly as shot after shot whizzed by him.

    Price finished the season with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. His playoff numbers were 3.26 and .894. That's not good enough.

    Price is supposed to be an elite goalie whom most expect him to be on Canada's Olympic team in February. If he doesn't show improvement this year, he may get run out of Montreal and his home country by the end of the year.

Nashville Predators: Scoring

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    The Nashville Predators have been a mini-success story in the NHL for years. The league could point to the country music capital with pride. The Preds have developed a loyal fanbase in this non-traditional market and have found consistent regular-season success.

    Much of that has been due to the combination of general manager David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz. The Preds play hard every night and back up the effort with top-level goaltending and physical defense.

    But the Predators have regularly struggled with goal scoring. That's almost certainly going to be a problem again this year.

    Look at the potential first line of the Mike Fisher, Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist. That trio combined for 21 goals last year and that's not going to cut it. Does that suddenly improve in 2013-14?

New Jersey Devils: Star Departure

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    The Devils have been one of the steadiest teams under the leadership of general manager Lou Lamoriello.

    They appeared to be in trouble at the end of the 2013 season as they went from Stanley Cup finalists to non-playoff qualifiers.

    The Devils also were saddled with debt problems at the ownership level and then a decision by star right winger Ilya Kovalchuk to go back to Russia and play in the KHL hurt them badly.

    After they got hit with that punch, the Devils' ownership issues disappeared as new owners wiped out the debt and Lamoriello could breathe again. The Devils added scoring winger Michael Ryder and goalie Cory Schneider, who will bide his time until Martin Brodeur retires.

    Look for a bounce-back year from the Devils because that's simply the way Lamoriello operates.

    However, if they don't, it will be because their offense struggles without the firepower of Kovalchuk. The team won't look back and feel sorry for itself, but it will be difficult to make up for the loss of the 45 goals he could have scored.

New York Islanders: Wobbly Goaltending and Defense

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    The New York Islanders authored one of the most surprising stories in 2013 when they surged in the second half of the season and made the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

    While it was clear that John Tavares had simply taken ownership of the team and was largely responsible for the climb, he got plenty of help from Mark Streit on defense. Streit is now anchoring the Philadelphia Flyers' blue line.

    That loss will hurt the team and the sight of Evgeni Nabokov in goal will not do much for their confidence either. Nabokov has talent and is capable of a hot streak, but he is also capable of going cold. During the postseason, the Islanders outplayed the Pittsburgh Penguins for long stretches but they couldn't take advantage because Nabokov could not hold the fort. 

    Nabokov's 4.44 goals-against average and .842 save percentage left Islanders fans crying in their beer and wondering what might have been. They may have that same feeling again this year.

New York Rangers: Erase the Shock

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    The Rangers have many issues as they approach the 2013-14 season, including their ability to put the puck in the net. The Rangers averaged 2.62 goals per game last year and that ranked 15th in the league.

    That's not good enough for a team that pictures itself as one of the NHL's elite teams.

    However, the biggest issue is the culture change.

    Hard-nosed John Tortorella is gone and Alain Vigneault has manned his former spot behind the bench. While there is relief that the temperamental Tortorella is gone, is Vigneault the right man for the job?

    He should be able to have an impact on the team's dormant power play (23rd in the league), but he slowly lost control of the Canucks during his lengthy stay in Vancouver. If he doesn't gain the confidence of the team quickly, the Rangers could be quite mediocre in 2013-14.

Ottawa Senators: Defensive Depth

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    The Ottawa Senators may have been in shock for a few days when longtime franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson broke hearts and decided to sign with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent.

    While that decision may have been painful and left Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray with bruised feelings, it is not going to keep this team from being a strong competitor in a loaded division.

    The Senators have plenty of talent and depth up front if they can avoid the injuries that afflicted them last year. But a look at the roster show that they added Joe Corvo on defense and he will either man a spot in the second or third pair. That's not a good thing.

    Corvo has a decent shot, but he makes too many mistakes in his own end and could cause huge problems for the Sens. 

    This is one of the team's few weak spots. If Corvo is in the lineup for too long, it could prove to be a big issue.

Philadelphia Flyers: Goaltending

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    The Flyers had seen enough of Ilya Bryzgalov. While he was not the cause of all of their problems in the non-playoff 2013 season, he represented a big chunk of them.

    Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren acquired Steve Mason near the end of the the season from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also signed Chicago Blackhawks backup Ray Emery as a free agent. Holmgren is expecting that duo to give the Flyers much better play in net.

    Mason certainly looked good during his short run with the Flyers at the end of the season, while Emery was exceptional with the Blackhawks during the regular season. However, there are no assurances that either goalie will play consistently and become the dependable fortresses that the Flyers need them to be.

Phoenix Coyotes: Great Expectations

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    There is great relief in Phoenix because the team's longstanding ownership problems have finally been solved and the team apparently is staying in the desert for the foreseeable future.

    That's outstanding news for general manager Don Maloney. The Coyotes made a playoff run in 2012, getting all the way to the Western Conference Finals before the team failed to make the playoffs last year.

    With new ownership, solid play in goal and one of the best groups of young defensemen in the Western Conference, the Coyotes should be able to forget to 2013 and get back to playoff form.

    However, they are banking on free-agent signee Mike Ribeiro to give the offense a lift. Ribeiro was sensational for the Washington Capitals last year with 49 points in the truncated 48-game season. He was rewarded with a five-year, $25 million contract by the Coyotes.

    How will Ribeiro react to the big payday? He has shown signs of selfishness and undisciplined play at various points throughout his career. If he does not deliver for the Coyotes, this promising season could turn out to be a disappointment.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Ray Shero may have made a huge mistake in showing incredible patience with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

    Shero stewards perhaps the most gifted team in the league, but the Penguins have suffered through two poor playoff performances in a row by Fleury.

    Fleury's Stanley Cup-winning performance in the 2009 playoffs is ancient history now. He was putrid vs. the Flyers in 2012 (4.63 goals-against average and .834 save percentage) and he had to be replaced by Tomas Vokoun vs. the Islanders last year. When he got another chance against the Boston Bruins, his brutal run continued.

    A good goalie should be able to come back from one bad playoff performance. But two? The ship may have sailed on Fleury, and if it has, the Penguins could be in big trouble.

St. Louis Blues: Scoring

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    The St. Louis Blues have most of the elements needed to challenge the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division.

    Head coach Ken Hitchcock has full confidence in his goaltending and defense, but when he looks at his forwards he has to wonder whether the Blues have the goal scoring to stay with the Blackhawks for 82 games.

    The Blues had just three players who scored 10 or more goals last year. Even in a truncated season, that's not enough.

    Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund scored 18 and 17 goals, respectively. The Blues need more from T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz if they are going to live up to expectations.

    This team has grit, energy, defense and goaltending, but the Blues must find a way to put the puck in the net consistently.

San Jose Sharks: Stagnation

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    Perhaps general manager Doug Wilson really does know better than everybody else. Perhaps he is right when he looks at the San Jose Sharks roster and sees a team capable of finally getting through the Western Conference and winning in the playoffs.

    If he didn't, he wouldn't have left the team alone in the offseason. The only addition came when they signed free agent Tyler Kennedy, who had a disappointing 11-point season with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.

    Aside from that, it will be the same old Sharks this year.

    While Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski have seemingly taken the team from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the Sharks are little different from the team they have always been and that has not been good enough in the past.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Defense

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning can be thrilling to watch when the team is on its game. If anyone is more exciting than Steven Stamkos when he is in full flight, it might be Martin St. Louis, who remains one of the most explosive players in the league at 38.

    The loss of longtime franchise icon Vincent Lecavalier will take some getting used to, but former Detroit Red Wing Valtteri Filppula gives them a player with excellent all-around skills.

    The biggest problem for the Lightning is on defense.

    Even if Ben Bishop can get the job done in goal, his blueliners appear ordinary at best. The Lightning gave up 3.06 goals per game last year and that ranked 26th in the league. They appear no better this year.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Offseason Gambles

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    The 2013 season ended in heartbreak for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there's no reason to think that their playoff appearance was a one-time occurrence.

    The Leafs made great strides last year and had the Boston Bruins on the ropes until their late collapse. But with a team that includes Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner, there's no reason to think that the Leafs won't be better in 2013-14.

    The Leafs tried to make their team stronger by adding free agent David Clarkson and trading for goalie Jonathan Bernier and Stanley Cup hero Dave Bolland. Clarkson was signed at an enormous price (seven years, $36.75 million) to bring grit and goal scoring. Bernier has been viewed as the best No. 2 goalie in the league. Bolland scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for Chicago.

    Will any or all of these players transition successfully to the Maple Leafs? That's the gamble that general manager Dave Nonis has taken and it could be trouble if the moves don't work out.

Vancouver Canucks: Storm Warning

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    There are plenty of issues with the Vancouver Canucks, who have been dumped in the first round of the playoffs for two consecutive years.

    Are they tough enough? Do they still have the talent to dominate in the Western Conference? Can Roberto Luongo make the mental adjustment and return to top form?

    However, all those questions pale in comparison as to why they hired John Tortorella as head coach. The explosive Tortorella wore out his welcome with his Draconian methods behind the New York Rangers bench.

    Former head coach Alain Vigneault may have been too lax with his Canucks, but bringing in Tortorella represents a 180-degree change that could be disastrous. 

     

Washington Capitals: Consistency

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    The Washington Capitals were one of the NHL's worst teams in the first half of the 2013 season and one of the best ones in the second half.

    That bodes well for Adam Oates, who begins his second year behind the bench. His players not only took to his system, they also seemed to enjoy playing for him as much as he enjoyed coaching them.

    The Caps were not active in free agency and did little in the offseason. But George McPhee likes the makeup of his team even if they could not hold on to center Mike Ribeiro. They are hoping hard-working Brooks Laich can step into the No. 2 center's role and give them consistent production. If they get it, they should be a playoff contender.

    If they don't, McPhee may have to make some moves to give the team scoring from someone other than Alex Ovechkin.

Winnipeg Jets: Maturity

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    The Winnipeg Jets have played with the requisite energy since moving from Atlanta to Canada's heartland.

    Winnipeg residents have taken this franchise to their soul and want to see this team get to the playoffs. The talent is there with players like Evander Kane, Tobias Enstrom, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little and newcomer Devin Setoguchi.

    When will this talent come together and play with consistency? It's about maturity.

    Can head coach Claude Noel light a fire under these players so they are at their best on an everyday basis? If not, it will be another disappointing season in the 'Peg.

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