The NHL’s Biggest Question Marks: A Team-By-Team Look

We’re just over two months away from the start of the 2015-16 NHL regular season. The offseason has slowly moved along and now that the dust has settled on the draft and free agency there is more shape to the league as we head towards next season.

However, with it being the middle of the offseason, news and topics are coming in at a snail’s pace. This likely has groups of friends looking for any type of topic to spark some conversation around the water cooler or at their local bar. Have no fear this article is here to help. Here’s a team-by-team look at the biggest question marks and conversation starters circulating around the NHL.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have established themselves as one the NHL’s elite organizations, this is no secret. But their elite status has not gotten them a Stanley Cup since 2007. In fact Anaheim has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Final since they hoisted the Cup that year. Despite top of the line talent like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler, the Ducks keep coming up short in the post season. One can’t help but to ask how long this window of opportunity is going to stay open for the Ducks?

– Can Carl Hagelin be a top six forward for the Ducks?

– Can the addition of Kevin Bieska ease the pain of the losing Francois Beauchemin?

– Where will the goaltending carousel of John Gibson and Frederik Andersen stop this season and for how long?

Coyotes UniformsArizona Coyotes

It’s simple, how much longer will the Coyotes be in Arizona? You hate for a team to fail but it seems like at every turn there is something pushing this team out of the desert, whether that be the city, the NHL or something in between, everything seems to be against the Coyotes. The team’s future on the ice next season looks just as gloomy as their future in the “Grand Canyon State.”

– Will we see Max Domi in the big league this year?

Boston Bruins

This entire summer can be labeled as one big question mark for the Bruins. Missing the 2014-15 playoffs seems to have led to the start of a major rebuild in Boston. This rebuild has reached all the way to the top of the organization, where Don Sweeney has replaced Peter Chiarelli as the team’s general manager. Since taking the job Sweeney has shipped out big pieces and has a lot of people questioning his decisions. The following are just some of the questions surrounding the Bruins.

– Will Sweeney’s unloading Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton make him a stud or a dud?

– Who will step in and fill Hamilton’s shoes?

– Can the Bruins rebound and make the playoffs next season?

– Will the Bruins three first round picks in this year’s draft pay off in the long run?

Buffalo Sabres

It’s been an offseason of notable improvement for the Sabres. Leading the improvements on the ice was bringing in a Stanley Cup winning coach in Dan Bylsma. Bylsma should solidify an identity and style of play for a team that hasn’t had much shape in the past few seasons.

After a season of tanking, Buffalo got their prize in Jack Eichel. Add drafting Eichel, to bringing in Robin Lehner and Ryan O’Reilly, and Evander Kane, who the Sabres grabbed just before last season’s trade deadline, and now the biggest question for the Sabres is how much better will they be?

– Can Lehner be an effective starter in the NHL?

Calgary Flames

The Flames seem to be the measuring stick for rebuilds in today’s NHL. They’ve flipped their luck and done it in a hurry. Thanks to a strong youth movement guided by a solid veteran corps, the Flames have gone from one of the league’s bottom dwellers to a favorite to make the playoffs. Here’s what the Flames must be asking themselves.

– Will Johnny Gaudreau fall into a sophomore slump?

– How good will Sam Bennet be in a full season with the big team?

– Can they make a run at the Cup next season?

Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes Cam Ward - Photo By Andy Martin Jr
Carolina Hurricanes Cam Ward – Photo By Andy Martin Jr

Is Cam Ward’s time as the guy in Carolina coming to an end? The acquisition of Eddie Lack this summer sure makes it seem that way. Carolina isn’t likely to make many waves next season in the standings as they’re in the midst of a rebuild but they also shouldn’t be in the cellar.

– Is Noah Hanifin, 2015’s fifth overall draft pick, going to start the season with the big club?

– Can Jeff Skinner rebound next season?

– Can Jordan Staal rebound and stay healthy?

Chicago Blackhawks

In the past the Blackhawks have won Cups and not suffered from a summer that saw many faces leave Chicago. This season is a bit different. Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, and  Johnny Oduya are all gone, and it looks like Brian Bickell will be leaving Chicago as well. Can the Blackhawks fill the holes left by the departure of players who played a major role both on the ice and in the locker room?

– Can the Blackhawks repeat and continue their run of dominance across the NHL?

– How much does Marian Hossa have left in the tank?

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche took a hit losing Ryan O’Reilly, but made up for it in signing Francois Beauchemin. Outside of the swapping of those two players the Avalanche have stayed pretty stagnant this offseason. This might not have been the best decision when you play in a division with the Blackhawks, Blues and Predators.

– Will the reunion between head coach, Patrick Roy, and newly acquired Mikhail Grigorenko push the forward’s offensive influence?

– Can the Avalanche keep pace in possibly the toughest division in the NHL?

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets probably should have made the playoffs last season. If Columbus didn’t get hit by the injury bug, and by hit I mean ran over and then backed over again, they more than likely would have made the post season. Now after adding Brandon Saad this summer it’s only forward for Columbus.

– Can they stay healthy?

– Can Brandon Saad and Ryan Johansen be an elite duo in the NHL?

– Is the defense strong enough to carry the Blue Jackets into the post season?

Tyler Seguin (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
Tyler Seguin (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

Dallas Stars

The Stars made some major improvements this offseason to a roster that already housed the likes of last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Spezza. Dallas went out and got Patrick Sharp via trade, Johnny Oduya via free agency and acquired the rights to and then signed Antti Niemi. The Stars are looking to win and win now. Questions surrounding Dallas still include the following.

– Can the Stars qualify for the playoffs for only the second time in eight seasons?

– Is Niemi the answer in net for the Stars?

– Can Seguin crack the 30-goal mark for a second straight year?

Detroit Red Wings

The biggest question mark may not be on the ice next season for the Red Wings but be behind the bench. Standing behind the bench next season for the Red Wings will be Jeff Blashill who will be taking over Mike Babcock’s head coaching position. This will be a new site for all who follow the Red Wings and will be a pig pair of shoes for Blashill to fill.

– Will Blashill’s success in Grand Rapids will the Red Wing’s younger players translate over to the NHL?

– Will the addition of Mike Green play out to be the best move of the offseason?

– Of course the question asked every season, will Detroit keep their playoff streak alive and push it to 24 seasons in a row?

Edmonton Oilers

Much like the Sabres mentioned above, the Oilers have had a productive summer after one of the NHL’s worst regular seasons in recent history. Again, much like the Sabres a season of disappointment was answered with a young stud. In the Oilers’ case, it was Connor McDavid. Now all the eyes are on McDavid. Can McDavid’s dominance transfer over to the NHL? Can McDavid breathe life into a struggling organization?

– Have the Oilers found there answer in net in Cam Talbot?

– Will the Oilers pull themselves out of the NHL’s basement?

Florida Panthers

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)
(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Outside of re-signing Jaromir Jagr the Panthers have been quiet. There’s a youth movement coming in Florida and once it comes to fruition it should be a pretty thing. Who better to have lead a youth movement than Jagr?

– How will Aaron Ekblad follow-up his Calder worthy rookie season?

– Will youngsters like Jonathan Huburdeau and Aleksander Barkov break out next season?

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings have had quite the offseason. A summer littered with legal drama, all overshadowed by missing the playoffs has left some pretty big question marks for the Kings and their fan base.

– What is going to happen to Slava Voynov? Will he be lacing ’em up for the Kings next season, or have we seen him play his last game in a Kings sweater?

– When will Anze Kopitar sign an extension and how much of a dent will it put in an already thin Kings pocketbook?

– How will the addition of Milan Lucic play out of for the Kings?

Minnesota Wild

Minnesota has their goalie. After bringing in Devan Dubnyk midseason and his carrying Minnesota to the playoffs, getting him re-signed was atop the Wild’s to do list and they did just that. The Wild think they have the right mix to win and it looks like they’re moving forward with most of the guys from last season still there.

– Will Zach Parise score more than 30 goals for the seventh time of his career?

– Is Dubnyk the real deal or was last year too good to be true?

Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens rolled the dice this offseason with bringing in two players that have something to prove. First they traded Brandon Prust to Vancouver for Zack Kassian. Second, they grabbed the free agent who could have the biggest upside in Alexander Semin. Both players have been underperforming and have high ceilings if they find their stride. But will they?

– Will Semin be a boom or bust for the Canadiens?

– Can Carey Price continue his dominance?

Nashville Predators

Mike Ribeiro (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Mike Ribeiro (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Nashville re-signed Mike Ribiero, Collin Wilson, and Craig Smith, which was the team’s number one priority this offseason. The Predators have kept the pieces together and are looking to make a run at the division title next season.

– Can Cody Hodgson find the level of play that got him selected in the top ten of the 2008 Draft?

– What’s in store for Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg?

New Jersey Devils

The Devils took a hit this season in losing Lou Lamoriello, after stepping down from his role as General Manager and then his skipping town all together. Can Ray Shero fill the shoes worn by Lamoriello since 1987, where he won three Stanley Cups?

– A lot has been invested in Adam Larsson in the form of a six-year contract extension, can he live up to the extension and be the future of the Devils?

New York Islanders

Outside of the draft the Islanders have been relatively quiet. The Islanders ended the draft with two picks in the top 28 selections, of a deep draft, after entering the day with none in the first two rounds. They did lose Lubomir Visnovsky but seem to have faith in the youth to fill his shoes.

– Can the Islanders get back into the playoffs for a second straight year?

– After a 38-goal season, is Jonathan Tavares a staple among the NHL’s elite?

(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)
(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

New York Rangers

It’s been a summer of conservation for the Rangers, already against the salary cap they couldn’t do much and haven’t. But do they need to? They made the Eastern Conference Finals last season, lost in the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago and have very much of the same roster from those two seasons. New York is set to contend again with very little change.

– How much longer will the window for success be open for the Rangers?

– How much longer will Henrik Lundqvist be an elite goalie?

– Will trading Carl Hagelin come back to bite them?

Ottawa Senators

Ottawa has kept quiet this offseason and has really only signed youngsters like Mark Stone. The Senators believe in what the have and are going into next season with what they got. Will it be enough?

– Can the Senators get into the playoff without second half of the season heroics?

– Will Erik Karlsson lead the team in points for a second straight year?

Philadelphia Flyers

It’s been quiet for the Flyers but they did not get worse this summer. That being said, the Flyers might suffer a similar fate next season in not making the playoffs, but it is another season of younger guys maturing.

– Is Jakub Voracek’s new deal just the latest in the Flyers’ history of poor contract extensions?

– Can Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth backstop the Flyers to the playoffs?

– Can Claude Giroux break the 30-goal mark next season?

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Phil Kessel saga finally came to an end this summer, with Kessel landing in Pittsburgh. Will playing on a line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz turn Kessel’s hater into lovers? Will the media storm follow Kessel to the Burgh?

Can Beau Bennet shake the injury bug?

San Jose Sharks

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s another summer of question marks for San Jose. After coming up short and not making the post season for the first time in ten years there are just as many questions as when the Sharks would come up short in the post season.

– Do the Sharks stick it out with guys like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau or is their time in teal nearing an end?

– Will newly acquired goalie, Martin Jones, be a reliable starter?

Who will wear the ‘C’ for the Sharks?

St. Louis Blues

Vladamir Tarasenko was the priority this summer and the Blues wrapped that up with a bow on it in the form of a eight-year $60 million contract. They did lose T.J. Oshie but got gritty Troy Brouwer in return. It’s been a slow offseason for the Blues but an offseason where they probably didn’t regress that much.

– Can the Blues repeat as division champs?

– How will Tarasenko follow-up his 37 goals last season?

– Can the Blues get over the playoff hump and make a deep run at the Cup?

Tampa Bay Lightning

After coming up short in the final round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs the Lightning have been quiet, and rightfully so. The core is locked up and looks prime to be good for some time. The main priority for the Lightning this summer has been to get a new contract tied to team captain, Steven Stamkos. Talks have been ongoing and seem to be moving towards getting done, although there seems to be no rush for either side.  When does this contract get done and what numbers are tied to it?

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have made the moves to improve, however those moves wont be seen on the ice. Mike Babcock has been brought in to manage the bench, and Lou Lamoriello is now in control of the front office. Add those names to the likes of Brendan Shanahan, and you ask, can three of the best minds in hockey turn this franchise around?

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks may have lost a step in the Pacific Division. They’ve lost Kevin Bieska, Eddie Lack and Nick Bonino. They still have Henrik and Daniel Sedin and some youthful talent on the upswing but do you really see the Canucks as a contender? When do we label the start of a rebuild?

– Can Ryan Miller return to his Vezina Trophy winning form?

– Will the Canucks be able to keep pace in the improved Pacific Division?

Justin Williams
Justin Williams accepting the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014 (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Washington Capitals

The Capitals were very much the Capitals this past post season. A dramatic playoff run filled with Alexander Ovechkin highlights, overtime thrillers and all around great hockey, capped off by another disappointing exit for the Capitals.

– Will bringing in three-time Stanley Cup champ, Justin Williams, provide the needed veteran leadership to get over that playoff hump?

– Can Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie be an elite top line in the NHL?

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are confident in what they have. A core group led by Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers has the Jets trending in the right direction. Some late season acquisitions pushed the Jets into the playoffs last season and look to continue to pay off. Along with all that, the Jets pipeline is starting to spread its wings.

– Can the Jets make it back-to-back seasons with a playoff berth?

– How much will the loss of Michael Frolik hurt?