In the age of the salary cap, the entire course of a franchise can change in just a few days in early July. As we saw in Sunrise, the Florida Panthers went from not having enough guys to field a game day roster to a team that can field a respectable roster come October in just about 24 hours. But the Cats weren’t the only busy ones. Many teams retooled their rosters, and in the process, their expectations. Here are five teams (in no particular order)I think are under the most pressure to produce in 2011-2012:
-Buffalo Sabres: During this offseason, owner Terry Pegula spent his way to the cap ceiling, letting Sabres fans know the days of talented guys leaving for more money in bigger markets are over. Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino were signed to mammoth free agent deals this summer and with that, comes expectations from on high to produce more than first round exits like the past two seasons. They still have Ryan Miller and a solid group of defensemen, including ex-Flame Robyn Regehr, but did they bring enough to get them to where their owner is going to expect them to go? It’s a honeymoon right now with the contracts being signed, but it will turn ugly in a hurry if this teams doesn’t bring in results come April/May.
-Los Angeles Kings: GM Dean Lombardi has looked to make a spalsh the past two summers. Last year, he couldn’t entice Ilya Kovalchuk to head west. This year he got his splash in the form of the former Flyers captain Mike Richards, acquired in a pre-draft trade that sent top prospect Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds back to Philly. Sending a prospect like Schenn is a clear message that the future for the Kings is right now and a first round exit like last season is not acceptable. An injury to Anze Kopitar going into the playoffs dimmed hopes but, they had a few chances to take control of their first round series with the San Jose Sharks and couldn’t get it done. Lombardi is hoping that Richards and Simon Gagne can give them the scoring punch they lacked. And of course, this is all predicated on Drew Doughty signing a new contract.
-Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus fans haven’t had too much to cheer about over the course of the team’s history. With only one playoff berth since the team’s inception in 2000, GM Scott Howson set about to make some drastic changes. Jeff Carter (and his extremely long-term contract) was acquired for Jakub Voracek, a first round pick (which the Flyers used to select Sean Couturier) and a third rounder giving Rick Nash a number one centerman to play alongside. The Blue Jackets will need a drastic improvement on the back end and in net, as they were 26th in the NHL in goals against/game. The fans in Columbus have been extremely patient. How much longer can they be expected to wait?
-Washington Capitals: One has to think this is the last gasp for this version of the Caps. Absent a deep run into the playoffs this season, one would expect GM George McPhee to do some serious rearranging around captain Alex Ovechkin. They shored up their goaltender position when they signed Tomas Vokoun to the best value contract of this year’s free agent period. They also managed to add some toughness and grit in Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, but will it be enough to propel a team long on talent and short on guts to the Cup? Can this team push back once they’ve been pushed? Three disappointing postseason exits in a row say no. Is this finally the year they put it all together?
-Philadelphia Flyers: Ah, the Flyers. I saw a tweet on draft day that perfectly sums up the Flyers situation (don’t remember who said it though): “The Flyers had an incredible fortune, spent it all on lottery tickets, and hoped to win an incredible fortune.” Philly sent captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter packing for LA and Columbus and placed their future in the hands of….Ilya Bryzgalov? So GM Paul Holmgren hopes to solve the Flyers postseason goalie problems by bringing in a guy (and heavily overpaying for) who posted a 4.36 GAA while being swept in the first round? I don’t see it, but, then again, no one is knocking on my front door asking me to be a GM. They did bring in some great prospects for the two stars they traded, and maybe there were problems in the dressing room that needed to be addressed but to completely blow up a roster and pay that much money to a goaltender doesn’t make the best sense to me.
Agree? Disagree? Did I miss a team? What say you?!
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Tags: Alex Ovechkin Brayden Shenn Buffalo Sabres Christian Ehrhoff Columbus Blue Jackets Florida Panthers George Mcphee Ilya Bryzgalov Ilya Kovalchuk Jeff Carter Joel Ward Los Angeles Kings Mike Richards Paul Holmgren Philadelphia Flyers Robyn Regehr Ryan Miller Simon Gagne Terry Pegula Tomas Vokoun Troy Brouwer Ville Leino Washington Capitals Wayne Simmonds