Continuing the weekly series on the NHL Franchise lifecycle, we turn East to the highly fungible franchises of the Atlantic Division.
Prior postings in this series:
Eastern Conference - Atlantic Division
New Jersey Devils 2012-2013
Core Players: Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac
Transitional Players: Anton Volchenkov, Adam Larsson
Geriatric Stars: Patrik Elias, Martin Brodeur, Marek Zidlicky
Cap Space: $15.4M
Lifecycle Phase: Past Prime
Analysis: The signing of Ilya Kovalchuk at the 2010 trade deadline signaled New Jersey's re-entry to Contending status. With Zach Parise they had a core of young and talented players and a supporting cast of veterans and youngsters who were capable of going deep into the playoffs. They demonstrated their potential this past season by taking the Los Angeles Kings to Game 6 in the Stanley Cup finals. Unfortunately, due to a cash crunch (and not being in Minnesota), the franchise was unable to retain Parise. They retain plenty of talent, including Calder Finalist Adam Henrique, but their core is depleted and they will be relying heavily on aging veterans like Patrik Elias and Martin Brodeur to keep them in the playoff hunt. Expect to see at least a partial sell-off of assets over the next couple of years as the Devils attempt to stay relevant in the East. To Management's credit, they do have cap space and may be positioned to return to Contending if they can attract (and pay) some big name free agents this summer and next. They might also be able to execute some trades for packages of prospects and salary (overpriced veterans) in an attempt to rejuvenate their talent pool.
New York Islanders 2012-2013
Core Players: John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner
Transitional Players: Kyle Okposo, Nino Neiderreiter
Geriatric Stars: Lubomir Visnovsky, Mark Streit, Evgeni Nabakov
Cap Space: $22.4M
Lifecycle Phase: Rebuilding
Analysis: Long term management incompetence has relegated the Islanders to wallowing between Death's Door and All Blowed Up for many years. Last season they signed John Tavares to his first RFA contract. Their core is young and rising, although thin on defense. In the past weeks they traded for veteran Lubomir Visnovsky and signed Brad Boyes in Free Agency. It appears that Garth Snow finally has the Islanders on the way up. They still are saddled with the DiPietro contract, and while the term remains stupid, the cap impact continues to decline as the cap itself rises. If the new CBA includes an amnesty clause, they may be able to get out from under it entirely. They will continue to have difficulty attracting top free agents while they call the Nassau Coliseum home, but a move to the new facility in Brooklyn could cure that, and the timing would be about right to start adding talent to a contender. The Islanders remain several players away from Contending, particularly on defense and in goal, but they are making steady progress.
New York Rangers 2012-2013
Core Players: Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash
Transitional Players: Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto, Carl Hagelin
Geriatric Stars: Brad Richards (not really old, but a stupid contract)
Cap Space: $13.4M
Lifecycle Phase: Climax
Analysis: Oh to be a Rangers fan. This team is deep, young, and talented. And, now they have Nash. They won the Eastern Conference in the regular season, and went deep in the playoffs only to be upset by an over-achieving New Jersey Devils team in the Conference Finals. If they remain healthy next year, they should again win the East and threaten for the Stanley Cup. They stand to be good for years to come. The Nash trade was the kind of move teams make to get from Contending to Climax - an exchange of non-core players and picks for a major upgrade. They also only added $1.7M in cap to do it.
Philadelphia Flyers 2012-2013
Core Players: Claude Giroux, Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Chris Pronger
Transitional Players: Luke Shenn, Brayden Shenn, Sean Couturier
Geriatric Stars: Chris Pronger, Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen
Cap Space: $7.8M
Lifecycle Phase: Past Prime
Analysis: This team has managed to get to Past Prime without really ever reaching Climax. Outside of Giroux (total stud to build a team around) and Briere, the forward corps are thin. The defense is either old, overpaid, or both. Pronger is a long-term uncertainty. The overlap between the Core and Geriatric lists suggests it's time for Philadelphia to blow it up while Giroux, Couturier, and the Shenn brothers are young, and rebuild around them. Some of their veterans (particularly on defense) could bring early picks or top prospects from teams trying to make the jump from Contending to Climax, or from a Past Prime team trying to stay in the fight. Their failure to land Weber from Nashville, and now the injury to Meszaros leaves their defense as a serious liability. Will they offer sheet Subban or Carlson? Do they have the cap space for any serious upgrades (yeah, they tried for Weber, but I didn't see how they were going to pay for that)? Too many questions.
Pittsburgh Penguins 2012-2013
Core Players: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury
Transitional Players: Brandon Sutter, Matt Niskanen
Geriatric Stars: Tomas Vokoun
Cap Space: $9.9M
Lifecycle Phase: Climax, trending to Past Prime
Analysis: This is a highly unbalanced team, but it's hard not to call a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their primes anything but a Climax team. The loss of Jordan Staal will hurt, but the addition of Brandon Sutter takes some of the sting away. Fleury needs to find his game again. His confidence seems shaky (shot?) compared to the Penguin's most recent Cup winning season. The defense in front of him is borderline piss-poor. Letang is a good puck mover, but the team lacks a true Number 1 defender. A $5M cap hit for 3 more years of Paul Martin? Ouch.