Every NHL Team's Biggest Concern Ahead of the 2014-15 Season

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterSeptember 11, 2014

Every NHL Team's Biggest Concern Ahead of the 2014-15 Season

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    Barry Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Praise all higher powers, for it is mid-September and hockey, while not right around the corner, is at least a welcome sight in the distance after a summer of emptiness.

    But before we get to all the hope that the new season brings, allow me to spend the next part of your day pointing out all the ways your favorite team's season can go wrong.

    Some teams have different levels of concerns at this time of the year. For instance, one of the bigger concerns of the Los Angeles Kings is whether they stay in the same hotel in San Jose during the playoffs that they did last year or instead try that Doubletree downtown. But for the Blue Jackets, it's a slightly bigger concern, like if their best player will be under contract when the season begins.

    So let's kick back, enjoy some analysis, perhaps a few jokes, and start preparing for the 2014-15 NHL season.

    (All statistics via NHL.com, all contract information via CapGeek.com)

Anaheim Ducks: Is the Goaltending Good Enough to Contend for a Cup?

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Anaheim Ducks will be a playoff team in 2015, of this much we can be (virtually) certain.

    The question is how far can they go with Frederik Andersen, John Gibson and Jason LaBarbera guarding the net.

    Jonas Hiller's game has fallen off since he was diagnosed with vertigo midway through the 2010-11 season, but he had played 149 of 212 games the past three seasons. Hiller has a subpar .911 save percentage over that time, but he carried the water for the Ducks, and now that water will fall into unproven hands.

    Anderson played 28 games as a rookie in 2013-14, posting a very nice .923 save percentage. But he has never played more than 47 games in a season at any level in his career. The 21-year-old Gibson has a potentially bright future, but his NHL experience consists of three regular-season games and four playoff contests a year ago.

    LaBarbera, 34, is a journeyman backup who will likely provide support to Andersen while Gibson plays full-time in the AHL, at least to start the season.

Arizona Coyotes: How Will They Replace Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata?

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Offense has never really been the "thing" of the rebranded artists formerly known as the Phoenix Coyotes. They finished 20th in goals per game last season at 2.56 per game, but they will be hard-pressed to achieve a loose definition of mediocrity again this season.

    Radim Vrbata (20 goals, 51 points) and Mike Ribeiro (16 goals, 47 points) were allowed to leave this summer, the former as a free agent and the latter as a buyout. Those aren't gaudy totals, but they were both among the team's top five in scoring.

    Sam Gagner was acquired to soften those losses, but Max Domi is very likely part of the in-house solution. Shane Doan had 23 goals last season, but the 37-year-old produced that total with a 13.8 shooting percentage, the best of his career and likely unrepeatable.

    The Coyotes fell two points short of a playoff spot in 2013-14; that's their destiny again this year if they can't hang around the middle of the pack in scoring.

Boston Bruins: Is There Enough Offense on the Roster?

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    Before you jump to the comments to tell me I am a dumb or need to watch the games, there's plenty of offense on this roster for it to have success; it's just a matter of how much success is viable after the departure of Jarome Iginla.

    The Bruins scored 258 goals last season, third most in the NHL. But they signed nobody to replace Iginla, who shared the team lead in goals with Patrice Bergeron at 30. Reilly Smith is expected to move up the depth chart, but that will hurt some of the lower-line scoring that helped the Bruins.

    Bergeron exceeded expectations with 30 goals, something he's not likely to match next season. If he reverts back to his 20-goal form of the previous five seasons, that's about 40 goals that could potentially disappear from the lineup in 2014-15.

    In their seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the conference semifinals, the Bruins scored 16 goals.

    Offense won't derail the Bruins in the regular season, but there's reason to believe it could be a problem again in the postseason.

Buffalo Sabres: Will Their Level of Awfulness Affect Players' Development?

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    There's something to be said about how successful teams insulate their young players and expose them to veterans who can teach them proper habits on the ice. That can be difficult for teams that are losing way more than they are winning, something the Sabres are very likely facing for a second straight season.

    The Sabres have no hope for the postseason, but they have hope for the future: Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko and 2014 first-round pick Sam Reinhart all have worlds of talent, but it will be up to the veterans, many of whom were signed this summer, to keep everyone in line.

    Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges are new additions (Moulson was briefly a Sabre last season) and will serve as part of the team's leadership group. 

    It's quite depressing for a team's biggest concern to be, "Well, we are going to be really terrible, but let's not let it become a systemic issue for years," but that's the Sabres in 2014-15.

Calgary Flames: Can Their Young, Talented Players Lead a Turnaround?

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    The Calgary Flames haven't achieved a playoff berth since 2009. That's not likely to change this season, but they're not as far off as people think.

    Sean Monahan acquitted himself well in his rookie season and Johnny Gaudreau arrives in Alberta with a lot of hype after winning the Hobey Baker Award in 2014. Depending on how coach Bob Hartley sets his lineup, his four centers could be Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Matt Stajan and Joe Colborne, which is far from a weakness.

    Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are a formidable top pairing on defense, while Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo should be an improvement in net this season.

    If Monahan and Gaudreau make an impact, it's a long shot, but the Flames could find themselves in the mix for a playoff spot in the final weeks of the season.

Carolina Hurricanes: Are They Bad Enough to Have a Shot at Connor McDavid?

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    The Carolina Hurricanes have 82, 42 and 81 points the past three seasons, hardly enough to get into the mix for the first overall pick and Connor McDavid this year, but with a little (less) elbow grease and (less) hard work, maybe they can achieve the dream.

    The Hurricanes' two biggest offseason additions were forward Jay McClement and defenseman Tim Gleason. They will have a rookie head coach, Bill Peters, guiding a team that hasn't been to the postseason since 2009.

    It also won't help matters that teams within the Metropolitan Division improved greatly (Washington, N.Y. Islanders, New Jersey Devils) while the others may have slipped back a bit but are still superior options to the Hurricanes.

    Cam Ward has been injury-riddled the past two seasons and looks like a shell of himself. Much of the goaltending responsibility should fall to Anton Khudobin, who was great last season (.926), but his 34 starts were a career high. A decline in his 2013-14 play or an injury will leave the Hurricanes with a big hole in net.

    So if things go badly and the Hurricanes decide to trade Eric Staal, who has one year and $8.25 million left on his contract after this season, they could be in the McDavid Sweepstakes.

Chicago Blackhawks: Is the Team Good Enough to Win a Stanley Cup?

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    Certain teams' biggest concern is not being the worst team of all time; championship-caliber teams like the Chicago Blackhawks have much different priorities.

    While some will point out that Corey Crawford won a championship in a 48-game season and that's the same as winning a championships in an 82-game season, others will point out that's patently silly, and you can stuff your 48-game titles in a sack. Crawford had a .926/.932 regular-season/postseason split in 2013 but dipped closer to his career numbers with a .917/.912 split last year.

    It's really difficult to win a Stanley Cup when your goaltender has an .878 save percentage in a conference final, which is what Crawford did last year while looking disinterested and confused in that seven-game loss to the Kings.

    Brad Richards is undoubtedly a regular-season upgrade over Michal Handzus, but Richards was a glaring liability as a Ranger against the Kings in the Cup Final. If the Blackhawks face the Kings again, how will things be any different for him?

    The Blackhawks will be a 100-point team that should slice through their division and to another conference final, but it remains to be seen if they are equipped to top the best team in the Pacific Division following an 82-game season.

Colorado Avalanche: Can They Overcome the Loss of Paul Stastny?

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    It's not as if the Colorado Avalanche don't have the centers to replace Paul Stastny, who signed with St. Louis over the summer, as they have Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon down the middle with natural center Ryan O'Reilly on the wing.

    But the loss of Stastny, one of the few quality possession players on the Avs, is a big one. The Avs added Jarome Iginla, but, at his age, his ability to flourish on such a fast team is a question. Trading PA Parenteau for Daniel Briere appears to make the Avs worse on paper, and the team failed to upgrade its defense.

    Las Vegas clearly doesn't have much faith in the Avs, who finished with 112 points last season but had their over/under points total set at 98.5 by the web site Bovada. Not long after that number was released Tuesday, bettors hammered the total down to 95.5. 

    That's still enough to reach the playoffs, but a poor possession team losing its best possession player is a sign this could be a year in which the Avs fade back to the pack.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Will Ryan Johansen Be in the Lineup on Opening Night?

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    So here's the thing about contract negotiations between an RFA with no leverage and a team: If the player doesn't cave before the season, it can have an adverse affect on himself and the team. That doesn't mean Ryan Johansen should roll over and accept whatever the Columbus Blue Jackets offer, but when he signs may have a big impact on the season.

    According to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, the sides are about $3 million apart, a gap that may take a while to close.

    Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers went through a similar RFA contract squabble last season and didn't sign until about a week before the season. It's a bit of apples and oranges, but Stepan and the Rangers had a brutal start to the season: The player didn't score in his first 12 games as the team went 5-7-0.

    The Rangers were a little deeper offensively and recovered to reach the postseason by six points over ninth-place Washington. The Blue Jackets don't have the same level of offensive talent, so a poor few weeks while Johansen plays catch-up could be the difference between eking into the playoffs and narrowly missing.

Dallas Stars: Will the Defense Be a Liability?

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    The Dallas Stars are loaded up front, featuring a top six that boasts Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin and Antoine Roussel. 

    But on defense, it's very dicey. 

    Trevor Daley is solid and Alex Goligoski had a nice 2013-14 season, but beyond that, there are a lot of question marks. Brenden Dillon is an unsigned RFA but won't be a liability as long as his deal is worked out before training camp. Jordie Benn and Kevin Connauton are human beings employed as defensemen and Sergei Gonchar's best years are behind him.

    It's not as if the Stars have six traffic cones on the back end (this isn't the Flyers, you know), but this is a team that squeaked into the playoffs with 91 points last year. They improved by adding Spezza and Hemsky, but the defense corps will likely be the reason if the Stars don't get back to the postseason this year.

Detroit Red Wings: Can Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg Play a Full Season?

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    The Detroit Red Wings' stretch of 345 consecutive seasons (may be exaggerated) of reaching the postseason was in peril last season, but a late push allowed them to squeeze into a wild-card spot despite a rash of injuries.

    Even with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk missing 37 games each, the Red Wings amassed 93 points. If they can combine to miss just half that much time in 2014-15, the Red Wings could be a 100-point squad.

    Perhaps it's too much to ask Zetterberg, 33, and Datsyuk, 36, to play 82 games. For what it's worth (in September, very little), Datsyuk said his ailing right knee is feeling great with training camp two weeks away.

    "It looks like the work has helped me, and I don't need the surgery," Datsyuk told the Red Wings' web site Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. "… I'm skating now and it feels much better. Nothing bothers me and we'll see."

    Nothing bothers most players at the start of the season; it will come down to how Datsyuk and Zetterberg react to a full season in their mid-30s.

Edmonton Oilers: Will the Lack of a Legitimate No. 2 Center Derail Their Hopes?

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Edmonton Oilers had a pretty OK summer. They added useful defensemen Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin and signed forward Benoit Pouliot but didn't land a second-line center to play behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

    The in-house options to man the No. 2 pivot include Boyd Gordon and Mark Arcobello, who some have said "Huh?" and "Who?" about. In a conference loaded with teams deep at center, this could be a huge liability for the Oilers.

    There isn't a bad winger in the Oilers' top nine, but there are question marks in the middle. If Gordon or Arcobello can be productive in that role, maybe the Oilers can get back to the playoffs for the first time since losing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.

Florida Panthers: Are There Enough Useful Players Around the Young Quality Ones?

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    The Florida Panthers have a roster that makes you think, "Yeah, they can be a playoff team." They also have a roster that makes you think, "Goodness, can this team get to 70 points?"

    There may not be a team in the league with a higher volume of under-25 talent. The Panthers have Aleksander Barkov (19), Jonathan Huberdeau (21), Nick Bjugstad (22), Quinton Howden (22), Erik Gudbranson (22) and 2014 No. 1 pick Aaron Ekblad.

    There may not be a team in the league with a higher volume of overpaid veterans. The Panthers have Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann and Willie Mitchell. Shawn Thornton makes $1.2 million, which is probably about $1.18 million more than he should be paid to play professional hockey.

    If the group in the second paragraph combines for an outstanding season, maybe the older players won't have to do all that much to make the Panthers a playoff contender. But it's that potential upside from the burgeoning stars that will make or break the Panthers in 2014-15.

Los Angeles Kings: Can They Have More Regular-Season Urgency?

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    It's rare that a team can have the ability to play at half-speed for most of the regular season and step on the gas in the playoffs. Red Wings teams of the last decade had that power, and the 2013-14 Los Angeles Kings showed they could do it too.

    Perhaps the Kings are good enough to do it again, but wouldn't it be preferable to have home-ice advantage at some point during the Western Conference playoffs this time?

    The Kings won three Game 7s in San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago in 2014, a feat that probably won't be repeated this season. It's not as though the Kings qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the season, as they had 100 points and 46 victories, but this is the Western hockey, not the hockey-like substance that exists in the East.

    The Kings went 11-6-2 after acquiring Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline, which is a 104-point pace over 82 games, not all that much better than the 100-point mark they reached anyway. 

    It's not a Stanley Cup, but a Pacific Division title should be the Kings' motivating force this season, because a third Stanley Cup in four years may not be possible without it.

Minnesota Wild: Who Will Be Their No. 1 Goaltender?

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    The Minnesota Wild have three goaltenders with the capability to be the team's top guy. 

    The Minnesota Wild have three goaltenders with the capability to not be on the roster at season's end.

    Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper at different times in their careers have all displayed the ability to carry the Wild. But Backstrom is 36 and coming off a third injury-filled season in four years; Harding is battling multiple sclerosis, and his treatment and symptoms derailed a potential Vezina Trophy campaign last year while Kuemper saved the Wild's season by taking over for Ilya Bryzgalov in the playoffs, but is currently an unsigned RFA.

    Kuemper might be the goaltender most likely to make it through the season healthy and Backstrom is the only one of the group to play a full season as a starter, but Harding might be the best of the group.

    It's the cloudiest goaltending situation in the league. The Wild's 2014-15 fate hinges on which goaltenders make the team, and it may be Backstrom and Harding, two goaltenders on one-way contracts.

Montreal Canadiens: Do They Have the Scoring Ability to Get to the Playoffs?

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens had 100 points and reached the conference final a season ago. They didn't lose anyone of note during the summer outside of Brian Gionta and upgraded the lineup by trading Daniel Briere for PA Parenteau.

    But it wasn't the offense that propelled the Canadiens in 2013-14: Only two teams (Minnesota, Los Angeles) scored fewer goals than Montreal a season ago and made the playoffs. Many teams that finished right behind the Canadiens made a lot of upgrades, so that plus-11 goal differential that got the Canadiens to the postseason may get trimmed.

    Max Pacioretty scored 39 goals in 73 games, but the only other Canadien to reach 20 goals a season ago was Tomas Plekanec, who scored 20 exactly. Alex Galchenyuk might have more talent than anyone on the roster, so how he progresses in his third season could go a long way toward deciding the team's playoff fate.

    This is the East, so the Canadiens have the potential to get to the Stanley Cup Final or miss the playoffs.

Nashville Predators: Are Their Centers Good Enough?

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    Less than a week after Mike Fisher was lost for four to six months with an Achilles injury, the Nashville Predators signed Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy. That means the team will open the season with Ribeiro, Roy, Olli Jokinen and Colin Wilson as potential centers.

    I'll say this about those centers—they are most definitely centers who can play the position of center.

    The Predators, for all their problems last season, missed the playoffs by three points with Pekka Rinne missing 50 games with hip issues. There's a good chance Seth Jones could be even better in his second season. James Neal was acquired via trade for Patric Hornqvist, although that deal is very likely a wash considering Neal is going from playing with Evgeni Malkin to guys who are all NHL centers who play center.

    But really, with all those other things happening and Fisher returning at some point in 2014-15, all the Predators need to contend for a playoff spot is for their centers to play center. 

New Jersey Devils: Will Their Possession Dominance Translate into More Goals?

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    The above photo is from a New Jersey Devils-Calgary Flames game in April. Karri Ramo stopped all 31 shots he faced in a 1-0 Flames win, and the moment captured is when Jaromir Jagr, who was robbed on the play, died a little bit inside.

    That summarized the Devils' 2013-14 season: a whole lot of possession time and a consistent victory in the shot battle coupled with an inability to finish consistently enough.

    So the Devils signed Michael Cammalleri, who had 26 goals in 63 games last season, to a five-year deal. They gave Martin Havlat a one-year deal and invited Scott Gomez to training camp on a tryout deal. 

    With Martin Brodeur and his barely-above-.900 save percentage out of the equation and Cory Schneider the full-time starter, the Devils need to find a way to score about 20 more goals than they did last season (197). A win or two in the shootout would help too, but the Devils need to find a way to avoid shootouts by scoring more in regulation.

New York Islanders: Will They Be Better Enough Defensively to Make the Playoffs?

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    There are a lot of reasons for optimism on Long Island. They added Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to bolster the offense and signed Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson to give them their best goaltending tandem in about 15 years.

    But the defense is the glaring weakness. The Islanders made a play for Dan Boyle in free agency, but he decided to sign with the Rangers instead. That leaves the Islanders with Travis Hamonic, Lubomir Visnovsky and his concussion issues, Calvin de Haan, Matt Carkner and his not-being-good issues, Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait. 

    It's a good-enough group to the get the Islanders back to the playoffs for the first time (in an 82-game season) since 2007, but if they fall short, the blue line will likely be the reason why.

New York Rangers: Do They Have Enough Depth to Be Successful Again?

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    The New York Rangers' leading scorer in 2013-14 was Mats Zuccarello, who worked primarily as a third-line forward with Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot. Pouliot signed with Edmonton this summer and second-line center Brad Richards was bought out, which means Brassard will move up the depth chart.

    Fourth-line regulars Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett are also gone, leaving the bottom six looking like a big question mark in 2014-15.

    Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi were signed, and Ryan Malone will likely join the team after the Lightning sent him packing following a cocaine arrest. Those are not upgrades over anyone who left.

    So how can a team that scored by committee have that success again? It won't be easy. Brassard will be facing tougher competition on the second line, and there's no clear-cut favorite to center the third line. 

    The Rangers' ability to roll four consistent lines will be severely hampered in 2014-15.

Ottawa Senators: How Will the Team Replace Jason Spezza's Production?

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    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    For a team that missed the playoffs by five points, trading the top-scoring center for a depth winger isn't exactly the blueprint for a playoff trip. But that's what the Ottawa Senators did by dealing Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars for Alex Chiasson.

    The Senators have Kyle Turris, who seems like a no-brainer to jump to the top line and fill in nicely. But what happens down the lineup? Are Mika Zibanejad and the newly signed David Legwand good enough to make up the difference? A full-strength Erik Karlsson will help the offensive cause, too.

    As bad as things went for the Senators last season, they weren't far off from the postseason. Getting back there will come down to how they handle the loss of Spezza.

Philadelphia Flyers: Can They Overcome the Loss of Kimmo Timonen?

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    According to the Dave Lozo Eye Test, Anecdotal Evidence And Hard Statistics Foundation™, the Philadelphia Flyers have the worst group of defensemen in the NHL. In their defense, the organization may require defensemen to wear skates made of cement, but there is no confirmation of that hypothesis available.

    The group was poor last year, but Kimmo Timonen was the best of the bunch. Because of a blood clot problem, it's very likely he won't play this season. That led to the team signing Michael Del Zotto, who the Nashville Predators believed wasn't worth bringing back this season.

    According to general manager Ron Hextall, per Dave Isaac in the Courier Post, Del Zotto was in their plans all along and it's all just a coincidence he was signed right after they got the news on Timonen.

    “It was hard fitting him in,” Hextall said in late August. “All of a sudden, it happens to Kimmo and it becomes a no-brainer. I talked to him all along the way and did want to sign him. He’s a young player with a huge upside.”

    The loss of Timonen with a defensive unit of Del Zotto, Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Nicklas Grossman and Luke Schenn playing in front of goaltender Steve Mason, who had the best year of his career in 2013-14 but faded as the season progressed, feels less like a recipe for winning and more like something you'd ingest if you needed to vomit after ingesting poison.

    Mason bailed out his blueliners a lot last season; with Timonen possibly out for the season, he'll have to do it a heck of a lot more in 2014-15.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Can the Blue Line Withstand the Loss of Niskanen and Orpik?

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik played 21:17 and 21:11 per game last season, respectively, and moved on to Washington as free agents this summer. That represents the third- and fourth-most minutes among Penguins defensemen.

    The Penguins balanced some of that loss by signing Christian Ehrhoff to a one-year deal, but if he struggles in his first (and maybe only) year in Pittsburgh, it could be a problem. The Penguins have a few quality young defensemen ready for bigger roles, but it's silly to think there won't be hiccups in the early going.

    A lot of focus will be on the Penguins' reupholstered bottom-six forwards, but the performance of Ehrhoff, Simon Despres and Brian Dumoulin along with the second-year for Olli Maatta is the real question mark. The Penguins have proven they can excel on the backs of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby; if there are too many lapses in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, well, good luck with all that.

San Jose Sharks: Will the Offseason Soap Opera Carry into the Regular Season?

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    What a mess.

    Joe Thornton. Patrick Marleau. Doug Wilson. Todd McLellan. Trade them all. Fire them all. Get rid of guys that only want to live in northern California. Take away the captaincy and don't tell Thornton beforehand. Give it to someone else. 

    Now, let's get out there and go play some hockey!

    Not only are the Sharks swimming in toxic waste as training camp opens, but the rest of the Western contenders stockpiled weaponry like Paul Stastny, Ryan Kesler, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Jarome Iginla and Jason Spezza. The Sharks' big signing was John Scott, brought into the fold to…I don't know, punch the "C" off Thornton's chest?

    The Sharks still have plenty of talent, but potential animosity and tension within the locker room and organization could lead to trouble. 

St. Louis Blues: How Will the Brian Elliott/Jake Allen Tandem Hold Up?

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    At this time last season, the St. Louis Blues were among Stanley Cup favorites, backstopped by Jaroslav Halak and his career .918 save percentage. Then, for a reason that escapes most, they traded Halak at the deadline for Ryan Miller, who proceeded to spit up all over himself before leaving as a free agent.

    Now the Blues have Brian Elliott and Jake Allen in net, and really, they are like most human beings in that they are capable of doing amazing and awful things.

    Elliott, 29, was an All-Star during the 2011-12 season, although he only played 38 games by season's end. For his career, he has a .911 save percentage, hasn't played more than 38 games since 2010-11 and has a career .898 save percentage in 18 playoff games. 

    Allen, 24, brings less experience but more upside. He has a .905 save percentage in 15 career games, all of which came in 2013, but delivered a 2.03/.928 split in 52 games for the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL last season.

    With the quality team in front of Elliott and Allen, success is still very likely, but there may not be as much of it as people believe.

Tampa Bay Lightning: How Will They Handle Sky-High Expectations?

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Formal predictions by NHL experts have yet to be revealed in most places, but there's a lot of buzz around the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Steven Stamkos, who missed three months last year with a broken leg, is healthy and one of the top forwards in the NHL. Jonathan Drouin is one of the top prospects in the NHL and likely to crack the lineup. During the summer, the Lightning added Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow to a team that had 101 points last season.

    The Lightning will be darlings of the East. They will have to play with targets on their backs all season.

    If this sounds familiar—Atlantic team, high expectations after a big offseason—you're probably thinking about the Ottawa Senators. It's foggy how that worked out, but all the best to the Lightning.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Can They Overcome Randy Carlyle's Coaching?

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs had a pretty nice summer, bringing in David Booth on a bargain contract and adding Daniel Winnik to bolster a fourth line that truly couldn't have been any worse no matter whom they signed. Under team president Brendan Shanahan, it appears as though the Leafs are focusing a little less on toughness and truculence and a little more on the novel idea of employing good hockey players.

    But with Randy Carlyle behind the bench, the Leafs are applying a fresh coat of paint on the Titanic and keeping the captain on board.

    Carlyle's recent history is a poor one: He was fired in December 2011 by the Anaheim Ducks, who have since become one of the top teams in the West—and since taking over the Leafs, not exactly a great team when he arrived, the team has proceeded to become an even worse possession team.

    So while the Leafs are a little deeper, it may not matter if the coach is using the same strategies and filling out a lineup card with face-punchers.

Vancouver Canucks: How Are They Going to Score Goals?

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    Andy Devlin/Getty Images

    Should the top line of the Vancouver Canucks feature Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Radim Vrbata, that's a group that had 47 goals and 101 assists last season.

    The group of forwards likely to comprise the second and third lines—Alex Burrows, Nick Bonino, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, Shawn Matthias and Zack Kassian—totaled 72 goals and 87 assists.

    That's 119 goals last season from forwards, numbers that are somewhat skewed by injuries and playing for coach John Tortorella. It's still an unimpressive total that could easily be matched due to more injuries and the fact the Sedins will be 34 years old when the season begins.

    This isn't necessarily a rebuilding year in Vancouver, but it's probably going to be one where the Canucks are hard-pressed to score goals.

Washington Capitals: What If Barry Trotz Isn't the Answer?

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    That Adam Oates was the biggest reason why the Washington Capitals narrowly missed the playoffs last year is what you have to take from the fact he was fired after two seasons. But Barry Trotz and his 557 career coaching victories have been hired, so hopes are high that he can improve a team that has relied heavily on the power play.

    Throw in the fact the Capitals improved their defense by signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, and the team should finish better than 21st in goals allowed.

    The Capitals were 21st in five-on-five goals last season, and that's where Trotz will need to make the biggest impact. The Nashville Predators, despite possessing far less talent than the Capitals, finished 12th in five-on-five goals last season.

    Trotz, save for two years after the 2005 lockout, wasn't blessed with a boatload of talent on his Nashville squads. That's not the case in Washington this year, so it's on Trotz to get the Capitals back in the playoffs despite him failing to get the Predators there the past two seasons.

Winnipeg Jets: Can Ondrej Pavelec Avoid Ondrej Pavelec-Ing for Another Season?

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    The Winnipeg Jets have basically the same team as last season and decided against using a compliance buyout on Ondrej Pavelec, statistically the worst goaltender of the past three seasons. So that means if the Jets are to be a playoff team or something resembling one, it's up to Pavelec to strive for averageness.

    And good news! Pavelec is looking fit, according to the Winnipeg Sun!

    Well, it’s pudgy Pavelec no more.

    The five-year vet showed up in town with not only a new haircut, but a trimmer physique to go with it.

    “(Coach Paul Maurice) said through the media that everybody has to be in better shape and be ready for training camp,” Pavelec said. “He gave us the message and I think everybody’s ready.

    “I did some little things differently than I did before, and hopefully it’s going to help me.”

    What would Pavelec posting a .912 save percentage have meant to the Jets last season? It would have meant the Jets allowing 19 fewer goals, improving the Jets' goal differential from minus-10 to plus-nine. What does a plus-nine goal differential mean? Well, every team that had a positive goal differential made the playoffs last season.

    AHL stud Michael Hutchinson is waiting to take Pavelec's job, so if he falters out of the gate, at least the Jets have a viable backup plan.

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