NHL Teams with the Most to Prove in the 2013-14 Season
Every NHL team has something to prove in 2013-14, but some teams will feel more heat than others this season.
For example, the Calgary Flames have very little pressure on them. They went into rebuilding mode at the end of the 2013 season, and it's going to take a while for them to become legitimate contenders. The Flames may have gotten off to a hot start, but there's no pressure on them to advance to the playoffs this year.
On the other hand, the Philadelphia Flyers have much to prove after failing to make the playoffs last year and making a slew of roster moves. They are under pressure to become a significant player in the Eastern Conference once again.
Here's our look at the teams with the most to prove this season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Key pressure points: The Blue Jackets have excellent goaltending and a physical defense, so they are expected to perform at a high level again. They also signed notable free-agent right wing Nathan Horton from the Boston Bruins. Once he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery, they should have a much better offense.
Early-season start: 2-3-0; Tied for 10th in Eastern Conference
What they must show: The Blue Jackets must continue to grow by playing tough, physical hockey and showing they can grind out games. They were overlooked most of last season, but that's not the case this year. They have to show they can hang in there when opponents are not taking them lightly. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky must repeat his Vezina Trophy-caliber play, while the defense must make opponents pay for every scoring opportunity.
Detroit Red Wings
Key pressure points: The Red Wings have moved from the Western Conference to the East and they are going to have to prove themselves to their new neighbors. They have been the NHL's best franchise over the last 20 years, but teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are unimpressed. The Red Wings added free agents Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, and they have a young and talented defensive corps who must all step up this season.
Early-season start: 5-2-0; Tied for second in Eastern Conference
What they must show: The Red Wings went through a transition last year after Nicklas Lidstrom retired. Just as it looked as if they would miss the playoffs, they rose up in the final week of the season and made it. They beat Anaheim and extended Chicago to seven games, showing they were still formidable. They must show that they can make a seamless transition to the Eastern Conference; they can prove it by beating the top teams on the road.
Key pressure points: Everyone is waiting for the Oilers to play up to their potential. This team has stockpiled high draft picks and has plenty of the "wow" factor with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. However, they have to start winning consistently. They brought in a new head coach in Dallas Eakins, traded for David Perron and signed free agent Andrew Ference so they would not be on the outside looking in during the postseason.
Early-season start: 1-5-1; 14th in Western Conference
What they must show: The Oilers have plenty of speed and can dazzle when they get their skating and passing games going. They must show they can grind it out for 60 minutes and play with toughness. They have to protect their home ice and not allow opponents to get the jump on them. So far, they have not proven much; this season could be very frustrating if this type of play continues.
Key pressure points: The Wild barely qualified for the playoffs last year, going out meekly in five games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Core players Zach Parise and Ryan Suter don't want their second year in Minnesota to mirror their first, so they must assert themselves. They brought in former Penguin Matt Cooke to increase the toughness quotient. There's a ton of pressure on head coach Mike Yeo for this team to get better. If the Wild don't, it's likely he will become the team's former coach by the end of the season.
Early-season start: 3-2-2; Tied for fifth in Western Conference
What they must show: The Wild need to show they can do more than scratch out a few goals and hang on for the win. Good teams will assert themselves and fill up the net on occasion. The Wild must show they are a competent offensive team. They have to get secondary scoring help from Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter.
New York Islanders
Key pressure points: The New York Islanders surged in the second half of last season and became a playoff team. They pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins hard in the first round before falling short. However, they have set the bar high in 2013-14. If they don't at least match what they did last season, the Islanders will become an afterthought once again.
Early-season start: 2-2-2; Tied for seventh in Eastern Conference
What they must show: John Tavares is largely responsible for this team's improvement, and there's every reason to think he will only get better. But there are questions about the defense and the goaltending. Losing Mark Streit was a big blow to their blue line. They must show they can play without defensive lapses. Can goaltender Evgeni Nabokov handle the workload and the pressure of higher expectations? He must prove himself if the Islanders are going to get back to the playoffs.
Key pressure points: The Flyers had back-to-back seasons with at least 103 points before they plummeted to nonplayoff status last year. That didn't cut it for owner Ed Snider, who's not going to tolerate missing the playoffs again. The Flyers signed free agents Vincent Lecavalier and Ray Emery, and traded for (and signed) defenseman Mark Streit. Losses in their first three games caused the Flyers to fire head coach Peter Laviolette.
Early-season start: 1-6-0; Tied for 15th in Eastern Conference
What they must show: The Flyers are off to a miserable start, with new coach Craig Berube just 1-3-0 since replacing Laviolette. If the Flyers can't turn things around, general manager Paul Holmgren will also find himself on the firing line. They are in the process of digging themselves a very deep hole. Claude Lemieux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Lecavalier are under significant pressure to produce consistently and show they can compete with the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Key pressure points: The Coyotes are staying in Phoenix because new owners bought the team during the summer. If they are going to secure their future, they have to play to their potential so they can ignite the local fanbase. Some say they are fighting a losing battle, but a playoff season like the one they had in 2012—they advanced to the Western Conference Final—will help significantly. On the ice, the Coyotes must show they can score enough goals.
Early-season start: 4-2-1; Tied for third in Western Conference
What they must show: The success of the team on the ice is the best way to assure that the team stays in Phoenix during the long run. The Coyotes have a talented, young defense that should be the team's strength. Goaltender Mike Smith has been quite consistent and is expected to play at a high level in goal. The key for the Coyotes is getting enough production up front. Newcomer Mike Ribeiro needs to produce at close to a point per game—he exceeded that last year with the Washington Capitals—if the Coyotes are going to become a viable threat in the Western Conference.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Key pressure points: The Maple Leafs ended their playoff drought last year and are now playing with high expectations. Much of Canada will be watching the Leafs to see how they can follow up. Just making the playoffs is not good enough this time around. Public pressure is high, and so is the pressure within the locker room. When they eventually go through a slump, how will the players handle it?
Early-season start: 6-1-0; First in the Eastern Conference
What they must show: The Maple Leafs made several moves in the offseason to ensure that they would continue to grow this year. The acquisition of goaltender Jonathan Bernier may determine how far the Leafs go this year, although he still has to emerge in his battle with James Reimer. David Clarkson must provide a physical and goal-scoring presence once he returns from his 10-game suspension. Former Blackhawk Dave Bolland must provide the extra ingredient it takes to win clutch games. The Leafs are off to a great start, but they have to sustain it for the duration.
Key pressure points: The Vancouver Canucks have endured nothing but misery in the playoffs since losing the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Two straight first-round defeats were more than general manager Mike Gillis could endure, so the Canucks are trying to effect a culture change with John Tortorella as head coach. Tortorella is a no-nonsense type who will confront his players when he doesn't like what he sees. How will they react to his straightforward style?
Early-season start: 4-3-0; Tied for fifth in Western Conference
What they must show: The expected outcome is that Tortorella and players like Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Alex Edler will have problems. Tortorella is trying to tone down his emotions, and if his player meet him halfway, perhaps the Canucks will play with more fire.
Tortorella is looking for an excellent defensive effort and consistency from night to night. If he gets what he wants, the Canucks may be able to rise above expectations.