What does each NHL team want for Christmas? (Part 2)
Continuing on from this morning’s post, here is the second part of our team-by-team guide to what each NHL team might be hoping to find under the tree today!
A big bag of upgrades. Last season appeared to be the one that might see the New York Islanders awaken from their long slumber at the bottom of the NHL standings no longer trapped in the doldrums of despair thanks to some shrewd drafting, free agent signings and waiver pickups finally paying dividends. Star center John Tavares was coming into his own, and the team had excellent complimentary players surrounding him. They were even playing strong possession hockey, giving hope for sustained success. The future continued to look bright even after a first round playoff defeat to Pittsburgh, given they gave the powerhouse team a good run for their money.
Unfortunately, all that work seems to have come undone this year. Dan Petriw (@DanDanNoodles78) suggests that the Islanders require, at the very least, a top six forward, two genuine NHL defenders, an upgrade in net, and a coaching change. Although some thought bringing in disturber Cal Clutterbuck for under-performing Niño Niederreiter would help bolster the team’s forward depth, he has been underwhelming at best. Replacing Brad Boyes with PM Bouchard has been a disaster (though it’s hard to blame management for that given Bouchard’s decent career to that point), and even letting go the likes of Keith Aucoin has proved a mistake. Couple that with Bailey and Grabner’s struggles, and you have a team that desperately needs offensive help, and improved depth throughout the forward lines.
Beyond Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald, the blue line has been pretty awful, not helped by injury to veteran star Lubomir Visnovsky and yes, even the loss of Mark Streit to Philadelphia. The team urgently needs reinforcements in the form of capable NHL defenders who can impact both ends of the ice.
They also refused to address their needs in goal. Nabokov was awful last year, but the other in-house options, Nilson and Poulin, have proven unable to take on a significant role as yet despite flashes of excellence. Acquiring a top goalie isn’t easy, but it seems the Islanders are incapable of improving at the position.
The situation has returned to that of “bleak” once again on Long Island, a sorry waste of some extraordinary talent.
John Tortorella. This one may be controversial, but it’s certainly looking like this team just wasn’t built for Alain Vigneault’s systems. The roster was of course primarily designed for Tortorella’s hard-ass defensive style, rather than Vigneault’s slightly more free-flowing, extreme line-matching tactical decisions.
The team is spreading the scoring around fairly well, but they are not defending well enough to counter the fact that no-one is really putting in a star performance. Excellent performances by Cam Talbot, filling in for a struggling Lundqvist, and Ryan McDonagh have helped keep the team afloat, but they’re really just a big pile of “meh” at the moment.
Last season’s excellence bottled up and served to the team. The Senators were quite simply outstanding last season, surviving a rash of injuries to important players all over the roster and still making it through to the Conference Semifinals whilst playing excellent possession hockey. Hopes were high for this season, even despite the loss of longtime idol Daniel Alfredsson, given the acquisition of goal scorer Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur and the return to health of Karlsson, Spezza and Anderson, to name a few.
Their star players have been very good this year overall, but the supporting cast has been mediocre, both defensively and on offence. Craig Anderson is nowhere near as dominant as previously, but isn’t being helped by playing behind a team that struggles to clear it’s zone when Karlsson isn’t on the ice.
The talent is seemingly there, but the results have vanished, mystifying virtually everyone.
Consistency. James Proudl0ck suggests this is he single biggest issue facing the Flyers, and it’s tough to disagree. Their performances range from diabolical to all-world, with the struggles of Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell being well documented. Giroux has picked up his game to a great extent, Hartnell though is still failing to gain any kind of traction.
Following a bad start, a string of good home performances has vaulted the team back into playoff contention, but only just. Their position today is largely the result of an excellent run in mid-November, but since then have basically been incapable of getting anything significant started.
A PK specialist. The Coyotes have, under the guidance of head coach Dave Tippett, been a team typified by their stifling defensive play. That tradition continues to this season, but one area of concern is certainly the penalty kill. The team has picked themselves up from a slow start, but the PK remains at a lowly 78.8%, 25th in the league. The team’s top 4 leading PK forwards are Antoine Vermette, Jeff Halpern, David Moss and Lauri Korpikoski, decent enough players all, but arguably none are top-end defensive stalwarts.
The team has basically failed to replace the contributions of tough minutes center Boyd Gordon, a wizard in the face-off circle and, according to Jason Labarbera, an absolute “animal” to play against. One player couldn’t be expected to turn around an entire special teams issue of course, and perhaps system alterations are required.
Good health. This was suggested by Kyle Walsh (@kwalsh96) and makes perfect sense. The Penguins seem to be a team destined to endure injuries to their most important players, and this year is no different, though Crosby and Malkin have remained largely booboo-free.
Nope, this year it’s the turn of their defence to be decimated, all of Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin out with various ailments. Those are some fine players right there, and hard to replace – though the Penguins haven’t exactly struggled in their absence, 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings thanks to some excellent performances from Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta, among others.
It’s quite scary to imagine how good the Penguins will be when at full health, particularly with Fleury playing as well as he has in a long, long time.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
A Stanley Cup ticket! And perhaps another defender. Won’t the Hockey Gods give this team a shot? Another year, another hot start followed by a cooling off, though the Sharks are still very much in the thick of things at 5th in the West and only two points behind 3rd place LA. The perennial contenders/chokers depending on your point of view, the Sharks undoubtedly have a different look to them this year, a far more solid team approach to the game. Their depth at center is excellent (Thornton, Couture, Pavelski, Wingels, and Marleau & Hertl can also play the position) as is their overall depth throughout the lineup.
Another good NHL defender wouldn’t go amiss to really solidify that aspect of their game, but overall this team just has to be thinking about what they can do to finally grab their chance at a Stanley Cup. Each year their window is said to be closing, but they keep finding a way of staying in the conversation; I don’t know what it takes for them to get there, but it’s gotten so ridiculous I’m actually cheering for it to happen.
ST LOUIS BLUES
Alex Steen to keep thinking he’s Brett Hull. Steen’s scoring has been ridiculous this year, and it is likely unsustainable in the long-run, but dammit if people aren’t cheering for the guy. He’s long been a quality two-way forward, but this season, for whatever reason, is making goalies feel like match-stick men in the net. With 24 goals in 35 games, on pace for 56 over a full season, and 38 points whilst maintaining his excellent defensive conscience, Steen just earned himself a very lucrative new contract, and will be hoping his hot-streak continues at least long enough to help the Blues drive deep into the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Steven Stamkos. This is of course an obvious wish, but the impact that Stamkos has on the Lightning cannot be understated. Along with Ovechkin, he is the most talented sniper the league has seen in forever, and with 14 goals in 17 games prior to his injury was off to an electrifying start to this season.
The team is actually performing very well without him, currently sitting at 3rd in the Eastern Conference with a 22-11-3 record, largely thanks to the efforts of fellow superstar Martin St Louis, who seems to get better every year, off-season signing Valtteri Filppula, frequent trade target Ben Bishop in net, and Victor Hedman doing the heavy lifting on the back-end.
That said, nothing can replace the impact of a 50-60 goal scorer, and I’m sure the team would like to improve their +14 goal differential, a number currently nothing to scoff at, but it is significantly lower than both Boston and Pittsburgh above them in the standings.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Advanced Stats folk to die a horrible death. Those in the “fancy numbers” community have long been saying, correctly in my opinion, that the Maple Leafs’ stubborn refusal to accept what all the best teams in the NHL are doing as the best path to success – that is playing a possession game – will lead to their demise, and sure enough, following an excellent start buoyed by unsustainable percentages both in net and into the other one, Toronto has slid back down to 7th in the East.
Going 3-5-2 in their last 10, the Leafs must be embarrassed by their assertions that shot quality is the way to go, though admittedly there is a long way to go yet this season. Suffering from the second worst Fenwick For % in the entire league at 42.1%, the team has only survived through unsustainably high shooting and save percentages, something that also happened last year but thanks to the lockout the collapse only happened in Game 7 of the Conference QFs.
If the Leafs truly want sustained success in the NHL, they have to move with the times and build a team and strategy that can compete with the Bruins, Kings, Hawks and Canucks of this world, but they seem to be preoccupied with trying in vain to prove the likes of Tyler Dellow and Eric T wrong.
A do-over on 2011. I really do think that both team and fanbase are still haunted by the epic collapse of the team against Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals 3 years ago. To come so close, with perhaps one of the deepest, most-talented teams of recent times, only to fall apart at the critical moment is devastating, and the team seems afraid to move on from the team that got them there.
Of course, the players remaining are still for the most part very good NHL players, but when the most significant move made in the last 3 years is either Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian, or Cory Schneider for a pick, then it’s clear the team is stuck spinning it’s wheels. This team needs a big, bold move to get things going, they have the pieces to do it, the question is do they have the guts?
A cure to their 5v5 woes. Washington is having an OK season, nestled in at 6th in the East, but with stars Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom firing on all cylinders they likely hoped to be having more success. The Capitals are the top team in the league on the powerplay with a fearsome 25.9% success rate, of course largely thanks to the superstar duo. Yet, they rank a lowly 22nd in the league in 5v5 goals for and against ratio with 0.89.
A team will really struggle to maintain any kind of success if they can’t get the job done at even strength, seeing as that discipline makes up the majority of game-time. Improving that aspect of their game is absolutely crucial should the team want to do any damage in the postseason.
A way to get Evander Kane going. Kane has been a hot topic of conversation since the team landed in Winnipeg in 2011. Blessed with size, speed and a boatload of potential, he has shown flashes of unreal potential, but all too often disappears for long stretches without accomplishing much, and tends to court controversy off the ice with various comments and photos.
Since his first 30 goal season two years ago, he just hasn’t done enough overall in a Jets uniform to warrant much excitement. His shooting percentage is low this season, but not that far below his average levels, although it is definitely worth noting that both his on-ice save percentage and on-ice shooting percentage are in the ditch, meaning he isn’t exactly getting a lot of help from his team-mates. Despite this, he is leading the team in Corsi For % and Fenwick For %, indicating a player who excels at driving play.
To his credit, he also now plays a considerable amount of time on the penalty kill, becoming one of the team’s top options there. The team must act to place Kane in prime offensive conditions, thereby maximising his potential to either help the struggling team, or increase his value so that they may trade him and end the seemingly uneasy relationship for the good of both player and organisation.
Advanced Stats obtained from Extraskater.com.