Every NHL Team's Top Priority for the Remainder of the 2014-15 Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2015

Every NHL Team's Top Priority for the Remainder of the 2014-15 Season

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    With the NHL's 2015 trade deadline now history, general managers must shift their focus upon other means to address their top priorities over the remainder of the season.

    Be it a Stanley Cup contender, a marginal playoff club or a bottom feeder in the standings, each team still has roster needs to address. Some clubs have scoring difficulties or defensive troubles, while others have issues with their special teams or depth at a key position. 

    Here's a look at each NHL team's top priority for the remainder of this season, why it's so important and options for addressing the issue.

Anaheim Ducks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Anaheim Ducks must improve their power play. Their currently among the bottom third and one of the the worst among this season's playoff-bound clubs.

    Why it's important: Inability to cash in with the man advantage could prove costly. While their weak power play won't hurt their playoff chances, it could hamper their Stanley Cup hopes.

    Options: The recent additions of forwards Tomas Fleischman and Jiri Sekac and defenseman James Wisniewski could provide a boost. The return of power-play points leader Sami Vatanen (lower-body injury) by early April should also help.

Arizona Coyotes

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Arizona Coyotes front office must alleviate concerns that their rebuilding program signals a possible franchise relocation.

    Why it's important: The Arizona Republic's Dan Bickley reports the Coyotes' out clause in their arena deal with Glendale means they can relocate after 2017-18 if they lose more than $50 million over a five-year period. Their rebuilding process could adversely affect attendance and increase the Coyotes' losses.

    Options: New majority owner Andrew Barroway could meet with Glendale's mayor and season-ticket holders to soothe concerns over the Coyotes' future. The club could win the draft lottery and select promising center Connor McDavid. Hyping McDavid, current prospects Max Domi and Anthony Duclair and young Coyotes like Oliver Ekman-Larsson could also help.

Boston Bruins

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Boston Bruins must improve their shootout numbers. With a record of 2-7, they're among this season's worst shootout teams.

    Why it's important: The Bruins are currently battling to fend off the Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers for the final wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Every point counts now. A shootout loss could mean the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

    Options: Regardless of head coach Claude Julien's distaste for shootouts, he must address his club's weakness in this area. Perhaps more emphasis on shootout drills during practice could help.

Buffalo Sabres

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Buffalo News' John Vogl believes the Buffalo Sabres need leadership from younger veterans like defenseman Zach Bogosian and forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.

    Why it's important: The Sabres are a rebuilding team. Their roster will become even younger next season as more prospects make the cut. Those inexperienced players will need leadership and guidance.

    Options: Sabres management could evaluate their young veterans to determine those capable of taking on leadership roles. Perhaps one of them could be made an alternate captain next season.

Calgary Flames

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    Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Calgary Flames must cover for top defenseman Mark Giordano, who recently underwent season-ending bicep surgery.

    Why it's important: Their playoff hopes depend upon it. Giordano anchored the Flames' defense corps this season. The 31-year-old Calgary captain is among his club's leaders in points, power-play points, ice time and blocked shots. His absence leaves a big hole on their blue line.

    Options: T.J. Brodie (who's also among the club's leaders in points, ice time and blocked shots) could take on a larger leadership role. Veteran Dennis Wideman, underrated Kris Russell and recently acquired David Schlemko can also take over some of Giordano's duties.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Carolina Hurricanes must evaluate their roster over the remainder of this season. The News & Observer's Chip Alexander reports Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters intends to experiment with line combinations.

    Why it's important: With the playoffs out of reach, line experimentation could provide an early indication of possible forward combinations and defense pairings entering next season's training camp. Having dealt away several veterans at the trade deadline, they can now give larger roles to several young players.

    Options: Young defenseman Rasmus Rissanen has already made his NHL debut and should see more playing time down the stretch. Alexander speculates sophomore winger Elias Lindholm could get more playing time at center.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Chicago Blackhawks must overcome the absence of superstar right wing Patrick Kane, sidelined until mid-May by a broken left clavicle.

    Why it's important: Kane currently leads the Blackhawks in goals (27), points (64) and power-play points (22). Replacing one of the league's most dynamic scorers is a daunting task, even for a club as talented as the Blackhawks.

    Options: The recent addition of two-way forward Antoine Vermette should help. They'll also look to wingers Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad to pick up their production down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline reports the Blue Jackets currently have a glut of forwards. Management must evaluate some of the lesser-talented ones to determine those worth retaining after this season.

    Why it's important: The Blue Jackets are a budget team and cannot spend to the cap ceiling. They must spread their dollars around wisely. With so many young forwards coming up, management must ensure sufficient cap space to retain them.

    Options: Portzline believes one or two forwards could be dealt this summer. He notes Cam Atkinson and Artem Anisimov attracted interest in this season's trade market. Unrestricted free agents Mark Letestu and Jack Skille could go unsigned.

Colorado Avalanche

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Colorado Avalanche must rest oft-injured starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov for the remainder of this season.

    Why it's important: The Denver Post's Mike Chambers reports Varlamov has suffered a groin injury. He's already missed time this season to similar injuries. The Avalanche should give Varlamov an opportunity to fully recuperate, rather than risk reaggravating the condition.

    Options: The Avalanche recalled Calvin Pickard, who is capable of holding the fort for the rest of the season. Given the Avs' slim playoff hopes this season, using Pickard and resting Varlamov is the wisest course of action.

Dallas Stars

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Dallas Stars must begin laying the groundwork toward improving their goaltending next season.

    Why it's important: Starter Kari Lehtonen's goals-against average ranks among the league's worst. Backup Jhonas Enroth has a 3.35 goals-against average and an .873 save percentage since joining the Stars in a trade from Buffalo. 

    Options: Lehtonen is under contract for three more years at an average cap hit of $5.9 million. The Stars must either replace him or hire a new goalie coach to improve his performance. They must also decide if Enroth, a free agent in July, should be re-signed or replaced. 

Detroit Red Wings

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Detroit Red Wings need to improve their special teams. MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports they were “a mess” in recent losses to Calgary and Boston. That includes giving up two shorthanded goals against Boston.

    Why it's important: While the Red Wings aren't in danger of falling out of playoff contention, they cannot allow bad habits to creep into their game down the stretch. It could potentially hamper their playoff performance.

    Options: Khan reports coach Mike Babcock is shouldering the blame. Expect better preparation from his Wings in the coming days, with a focus on improving their special team play.

Edmonton Oilers

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Edmonton Oilers must decide if Todd Nelson will return next season as full-time head coach. He's been in the role on an interim basis since Dec. 15. 

    Why it's important: Constant coaching changes have contributed to the Oilers' struggles in recent years. They are now on their sixth head coach since 2009. This rebuilding team needs stability behind the bench. 

    Options: Under Nelson, the Oilers are showing marginal improvement. Considering the lack of talent throughout their roster, that's a notable achievement. If Nelson isn't to be their full-time coach next season, management must find a respected bench boss with NHL experience who can get this club back on track.

Florida Panthers

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    Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Florida Panthers must improve their offensive production down the stretch. They're among the NHL's lowest-scoring teams while their power-play percentage is among this season's worst.

    Why it's important: The Panthers are currently trying to catch the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. To stand a realistic chance of claiming a postseason spot, they need more scoring.

    Options: The addition of aging (but still effective) winger Jaromir Jagr should help, as should winger Brandon Pirri's recent return from injury. Forward Jonathan Huberdeau's production has improved of late. They need more offense from veteran Brad Boyes and winger Jimmy Hayes.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Los Angeles Kings must improve their power play and penalty killing if they're to clinch a playoff spot and defend their Stanley Cup title.

    Why it's important: The Kings' power-play percentage and penalty kill are uncomfortably close to the league's bottom third. They are jockeying with the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks for a playoff berth in the Pacific Division. Their chances could improve by bolstering their special teams numbers.

    Options: The recent addition of puck-moving defenseman Andrej Sekera should help, but so far he's failed to produce much offense. Coach Darryl Sutter's been shuffling his defense pairings. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports there's a chance demoted center Mike Richards could be recalled later in the season. 

Minnesota Wild

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Minnesota Wild must find opportunities to give goaltender Devan Dubnyk an occasional night off down the stretch.

    Why it's important: Dubnyk's started every game since joining the Wild in a mid-January trade from Arizona. He's the biggest reason they won 19 of 25 games and surged into playoff contention. However, they risk burning out Dubnyk down the stretch, potentially jeopardizing their postseason hopes.

    Options: Backup Darcy Kuemper hasn't played since Jan. 20 and is overdue to see some action. He could be motivated to make up for his inconsistency earlier in the season. The Wild face some tough competition in the coming weeks but must find a game or two to allow Dubnyk some rest. 

Montreal Canadiens

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Montreal Canadiens must find a way to boost their offensive production. They're the lowest-scoring team holding a playoff berth. The power play is among this season's worst.

    Why it's important: The Canadiens aren't in danger of falling out of playoff contention, but if they're to stage a Stanley Cup run their offense must improve. If not for the stellar goaltending of Carey Price, the Canadiens would be struggling for a wild-card playoff spot.

    Options: This might be a good opportunity for coach Michel Therrien to juggle his lineup. Perhaps rookie Jacob De La Rose and struggling winger Lars Eller could see more time on the top-two lines. Adding puck-moving defenseman Jeff Petry could also provide a boost.

Nashville Predators

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Nashville Predators must regain their winning ways. A recent six-game losing streak allowed the Anaheim Ducks to catch the Predators for first in the Western Conference, while the St. Louis Blues are close behind.  

    Why it's important: The Predators' slump won't threaten their playoff hopes but it could affect their confidence, making them less intimidating to their opponents. The slump could also hurt their chances of winning the Presidents' Trophy for the best regular-season record. 

    Options: The Predators recently played a lot of hockey (10 games in 17 nights), so an upcoming stretch of lengthier breaks between games should help. They'll need to work on their recently struggling power play. Their top scorers (Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal) must snap out of their recent scoring drought.

New Jersey Devils

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    Andy Marlin/Getty Images

    Top priority: The New Jersey Devils should start laying the groundwork for rebuilding their roster, with the focus on younger talent. That means engaging in a full-fledged rebuild without wasting money on aging free agents.

    Why it's important: For most of this season, the Devils had one of the NHL's oldest rosters. They're poised to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. It's time to put the focus upon their younger players currently within their system, as well as adding youth via trades and the draft.

    Options: The Devils have several under-30 players (goalie Cory Schneider, defensemen Damon Severson, Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas, forwards Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson) around which to rebuild. They need to boost their depth in young forward prospects. 

New York Islanders

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    Top priority: The New York Islanders must ensure starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak gets some games off down the stretch.

    Why it's important: Halak's been among the main reasons the Islanders will make the playoffs among this season's top teams in the Eastern Conference. He's also seen a heavy workload this season. They'll want the 29-year-old to be fresh heading into the postseason.

    Options: The Islanders' recent acquisition of goalie Michal Neuvirth has helped. They have games against non-contenders like Columbus (twice), New Jersey and Buffalo, which are perfect opportunities to rest Halak. Neuvirth could also play in one of an upcoming back-to-back stretch against Ottawa and Montreal.

New York Rangers

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    Jared Silber/Getty Images

    Top priority: The New York Rangers should not rush injured starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist back into the lineup. Lundqvist, 33, has been sidelined since late January after suffering a vascular injury to his neck. 

    Why it's important: The Rangers need Lundqvist at his best when the playoffs begin in mid-April. Backup Cam Talbot has backstopped the Blueshirts to an 11-2-3 record in Lundqvist's absence, so there's no need for "King Henrik" to return before he's fully recovered.

    Options: There's no timetable yet for Lundqvist's return. Given the Rangers' solid performance in his absence, they have the luxury of patience in getting him back into the lineup. Depending upon medical clearance, Lundqvist should hopefully return at some point in late March.

Ottawa Senators

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    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Ottawa Senators should stick with call-up goaltender Andrew Hammond, who helped them save their season by posting a 7-0-1 record in eight games. 

    Why it's important: The Senators are jockeying with the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers for the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth. Hammond is the main reason they played their way back into contention. Returning starter Craig Anderson looked rusty in his recent starts. 

    Options: Other than in back-to-back situations (of which the Senators have three between now and season's end), Hammond should see the bulk of the starts in the immediate future. Their playoff hopes could depend upon it. Unless Hammond starts struggling, Anderson should take a seat for the time being.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Philadelphia Flyers must do a better job of protecting the health of their players, especially starting goalie Steve Mason. The Philadelphia Daily News' Frank Seravalli reports goalie coach Jeff Reese's recent decision to quit the team was because Mason was rushed back from knee surgery before he'd fully recovered. 

    Why it's important: Mason is arguably the best goaltender the Flyers have had since general manager Ron Hextall won the Vezina Trophy in 1987. Rushing him back to action increases the risk of serious re-injury, which could shorten his career.

    Options: The Flyers have slim playoff hopes this season. Best to rest Mason if he's still hampered from his recent knee surgery. They must also find a suitable goalie coach to replace the departed Reese. Hextall should prepare to find suitable backups for Mason in the offseason.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Top priority: The Pittsburgh Penguins must find an additional scoring punch beyond superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

    Why it's important: Playoff opponents will put more effort upon shutting down Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins need other forwards to step up offensively in the coming weeks.

    Options: With the trade deadline now past, there's few in-house alternatives for the Penguins. Veteran Chris Kunitz's production is well down this season, but he could pick it up come playoff time. Winger Blake Comeau is seeing some improvement in his production. Struggling winger Beau Bennett might benefit from moving up to Malkin's wing. 

San Jose Sharks

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    Don Smith/Getty Images

    Top priority: The San Jose Sharks need a better overall defensive effort over the remainder of this season. Despite their depth in talent, their defense remains inconsistent.

    Why it's important: The Sharks risk missing the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03. They're in the bottom third this season in goals against per game, penalty killing and shots against per game

    Options: Goaltender Antti Niemi must step up his play down the stretch. Moving defenseman Brent Burns up to forward could be required. They'll also hope blueliner Matt Irwin isn't sidelined for long by his upper-body injury.

St. Louis Blues

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    Len Redkoles/Getty Images

    Top priority: The St. Louis Blues must be prepared to play a full 60 minutes every game over the remainder of the season. Jeremy P. Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch observes costly breakdowns resulted in recent losses against lesser opponents like Vancouver and Philadelphia. 

    Why it's important: The Blues aspire to be Stanley Cup contenders. Doing so means bringing their “A” game against weaker opponents as well as their chief rivals. Taking an opponent for granted during the regular season can be a bad habit that proves costly in the playoffs.

    Options: The Blues must play a more disciplined physical style. Rutherford notes head coach Ken Hitchcock observed his team snapped out of an earlier funk this season playing a fast, hard-hitting club like the Winnipeg Jets. Regardless of the opponent, the Blues must do that on a consistent basis over the rest of the schedule.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Tampa Bay Lightning must prove they are strong enough to go deep in the playoffs. Despite obvious offensive talent, The Tampa Tribune's Martin Fennelly observes they're not a physical club. 

    Why it's important: The Stanley Cup playoffs are a gruelling two-month slog in which physical play comes to the fore. The Lightning are in the bottom third in hits and barely in the middle third in blocked shots.

    Options: The addition of defenseman Braydon Coburn at the trade deadline could help. Some skill players could be required to take on more physical roles. They could look within their farm system if required for additional muscle.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    Top priority: With playoff hopes dashed, Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and his staff must evaluate their current roster over the remainder of this season.

    Why it's important: While fans and pundits are calling for massive changes, Shanahan and Co. must be careful. They need to retain players who want to be part of the solution while identifying those who no longer fit into the future plans. They want players who are proud to be Leafs and want to be part of the rebuild.

    Options: Evaluate the performance down the stretch of younger players like center Nazem Kadri, right wing James van Riemsdyk, defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, and goaltender Jonathan Bernier. It could also be a good time to evaluate some talent from the farm team.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Vancouver Canucks must improve their overall defensive game. That need took on more importance after starting goalie Ryan Miller was sidelined four-to-six weeks with a sprained knee.

    Why it's important: Backup goalie Eddie Lack and call-up Jacob Markstrom have promise but aren't at the same skill level as Miller, who at times stole several games this season for the Canucks. Lack and Markstrom need help from their teammates to keep the Canucks in the playoff hunt.

    Options: The return of Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev from injury certainly helps. Kevin Bieksa will soon come off injured reserve. The Canucks still need a better effort from young blueliners like Adam Clendening and Ryan Stanton.

Washington Capitals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Top priority: The Washington Capitals need more offense beyond first-line stars Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Their offensive production drops sharply beyond those two.

    Why it's important: Opponents will put more focus upon shutting down Ovechkin and Backstrom down the stretch and into the playoffs. Someone must step up to help them carry the offensive burden.

    Options: The recent addition of second-line left wing Curtis Glencross paid immediate dividends, with four points in three games since coming to Washington from Calgary. Shifting Marcus Johansson to first-line right wing has led to an uptick of late in his production.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Lance Thomson/Getty Images

    Top priority: The Winnipeg Jets must adjust to defenseman Dustin Byfuglien's absence. “Big Buff,” a key reason behind the Jets' playoff push this season, will miss two-to-four weeks with an upper-body injury.

    Why it's important: Byfuglien is the Jets' top defenseman. He's among their leaders in points, power-play points, ice time and hits this season. His absence leaves a big hole on their roster.

    Options: This is where the Jets' acquisition of Tyler Myers should pay dividends. The 6'8”, 219-pounder Myers isn't as physical as Byfuglien but he can log over 25 minutes per game. They'll also draw upon their other rearguards to cover Byfuglien's minutes.

    All player and team stats via NHL.com as of March 11, 2015. Salary information via NHLNumbers.com.

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