What NHL teams want for Christmas
In the spirit of the holiday season here’s a look at what
might be on the Christmas wish lists of the NHL’s Eastern
Atlanta Thrashers: Re-signing Ilya Kovalchuk. He’s eligible for unrestricted free agency and contract talks have been ongoing for weeks but thus far no sign a new deal is imminent. He’s their franchise player around whom they hope to build for the future. For a club struggling at the gate, re-signing him is a must.
Boston Bruins: A scoring forward. Who knew trading away Phil Kessel would have such an adverse effect upon the Bruins offense this season? After ranking second overall in offensive production last season the Bruins this season are 26th overall in goals-per-game and 22nd overall in power-play goals. Little wonder there’s speculation GM Peter Chiarelli could go shopping for a goal-scorer soon.
Buffalo Sabres: Improved production from Thomas Vanek. Yes, he was tied for the team lead in goals heading into this week and is nursing an abdominal injury but he’s been well off the 40-goal pace of last season. The Sabres have played well overall as a team this season and look like a playoff contender but Vanek needs to pick up his production.
Carolina Hurricanes: A strong rebuilding effort. Forget about making the playoffs as the Hurricanes have dug a hole too deep to climb out of this season. Management intends on dumping salaries and rebuilding around star forward Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward with younger, faster, affordable players. A good start to that process this season could bode well for the future.
Florida Panthers: David Booth recovers from post-concussion symptoms. Sidelined by a concussion in late-October, Booth has been slowly recovering and the club hopes to get him back soon. A 31-goal scorer last season, Booth could provide a significant boost in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
Montreal Canadiens: More scoring. The Habs currently rank second worst in both goals-per-game and shots on goal. They’re getting back a couple of key players from injury in Andrei Markov and Brian Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn has shown signs of improvement but if they hope to make the playoffs this season they must pick up the pace offensively.
New Jersey Devils: Good health for Martin Brodeur. He’s poised to break the NHL shutout record but more importantly the 38-year-old bounced back from a slow start to once again rank among the league’s top netminders. If he can remain healthy – and perhaps be spelled more frequently down the stretch – the Devils could potentially be Stanley Cup contenders.
New York Islanders: Patience. They’ve surprised a lot of observers with their better-than-expected performance this season and the temptation might be there to sacrifice some of their future perhaps for a quick fix to make the playoffs. They must however resist that temptation and continue to focus on rebuilding for the long haul.
New York Rangers: Scoring depth. The Rangers have been in free fall in the standings in recent weeks, due in large part to their lack of offensive punch. After superstar Marian Gaborik and linemate Vaclav Prospal, no other Rangers forward has 20 or more points, and if Gaborik should get hurt they’ll be in big trouble. With limited cap space to bolster their ranks more Blueshirts need to step up.
Ottawa Senators: A healthy Pascal LeClaire. The Senators looked to LeClaire when they acquired him last season from Columbus to provide the strong goaltending they’ve lacked over the past three seasons but the oft-injured netminder was sidelined once again. The Senators have been able to adjust without him but their playoff hopes would improve if he can return healthy and regain his form.
Philadelphia Flyers: A better team effort. For a team loaded with the talent of the Flyers the fact they’re near the bottom of the league standings is inexcusable. A coaching change didn’t help things and a shake-up via trade is probably not coming. Until the Flyers players stop playing like individuals and more like a team they risk missing the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Crosby and Malkin stay healthy. The defending champion Penguins have had few problems this season but there was a concern in November when Malkin was sidelined for several games and Crosby’s production declined. While the Penguins are overall a better team than they were a year ago they’ll need their two superstars to avoid injury if they hope to repeat as champions.
Tampa Bay Lightning: A better second half for Vincent Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay. Lecavalier has 31 points in 35 games but has only eight goals while Tanguay has only 19 points and been very streaky so far, resulting in a recent benching. The Bolts' playoff hopes could depend on better production from these two in the second half.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Better goaltending. Since mid-November the Leafs have climbed out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference to within striking distance of a playoff berth, but the inconsistent goaltending of Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson remains an issue. Those two need a better effort in the second half if the Leafs hope to become a postseason contender.
Washington Capitals: An improved defensive game. The Capitals are the league’s top offensive team but there are concerns over their defensive play, particularly on the penalty kill where they rank among the league’s worst clubs. It’s a touchy subject for head coach Bruce Boudreau but deep down he knows if his club hopes to march to the Cup they must do a better job defensively.