As the NHL season heads towards the halfway mark, each team could use some help getting over the hump or getting back on track.
Here is what each team in the Eastern Conference could use in the immediate future.
Boston Bruins – Puck-moving Defenseman
The Bruins have been playing some of the best hockey in the league since the beginning of December. The emergence of Ryan Spooner and resurgent Loui Eriksson have helped anchor a club that is 11-2-2 on the road this season. The team is near the top in many important categories but is just below even in possession with a Corsi For percentage (CF%) at 49.5 in all situations. Zdeno Chara is not getting younger, and the need for another possession player on the blue line makes the trade of Dougie Hamilton in the offseason sting a little more.
Buffalo Sabres – Established Scorer
The youth movement in Buffalo appears to be heading in the right direction. There are a handful of players who need time to figure out the NHL game, but while that happens, the addition of an established scorer (maybe an overpaid one) could be acquired. Buffalo is near the bottom in the league in money spent but could spend a little more money for the right player. Pending free agents such as Marcus Johansson and Andrew Ladd could be traded for and given more money than they could be had for by their current teams. This could be something done now or targeted in free agency.
Carolina Hurricanes – Goaltending
The hope in Carolina included Cam Ward turning a strong start into a trade and Eddie Lack getting a crack at starting full-time. That hasn’t happened, and it’s not getting better anytime soon. Sure, the players in front of Ward and Lack need to do better, but the Hurricanes are allowing a league-low 25.8 shots per 60 minutes and their netminders are stopping a league-worst 88.80% of shots. Bringing back Anton Khudobin wouldn’t be a long-term solution, but if another were to take the risk associated with Ward, why not? Khudobin earned a 2.39 goals against average and a 91.3 save percentage in 70 games in two seasons with the Canes.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Scoring
Scott Hartnell is leading the Jackets in scoring, and that’s a problem. Hartnell and Brandon Saad are the only two players on this team making $4 million or more a season and scoring 1.0 goals per 60 minutes or better. Columbus may have to blow the whole thing up and hope a trade can bring in a legitimate scorer because few players are willing to play for a bad team just because they get paid. Saad, Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson have been good, but to assume they can lead a forward group would be asking too much.
Detroit Red Wings – Top-Four Defenseman
Detroit has a top offensive-driven pair of Mike Green and Jakub Kindl, but Niklas Kronwall has not been as effective this season and could use a defensive partner to help move play. The Red Wings have to find someone to bridge the gap because Jonathan Ericsson (38.6 CF%) and Danny DeKeyser (42.3) are getting walloped in their own zone. DeKeyser and Ericsson were expected to get some playing time together before the Christmas break.
Florida Panthers – Two-way Defenseman
The Florida Panthers are a top-five in team in goals allowed and save percentage and have parlayed that into a playoff position. In order to keep this going, Florida needs blueline help. The Panthers have 13 goals from their D corps, with 8 coming from Aaron Ekblad. Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell have helped anchor the defensive effort but cannot continue to be run ragged while playing sub-40 CF% each.
Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price
The Habs have seen their cushion in the Atlantic Division disappear, and to no one’s surprise, it has happened with Carey Price ailing. Last year’s Vezina winner and league MVP is showing his worth while missing time. When Price was in net, the Canadiens were averaging 3.44 goals per 60 minutes and allowing 2.06. With Mike Condon, Montreal is scoring 2.92 goals per 60 minutes and allowing 2.46. Price also owns a sparkling 93.42 save percentage.
New Jersey Devils – Offense
New Jersey averages 2.22 goals per 60 minutes, third lowest in the NHL. The Devils have three players with double-digit goals and not much after that. They’re in a fight for a playoff spot and have one of the best goalies in net with Cory Schneider. Get the man some help!
New York Islanders – Horseshoes, Four-leaf Clovers and Rabbit Tails
How many more playoff flops before the core has to get shaken up on Long Island? Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome and Frans Nielsen will be unrestricted free agents and could command some serious money, with Okposo due a major pay raise. If the Isles get eliminated early or miss the playoffs, will re-signing the higher priced players be an option?
New York Rangers – Supplemental Scoring
This may be a need that can be filled from within. Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider should all score 20-plus goals and are all on pace to fall short of that mark. Stepan is making $6.5 million and starting 41.4 percent of the time in the offensive zone. Kevin Hayes is a restricted free agent next season and is playing to stay in the Big Apple.
Ottawa Senators – Defense
The Sens allow the seventh most goals per 60 and only allow 8.65 percent of shots to score. Ottawa is holding down the last wild card spot in the East despite a lack of defensive presence. Erik Karlsson is the only Senator D-man with a positive CF%. He also starts 42 percent of the time in the offensive zone.
Philadelphia Flyers – Salary Cap Relief
The Flyers find themselves in a familiar spot: in the playoff hunt with a little amount of breathing room. Philly needs to get younger but has a few terrible contracts on the books for the next two seasons. The brothers Schenn, Luke Schenn and Brayden Schenn, are hitting free agency after this season as well.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Depth Scoring
What a time to be alive. Who would’ve thought a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel would struggle so much? Oh, that’s right: anyone looking past them on the depth chart. Patric Hornqvist (-1.45), Crosby (-1.22), Kris Letang (-0.56), Chris Kunitz (-0.46) and Malkin (-0.42) have all seen a significant dip in production per 60 minutes from last season and need help.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Headphones
The noise surrounding Steven Stamkos and his impending free agency is the biggest distraction going forward for this team. It is showing, too, as Tampa is sixth in the Atlantic Division and out of the playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Steven Stamkos
Rumors and hints aside, the talk of the league is Steven Stamkos going home to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Outside of William Nylander, is anyone safe from being traded for Stamkos?
Washington Capitals – Two-way Defenseman
John Carlson is a stud (27 points), Matt Niskanen is serviceable considering his defensive assignments and Dmitry Orlov (13 points, 43.4% offensive zone faceoff starts) is producing while being hidden in the offensive zone. That’s awesome, but another solid defenseman similar to Carlson (with roughly half the scoring production) could set up Washington for a lengthy playoff run. The Caps were a very good team last year, and a little help on the back end could make them the team to beat in the East.
(Salary Cap info from General Fanager and advanced statistics from Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.)