NHL

NHL Teams That Will Be Most Affected by Retirements in 2014-15

Rob VollmanContributor IJune 24, 2014

NHL Teams That Will Be Most Affected by Retirements in 2014-15

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    Every year there's at least one retirement of significant impact, whether it's Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom in 2012, Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff last year, or Anaheim's Teemu Selanne right now.

    Usually the impact of a player's retirement is far subtler than that of those three, but the loss of a key ingredient can have a meaningful impact on a team's fortunes. Which teams should be most concerned going into next season?

    To answer that, I looked at all the retirements, both real and rumored, and speculated on each player's replacements. As usual, I used analytics to evaluate which teams would suffer the greatest potential overall impact.

    Given how many retirements can occur midseason, much like those of Roman Hamrlik and Martin Biron in New York last year or Vaclav Prospal and Adrian Aucoin in Columbus, there can be a fair deal of speculation at play when figuring out which team will be affected the most.  

    In the end, I've identified 10 teams that have known or potential retirements that could affect the upcoming season. Let's begin!

     

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

     

10. Montreal Canadiens

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    The Montreal Canadiens have five players aged 35 and up, including Daniel Briere (36), Brian Gionta (35), Francis Bouillon (38), Mike Weaver (36), Andrei Markov (35). Douglas Murray (34) is another player whoc could potentially retire.

    Only Briere and Markov are currently on contract for next year, and even they aren't necessarily guaranteed to last the season.

     

    Potential Impact

    The most significant possible retirement would be Markov's, as he is a solid top-four option who can quarterback the power play and kill penalties.

    Weaver also proved highly valuable after his trade deadline acquisition and is known for strong shutdown play and penalty killing at the No. 4 spot on the depth chart.

    The loss of Bouillon and Murray would have minimal impact, as they have already been phased into playing depth roles.

    Up front, Briere has also been phased into a depth role at even strength but can still be useful on the power play and has gone 10-for-29 in the shootout over the past six years. He also surprisingly ranked third among Canadiens forwards in average quality of competition last year and had positive possession numbers for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

    Montreal's forward who ranked first in quality of competition last year was Gionta, who never generally dips below fifth. While his scoring totals and possession numbers are all dropping, the team nevertheless had greater confidence in him defensively than anyone except arguably Tomas Plekanec.

     

    Possible Replacements

    The Canadiens could use some more help on the blue line, as they are currently relying on an aging and injury-prone Markov, a yet-to-be-signed P.K. Subban and potentially overpaid marginal top-four defensemen Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin.

    Youngsters Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are not good top-four options yet, and Davis Drewiske (if healthy) is a candidate for the third pairing only.

    The Habs could also use some top-line defensive-minded forwards too. Players like Travis Moen, Brandon Prust and Dale Weise are third-line options only, and Rene Bourque has never proven to be a consistent and reliable top-six forward.

    Right now, Lars Eller appears to be the best candidate for the top shutdown line, and Plekanec could really find himself hung out to dry if Montreal fails to secure superior options.

9. New York Islanders

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    Even if last year's starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov doesn't retire, the 38-year-old is still unlikely to return to the Islanders, per Ashley Hagewood of Fansided.

    The team may also have to be alert to the possibility that key 37-year-old defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky may not be able to return at 100 percent health and that his retirement could be closer than it currently appears. Noah Reiss of Fansided has already hinted at such a possibility.

     

    Potential Impact

    Though he isn't legitimate starter material anymore, Nabokov is still a capable backup goalie. He has served the Islanders as reasonably as possible throughout his three tough years with the team and has certainly proven to be far superior to the team's other options.

    The Islanders learned last year that there's no easy way to replace Visnovsky, who was able to play just 24 games. When healthy he is a talented puck-moving defenseman and power-play quarterback who can post exceptional possession numbers, especially when deployed in an offensive-minded fashion against secondary opponents.

     

    Possible Replacements

    The Islanders have shrewdly secured Jaroslav Halak as their new starting goaltender, but with Anders Nilsson signing in the KHL, Nabokov's absence would leave Kevin Poulin as the team's backup. That could cost the team several points in the standings unless they can secure a free agent like Chad Johnson or Thomas Greiss.

    As for the blue line, the Islanders have several up-and-coming defensemen, most notably Calvin de Haan and Griffin Reinhart; the former is probably already capable of taking on Visnovsky's role on the top pairing.

    This is nevertheless an area of overall weakness for the team, and a step back caused by injury or early retirement could cost them any chance of returning to the playoffs.

8. Los Angeles Kings

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    It's not unusual for players to retire after winning the Stanley Cup, but at 34 years old Robyn Regehr is a little on the young side. He is nevertheless rumored to be considering retirement according to the folks at the Fourth Period, who suggest 37-year-old Willie Mitchell could also be contemplating the same.

    Mitchell wants to keep playing, and preferably with the Kings, according to Lisa Dillman of The Los Angeles Times. Can he and/or Regehr make it through one more full NHL season?

     

    Potential Impact

    Regehr and Mitchell are stay-at-home, shutdown defensemen who can kill penalties, throw hits, block shots and take on big minutes, but they can no longer necessarily keep up with the top lines anymore.

    In fact, it was the first time in five seasons that Regehr didn't lead his team in quality of competition, finishing fourth on the Kings' blue line. Mitchell ranked fifth, which was his third straight season outside the top four.

     

    Possible Replacements

    The Kings are well stocked on the blue line with one of the game's best, Drew Doughty, backed up by Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov.

    Though all four are superior to Mitchell and Regehr overall, all but Doughty are inferior when it comes to physical shutdown play.

    To fill this potential void the Kings could either re-sign Matt Greene or hit the free-agent market for someone like Brooks Orpik. If his asking price is too high, other suitable players become available on the trade wire quite frequently.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    Unrestricted free agent Sami Salo is the only potential Bolt on the retirement radar, but the impact of his absence could be far more significant than most fans might realize.

     

    Potential Impact

    As an exercise, compare Salo to Eric Brewer. Salo has 339 points in 878 games over 15 seasons with three teams, while Brewer has 260 points in 965 games over 15 seasons with four teams.

    Last year Salo had 17 points in 71 games while averaging 18:11 of ice time per night, while Brewer scored 17 points in 77 games while averaging 17:33 per night. They both logged regular shifts on the penalty kill, and I think it's fair to say that the two defensemen are held in relatively comparable esteem defensively.

    Analytics reveal a different picture, however. Salo ranked first in quality of competition on Tampa Bay's blue line for the second straight season, a role similar to what he previously played in Vancouver, while Brewer ranked sixth. Salo nevertheless achieved positive possession numbers, while Brewer didn't.

    Now, lots of things can affect a player's possession numbers, but it's fair to say that Salo was a surprisingly key member of Tampa Bay's blue line last year, one who can't be as easily replaced as a sixth defenseman like Brewer.

     

    Possible Replacements

    The Bolts have two other veteran defensemen in Brewer and Matthew Carle, the latter of whom is a decent top-four option. They also have Victor Hedman, a highly underrated two-way star.

    The rest of their blue line is populated by the young and/or untried, most notably Radko Gudas, Andrej Sustr and Mark Barberio, none of whom appear ready to effectively contribute in a top-four role. 

    While it appears that the Lightning are well-stocked long-term, Salo's departure could cause at least a short-term disruption.

6. Edmonton Oilers

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    Ryan Smyth tearfully said goodbye to the team, the organization and its fans at the end of the season, marking the end of a great career.

    Fortunately for the Oilers, there's no one else in the potential retirement zone.

     

    Potential Impact

    It never hurts to have the veteran experience and leadership of someone like Smyth on a young team struggling through several consecutive losing seasons. That will perhaps be the greatest loss.

    Analytically, Smyth made a splendid transition from top-six forward to the checking line, extending his career by a couple more seasons. Though not relied upon for scoring, Smyth was an effective penalty-killer the past three seasons and enjoyed good possession numbers this year despite starting 36.1 percent of his non-neutral zone shifts in the offensive zone.

     

    Possible Replacement

    The Oilers are notoriously short on both veteran leadership and on solid checking-line talent.

    Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks could take on heftier roles of both, but quite frankly Edmonton could use more help here. It wouldn't be at all inappropriate for the team to pursue the free-agent services of someone like Brian Gionta, Marcel Goc, David Moss, Lee Stempniak, Saku Koivu, David Legwand, Daniel Winnik, to name just a few examples, some obviously better than others.

5. New Jersey Devils

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    Martin Brodeur's career as a New Jersey Devil is likely over, according to Tom Gulitti of The Star, although it remains to be seen if that means retirement or a new NHL home.

    A team with as many veterans as the New Jersey also runs the risk of a midseason retirement, whether that's Jaromir Jagr (42), Patrik Elias (38), Bryce Salvador (38), Marek Zidlicky (37) or Dainius Zubrus (36). While all but one (Salvador) have been highly effective recently, the risk of a retirement is still greater in New Jersey than in other NHL cities.

     

    Potential Impact

    Brodeur is still a steady and capable goalie, which is why New Jersey played him 39 times last year despite the presence of the far superior option of Cory Schneider.

    As for the other five veterans, all but one are currently in key roles for the Devils. Jagr is the team's top scorer (and top player), Elias and Zubrus are both key top-six, two-way forwards, while Zidlicky is an important top-four bridge as their young corps of defensemen continue to develop, especially with the likely loss of Mark Fayne to free agency.

     

    Possible Replacements

    It's probably unlikely that New Jersey will go with Keith Kinkaid as Schneider's backup this year.

    When the Devils go shopping they'll need to have Schneider's status in mind. The highly underrated 28-year-old has only one year left on his deal, and his desire to stay in town will dictate whether the hunt is for a backup or a possible replacement.

    As for the veterans, the Devils are well-equipped with youngsters like Jonathon Merrill, Eric Gelinas and Adam Larsson who are ready to take on more prominent blue-line roles, but they are far less flexible up front.

    Top-six, two-way forwards are notoriously difficult to find and/or develop, but in the short term it could mean more prominent roles for Travis Zajac, Ryane Clowe and Adam Henrique.

4. Colorado Avalanche

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    Former Conn Smythe winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere is ready to announce his retirement, according to NHL.com.

    No one else on this relatively young team is a particularly strong candidate for retirement.

     

    Potential Impact

    Giguere had a fine season, and I ranked him eighth on my Bleacher Report breakdown of the best available unrestricted free-agent goalies.

    As noted in that article, Giguere's "three-season save percentage with Colorado is .914, which isn't that far below average."

     

    Possible Replacement

    The Avalanche have already acquired his replacement from the Calgary Flames at last year's trade deadline, Reto Berra. But will he play as well as Giguere, or will he cost the Avalanche a few points in the standings?

    The 27-year-old Swiss goalie didn't exactly have an inspiring first NHL season but earned enough confidence to secure a three-season deal with an annual cap hit of $1.45 million.

    Colorado is also blessed with no shortage of young goaltending prospects in their system.

3. Dallas Stars

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    Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    Will 42-year-old veteran Ray Whitney retire this summer? The 22-season winger may return for one more season, either in Dallas or potentially Arizona.

    Another possible retirement is 40-year-old trade deadline acquisition Tim Thomas, currently an unrestricted free agent.

    There's also the possibility that 40-year-old defenseman Sergei Gonchar could retire before completing the final season of his contract.

     

    Potential Impact

    Despite his disappointing season, Whitney is not without value. He's gone 7-for-23 in the shootout over the past six seasons (but 0-for-5 over the last two) and remains one of the team's most potent power-play threats even in a down year.

    Gonchar is another strong power-play threat, though the rest of his game has largely abandoned him.

    Thomas remains a capable backup goalie.

     

    Possible Replacements

    While a depth winger and a third-pairing defenseman should be easy replacements for the Stars to find at even strength, the question is who would take over for Whitney and Gonchar on the power play.

    Jamie Oleksiak is an intriguing possibility on the point, or maybe Kevin Connauton; otherwise, they could simply move Trevor Daley and Jordie Benn up the depth chart.

    The options up front are far more numerous, with the most obvious option being that Valeri Nichushkin gets a lot more power-play time.

    The Stars will, however, need to go shopping for someone to back up Kari Lehtonen, unless they intend to use Jack Campbell, the only one of four alternates the Stars used last year who remains with the organization.

2. Detroit Red Wings

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    The Detroit Red Wings have five players aged 35 and up and thus potentially contemplating retirement, including Daniel Alfredsson (41), Todd Bertuzzi (39), Mikael Samuelsson (37) and Dan Cleary (35). Pavel Datsyuk is the fifth, but there's no chance he'll retire.

    The Red Wings have already cut ties with Bertuzzi and Samuelsson, as reported by Mike Halford of NBC Sports, but are still waiting on a decision from Alfredsson.

    The Wings are also interested in bringing back Cleary, who has reportedly also received multiple-year offers, according to Ansar Khan of Michigan Live, but his recent struggles leave open the possibility that he'll be inactive by season's end.

     

    Potential Impact

    Alfredsson was the team's leading scorer last year and will be the most difficult to replace should he retire. He's a strong two-way, top-six forward, an effective playmaker and power-play specialist. He has gone 15-for-42 in the shootout over the past six years.

    The other three veterans totaled just 27 points in 137 games last year but nevertheless made some significant contributions in a few select areas. Bertuzzi was 14-for-35 in the shootout over the past six years, for example, and Cleary has been a responsible defensive presence.

     

    Possible Replacements

    The Red Wings have a lot of talented young forwards just waiting for more opportunities, like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco to name just the four most prominent. Tatar can even take on some of the missing shootout opportunities.

    Can any of them effectively take on the defensive aspect of the game, however? That is perhaps why the Red Wings are most seriously pursuing Alfredsson and Cleary.

1. Anaheim Ducks

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Possible Retirements

    Veteran scoring-line winger and future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne officially retired at the conclusion of the season, and could Saku Koivu be far behind?

    Anaheim won't be offering Koivu a new deal, as reported by Lisa Dillman of The Los Angeles Times, leading to speculation that Selanne's 39-year-old countryman will also hang up his skates.

    The only other potential retirement is 37-year-old Stephane Robidas, now an unrestricted free agent.

     

    Potential Impact

    Selanne's offensive output has been on the decline for years and wasn't even at the top-six level these past two seasons. The defensive aspect of his game has also long since vanished.

    He nevertheless remained an effective secondary scoring option at both even strength and on the power play, especially if you believe in the impact of leadership and clutch scoring. The Finnish Flash was also helpful in the shootout, going 12-for-35 over the past six seasons.

    Though coming off a disappointing season, Koivu's absence will noticeably affect Anaheim's top shutdown line, further aggravating the departure of unrestricted free agent Daniel Winnik.

    The Ducks will need to find other players to handle the team's top opponents, as Koivu has done for his five seasons with the club, largely in the defensive zone for three of the past four. He was a solid option on both special teams and a decent option in the faceoff circle and shootout.

    As for Robidas, he is an excellent and highly underrated two-way defenseman, but the Ducks are well-stocked on the blue line. If they can weather the retirement of Toni Lydman last year, not to mention Sheldon Souray's injury, they can certainly handle the loss of an injured trade deadline rental. 

     

    Possible Replacements

    The Ducks have several youngsters who would be glad to grab Selanne's ice time on a bottom-six scoring line, like Kyle Palmieri or the more physical Patrick Maroon. Even Matt Beleskey and Emerson Etem are intriguing options.

    As for the checking line, Jakob Silfverberg would be my choice to join Andrew Cogliano in taking on the team's tough minutes. The Ducks will likely have to look outside the organization to complete that line, though there are a few youngsters who could work their way up to that in time.

     

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.

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