The 2016-17 NHL playoffs are underway, and while 16 cities await anticipation to see if their team will win a Stanley Cup, 14 other teams are seeing what went wrong and what they can do before the 2017-18 season begins. Oh, and the Vegas Golden Knights are learning how they can construct this team.
Well, some of the 14 non-playoff teams have a lot of work in front of them. The Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers are among the 2016 playoff teams that are watching the postseason from their couches this year. They all have a lot of tough decisions to make.
Then there are constantly losing teams like the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. They all have a TON of moves to make before they can contend again.
With that all in mind, let's take a look at what all 14 non-playoff teams need to do if they are to get better in 2017-18.
15 Arizona Coyotes: Young Guns Step Up
Few teams are built for the future like the Arizona Coyotes. They have a legitimate Norris-caliber defenceman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Dylan Strome, Anthony Duclair and Clayton Keller -- who topped TSN's Craig Button's list of the top 50 players not in the NHL yet.
But there's a reason the Coyotes finished third-last in the NHL this season. Their leading scorer was 35-year-old Radim Vrbata with 20 goals and 55 points. He was followed by Ekman-Larsson's 39 and Domi's 38 points.
Arizona doesn't have the finances to spend big on free agents, and they've shown zero interest to give up young players for star veterans. They really need guys like Domi, Duclair and Strome to take it to the next level. That's all Arizona can hope for right now.
14 Buffalo Sabres: More Scoring, Please
A lineup with rising star Jack Eichel plus Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane, Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson and Marcus Foligno should not account for 2.43 goals per game -- tied for sixth-worst in the NHL. All of those guys are capable of being top-line forwards, so it's inexcusable to struggle putting the puck in the net ever so often.
The Sabres have some hefty contracts on their hands with Moulson and Okposo. Their young studs are going to get paid lucrative contracts in the next few years, so Buffalo can't afford to sign any big names this offseason.
Buffalo made some progress in 2016-17, going from absolutely awful to mediocre. That being said, they aren't going to go anywhere with Eichel and O'Reilly are the only reliable scorers. If Buffalo can get more from their forwards in 2017-18, they could contend for a playoff spot.
13 Carolina Hurricanes: A True Starting Goalie
The Hurricanes' talented back end that consists of Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin covered up a lot of the issues in the goal crease. The team made a head-scratching decision in bringing back Cam Ward, who had a woeful 2.69 goals against average and .905 save percentage.
Eddie Lack played decently well as a backup, going 8-7-3, but he isn't suited to be a starter. Carolina got plenty of offence from Jeff Skinner (37 goals), and Sebastian Aho (24 goals). But the problems in the crease held back Carolina from reaching the postseason. They need to cut ties with Ward and find a new starter.
There are plenty of options this offseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins will look to trade Marc-Andre Fleury so they can protect Matt Murray in the Vegas Expansion Draft. Veterans Brian Elliot, Ben Bishop and Ryan Miller are set to become free agents as well.
If Carolina can get a reliable number one starter between the pipes, they could be among the top teams in the East heading into next season.
12 Colorado Avalanche: Trade Duchene and Landeskog
The Avalanche missed the playoffs for the third-straight year, and the sixth time in seven seasons. They were far-and-away the worst team in the NHL this season, finishing with just 48 points.
This team knows they have to hit the reset button entirely, and moving on from stars Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are good starting points. The two guys are reliable 20-goal and 50-60 point players, and could bring in fancy returns to help Colorado speed up their rebuild.
Colorado looked to deal both at the trade deadline, but nobody was willing to meet Joe Sakic's asking price. Teams will naturally be more aggressive in the offseason, and the Avs' need to trade away both guys. If they do that, Colorado could see a handful of A-plus prospects and draft picks heading their way.
Those new guys just might be able to contribute right away, and Colorado could go from zero to, well, a bit better in 2018.
11 Dallas Stars: Defence and Goaltending
A year after winning the Central Division and coming within a game of reaching the Western Conference Final, the Stars fell apart in 2016-17 and missed the postseason altogether. That was because of a woeful defensive unit that allowed 3.17 goals per game -- second most in the NHL. Stars goalies -- namely Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi -- combined for a terrible .893 save percentage.
The solution is simple: Dallas needs goaltending and defence, because the dangerous duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on offence aren't enough.
As we said in the Carolina slide, there are a few options for the Stars out there to upgrade their goaltending. Lehtnonen and Niemi each have a year left on their contracts, so Dallas will have to try and move at least one of them out. Trading for Marc-Andre Fleury makes sense, provided the Penguins are willing to take on Niemi or Lehtonen.
But the Stars also need to rebuild that defence. Kevin Shattenkirk, Brian Campbell, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Kulikov, Andrei Markov and Trevor Daley are among the top free agent blueliners out there. If Dallas can get a goalie and two of those free agent blueliners, they could be right up there in the race for the Central Division next year.
10 Detroit Red Wings: Out With Old, In With New
The Red Wings haven't been legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for over a half decade now, but that hasn't stopped general manager Ken Holland from handing out big and unnecessary contracts to the likes of Frans Nielsen, Stephen Weiss, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericsson and Jimmy Howard, among others.
Detroit is trying to rebuild on the fly, and it ain't working. Per Sportsnet's Elliot Friedman, Holland expressed zero intention to commit to a full-scale rebuild, but that's the wrong approach. The Red Wings have a good amount of young talent in Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Anthony Mantha and others.
But why keep guys on the wrong side of 30 like Ericsson, Helm, Nielsen, Howard, and Niklas Kronwall? The Red Wings prospect pool isn't that great, and they need to go with mainly young guys going forward. Keeping this overpaid, past-their-prime veterans will only push back Detroit's chance to become a playoff-ready team again.
9 Florida Panthers: A Veteran Head Coach
Gerard Gallant was the ideal fit as Florida's head coach, leading them to the Atlantic Division a year ago. However, he was fired after an 11-10-1 start to the season in a move that left many baffled.
Well, interim head coach Tom Rowe didn't do much better, as Florida missed the postseason altogether. But with a roster that includes young standsouts in Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Marchessault and others, the Panthers shouldn't panic too much. They had too many injuries to overcome in 2017-18, and the roster is talented enough to turn things around.
But Florida will need the right head coach to turn it around. Willie Desjardins, Bob Hartley, Darryl Sutter, Paul MacLean, Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff are among the veteran bench bosses out there who could fill the role.
Whatever the decision is, Florida has to roll with a head coach that has experience. We saw how much they struggled under Rowe.
8 Los Angeles Kings: Get Younger and Faster
The Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three years. Couple that with last season's first-round exit from the postseason, and the organization made bold decisions in firing general manager Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter.
Los Angeles has plenty of hefty contracts they would love to get rid of. Per CapFriendly.com, Anze Kopitar (30), has seven years left with a $10 million cap hit. 32-year-old Dustin Brown has five more years at a $5.875 million cap hit. 35-year-old Marian Gaborik is on the books for five years at $4.875 million. Jeff Carter (32), has five more years and 31-year-old Jonathan Quick has six years left on his deal.
The Kings have to do anything they can to get rid of some of the contracts. There could be takers for Kopitar, Carter and Quick -- and they should look to move them. The Kings are aging and have virtually no speed compared to other teams. It's time to do a full-on rebuild and stack up with as many young guys as possible.
7 New Jersey Devils: Add Some Scorers
New Jersey has been a lost franchise for quite some time now. They haven't come close to making the playoffs since losing to Los Angeles in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, and it's time they start being more aggressive.
The Devils have a world class goalie in Cory Schneider, but they didn't give him much support by scoring just 2.20 goals per game -- third-worst in the NHL. Adam Henrique and Taylor Hall were the lone bonafide scorers, finishing with 53 points apiece. New Jersey has to beef up even more on offence.
Joe Thornton, Alexander Radulov, T.J. Oshie, Thomas Vanek, Nick Bonino, Patrick Marleau, Radim Vrbata and Justin Williams are among the many veteran 20-goal scorers who could help New Jersey become a playoff team again.
6 New York Islanders: A Real Starting Goalie
The Islanders missed out on the postseason by one point. They did overcome a brutal start under new head coach Doug Weight, rising from the Eastern Conference basement in the second half of the season. Offence wasn't a problem, as John Tavares, Anders Lee, Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson eached hit the 20-goal mark.
Career backup Thomas Greiss was given 51 games, going 26-18-5 with a 2.69 goals against average, .913 save percentage and three shutouts. Those are good numbers, but he's not a proven number one starter. The Islanders need to find another goalie to push Greiss for the number one job, and there are plenty of options there.
The Pittsburgh Penguins probably wouldn't trade Fleury to their Metropolitan Division rivals, but New York could turn to Ben Bishop, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliot or Peter Budaj as their next starter.
5 Philadelphia Flyers: Goaltending
How much longer until the Flyers realize you need a real starting goalie to be a Stanley Cup contender? Steve Mason's career 2.68 goals against average and .911 save percentage show that he's better suited as a backup.
The Flyers have plenty of quality scorers in Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Philadelphia can score a lot of goals, but they really have problems stopping them.
This team hasn't had a true number one goalie since Martin Biron back in 2009. They aren't going to contend in the loaded Metropolitan Division until they find a bonafide puck stopper. Ben Bishop appears to be their best option, as he's only 30 years of age and won't cost too much after a disappointing 2016-17 season.
4 Tampa Bay Lightning: Stay Healthy
Steven Stamkos suffered a torn meniscus early in the 2016-17 season, and didn't return to the lineup. He scored nine goals and 20 points in 17 games, and was easily on pace to have another incredible season that could have put him in the Art Ross Trophy race.
The Lightning were also far out of the playoff race at the trade deadline, shipping Ben Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valterri Filppula away. Despite going into seller mode, the Lightning went on a hot run and missed out on the final wild card spot in the East by ONE point.
Tampa also fell one game shy of reaching its second-straight Stanley Cup Final a year ago, even though Stamkos appeared in just one playoff game. The Lightning know they have a championship-caliber roster. But they really need Stamkos and the other stars to stay healthy. That's the only thing that has stopped them from wreaking havoc in the East.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Trade the Sedins
The Canucks finished 28th-overall a year ago. They finished 29th-overall in 2017. Sweeping changes are already on the way, as head coach Willie Desjardins was fired after three seasons behind the bench. Vancouver traded away fan favourites Jannik Hansen and Alexandre Burrows at the trade deadline, showing that they're finally devoted to getting younger and possibly rebuilding once and for all.
But president Trevor Linden, via Sportsnet, made it clear he's not going to completely rebuild as long as Daniel and Henrik Sedin are on the roster. That makes no sense, considering both of them have a year left on their deals, are turning 37 in September and had their worst seasons since the lockout.
If Linden doesn't want to do the right thing (rebuild), because of the twins, then the only option is to trade them. Provided they are willing to retain some of the salaries in both players' deals, the Canucks should find a trading partner.
2 Vancouver Canucks: Play the Kids
Trading the Sedins is priority number one. If the Canucks want to get better in 2017-18, they also have to play the young guns.
Bo Horvat was given the duty of being this team's number two centre, and he wound up leading the team in scoring. The Canucks opted not to bring up Jake Virtanen for this season, while Brock Boeser and Olli Juolevi stayed in college and junior, respectively. Vancouver also passed on calling up promising prospect Thatcher Demko while backup goalie Jacob Markstrom was injured.
Vancouver has a nice foundation of young players here. They need to hand over first-line duties to Bo Horvat. They need to have him play tons with Virtanen and Boeser. They should bring up Demko and Juolevi for a few games.
Oh, and whoever they draft (a guaranteed top-five selection this year), should also be on the team immediately. It never hurts to give your young guys experience. Canucks fans aren't going to buy tickets if it means watching fading stars like the Sedins and Loui Eriksson instead of playing the young guys.
1 Winnipeg Jets: A New Coach...FOR ONCE!
Listen, Paul Maurice is one of the nicest head coaches you'll see. The man is passionate about his job and is a very easy person to like. But come on, his career resume as a bench boss is nothing close to inspiring.
In 17 years as a head coach, Maurice's teams have qualified for the playoffs five times, and once in the past six years. In fact, Maurice-coached teams haven't won a postseason game since 2009. He's compiled an extremely mediocre 596-569-99-101 record in his career.
It was absolutely inexcusable for Winnipeg to miss the playoffs in 2016-17. Mark Scheifele had 32 goals and 82 points. Blake Wheeler had 26 goals and 74 points. Nikolaj Ehlers and rookie sensation Patrik Laine had 64 points apiece. Bryan Little also added 20 goals. This defence also has Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba. Sure, the goaltending was a disaster, but how can a team with all this talent keep missing the postseason?
It was shocking to see Maurice last the entire 2016-17 season as Jets' head coach. It's even more amazing that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said Maurice has his full support. If that's the case, it's tough to see Winnipeg making progress when Maurice seems to have lost his voice in the team's locker room.
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