In part one of our series, we took a look at who was naughty and who was nice in the 2013 NHL free agency frenzy that began on July 5.
Now, it’s time for Kris Kringle to make his rounds to the Western Conference and hand out gifts to those who, in my opinion, deserve it and lumps of coal for those who don’t. And yes, Kris is a close, personal friend of mine who often consults me on these decisions every December. So if you wake up December 25 and did not quite get what you might have been asking for, I am probably partially responsible for that.
With news in Islanders country primarily around the re-signing of key restricted free agents such as Travis Hamonic and Cal Clutterbuck, it’s the perfect time to branch out to other news around the National Hockey League as the malaise that summer often brings to hockey fans sets in and leaves us watching only baseball while dozing off on a Saturday afternoon.
Western Conference Nice List
Dallas Stars - After missing the playoffs last season by 7 points, Dallas went on the offensive right from the start, acquiring talented but enigmatic Tyler Seguin to bolster the creativity and scoring for the Stars. After also bringing in productive but injury prone Shawn Horcoff along with Rich Peverely, new head coach Lindy Ruff has plenty to work with. With only 3 Western Conference teams scoring more goals than the Stars 130 last season, one might think that was the problem however and it remains to be seen if they can keep more pucks out of their net to boost their win totals. At the end of the day, adding the aforementioned names while only subtracting Loui Eriksson and Eric Nystrom from the every day lineup points to a nice gift in their stocking this NHL holiday season.
Nashville Predators – After finishing just two points clear of the basement in the Western Conference, there was a ton of work to do in music city. After recording the lowest goals scored in the entire conference and allowing the 4th most, you would have to think improvements were needed everywhere but in goal, where stalwart Pekka Rinne still remains entrenched as the starter. Address the issues in a big way is exactly what they have done in the 2013 off-season. Starting with franchise defenseman Seth Jones falling into their lap with the 4th overall pick, they have found their replacement for the departed Ryan Suter. Jones and captain Shea Weber should become a dominant force for years to come. Stanley Cup experience was added in Viktor Stalberg from Chicago and also joining the offensive ranks are Matt Cullen and grinding forwards Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks. After losing only Sergei Kostitsyn and TJ Brennan, the outlook in sunny in Nashville and many outstanding tunes could be expected come September.
Chicago Blackhawks – Everyone remembers 2010 when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup then had to proceed removing critical pieces of the team for salary cap compliance right? Not so this season as general manager Stan Bowman has done a real nice job keeping the core of the team intact following their latest triumph. While the next couple of years could prove dicey for Bowman with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Corey Crawford and Brent Seabrook all due for contract extensions, its the here and now that Santa is judging them on. Yes, they lost backup goaltender Ray Emery, Viktor Stalberg, David Bolland and Michael Frolik but they will be replaced by potential standout rookies Jeremy Morin and Jimmy Hayes. They signed Nikolai Khabibulin to backup Crawford and retained Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus, Michal Rozsival and young defenseman Nick Leddy. Expect Chicago to enter the 2013 regular season as odds on favorites once again.