We are only halfway through the season and already management is beginning to look to the future. If you can’t pull a failing season together after Christmas, your expectations for a playoff appearance and Cup contention this season need to be adjusted to the 2017 season. Clouds tend to have silver linings, however, in that there a lot of unhappy players and unhappy teams out there. What I mean is that the league is going to look very different next year for two very big reasons: 1) There are a lot of high profile contracts running out, making a fine free agent list for 2017; and 2) The 2017 Expansion draft.
Number 2 is really the big factor here. There will be a whole new team on the block and in order to make that happen, a great deal of shaking up needs to cross the league. I sadly confess that I find myself among the early vanguard of Millennials. The last time an event like this has happened in my life was the NFL picking up the Panthers and the Jaguars in 1995 and I don’t remember the hype around back then. But from what I gather, the identity of the league has been irreversibly different ever since. This means big things for hockey. Ice in the desert? Winter is Coming… To Vegas.
15. Marian Gaborik, LA
Despite regular trips to the playoffs, Marian Gaborik has been terrible the past couple years. He is most known for his years on the Minnesota Wild, then with a follow up performance with the New York Rangers, but that is when his production broke off harshly in the early tens. This is probably because of the injuries that have plagued him in more recent years. The last time he played 82 games was in 2011/12 with the Rangers. The longest season he’s given since that was to his current team, the Los Angeles Kings, at 69 games and only 47 points. That’s no slouch, being 20 games shy of a respectable season, but his career is dotted with seasons of 12 games, 22 games, 35 games. Per time on the ice Gaborik may be among the greats, but it just doesn’t make it through in the stat lines. He’s a candidate to keep for the Kings, but if the Expansion changes the league, the Kings might do well to look to the future. As for Gaborik, it sounds difficult to keep recovering from these injuries. Maybe find a smaller role on a not Cup competitive team and ride out the end of a good but difficult career.
14. Joe Thornton, SJ
Joe Thornton has been a staple in the NHL since 1997. He had seven successful years with the Boston Bruins even before he had the bulk of his career on the San Jose Sharks. His wily beard completes his image of a wizened elder who has seen the top of the mountain. He’s not even a goal scorer, but he’s an assist ace with 63 just last year and already up to 24 this year. He doesn’t need to finish the big play to make it happen. The tragic thing about Joe Thornton though is that he is a perennial bridesmaid. The Sharks are in playoff contention every year, as were the Bruins when he was there. But sadly, the sagely center remains Cup-less. There is no doubt that San Jose will always be a home for Joe Thornton, but his guidance and steady assist could benefit another younger line elsewhere. The Sharks would probably be glad to keep him through the Expansion. Thornton just has to ask himself if they will take him to the promise land or he should seek other avenues.
13. Dennis Wideman, CGY
I don’t mean to insult Dennis Wideman by calling him a journeyman, but many of the other players on this list are moving around after having a long legacy elsewhere, though that’s been far from the case for the veteran d-man. The Calgary Flames are the closest thing he’s had to a home since joining the league in 2005. This is probably largely due to his inability to stay healthy, because when he did in 2014-15, he clocked in 56 points (mostly assists, but still pretty good). Some coach should be able to unlock the guy’s potential or at least some training staff should keep him healthy. Be it Calgary or Vegas.
12. Zdeno Chara, BOS
Basketball is typically the sport known for ‘The Big Man’, but the Boston Bruins took that international and brought the 6’9″ Slovak Zdeno Chara into his own. He bounced around to the Ottawa Senators and the New York Islanders, but he became a force, known for his hard slap shot in Boston. Chara is a literally larger than life figure in the sport of hockey, but the captain of the Bruins has been playing the game a long time. He has been playing hockey in the NHL since 1997 (20 years). He’s certainly still a force to reckon with on the ice, but how worth it could it be for the Bruins to keep their 39 year old captain in one of your three-ish defensemen spots allotted in the Expansion? Boston is very sentimental for the past, but they have to look for the future here. If Chara wants to keep playing hockey, maybe a newer franchise could use some experienced guidance for their younger kids coming up.
11. Rick Nash, NYR
Hometown pick here and it hurts something fierce. Rick Nash came to the New York Rangers in one of the big trades that redefined the team and set the stage for their playoff appearances since 2012. Nashty brings a lot to the game. He may not ever lead the team in points or hits or any of these tangible stats that fantasy nerds gush about. But he does have clutch. He’s an x factor. You rely on him. That is when he’s healthy. I understand how difficult it is, but he has not played eighty games since coming to the Rangers. Where the Blue Shirts are getting younger around him, they are reaching the point of Cup or bust with some of the long time players on the team. The Expansion is a tricky question. The Rangers got lucky with some kids. Will there be room for Nash next year on the Expansion roster? Maybe. But his trade value just may be too tempting for the Rangers to pass up.