On paper, the Calgary Flames are one of the worst teams in the NHL heading into 2013-14. They have veterans who want to be traded as soon as possible, question marks in key areas (*cough* goaltending *cough*) and not a single elite player at any position. The roster certainly isn’t "Edmonton over the last 5 years" bad, but Calgary is certainly one of the favorites to draft inside the top five next June.
However, the Flames aren’t alone at the bottom of the barrel. Here are some teams whose fans could also spend the last three months of the regular season looking forward to the entry draft.
The Preds have an even more woeful forward group than the Flames. They added Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg and Eric Nystrom to the mix this summer, none of whom will do much to assuage their lackluster offense. David Legwand is the highest paid guy up front and he’s 32 years old and plays some of the toughest minutes on the team (and, often, the league). Matt Cullen is 36, Mike Fisher is 33 and Paul Gaustad is 31. That’s four of their highest paid forwards on the wrong side of their career arc.
On the back-end, it’s superstar Shea Weber, potential superstar Seth Jones and notable prospect Ryan Ellis. And then some guys. Roman Josi is the most recognizable of the rest, although mostly because of his big contract this summer.
The Preds finished below the Flames last season, took the fewest amount of shots in the league (25.9/game) and had terrible possession numbers, which aren’t really in line to improve given who they added this off-season (although I have some time for Stalberg).
Pekka Rinne is obviously Nashville’s one area of true strength over the Flames and if he has a big year (unlike last year’s .910 save rate) he could propel them above Calgary; particularly if Ramo et al are league average or worse.
Let the Sabres be a lesson that a bigger budget doesn’t always lead to better outcomes. The club nose-dived after the new owner shelled out big dough for guys like Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. Ouch.
Buffalo was terrible from all angles this past season and they spent the summer more or less sitting on their hands. They dealt one of their best players in Jason Pominville to the Wild at the trade deadline and his absence is a huge gap that has been left unfilled. Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford remain (for now), but there’s a solid chance Marcus Foligno will be this team’s best possession forward next season.
The Sabres have what looks like an okay blueline featuring Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Jamie McBain, newly returned Henrik Tallinder, Mike Weber and former first rounder Mark Pysyk. Ehrhoff actually had a tremendous year last season which might tragically be his high water mark while Myers has struggled mightily since he signed his big contract, but shuld eventually figure things out.
Finally, Ryan Miller is a quality puck stopper though there are rumors he’s unhappy as a Sabre and wouldn’t mind a ticket out of town. Miller hasn’t been elite since he won his Vezina, but he’s been good and should be again if they keep him.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Hey! The Leafs made the playoffs, almost took out the Bruins and then spent a bunch of money on David Clarkson and Dave Bolland this summer! Aren’t they a good bet to improve?
The Leafs had the second worst possession rate in the league last year ahead of only the Sabres and they ditched two of their top two-way forwards in Mikhail Graboski and Clarke MacArthur to boot (and retained one of their worst in Tyler Bozak). Toronto’s success last season was built off of league high percentages, which are a good bet to regress back towards the mean this season. In fact, that probably would have had happened this past year had the schedule actually been 82 games long.
What Toronto has that the Flames don’t is legitimately high powered offensive weapons. Phil Kessel is strictly a one-way player, but he might be one of the few guys who can sustain above average scoring rates. Lupul, Kadri, Van Reimsdyk and, yes, Clarkson makes for a decent collection of forwards (although with Orr and McLaren Toronto might ice the worst 4th line in hockey next year). The blueline isn’t awful either if they get Franson re-signed and the duo of Bernier and Reimer means they have redundancy in net.
Toronto’s problem isn’t necessarily their talent, but their coach. Carlyle spent all of last season making really bad decisions which culminated in near league worst possession rates, but was nevertheless reinforced in his decision making by the club’s fortunes. So unless the Leafs get the best percentages in the NHL again, it’s a very good bet they will spend a ton of time in their own end of the rink and they will fall to earth like lead balloon.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tbay proves that even with two of the leagues most potent offensive players you can still lose a lot of games. Like the Leafs, Tampa has snipers in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos who tend to yield possession but also put the puck in at an above average rate. The Lightning’s problem is they have almost nothing else.
Val Filpula was signed this summer and is an okay, but not earth moving, addition. Jonathan Drouin could make the squad as a teen, but he’s a few years away from making a true impact. Ryan Malone is broken and Teddy Purcell is a good middle rotation forward. Everyone else up front is replacement level more or less.
The blueline after Viktor Hedman is completely underwhelming as well (Brewer, Salo, Carle, Lee, Gudas Ohlund) and the goaltending duo of Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback is questionable.
If father time finally starts to catch up to St. Louis (who is 38), it will be massive blow to a first line that has to carry the rest of the squad on its back. Could be a long year for Yzerman’s boys.
Despite all of their young stars and number one picks, the Oilers finished just three points ahead of the Flames last year. That was with Calgary suffering through tragically bad goaltending, throwing up the white flag at the trade deadline and then doing everything they could to lose down the stretch outside of not dressing enough players.
Edmonton’s fundamental stats last year were, as usual, terrible. Only the Sabres and Leafs controlled the puck less than the Oilers in 2012-13. Anyone who wasn’t playing with Taylor Hall pretty much got their heads beat in and the Oil definitely had the worst bottom-six rotation in the entire league. To say nothing of a back-end that featured next to no ideal top pairing defenders.
This might be the year the boys up north actually start putting things together though. Part of their problem last season was rookie coach Ralph Krueger, whose decisions and systems seemed to exacerbate the Oilers possession woes. Edmonton added Perron this summer as well as Boyd Gordon, Dennis Grebeshkov, Andrew Ference, Anton Belov and Jason Labarbera, so they have a lot more depth at every position. Mactavish seems a lot more sensible than the deposed T-bone and Dallas Eakins should be an improvement over Kruger if only because it’s hard to imagine anyone being as bad.
There are other candidates as well (Columbus, Colorado, Florida), but these five mentioned seem like the best bets for the reasons mentioned. Buffalo and Nashville are my favorites to be below Calgary, but feel free to disagree in the comments.