This series will focus on how each NHL team can prepare for next season. I’ll be doing a few teams at a time.
Philadelphia : It’s hard to say what to tweak on a team that takes off in the playoffs, shows incredible resilience, has a ton of grit, and is a very deep team. The obvious answer is goaltending, and with good reason, yet Leighton had a better Sv% than Niemi did who went home with the Cup or Fluery who was the last winning goal tender. Leighton’s .916% was actually second in the playoffs this year.
What they really need to tweak is their depth at defense, having a fifth defender or even a sixth who can play even 10 to twelve minutes a night would do the top four a world of good. The other key area is pure and simple physical fitness. Mike Richards is well known for disdaining the gym, and he and more than a few Flyers looked too tired to execute properly. They had the will and strength to win, but they flat out lacked the juice to power themselves to finish line. In game six they went extended stretches without offensive pressure.
Capitals: A team that ran away with the scoring race showed they still have room for improvement, and that perhaps the management doesn’t understand the difference between the regular season and the playoffs. They had the same fundamental flaw this year as they did last year. Like other teams that will be covered in later posts, they don’t have anything that even slightly resembles a shutdown defensive unit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pairing like Gill & Scuderi as was the Penguins in their most recent Cup win, or the sort of committee work that Montreal used to shutdown two teams they were given no shot against. It might be time to deal Semin or Backstrom to bring back a known quantity like Suter, or someone with similar credentials from an offense starved team.
Vancouver: They may actually have the easiest fix. This year between the preseason, regular season slog, Olympic’s and playoffs Luongo played around ninety games. That’s a huge workload for any goalie, for a guy who is the team captain on top of that there is little surprise he looked so worn by the time the Canucks run ended. Adding a goalie who can play twenty five games and give the team the chance to win thirteen or fourteen of them is possibly the best remedy for what ails this team. Martin Biron, Alex Auld, or Dan Ellis might be had for reasonable cap hit. Who knows, maybe they take a chance and draft one of the top goalie prospects?
Edmonton: Tempted as I am to say almost anything that isn’t quite fair. They did have an impressive last few weeks to the season tossing W’s up over LA, Detroit, Colorado, Vancouver, and San Jose, all playoff teams on their way to a .500 record in their final dozen games. Part of their problem was simply being one of the five youngest teams in the NHL.
The first thing they can do right this off season should be easy; draft Hall or Seguin. It doesn’t matter which, both are a right choice. This is a similar situation to the Ovechkin/Malkin draft. In this case it might make sense to actually draft for need, NHL teams seem to have a fixation on drafting “the best available player”, regardless of how he fits into their system. This is what led the Bruins to draft Kessel, despite his not being a sound fit. The question for the Oilers is which need. Do they take their adequate centers and gift them with an offensive machine? Do they give their wingers the man who might be the best center of the last two or three drafts? Or do they count on the versatility of one of these young men to allow them to draft the player they like best and tweak further by moving other pieces?
If I’m the front office and ownership in Edmonton, I can’t help but notice the success the Blackhawks, Penguins, Capitals and to a lesser extent the Coyotes have had recently after being very bad for a while and drafting well. Personally I’d want to trade as many of the 26-30 year olds on the roster for top sixty picks in the next two drafts and use that foundation and some careful free agents to create a strong playoff team two season from now.