two front teeth, I'm talking about what would most benefit each individual team in the NHL. Here's what I have come up with:
Atlanta - A New Contract for Ilya Kovalchuk. The guy is a franchise player and although that may not mean much to the people of Atlanta, winning does. Without Kovalchuk the Thrashers are going to have a big hole to fill. This team is in desperate need of good news, and signing Kovalchuk would be a big boost for their play and morale.
Carolina - Youth. They're the oldest team in the NHL and they look it. Honestly the best thing for the 'Canes might be to keep losing. Don't get me wrong, it stings every time Carolina loses, but knowing there might be a game-breaking prospect waiting for them at the end of the season does ease the blow. It would be a great addition to the likes of Sutter, who is already showing he is NHL material, and Boychuk and Bowman who may not be far off.
Florida - A trip to the playoffs. The last time Florida was in the playoffs, Bill Clinton was the President of the United States. That's currently the longest playoff drought of any NHL team. Nothing would be a bigger boost to this franchise than a visit to the playoffs, especially since some think Florida will be the next Phoenix. Who knows, maybe since another democrat is in office it might be Florida's year.
Tampa Bay - Lecavalier to find his game. Tampa greatly benefited from 2 consecutive poor seasons and picked up Stamkos and Hedman. The team is flirting with the playoffs but likely won't make it unless Vincent Lecavalier emerges as the franchise player he's supposed to be. Two years ago he was in "Best Player in the World" conversations. Now he's 4th in team scoring behind Ryan Malone. Ouch.
Washington - Nylander's Departure. Washington has really found its stride this season. They are at the top of the conference, Varlamov has been a revelation in goal, and they are looking dominant once again. With Nylander off the books, they could really find a player to put themselves over the top. (Second wish: Ovechkin to control his game. Now that he will be considered a "repeat offender" he can't go running around like he used to.)
New Jersey - A Fountain of Youth for Brodeur. Martin Brodeur has been the New Jersey Devils since the early 90's. Up until now he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down either. Each day he is one step closer to a Thanos-like grip on the mantle "Greatest Goaltender of All-Time". However, it is also lingering over every Devils fan that Marty is 37. In hockey-years that is getting up there. We'll just have to see how long #30's ride can go.
New York Islanders - The Lighthouse Project to go through. The addition of John Tavares has certainly boosted the Isles and they are exceeding expectations this season. Yet, it doesn't look great for the Isles if they can't lock up a new building. The promise of a new arena is looking up as of late, but nothing is in stone yet. It would be terrible to see such a storied franchise move.
New York Rangers - Scoring Support. This was a tough one. I was thinking of "Gaborik to stay healthy" but by all accounts, he has been. I also considered "a solid backup for Lundqvist". However, it is a glaring stat to see the Rangers only have 2 players with 20 or more points as of Dec. 14. Ales Kotalik is the next nearest with 19 points, but he has an awful minus-13. Unless some other guys can step up, Gaborik might end up injuring his back from carrying this team on it.
Philadelphia - Ability to play at potential. Since their awful post lock-out year, Philly has emerged as a seasonal contender. Yet their recent slump spurred a coaching change, and one that has yet to make a real difference. Many are scratching their heads wondering, what has happened to arguably the deepest team in the league?
Pittsburgh - Scoring Wingers. Even without support, Malkin and Crosby can carry this team all the way into the playoffs. The down side? Their best winger is 39 year-old Bill Guerin, and after him the next winger in team scoring is Pascal Dupuis; 7th place with 14 points in 33 games. As long as Pittsburgh remains uber-deep at center with Jordan Staal, you will continue to hear rumors of Jordan getting shopped for a talented scoring winger for Crosby and Malkin to play with.
Boston - Krejci, Ryder, Lucic, and Wheeler to step it up offensively. Many pegged the Bruins to be top dogs in the east, but these four players are following up their strong 08-09 seasons with a terrible encore. Thankfully Patrice Bergeron has found his game again after a series of concussions, but with Savard out of the lineup, these four should have stepped it up as well.
Buffalo - A Competent Backup. Buffalo is in playoff contention once again. However, they're running their goalie Ryan Miller ragged. He has 18 of the teams 19 wins and has started 26 of their 30 games played. If Buffalo can't get some wins from their backups, Miller might be worn out come playoff time.
Montreal - Consistency from the top down. In the off-season Bob Gainey made some interesting decisions. The signing of Mike Cammalleri is turning out quite well, but picking up Scott Gomez's monster salary and mediocre play looks awful on him. Then on the ice, Carey Price looks like Jesus one night, then "Brian" on others. They have a .500 record right now, but without some consistency, they'll miss the playoffs.
Ottawa - Leclaire to be healthy. Ottawa is another team that is looking up, even with the subtraction of star player Dany Heatley. They need a #1 goaltender though, and one as oft-injured as Leclaire is cause for concern. Leclaire is out of the lineup yet again, but this time due to an errant puck hitting him in the face when he had the night off. If he can rejoin the lineup and stay healthy, Ottawa looks good to dance in May.
Toronto - Offense. It's a double-edged sword to have a defenseman leading your team in points. On the one hand Toronto has an elite offensive D-man in Tomas Kaberle. On the other hand, their offense whomps. Brian Burke has compiled a plethora of defense, but unless this team can supply the offense on a nightly basis, the only thing they'll be competing for is the #1 Overall pick in the draft, which is no good to them since they traded it to Boston. Woops.
Chicago - Cap relief. The Blackhawks somehow managed to lock up three young stars in Kane, Toews, and Keith recently. However, they are still razor close to the salary cap and will need to look for ways to trim expenses. Unfortunately it could cost them a talented young player like Patrick Sharp or Dave Bolland.
Columbus - Mason to regain Calder form. All signs pointed to Columbus being a contender again this year, but rookie sensation Steve Mason has slipped into the Sophomore slump. Columbus isn't out of the hunt yet, but unless Mason can start playing like an All-Star again, Nash is more likely to see his name next to a tee-time rather than on a score sheet.
Detroit - Injury-Bug Repellent. Detroit has lost some serious man-games due to injury this season and it is showing. They sit just out of a playoff spot and it is due in large part to the losses of Franzen, Kronwall, Filppula, Cleary, Lilja, and Williams. If those guys can get back into the lineup then Detroit should be all right, but they might be looking at their lowest playoff seed in a long time.
Nashville - Bottled Barry Trotz. Probably the most under-appreciated coach in the league and due, no doubt, to the fact that he coaches Nashville. Trotz has managed to coach his team to overachieving almost on a yearly basis. Nashville loses key players, everyone counts them out, yet they make the playoffs. It's almost becoming routine. If Nashville ever gets high expectations, I'd love to see how far Trotz can take them.
St. Louis - A No. 1 Goaltender. Chris Mason has gone from stud to schlub once again, just as he followed his strong 06-07 season up with a disappointing 07-08. The Blues visited the playoffs for the first time in several years this past spring and unless Mason, Conklin, or someone else can take the reins, they'll be on the outside looking in yet again. They are currently 14th in the West.
Calgary - A Competent Backup. My wish for Calgary is the same as it was for Buffalo. Yes, Calgary has been on a slide recently but I'm more worried about where they are come April. They play Kiprusoff far too often, then come playoff time he flames out. If they can find a backup to play 10 more games than they'll get out of McElhinney, they might have a far fresher Kipper in the spring.
Colorado - More of this Mojo. This is a team that was nearly unanimously slotted to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. They are currently 2nd in the West and 1st in the Northwest Division, which is generally regarded as the league's toughest division. In their first season sans-Sakic the Avs are seriously exceeding expectations. They have Craig Anderson to thank for this, who is finally getting his due as a starting keeper, and newcomers Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene are contributing as well.
Edmonton - Young talent to step it up. Edmonton has a glut of talented young players in Gagner, Cogliano, and O'Sullivan, but if they continue to underachieve then the Oilers will be spring golfers yet again. Cogliano knows he is on the hot-seat after it was leaked he was set to be traded in a package for Dany Heatley. If that doesn't light a fire under him, I don't know what will.
Minnesota - Havlat to be a star. Pegged as a replacement to Gaborik this past summer, Havlat has yet to make a positive impact. In 26 games with the Wild, Havlat has 16 points and a gaudy minus-12. That's a far cry from his nearly point per game season last year coupled with a plus-29. He's currently on pace for 11 goals in 76 games.
Vancouver - Stop underachieving. Every year I hear it's the 'Nucks turn for a crack at the Cup, but they're turning out to be just as playoff-cursed as the Sharks. They won't even get to worry about their performance in the playoffs if they can't pick up their game now. Vancouver is currently 10th in the West.
Anaheim - Offensive Depth. Another tough call, but Anaheim has a terrific first line in Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan. Even Selanne is having a decent season, but beyond that their offense is sorely underachieving. Of their meager 89 goals this season, 50 of them were potted by the 4 players I named above. Even Getzlaf is a bit of an enigma. He is on pace for a whopping 92 points, but just 15 goals. (Second wish: Hiller to officially supplant Giguere in net.)
Dallas - The Ability to win in OT. Dallas has gone to extra time 14 times in 32 games this season. Unfortunately they have only won on 4 of those occasions. That means they've come within a hair's breadth of winning 10 more games! If those overtime W's and L's were simply reversed, Dallas would be 20-8-4 with 44 points, good enough for 5th in the West and challenging LA and San Jose for the division lead. Instead, they are 14-8-10 with 38 points, barely clinging to 8th in the West.
Los Angeles - The Quick boat to stay afloat. In the past few years the nets in LA have been guarded by LaBarbera, Bernier, Cloutier, Fukufuji, and Ersberg. Last season, Quick made an argument for himself and this year has taken a firm grip as LA's starter. His numbers aren't magnificent, but he has that ability to "make the big save when it counts". As long as Quick keeps this up, LA's playoff hopes look bright.
Phoenix - Fans and an Arena in Phoenix to seat them. Phoenix's play on the ice this season may be Story of the Year. Everyone, including myself, counted the Desert Dogs out this season. No one saw Phoenix being 8 games over .500 or even close to challenging for a playoff spot. The bad news is they are still trapped in a lease for 26 years to an arena placed awkwardly outside Phoenix. Worse, they have had an average attendance of 9,825 through 17 home games. That's nearly 3,000 less than the next lowest team. Even with new potential owners, Phoenix looks like a black hole for money.
San Jose - Shed their Playoff Demons. San Jose has a spiffy new player in Dany Heatley. Joe Thornton is on top of the league in scoring once again. Patrick Marleau is a new man with the weight of the 'C' off his chest. Yet, this is how every season goes until the playoffs come and the Sharks inexplicably bury their heads in the sand. More than anything the Sharks need to break the mental-block down. Anything less than playing in the Stanley Cup Final would be disappointing.