Vulgar Opinions: The Five Most Intriguing Teams Heading Into 2013-2014
I thought about waiting until closer to the start of the season to write this article, but part of the intrigue for these teams is how they decide to shape their rosters over the summer.
5). The New York Rangers and New York Islanders
I’m lumping them together and putting them in the five spot because, quite frankly, simply being from New York City doesn’t make you interesting. But the Islanders have an absurd amount of cap space, and the Rangers mostly don’t. Henrik Lundqvist’s contract is up after next season, as are Evgeni Nabokov’s and Kevin Poulin’s and who the hell knows what’s happening with Tim Thomas. Lundqvist probably wants to play for a cup at some point, and while Garth Snow’s managerial acumen is questionable, Glen Sather is unquestionably an idiot incapable of building a team with savvy moves, instead opting for New York Yankees business model. We know Lundqvist is at least comfortable in and around New York City and that he’s been somewhat nebulous about wanting to re-sign with the Rangers. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I don’t think it’s out of the question for the Isles to offer crazy-pants money and give him a better chance to compete for the ultimate trophy.
The Islanders were a major thorn in the Penguins’ side despite terrible goaltending and have Grabner ($3.0 M), Okposo ($2.8 ), Clutterbuck ($2.75 M), and Nielsen ($2.75 M) signed to extremely good deals for the foreseeable future. Tavares has one of the best contracts in the league for an elite player ($5.5 M), and they can afford to pay Matt Moulson ($3.3 M) after next season. Shore up the defense and goaltending and improve the bottom six, all doable, and they’re frightening.
4). The St. Louis Blues
The Blues are another team that is both really, really good, and also really good by the cap. They too have a series of great deals in Backes ($4.5 M), Oshie ($4.175 M), Steen ($3.3625 M), Berglund ($3.25 M), and even Derek Roy ($4.0 M) since he’s going to be a supplemental and not a featured piece. They’ve also got Tarasenko on an Entry Level Contract ($1.75 M), the rights to Magnus Paajarvi, and the history with Jamie Langenbrunner to supplement their bottom six.
They have a glut of NHL-capable defensemen in Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk, Jackman, Polak, Leopold, and (because they’re not stupid enough to let someone successfully offer-sheet him), the criminally underrated Alex Pietrangelo. But…goaltending is suddenly an issue again and they have yet to prove they can be anything more than a very good team in a conference with several slightly better teams. They need something to help them take the next step, whether it’s the addition of Roy, the emergence of Tarasenko, or the resurrection of Halakiott.
3). The Minnesota Wild
I don’t know that collecting other teams’ good players is a recipe for success, but by golly the Minnesota Wild are going to try it. Their recent additions do at least make them good again, and they’ve got a fanbase that can steal them a few home games, though whether they can add the depth required to compete with a team like Chicago remains to be seen. Common sense says that they won’t be a contender, but replace Dany Heatley with someone who gives a crap and use the cap space to improve the bottom six and suddenly the conversation is a lot different. I really, really want there to be good hockey in Minnesota. Those fans deserve it.
2). The Columbus Blue Jackets
Ah, the little engine that everyone hoped would because no one likes the Red Wings, but ultimately couldn’t. They’re probably closer to the cap than a lot of people realize (about $2.0 M), but that’s because they added Nathan Horton this offseason and…goaltender got paaaaaid. Everything about them screams ‘maybe.’ Can Sergei Bobrovsky, who won’t repeat last season’s ridiculousness, at least be worth his contract? Can Nathan Horton stay healthy? Can their young d-men continue to develop? Will it matter if Vinny Prospal and Adrian Aucoin (both UFA) go elsewhere? They could be an incredibly obnoxious sixth seed…or they could once again languish out of the playoffs.
1). The San Jose Sharks
Let’s be honest…this team probably should have won a cup already. In the past 15 season the Sharks have made the playoffs 14 times, won 6 division titles, been a top five seed 9 times, been first in the conference twice, won the President’s Trophy once, advanced out of the first round 9 times, and made three conference finals. Usually that gets you playing for some hardware at least once. Instead they lost to the West’s Cup Finals representative six of those years. Snakebitten doesn’t even begin to describe it.
But the Sharks are the most interesting team in the league heading into next season because they are likely one year away from a forced transition. They’re right up against the cap as it is, and Pavelski and Couture will see their cap hits increase $3.125 M and $2.0 M respectively after next season. PLUS Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle will all be UFA after next season and they count for $20.6 M against the cap collectively. Difficult decisions will have to be made. And as if that weren’t enough, Martin Havlat, who has been a complete disaster ($5.0 M cap hit, average of 24 games missed per season including 51 in two years with the Sharks, injured during this year’s playoffs) can’t be bought out because he’s having surgery during the offseason.
Next season is probably the best chance the Sharks have to compete for a cup for the foreseeable future, especially if they can somehow deal Havlat for a player who is actually useful and top prospect Tomas Hertl develops into a legitimate threat. Their top six is as good as any with Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture, and Burns filling five of those spots, and with the additions of Tyler Kennedy, Raffi Torres (for a full season), and Tomas Hertl, their bottom six should be better. Their goaltender is a stud, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is the most underrated defenseman in the league not named Pietrangelo. With Chicago losing players, Vancouver aging, and Anaheim being smoke and mirrors, it might be between the Sharks and the Kings for the top spot in the West.