1 Player on Every NHL Team in Danger of Being Replaced After 2013-14

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistNovember 28, 2013

1 Player on Every NHL Team in Danger of Being Replaced After 2013-14

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    The current NHL season is barely at the quarter pole, and NHL general managers are looking for help in areas previously thought to be strengths. Every season, injury and ineffective play make regulars suddenly expendable and offer opportunities for minor league players and draft choices.

    Every NHL team has at least one player performing at a level so far below par that there's a chance they won't be back in 2014-15.

    Here's one player for every NHL team in danger of being replaced by next season.

1. Saku Koivu, C, Anaheim Ducks

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    2013-14 Expectations: With veteran savvy and a tireless work ethic, Koivu was expected to be a rugged forward and quality two-way player.

    Recent Struggles: Koivu, at 39, is having concussion issues. This is a major item because he's a free agent at the end of the season and may not be able to garner interest if his season is derailed due to injury. He hasn't played since late October, and there are no reports of his return being imminent. 

    Possible Replacements: Andrew Cogliano is a fleet young forward who can play a two-way game and is regarded as a smart player. The downside? Cogliano's ability to win faceoffs makes him more of an ideal left winger on a checkdown line, and his lack of size is always a concern against heavy forwards. A secondary option: Nick Bonino has impressive faceoff ability but lacks the foot speed required to play against the best skill forwards in the NHL. 

2. Jordan Caron, RW, Boston Bruins

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Bruins are a powerhouse NHL team, but they need to develop young players in order to keep the roster vital. A player like Caron needs to establish himself as a useful player in a fourth-line support role.

    Recent Struggles: After beating out Nick Johnson in training camp (Johnson was the final cut), Caron went about securing a spot on the fourth line. He's played in 10 games and at one point made it all the way to the third line with Chris Kelly and Reilly Smith, but he fell back down the depth chart and is now a consistent healthy scratch.

    Possible Replacements: The Bruins have a veteran roster, and it's completely possible they'll offload Caron at the deadline for more veteran help. Meanwhile, Nick Johnson is down on the farm and scoring well, so he could be that veteran addition for Boston.

3. Drew Stafford, RW, Buffalo Sabres

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    2013-14 Expectations: Stafford had a uneven season in 2012-13 but was expected to return to previous form. In 2010-11, he scored 31 goals, and in 2011-12, he bagged 20. The Sabres badly needed that kind of production from the gritty winger.

    Recent Struggles: Like the other Sabres, Stafford has only two goals and is on pace for the worst season of his NHL career. What's more, Stafford is making $4 million a year to help with the offense, and in light of last season's disappointing output (six goals in 46 games), this could very well be his final season in Buffalo.

    Possible Replacements: The Sabres are very likely to be offloading veterans by the dozen when the new general manager takes over, and some of those players will be younger, less expensive versions of players like Stafford. One strong internal solution is Joel Armia, but he's not filling the net in his first AHL season and may need more time. 

4. Mikael Backlund, C, Calgary Flames

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    2013-14 Expectations: At the beginning of training camp, management made a point of mentioning Backlund as a player whose role would increase. They praised him for the 2012-13 season and expressed a need for him to take on more responsibility in a two-way role. Backlund looked well positioned to establish himself as a bona fide two-way player of value. 

    Recent Struggles: It hasn't happened for the 24-year-old, and he's been a healthy scratch recently. There are rumors he's heading out of town sooner rather than later. GM Jay Feaster is apparently shopping him right now, and he's sure to receive some interest based on previous performance levels.

    Possible Replacements: The Flames appear to have discovered lightning in a bottle with rookie phenom Sean Monahan, making Backlund a spare part for a portion of the season's first quarter. There's definitely a player here, and he's young enough to play for a long time in the NHL, but it is unlikely to be in Calgary.

5. Tuomo Ruutu, W, Carolina Hurricanes

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    2013-14 Expectations: Ruutu was coming off of a hip injury and was expected to play a second-line role with the team. His edgy style and work ethic (married to a solid skill set) meant there would be plenty of playing time. 

    Recent Struggles: Injuries have once again impacted Ruutu, and his scoring is way down. He missed 31 games a year ago and has missed five this season, but the real concern is two goals and four points in 19 games. The club has invested 14:25 a night in him and is seeing very little in the way of results. 

    Possible Replacements: The Hurricanes have a couple of internal options. Drayson Bowman has a nice resume and is an emerging prospect—he has gumption and will go to tough areas—but he may be shy offensively for top-six forward duty. As a secondary option, Chris Terry is an older prospect but has posted some nice numbers in the American Hockey League in the past few seasons. 

6. Nikolai Khabibulin, G, Chicago Blackhawks

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    2013-14 Expectations: Chicago signed Khabibulin to be their veteran backup, to play sparingly and to be effective in a role that can sometimes be difficult for goaltenders. Days and weeks can go by with little or no activity, and then the backup is thrust into a prominent role. The Blackhawks needed him to play the role of safety net for this season. 

    Recent Struggles: He can't stay healthy, and when he is healthy, the results have been poor. Among goaltenders playing more than 100 minutes this season, Khabibulin's save percentage (.811) ranks last, and his goals-against average is a ghastly 5.00, more than double the other two Chicago goaltenders. 

    Possible Replacements: Antti Raanta has played in one game and may be a more permanent replacement as the season wears on, but Chicago also has some fine prospects who are some time away from being NHL-ready (Kent Simpson, Mac Carruth). Simpson is the most likely long-term solution.

7. Paul Stastny, C, Colorado Avalanche

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Avalanche entered training camp with something of a logjam at center. Stastny and Matt Duchene owned two spots, Ryan O'Reilly the other. When the Avs selected Nathan MacKinnon at the entry draft, there was some speculation that Stastny might be odd man out. 

    Recent Struggles: Far from struggling, Stastny is back in a big way, leading the team in points and playing possibly the best hockey of his career. The struggle comes in signing the pending free agent to another contract—his cap hit is $6.6 million, which was beyond the performance level he maintained for much of the deal. Stastny's current season may mean there's a wide gap in contract numbers between the two sides. 

    Possible Replacements: The Avs can solve the problem in a heartbeat—move Ryan O'Reilly over and spend the dollars elsewhere. However, that may not be the best route to take. After all, the club is having terrific success this season, and Stastny is part of it. Chances are they find a way to retain him into the future. 

8. Marian Gaborik, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    2013-14 Expectations: Gaborik arrived last season from the Rangers, and the Blue Jackets were relying on him for one of those 40-goal seasons he's become famous for over the years. Impact scorers like Gaborik are a rare and valuable item, and the only worry was injury. 

    Recent Struggles: Gaborik was healthy to start the season and was scoring well (five points in his first three games) but was soon in a tailspin that saw him draw one assist in seven games. What's more, he's back on the injured list and is expected to miss at least one month with a knee injury. 

    Possible Replacements: The Jackets can take the $7.5 million they're paying Gaborik this season and find a scorer via trade or free agency next summer, but one doubts they'll risk another big contract on the gifted veteran (he turns 32 in February). Gaborik's future may be in the KHL. 

9. Sergei Gonchar, Dallas Stars

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    2013-14 Expectations: When Jim Nill signed Gonchar, it was with the idea that the Russian could be a team leader and give the club a veteran presence. Nill's experience watching Nicklas Lidstrom with the Detroit Red Wings all those years probably gave him an idea about Gonchar's possible value to the team. 

    Recent Struggles: Not all aging Europeans are created equal, and Gonchar's lack of foot speed and defensive acumen have been a lot to overcome. Even his signature power-play ability has been wanting this season, and coach Lindy Ruff has contemplated cutting back ice time and putting Gonchar in the press box. 

    Possible Replacements: Dallas has some nice young defensemen, notably Brenden Dillon, who leads the club in ice time, but no obvious replacement for Gonchar. A player who may be able to impact in a positive way at even strength is Jamie Oleksiak, who got a taste of the NHL last season. He is tough to play against and should be close to NHL-ready. 

10. Mikael Samuelsson, RW, Detroit Red Wings

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    2013-14 Expectations: Detroit retains their veterans because they're solid players in all areas and they're consistent. Samuelsson's role (going back to 2005) is to score goals while also being difficult to play against. When healthy, he's money; he was not healthy in 2012-13. 

    Recent Struggles: Samuelsson has been a healthy scratch often this season, and at this point, he is a fringe NHL player. The Red Wings hold on to their veterans forever in hopes of a turnaround, and Samuelsson has been getting ice time lately in an effort to get things rolling again. 

    Possible Replacements: The Red Wings system is bubbling and boiling as always, with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist pushing the veterans out a little more each day. Samuelsson picked up an assist against the Islanders in the middle of November, but it's been a slow run, and the kids are getting closer to taking over the job completely. 

11. Ales Hemsky, RW, Edmonton Oilers

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    2013-14 Expectations: Coach Dallas Eakins raved about Hemsky during training camp and the early part of the season. Per Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, Eakins said that Hemsky's leadership and hard work were the kind of thing he wanted to instill into all Oilers. 

    Recent Struggles: Hemsky's not really struggling; he's playing more minutes and continues to work hard. The struggles come when trying to fit three into two—three quality right-wingers in Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and Hemsky onto the two scoring lines. It has certainly impacted young Yakupov, and the Oilers will no doubt make quick work of sending Hemsky away at or before the deadline. 

    Possible Replacements: Nail Yakupov. There's no question the brilliant young Russian is the man in waiting for the job, and in fact, the former No. 1 overall selection led the Oilers in goals last season. The only questions left are where Hemsky is going and when he's leaving—both answers should come at the deadline. 

12. Scott Gomez, C, Florida Panthers

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    2013-14 Expectations: Gomez is a veteran center whose defensive skills have kept him around long after his offense left him. That role—extreme defensive center—has value as a penalty-killer and veteran mentor to the young players. 

    Recent Struggles: Gomez filled the role early and actually moved up the depth chart for a time when injuries hit, but the offense was once again not there for him. Once a skilled playmaking center of exceptional ability, he is no longer able to impact the game offensively. 

    Possible Replacements: The Panthers are in the process of offloading veterans, and Gomez might be one among many. The replacements for these men are either already on the team or in the minors waiting for their chance. My guess is Drew Shore will have the job next season. 

13. Matt Frattin, RW, Los Angeles Kings

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    2013-14 Expectations: Frattin's job in Los Angeles is to create some offense on the secondary lines while also not costing his team on goals against. It's not always what you accomplish, it's also what you leave.

    Recent Struggles: Frattin's offense hasn't been much to talk about, and he's made some glaring and costly errors that have landed him in the doghouse. On a deep team like the Kings, it's important for the role players to deliver because there's always someone behind you looking for an opportunity.

    Possible Replacements: Los Angeles has an outstanding young winger in Tyler Toffoli, who is forcing the issue on right wing. Justin Williams and Jeff Carter have regular jobs locked down, and the club also likes to run a big man in the bottom six (Jordan Nolan). Frattin may be the odd man out.

14. Dany Heatley, LW, Minnesota Wild

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    2013-14 Expectations: Dany Heatley is being paid $7.5 million to score goals. His goal totals over the past five seasons are 39, 39, 26, 24 and 11 in the shortened 2012-13 season. The Wild were hoping for 25-plus goals.

    Recent Struggles: He's been awful this season, scoring four goals in his first 25 games and looking disinterested many nights. He's been demoted from the top lines to the fourth line, but nothing seems to work for the veteran. In his walk season and approaching free agency, Heatley's stock won't be high this summer if he can't improve his numbers.

    Possible Replacements: Jason Zucker is a strong candidate to take over the Heatley slot, possibly before the end of the season. Zucker is back in the NHL right now, and despite Heatley's two-point night against Ottawa, it's only a matter of time.

15. George Parros, RW, Montreal Canadiens

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    2013-14 Expectations: Parros was hired to be an enforcer and a protector to all of those small forwards Montreal puts onto the ice every night. Parros has had success in the past in the fighter role and is an established heavyweight

    Recent Struggles: Parros suffered a devastating (and frightening) opening-night injury and hasn't been the same since, or at least he hasn't been effective in the role he normally thrives in. The Habs feel they need this player, but he's not having enough impact in games to earn playing time or, more recently, a spot in the lineup.

    Possible Replacements: Parros (and other enforcers) are facing this problem more and more, as teams instead spend their fourth-line spots on players who can help in other areas. For a player like Parros, it may mean another city next season. For Montreal, Parros may be the last enforcer hired for a long time.

16. Viktor Stalberg, RW, Nashville Predators

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    2013-14 Expectations: This big-time free-agent signing was expected to come in and provide offense from one of the top two lines. A big winger with terrific speed, the prevailing wisdom had Stalberg flourishing with more playing time than he had received in Chicago.

    Recent Struggles: He missed some time late in training camp because of a shoulder problem, and that ended up impacting him early in the season. Stalberg has moved the needle offensively a little since then, but he's a long way from being the player Nashville envisioned when they signed that big contract.

    Possible Replacements: Craig Smith is having a fine run currently and could solidify a job on one of the Predators' scoring lines if he continues at his current (amazing) pace. The main player to follow is Filip Forsberg, who remains the future on right wing. It's only a matter of time before he establishes himself in the NHL.

17. Steve Bernier, RW, New Jersey Devils

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    2013-14 Expectations: Bernier needed to supply the Devils with something resembling a power forward, and after scoring eight goals in the shortened 2012-13 season, it looked like he might be able to fill that role for New Jersey.

    Recent Struggles: The offense isn't there, and the Devils are having a terrible time scoring goals. Only three teams in the entire Eastern Conference have scored fewer goals than the Devils, and the club sports both Bernier and Cam Janssen on right wing most nights (enforcer Janssen has one more goal than the more skilled Bernier). 

    Possible Replacements: The Devils don't have many internal options for the role, but Stefan Matteau may eventually develop into a useful power forward in the NHL. New Jersey's general manager Lou Lamoriello is a well-known poacher of inexpensive, useful talent, and that's a likely solution to this problem.

18. Evgeni Nabokov, G, New York Islanders

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    2013-14 Expectations: Nabokov has been a workhorse goaltender for the Islanders since arriving on Long Island. He's been able to deliver two seasons of solid save percentages leading into this year.

    Recent Struggles: Nabokov is well off the pace, and the Islanders are falling down the standings without a quality replacement. New York's offense is solid, but they've allowed the third-most goals against in the entire NHL. It's the No. 1 problem for the team, and it isn't getting better.

    Possible Replacements: The Islanders don't have anyone in-house who can replace Nabokov, and in fact, backup Kevin Poulin may not be NHL-calibre, either. New York is fortunate in one way, though: There should be a number of quality free agents available this summer, and general manager Garth Snow will be very active.

19. Michael Del Zotto, D, New York Rangers

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    2013-14 Expectations: Del Zotto entered the season with a solid resume that suggested he was capable of playing over 22 minutes a night and having a positive impact at even strength and on the power play. Although not one of the top young defenders in the game, he certainly was an established regular.

    Recent Struggles: New Rangers coach Alain Vigneault hasn't seen enough to keep him in the lineup, and Del Zotto has been a healthy scratch on several occasions so far this year. It can be difficult to adjust to a new system, but at some point, the coach and player are going to have to find common ground and move forward together.

    Possible Replacements: Del Zotto has been an NHL regular for four seasons (or thereabouts) and should be entering the stage of his career where he's a differenc- maker. Although he's never going to be a giant in terms of defensive coverage, it's also true he's been a useful player in the past. If the Rangers send him away, they would need a young defender of similar quality—it's more likely coach and player will find a way to make it work.

20. Colin Greening, LW, Ottawa Senators

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    2013-14 Expectations: Greening was expected to be a 15-minute-a-night, two-way winger who could complement better offensive teammates and make smart players. Greening has established himself as a consistent player in his time in Ottawa.

    Recent Struggles: He can't get anything done offensively. His playing time is way off, and we're well into the season, yet he still hasn't scored a goal. It's beyond alarming. The Senators signed him to a three-year deal in September, and it doesn't look good already.

    Possible Replacements: The Senators always have a plethora of options, and this season, Cory Conacher and, more recently, Mika Zibanejad have taken his place. Zibanejad is a top-flight young player, and he could end up being a long-term solution at the position—he is the best choice available.

21. Andrej Meszaros, D, Philadelphia Flyers

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Flyers needed Meszaros to deliver a healthy season because they are a cap team with a lot of highly paid defensemen (including Meszaros) who just can't stay in the lineup. 

    Recent Struggles: Meszaros was the only member of the team who was late in getting cleared to play during training camp (shoulder), and when he did return, the results were poor. He's been healthy scratched for much of this season, and the last game he played (November 7), he was minus-three in 13 minutes of action. 

    Possible Replacements: The key for Philadelphia is the cap room. Meszaros is a $4 million cap hit on his way to free agency, so the key element for the organization is getting the money off their books. They have already replaced him—it's been a long time since the club has been able to count on Meszaros—but that cap room is a major item for the Flyers. 

22. David Rundblad, D, Phoenix Coyotes

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    2013-14 Expectations: Rundblad is a perennial prospect who cannot seem to establish himself in the NHL. The Coyotes needed him to become more consistent and emerge as a top-six defensive option. 

    Recent Struggles: Once again, he's struggling to establish himself on the Phoenix blue line. Rundblad has the tools (although foot speed is a concern) but hasn't been able to get past the prospect stage, and he's 23 and on his third organization. Rundblad has not dressed in five of the past nine Coyotes games. 

    Possible Replacements: The Coyotes always have options (they're built that way), and Connor Murphy appears to be the early favorite to supplant Rundblad. Another candidate is Brandon Gormley, who has a wider range of skills but can fill the slot occupied by Rundblad currently. Gormley is the better overall option for Phoenix.

23. Chuck Kobasew, RW, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    2013-14 Expectations: Kobasew made the Penguins roster after coming to camp on a tryout. He was going to be a fourth-line option/extra forward, but the opportunity to advance with the Penguins was real for him. The Penguins have a large group of forwards making less than $1 million per season, and Kobasew would have a chance to emerge from that group. 

    Recent Struggles: As predicted by many, Pittsburgh's lack of skill wingers led them to use Kobasew in a prominent role during October. He was given a five-game period to prove himself but couldn't deliver enough offense to keep the job; he has since moved back down the depth chart and may or may not get another chance when he returns from injury.

    Possible Replacements: The salary cap has created a secondary hockey player "industry" where discarded veterans and minor league free agents can apply for lower paying jobs on teams like the Penguins. These teams are top-heavy with superstars and need to constantly develop complementary players who earn millions less per season. Next fall, Pittsburgh will no doubt invite another Kobasew to camp looking for that kind of solution. 

24. Martin Havlat, LW, San Jose Sharks

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    2013-14 Expectations: With a cap hit of $5 million (and two years left) on his contract, the Sharks needed Havlat to return to complete health and deliver at least a 20-goal season. Although he's now past 30, Havlat is still young enough to have some very good NHL seasons. 

    Recent Struggles: This has been the nadir for Havlat in San Jose, and that's saying something based on the previous two seasons. He's being actively shopped at this point, but there are no takers unless the Sharks are willing to eat a lot of dollars and receive little in terms of assets in return.

    Possible Replacements: As with others on this list, replacing Havlat on the skill lines was as easy as keeping Tomas Hertl on the opening-night roster. The real issue is cap room, not just for this season, but next year too—and that's the reason San Jose is working so hard to move Havlat at this time. 

25. Magnus Paajarvi, RW, St. Louis Blues

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Blues sent David Perron to Edmonton in exchange for Paajarvi in what was a cost-cutting move combined with an attempt to find a player more to coach Ken Hitchcock's liking. Perron had been in the doghouse at times for failure to execute. 

    Recent Struggles: Paajarvi hasn't played well, and there are injury issues. The speedy, talented Swede has also had to deal with late signing Brenden Morrow, whose skill set more closely aligns itself with Hitchcock's vision. It is not an ideal situation. 

    Possible Replacements: Vladimir Tarasenko is already here, forcing his way up the depth chart now, and with T.J. Oshie ensconced on a skill line, there's probably no immediate need for a skill player at right wing in St. Louis. Paajarvi can play either wing, but the Blues appear to like Morrow better on the left side, and it could be a short stay in the Show-Me State for Paajarvi. 

26. Ryan Malone, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Lightning needed the big forward to return to previous levels of performance after a weak 2012-13 shortened season. Malone is a veteran leader who can help in all areas, including penalty kill and power play, and he can play any forward position. 


    Recent Struggles: Malone's offense hasn't shown itself often this season, and he's now having some problems with his foot. At 33 years old, he is in that window where veteran players (especially those who play a physical style, as Malone does) show signs of wear and begin to slow.

    Possible Replacements: Short term, Alex Killorn is taking a lot of minutes away from other forwards and performing well, but long term, the port side will be home to outstanding teenager Jonathan Drouin. Chances are the Lightning put Drouin on left wing next fall. Once he establishes himself, the young phenom will be there for a long time.

27. Nikolai Kulemin, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Leafs needed Kulemin to deliver his usual quality two-way play, and they hoped he could post more offense (he scored 30 in one season but hasn't done much since).

    Recent Struggles: Kulemin's offense remains on a downhill slide (with help from zone starts and linemate quality), and his price tag ($2.8 million contract that expires at the end of the season) is dear for a player on track to score only six goals this season. Toronto values the two-way ability, but there are pressures coming this summer on the cap, and Kulemin is in some danger.

    Possible Replacements: Toronto may put David Clarkson into a lesser offensive role (the current Kulemin role) next season and re-sign Mason Raymond for the skill role Clarkson currently occupies. The Leafs have to free up cash in order to sign impending free agents like David Bolland and Dion Phaneuf, so there's an outside chance they'll go with a less proven option like Carter Ashton.

28. Alexandre Burrows, LW, Vancouver Canucks

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Canucks needed Burrows to do the two things he does best: be a pest and score goals. Burrows has shown an ability to do both consistently, scoring 28, 35, 26 and 28 goals in the past four full NHL seasons and 13 in the shortened 2012-13 season.

    Recent Struggles: Burrows hasn't scored yet, and it's American Thanksgiving. What's more, with the entire club not scoring, his struggles are becoming a lightning rod and placing even more pressure on the player. Burrows' established level of ability, his age (he's only 32) and chemistry with the Sedins make this slump even more baffling.

    Possible Replacements: The club is using Ryan Kesler currently, but that means all of the Vancouver offensive eggs are in one basket. 2013 first-round selection Hunter Shinkaruk is back in Medicine Hat for the winter, but he's a big-time scoring prospect, and the club may make room for him next fall. Burrows still has time, but there is potential for this to go sideways for him in Vancouver.

29. Martin Erat, LW, Washington Capitals

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    2013-14 Expectations: The Capitals acquired Erat with the idea of using him in a top-six forward role and seeing him deliver offensively. It's a role he's been able to satisfy before, with seven seasons of 49 points or more during his time in Nashville.

    Recent Struggles: In the early part of the season, Erat struggled offensively. That led to healthy scratches, and that was followed by another trade request (he did the same thing in Nashville before being dealt). Here's what it looks like: Erat has reached the age where his skills have eroded to the point that top-six minutes in the NHL are unlikely, and he's still looking for that kind of opportunity.

    Possible Replacements: The Capitals don't have many in-house replacements handy (Eric Fehr played out of position and in Erat's slot recently), and they don't have an obvious option bubbling under in the minors or ripping up junior hockey. However, Russian winger Evgeny Kuznetsov would be an ideal solution and could be headed to North America next fall. He's definitely a player to watch for if he signs with the Capitals.

30. Olli Jokinen, C, Winnipeg Jets

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    2013-14 Expectations: Winnipeg needed a much better return on investment than they'd received in the first year of Jokinen's contract. This is an organization that acquires most of its forwards from the waiver wire, so spending actual money on Jokinen was a rare show of faith in a veteran.

    Recent Struggles: Jokinen's numbers have been just OK, and the club has other places they can spend their money in the summer. What's more, the Jets have him in a feature role, between Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi, and both men are more effective without Jokinen at even strength. Jokinen is a complementary player at this point (or so it appears), and the Jets have other options.

    Possible Replacements: Winnipeg is bringing along young center Mark Scheifele slowly this year, but he should be able to step up on the depth chart next season. Winnipeg has stated it is building through the draft and will be patient. This is the type of move that would display long-term thinking in the organization.