As the song says, ‘Tis the season to be jolly, and while some teams head into the Christmas break with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, others are desperately hoping Santa will bring that one gift they really want and in most cases, need, to be considered Stanley Cup contenders.
Here, in alphabetical order, is what should be at the top of each team’s wish list.
Anaheim Ducks – Goals. A lot of goals that would lead to a lot of wins. This team was picked by many a pundit, including this one, to win the Stanley Cup this year but, instead, they reside in last place in the Western Conference. The team has scored the fewest goals in the NHL (62) but the good news is more than half the schedule remains. There is still some time for life to be wonderful in Southern California.
Arizona Coyotes – A long-term arena lease in either Glendale or Scottsdale. With the team showing vast improvement over last season, long-suffering Coyotes fans deserve to see their team remain in Arizona.
Boston Bruins – An experienced defenseman. It may not be necessary to acquire an offensive blueliner but it would be nice if Santa could deliver a veteran, who can move the puck and keep the front of crease clear of opposing forwards, would be a welcomed addition.
Buffalo Sabres – The continued good health of Ryan O’Reilly. The forward leads the team with 29 points, which has O’Reilly 27th in league scoring. The seven-year NHL veteran is a player which the Sabres can build their franchise around while a rookie named Jack Eichel (perhaps you’ve heard of him) becomes accustomed to the rigors of the NHL.
Calgary Flames – The reincarnation of Lanny McDonald. Don’t worry. Mr. McDonald is still with us but the Flames, like the Ducks, were expected to be one of the NHL’s elite teams. At present, they are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. McDonald, who captained the Flames to the 1989 Stanley Cup, would be the leader, and goal scorer, this team needs. Surely, Kris Kringle can leave a player with many of McDonald’s attributes.
Carolina Hurricanes – Trades. Santa needs to help management end the speculation surrounding Eric Staal and Cam Ward and just go ahead and make the deals that will bring in high end, young, talent, and/or draft picks, that will make this club relevant again.
Chicago Blackhawks – Good old Saint Nick needs to deliver the cure for a hangover to the Windy City. Granted, the Hawks have played a lot of hockey over the past six seasons. Winning three Stanley Cups within that time frame will do that to you but only two players (Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin) have registered more than 21 points on the season up to this point. More is expected from the defending champs.
Colorado Avalanche – Santa’s bag needs to contain consistent goaltending . The roster has a decent blend of youth and experience, although it could use one more veteran with playoff experience. The biggest improvements need to be made in the crease. Semyon Varlamov is a very good goaltender, but his .914 save percentage needs to be better.
Columbus Blue Jackets – This club lost its first eight games of the season and hasn’t recovered, yet. CBJ resides in last place overall in the NHL. A feud between coach John Tortorella and star player Ryan Johansen has become the big story in Ohio and Santa may need to intervene by bringing in new game pieces to replace Johansen, who is rumored to be on the trading block.
Dallas Stars – The exact opposite of Columbus, the Stars are first overall in the league and, like Santa’s sleigh, are firing on all cylinders. The big question in Big D is, can the goaltending stand up to the test of a possible deep playoff run. Antti Niemi (.915 save percentage) and Kari Lehtonen (.910 save percentage) will need to ask Santa for better numbers if either, or both, plan to backstop their squad to a Stanley Cup.
Detroit Red Wings – Santa, the Wings need a healthy Jimmy Howard. The goaltender has battled a groin tear since last January and has yet to return to his All-Star form from last season. Detroit is in fourth place in the Atlantic Division but trails first-place Montreal by just two points. If Howard returns to his former self, he could lead the Wings on a deep playoff run.
Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers are eight points out of a playoff spot, however, they are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and are showing signs of vast improvement over last season, which was the Oilers ninth consecutive season missing the playoffs. Edmonton’s Christmas gift will be delayed by a few weeks, but If Santa can deliver a healthy Connor McDavid, this team’s future will be as bright as Rudolph’s red nose.
Florida Panthers – Fans, as in people in the seats at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FLA. Hey, South Florida! Your NHL team is a pretty good one and is on the cusp of qualifying for the postseason on an annual basis. Get out there and support your team! You’re aware you have one of the greatest players of all time in Jaromir Jagr, aren’t you? He’s fourth in all-time goals scored with 732 career NHL goals. You have a sure Hall of Famer in your town. If, for no other reason, you should be in the building to watch him add to his total numbers.
Los Angeles Kings – Christmas came early to LA when the Kings acquired Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins at the NHL Entry Draft last June. The Kings are atop the Pacific Division standings and look like a strong Stanley Cup contender. They are discussing a new contract with Anze Kopitar and if Kris Kringle can deliver that, both sides will be happy and a happy Kopitar could be the star on top of the Kings Christmas tree.
Minnesota Wild – The fourth place team in the Central Division trails third-place Chicago by two points and second-place St. Louis by four points. The Wild are in the first Wild Card spot. To move up in the standings, Santa needs to deliver more wins away from The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Minnesota is 13-4-1 at home but 5-5-5 on the road.
Montreal Canadiens – What does Santa need to bring to the Bell Centre? Let’s all say it together…Carey Price. Since the Vezina/MVP/All-Everything goaltender went down with his lower-body (knee) injury, the Habs have not been the same team that began the season with nine consecutive wins. They hold a tenuous one-point lead over Boston in the Atlantic Division and with the two teams so tightly packed together, this year’s Winter Classic has more on the line than any other in the history of the NHL’s showcase event.
Nashville Predators – A point producing forward. This team has very good players up front, but its top two scorers are currently defensemen in Roman Josi (26 points) and Shea Weber (25 points). James Neal is the only forward to hit double digits in goals (13). If there is any team that needs a goal scoring forward to hop out of Santa’s bag, it’s the Preds.
New Jersey Devils – Santa could you bring more home wins for the Devils? They do fine on the road. They’re 10-5-2 away from the Rock but are only 7-8-3 at home. Oh, and while you’re at it, could you also bring the same type of defenseman that Boston needs? Thanks.
New York Islanders – NYI sits in third place just one point behind arch-rival New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, but…the Islanders are only two points ahead of Detroit in the Wild Card race. Good ol’ Saint Nick needs to bring a winning streak to Brooklyn and a goaltender would help, also. Jaroslav Halak is a fine NHL netminder, but to win the Stanley Cup, a team needs a puck stopper that can steal a game or two. It remains to be seen if Halak is that guy?
New York Rangers – NYR, like Montreal, started the season on a roll, but lately, goals have been hard to come by and Henrik Lundqvist has had to be the team’s best player night in and night out. Mats Zuccarello leads the club with 30 points but for the Rangers to be legitimate Cup contenders others like Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, and Derek Stepan need to regain last year’s form. So, Santa if you have any goals left over from your visit to Anaheim, please leave them under the tree at Rockefeller Center. Not to mention, a dose of confidence for Kreider. He’s a heck of a player, he just needs to be a confident one.
Ottawa Senators – Santa, if you could leave the same ending to this season that you gave the Sens last season, that would be great.
Philadelphia Flyers – Santa, it looks like you made an early stop in the City of Brotherly Love. How nice of you to deliver Shayne Gostisbehere. That kid can play. It isn’t a reach to say, he may have a Norris Trophy and then some, in his future.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Ok, Santa, stopping by and leaving Mike Sullivan as the club’s new head coach was great and all, but could you return with Sidney Crosby’s old sticks. Those sticks had a lot of goals and assists in them. This year’s models seem to be lacking that.
San Jose Sharks – The Sharks are one of nine NHL teams (Boston, Florida, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Columbus, Vancouver, Colorado,) that have better road records than home records but the Sharks are in second place in the Pacific Division. They’ve given up one more goal (94) than they’ve scored (93), so it looks like Santa will need to deliver that prototypical stay at home defenseman to compliment Brent Burns.
St. Louis Blues – Ok, Santa, the Blues have big forwards and defensemen, who play a heavy game. They have speed. They have goalscoring. They have playmakers. All they really need is Jake Allen to remain healthy and this team will be a serious Stanley Cup contender, therefore, Santa, since the Blues exited last year’s playoffs in the first round, can you deliver a drive to the Stanley Cup Final?
Tampa Bay Lightning – Well, Santa, here’s your chance to make a real impact on the league. Steven Stamkos is in the final year of his contract. Management doesn’t appear to be in a rush to negotiate an extension and Stamkos seems enamored with the rumors of his moving on to Toronto. It looks like it’s up to you, Santa, to help the Lightning pull off the first blockbuster deal of the season and whisk the forward north of the border or place a new contract under his tree.
Toronto Maple Leafs – If there ever was a work in progress, it is the Leafs. A new general manager, new coach, a new player or two, or more, has coach Mike Babcock’s squad playing with a passion that had been missing from Toronto for a long time. While this team has some spots to fill, the crease is number one on the priority list. It’s time for Santa to drop off a goaltender who can handle not only the playing time but the pressure of being the Maple Leafs puck stopper. Of course, adding more offense (see Tampa Bay Lightning) might remedy that.
Vancouver Canucks – An up and down season has some wondering what type of team the Canucks really are? They sit in third place in the Pacific Division only one point in arrears of San Jose, at the same time, Vancouver is tied in overall points with Colorado, who are five points out of a wild card playoff spot. Santa has some serious work to do in the Pacific Northwest and it begins with dropping off a point producing center. After Henrik Sedin’s 32 points, the next three centers, Jared McCann (11 points), Bo Horvat (10 points), and Brandon Sutter (8 points) have combined for a total of 29 points.
Washington Capitals – The number two team in the league with 52 points has burst out of the gate to set the standard in the Eastern Conference by losing just six games in regulation time. This team has balanced scoring led by Niklas Backstrom’s 31 points. It has big, mobile, defenseman, who move the puck well and join the rush and a goaltender, Braden Holtby, who is arguably, the leading candidate for this season’s Vezina Trophy. And, of course, there is Alex Ovechkin, who is on a mission to win a Stanley Cup. The Caps are built to win this year and Santa, you can cooperate by bringing an extended playoff schedule to America’s capital city.
Winnipeg Jets – After this season, the Jets will see captain Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien become unrestricted free agents. The team is $11.6M under the salary cap and both players earn a combined $9.6M. It’s easy to see one will, most likely, need to find employment elsewhere because each will be looking for salary increases. Santa, since defense wins, it looks like you should bring a forward to replace Ladd. Besides, Byfuglien can play either defense or forward so he should probably stay in Winnipeg.
Ok, Santa, all set. Have safe travels and don’t worry, Mrs. Claus will have the hot chocolate waiting for you when you return to the North Pole.
Merry Christmas, Hockey Fans!
Follow Shawn Hutcheon on Twitter. His handle is @ShawnHutcheon.