On Wednesday, the THN.com Top 10 list looked at the NHL’s most improved teams this off-season. Today, let’s complete the circle and focus on the opposite end of the spectrum - the teams that improved the least. (And since this isn’t the Top 10, let’s only focus on the five least-improved squads.) In reverse order:
5. Winnipeg Jets
Short of trading for Ilya Bryzgalov, there’s virtually nothing the Jets could do to short-circuit their honeymoon period with Winnipeggers. That’s a good thing, because they’ve done virtually nothing to improve the team this summer. Together or individually, Tanner Glass, Randy Jones, Kenndal McArdle, Rick Rypien and Eric Fehr are not going to push the organization into the playoffs.
Certainly, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff & Co. are counting on internal improvement from the franchise’s youngsters. Unfortunately, they haven’t brought in anyone to provide more guidance to a group that lost its way after a strong start to the 2010-11 campaign. Winnipeg will be overjoyed to have NHL hockey back after 15 years, but they’ll likely have to wait at least another year before a return to the NHL post-season.
4. Calgary Flames
For a couple years now, I’ve said the Flames should be tearing down their aging core and conducting an aggressive roster rebuild. Instead, team management has held on to their veteran stars like former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy clung to Alonzo Mourning. As such, Calgary fans had to watch as the Flames frantically flung their collective arms and legs around just to tread water - and even then they still missed the mark.
What did they do this off-season? Trade one of their better blueliners (Robyn Regehr) so they had the salary cap space to re-sign Alex Tanguay and Anton Babchuk? And this is supposed to propel them into the playoffs how, exactly? You can tell me all you like about Calgary’s second-half surge that got them close to a playoff berth, but I’ll counter that they still missed the playoffs and are only an injury to Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff away from total disaster.
3. Ottawa Senators
Speaking of total disasters, have you seen what currently projects to be Ottawa’s second forward line? Its 2011 first round draft pick Mika Zibanejad centering Nick Foligno and Bobby Butler. I’m surprised schlock movie director Michael Bay isn’t lobbying to film that trio.
Then there’s the Senators’ defense, which is comprised of two slightly mobile turnstiles (Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba), a 21-year-old up-and-comer in Erik Karlsson, and a depreciating asset named Chris Phillips.
Given that information, it is nothing short of baffling to think of what GM Bryan Murray did this summer. He signed Zenon Konopka to toughen up Ottawa’s fourth line when the team already had a tough guy in Chris Neil. And he signed Alex Auld to back up Craig Anderson in net. This is akin to someone who is burdened with a Jimmy Durante schnozz opting for laser eye surgery and a pedicure. See you at the draft lottery, Sens fans.
2. New Jersey Devils
Not only did the Devils not bring in a single new face (outside of 2011 first-round draft pick Adam Larsson), they also still haven’t hired a coach to replace MVP (most valuable person) Jacques Lemaire. Meanwhile, Martin Brodeur’s tank is a little bit emptier; Brian Rolston is as overpaid as he was last year when the Devils waived him three times; and their blueline isn’t scaring anybody.
I know Lou Lamoriello has always danced to the beat of his own drum, but this is a little too much interpretative dancing-ish for my liking. Unless Lemaire can coach via Skype, this team looks just good enough to avoid the bottom of the standings and just bad enough to miss the playoffs again.
1. Phoenix Coyotes
Considering the shaky financial state of the Coyotes franchise, it seems like a bit of piling on to rip GM Don Maloney when he effectively has one hand tied behind his back. But when you lose your starting goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov, replace him with Mike Smith and add only Raffi Torres and Boyd Gordon to shore up your fourth line, you are begging to be piled upon.
Since we did the same for Ottawa, let’s analyze Phoenix’s second line of forwards: Kyle Turris centering Radim Vrbata and Lauri Korpikoski (who I maintain sounds more like a date Richie Cunningham had on Happy Days than a bona fide second-liner). Yikes. Dave Tippett may qualify for two coach of the year awards in 2011-12 if he can shepherd this group to the playoffs.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Mondays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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