The day your favorite team’s season is done is when the months of speculation and predictions begin. Offseason additions and subtractions will fuel countless articles and heated discussions. The success of signings and trades remain purely speculative until the season begins, and your team stumbles or flies out of the gate. The experienced fan never gets excited over trivial things like preseason success. The seasoned fanatic wisely lets the first 20-30 games go by before passing any judgement. Right around the Christmas trade freeze, every team should know: where they stand, what they have, and most importantly, what they need. Whether to get out of the basement, into the playoffs, become a cup threat, or keep that cup winning team together, sometimes one piece is all you need.
The New York Islanders famously began their four cup dynasty after picking up “the final piece to the puzzle”, Butch Goring. More recently, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were significant pieces added to the L.A. Kings immediately before they won two cups in three years. A team like Tampa Bay sits near the top of the East and would be wise to add a missing piece in their quest for the cup. A perpetual bottom feeder like Edmonton should attempt some sort of move to stop the bleeding and show the fan base they are at least trying.
Really, besides the actual game itself, nothing is more interesting in the NHL than trades. This list will highlight every team in the league’s biggest need as they reach this pivotal point of the season.
30 Anaheim Ducks: Health and playoff depth
Anaheim has dealt with a heavily-rotating roster this season due to a myriad of injuries suffered. Key players like Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin are both currently on the IR list. They’ve had enough setbacks in net to take a chance on the wildest of wildcards Ilya Bryzgalov. He did not look great in his first appearance. Through it all, the Ducks still sit at the top of the Western Conference. Their biggest wish would be to become fully healthy, and continue their winning ways. A right handed defenceman would be nice as well, but who doesn’t want one of those.
29 Arizona Coyotes: A goal scorer
You don’t know what you’ve got until its gone. Their biggest need so far is scoring more goals. They desperately need exactly the type of player they most recently let slip away. GM Don Maloney stubbornly refused to hand out any sort of no-movement clause to Radim Vrbata and now has to suffer through a no-scoring season. Maybe another wish of the Coyotes would be to play Edmonton 82 times a season. Five of their 12 wins have come against the lowly Oilers.
28 Boston: Scoring winger
Suffering injuries to key players David Krejci and Zdeno Chara has added to the early season struggles of the Bruins. Looking to bring in a scoring piece, they have been rumoured to be after Buffalo Sabre Chris Stewart. Boston loves scoring power forwards à la Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, Nathan Horton and current local hero, Milan Lucic. While Stewart is not at the level of those players, the Bruins still have him at the top of their wish list.
27 Buffalo Sabres : Good return on players leaving town
GM Tim Murray assured his fan base that his Sabres would not make the mistake of being just good enough to simultaneously miss the playoffs and the chance to draft a generational talent. Buffalo has spent most of this season competing with Edmonton and Carolina for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, although they recently went on a very puzzling 9-3 streak. The Sabres are stocked with prospects, decent goaltending and a potential monster of a defenceman in Tyler Meyers. Their wish list consists of getting quality returns on expiring contracts like Chris Stewart and Drew Stafford as they prepare for the future.
26 Calgary Flames : A scoring forward
Jonas Hiller has provided stellar goaltending and Mark Giordano has emerged as a scoring star and team leader on the back end. However with Giordano and defender T.J. Brodie occupying two of the top five spots in team scoring, the Flames could definitely use another forward with finish. Like the Bruins, the Flames are also rumoured to be interested in Buffalo Sabre Chris Stewart. If the Flames can snap out of their current losing streak and get back to their winning ways, their Christmas wish could be answered a few months later with a pickup at the trade deadline.
25 Carolina Hurricanes : Connor McDavid
Carolina is in rough shape. Aging leaders Eric Staal and Cam Ward have faded, and their most talented player (Alex Semin) is also their most disinterested player. Carolina has some depth on defence but ranks near the bottom in goals scored. With the future looking grim for Carolina, they could really use a reboot with McDavid taking over the future of the team. Any Hurricanes fan out there is surely looking forward to the April draft lottery. Time to write that letter to Santa now.
24 Chicago Blackhawks : Cap space
One of the NHL’s best teams in the past five years has had the same challenge every year since 2010. How to keep their Stanley-Cup-caliber roster together. The Blackhawks already sacrificed useful defenceman Nick Leddy to the eager New York Islanders this year, and they will likely have to move someone next season as well. Toews and Kane have a huge pay raise coming and the cap just isn’t rising fast enough for Chicago to keep everyone. There will be plenty of vultures circling the Windy City eager to pick off the eventual cap casualties.
23 Colorado Avalanche : A quality defenceman
Colorado flew high last season finishing second in the West. It turned out to be a little too close to the sun as they have crashed back down to earth, also known as 12th place. Colorado is 22nd in goals for, even though they are blessed with young offensive talent that should eventually get back to their scoring ways. They've also allowed the eighth most goals, although they have a former Vezina candidate in Semyon Varlamov tending the nets.
The biggest culprit to their lack of success is a lack of blueline talent. Erik Johnson and Brad Stuart headline a core including other not-so stalwart defenders like Jan Hejda and Nick Holden. Holden recently played so poorly he was switched to forward. Adding another stable rearguard should make Varlamov’s life easier while they await the end of a few sophomore slumps among the budding scoring stars.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: A lottery pick with dignity
Columbus is in a tricky spot. Beset with a devastating amount of injuries to key players to start the season, Columbus now sits nine points out of the last playoff spot. With a recent Vezina winner in net, an emerging star up front, and a deep defense, Columbus can now legitimately be excited for their immediate future. This season should be treated as a write off and a chance to acquire one more valuable draft asset. It may hurt to suffer another losing season, but they could use a McDavid a lot more than a ninth place finish.
21 Dallas Stars : A solid veteran D-man
Only three defenders in Dallas have played over 300 games. They decided to run with the youth and even dumped Sergei Gonchar’s contract earlier this season. Instead of trading for or signing some defensive help, the Stars' owner used his words to improve the team instead, stating “I think for people to criticize our defence is flat wrong”. Dallas is finding out that belief alone doesn’t keep the puck out of the net.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Tyler Myers
The Wings love this guy and have searched for a Lidstrom/Rafalski replacement ever since they retired. The overwhelming success Detroit has had in developing their players could be the perfect fit for Myers. Loaded with talent and size, he has struggled to match his first season’s success, but everyone remembers Zdeno Chara taking a few years to emerge as the dominant force he became. Buffalo GM Tim Murray is patient and the asking price is sky high, but the Wings also have patience and a stockpile of young talent to possibly make a deal happen.
19 Edmonton Oilers : A quality stay-at-home defenseman
The Oilers could use a lot of things: a new owner that holds the management accountable, new management, a no.1 centre, an upgrade in goaltending, and some steady veteran leadership. Unfortunately all of Santa's magic and even the most efficient working elves can't make that happen all at once. Like most teams struggling in the NHL, what they need most is a high-end defenceman. The goaltenders are not great, but it’s completely unfair to place all the blame on them. Viktor Fasth’s meltdown on the bench may have been directed at his team, but he must hope the GM hears it as well and responds with some defensive reinforcements.
18 Florida Panthers : An elite scorer
Nick Bjugstad led the Panthers in scoring last season with 38 points, and it was not a lockout year. This year, he’s currently on pace to lead the team again with just over 40 points. Heck, it takes them 20 rounds to win a shootout! Their highest paid forward is defensive specialist Dave Bolland. This team needs serious help scoring. GM Dale Tallon has solidified the goaltending and has an exciting young group of defencemen to work with. Maybe he can bring in some more ex-Blackhawks during Chicago’s next scheduled salary dump. Tallon was responsible for most of the Chicago roster that won two cups, and his magic is starting to work in Florida. It should be very interesting to see what he comes up with for the Panthers.
17 L.A. Kings : Trading partner for Mike Richards
His play has tailed off since the 2010 Cup win and his $5.75 million cap hit will become a big problem next season. L.A. is due to re-sign: Williams, Stoll, Toffoli, Pearson, Clifford, and Regehr. Not to mention the raise Anze Kopitar is due to receive the season after. The real-life cost of Richards’s contract will decline each year and he could provide veteran stability to a young team looking to hit the cap floor. If the Kings can get away without retaining any of his salary, they should be happy with just about any return.
16 Minnesota Wild: A stop-gap number-one goalie.
A former position of strength has quickly weakened and left the Wild floundering outside of a playoff spot. Multiple Sclerosis and a broken foot have put Josh Harding’s career in jeopardy and 24-year-old Darcy Kuemper has been thrust into the spotlight a little too early. Niklas Backstrom is currently being relied upon to platoon with young Kuemper, and it is hampering Minnesota’s chances of winning. The Wild would love to find a number one to take the heat off Kuemper until he is ready to fully take over.
15 Montreal Canadiens : A second-pairing defenseman
The Canadiens boast balanced scoring, a game-changing defenceman and a top-tier goaltender. To effectively round out this team, they require a stronger partner for Alexei Emelin on the second pairing. Defensive depth is always critical to success in the playoffs, and Montreal would benefit greatly from a top-four addition. Maybe Nathan Beaulieu will emerge as that guy, but this element is crucial for a Habs playoff run.
14 Nashville Predators: Top-six forward
The Predators switched to a higher-octane offensive style under new coach Peter Laviolette. Two former Washington Capitals have surprised everyone to lead Nashville’s offence. Mike Ribiero was picked up for just $1 million after his buyout and Filip Forsberg is the leading contender for the Calder. Nashville would love to add another offensive weapon to flesh out their very competitive team. A team that has the best goalie in the game right now in Pekka Rinne and a solid defence led by the fearsome Shea Weber.
13 New Jersey Devils : A young scoring forward
The Devils have never quite replaced Ilya Kovalchuk. Their first line at one point this season featured a 42 year old and two members from their Stanley Cup win in 2000. Cory Schneider has proven a workhorse in net and their defence may lack a Scott Niedermayer, but is solid nonetheless. If they want to do anything with the talent they do possess they need to bring in some young guns and revitalize this franchise.
12 New York Islanders : A solid back-up goaltender
Jaroslav Halak has done a fantastic job as starter, finally giving this now-talented team a chance to win every game. However, his backup, Chad Johnson, has had an awful season. His numbers of .868 SV% and 3.59 GAA are far below adequate. The Isles need to find someone they can trust to give Halak a break. The success of this season has been a long-time coming and they don’t want anything to stop their winning ways now.
11 New York Rangers : Another goal-scorer
The Rangers are a well-built team, proving that with their appearance in the last Stanley Cup Final. They have one of the best goalies in the world, rock-solid D, and a balanced offensive group led by the revitalized Rick Nash and his current pace of 52 goals. What they could really use is one more offensive weapon. After Nash and the ageless Martin St.Louis, the goal scoring really drops off. David Perron or Patrick Berglund are available and would be a nice fit.
10 Ottawa Senators : Another goal scorer
The Senators have fearlessly moved on from the Jason Spezza era. They lack a point-per-game player but are getting scoring from a variety of sources. They would love one more sniper to help carry the load. Patrick Berglund would be a great fit as Ottawa loves affordable players and he could help them at his natural centre position. They've already let go of a head coach (Paul McLean) so now the onus is on management to improve the roster.
9 Philadelphia Flyers : A top-pairing defenceman
The Flyers always have a plethora of offensive talent, and goaltender Steve Mason seems to be getting the job done. What they badly need is dominant defender. Kimmo Timonen's blood clot injury has left their defence horribly exposed. Promising Braydon Coburn has regressed without Timonen’s steady presence and Mark Streit’s strengths have always tilted heavily towards offence. Tyler Meyers could fill the Pronger-shaped hole nicely, but he comes with a very high price tag.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins : Scoring depth
Just like every other year, the top-heavy Pens need someone else besides the big guns to score. They traded 40-goal man James Neal for two quality pieces in order to spread out the scoring a little more, but they can always use another quality stick in the top six. The Penguins love picking up a scoring vet at the trade deadline and impending UFA Jaromir Jagr would be greeted with great fanfare and excitement around the league.
7 San Jose Sharks : Reliable fourth liners
The Sharks are looking great as usual in the regular season. Two solid goaltenders, elite forwards, and an effective defence have them rolling along as a terrific puck-possession team. Their weakness is depth. Coach Todd McLellan is very reluctant to play his fourth line in a league that is increasingly trending towards a four-line format. To get through a long season and compete with the league’s best, it is imperative that the Sharks acquire some reliable depth players that they can roll out without hesitation.
6 St. Louis Blues : Trading partner for Patrick Berglund
His no-trade clause kicks in after this season and the Blues have been trying to trade him for some time now. They’ll need the cap space he currently occupies when they eventually re-sign Vladimir Tarasenko, Jori Lehtera, and Jaden Schwartz. If the Blues can’t move Berglund, than T.J. Oshie might have to be the one to go. The Blues won't have many more kicks at the can for a Cup run. They'll want to make sure they have the best roster possible.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning : A gritty vet for a playoff run
Steve Yzerman has himself a contender. A well-balanced team headlined by a scoring superstar, a dynamo defenceman, and a genuine number-one goaltender. Since Tampa will be planning to compete for the Cup they should bring in a gritty vet to aid in the battle. If Tampa has shown any weakness, it’s that they struggle somewhat with more physical teams. Tough leadership should be their main concern in their attempt to win it all.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs : New leadership
Captain Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel are the most talented (and expensive) players on the team. However they are both miscast as the top dogs. If they were behind more suitable players, the way Patrick Kane is behind Jonathan Toews, Toronto would be a much better team. As it stands, the Leafs are incredibly inconsistent, able to score goals in bunches, but also wilting at the first sign of adversity. The leadership core is severely lacking a win-at-all-costs mentality, and until the culture is changed, Toronto will suffer the horrible fate of mediocrity.
3 Vancouver Canucks : A young quality defenceman
The top two of Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis are effective enough, but Kevin Bieksa is starting to show his age. Chris Tanev is a mini-Hamhuis, who quietly gets the job done, but he is not an ideal top pairing guy. The Canucks would love to grab Tyler Myers in the hopes he could develop into the dominant alpha the last few Stanley Cup winners all seem to possess. Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek out of Arizona would also be suitable consolation prizes.
2 Washington Capitals : A new captain
Washington has the same issue as Toronto. Ovechkin is by far their most talented player, but he is not suited to be captain. He has gained a reputation as a coach killer, is not interested in defense or a team game, and has failed to crack the 100-point barrier since receiving the “C”. Washington needs to find a candidate that can take over from Ovechkin without stirring up a distracting controversy. Then he can get back to his game, and be an incredibly dangerous piece to the overall puzzle, rather than a disappointing leader of a core that couldn’t win the ultimate prize.
1 Winnipeg Jets : A top-four or better defenceman
The Jets usual top-four defensemen Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart are all injured, leaving the Jets in a very tough spot. Lucky for them, they have extremely versatile and extremely large Dustin Byfuglien, who can switch back to defense for the time being. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff managed to acquire Jay Harrison for sixth rounder to help out in the meantime as well. But with goaltender Ondrej Pavelec proving to be less than elite, they could still use one more solid vet in that top four. The bad news is that half the league could use another player of that description. Who knows, the Jets weren’t poised to contend for the cup anytime soon, so maybe they ride out the decimation of defense into a lottery pick, making the conservative Cheveldayoff look like a genius in the end.