NHL Teams That Are Doomed to Disappoint in the 2014-15 Season
During the NHL offseason, hope springs eternal.
For fans whose favourite teams finished their seasons on a disappointing note, there's always a chance that some time off will heal what ails them. Regulars will recover from injuries, free agents will deliver a jolt of inspiration, prospects will blossom into stars and coaches will dial in the magic formula that draws maximum effort out of their players.
Sometimes it all comes together: Witness the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche. But in the age of NHL parity, it doesn't take much to hit a bump in the road. Here's a look at the clubs that are bound to disappoint their fans in 2014-15.
Where They're At: The Carolina Hurricanes placed 13th in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year in 2013-14. The team hasn't made the playoffs since 2008-09. A management overhaul this summer saw Ron Francis move up to general manager while former Detroit Red Wings assistant Bill Peters was hired as head coach.
What's Expected: According to Davis Harper of NHL.com, Francis sees new coach Peters as "somebody who could come in and change the culture a bit—hold guys accountable, demand our guys are playing hard every night, playing a 200-foot game."
Roster changes are minimal because Francis likes his players:
You look at what we've done…last year, we brought in a lot of new faces at the beginning of the season, and a lot of those guys had pretty good years. [Anton] Khudobin, [Andrej] Sekera, Gerbe, Hainsey played well for us. It's not like we've been standing pat with the same lineup the past five or six years.
Why They'll Disappoint: Francis is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and was a great player for the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes organization, but the team has regressed since he joined the management group as director of hockey operations in 2011. It's not a good sign when he's using a backup goaltender who missed 32 games with injury as his best example of a good signing.
Expect to see the Hurricanes hovering near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division again in 2014-15.
Detroit Red Wings
Where They're At: The Detroit Red Wings are the most successful NHL franchise of the last two decades, with six Presidents' Trophies and four Stanley Cup wins in 17 seasons. A move to the Eastern Conference in 2013-14 left the Wings in the last wild-card playoff spot, extending their record of 23 straight postseason appearances.
What's Expected: According to Man Games Lost, the Detroit Red Wings suffered the second-highest injury tally in the NHL in 2013-14 behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. Wings fans hope that some good health and a little bit of luck will send the team back towards the top of the standings.
Why They'll Disappoint: The Red Wings boast top-notch veterans like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Their system is filled with promising youngsters like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan. But they're missing the "glue" in the middle—highly-skilled players in their mid-to-late 20s who should be carrying the team during the prime of their careers. Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm are not gamebreakers.
The Wings were unable to lure any big-name free agents during the offseason. If the "generation gap" in their roster persists, they could find themselves fighting once again to continue their postseason streak.
Where They're At: After two years out of the playoffs, the Nashville Predators took the bold step of replacing their only coach in franchise history, Barry Trotz, with Peter Laviolette. General manager David Poile also stirred up the lineup by acquiring power forward James Neal and free agents Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen, all to add offense.
Why They'll Disappoint: The Preds will need some time to come out of their defensive shell. As John Manasso of NHL.com explains:
In Barry Trotz's 15 seasons as coach, Predators forwards were asked to play a two-way, puck-possession game with an emphasis on defense first. With that mentality ingrained in a number of the team's forwards, the Predators will have to adapt to Laviolette's system in which attacking and the use of two forecheckers will become the rule.
It won't be an easy transition and there won't be much room for error in the Western Conference playoff race. Nashville should be more fun to watch in 2014-15, but a playoff berth will remain elusive.
Where They're At: The Philadelphia Flyers rebounded from a year out of the playoffs and a terrible start to 2013-14 thanks to great goaltending from Steve Mason, a bounce-back second half from Hart Trophy nominee Claude Giroux and effective coaching from Craig Berube.
What's Expected: To start this season they way they finished last year. In 2013-14, the Flyers were a dismal 4-10-1 through the first month of the regular season, but rebounded with a strong 7-5-3 run through the last month to finish third in the Metropolitan Division with 94 points.
Why They'll Disappoint: The Flyers are tight to the salary cap, so general manager Ron Hextall hasn't had much opportunity to upgrade his roster over the summer.
The Flyers defense was suspect even before Brian Compton of NHL.com reported that veteran Kimmo Timonen was being treated for blood clots in early August. Hextall moved quickly to sign free-agent Michael Del Zotto, but the back end will remain an issue.
San Jose Sharks
Where They're At: Rebuilding without making personnel changes. After a solid 111-point regular season but a devastating first-round playoff defeat, the San Jose Sharks continue to tantalize with their talent but fail short in high-pressure situations.
As coach Todd McLellan told Dan Rosen of NHL.com:
We want to reset the hierarchy and culture in the organization, and that's really where the term rebuild came from. We feel we have a tremendous talent pool. We feel the players that are with our organization are part of the solution and not the problem now.
What's Expected: After 22 seasons in the NHL, Sharks fans are still waiting for their team's first trip to the Stanley Cup Final. After getting knocked out of the playoffs by the rival Los Angeles Kings for the past two years, just beating L.A. in the postseason would probably offer sufficient satisfaction.
Why They'll Disappoint: It's what they do. The Sharks are a talented team but haven't been able to realize their potential, especially under the leadership of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. As long as those two veterans remain in the dressing room, "adjust(ing) the roles a little bit and giv(ing) some of the younger players more responsibility," as McLellan puts it, won't be enough to push the Sharks past their Pacific Division foes.
St. Louis Blues
Where They're At: Almost the same place as the Sharks. The St. Louis Blues are regrouping after an impressive 111-point regular season that was followed by a first-round playoff smackdown by their rival Chicago Blackhawks.
What's Expected: In 2013-14, expectations were raised in St. Louis when EA Sports declared the Blues as their Stanley Cup winner during their annual video game simulation, per NHL.com. St. Louis hopes to be in the mix again this season after signing prized free-agent Paul Stastny on July 1.
Why They'll Disappoint: The Blues don't just need to integrate Stastny into their lineup—they've also lost versatile Vladimir Sobotka and are putting their faith back in goaltenders Brian Elliott and Jake Allen after the failed Ryan Miller experiment.
The Blues' confidence was badly shaken after their loss to Chicago, and coach Ken Hitchcock's hard-nosed coaching style has a shelf life. He's entering his fourth season with St. Louis but hasn't lasted longer than that with a team since his first NHL job when he won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in the late '90s.
Expect to see St. Louis struggle in 2014-15.