NHL: 15 Potential Christmas Gifts for Teams Across the League
With Hanukkah underway and Christmas just around the corner, it's a time for gifts to be handed out, and here are a few items of business that are at the top of NHL teams' wish lists on Christmas Eve.
There are the usual suspects, like health and productive superstars, who have either been bitten by the injury bug or experienced drops in scoring for various reasons.
In addition, there are teams hoping for upgrades in the areas of their lineups that appear to be weak as the 2011-12 season's first third has drawn to a close.
For many teams, their holiday presents came early, such as in the case of the St. Louis Blues, as Christmas came early on November 7th. That was the day the Blues appointed Ken Hitchcock as team's new head coach, and since then, the Blues have surged to fourth in the Western Conference standings, posting a sparking 13-4-4 record.
For hockey fans, the gifts are more obvious, as we have both the World Junior Championship and the Winter Classic to look forward to. Unfortunately, the holidays can be a difficult time for general managers and coaches, especially in cities where teams are underachieving.
With that in mind, here are 15 items that will be at the top of NHL teams' wish lists in preparation for Christmas morning.
15. A Time Machine for the Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames have stuck with largely the same core of players for the last five seasons and continue to find themselves entrenched in mediocrity year after year.
Part of the issue for general manager Jay Feaster is that he's handcuffed from making any major personnel changes by the 11 players with no-trade or no-movement clauses in their contracts.
No-trade and no-movement clauses are normally reserved for franchise cornerstone players whose teams have the utmost of confidence in keeping on board for the considerable future, but former Flames GM Darryl Sutter handed them out to players like Matt Stajan, Rene Bourque, Olli Jokinen and Cory Sarich.
Now, the Flames should be wishing for a time machine that would enable Feaster to go back and remove the no-trade and no-movement clauses from the deals the organization agreed to with at least half of the 11 players. This would give him the freedom to move a player or two, or even opt not to sign deals with them at all.
The Flames roster is among the oldest in the NHL, and they'll need to get younger at some point. Given the fact that the team is in serious danger of missing the postseason for the third consecutive season, Feaster would prefer if the it could happen sooner rather than later.
14. Stability in Net for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks
Tampa Bay's ageless wonder, Dwayne Roloson, was magical in the team's run to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals but has been a major disappointment lately, as the Bolts have fallen below .500.
In Chicago, the Blackhawks rewarded Corey Crawford with a three-year deal after the young netminder helped the team climb back from a three games-to-none hole and force a game seven in the Hawks' quarterfinal matchup with Vancouver.
Unfortunately, since then, Crawford has struggled mightily and has given way on many nights to backup Ray Emery, which isn't an ideal situation for an organization hoping to contend in the Spring.
So, at the top of each team's wish list has to be greater stability in net, as neither team will reach their potential in the postseason, or in Tampa's case, even reach it, without better performances from their goalies.
13. A New Arena for the New York Islanders
With the New York Islanders currently entering their 40th year playing at Nassau Coliseum, the team is in dire need of a new arena.
Unfortunately, owner Charles Wang's efforts to convince taxpayers in Nassau and Suffolk counties to finance a new arena have been futile thus far, and the Islanders don't appear to be any closer to finding a new home than they were three years ago.
On the ice, the Isles have one of the most promising young collection of talents, but the team won't be able to stay on the island forever without new digs in the near future.
So, this Christmas, the Islanders are asking for the same gift they've been wishing for since the early 2000's, in hopes that the new arena their young stars desperately need will finally come to fruition.
12. A Scorer for the Nashville Predators
For the past five seasons, the Nashville Predators have been among the stingiest defensive teams in the NHL, though they've been relatively light on offense.
In fact, in 2010-11, the Nashville Predators leading scorer, Sergei Kostitsyn posted exactly the same number of points, 50, as the number of goals Rocket Richard winner Corey Perry tallied the same season.
Nonetheless, the Predators managed to claw their way to the second round of the 2011 Playoffs, but in order to replicate that feat in 2012, they'll need more scoring support up front.
With that in mind, the Predators are hoping that the hockey gods will deliver a scorer to them in 2012, as a 30-goal man, or even a 60-point producer, would go a long ways towards providing Nashville with the sufficient offense to take the next step in the team's development.
11. A Playoff Game for Jay Bouwmeester
Poor Jay Bouwmeester. After playing in a grand total of zero postseason games during his six seasons with the Florida Panthers, Bouwmeester inked a five-year deal with Calgary in hopes of joining a team with a better chance of reaching the playoffs.
Instead, Bouwmeester is now midway through the ninth season of his career and has yet to suit up for a single playoff game, and unless Calgary has a major resurgence in the second half, he may be waiting a good while longer to make his postseason debut.
So, since Bouwmeester has been a good and loyal foot soldier everywhere he's played, he's hoping that his first NHL playoff game comes in 2012, because his last notable postseason experience came in 2008, as a member of Team Canada's Silver Medal winning entry at the World Championships.
10. Staying Power for the Winnipeg Jets
Hockey fans in Winnipeg got the greatest offseason gift of all when they received the Atlanta Thrashers franchise, giving the city an NHL team of its own for the first time since 1995-96.
So far, the city has been rapidly supportive of its Jets, and in turn, the Jets have played some inspired hockey at times through the first third of the season.
However, a measurement of the team's true popularity in Winnipeg will be easier to find once the Jets miss the playoffs for the first time in the 'Peg, as fans obviously find it more difficult to support a losing team.
For the Jets ownership, management and players, the greatest gift they can hope for is staying power, as they aim to have a longer stay in Winnipeg than the team's first go round.
9. A Fountain of Youth for the Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings currently boast the oldest roster in the National Hockey League, which either means that the team has the winning experience to bring home the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup in 15 seasons, or that this group is too old to compete with some of the younger powerhouses in the league.
Though the Wings may be able to muster one more deep playoff run with its current horses, there's no doubt that general manager Ken Holland will have to try to inject some youth into the organization before long, especially with captain Nicklas Lidstrom playing in possibly the last season of his storied career.
So, for Christmas, the Red Wings are hoping for a fountain of youth, in order to reverse the aging processes for a number of their stars like Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom.
8. Interest in Wade Redden for the New York Rangers
Quick, who's the fourth-highest paid player on the New York Rangers, and how many games has he played for the Blueshirts this season?
It's Wade Redden, and he has played a grand total of zero games in the NHL since the close of the 2009-10 season, though he continues to make a whopping $6.5 million a season.
However, next season, Redden's deal calls for a reduction in annual salary to $5 million per, and if the Rangers are willing to take on a portion of the former All-Star's salary in order to trade him, there could be an interested suitor or two in search of defensive depth.
As of now, the Rangers have a deep lineup on the blue line, so Redden's albatross of a salary will remain with Connecticut in the AHL until Glen Sather can find a taker for the once highly coveted 34-year old rearguard.
7. An Owner for the Phoenix Coyotes
After the Phoenix Coyotes' supposed move to Winnipeg fell through, and the Atlanta Thrashers franchise relocated instead, the Coyotes' attention turned back to finding a new owner, and some long-term financial stability.
As of now, the Coyotes aren't much closer to finding an owner, so the league continues to run the team financially and remains intent on doing everything in its power to keep the team in Glendale.
Until the Coyotes have a new owner, they won't be able to keep high-priced pending free agents, such as the recently departed Ilya Bryzgalov and will struggle to stay afloat in the Western Conference.
6. A Private French Instructor for Randy Cunneyworth
For the sixth time in five years, there's a new face behind the Montreal Canadiens' bench, but for the first time during that span, the new coach isn't a former Canadiens player or Quebec native.
Another thing Cunneyworth isn't that his predecessors all have been is a French speaker, which caused a minor uproar among the city, as the vast majority of the Canadiens' fans objected to having a coach who isn't bilingual.
So, in order for the Habs' new bench boss to avoid the increased pressure caused by the fans' disapproval of his linguistic skills, the Canadiens should hire Cunneyworth, a private instructor, to teach their new man behind the bench the city's native tongue.
Doing so would help Cunneyworth connect with the fans and media more easily and help alleviate tension in what has become an increasingly awkward situation in Montreal.
5. Support for Rick Nash and Jeff Carter
The Columbus Blue Jackets were supposed to turn the corner this season, after acquiring two highly coveted prizes over the summer in Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski.
Instead, Columbus has limped out to the worst record in the league, and neither of their big-name acquisitions has exactly taken the league by storm.
Making matters worse is the fact that former Calder winner Steve Mason is playing like he barely belongs in the AHL, and former first-rounder centermen Ryan Johansen and Derrick Brassard haven't demonstrated they're ready to be the frontline NHL forwards they're expected to be, at least at this stage in their careers.
So, for Christmas, the Blue Jackets' stars in Carter and Nash have to be hoping for a pivot to feed them in the offensive zone, as both players are of the shoot-first nature.
A playmaker would be ideal, because if the team continues to lose at this rate, heads will start to roll in Columbus.
4. A New Captain for the Philadelphia Flyers
When a team's captain goes down with a season-ending injury before the halfway point of the schedule, it's always difficult for a coach to decide what to do about the absence of the squad's symbolic leader on the ice.
With Chris Pronger out for the remainder of the 2011-12 season and maybe longer, the Flyers should be considering appointing a new team captain, especially considering it was only Pronger's first year wearing the "C" in Philadelphia.
There are a number of intriguing options for general manager Paul Holmgren and coach Peter Laviolette, but two of the best candidates have to be rising superstar Claude Giroux and steady two-way defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
3. Nerves of Steel for Roberto Luongo
The fans of Vancouver were one game away from having a dream season in June of this year, as their beloved Canucks had the golden opportunity to win a deciding game in the Stanley Cup Finals on home ice, just 14 months after Sidney Crosby brought the nation a gold medal in the same arena.
Unfortunately, for the fourth time in the same series, Roberto Luongo buckled under the pressure, and the Canucks dropped their second straight opportunity to close out the pesky Bruins.
In that series, Luongo virtually erased all memories of his Olympic triumph by allowing an astounding 18 goals in the final five games of the series, including a combined 12 in the third and fourth games alone.
Due to Luongo's penchant for giving up soft goals at inopportune times, the Canucks should have nerves of steel for Roberto Luongo at the top of their wish list, and hope it's delivered in time for the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
2. A Chemistry Set for Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom
Between 2007-08 and 2009-10, there were few partnerships as deadly as the one formed by franchise forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington.
Each forward managed at least 100 points in 2009-10, and Backstrom's vision and creativity played a large role in Ovechkin's three consecutive 50-goal seasons during that span.
However, since then, the pair have seemed to have lost the chemistry and on-ice awareness that made them so difficult to stop, as each posted disappointing numbers in 2010-11, and Ovechkin's struggles have continued into this season.
The Caps' stumbling offense has a lot to do with the lack of production from Ovechkin, Backstrom and fellow offensive stars Alexander Semin and Mike Green, and the team's ability to turn things around in time to secure a playoff berth may hinge on the play of Ovechkin and Backstrom going forward.
With that in mind, the Capitals are hoping the gift of a chemistry set will help the Caps' stars regain the hockey sense and trust in one another that helped them take the league by storm during Backstrom's first three years in D.C.
1. A Clean Bill of Health for Sidney Crosby
The Pittsburgh Penguins, and the game of hockey in general, would benefit most greatly by regaining the services of the undisputed best player in the game in Sidney Crosby.
Crosby, who has played in a grand total of nine hockey games since the 2011 Winter Classic on New Year's Day, is in the midst of his second prolonged absence due to post-concussion syndrome in less than a year, which is a big reason why concussions have become such a hot topic throughout the hockey world.
Though it's becoming increasingly unlikely that Crosby will return anytime soon, the Penguins continue to remain among the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but they won't be feeling overly confident entering the playoffs without their emotional and on-ice leader.
So for Christmas, general manager Ray Shero, head coach Dan Bylsma and the entire city of Pittsburgh are hoping for the return of their captain soon after the holidays are over.