10 NHL Teams in Need of Big Offseason Changes

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistMarch 8, 2017

10 NHL Teams in Need of Big Offseason Changes

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    The 2017 trade deadline is barely in the rearview mirror, but we're already starting to hear talk about offseason changes that could come down around the NHL.

    Teams in the playoff picture are planning for the next three months—first, earning the best possible seed in the regular-season standings, then figuring out how to successfully survive the gruelling four-round war of attrition that lies ahead. 

    For the teams in the bottom half of the standings, it's already time to think about what comes next.

    Every team will make some roster adjustments during the offseason and need to deal with the expansion draft that will stock the inaugural roster for the Vegas Golden Knights next fall. There are teams that suffered big setbacks or are spinning their wheels that could go even bolder with management or coaching changes, or possibly even taking steps to move their home base.

    Here's a look at the 10 NHL teams that should be making the biggest moves of the 2017 offseason.

10. Winnipeg Jets

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    2016-17 Season Summary: At the end of Year 6 since the Jets' return to Winnipeg, the team that is so beloved by its community has rewarded its fanbase with just a single playoff appearance—and that was a 4-0 first-round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks in April of 2015.

    The Jets are swimming in prospects thanks to spending so many years near the bottom of the standings and are tracking to finish maybe a point or two better than the 78 they posted in 2015-16. After creeping within two points of a wild-card spot in early March, the gap has now grown to five points and looks all but insurmountable with the Los Angeles Kings also standing in the way.

    What Went Wrong: The team's transition to Connor Hellebuyck as its new starting goaltender has been a bumpy one. Hellebuyck strung together a promising 26-game rookie campaign during 2015-16 but hasn't been able to match those numbers this season. He has dropped to a 2.74 goals-against average and .911 save percentage but still delivered wins.

    Hellebuyck's record is a decent 22-16-3, and his numbers dramatically outshine both his backup Michael Hutchinson and the man he's replacing, Ondrej Pavelec, who was pressed into duty for eight games this season.

    The Jets have been able to smooth over their goaltending challenges with plenty of scoring—they're ranked eighth in the league with an average of 2.96 goals per game.

    Offseason Objectives: The Jets will finally be free of Pavelec's five-year albatross of a contract this summer, which will allow the team some flexibility in potentially finding a better partner for Hellebuyck. Michael Hutchinson is signed for one more year, but at $1.15 million, he can easily be shuffled down to the minors or bought out if a better replacement is found.

    The Jets also have some fancy dancing ahead of them in preparation for June's expansion draft. Defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom are both automatically protected as a result of their no-movement clauses, but Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba are also both draft eligible.

    Unless general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff can persuade Enstrom to waive that no-move clause, his apparent options will be to either trade one of his blueliners or to protect four defensemen, which would leave him only four more slots to use for his forwards. Cheveldayoff may need to get creative if he hopes to hang on to all his core roster players heading into next season.

9. New York Islanders

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    2016-17 Season Summary: The fit between the New York Islanders and their new home at Barclays Center hasn't gotten any more comfortable during the team's second year in Brooklyn. The Isles rank 29th in NHL attendance, according to ESPN, and rumors have surfaced that their agreement with the venue could be terminated within the next couple of years, according to Bloomberg (via CBS New York).

    Behind-the-scenes drama can impact what happens on the ice and may have contributed to the Islanders' bumpy start to the 2016-17 season. The team has responded well since coach Jack Capuano was replaced behind the bench, putting together a 14-6-3 record and climbing from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings all the way up to the second wild-card spot.

    What Went Wrong: On the ice, the Islanders were unable to start the year by building off the progress they'd made in 2015-16, when they not only reached the playoffs but won a series for the first time since 1993.

    Key forwards Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen were lost to free agency over the summer, and new signing Andrew Ladd took some time to adjust to his surroundings.

    By the time Ladd scored his first goal with his new team on November 7 against the Vancouver Canucks, the Islanders had gone 4-6-2 in their first 12 games—hardly an auspicious beginning. As the season progressed, Metropolitan Division rivals in Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Manhattan caught fire with win after win while the Islanders struggled to stay afloat.

    The team was 17-17-8 when Capuano was dismissed in January. Under Doug Weight's direction, the players have given themselves a chance to salvage what had looked like a lost season.

    Offseason Objectives: Whether or not the Islanders end up making the playoffs, the team will face a day of reckoning this summer. In addition to trying to sort out whether their long-term future lies in Brooklyn at Barclays, the Islanders will also need to hire a permanent head coach—whether that's Weight or someone else.

    All offseason decisions will be filtered through the prism of John Tavares' future. The 26-year-old captain and leading scorer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. The team needs to create an appealing environment on and off the ice if it hopes to entice the face of its franchise to re-up with a new deal.

8. Buffalo Sabres

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    2016-17 Season Summary: The rebuilding Buffalo Sabres gained 27 points in the standings between their last-place finish in the NHL in 2014-15 and their 81-point season in 2015-16, when they finished 23rd overall.

    With starting goaltender Robin Lehner healthy to start the 2016-17 season and another year of seasoning complete for the team's young players, it was expected that the Sabres could take another step forward this year and challenge for a playoff spot.

    The Sabres have flirted with postseason contention over the course of the year but currently have four teams blocking their path to the second wild-card spot. Buffalo is on pace to duplicate last year's results with about 82 points, but the organization and its fans were hoping for more.

    What Went Wrong: Lehner was healthy, but early-season injuries proved to be an issue once again. Sophomore Jack Eichel missed the first 21 games of the season after hurting his ankle during a preseason practice, and mercurial sniper Evander Kane missed 11 games after suffering a rib injury on the Sabres' opening night. He didn't score his first goal of the year until his 13th game on December 3.

    Last season, the Sabres ranked 25th offensively and 16th defensively, with strong special teams on both the power play and the penalty kill. The power play got even better this season—it's now second overall—but that improvement has been offset by a penalty kill that's now ranked 29th in the league.

    Offseason Objectives: The Sabres are holding steady, so they don't need to go back to the drawing board. But they do need to make some tweaks if they hope to push themselves up into the next tier of competition.

    Captain Brian Gionta, now 38, reaches unrestricted free agency this summer, so a shift in team leadership could be in the cards. Ryan O'Reilly and Josh Gorges are currently serving as the alternates.

    A promotion for O'Reilly would mark the beginning of the Sabres' next era and could help pump up the mental side of a team that blows hot and cold far too frequently.

7. Carolina Hurricanes

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    James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    2016-17 Season Summary: The Carolina Hurricanes are home to a rich collection of talented youngsters that you've probably never heard of. Home attendance is last in the league with just 11,949 fans per game, according to ESPN, and the Hurricanes rarely, if ever, find their way onto national TV broadcasts.

    All those young players have been collected during seven seasons outside the playoff picture. In 2015-16, Carolina took the next step toward its rebuild by cutting ties with longtime captain Eric Staal and finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with 86 points, 10 points out of a wild-card spot.

    This year, the playoffs are once again out of reach as the end of the season draws near. With 62 points in 63 games, the Hurricanes are looking at a slight decline from last season to about 81 points.

    What Went Wrong: Though the Hurricanes have had issues in net this season, they've maintained a point-per-game pace. Good team defense has helped protect Cam Ward, who has earned the majority of his team's starts despite posting just a .904 save percentage this season. Backup Eddie Lack ranks even lower with a 3-4-2 record, .889 save percentage and 3.07 goals-against average.

    The Hurricanes were challenging for a playoff spot until mid-January, when their record was 21-15-7. They've fallen off the pace thanks to a 5-11-3 record in their last 19 games.

    Goals have been hard to come by during that stretch—Carolina has scored more than twice in just four of those 19 games and has been shut out three times.

    Offseason Objectives: The Hurricanes had a chance to upgrade their team in net when Ward became a free agent during the summer of 2016, but they opted to re-sign him for two years—at a discounted rate from his old contract but a still substantial $3.3 million for each of two years. He and Lack are both on the books for next season, and neither would be a likely target for Las Vegas in the expansion draft.

    Ward has been Carolina's primary starter ever since he brought the team a Stanley Cup as a rookie back in 2006, but it's time to move on. General manager Ron Francis needs to make a serious move in the goalie market this summer, even if it means giving up a valuable draft pick or a quality prospect to make it happen.

6. Detroit Red Wings

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    2016-17 Season Summary: The last season at Joe Louis Arena will be remembered for two things by Detroit Red Wings fans—the passing of team owner Mike Ilitch in February at the age of 87 and the likely end of the team's record-setting 25-year streak of postseason appearances.

    With 18 games remaining on the schedule, the Wings have dropped to last place in the Eastern Conference thanks to a 3-7-1 record in their last 11 games. Before this drop-off, Detroit had hovered within a couple of games of the .500 mark for most of the season—but that's not good enough to gain entry into the playoff club.

    In coach Jeff Blashill's debut season as Detroit's head coach, his team finished with 93 points in 2015-16, good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round playoff date with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Wings are now tracking for 78 points in 2016-17.

    What Went Wrong: The introduction of the salary cap stopped the Red Wings' practice of paying top dollar to lure established talent to their team with the promise of a good run at the Stanley Cup. Since then, Detroit's success has been built on the team's ability to find high-end talent where nobody else was looking.

    For the last decade, the Wings have been anchored by Henrik Zetterberg, drafted 210th overall in 1999, and Pavel Datsyuk, chosen 171st in 1998. But captain Zetterberg is now a banged-up 36-year-old, and Datsyuk decamped before the beginning of the season to finish out his career in his native Russia.

    That leaves a talent void at the veteran end of the spectrum while the Red Wings' young stars figure out how to step into the very big shoes their predecessors have left behind. Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek had some success as fresh faces on the far side of 30, but their addition wasn't enough to keep the Wings performing to their usual standards.

    Offseason Objectives: As John U. Bacon wrote in the Detroit News, "as of today, it’s not clear who will lead this team back, from the owners, to the executives, to the guys on the ice."

    Though the Blashill era is not trending in a positive direction in its second season, it's unlikely that the coach will be be made to walk the plank when the entire franchise is drifting in uncharted waters. 

    The first job for the Red Wings is to re-establish a team identity that will define the beginning of the new era at Little Caesars Arena. Easy to say, most likely very challenging to execute.

5. Dallas Stars

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    2016-17 Season Summary: The Dallas Stars came back to earth in 2016-17 after successfully channeling the high-flying style of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers to finish as the top team in the Western Conference one year earlier.

    Instead of finishing with 109 points, this year's Stars will be lucky to hit 80 after taking a step backward at both ends of the ice. Their scoring has dropped from 3.23 goals per game to 2.82, while their goals against has spiked from 2.78 goals per game to 3.18.

    What Went Wrong: Captain Jamie Benn has fallen to 10th in league scoring this season, but that has more to do with his competition than his own performance. Benn won the Art Ross Trophy with 87 points in 2014-15 then followed up with 89 points last season. This year, he's tracking for 79 points in 78 games having missed four games with a foot injury in January.

    Benn's partner in crime, Tyler Seguin, is also producing at a point-per-game pace, but Dallas' production drops off dramatically from there. The Stars are missing the strong offensive contributions they got last year from the likes of Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky as well as steady blue-line production from John Klingberg and the now-departed Alex Goligoski.

    Defensively, the team misses Goligoski as well. The Stars' goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi has always been a bit of an adventure, and the transition to a younger blue line ended up exacerbating a pre-existing issue.

    The formula for Dallas' demise this year is pretty simple: score less, surrender more, drop like a rock in the standings.

    Offseason Objectives: The Stars will have some roster flexibility, with Sharp, Hemsky and Jiri Hudler all coming off the books as unrestricted free agents, but both goalies are under contract for the 2017-18 season. Something has to give on that front.

    Coach Lindy Ruff is also a target for replacement—finishing out the last season of his four-year contract, according to CapFriendly, with no sign of an extension anywhere in sight. 

    If Ruff is terminated at the end of the season, look for the Stars to aim to get his replacement hired as early as possible in the offseason so that he can have input in this summer's roster decisions.

4. Vancouver Canucks

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    2016-17 Season Summary: The Vancouver Canucks finished 28th overall in the NHL in 2015-16 but used their offseason to try to set themselves up for a playoff push, signing coveted unrestricted free agent Loui Eriksson and trading for rugged young defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

    The Canucks started the season with a promising 4-0-1 record before slipping into the nine-game losing streak that quickly derailed their season and put a target on the back of coach Willie Desjardins.

    The coach has kept his job by keeping his players working hard, and he has strung together some wins at times. Injuries and lack of depth forced general manager Jim Benning's hand at the trade deadline, pushing him to deal away beloved lifelong Canucks Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen. 

    What Went Wrong: Loui Eriksson was expected to be a perfect fit on the Canucks' top line with his fellow Swedes, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The trio had clicked together at the 2013 World Championship and looked good as part of Sweden's power-play unit at September's World Cup of Hockey, but they couldn't find the same chemistry in Canucks colours.

    Eriksson's on pace for just 14 goals and 30 points, hardly what's expected of a player with a $6 million cap hit.

    For the second straight year, injuries were also a serious issue in Vancouver. Losing top-pairing defensemen Alex Edler and Chris Tanev together through the fall allowed the Canucks to uncover two diamonds in the rough in Troy Stecher and Nikita Tryamkin, but the team has had as many as 10 regulars out of the lineup at a time. Thirty-three different players have suited up for Vancouver for at least one game this season.

    It's also clear that the clock is winding down on the stellar careers of the Sedin twins. Daniel and Henrik led the Canucks in scoring in 2015-16 with 61 and 55 points respectively, but they are starting to show cracks in their game at both ends of the ice. This year, Henrik's on pace for 49 points while Daniel's set to reach just 45.

    Offseason Objectives: The Canucks need to decide whether or not to retain Desjardins, who will have one year remaining on his four-year contract. Desjardins has had some success developing Vancouver's next generation, particularly Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund, but the team's sixth-overall draft pick from 2014, Jake Virtanen, is currently languishing in the minors.

    Desjardins also takes heat from the Vancouver fanbase for his curious player-deployment decisions, such as a #FireWillie outburst on Twitter on March 4 when rookie Nikolay Goldobin was given just 5:51 of ice time in his first game as a Canuck after being acquired at the trade deadline.

    Desjardins seems to be a good teacher who has earned the trust of his players, but the same cannot be said for the trust of the fans. The Canucks look like they'll be missing the playoffs for a second straight season—a new coach would embody the next phase of the Canucks' return to respectability as the team closes the door on its era of success from the early 2000s.

3. New Jersey Devils

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    2016-17 Season Summary: The New Jersey Devils' offseason acquisition of Taylor Hall was supposed to mark the sea change in the offensive fortunes of one of the NHL's most consistently scoring-challenged franchises. It didn't work.

    The Devils currently sit 29th in the league with 2.18 goals scored per game—just below the 2.22 that ranked them 30th overall at the end of the 2015-16 season. Additionally, the normally airtight Devils defense has sprung some leaks this year, now giving up 2.83 goals per game instead of their eighth-best 2.46 goals per game last season.

    What Went Wrong: If general manager Ray Shero was hoping that the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts when he reunited junior hockey linemates and super-scorers Hall and Adam Henrique, he was sorely disappointed. Hall averaged 0.86 points per game during his six seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, but his 42 points in 56 games with the Devils is a pace of just 0.75 points per game.

    Henrique isn't dealing with a change of scenery like Hall is, but his average output is also slightly below his career average. His 16 goals in 66 games are a particular disappointment after the 27-year-old hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career last season.

    Most surprisingly, goaltender Cory Schneider is having his first off year since joining the Devils before the 2013-14 season. Schneider's 2.65 goals-against average and .914 save percentage are both well below his career averages. Without that one extra game-saver they've been used to getting from Schneider, New Jersey has been unable to keep pace with the rest of the pack chasing those last couple of playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

    Offseason Objectives: Shero and head coach John Hynes have been running the show in New Jersey for two seasons. Though the Devils are on pace to lose about six points this year from the 84 points they recorded in 2015-16, it might be too soon for another franchise overhaul.

    Shero has tried to execute some bold moves to remake the team, and most of the current roster is already signed for the 2017-18 season. More scoring punch is still needed.

    The Devils would also be well-served to shore up their defensive depth with a top-pairing guy to start assuming some of the heavy load that's currently being carried by 34-year-old captain Andy Greene.

2. Arizona Coyotes

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    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    2016-17 Season Summary: The Arizona Coyotes came in to the 2016-17 on an optimistic note, led by new general manager John Chayka and boasting an impressive array of young talent and a couple of solid free-agent signings in Alex Goligoski and Radim Vrbata. 

    But the Coyotes sputtered in the early going as starting goaltender Mike Smith went down with an injury just two weeks into the season. Arizona has shown occasional signs of life but continues to play inconsistent hockey at both ends of the ice. The Coyotes are on pace to finish the season with 67 points, which would be an 11-point drop from 2015-16.

    What Went Wrong: As well as Smith's injury, Max Domi's broken hand also proved to be significant. During the 23 games that Domi was sidelined between December 10 and February 2, Arizona's record was 8-14-1. When Domi is in the lineup, the team is a much better 15-21-6. Domi has 28 points in his 42 games, which projects out to 55 points over a full season—right up with his team's leading scorers.

    Free-agent signing Jamie McGinn has disappointed—he has just nine goals with the Coyotes this season after scoring 22 in 2015-16. And captain Shane Doan is finally showing his age—the 40-year-old has just six goals this year after scoring an impressive 28 times last season.

    Offseason Objectives: John Chayka will find room for improvement in every area this summer. Arizona's currently ranked 27th in the league in scoring, 29th in goals against per game, 27th on the power play and 25th on the penalty kill.

    Doan's becoming a free agent and could be at the end of his 21-season NHL career after more than 1,500 games, while the team's other veteran UFA, Radim Vrbata, could come back for another year.

    A handful of young players will need to be signed to new contracts—Chayka will need to figure out which of those young players will be key to the Coyotes future and which ones should be swapped out for new pieces, hopefully setting the stage for improved results next season.

1. Colorado Avalanche

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    2016-17 Season Summary: Did Patrick Roy foresee the rough waters ahead for the Colorado Avalanche when he jumped ship and quit his head coaching job one month before the beginning of the 2016-17 season?

    After finishing five points out of a playoff spot in 2015-16, the Avalanche have crashed to an all-time low this year. Currently sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings with just 39 points in 65 games, Colorado would need to go 14-2-1 in its last 17 games just to match the previous low water mark for the franchise—68 points in 2010-11.

    What Went Wrong: A last-minute scramble to hire a head coach was less than ideal—the top candidates available during the offseason had already secured new employment. New hire Jared Bednar was coming off a Calder Cup win in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters, but he joined the Avs with no NHL head-coaching experience and with very little time to develop or implement systems.

    Colorado has struggled with injuries, most notably to goaltender Semyon Varlamov and defenseman Erik Johnson, which helps to explain the team's league-worst 3.29 goals against per game.

    It's less clear why the offense has dried up. Despite top-end young forwards like Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avs have averaged just 1.94 goals per game.

    That's also last in the league and a huge drop from the 2.59 goals-per-game rate of production from 2015-16.

    Offseason Objectives: Colorado's currently on pace to finish with just 49 points this season, which would be the lowest total in an 82-game season since the first-year Atlanta Thrashers recorded 39 points during the 1999-2000 season. According to Jonas Siegel of the Canadian Press (via the Toronto Star) just eight teams in the last 30 years have scored less than 48 points in a season. All were in the early stages of expansion.

    Colorado general manager Joe Sakic has refrained from trading top players to try to shake up his lineup this season, perhaps still gun-shy after the 2015 deal that sent Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo produced only middling returns for the Avs. 

    Sakic may not get the chance to pull the trigger on a deal that fits his conditions this summer. This season's staggeringly poor results should trigger wholesale, immediate changes in Colorado's front office.

    Sakic is a two-time Stanley Cup winner, a Hall of Famer and a member of the Triple Gold Club, but his on-ice success has not translated to management. The Avalanche need a fresh approach to pull them out of the chasm they've fallen into.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com, current through games completed Tuesday, March 7. Contract and salary-cap information from CapFriendly.


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