Every NHL Lottery Team's Biggest Need in the OffseasonMay 27, 2021
Every NHL Lottery Team's Biggest Need in the Offseason
It's the coolest time of year to be a hockey fan.
The playoffs are in full swing. Each shift is important. Every game is significant.
But it's not for everybody.
Unfortunately for fans in 15 of the NHL's current cities—and for the time being in new 2021-22 entry Seattle—the postseason party invites were sent out without their addresses.
Still, that doesn't mean there isn't work to be done.
Executives with the teams outside the top four in each of this season's reconfigured divisions are still busy, doing whatever they can to make sure they're not among the outside-looking-in crowd this time next year.
Naturally, the B/R hockey writing team saw this as an opportunity to flex its general-managing muscle and assess every draft lottery team's biggest need during this offseason.
Some need offense. Some need defense. Some need goaltending. And some, like the expansion Kraken in the Pacific Northwest, need pretty much everything.
Click through to see what we diagnosed as the top priority in each locale, and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Nos. 1-4: Ducks, Coyotes, Sabres, Flames
Anaheim Ducks: Find Some Offense
Given that the Ducks scored the fewest goals per game (2.21) in the league, it's probably no surprise that their win (17) and point (43) totals were no better than second-from-last among 31 teams. And while it's a positive that some high-end prospects have graduated or will soon graduate to the NHL, it's an immediate and dire need that GM Bob Murray will need to address from the outside as well.
Arizona Coyotes: Clarify the Vision
New GM Bill Armstrong was already up against it given that he was brought on shortly before the draft and the onset of free agency amid an already truncated offseason. Now, following a disappointing season and no playoff berth, he's cut coach Rick Tocchet loose. That means this summer gives him a chance to put his fingerprints on the franchise—and that starts with a new coach and a first draft process.
Buffalo Sabres: Get a Coach, Keep Your Star
Think Kevyn Adams had a busy time as the Sabres' GM last offseason? He's only just begun. Though the ex-NHL player pulled off a would-be coup when he landed Taylor Hall, to suggest it didn't work out would be an understatement. This time around, he's got two concurrent issues: Hire a head coach to replace the fired Ralph Krueger and make sure he's someone who can get a disillusioned Jack Eichel reconnected.
Calgary Flames: Get Something for Gaudreau
Winger Johnny Gaudreau will be 28 when the 2021-22 schedule starts and he enters the final season of a deal paying him $6.75 million per year. He's scored 30 goals twice in the NHL but has posted only 18 and 19 the past two seasons and may have finally outlived his welcome with the team's faithful. If nothing else, GM Brad Treliving ought to see what's out there in terms of trade value this summer.
Nos. 5-8: Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Stars, Red Wings
Chicago Blackhawks: Shore Up the Goaltending
No offense to the families of Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia, but you might be hard-pressed to find a Blackhawks fan who believes any of them is a long-term solution in the net. Chicago allowed an average of 3.29 goals per game—seventh-worst in the league—and there could be another torrent of available goalies on the free-agency market. It's got to be a priority.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Find Tortorella Lite
Make no mistake, the Blue Jackets are not starving for talent. Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic and Max Domi arrived via trades prior to or during the 2020-21 season, and there's an incumbent mix of youth and veteran talent. Plus, three first-round picks are in hand too. But first on GM Jarmo Kekalainen's reload list is hiring a coach to hold players accountable like ex-boss John Tortorella did, but perhaps with more tact.
Dallas Stars: Lock Down the Defense
The Stars were among the stingier teams in the league, allowing just 148 goals. Among the keys to that success was the blue-line pairing of Miro Heiskanen and Jamie Oleksiak, both of whom will have free-agent status this summer. At just 21, the talented Heiskanen is restricted and a target for a short-term bridge deal until salary caps rise again. The 28-year-old Oleksiak, meanwhile, could be more easily replaced.
Detroit Red Wings: Put Pucks in the Net
Like others before them, the Red Wings' biggest concern in 2020-21 was scoring goals. They managed just 2.23 per game, barely above Anaheim's league-worst number. Consequently, they won only two more games than the Ducks. Anthony Mantha wound up tied for the team lead with 11 goals despite a trade to Washington in April. The good news, Jakub Vrana scored eight times in 11 games upon his arrival.
Nos. 9-12: Kings, Devils, Rangers, Senators
Los Angeles Kings: Spend Your Money
The Kings stayed relevant in the playoff race a lot longer than most thought they would. And that's in large part because of strong seasons from a veteran core—including a team-high 17 goals from 36-year-old Dustin Brown. Still, the offense as a whole struggled, and with a tick better than $9 million in cap room to play with, it's time to add another proven goal-getter to add to a roster loaded with prospects.
New Jersey Devils: Give Blackwood Some Help
Mackenzie Blackwood is the starting goaltender in New Jersey, but he's not raised himself to such an elite level that a seasoned veteran backup isn't a necessity. Now 24, Blackwood was particularly affected by COVID-19 and was also inconsistent on the ice, ending with a pedestrian .902 save percentage. Given the pickings that will likely be available, an upgrade from Scott Wedgewood at No. 2 is vital.
New York Rangers: Get a Coach with Some Grit
No, don't hold your breath on a Tortorella return. But hiring a coach with the sort of swagger that will help establish a hard-working, gritty culture is a must-do for new GM Chris Drury. The Rangers have a load of front-line talent in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Alexis Lafreniere, among others, but they lack the sort of abrasiveness that makes teams difficult to play again. Getting that puts the playoffs in play.
Ottawa Senators: Keep It at the Other End
Only four teams in the NHL allowed more shots on goal per game than the Senators. And whaddya know? None of them are in the playoffs, either. Giving up better than 32 shots while fielding a lineup not exactly flush with scorers wasn't a winning recipe. Addressing that with some prudent acquisitions on the blue line will help in the short term while blue-chip prospects make their way through the pipeline.
Nos. 13-16: Flyers, Sharks, Kraken, Canucks
Philadelphia Flyers: Give Carter Hart Some Help
No one would suggest Carter Hart had a stellar season. The 22-year-old saw his goals-against average go up by more than a goal per game and his save percentage plunge by 37 points. But it's not just him. The Flyers had a glaring need on the blue line all year, and it's one they will need to deal with this summer. Whether it's a high-profile free agent like Dougie Hamilton or a lesser light, something's got to happen.
San Jose Sharks: A New Goaltending Direction
The Sharks saw four goalies start at least two games in 2020-21, but none managed even a .900 save percentage or anything better than a 3.17 goals-against average. So it's not hard to figure a reason why San Jose missed the playoffs for a second straight season. The bad news: With Martin Jones still signed for three more years at $5.75 million apiece, it will take a buyout or some other creativity to make a change.
Seattle Kraken: Get Ron Francis a Good Phone Plan
Now that the 2020-21 regular season has ended, the Kraken are just another team preparing for next season. And in addition to prepping for the entry and expansion drafts on the horizon, it's incumbent on GM Ron Francis to use his connections to get some personnel deals done. A full complement of cap space will speed up the process and allow him to take on big salaries other teams are desperate to unload.
Vancouver Canucks: Forget 2020-21 Ever Happened
As nightmares go, the 2020-21 season in Vancouver was pretty bad. The Canucks were battered by a COVID-19 outbreak and tumbled from a deep playoff run last summer to missing the tournament entirely. It's been five misses in the past six years on GM Jim Benning's watch, in fact, and he made it clear that going six for seven is not a thing. "We want to be aggressive this summer," he said.