With the playoffs set to kick off Wednesday, previews of the 16 teams battling for the Stanley Cup are rolling out. But for 14 of the league’s 30 teams — which is soon to become 31 with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights — Sunday marked the official end to their season.
For those teams whose campaign ended without punching their ticket to the post-season, an early summer means that changes are almost assuredly coming. Already, we’ve seen several teams make tough decisions with the 2017-18 campaign as their next chance at chasing a championship. In Vancouver, coach Willie Desjardins was let go, but he wasn’t the only one. Stars coach Lindy Ruff was also let go as his contract expired, meaning Dallas must now hunt for a new bench boss, and the Los Angeles Kings went with the two-pronged approach, firing both GM Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter.
But once front office and coaching personnel decisions are made, the 14 teams who are looking to get back into playoff contention will have to decide what tweaks need to be made to their rosters.
Here’s a look at what each of the teams that missed the post-season could be looking to add, or accomplish, this off-season:
Arizona Coyotes: All the youth on the roster didn’t help the Coyotes this season, so the goal has to be to bring in some veteran players who can fill out the roster and bring consistency. It would be great for Arizona to add one more piece on the back end before bringing in a few veteran forwards to fill in up front. Heading into the off-season, the oldest forward under contract is 32-year-old Brad Richardson. After him, it’s 28-year-old Jamie McGinn. There is some value in having veteran players around to shepherd the youth into the NHL, and acquiring a veteran who can do so while contributing up front could pay dividends.
Buffalo Sabres: Truthfully, Buffalo might be in as good a spot as any team that missed the post-season, because it’s worth wondering where the Sabres would have been with a healthy Jack Eichel. Were the Sabres a top team with Eichel? No, but they were only slightly below the .500 mark. A full season of Eichel plus some additions on the blueline could make all the difference. Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson are leaving, but Buffalo has shown they’re not afraid to spend, so $22.8 million in cap space could mean the Sabres are in the hunt for big fish in the off-season.
Carolina Hurricanes: Goaltending. Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending. It was great to see Eddie Lack find his game after he was publicly called out by coach Bill Peters, but Lack and Cam Ward finished with a combined .905 save percentage, which is well below the .913 league average. The Hurricanes don’t seem the type to spend big on free agents, so Ben Bishop might not be the answer, but what about some like Scott Darling? Darling is due a raise and it’s going to be tough to make that work in Chicago. He’s not going to cheap, per se, but he could be cheaper and the chance to start would be enticing. Carolina will have to move out one of Lack or Ward to make room, however.
Colorado Avalanche: There’s no quick fix, but the Avalanche need to start building piece by piece. That starts by improving the prospect pool. Shipping out Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog would kickstart a rebuild. Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Jost and Mikko Rantanen would remain as the two pieces to build around up front, and Colorado can then go about building a prospect to surround them. Any picks or prospects acquired can be used at the upcoming draft, not to mention the Avalanche have a good shot at one of the top two picks thanks to their last-place finish. Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier would help the rebuild process.
Dallas Stars: It was said after 2014-15 the Stars needed a goaltender. It was said again after 2015-16, when newcomer Antti Niemi struggled. But now that the 2016-17 campaign is in the books, it’s time for the Stars to finally do something about their goaltending situation. Niemi and Kari Lehtonen simply haven’t been good enough in Dallas and if the Stars have designs on contending, something has to change between the pipes. The Stars will have to rid themselves of one of the two — that will be the first move — and then use whatever cap space available to pursue a free agent such as Ben Bishop or make a trade to land a starting goaltender.
Detroit Red Wings: Detroit has to do two things this off-season. The first is clear up their cap situation, and that’s going to mean making some tough choices. If Jimmy Howard can’t be shipped out, the Red Wings consider a move of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar. The second has to be bolstering the back end. Due to injuries, Niklas Kronwall isn’t the same player he was even two years ago and Detroit needs someone who can be that top defenseman. It feels safe to assume the Red Wings will at least check in with Kevin Shattenkirk, but beyond landing the big fish, there aren’t many Grade-A options available. There are some who would be improvements, though. Michael Stone or Cody Franson could be interesting choices.
Florida Panthers: Putting Dale Tallon back in charge was a great move, but now it’s up to Tallon to make sure this season was nothing but a hiccup. Now former coach Tom Rowe hinted at a core shake up and it’s worth wondering if underperforming Nick Bjugstad might be ripe for relocation. He scored seven goals and 14 points and was demoted to the bottom six for much of the season. More is expected of him and another team might be willing to take he and his $4.1 million salary with hope he recaptures his former 20-goal form. Using that cap space to add depth can turn things around in Florida.
Los Angeles Kings: With the firings of Lombardi and Sutter, the question now is what Rob Blake does at the helm of the franchise. Defensively, the Kings still have some nice pieces in Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez. That will be the core on the back end. But spring cleaning might be in order up front, and it wouldn’t be unfathomable to see Dustin Brown bought out, Marian Gaborik shipped elsewhere and the subsequent cap space used on picking up speedier forwards who can compete in the often blazing-fast Pacific Division. The heavy hitting brand of Kings hockey could be going by the wayside as the league gets younger, faster and more skilled.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils have a lot of holes to fill. Up front, New Jersey needs to spend on some talent to fill out their bottom six. Slowing down the Devils’ attack right now consists of focusing on Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and, when healthy, veteran Mike Cammalleri. And defensively, the Devils have some work to do. If they could sneak in and steal Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency, that’d be a huge move, but adding a mid-level guy to help on the second- or third-pairing would be big, too. Goaltending is shored up, but Cory Schneider needs to have a team in front of him in order to perform as well as he can.
New York Islanders: It’s not going to change anything next season, because John Tavares is under contract, but the Islanders need to hammer out a deal with their captain. That’s the most important thing, no matter what. After that, though, it’d be great to see New York add a pure scorer or power play specialist. Losing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen clearly hurt as only the Avalanche and Canucks were worse with the man advantage. After that, maybe the best thing the Islanders could ask for is a clean bill of health and a full season under Doug Weight. The Islanders had the second-best record in the NHL after the former NHLer-turned-assistant GM-turned-interim coach took over.
Philadelphia Flyers: Goaltending is an issue, but Steve Mason, if re-signed, could very well bounce back. The bigger concern might be what the Flyers do defensively. Ivan Provorov had a spectacular rookie season, but Shayne Gostisbehere struggled and the defense corps in Philadelphia leaves a lot to be desired. The Flyers have never been afraid to spend, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see them in on Shattenkirk, but Philadelphia needs to add on the back end no matter what. It also wouldn’t hurt to add another offensive weapon up front because if Claude Giroux’s down season isn’t just that, a down season, the Flyers’ offense is going to remain in the bottom half of the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The best thing the summer can bring is a healthy Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay wasn’t a lost cause thanks to otherworldly play by Nikita Kucherov, but the Lightning are going to want to shake this forgettable season. Adding a defenseman is going to be crucial and the best way to do so might be dealing one of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat or Jonathan Drouin. That’s not optimal, sure, but Tampa Bay has $18 million to sign all three, plus make any additions. Signing Kucherov to a three-year, $14.3-million deal in October was a masterclass in negotiation by GM Steve Yzerman, but it won’t be easy to do the same with Palat and Johnson holding arbitration rights.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks aren’t going to do it, but trading Daniel and Henrik Sedin would sure speed up any rebuild. The only area Vancouver doesn’t have a major need to add is on the blueline, though it could use some work. Spending wise might be best for the Canucks and it wouldn’t be all that surprising were Vancouver to enter next season with designs on another year outside the post-season. Putting the team in the hands of the kids — as well as the Sedins — is probably the plan for 2017-18. And, hey, if Vancouver happens to finish last and snag the first overall pick, Rasmus Dahlin would be quite the prize.
Winnipeg Jets: Offensively, the Jets are in good hands. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers were all excellent this season, and Winnipeg’s 246 tallies were the seventh-most goals for. The trouble is the Jets allowed 255 against. Only the Coyotes, Stars and Avalanche were worse. Getting Tyler Myers back — and one would hope he’s good to go next season — will go a long way on the back end, as will the emergence of Josh Morrissey. But an experienced backup with 1B potential might be the best bet for Winnipeg to turn things around. Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson had incredibly trying seasons combing for a .906 SP. One wonders if the Jets wouldn’t have been playoff-bound with league average quality goaltending.
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