The Top Offseason Priority for Every NHL Team That Missed the Playoffs
As the NHL's 16 top teams prepare for the opening round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, the 14 non-playoff clubs must absorb the disappointment of failing to qualify. These teams face a long offseason dealing with the issues that kept them out of the postseason.
These non-contenders were hampered by various weaknesses. Several of them have more than others, but all have one specific problem area that must be addressed before next season.
A few were hindered by poor management. Some must either change their coaching or style of play. Scoring was a problem for several teams, while others did a poor job preventing goals.
Here's a look at the top offseason priority for each of this year's non-playoff clubs, the importance of addressing those priorities and how to fix them.
The priority: Rebuild with purpose and patience.
Why it's so important: The Sabres lack skilled depth throughout their lineup. They were last in goals per game (1.83) and shots on goal per game (26.3 percent), 29th on the power play (14.1 percent), 28th in shots against per game, 25th in goals against per game (2.96) and 20th on the penalty kill (81.4 percent). This club needs a substantial rebuild.
How to address it: Expect new general manager Tim Murray (pictured above) to rebuild with youth. He's well positioned to do so. The Sabres hold the second overall pick in this year's draft. They also have conditional first-round picks from the Islanders and Blues, plus an additional pick in the second round of this year's draft.
The priority: Finally hire a new general manager.
Why it's so important: They fired former GM Jay Feaster midway through this season, the first sign of a significant rebuild. President of hockey operations Brian Burke (pictured above) is still searching for Feaster's replacement. The young Flames showed some promise this season. They need a skilled GM to build upon that.
How to address it: They must hire a new GM soon to allow time for him to be prepared for the NHL draft in June and the July free-agent market. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson believes Washington Capitals GM George McPhee could be an option. The Calgary Sun's Eric Francis speculates Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman could also be in the running.
The priority: Change of management.
Why it's so important: The Hurricanes are a mess, missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year. They're 19th in goals against (2.76) per game, 21st in shots against (30.9) per game, 22nd in scoring (2.50) and 28th on the power play (14.6). This club needs an overhaul from the top down.
How to address it: The Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander reports current GM Jim Rutherford is expected to make way for VP of hockey operations Ron Francis. Alexander's colleague Luke DeCock reports coach Kirk Muller could be replaced. He also speculated on the futures of long-time Hurricanes Cam Ward and Eric Staal. Changes will be coming for the Hurricanes. How sweeping they'll be remains to be seen.
The priority: Find a top-two defenseman.
Why it's so important: The Oilers need help throughout their roster, but the Edmonton Sun's Robert Tychkowski notes they're desperate for a strong veteran defenseman. They have promising young blueliners currently on the roster (Justin Schultz, Oscar Klefbom) and some set to soon join them (Darnell Nurse) who would benefit from playing with a respected leader.
How to address it: Easier said than done. This summer's free-agent market is thin on top defensemen. The best of the bunch are aging (Dan Boyle, Andrei Markov, Marek Zidlicky) or already past their prime (Sami Salo). A trade is the Oilers' best bet, though it could mean moving one of their good young forwards (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) in return.
The priority: Bolster the offense.
Why it's so important: The Panthers were 29th in goals per game and 30thon the power play (a measly 10 percent). With only 38 points, Nick Bjugstad was their leading scorer, while Brad Boyes was their only 20-goal scorer.
How to address it: Acquire hardworking, reliable scorers via trades and free agency who are capable of mentoring youngsters like Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. The Panthers have over $30 million in cap space this summer to add some much-needed scoring punch. Buyouts of underachievers (Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim) will free up additional room. They could also use their first-round pick (first overall) in this year draft as trade bait.
The priority: Boost their scoring depth.
Why it's important: A lack of proven scoring depth resulted in the Predators finishing 19th in goals per game (2.61) and 23rd in shots on goal per game. Patric Hornqvist was their highest-scoring forward (22 goals, 53 points) this season. They were also 23rd in goals against per game, but that should improve next season if starting goalie Pekka Rinne stays healthy.
How to address it: In mid-March, USA Today's Josh Cooper reported Predators GM David Poile wants more scoring out of his forwards. Cooper speculates Poile could pursue pending Avalanche free agent Paul Stastny or shop some of his grit for skill.
New Jersey Devils
The priority: Acquire a scoring forward.
Why it's important: The Devils were 27th in goals per game (2.40) and shots per game (26.8) this season. NJ.com's Rich Chere reports they were also 0-13 in games decided by shootout. Their woeful offensive production cost them a playoff berth.
How to address it: With over $20 million in projected cap space this summer, GM Lou Lamoriello could go the free-agent route for a scorer or two. Prior to the trade deadline, NJ.com's Randy Miller reported Lamoriello had interest in Calgary's Mike Cammalleri. He could pursue Cammalleri via free agency this summer. Re-signing leading scorer Jaromir Jagr is also a necessity.
New York Islanders
The priority: Land a true starting goaltender.
Why it's important: The Islanders lack depth on their wings, defense and checking lines. Goaltending, however, is the biggest need. They were last in save percentage (.894) this season and 28th in goals against per game. Aging Evgeni Nabokov can no longer cut it as a starter. Backups Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson aren't ready to move up.
How to address it: They have the cap space (over $29 million) to add a quality starter. Newsday's Arthur Staple believes they could pursue a young but experienced goalie. If they go the free-agent route, possibilities include Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott. Toronto's James Reimer would be a good trade option.
The priority: Improve their overall defensive game.
Why it's important: The Senators' defensive numbers were lousy this season, giving up the second-most shots against per game (34.7) and fourth-most goals against per game (3.15) while sitting 22nd overall on the penalty kill (80.9). They gave up a lot of shots last season (eighth most, in fact), but strong goaltending overcame the problem. When their goalies faltered this season, the defensive flaws were exposed.
How to address it: The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports coach Paul MacLean (last season's NHL coach of the year) could be on the hot seat. The Ottawa Citizen's Ken Warren reports MacLean will return, but he must change his coaching style. Adding a skilled shutdown defenseman could also help.
The priority: Add a veteran scorer.
Why it's so important: Fox Sports Arizona's Craig Morgan reports Coyotes GM Don Maloney is leery about promoting too many young players too soon. Morgan claims ownership is committed to adding “high-end offensive pieces.” They could use them. The Coyotes were 20th in goals per game this season (2.56)
How to address it: Morgan speculates they could draw on their blue-line depth to acquire a scoring forward or pursue one (like Thomas Vanek or Ales Hemsky) via free agency. With over $16 million in cap space and most of their key players under contract, there's room to add another skilled scorer.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The priority: Improve their defensive game.
Why it's important: The Leafs' lousy defense was their undoing this season. They led the league in shots against per game (35.9), had the third-worst penalty kill (78.4 percent) and gave up the fifth-most goals against per game (3.07).
How to address it: Speculation suggests big changes could be afoot for the Leafs. However, the National Post's Michael Traikos notes they're carrying too many expensive contracts. With over $49 million invested in just 12 players, they don't have much room for expensive additions. Hiring a new coach who implements a stronger defensive system could be a better option. They could shop for an affordable shutdown blueliner as well as add depth for their checking lines.
The priority: Improve their scoring depth.
Why it's important: Regardless of whether John Tortorella returns as coach or who their new GM might be, the Canucks need scoring punch. They were 28th overall in goals per game (2.33) and 26th on the power play (15.2 percent). The Sedin twins had their worst numbers (50 points for Henrik and 47 for Daniel) in 10 years. Former 30-goal scorer Alex Burrows managed only five goals. David Booth (19 points) remains a scoring bust.
How to address it: The Canucks have over $61 million committed to 20 players. Unless they dump some salary, they won't have room to add skilled talent. The Vancouver Province's Jason Botchford believes center Ryan Kesler could be their best trade chip. He also suggests pursuing Winnipeg's Evander Kane.
The priority: Land a skilled shutdown defenseman.
Why it's important: The Capitals gave up the fourth-most shots against per game this season (33.5). CSNWashington.com's Chuck Gormley believes the Capitals need a “gritty top-4 defenseman.” While the case can be made for better coaching or goaltending, a skilled stay-at-home defenseman or two should cut down on the shots against.
How to address it: The Washington Post's Barry Svrluga suggests the Capitals might have sufficient cap space to lure a free-agent defenseman. If the cap ceiling rises to $71 million, they'll have over $14 million to work with. Free-agent options, however, are limited (Brooks Orpik, Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene). Going the trade route could cost them a young player like Marcus Johansson or Dmitry Orlov.
The priority: Find a proven starting goaltender.
Why it's important: While management must determine if they can re-sign or replace head coach Paul Maurice, landing a better starting goalie is a bigger issue. Current starter Ondrej Pavelec isn't getting the job done. His career numbers (113-125-35, 2.96 goals-against average, .906 save percentage) aren't good enough. This season, the Jets were 22nd in goals against per game. They need better goaltending to become a playoff team.
How to address it: Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak are free-agent options but could prove expensive. Trade options could include Carolina's Cam Ward or Toronto's James Reimer.