Strengths and Weaknesses for Every NHL Team in the 2014-15 Season

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistOctober 7, 2014

Strengths and Weaknesses for Every NHL Team in the 2014-15 Season

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    We're almost there.

    After a long offseason, hockey is just about to start for real, with the NHL season set to kick off Wednesday

    That makes now the perfect time to look at some of the key strengths and weaknesses (on paper at least) for all 30 teams. In each case, we haven't necessarily identified the biggest strength or weakness, but we have tried to identify some of the distinctive qualities in each department for each team. 

    Read on for a pro and con for each franchise.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of NHL.com or Behindthenet.ca, and salary information is via CapGeek.com.

Anaheim Ducks

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    Strength: First line

    The duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf is incredible: two Hart Trophy candidates who play on the same line. It's not just that they're exceptionally talented—though they are—but also that they can play any style of game. They're good enough to take on anyone based on talent, but they're also big and physical, playing the style of game that every team loves to see.  

    Weakness: The top of the defence corps

    With all due respect to Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin, the Ducks defence doesn't match up against the top contenders in the West. The Chicago Blackhawks have Duncan Keith, the Los Angeles Kings can send out Drew Doughty and the St. Louis Blues' unit is built around Alex Pietrangelo. Anaheim doesn't have a defenceman in its class.  

Arizona Coyotes

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    Strength: The top of the defence corps

    As tempting as it was to go with Arizona's exceptional off-ice staff, it's hard to look past the duo of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle. Both are top-flight defencemen, with Yandle taking on a primarily offensive role and Ekman-Larsson handling more defensive situations. 

    Weakness: Scoring

    Head coach Dave Tippett gets the most out of his team, but a defensive style is key to that. Arizona lacks the ability to pay for top-flight offensive talent and lost 50-point man Radim Vrbata in the offseason. Lighting the lamp will be a constant struggle. 

Boston Bruins

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    Strength: Goaltending

    The Bruins have a lot going for them, but starting netminder Tuukka Rask sits at the top of that list. One of the two or three best goalies in the game of hockey, Rask provides Boston with the ability to consistently outperform its team Corsi number. 

    Weakness: Salary-cap situation

    This is a well-built team, but it's one with serious cap problems. The Johnny Boychuk trade was not absolutely necessary but is an example of the kind of sacrifice that comes with proximity to the NHL cap. As Bruins centre Chris Kelly said via The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa, "The GMs have difficult decisions to make. I’m sure Johnny was a difficult decision to make."

    More tough choices are on the horizon as a number of high-profile players will be either restricted (Reilly Smith, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug) or unrestricted (Carl Soderberg, Matt Bartkowski) free agents this summer. 

Buffalo Sabres

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    Strength: Cap space

    The Sabres have better than $10 million in open cap space at the moment, allowing general manager Tim Murray to do pretty much whatever he wants. That number is only going to grow if as expected Buffalo sheds some of its eight significant pending unrestricted free agents at this year's trade deadline. 

    Weakness: Literally everything else

    This is a bad team, a team which should be at the forefront of the Connor McDavid sweepstakes in the NHL draft this summer. 

Calgary Flames

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    Strength: Toughness

    The Flames may not be overly skilled, but they don't lack for fight on their roster. Even as most of the league moves away from designated enforcers, the Flames doubled down, adding players like Brandon Bollig and Deryk Engelland to a roster that already boasted heavyweight fighter Brian McGrattan. 

    Weakness: The forward corps

    Calgary's defence doesn't look like that of a typical rebuilding squad, but the club makes up for it up front. This is especially true at centre, where the team's top two options are journeyman Matt Stajan and Mikael Backlund, who topped 25 points for the first time in his career in 2013-14. 

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Strength: Offence from the defence

    Carolina has no shortage of puck-moving defencemen. Andrej Sekera and Justin Faulk led the way for the team last season, but veterans John-Michael Liles and Ron Hainsey have both been offensive options in the past. And top prospect Ryan Murphy posted 22 points in 22 AHL contests a year ago. 

    Weakness: A decimated forward corps

    Between Jeff Skinner's concussion and Jordan Staal's surgery to repair a broken right fibula, what was a pretty decent top-six group is going to be very hard-pressed to match up against other NHL teams.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Strength: The 'second' pairing

    An underrated component in Chicago's success in recent years is the team's nominal second pairing, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook get more minutes and much more credit, it is Hjalmarsson and Oduya who are given the primary responsibility for shutting down the opposition's best, a thankless task they've performed extremely well. 

    Weakness: Cap space

    It's not unique to Chicago; most of the best teams in the NHL have salary concerns. But the Blackhawks were forced to dump Nick Leddy in the lead-up to the season, and everything the club does has to be done with one eye on the bottom line.  

Colorado Avalanche

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    Strength: Improving youth

    One of the reasons that Colorado's sudden turnaround was so impressive was because of the number of young players in key slots. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly are all children of the 1990s, and they're all still improving. The future of the team is in their hands. 

    Weakness: A seriously underwhelming defence

    Colorado ranked 25th in the NHL last season in shots against per game, allowing 32.7 per night. That sandwiched it between the Florida Panthers (31.1) and Edmonton Oilers (32.9), both bottom-feeders. A key reason is a mediocre group of defencemen that doesn't look any more imposing now than it did last season. 

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Strength: Centre depth chart

    Columbus is in an enviable position down the middle. While teams around the league look for pivots, the Blue Jackets can centre one line on Ryan Johansen, a second on Brandon Dubinsky and a third on Artem Anisimov. After those three, Mark Letestu and Boone Jenner are also capable of playing in the top nine at centre. 

    Weakness: Jack Johnson

    Columbus played Jack Johnson more than any other defenceman, and that's a mistake. Despite his impressive physical skills, Johnson's teams are routinely outshot on the ice, and that shows up in the results. In a career stretching back to 2006-07, he has never posted a positive plus/minus at the end of a season. 

Dallas Stars

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    Strength: High-octane offence

    The Stars already had one of the league's most potent duos in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but in the summer they bolstered that line by adding Ottawa's Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. The result should be a top six who can outscore just about anyone. 

    Weakness: The blue line

    The Stars just got Brenden Dillon under contract, and it's a good thing too; without him, their already strained defence corps would be comically thin by Western Conference standards. Dallas has some elements of a contender in place; addressing the blue line is the next step. 

Detroit Red Wings

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    Strength: Coaching

    If Mike Babcock isn't the best coach in the NHL, he's awfully close to it. Even with a large amount of turnover on his staff, Detroit's head coach should be able to keep things running smoothly; after all, he's handled such change before. There's a reason why the Red Wings have become the NHL's coaching factory.  

    Weakness: Age and frailty

    The Wings were the NHL's most-injured team last season, and they're already off to a hot start on the title this year. Too many key players have shown a discomforting tendency to break down under the grind of playing in the world's toughest hockey league. 

Edmonton Oilers

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    Strength: The wings

    Edmonton actually has pretty decent talent on its wings, the one place where it can compete with virtually any team. 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall is one of the two or three best left wings in the game, and he's joined by Jordan Eberle, David Perron, Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell and 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov. It's a good group. 

    Weakness: Centre

    There are many weaknesses on the Oilers, but the most obvious is down the middle. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a below-average first-line centre at this point, and in the two slots between him and fourth-line pivot Boyd Gordon there are a combined 42 games of NHL experience. 

Florida Panthers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Strength: Goaltending

    Florida had many weaknesses last season, but arguably its worst was an ugly situation in net, where a sometimes healthy Tim Thomas was the best of an incompetent quartet of 'tenders (and the only one to post a 0.900 save percentage). The addition of Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya gives the Panthers a solid tandem. 

    Weakness: Offence

    There are plenty of options as Florida's greatest weakness, but scoring stands out. No player on the team hit the 40-point mark a year ago, and the additions of Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen aren't nearly enough to turn the team around. 

Los Angeles Kings

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    Strength: Deep, talented forward corps

    Very few NHL teams have a top line that can win a head-to-head battle against the Kings' Anze Kopitar-centered unit. But Los Angeles isn't top-heavy; in the playoffs the team ran four lines that were extremely difficult for any opponent to match. The Kings are a team that not only beats most clubs in the matchup at the top of its roster, but all the way down to Line 4. 

    Weakness: Salary-cap situation

    There aren't many problems with the Kings roster, but like many of the best teams in the league they're awfully close to the salary cap; according to CapGeek, the team is within $500,000 of the upper limit. With a bunch of pending restricted and unrestricted free agents, L.A. has to watch the situation. 

Minnesota Wild

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    Strength: Firepower

    Minnesota added Thomas Vanek in the offseason, and he joins a potent group up front powered in nearly equal measure by respected veterans (Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville) and up-and-comers (Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle). 

    Weakness: Goaltending

    It's doubtful that even the team's coach and general manager really know who will emerge as the Wild's No. 1 goalie. For now, rookie Darcy Kuemper will attempt to unseat disappointing veteran Niklas Backstrom. And once the injured and suspended Josh Harding returns, it'll be a three-way race. 

Montreal Canadiens

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    Strength: The back end

    Montreal follows the famous dictum to build from the net out. Carey Price is a franchise goaltender, while P.K. Subban is an impressive headliner for a solid group of defencemen that got stronger with the offseason addition of Tom Gilbert. 

    Weakness: Top-flight forward talent

    Max Pacioretty may be criminally underrated (he is), but beyond him the top end of Montreal's forward corps is not terribly impressive. The 5'7", 170-pound David Desharnais was the only other forward to top 50 points, while leading man Tomas Plekanec is a fine two-way player but better suited to a supporting role. 

Nashville Predators

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    Strength: Shea Weber

    Whatever else happens, the Predators can bank on one of the best in the league to hold down the No. 1 job on their blue line. Weber is a do-it-all defender who can log massive minutes and play in any situation or against any opponent and perform well. 

    Weakness: The rest of the defence

    Nashville has some talent on the way on the blue line, but for the moment it's pretty unproven talent. Four of the team's top-six defencemen are under the age of 25, and that kind of inexperience breeds mistakes. 

New Jersey Devils

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    Strength: The Lou Lamoriello way

    Regardless of the players the team loses, the coaches it runs through or the injuries it suffers, the New Jersey Devils play hockey a certain way, a way that has made them successful. The defensively minded team is never worse than competent because everyone in the organization does things the Lou Lamoriello way. 

    Weakness: The shootout

    New Jersey would have been a playoff team last year if not for a spectacularly bad run in the skills competition. A 0-13 run probably isn't happening again, but until the team proves otherwise, this is a critical weakness. 

New York Islanders

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    Strength: Waves of attackers

    It was a busy summer and fall for the Islanders, one where general manager Garth Snow did everything he could to improve the club in the here and now. The team's greatest strength is an incredibly deep forward group; the club is going to run at least three solid lines and arguably could ice five dangerous combinations.  

    Weakness: The penalty kill

    The Islanders were the second-worst team in the NHL last year when down a man, killing off just 78.1 percent of the opposition's opportunities. An improved roster will doubtless help in that area, but at this point the team very much needs to show that it's better. 

New York Rangers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Strength: Henrik Lundqvist

    Perhaps no team in the league has a better case for confidence in its starting goalie than the New York Rangers. Lundqvist stepped into the No. 1 job as a rookie in 2005-06, and he's never given cause to doubt since. He's one of the best goalies in the league, and unlike many he's one of the best every single season. 

    Weakness: 50 men for 50 slots

    The NHL allows every team a maximum of 50 players who are under contract and eligible to play in the league in any given season, and with New York's decision to keep Anthony Duclair on its final roster, the club is now at 50 evenand it had to make a trade, per Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, to open up the 50th slot for Duclair. 

Ottawa Senators

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    Strength: Erik Karlsson

    Ottawa has the distinction of icing the league's most potent offensive defenceman. Karlsson, who replaces the departed Jason Spezza as team captain, is much more than just point totals, though. The Senators' underlying numbers improve dramatically every time their best defenceman takes to the ice. 

    Weakness: A willingness to spend

    The Senators hushed some critics by signing Bobby Ryan to a rich, long-term extension, but even so there is reason to doubt that ownership is willing to commit the financial resources available to teams in other cities. Only the Arizona Coyotes have a lower salary payroll than the Sens.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Strength: The forward corps

    Claude Giroux is a franchise forward, and he's well-supported in Philadelphia both in terms of linemates (he and Jakub Voracek have been a splendid pair) and in terms of team-mates (Sean Couturier and Matt Read take on tough defensive minutes). It's a good group, good enough to carry Vincent Lecavalier for much of last season. 

    Weakness: Goaltending

    Steve Mason had a good 2013-14 campaign. It was preceded by four terrible seasons. Maybe he's turned over a new leaf, or maybe he's just the latest example of the Flyers getting fooled by a short run of quality goaltending. For now, skepticism is warranted

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Strength: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin

    An NHL team is lucky if it has one franchise centre. The Pittsburgh Penguins have two. On the same line, Malkin and Crosby are a ridiculous duo, a potent weapon a coach can unite in the dying moments of a game to try to create a lead. Separately, they're a matchup nightmare for the opposition. Either way, the Pens are in fine shape. 

    Weakness: The depth lines

    There are lots of reasons why the Penguins haven't been as successful as a team with Crosby and Malkin should be in recent years, but in 2013-14 the biggest was an absence of quality in the bottom six. The team has made some strides in that department under new GM Jim Rutherford, but the club's third and fourth lines are still suspect. 

San Jose Sharks

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    Strength: Ridiculous depth down the middle

    Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are all natural centres and awfully good ones. In the past, San Jose has double-shifted Pavelski, using him as both the third-line pivot and as a winger at points in the game; regardless of what the team does this year it should be set at centre.  

    Weakness: Mixed messages from management

    San Jose's grand rebuild never got off the ground, but the team is seemingly doing everything in its power to make Thornton and Patrick Marleau unhappy. This seems like the kind of thing unlikely to get the best results out of either player.

St. Louis Blues

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    Strength: Complete game

    Ken Hitchcock is a coach who has proved over and over that he values players who play a 200-foot game, taking care of both ends of the rink with equal fervor. The current roster has to be pretty close to his dream group because it's loaded with players who play exactly that style—a style that makes St. Louis a formidable opponent for anyone. 

    Weakness: The lack of an offensive game-breaker

    In the playoffs last spring, the Blues bowed out following a tough series with Chicago. One of the key reasons was that the Blackhawks simply had finishers who outclassed their counterparts in St. Louis. That's not something the team solved in the offseason. 

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Strength: Jon Cooper's Syracuse Crunch

    Tampa Bay leans heavily on young forwards, a group of players who by and large came up through the team's AHL system under then-minor league coach Jon Cooper. The promotion of Cooper at the same time as this wave of prospects has resulted in a team where the coach knows how to get the most out of the players and the players are well-schooled in the club's systems play. 

    Weakness: Goaltending depth

    Evgeni Nabokov was the team's solution to a shaky backup position, but the 39-year-old saw his play fall off dramatically with the Islanders last season, and there's a risk it doesn't rebound. There isn't a really legitimate NHL option on the farm behind him. 

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Strength: Goaltending

    Jonathan Bernier served notice last season that he's knocking on the door as an elite NHL goaltender, while backup James Reimer might be the best No. 2 in the NHL. The upshot is that the Leafs can bank on getting a solid performance regardless of which player is inhabiting the crease. 

    Weakness: The defence

    It's incredible the degree to which Toronto is leaning on 37-year-old defenceman Stephane Robidas, who's coming off a season in which he broke his leg twice. This could be a decent group if it all comes together, but between shaky veterans and callow youth, things could also go very, very wrong. 

Vancouver Canucks

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    Strength: A fresh start

    Everything that could possibly go wrong in Vancouver seemed to last season. Instead of trying to get by with the people it had, the team opted to can the president/general manager and the head coach and bring in new managers. The result is a sense of vigor the team could not possibly have had otherwise. 

    Weakness: Power play

    After years of success, the power play has fallen off sharply; last season under John Tortorella it was the fifth-worst unit in the league with a 15.2 percent conversion rate. Some of that had to do with shooting percentage; now the task falls to Willie Desjardins to get the team on track. 

Washington Capitals

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    Strength: The power play

    Whatever Adam Oates' failings as a coach were, the Washington Capitals managed to get the most out of their formidable collection of man-advantage talent under his watch. Alex Ovechkin's shot and Nicklas Backstrom's playmaking are the two most important ingredients, but the team did have seven players with double-digit point totals on its two units.  

    Weakness: Second-line centre

    The Caps appeared to have addressed a longstanding problem on their roster with the addition of Mikhail Grabovski last season; instead they let him leave in the summer and are set on letting their younger players fight for the spot. The team hasn't had a reliable, long-term fix for this position in many years now. 

Winnipeg Jets

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    Strength: Deep, capable forward corps

    Winnipeg's forward group rarely gets the credit it deserves. While the team lacks a "name" star, the Jets are going to be able to run three highly capable units. Between Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, Michael Frolik and Mark Scheifele Winnipeg has all kinds of options. 

    Weakness: Goaltending

    Ondrej Pavelec might be the worst starting goalie in the NHL, and he's backed up by raw rookie Michael Hutchinson. It's the worst tandem in the league. 

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