LA: There’s a lot to love about the Kings. You’ve got one of the four or five most talented defensemen under 25 in Drew Doughty, and joining him on the blueline one of the shut down tandem from the Penguins most recent Cup win, in Rob Scuderi, and then the highly regarded Jack Johnson. Up front you have one of the most underrated centers in the league in Anze Kopitar, team a team captain who reminds me of a young Shane Doan in Dustin Brown, and Alexander Frolov who as involved in trade rumors from training camp through the deadline.
What’s not to love? Well, there’s the more than four goals per game they gave up, which was in fact the most of any playoff team There’s the equally bad penalty kill, which dropped from a middling 80.3% in the regular season to 75% in the post season. But the most glaring fault is that they scored just seven of their eighteen post season goals 5 on 5, while giving up seventeen total 5 on 5 goals.
While penalty kill, and goaltending both need to improve for a solid run next year, they need to address the effort they make at even strength. Part of this is simply maturity, they were the second youngest team in the NHL last season, and for much of the team this was their first taste of the playoffs. The teams veterans need to step up and help steady the ship. One of the veteran goaltenders available as a UFA might be a wise investment as a mentor and competitor for Quick. And I don’t see anyway adding a blue collar guy like Shane Hnidy or Colby Armstrong could hurt the team. A guy like that has a steady output and disposition that can be invaluable.
Atlanta: The Atlanta Thrashers led their division in PK% last season, unfortunately they were in the Southeast division and all that got them too was to be the highest team in the bottom half of the NHL’s PK%. It is however a strength they can build on. Surprisingly, their powerplay was woeful, even the anemic Boston Bruins, and Carolina Hurricanes were their betters. They finished number 12 in scoring during the regular season, handily beating several of the teams that did make the playoffs.
The Thrashers are in a very comfortable place going into the draft and free agency. They have $28.93 in committed cap space to just 12 players, that number will likely change soon as RFA’s Bryan Little and Niclas Bergfors are due a contract.
If I’m sitting in the GM’s office with 2 first round picks and nine overall, I’d have several of the more cash strapped teams firmly in the cross-hairs and try to pot a deal that get’s me a big name forward that lets me replace some of the star power lost when Kovulchuk was traded. With the 8th and 24th picks, and a viable defense a solid goalie pick like Pickard, isn’t outside question with the second of those two picks, especially if they can sign a veteran like Turco to be the #1 now while mentoring their goalie prospect.
Columbus: This is a team that is designed not to lose. Last year they were aggressively mediocre. They were #17 in PK%, 14 in PP%, and right around the middle of the NHL in other team categories. Their mission this off season should be to figure out who they want to be when they grow up. They don’t appear to have a team identity. Or at least one that isn’t so Clark Kent bland as to be nearly invisible.
They don’t have much depth at forward, with four players scoring just 1 goal short of half their goals for lest season. Do they use their picks to snatch up say Connolly or Etem at #4 and hope for Kabanov to still be on the board at #34 in an effort to put their offense over the top? Do they snatch Campbell or Gudbranson and trade a later pick and or player for an RFA defenseman who can help them? It almost doesn’t matter, they just need to pick an identity and seize it with both hands.
Anaheim: If I asked you to name the top five regular season could you? If you left the Ducks out, you fail. They were tied with San Jose for percentage and finished fifth in this key statistic. They finished the season 7th ahead in the NHL in total goals for. With the 24th ranked penalty kill, and the third most penalties of any team it’s hard to say if the PK itself is horrible, or if they just show it off so much it is easily dissected, which ever is the case, they need to be more disciplined.
They’ve got a very solid goalie in Hiller, but their defense is the single biggest area of opportunity. They’ve got money to spend with less than $39 million committed to a mostly full roster. Do we see an offer sheet from? Gunning for Ryan Parent, Mark Stuart might make sense given their situation. They might also take their two first round picks and ship them to the cap strapped Flames for Bouwmeester as a replacement for Pronger and Neidermayer.