5 NHL Teams Overdue for a Rebuild
On Oct. 20, the Chicago Blackhawks issued an open letter to their fans to indicate their intent to rebuild by developing young talent. This was a long time coming for a once-dominant franchise that has fallen out of Stanley Cup contender status.
This approach was similar to the way the New York Rangers informed their fans in 2018 of their intention to rebuild. The Rangers missed the playoffs that season and in 2018-19 but improved last season and qualified for the return-to-play tournament.
The Blackhawks joined the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings among recent Stanley Cup champions who have had to restock their rosters after years of decline. However, it's not just former champs who could benefit from rebuilds.
Here's a look at five teams overdue for a rebuild. Some on this list, such as the Blackhawks, have started the process but still have work to do. We'll examine each club's weaknesses and the challenges it faces to return to contender status.
After missing the playoffs over the last two seasons, the Anaheim Ducks seem primed for a rebuild. First-line center and team captain Ryan Getzlaf is 35 and entering the final year of his contract. Their 2.56 goals per game was the league's third-lowest mark last season, while their 3.17 goals against was the seventh-highest.
Nevertheless, general manager Bob Murray seems intent on retooling rather than rebuilding. Two days after his Oct. 9 signing of free-agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to a three-year contract, Murray told The Athletic's Eric Stephens he felt his club had improved enough to battle for a playoff spot in 2020-21.
A playoff club looking to take the next step toward Stanley Cup contention would go after a puck-moving veteran defenseman such as Shattenkirk. The Ducks aren't that type of team and haven't been for some time.
Murray has also brought in promising youngsters such as Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Jacob Larsson and Max Comtois. So far, however, they've yet to play up to expectations.
The Ducks still need a reliable backup for starting goaltender John Gibson. While the addition of Shattenkirk provided depth, scoring remains a concern. If their young forwards fail to improve the popgun offense, the Ducks could be in contention for the first overall pick in the 2021 draft lottery instead of a playoff berth.
The Arizona Coyotes were rebuilding under former general manager John Chayka from the date of his hiring in 2016 to last season. Through most of his tenure, they stockpiled young players while adding affordable depth veterans but lacked star power to build around.
Chayka attempted to address that last season by acquiring wingers Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, but the Coyotes were struggling to stay in the playoff chase when the regular season was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, they qualified for the return-to-play tournament, upsetting the Nashville Predators in the qualifying round before being eliminated in the opening round by the Colorado Avalanche.
Before the tournament, however, Chayka stepped down. As ownership searched for a replacement following the team's postseason elimination, the league sanctioned the Coyotes for violating draft combine testing rules. They forfeited their second-round pick in the 2020 draft and their first-round pick in 2021. On Sept. 17, the Coyotes hired former St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Bill Armstrong as their new GM.
Armstrong said he intends to change the culture of the Coyotes and turn them into a champion. However, he had little time to prepare for the draft or free agency, during which Hall departed for the Buffalo Sabres. Despite a handful of moves that included an attempt to trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Armstrong told Arizona Coyotes Insider's Craig Morgan the roster is unlikely to change much before next season.
The Coyotes' new general manager needs time to evaluate players before making any significant changes. Nevertheless, this club has been spinning its wheels for years. Big moves might not be coming during this offseason, but they could happen if the Coyotes remain an also-ran leading up to next season's trade deadline.
The Blackhawks announced their rebuilding intention to their fans one week ago. Their plan is to focus on stockpiling young talent to complement the top players already on the roster. Those include center and team captain Jonathan Toews, right wing Patrick Kane and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
When the open letter was published, general manager Stan Bowman told NBC Sports' Charlie Roumeliotis that he had spoken with Toews, Kane, Keith and Seabrook to explain the club's plans and their roles going forward. He indicated they still want to win in Chicago. The Blackhawks GM intends to build a stronger supporting cast around his core veterans in hope of returning to Cup contention.
The Blackhawks have transitioned younger players into the lineup within the last three seasons. They include Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, Adam Boqvist and 2019-20 Calder Memorial Trophy finalist Dominik Kubalik.
Bowman still must address pressing needs in goal and on the blue line. The departure of long-time starting goaltender Corey Crawford left a big gap between the pipes, while the defense gave up a league-leading 35.1 shots per game last season.
Limited salary-cap space will also be a hindrance. The Blackhawks already have $76.3 million invested in 20 players for 2020-21 and $62.0 committed to 13 players in 2021-22.
The Minnesota Wild needed a rebuild when Bill Guerin took over as general manager in August 2019. In the four seasons before his arrival, they were eliminated from the opening round of the playoffs three times and failed to qualify for the 2018-19 postseason.
Guerin took his time last season evaluating the roster, making only one significant move in trading winger Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 10. After the Wild were eliminated from the qualifying round of the 2020 postseason, he wasted little time shaking things up.
On Sept. 11, Guerin traded for center Nick Bjugstad. Five days later, he dealt center Eric Staal to the Buffalo Sabres for center Marcus Johansson. On Oct. 5, he shipped goaltender Devan Dubnyk and forward Ryan Donato to the San Jose Sharks in separate trades for draft picks. Two days later, he acquired center Nick Bonino from the Predators for Luke Kunin.
The rebuild is well underway, but Guerin has more work to do. His club is overstocked with depth centers but lacks a first-line pivot. Defenseman Matt Dumba could become a trade chip to address that need. He's the only blueliner among the Wild's top four who lacks a no-movement clause, which could leave him exposed in next summer's expansion draft.
Promising winger Kirill Kaprizov is expected to make his debut in 2020-21. Guerin also signed free-agent goalie Cam Talbot to replace Dubnyk, but young goalie Kaapo Kahkonen could get some playing time as well.
San Jose Sharks
After reaching the Western Conference Final in 2019, the San Jose Sharks sank to the bottom of the conference in 2019-20. With 29 wins and 63 points in 70 games, they failed to qualify for the league's return-to-play tournament.
The Sharks struggled at both ends of the ice. Their 2.57 goals per game and 3.21 goals against ranked 27th, while their power-play percentage (17.5) landed 23rd. Injuries to key players such as Erik Karlsson, Tomas Hertl and captain Logan Couture contributed to those woeful numbers.
Instead of rebuilding, however, GM Doug Wilson is attempting to bolster his roster for a bounce-back performance. He acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk and winger Ryan Donato from the Wild and brought back forwards Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto via free agency.
It remains to be seen, however, if the Sharks are improved enough to return to playoff contention. While core players such as Hertl and Timo Meier are 26 or younger, Karlsson, Couture, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Martin Jones are 30-or-older veterans whose performances declined last season.
Five years ago, Wilson gambled that his Sharks would rebound from a poor performance. His faith was rewarded by their march to the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Final. This time, he's counting on a roster with a much older core. That doesn't bode well for their playoff contention hopes.