By: Lauren Burg
The draft and free agent signing period is almost here and we here at Daily Shootout have decided to prepare a 3-4 point offseason plan for each team, organized by division. Today we look at the Southeast division:
1) Draft or Trade for a defenseman: The Canes are looking at possibly losing both Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek in free agency. While the loss of Allen might be easier to compensate for filling the shoes of Spacek, both offensively and defensively, it could prove to be more difficult.
2) Trade for a top-notch forward to play alongside Eric Staal: OK. We know Staal has a boatload of talent and can produce when needed. Unfortunately, he spent the past season trying to do too much offensively, thus the defensive part of his game suffered to the tune of a minus-20. Staal needs a forward that can help take the offensive pressure off of him. The Canes do have 2011 Rookie of the Year, Jeff Skinner, but he missed time during the 2011-2012 season with concussion issues. Past that, there's Jussi Jokinen but he's getting up there in age and has been battling injuries also. Staal needs someone to play with for much of the season, therefore creating some chemistry with them.
3) Give Kirk Muller a full training camp with the team: The Canes fired Paul Maurice around midseason of the 2011-2012 campaign. Shortly thereafter Muller was named the Canes' head coach. Muller didn't have much time to turn things around as the Canes were floundering at the bottom of the Eastern Conference but he did what he could, at least making the team competitive again. He would benefit from an entire training camp with his players though, just to get to know them a bit better.
1) Re-sign Kris Versteeg: Versteeg, though a restricted free agent, was key to the Panthers making it to the postseason for the first time in many years. He also, along with linemate Stephen Weiss, came close to helping the Panthers knock off the eventual Eastern Conference champs, the New Jersey Devils, in the first round. His regular season numbers (23 goals, 54 points, plus-4 rating in 71 games played) are very good. He also has gotten comfortable playing alongside Weiss. Versteeg also had some decent postseason numbers (3 goals, 5 points, plus-2 rating) in the Panthers' seven first round games.
2) Re-sign Jason Garrison: For a defenseman Garrison is pretty darn good. He led the Panthers in plus/minus rating, with a plus-6, during the 2011-2012 regular season. The Panthers have been looking for a shutdown defenseman, such as Garrison, for years. Honestly, I wouldn't let him hit the market if I were the Panthers because, unlike Versteeg, he's an unrestricted free agent. If he gets to the open market he could be snatched up quickly.
3) Trade/ Let go of Scott Clemmensen and bring up Jacob Markstrom: I know what some Panthers fans are thinking here. "Why bring up a guy that has struggled in his few previous starts with us?" While it's true that Clemmensen's record is better, his goals-against average (GAA) is similar and save percentage is actually less than Markstrom's. Let's compare. Last season, in 25 starts, Clemmensen posted a record of 14-6-6 with a GAA of 2.57 and a .913 save percentage. Markstrom, in only six starts, had a record of 2-4-1 with a 2.66 GAA and a .923 save percentage. Also, Clemmensen seemed to struggle when asked to play on back-to-back nights. If they were to trade Clemmensen, the Panthers could be reaping those benefits for years to come. Heck, it could free up enough cap space for them to re-sign one, or both, of Garrison and Versteeg.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
1) Find a starting goaltender! : This should go without saying as the Lightning's goaltending woes are well-documented. The Lightning, after their extended postseason run in 2011, took a gamble and signed Dwayne Roloson to a one year contract. That gamble, though easy to see coming at that time, didn't work out the way the Lightning hoped. The 42 year old Roloson struggled mightily and was even overtaken by Mathieu Garon for the starting job. He did do a bit better as the season wound to a close, something that could possibly help him get a job somewhere in the NHL next season, but it won't be with the Lightning. With Dustin Tokarski with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals, along with rumors of him being brought up to the big leagues swirling, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman has stated that he would rather trade for, or draft, a starting goaltender. Some options are the Kings' Jonathan Bernier and the Canucks' Roberto Luongo, to name a few.
2) Trade for a top-notch defenseman: The Lightning struggled mightily on defense last season. Victor Hedman missed time with concussion issues and Mattias Ohlund missed the entire season with two different knee surgeries. Given that fact, no one knows if Ohlund will be able to play the way he used to, if at all, next season, and the Lightning must prepare for that possibility. I think the Lightning should try to make a deal to acquire Nashville's Ryan Suter if at all possible.
3) Sign Alexandre Picard, Trevor Smith and Mike Angelidis: When your AHL team wins the Calder Cup, as Lightning affiliate Norfolk did this season, you want to sign every player. Obviously, that's not possible so I chose a few that I think could help the Lightning in the long run. Both Angelidis and Smith spent parts of this past season with the Lightning, thanks to numerous injuries, and fit in quite well. Picard won the Jack A. Butterworth trophy as MVP of the Calder Cup playoffs, helping the Admirals immensely during their postseason run. I believe all three could help the Lightning out, with Picard possibly being a second-line guy.
1) FIND A HEAD COACH! : Dale Hunter has left Washington and, yet again, the Caps are left without a coach. Also, this just in: They STILL haven't won a Stanley Cup or, for that matter, made it past the second round of the playoffs. The Caps also barely squeaked into the playoffs in 2011-2012, needing wins in their final two games just to make it. That's a far cry from recent years, when they've had almost no trouble winning the Southeast Division and, in certain seasons, the Presidents’ Trophy as well. If they want to continue making the playoffs they need to find a coach, something I suggest they do sooner rather than later so they're not scrambling at the last minute. A bad, or rushed, hire could spell doom in DC.
2) Find a replacement for Alexander Semin: Semin is an unrestricted free agent this summer and, from what he's said, he plans to explore the open market. From that statement it can be figured that Semin likely won't be back in DC. In that case, the Caps need to replace him with another player that can play alongside Alex Ovechkin. Maybe Zach Parise, if not re-signed by New Jersey? Hey, anything's possible!
3) Upgrade the power play: With Dennis Wideman, the Caps' power play specialist, as an unrestricted free agent they need a new specialist. I'd say a player already with the team could fill that role but, as it is, the Caps could lose Mike Knuble, Semin and Jeff Halpern to free agency. That's half of their offense as it is. The Caps, from the look of things, will need to either draft or, better yet, trade for a power play specialist to fill Wideman's role.
1) Find a backup goaltender: The Jets have Ondrej Pavelec but, honestly, they can't completely rely on him. Current backup, Chris Mason, is an unrestricted free agent and could end up elsewhere. If he does end up with another team, a slim possibility given the fact the Jets have more cap space than any other NHL team, the Jets will be forced to look for a capable backup. I could see Roloson as a backup or they could choose to bring up Peter Manning from their AHL affiliate, the St. John’s IceCaps.
2) Re-sign Tim Stapleton: The Jets have plenty of cap space and Stapleton shouldn't cost much as it is. In 67 games he recorded 11 goals and 27 points. That was middle of the pack on a team that struggled a bit offensively.
3) Upgrade the defense: The Jets could end up losing as many as three defenseman, with Mark Flood, Randy Jones and Derek Meech set to become unrestricted free agents. They all struggled, though Jones might be worth re-signing as he was a plus-4 in the 39 games he played in. The knock on him would be that he's injury-prone, something that really can't be argued given the fact he played in less than half of the Jets' games this past season. The Jets could look at Brett Clark, a shot-blocking machine and one of Jones' former teammates, to help improve the defense and save Dustin Byfuglien from getting injured as much.
**A list of free agents, by team, can be found at http://www.capgeek.com/
**Winnipeg Jets statistics can be found here: http://jets.nhl.com/club/stats.htm
**Florida Panthers statistics can be found here: http://panthers.nhl.com/club/stats.htm?gameType=2&season=20112012
*You can follow me, Lauren, on Twitter @TBLightning491.*