With the game’s greatest prize heading back to the beaches of SoCal for the second time in three years, the other 29 NHL clubs are dealt back in, and are preparing for a summer of business, and transactions to get them to the next level, to be a contender.
Let’s start by taking a look at the three of the most interesting teams to watch for now that the cup has been delivered.
Teams in the NHL have seemingly found themselves lumped into three separate groups. The first category being “Not Even Close” which would include teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Islanders, Sabres, and Florida Panthers, These are the teams that just can not figure it out, and won’t be close for awhile, if ever, or so it seems.
The second groupings of teams are “Close but not quite” These teams are good, always competitive, but when it comes down to things, they’re still a cut below the best. Teams like the St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Philadephia Flyers, This is the most populated group of the bunch, and these teams are itching to get into the next tier.
The final grouping of teams are the “We’re Here” teams. Teams that contend seriously for the Stanley Cup each year. The LA Kings, obviously. The Boston Bruins and The Chicago Blackhawks. MA Fleury has officially dropped the Penguins into the middle pack.
Let’s take a look at one team out each of these groupings as the most intriguing to watch this summer. Coming from the not even close grouping, has to be the Edmonton Oilers. You’ve probably been saying this for the last half a decade, but at some point it just has to click for them… doesn’t it? The Oilers seem to have fixed their crease, but continue to have a lowly group of defenseman, and the same forward cloned nine times. Look for them to make some changes to fix the blue line, add some size up front. Mactavish has proved to be a very active GM, and very open about the changes needed to be made. They’ve made some changes on the bench this year, and upstairs already having added former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson into the mix. This group absolutely has to be eager to get going, and at the very least move into the “Close, but not quite” group.
Coming out of the “Close, but not yet” group is the newest team to join this party, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins are continually the top of their division, 2005-2006 was the last season that the Penguins didn’t either win their division, or finish second being only a couple points shy of first. Yet, they still only have one Stanley Cup in that time. No question they have some of, if not the two best players in the game, but is it working anymore? After another quick playoff exit, the Penguins have showed they’re tired of being first to the party, and first to leave year after year. Winning divisions, and opening rounds is no longer acceptable. Ray Shero, and Dan Bylsma were the first to feel the brunt of that. But, can this team really win another Stanley cup with MA Fleury in net? Hard to blame MAF for their woes this playoff, especially when you’re up 3-1 in a series but by now it’s as much a mental barrier, and a distraction with him back there. He loves to let in bad goals, and the media is constantly talking about it around the Penguins. The Penguins have to be careful to not change too much, too quickly, but look for them to add some secondary scoring, some depth in net, if not a new starter. Penguins have wasted no time making headlines since their exit; look for them to continue doing so. They won’t be content being in this group for very long, not with 87 and 71 on your team.
Now that flightless birds have slipped out of this group, were left with three teams that are rest above the rest. Hawks. Bruins. Champions. We’ll look to the LA Kings to be the most intriguing team amongst these three this summer. Defending champs are always an interesting group to watch going into the next season. How much hangover will they have? There are a few key players that are without a contract for 2014-15 season. Willie Mitchell & Matt Greene who were both quietly very effective for the LA Kings are now free agents. These two will be sought after by many of the second grouping of teams. They’re older, but still have some grit, and game left. You can’t win without these types of players. But, with Mitchell having earned $3.5M last season, and Green earning $2.95M, something tells me these two will need to take a significant pay cut to remain with this group. Secondly, up front the LA Kings will need to make a decision on Marian Gaborik who was phenomenal for them in the playoffs, and then as well Mike Richards. Gaborik collected a cool $7.5M last season, which is more than Drew, and more than Anze. Can’t see Lombardi signing Gabby for any more than his two best players, so alike the rugged defenseman, Gabby will need to be happy with a pay cut if he wants to stick around in LA LA Land. Mike Richards will be another interesting issue for the Kings. The guy knows how to win, no doubt. All he seems to do outside of the nightlife, is win. But, his role was decreased dramatically, centering the fourth line, scoring only eleven goals in the regular season, and three more in playoffs. Richards will either need to open up his training program manual a few more times this off season if he doesn’t want to be bought out by the Kings. The Kings also seem to do a terrific job developing players from Manchester and bringing them in at the right times to be effective with the big club. See Toffoli, and Pearson. There is going to be a new Stanley Cup banner raised at Staples Center come opening day, but there is sure to be some new faces as well.
Here comes the summer!