The Stanley Cup dreams of the Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers and San Jose Sharks came to an end with their elimination by the Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings respectively in three memorable Game Sevens.
For the Avalanche, their defensive play proved their downfall. It’s easy to lay blame on goalie Semyon Varlamov, as one Denver pundit did. Without him, however, the Avalanche would have struggled to reach the playoffs. Combine his league-leading shots-against in the regular season, (2,013) with his playoff shots-against (231, second-highest in the first round), and it’s obvious no other NHL goalie was as overworked as Varlamov.
While among the top teams this season in offense this season, the Avs gave up the sixth-most shots-against per game (32.7) and fifth-most (33.3) in the opening round of the playoffs. For those who follow advanced stats, Extraskater.com reveals the Avs’ Corsi-for (43.8) and Fenwick-for (43.0) percentages were the worst of the opening round. The Avalanche learned the hard way that teams with poor defensive and puck-possession stats rarely advance in the playoffs.
ESPN.com’s Craig Custance suggests they seek an impact defenseman this summer. As the free agent market is thin in that regard, Custance speculates they could go the trade route, recommending they revisit their interest in Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov.
The Avalanche must also re-sign restricted free agent winger Ryan O’Reilly and decide if they’ll retain pending UFA Paul Stastny. Both will be costly. Just to qualify O’Reilly’s rights in June will cost $6.5 million unless he’s re-signed to a more affordable deal before then. Stastny is coming off a contract paying him $6.6 million per season. While’s he’s expressed a willingness to accept a hometown discount, Stastny won’t be cheap. The Avalanche currently have a projected $25 million in cap space for 2014-15, so there’s sufficient space to address these needs, provided ownership is willing to make the investment.
Defense was also an issue for the Flyers, as Philly.com’s Rich Hofmann took note of their struggles against the Rangers’ speed and strong forecheck. Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer concurred, calling upon management to bring in some defensive help for goaltender Steve Mason. He recommends adding “a No. 1 defenseman, a sniper winger and more speed.”
Cap space could prove a hindrance. The Flyers currently have over $64 million tied up in 17 players for next season, leaving only $6.5 million of projected cap space. While they’ll get around $4.9 million in cap relief in October when Chris Pronger is placed on long-term injured reserve, that still won’t leave much room to address their needs.
ESPN.com’s Craig Custance recommends trying to squeeze another season out of aging blueliner Kimmo Timonen and consider shopping restricted free agent center Brayden Schenn. The 39-year-old Timonen might not have another season left in him. Schenn, meanwhile, is among the Flyers’ few affordable trade chips, though rival clubs could have more interest in Sean Couturier. GM Paul Holmgren has made surprising deals in the past. Perhaps this summer he can pull another rabbit out of his hat.
As for the Sharks, becoming the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead and fall in seven games merely cements their reputation as postseason choke artists. CSNBayArea.com’s Kevin Kurz suggests it may be time for significant change if they’re to compete with teams like the Kings.
Don’t expect long-time Sharks Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to be among them. While moving the pair would seem the obvious place to start, the Sharks recently re-signed them to three-year deals (with no-trade clauses) worth $6.75 million and $6.6 million per season.
Goaltender Antti Niemi struggled against the Kings, which will spark calls for a replacement. Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller and St. Louis’ Ryan Miller could be available via free agency, but they’re not significant improvements over Niemi.
Given how much money is tied up in their core, don’t be surprised if coach Todd McLellan becomes the fall guy.