Five NHL teams that still have big questions this offseason
The NHL offseason is nearly a month old, and while there are still some intriguing free agents to be signed and some potential trades still lurking, most of the big moves have already been made.
Even though the season is still (at least) a couple of months away we are starting to get a good sense for what each roster will look like whenever the 2020-21 season begins.
Some teams are clearly better (Colorado), some teams look weaker (Chicago), and others still have some pretty significant questions that need to be answered.
Let’s explore some of those questions.
Will Edmonton’s goaltending be enough?
For as long as the Oilers have been bad and a league wide punch line, there is a lot to like about this team.
They have two MVP winners and two of the four best offensive players in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They also had a pretty nice offseason by acquiring Kyle Turris on a cheap deal to give their bottom-six a little added scoring punch and signing Tyson Barrie to a low-risk, potentially high reward one-year deal. He should be a fantastic addition to what is already the league’s most dominant and terrifying power play. And then you still have the potential of Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi if they can figure out what to do with him.
The defense is still a big question, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Oscar Klefbom, but with Barrie and some of the young players (Ethan Bear? Evan Bouchard?) there is some potential.
The biggest concern still might be the goalie duo of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. In a goalie-rich offseason the Oilers decided to stick with the same duo. Smith has not been particularly good for two years now and is entering his age 38 season. Those are two big red flags. Koskinen had a better-than-expected 2019-20 performance, but he is still 32 years old and nobody really knows how good of an NHL goalie he is.
There is a lot to like about this Oilers team, but goaltending could undo all of it in a hurry. Missing out on Jacob Markstrom isn’t the end of the world given that contract, but there were so many other potential options this offseason.
Do the Jets need more on defense?
You could also ponder Patrik Laine’s future as a big unanswered question for the future, but that solution seems obvious (try to make it work!).
In the short-term it is all about the defense.
That was the Jets’ biggest Achilles heel a year ago, and it still looks to be an issue heading into this season.
They re-signed Dylan Demelo, which is fine, but this is still the biggest weakness on the roster. The forwards are very good. Their goalie is outstanding. And while there are some intriguing pieces on the blue line (Josh Morrissey, Neal Poink) they are clearly lacking a No. 1 defender and maybe even another top-four option beyond that.
They have a couple of No. 2 defenders, and then a bunch of bottom pairs defenders around them.
Who is going to score the goals for Nashville?
This is a roster that has very quietly taken a bit of a hit.
With the departures of Craig Smith, Mikael Granlund, and Nick Bonino three of the top-four goal scorers from last year’s team are gone, along with Turris.
That quartet scored 62 goals for the Predators a year ago.
That is not only a pretty big raw number, you also have to remember those goals are leaving a team that was only 17th in the league in scoring with them. Will the additions of Brad Richardson, Nick Cousins, and Luke Kunin be able to improve that? Given their track records, it seems unlikely. They desperately need big years from Viktor Arvidsson and Matt Duchene.
How does Boston replace Torey Krug?
This might be the most significant departure among Eastern Conference contenders.
Krug was the Bruins’ fourth-leading scorer a year ago, was third on the team in ice-time, and simply one of their best players.
While Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo can still be big parts of the defense, they are still losing a major impact player with -- at the moment -- no one coming in to replace him.
The free agent market at this point is ridiculously thin. Sami Vatanen is still available, and Slater Koekkoek is an intriguing project. But none of them are going to play the minutes and offer the production that Krug does. The Bruins still have a fantastic team -- and salary cap space to work with -- thanks to their forwards and goalies, but they still have a massive hole on their blue line.
Why did Buffalo ignore its goaltending?
The Sabres did a lot of work this offseason to add some forward help around Jack Eichel with the additions of Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, Cody Eakin, and Tobias Rieder.
While the defense is not overly impressive on paper, the team’s defensive performance a year ago was a lot better statistically at even-strength than it gets credit for being. The biggest problem was goaltending and the penalty kill. Both were lousy. The question here is the same one that you can ask in Edmonton: Why, in an offseason that was overflowing with goaltending options, did the Sabres stick with the same duo that struggled so much a year ago? Linus Ullmark was solid, but Carter Hutton has been a flop since arriving as a free agent and if they do not get that position solved none of the offseason additions will matter.