2013 NHL Preview: The Competition
It’s been over seven months since the Los Angeles Kings lifted the Stanley Cup, and a lot has changed around the league in the meantime.
Philadelphia sports fans are usually pretty occupied. Over the past few years, our teams have made as much big news as anyone (oh, hey Chip Kelly). With this in mind, it often becomes hard to keep up with the happenings around the league.
So, before previewing the 2013 Flyers, what’s the competition? Let’s run through the league.
Pittsburgh Penguins – We’ll start where the Flyers are starting on Saturday. The Penguins’ offseason was highlighted by the Jordan Staal trade (which should make Danny Briere very, very happy). While Staal is almost irreplaceable, the Penguins brought back a solid haul that included Brandon Sutter, a very solid two-way player who will center Pittsburgh’s shutdown line.
Pittsburgh tried to sign Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter, but both spurned the Pens. This might actually be beneficial for them because the cap moves down to $64.3 mil next season, and the Penguins will owe Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang significant raises after 2013-14.
For this year, though, Pittsburgh will struggle on the blue line after Letang, and might very well count on young Simon Després to play on the top pairing with Letang.
New York Rangers – The Rangers are getting plenty of Stanley Cup hype heading into the season after acquiring Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nash, whose goal and point totals have dropped each of the last four seasons, will finally have an opportunity on a good team. He probably won’t have the same production he had in his prime – keep in mind that John Tortorella is a system coach and the Rangers are more than just Nash, unlike Columbus – but he represents another threat for the Rangers.
New Jersey Devils – The Devils lost Parise over the summer and did not do much to replace him. Also, Adam Henrique will miss the start of the season due to an injured left hand.
Adam Larsson, the fourth pick of the 2011 draft, will be an interesting player to watch in a transition year.
New York Islanders – John Tavares lived up to the hype with 81 points last season, and the Islanders should expect more from Nino Niederreiter (5th overall pick in 2010). The Islanders have a long way to go but, with Tavares, Neiderreiter, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, and maybe Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart (the team’s last two first-round picks), there is actually some talent on the roster.
Boston Bruins – Tim Thomas is taking the year off because of the three f’s, but the B’s still have Tuukka Rask. Rask, notoriously known for his part in Boston’s collapse in the 2010 playoffs, has an excellent career .926 save percentage.
The Bruins also expect contributions from highly touted defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who is coming off a disappointing performance at the World Junior Championships.
With most of its Cup-winning nucleus intact, the Bruins should compete in 2013.
Ottawa Senators – The Sens have one of the most entertaining players in the sport – no, really – in playmaker Erik Karlsson, who had 78 points last season and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
Last year, Jason Spezza stayed healthy and produced like an elite talent for the first time since 2008-09 and helped Milan Michalek score a career-high 35 goals.
This could also be the last season for 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson.
The Sens are thin, but could rely on the 2011 6th overall pick, Mika Zibanejad.
Buffalo Sabres – Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino could not have been much more disappointing last season after receiving monster deals in free agency, and the Sabres just missed the playoffs. Coming into this year, those two will be crucial if Buffalo is to make the tournament.
Montreal Canadiens – Max Pacioretty might be better known as Zdeno Chara’s victim, but he had a breakout, 33-goal season last year. P.K. Subban (still unsigned as a restricted free agent) is also on the rise and Alex Galchenyuk, this year’s flashy third overall pick, could step in and make an immediate impact.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Phil Kessel is a bona fide point-per-game player, but the Leafs need Joffrey Lupul to stay healthy and Tim Connolly to bounce back. Also, no longer buried on a deep roster, James van Riemsdyk needs to seize his opportunity.
Carolina Hurricanes – Jordan Staal, who started in the offensive zone more than 50 percent once in his career, joins brother Eric and should have more opportunities to flourish as an all-around player in Carolina.
The ‘Canes also signed Alexander Semin to a one-year, $7-million deal. He could provide the scoring depth that Carolina has long needed.
Washington Capitals – The Caps traded for set-up specialist Mike Ribeiro and hired Adam Oates to coach the squad. After a down year, Alexander Ovechkin hopes Oates brings a more open and aggressive system.
Florida Panthers – The future could be now for Florida, which may call up its top prospect, Jonathan Huberdeau, and turn to goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
Tampa Bay Lightning – After suffering from an awful season by Dwayne Roloson, Tampa turns to Pekka Rinne’s former backup, 6-6 Anders Lindback, to fix the team’s goaltending. The Lightning also signed Matt Carle, who will help stabilize the team’s defensemen and bring the Bolts back to relevance.
Winnipeg Jets – Why are they still in this division? Well, no matter the travel they’ll encounter, this is the same forgettable team as last year.
Detroit Red Wings – Future Hall-of-Famer Nick Lidstrom retired after seven Norris Trophies and four Cups in 20 seasons.
Tomas Holmstrom also hung up the skates and Jiri Hudler signed in Calgary.
The Wings missed out on Ryan Suter and will turn to Brendan Smith and Carlo Colaiacovo to round out the defense and will rely on Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner (a veteran Swiss player) to help Detroit maintain its high level.
Chicago Blackhawks – Chicago had an uneventful offseason and needs Corey Crawford to be better in net.
The Blackhawks will also need more from Patrick Kane, who had an… um… interesting offseason. Kane struggled to score for much of last season before a late run, but has failed to replicate his 88-point 2009-10. He has that talent and needs to be that kind of player.
Nashville Predators – The Predators lost Ryan Suter and ended the Alexander Radulov experiment. The Preds will have less firepower in 2013 and will need defensemen Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis to help fill Suter’s void.
St. Louis Blues – The Blues broke out in a big way last year, led by Ken Hitchcock’s shutdown system. Alex Pietrangelo is a legit Norris candidate and St. Louis is very deep with talent.
St. Louis should be even better this season if Chris Stewart, who had 28 goals in 2009-10 for Colorado, rebounds from a 15-goal campaign. The Blues will also get a full season from Calder-candidate Vladimir Tarasenko, a 21-year-old who had 31 points in 31 games in the KHL during the lockout.
Columbus Blue Jackets – If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Vancouver Canucks – Eventually the window will close. Cory Schneider will take over for embattled Roberto Luongo in the hopes that he can deliver in the “clutch.”
Vancouver brought in Jason Garrison, a big defenseman with a monster shot.
Ryan Kesler, an integral part of the team’s 2010 Cup run, will miss the first few weeks of the season with shoulder and wrist injuries.
Minnesota Wild – The Wild finally aren’t the most boring team in the league! With Parise and Suter, Minnesota has some kind of star power and should compete for a playoff spot.
The Wild will also call up diminutive, yet electrifying prospect Mikael Granlund. This should be an interesting team to watch.
Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers are shaping up to be Pittsburgh West. After years of top picks, including the last three first overall selections, Edmonton is on the verge of something special.
With Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Jordan Eberle, the Oilers should have no problem scoring goals.
Oh, and Wisconsin product Justin Schultz signed with Edmonton this summer and had 48 points in 34 games for the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barrons – as a defenseman.
Edmonton has so much firepower and so much youth and inexperience that they should be involved in plenty of high-scoring, exciting games.
Colorado Avalanche – Gabriel Landeskog won the Calder last season after a phenomenal campaign and will wear the “C” this year at just 20 years of age.
The Avs brought in P.A. Parenteau and shot-block specialist Greg Zanon, but will really need Matt Duchene to find his game. After 67 points two years ago, the third pick of the 2009 draft had a disappointing 28 last season.
Calgary Flames – The Flames signed Jiri Hudler and (stupidly) Dennis Wideman, but the real story will be whether Jarome Iginla finishes the season with the Flames.
Los Angeles Kings – The Kings weren’t any kind of fluke last year. The team just had bad puck luck all year before their fortunes balanced late in the season and in the postseason.
Los Angeles brings back the same team that won the Cup last year and should be very good, and more consistent, this year.
Jon Quick, who signed a 10-year deal last summer, should be ready to go for the start of the season after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Anze Kopitar might miss the first few games with a knee injury.
Phoenix Coyotes – Even with last year’s absurd .930 save percentage, Mike Smith’s career mark still stands at .914. Will Smith be able to duplicate his success? Is coach Dave Tippett some sort of genius?
Ray Whitney, who had 77 points last season, left for Dallas.
Phoenix is built around its defense, especially 21-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is already an elite defenseman. After considering a move, the Coyotes held on to defenseman Keith Yandle, who has combined for over 100 points in the past two seasons.
San Jose Sharks – The Sharks failed to win a playoff round for only the second time in eight years last season and appear to be on the decline.
Dallas Stars – The Stars brought in a pair of 40-year-olds in Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney and traded for Derek Roy. With an overhauled top two lines, the Stars expect to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.
Anaheim Ducks – The Ducks got off to an awful start last season that led to a coaching change. With Bruce Boudreau heading into his first full year behind the bench, the Ducks expect their stars to find their games.
Ryan Getzlaf highlighted the Ducks woes, shooting an unthinkable .059 percent. Expect Getzlaf’s numbers to regress to his career .116 shooting percentage, and expect Getzlaf to reemerge as a top-flight center.
If things don’t turn around in Anaheim, it could get ugly fast. Teemu Selanne might be in his last year, and Getzlaf and 2010-11 MVP Corey Perry are free agents after the year. If things do get ugly, Bobby Ryan, who has constantly been surrounded by trade rumors, could also go.