The party hats are ready, the champagne is on ice and come midnight tonight, one decade will end and another will begin. And with 2020 set to begin, it’s about time that each NHL franchise starts to set some all-important goals for the months – or year – to come.
Of course, at the end of the day, these are New Year’s resolutions, so chances are one-third of these teams will either fall short or completely forget about what it is they – all right, fine, it’s us speaking on behalf of these teams, but whatever – wanted to accomplish in the first place. Even if that is the case, it’s still worth outlining a goal for 2020.
Here’s one thing each team should be striving to achieve over the next 12 months:
Anaheim Ducks: Commit to the rebuild
Sometimes, teams get a whiff of success when they start to restructure their rosters and stray from the path to sustained success. Now, the Ducks aren’t exactly experiencing the first part of that, but if things start to head in the right direction at some point, Anaheim’s front office cannot get ahead of itself. Stay the course, don’t overspend in free agency, let the cream rise to the top and build from there. It helps – and helps a lot – that John Gibson is locked in long term.
Arizona Coyotes: Provide more run support
The Taylor Hall acquisition was the Coyotes swinging for the fences, and GM John Chayka should be commended for making a bold move that few expected Arizona to make prior to the season. But his work shouldn’t end there. If the Coyotes remain in the hunt close to playoff time, Chayka needs to add more pieces to his attack. The goaltending has been among the best in the NHL, but a more consistent offense could put Arizona into actual contention.
Boston Bruins: Wriggle free from bad contracts
At some point soon – we’re talking by the summer – the Bruins are going to have to find a way to clear cap space to lock-in Torey Krug, re-up a couple restricted free agents and potentially bring back veteran unrestricted free agents Zdeno Chara and Jaroslav Halak. The money is probably there to get the job done, but it’d be a whole lot easier for Boston if the David Backes and John Moore contracts were off the books. That should be one of GM Don Sweeney’s goals this coming summer.
Buffalo Sabres: Get Jack Eichel to the post-season
OK, fair enough, the Sabres can’t necessarily take care of this within the calendar year if they happen to miss out on the playoffs come the end of the 2019-20 campaign. But if that comes to pass, and we’re not about to write off Buffalo just yet, then the Sabres need to do some serious thinking about what areas they can target to turn this team into a playoff contender. Eichel hasn’t tasted the post-season yet, and it’s about time that changes.
Calgary Flames: Fix Johnny Gaudreau
Not trying to rankle any Flames fans here, but coming off of a career-best 36-goal, 99-point campaign, expectations were high for Gaudreau and he has not delivered. With half of Calgary’s campaign in the books, he has 10 goals and 30 points. He’s on pace for the lowest-scoring season of his career. So, one way or another, the Flames need to find a way to unlock the old Gaudreau.
Carolina Hurricanes: Transition to Eastern powerhouse
Right now, the Hurricanes are the scrappy, lovable up-and-comers in the Eastern Conference. Everyone hopped on the ‘Bunch of Jerks’ bandwagon last season. But now it’s time for the Hurricanes to become villains. Not in the traditional do-bad-things way, of course, but in the sense that their consistent success leads to Carolina becoming one of the franchises that is envied in the East. Hurricanes faithful suffered long enough.
Chicago Blackhawks: Find a way forward
Because whatever the plan is right now, this ain’t it.
Colorado Avalanche: Protect Nathan MacKinnon at all costs
Sure, this isn’t specific to this next year alone, but it’s especially important over the back half of this campaign and heading into the 2019-20 post-season. The Avalanche have emerged as a legitimate threat in the Western Conference and are a favorite to head to the Stanley Cup final. Getting there, however, will be predicated on icing a healthy MacKinnon the whole way. He’s the straw that stirs the drink in Colorado.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Add an offensive contributor…or two
Maybe this seems broad, and maybe it seems obvious, but the Blue Jackets have sorely missed what was lost with the departure of Artemi Panarin. Ahead of Tuesday’s action, only four teams scored fewer goals per game than Columbus, and if the Blue Jackets want to consistently contend and rediscover the magic that made them a post-season for three consecutive seasons, they’re going to need a player who can provide offense on a game-in, game-out basis. Be it through free agency or the draft, Columbus needs to get that player. (Easier said than done, we know.)
Dallas Stars: Lock up Miro Heiskanen
There’s nothing the Stars can do about this one until July, but the moment Dallas can ink Heiskanen to a long-term deal, GM Jim Nill should be kicking down Heiskanen’s agency’s door and tabling several offers. The smooth-skating defender is a cornerstone player already and he’s only going to get better over the next several seasons. Get him locked in.
Detroit Red Wings: Have the strength to be patient
This isn’t going to be easy and this isn’t going to be painless. Case in point: the current campaign, which has potential to be one of the most horrendous in NHL history. Detroit is icing a terrible roster that has next to no potential to finish anywhere but dead-last in the league. But that’s OK. That’s how things need to be for the time being. And Red Wings fans will have to be patient with that for now. All it takes is a couple high picks and things can turn around. Until that time, watch through barely spread fingers.
Edmonton Oilers: Find support for McDavid and Draisaitl
Admittedly, easier said than done, but enough is enough at a certain point. There is a 35-point chasm between Leon Draisaitl and the next-best scorer in Edmonton and Connor McDavid is two points clear of Draisaitl for the team lead. GM Ken Holland has to make a concerted effort to find one or two support players up front and he needs to address the blueline. This can’t go on forever.
Florida Panthers: Insulate Bobrovsky
The Panthers are paying Sergei Bobrovsky an average of $10-million per season, and in his first year of that monster seven-year pact, he’s turning in numbers one would expect of a career second-stringer. However, a caveat: he’s had very little help. Of netminders with at least 500 minutes played at 5-on-5 this season, Bobrovsky’s 2.53 expected goals against per 60 minutes is the sixth-highest in the NHL, better only than both Blackhawks goaltenders, both Rangers goaltenders and the Canucks’ Jacob Markstrom. Bobrovsky needs some help defensively.
Los Angeles Kings: Set a course for the future
The Kings are what they are at this point: a league bottom feeder that is stuck treading water without a clear direction forward. It’s time to set a new course, and that starts with trimming some of the fat and doing a minor reset. Move Tyler Toffoli, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Alec Martinez. See if there’s a way to re-home Jonathan Quick. Get back picks and prospects. And then try to take a meaningful step forward with Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty as the veteran leaders.
Minnesota Wild: Get younger. Please.
How long can one organization be satisfied with mediocrity? We’ve said for years at this point, as have many others, that it’s high time the Wild start to think about the future. In a tough Central Division, Minnesota has been stuck treading water for years now. That has to change, and it can begin in earnest this off-season. Whether that process includes Bruce Boudreau is anyone’s guess, but the coach’s deal is up after this season.
Montreal Canadiens: Stick to drafting and developing
The Canadiens have an absolute wealth of draft picks this summer, a total of 10 in the first five rounds of the upcoming draft. As a team on the cusp of the wild-card race, there may be some talk about moving a few of those picks to bolster the roster and make a run. Don’t do it. Montreal has far more to gain in the long run by continuing to add to its prospect pool and having so many darts to throw at the board is incredibly beneficial. It’s the Canadiens’ best bet at turning into a consistent contender.
Nashville Predators: Resolve the Turris situation
There are other concerns in Nashville, including the goaltending, but one thing the Predators should strive to take care of at some point in the coming months is finding a solution to the current Kyle Turris problem. Turris was picked up to be a No. 2 center but is currently skating at a bottom-six pivot, though he’s been about a half-point per game player. We know he can produce. He’s shown it. Either use him or give him the opportunity to go elsewhere. It’s unfortunate for all parties how this has played out.
New Jersey Devils: Get the coaching hire right
The roster still needs work, particularly the blueline and the crease, but the right hire behind the bench can go a long way into turning things around in New Jersey. It’s too soon to speculate who will be available come season’s end, but, hey, if Boudreau is available after this season, he’d be worth considering.
New York Islanders: Keep on keepin’ on
Look, we don’t know how the Islanders continue to contend when all of their underlying numbers suggest they shouldn’t be a top team. We don’t know what form of witchcraft Mitch Korn continues to use to turn goaltenders into brick walls. And frankly, we don’t need to. There is plenty about New York’s success that confounds, but it’s more fun that way. Who doesn’t love a good mystery?
New York Rangers: Send Lundqvist off in style
We know how this ends for Henrik Lundqvist. He doesn’t want to be dealt away. He’s happy in New York. The trouble is that the Rangers are mired in the middle of the NHL and are likely going to continue to be stuck there for at least another season. Odds are that New York will miss the post-season this campaign. But maybe, just maybe, there’s been enough progress made that the Blueshirts can take a step forward into the playoffs next season. It almost assuredly won’t end with a Stanley Cup, but Lundqvist deserves to enjoy what could very well be his final season and a half in the league.
Ottawa Senators: Spend wisely
Come next off-season, the Senators are set to have upwards of $40 million in cap space. That’s not a typo. Check for yourself. But what’s more important than having the money to spend is spending it the right way on the right players and ensuring that any future success won’t be marred by bad off-season decisions.
Philadelphia Flyers: Spend wisely
You see that Kevin Hayes contract? Yeah, don’t do that again.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Bubblewrap everyone
If it wasn’t for bad injury luck right now, the Penguins wouldn’t have any injury luck at all. Pittsburgh has dealt with endless trips to the infirmary, the most recent of which is that of Jake Guentzel, who is sidelined for four-to-six months with an upper-body injury suffered Monday. Evgeni Malkin has to do all the heavy lifting now. Pray he stays healthy.
San Jose Sharks: Tend to the goaltending
The Sharks have their issues. Defensively, San Jose gives up far too many prime opportunities. Offensively, at least this season, they have been inconsistent even on their best nights. But what has held the Sharks back in each of the past two regular seasons – admittedly, it’s been fine in the post-season – has been goaltending. Martin Jones simply isn’t getting the job done and Aaron Dell has been a replacement-level backup. This needs to be address at some point soon.
St. Louis Blues: Be prudent with Pietrangelo
No one within the Blues organization wants to see captain Alex Pietrangelo walk as a free agent. This much is clear. However, with the cap situation what it is and Pietrangelo likely to command a massive payday this summer, St. Louis has to be careful with how it proceeds. If they want to retain Pietrangelo on a big-money deal, they can do that, but it will come at the expense of another valuable piece. And at some point down the line, Pietrangelo’s sizeable UFA signing could become a burden. The Blues will have to weigh the pros and cons.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Don’t buckle under pressure
No team has disappointed more in the past few seasons than the Lightning, and Tampa Bay once again finds itself failing to meet expectations. The feeling is, though, that it’s only a matter of time before the Lightning begin to turn things around and they’re still expected to be a post-season team. Once the Lightning get to the dance, they can’t get distracted by the bright lights. The Bolts can’t afford to underachieve for much longer.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Secure a serviceable backup
There are 59 goaltenders who have played at least 300 minutes at five-a-side this season. Of those netminders, Michael Hutchinson ranks 58th with a .884 save percentage. Is that entirely his fault? No. He faces the sixth-most shots and second-most high-danger shots against of those 59 netminders. But still, his goals-saved above average – a measure of how a league-average netminder performs when facing a similar workload – is minus-1.15 per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Not good enough. The Maple Leafs need a second-stringer who allows them to give Frederik Andersen some nights off. Hutchinson hasn’t been that goaltender.
Vancouver Canucks: Shore it up defensively
You wouldn’t know it by the way Jakob Markstrom has played, but few goaltenders in the NHL have been under more duress than the Canucks’ No. 1 netminder this season. Of goaltenders with at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5, Markstrom faces the eighth-most shots (33.2) and eighth-most high-danger shots (8.9) of any keeper. He’s held the fort for much of the season, but the dam could break at any moment. Buckling it up in their own zone is the best way to ensure the four-year playoff drought comes to an end.
Vegas Golden Knights: Be careful with cap management
The Golden Knights are back atop the Pacific Division and remain a Stanley Cup threat, even if their record may not suggest they’re one of the top Western Conference powerhouses at the moment. That said, the whole thing can fall apart in a hurry if Vegas isn’t cautious with how it manages the cap. They have six players set to become UFAs at season’s end and only $1 million with which to work. Sacrifices will need to be made. Make them and plug the holes with younger players.
Washington Capitals: Bring Backstrom back
There’s no two ways about it: Nicklas Backstrom’s upcoming contract is going to be a big one. He will be paid handsomely, and with good reason. But there could be some bargaining and even wiggle room that ultimately brings down the number. Consider that the Winnipeg Jets and Blake Wheeler worked out a five-year, $41.25-million extension. If that’s the baseline – the term, especially – the Capitals could come out of the deal looking brilliant.
Winnipeg Jets: Avoid further RFA headaches
First it was Jacob Trouba. Then Jacob Trouba again. Then Josh Morrissey. Then Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor. For all the work GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has done keeping costs down and locking up the homegrown talent, it hasn’t always been easy, and he’ll be presented with another difficult decision when Jack Roslovic, who is on pace for modest career-high outputs, becomes an RFA this summer. Surely Cheveldayoff and the Jets would like to have a summer where RFA chatter doesn’t follow the team into training camp.
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