Every NHL Team's Potentially Fatal Flaw in the 2014-15 Season
NHL teams spend millions during the summer to address their biggest needs in an effort to overcome the disappointments of the previous season. Trades are made, gifted teenagers are given the maximum dollars allowed under the collective bargaining agreement and free-agent time is the league's silly season.
No matter how much work teams do, they can't plug every hole or guarantee success in the coming year. All 30 teams have something they're trying to mask, some element that causes management to lose sleep.
Here are the NHL's 30 teams with their potentially fatal flaws and what they might be able to do about them.
Anaheim Ducks: Inexperienced Goalies
The Situation for 2014-15: The Anaheim Ducks won the Pacific Division and the Western Conference in 2013-14. The club had an active summer, including a big trade for Ryan Kesler. The Ducks are considered a strong Stanley Cup contender.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Ducks have very little experience in goal. Although their two young goalies, Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, have played well, they are not proven goaltenders.
What Can Be Done About It? It's possible we'll see a trade at the deadline to bring in a veteran goalie. Anaheim signed Jason LaBarbera in the offseason, but the Ducks are a rare item: a true cup contender with unproven goaltending. History tells us this combination rarely ends well.
Arizona Coyotes: Sam Gagner, Real Deal?
The Situation for 2014-15: The Arizona Coyotes finished fourth in the Pacific Division and ninth in the Western Conference in 2013-14. Sam Gagner was added to help out the power play and increase overall offensive production.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Gagner has to impact scoring in a big way, but he struggles away from the offensive zone. The Coyotes' forward group will need to make up for Gagner's deficiencies or this won't work.
What Can Be Done About It? Arizona added Gagner as a stopgap, but it will need an impact offensive player to turn around the club's poor production. If Joe Thornton or Brad Marchand shake loose, expect the Coyotes to be front and center in attempting to acquire them.
Boston Bruins: Major Cap Issues
The Situation for 2014-15: The Boston Bruins finished first in the Atlantic Division and first overall in 2013-14. Although it was a quiet offseason—save for the loss of Jarome Iginla to free agency—the Bruins are expected to contend for the Stanley Cup again in 2015.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Bruins are in cap hell, and it's affecting them in a big way. They are currently without Reilly Smith and Torey Krug, who are restricted free agents waiting for their contracts. Boston can't sign them because the team is currently over the cap.
What Can Be Done About It? The Bruins are over the cap by $800,000—and that's before signing Krug and Smith. A trade needs to be made, and it will happen soon. Every day that goes by without Krug and Smith in training camp puts their quality of play for 2014-15 at risk.
Buffalo Sabres: Too Good for Connor McDavid?
The Situation for 2014-15: The Buffalo Sabres finished eighth in the Atlantic Division and No. 30 overall in the NHL. The Sabres were active during the summer, as Chris Battaglia of The Score describes in his September article. Major additions include Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges and Sam Reinhart.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Buffalo is in a rebuild, meaning the 2015 draft is far more important than individual wins and losses in the coming season. Winning is important, but so is finishing inside the lottery at season's end.
What Can Be Done About It? Trades are likely to occur all year long in Buffalo. Management has seven significant players who will be unrestricted free agents in 2015. Several of those players will likely be dealt for draft picks over the winter.
Calgary Flames: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The Situation for 2014-15: The Calgary Flames finished sixth in the Pacific Division and No. 27 overall in 2013-14. It was an uneven summer, as they lost their best forward in Mike Cammalleri but added a quality goalie in Jonas Hiller.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Calgary won 35 games last season, a solid total and not far from playoff contention. The Flames are a rebuilding team, and another lottery pick in 2015 would go a long way to becoming a championship team in the future.
What Can Be Done About It? The Flames can play out the first half of the season in hopes of pushing for a playoff spot. If they've lost touch with the eighth and final playoff spot by the trade deadline, expect a lot of veterans to be traded out of Calgary.
Carolina Hurricanes: Counting on the Same Group Who Let Them Down
The Situation for 2014-15: The Carolina Hurricanes finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division and No. 24 overall in 2013-14. The team had a very quiet summer of procurement and return with basically the same players and questions.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Carolina's season may already be derailed based on inactivity and the state of the roster. The 'Canes will enter the season looking for across-the-board improvement from Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Cam Ward. History suggests that at least one of the three won't recover to previous levels, and new coach Bill Peters doesn't have a lot of options. The team may have already decided that the 2014-15 season will see it at the bottom of the standings once again.
What Can Be Done About It? The Hurricanes have talent but not enough to break into the top level in the Metropolitan Division. The likely scenario has the tea 'Canes trading their free agents and possibly one of their highly paid disappointments.
Chicago Blackhawks: It's in the Net
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Chicago's goaltending depth chart has some issues. Corey Crawford finished in a tie for No. 21 overall in save percentage among starters last season, and the club lacks a quality backup. The 'Hawks tried four different options for backup goalie a year ago, and none of them impressed.
What Can Be Done About It? The Blackhawks can address the goaltending position during the season and will probably see if an internal solution has better results before making a deal. The trade deadline should see some activity if a quality solution has not been identified.
Colorado Avalanche: Smoke and Mirrors
The Situation for 2014-15: The Colorado Avalanche finished first in the Central Division and No. 3 overall in 2013-14. Jarome Iginla was the big addition of the summer, but Paul Stastny was lost to free agency.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Colorado's record was out of sync with its possession numbers. As shown via War-on-Ice.com, the Avalanche are one of the poorest possession teams in the league. Regression is likely in the coming year.
What Can Be Done About It? The Avalanche have several young forwards who are a year older, and young Nathan MacKinnon may improve his possession numbers in year two. Additional veterans in their prime would help Colorado this season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Trouble in Paradise
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Ryan Johansen contract situation could have a major impact on the Blue Jackets' season. The Associated Press story by Rusty Miller (via the National Post) details a particularly difficult negotiation.
What Can Be Done About It? Columbus has enough quality and depth to overcome the loss of Johansen in the short term. However, if the Jackets are unable to come to terms with their young star, a deal may have to be made in the form of either a trade or short-term signing.
Dallas Stars: A Case for the Defense
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Stars have very few NHL defensemen in their prime. Beyond Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski, the rest of the Dallas defenders are either nearing the end or just trying to establish themselves in the NHL. If Daley or Goligoski gets hurt, it would have a major impact.
What Can Be Done About It? Established NHL defensemen don't become available often, but there may be an opportunity during training camp with cap teams. Dallas will be on the lookout for NHL defensemen throughout the year.
Detroit Red Wings: The Injury Bug
The Situation for 2014-15: The Detroit Red Wings finished fourth in the Atlantic Division and No. 15 overall in 2013-14. A large number of injuries to key players hampered the team's efforts throughout the season.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Red Wings no doubt are counting on better health in 2014-15, but the heart of their roster is aging. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were reduced to 45 games last season, and the team would have performed much better if either had been completely healthy. If one or both falter, and there's another rash of injuries in the coming year, Detroit's impressive run of qualifying for the playoffs could be done. The last time Detroit missed the playoffs was in 1990.
What Can Be Done About It? Detroit is stuck in regard to its veterans because it isn't clear they're finished. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and others should rebound and have fine seasons. The Red Wings have a strong development system and will have to once again look to the farm for solutions.
Edmonton Oilers: Center of Attention
The Situation for 2014-15: The Edmonton Oilers finished seventh in the Pacific Division and No. 28 overall in 2013-14. An aggressive summer of procurement has improved the defense and the wing positions. The Oilers now have far more NHL players in their prime.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Oilers didn't bring in an established center after trading Sam Gagner. That gives an enormous opportunity to unproven players like Mark Arcobello, Anton Lander and top draft pick Leon Draisaitl, but it's a dangerous game.
What Can Be Done About It? Edmonton can run its best centers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon, in hopes that neither gets injured with the added workload. The Oilers can make a deal if necessary, but management would ideally like to stick with Draisaitl and Arcobello.
Florida Panthers: Where Do the Goals Come From?
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Panthers have some very nice things going this season, including quality goaltending. However, goals are going to be in short supply despite the addition of Jussi Jokinen. If the young skill forwards don't take a step forward, Florida may endure another long year.
What Can Be Done About It? Florida could make a big jump in the standings if its youth evolves. Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and others offer hope, and the Panthers are just going to need patience. A quick-fix trade would only harm the long-term future.
Los Angeles Kings: Power Outage
The Situation for 2014-15: The Los Angeles Kings finished third in the Pacific Division and No. 10 overall in 2013-14. The big move this summer was signing Marian Gaborik, a perfect-fit scorer acquired at the 2014 trade deadline.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Among the top 10 teams in the NHL last season, the Kings were by far the lowest-scoring club. Even during the last three seasons, in which Los Angeles has been crowned as champions twice, there have been prolonged losing streaks brought on by scoring slumps.
What Can Be Done About It? The Kings signing Gaborik improves their offense a great deal. Los Angeles has impressive young talent on the way, including Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli.
Minnesota Wild: Dial-a-Goalie
The Situation for 2014-15: The Minnesota Wild finish fourth in the Central Division and No. 11 overall in the 2013-14 season. The big addition during the offseason was free-agent signing Thomas Vanek.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Wild have terrible luck with goaltending. This NHL.com article describes the bizarre stories that revolve around Minnesota's netminders.
What Can Be Done About It? Minnesota's goaltending situation is fluid. The candidates currently are Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov, but the Wild need a long-term solution. If the goaltending remains steady, they could go a long way.
Montreal Canadiens: Asked and Answered
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The only real worry left for Montreal is injury, and all teams share that problem. The Canadiens solved their big issue when P.K. Subban was signed, as this Doug Harrison article at CBC Sports details.
What Can Be Done About It? Montreal is one of the few teams that appears to have addressed its needs effectively during the summer. The Habs are balanced, have several prospects pushing established players and will probably waive some NHL veterans this fall. If they're blessed with good health, the Montreal Canadiens could win the Stanley Cup.
Nashville Predators: Developing Young Defensemen 3 at a Time
The Situation for 2014-15: The Nashville Predators finished sixth in the Central Division and No. 19 overall in 2013-14. The trade for James Neal and free-agent additions Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen and Mike Ribeiro have changed the forward depth chart in a big way.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Predators gave up a lot of goals last season due to a young defense and injury to their franchise goaltender. Management worked hard to improve their offense this summer, but the trouble last season was even-strength goals against. Pekka Rinne's return to health should solve some of the problems, but the defense remains inexperienced.
What Can Be Done About It? Nashville will once again rely heavily on Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm—three inexperienced defensemen—to play prominent roles. Shea Weber and Roman Josi will lead the charge. New coach Peter Laviolette has his work cut out for him.
New Jersey Devils: Time Waits for No One
The Situation for 2014-15: The New Jersey Devils finished in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and No. 20 overall in 2013-14. Mike Cammalleri was the big addition over the summer and should help the offense.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Devils are an ancient hockey team, and their main problem is erosion of skills through age. Jaromir Jagr is 42, Patrik Elias and Bryce Salvador are 38, Marek Zidlicky and Dainius Zubrus are 37 and there are others who are well past 30.
What Can Be Done About It? New Jersey is in a tough spot because their farm system isn't going to produce enough quality replacements. Cory Schneider solved the goaltending problem, replacing Martin Brodeur. The Devils need a transfusion of youth, and most of it will come from outside the organization.
New York Islanders: A Defenseman Who Can Carry the Load
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Islanders' main problem last season was goals against, and the club addressed goaltending with Halak. They are painfully young on the blue line, and their veterans—Lubomir Visnovsky and Matt Carkner—are nearing the end.
What Can Be Done About It? New York needs to add veteran defenders in their prime—or at least closer to their prime than the kids the team currently employs. The Islanders have some outstanding youngsters who are close to NHL-ready, but they can't afford to graduate them all at once.
New York Rangers: Free-Agent Raid Leaves Rangers Feeling Blue
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Rangers were decimated by free-agent losses, including Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman and Brad Richards, among others. Finding suitable replacements for all of those losses won't happen overnight.
What Can Be Done About It? The most important offseason acquisition might be Kevin Hayes, as detailed in this article by Zach Braziller of the New York Post. New York will have to show more of this kind of innovation to overcome the raid of 2014.
Ottawa Senators: Need More Blue
The Situation for 2014-15: The Ottawa Senators finished fifth in the Atlantic Division and No. 21 overall in 2013-14. Jason Spezza was the big name to exit with David Legwand the most famous addition to the depth chart.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Senators lack a true top-four on defense. Management has eight signed defensemen on the roster, but very few in the heart of their career. Ottawa relies heavily on Erik Karlsson and Marc Methot at even strength, and badly need another established veteran in his prime.
What Can Be Done About It? The Senators have plenty of depth at center and may cash in one of them to add help on defense. Ottawa has a chance to make the playoffs, but would be in a much better position with another defender.
Philadelphia Flyers: What Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong
The Situation for 2014-15: The Philadelphia Flyers finished third in the Metropolitan Divsion and No. 13 overall in 2013-14. Andrew MacDonald was added at the deadline and signed in April, probably the biggest acquisition for the team this year.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Flyers are the one NHL team with multiple legitimate flaws, any of which could derail their season. Philadelphia is old on defense, is injury prone and is a team struggling to get under the cap before opening night.
What Can Be Done About It? The Flyers will have to wait until next summer when salaries go up, enduring another season of cap waste. Their depth chart is suspect on defense, and the team's collective age means the IR list will be long again in 2014-15.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Stay Well
The Situation for 2014-15: The Pittsburgh Penguins finished first in the Metropolitan Division and No. 6 overall in 2013-14. Christian Ehrhoff, Patric Hornqvist and Thomas Greiss were the important additions over the summer.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Penguins added depth up front, a quality two-way defender and shored up depth in goal. They are a Stanley Cup contender if the injury bug stays away. If Sidney Crosby plays 82 games, the Penguins will win the Metropolitan Division easily.
What Can Be Done About It? A Canadian Press article at TSN on September 18 reported that the Penguins were holding Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for precautionary reasons. The article detailed that both players were injured while training. That kind of caution during the season should mean both men are available when the playoffs begin.
San Jose Sharks: Calm Down
The Situation for 2014-15: The San Jose Sharks finished second in the Pacific Division and No. 5 overall in 2013-14. The eye-popping addition this summer was John Scott, while Dan Boyle, Brad Stuart and Martin Havlat left town.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Sharks' management seemed to go off the rails during the offseason. The disappointment in losing during last spring's playoffs was difficult, but the roster as it stands remains one of the best in the NHL. Josh Dubow of the Associated Press writes about a house divided in this article for The Houston Chronicle.
What Can Be Done About It? San Jose GM Doug Wilson's comment in the Dubow article about the Sharks being a tomorrow team runs counter with the roster. The veterans on this team are on borrowed time unless management changes its mind.
St. Louis Blues: Who's Jake Allen?
The Situation for 2014-15: The St. Louis Blues finished second in the Central Division and No. 4 overall in 2013-14. Paul Stastny was the biggest free agent available this summer, and the Blues landed him.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: There is concern about the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and the unproven Jake Allen, but the Blues plan on running that pair in net. Beyond that, the St. Louis depth chart looks like one of the best in the NHL again.
What Can Be Done About It? Elliott is a veteran with a good track record, and Allen has done everything to prove himself. St. Louis will probably go with the tandem and address the position again at the deadline.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Backup Plan
The Situation for 2014-15: The Tampa Bay Lightning finished second in the Atlantic Division and No. 8 overall in 2013-14. In a summer that saw most NHL teams unable to add quality defensive help, the Lightning were able to bring in Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Last season, the Lightning were forced to play at times without Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop because of injuries. Replacing Stamkos is impossible; he's one of the three or four best players in the game. The Lightning added veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov, who is 39 and coming off a poor season.
What Can Be Done About It? The Lightning have a terrific goalie in Bishop, but they lack a quality backup. The same thing happened one year ago and cost Tampa Bay a deep run. Nabokov will need to impress, and there's every chance we will see a deal at the deadline.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Calm Feet in the Defensive Zone
The Situation for 2014-15: The Toronto Maple Leafs finished sixth in the Atlantic Division and No. 23 overall in 2013-14. There was plenty of tweaking, but the major players on the depth chart remain the same.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: Toronto added veteran defender Stephane Robidas to add a calm presence and a quality puck-mover. The problem for Toronto is that its other puck-movers, while talented, bring some chaos to the defensive game. The Leafs are thin on experienced defensemen who can play significant roles.
What Can Be Done About It? It's possible Dion Phaneuf and Robidas stay healthy all season. The Leafs may want to consider trading one of their offensive defenders for a more complete player.
Vancouver Canucks : A Small Rebuild
The Situation for 2014-15: The Vancouver Canucks finished fifth in the Pacific Division and No. 23 overall in 2013-14. Radim Vrbata is the big addition, with Ryan Kesler's exit being the other big item impacting the depth chart.
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Canucks lack forward depth after the Sedins and Vrbata. The potential impact players on the roster will need to produce right away.
What Can Be Done About It? Vancouver's trading of Ryan Kesler forced the team into a slight rebuild up front. Fans are going to have to be patient as the Canucks audition kids like Bo Horvat and Linden Vey.
Washington Capitals: Backcheck
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The Capitals have a new coach in Barry Trotz, which means Washington is going to be sound defensively. How will this impact offensive superstar Alex Ovechkin? The Associated Press article that appeared at CBC Sports on September 19 indicates both player and coach are on the same page.
What Can Be Done About It? There will be a time during the season when things won't be going well in Washington. Barry Trotz and Alex Ovechkin will have their patience tested, but if they can help each other, this could be the beginning of a long and productive relationship.
Winnipeg Jets: It's the Goalie!
The Potential Flaw That Could Derail the Season: The song remains the same in Winnipeg, as management stubbornly continues to employ Ondrej Pavelec as the starter. He was outplayed by Al Montoya last season, but Pavelec still got the majority of the starts.
What Can Be Done About It? This is a simple transaction, but so far it has escaped GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Among starting goalies last season, Pavelec finished No. 46 of 51 who played enough minutes to qualify.