The NHL is a tremendously difficult league to win in, so teams need certain pillars in their organization to succeed. The best teams have strengths at goaltending and center, helping them outlast their opponents that do not have those players in the postseason. Take the recent Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example. Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup behind centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while boasting Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray between the pipes. That's two franchise centers, and two franchise goalies.
They used that advantage to work their way through the opposing teams, easily defeating the Rangers in the first round, then the Capitals, followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning and finally the San Jose Sharks in the finals.
This year, the best teams in the NHL are the Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, and Montreal Canadiens. It's no coincidence that the four teams all have franchise goalies, with three of the four clubs' goalies making the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles this year. However, not all teams are blessed with franchise players at the top positions. The bottom-feeders of the NHL are lacking talent at the most important positions, causing them to lose in areas their opponents are winning.
Take away a franchise goalie from an elite team, and that elite team may stumble out of a playoff berth altogether. Take away a team's franchise center, and their wingers will worsen, leaving the team in a worse spot altogether. We cannot stress enough how important it is to boast talent in the most important positions. So, let's look at 8 teams that need new goalies, and 7 teams that need new centers.
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16 New Goalie: Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes made a questionable move in the off-season, bringing back Cam Ward rather than looking elsewhere to fill their number one goaltending slot. As of now the Hurricanes find themselves on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in, and although Ward has improved, faulty goaltending has been part of the problem. Eddie Lack, acquired to be the starter two offseasons ago, has yet to prove he can handle any kind of a major workload. Ward continues to age, and is likely to be exploited by opposing offenses as he has been throughout his career. The Hurricanes own a tremendous core of young forwards and defensemen, making them ripe for progression. They simply need a goalie to man the net behind their talented group up front, and then they will be a force to be reckoned with in the already loaded Metropolitan Division.
15 New Center: Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are the darlings of the 2016-17 NHL season. Led by a feisty head coach in John Tortorella, the Blue Jackets fell one game shy of tying the NHL record for most consecutive wins in a single season. Yet there is one glaring weakness on the Blue Jackets roster, one that can end their bid for making it out of the first round of the postseason for the first time in the franchise's history. Despite all of the offensive success this year, the Blue Jackets do not have a true #1 center. Alexander Wennberg has had an excellent season, scoring 36 points, but that does not change the fact that he has only 8 goals on the year. Brandon Dubinsky is at best an agitator who can sometimes produce offensively, and Boone Jenner has been a mess offensively. The Blue Jackets can be an elite team in the NHL, but they need that number one center first.
14 New Goalie: Nashville Predators
The interesting part of the Nashville Predators is that their solution is on their own roster, from the same country as the man blocking him from becoming the starter. The incumbent, Pekka Rinne, has dropped off massively in performance in recent years. He is no longer an NHL caliber starting goalie, while the Predators have one of the best rosters in hockey. It's imperative that the Predators succeed while their roster is still loaded with talent, so it's time for Nashville to turn to Juuse Saros. Saros has performed wonderfully playing in a backup role, and his career in the minors and Finland point to his being a legitimate option for Nashville moving forward. Rather than looking elsewhere, Nashville can make a change using the talent already on their roster.
13 New Center: Calgary Flames
We expected Sam Bennett or Sean Monahan to step up as the #1 center for the Flames this season, but to this point neither of the young duo have done so. With that, the Flames are in a battle in the Pacific Division with teams such as the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers. The Kings have Jeff Carter leading the team at center, and the Oilers have perhaps the most talented player in the entire NHL in Connor McDavid. For the Flames to compete with their divisional counterparts, they will need to acquire a top center of their own. Moving Bennett and Monahan down in the depth chart will only increase their scoring depth and allow the team to unleash Johnny Gaudreau's full arsenal on the top line. Calgary should keep their eyes open on the market.
12 New Goalie: Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes can use a lot of changes, and their goaltending is one of the reasons why they are the second worst team in the NHL standings at this point. Despite Mike Smith earning (and we use the word "earning" loosely) a nod to the NHL All-Star game, Smith is not the man for the Coyotes goaltending job. He is too old, gets injured far too often, and has suffered setbacks in his play in recent seasons. Louis Domingue has not proven to be a capable replacement, so it's time for the Coyotes to find a goalie somewhere else across the league. Arizona hopes to be competitive in the near future, but will not be so if they do not address this glaring weakness.
11 New Center: Florida Panthers
Vincent Trocheck has had an excellent season, but we expected Aleksander Barkov to step up as the #1 center in Florida. Instead, Barkov has suffered numerous injuries, much like the other candidate, Nick Bjugstad. Barkov and Bjugstad own 10 goals and 19 assists between the pair, far too low of a number for two players hoping to be elite centers in the NHL. The Panthers already fired their head coach and turned over nearly their entire roster within the last six months, so further changes would not be outside the norm for the organization. If the Panthers want to put a finishing touch on the roster they worked so hard to revamp, finding the number one center for it would be the right step to take.
10 New Goalie: New York Islanders
The funny part of the Islanders' goaltending woes is that they went into the season believing they had too many goalies. Entering the season, New York carried J.S. Berube, Jaroslav Halak, and Thomas Greiss on their NHL roster. Greiss led the Islanders to the second round last postseason, while Halak led New York to the first round the year before. Berube is an unproven prospect who they did not want to subject to waivers. Still, none of the three goalies are the long term solution. Greiss will be a free agent soon, Berube has looked lost in his limited playing time in the NHL, and Halak was waived and went unclaimed a couple of weeks ago. Goaltending is a major problem for the Brooklyn squad, showing that quality is far more important than quantity.
9 New Center: Vancouver Canucks
Yes, we know the Sedin brothers are still up and running. But that's part of the problem. The Sedins are not getting any younger, while the remainder of the Canucks roster gets younger with each passing season. The Sedins will eventually leave or grow too old to be effective NHL players, making it important for the Canucks to identify their replacements. Henrik Sedin will need to be replaced within the next season or two as the top center of the Canucks. It's a scary thought for Canucks fans for sure, but doing so will prolong Henrik's career, while also giving the Canucks a franchise center to work with as they work to re-enter the playoff discussion. The Canucks are not a franchise that accepts losing easily, so finding that franchise center is huge.
8 New Goalie: St. Louis Blues
Jake Allen could be the right fit for the St. Louis Blues, but we aren't so sure. Allen has struggled mightily this season after the Blues trusted him with the starting gig. St. Louis traded Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames to make Allen their clear number one goaltender, but Allen has done nothing to repay his franchise. Now the Blues are left with the struggling Allen and the unproven, career backup Carter Hutton rather than any top goalie. Considering Kevin Shattenkirk will likely leave in free agency after the season, David Backes left this past season, and Ken Hitchcock is leaving the organization following the season, this may be the last hurrah for this Blues group. Finding a goalie that can take them all the way should be a priority.
7 New Center: Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens do have Alex Galchenyuk, nearly a point per game player, on the roster, but Galchenyuk's youth and injury history make us question whether or not he can be relied on yet as the #1 center. Montreal has one of the most difficult markets to play in, and the highest expectations of perhaps any team in the NHL. Carey Price is an all-world goaltender, Shea Weber is a perennial Norris trophy candidate, and Max Pacioretty is the perfect captain. The Canadiens roster is filled with solutions and so few problems, and Canadiens fans know that. This means Canadiens fans expect to win and expect to win now, so any roster holes must be plugged before it's too late. The only hole we see is at the top center spot, one that if filled, can push the Canadiens over the top. Having Galchenyuk on the second line would do wonders for depth as well.
6 New Goalie: Detroit Red Wings
Much like the Islanders, the Red Wings went into the season expecting to have too many good goaltenders. Sure, Jared Coreau is not exactly a top notch candidate to start, but Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek are both NHL quality goaltenders. Yet Howard is hurt far too often and makes far too much money, while Mrazek could not stop a beach ball this season. Mrazek's struggles led to the Red Wings starting Coreau on the national stage for the Centennial Classic, an embarrassing moment for a proud franchise. The Red Wings will likely miss the postseason for the first time in over two decades, and the lack of a number one goalie will be one of the primary reasons why.
5 New Center: Ottawa Senators
Another entry, another Canadian team. Kyle Turris is almost at the level of a top center, but he is not quite there. Turris is the perfect 2nd center on a good team, scoring 28 points on the season. The Senators may have traded away a #1 center when they moved Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers this past offseason, bringing back Derick Brassard. It's a move the Senators wish they can undo, as Zibanjead has played excellent hockey in New York, while Brassard's numbers have crashed and burned in Ottawa. With that, he is definitely not a number one center, meaning the Senators do not have a top center as they battle in the Atlantic Division. Considering the Boston Bruins boast Patrice Bergeron and the Tampa Bay Lightning roster lists Steven Stamkos on it, that spells trouble for Canada's capital.
4 New Goalie: Winnipeg Jets
Ondrej Pavelec was a surprising player placed on waivers before the 2016-17 campaign, as the Jets sought to move on from their struggling goalie. In came Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck, a pair of young goalies who the Jets believed to have untapped potential. Despite Patrick Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Nicolaj Ehlers stepping up their offensive games this year, the Jets have struggled to make any progress in the standings. The reasoning is goaltending woes once again, as neither Hutchinson nor Hellebuyck have shown the ability to carry a starting role in today's NHL. The Jets simply try to outscore their opponents every night, a task that is impossible to follow on a consistent basis. Much like the New York Jets need a quarterback, the Winnipeg Jets need a goalie.
3 New Center: New Jersey Devils
You knew the Devils weren't going to be in the first section because of the tremendous play by Cory Schneider, and the Devils are not quite expected to be a good team anyway. Despite that, New Jersey still needs a number one center. Currently Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique are the top two candidates to be the #1 center on the Devils, a truth that is concerning to any of their fans. If you are not a Devils fan and can't name who either of those players are, we don't blame you one bit. New Jersey took a step back towards relevancy by acquiring Taylor Hall this past offseason, but it's time they found a player to dish the puck to him. Bringing in a franchise center should be the priority as the Devils try to rebuild their roster to bring them out of the league gutters.
2 New Goalie: Dallas Stars
By far the worst goaltending situation in the NHL belongs to the Dallas Stars. In the most recent game played before the writing of this post, the Stars pulled Antti Niemi after he allowed three goals without stopping a single shot. Not one shot! On any given night Antti Niemi can single-handedly stop the Stars from defeating their opponents, but his partner in crime is no better. Kari Lehtonen has struggled massively in Dallas, performing among the league worst goalies. The goaltending woes bounced the Stars out of the playoffs last year, and currently the Stars are just trying to find their way back into the playoffs. It should not be the case for a team loaded with offensive talent and a fine defense, but the Stars' goalies are so bad that they can make any team suffer through some struggles.
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