December 23, 2017 | 11:38pm ET
By SHAWN HUTCHEON, The Fourth Period
NHL 2017 CHRISTMAS WISH LIST
James Neal, Vegas Golden Knights
BOSTON, MA -- The tree is decorated, the lights are strung on the house, and the stockings hang from the mantel. It’s the most wonderful time of the year -- when the NHL goes on its annual break to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
We at The Fourth Period received the wish lists from every team in the League and... okay, actually, no such thing exists. We just thought it might be fun to speculate on what each franchise would ask Santa for if they still wrote letters to the big guy.
So, without further adieu, we present the 2017 Christmas Wish List for every franchise in the League. Disclaimer: This is purely for entertainment purposes.
Anaheim Ducks - Are there 20-plus boxes of bubble wrap in Santa’s sleigh? This is not to say the Ducks are fragile or soft, but it seems as if the Ducks have had more injuries than the rest of the NHL combined and as soon as one star player returns to the lineup, another goes on the injured list. Anaheim has all of the ingredients to be a Stanley Cup contender from the net out; now, if they could just avoid trips to the local emergency wards.
Arizona Coyotes - The easiest thing for the Coyotes to put on their wish list is, obviously, more wins. They have the most losses in the NHL up to this point, but with young players such as Clayton Keller, Nick Merkley, Brendan Perlini, and Jakob Chychrun, this team will be one to keep an eye on in the near future. Santa just needs to deliver a box full of patience to Arizona’s fans... and a new arena.
Boston Bruins - From the start of the season, Boston’s year was the exact mirror image of Anaheim’s, but since the beginning of December, the Bruins have seen its players, such as Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Backes, return to action. Their leadership along with the quick maturation of youngsters Charlie McAvoy (rookie of the year?), Danton Heinen, and Jake DeBrusk, coupled with the stellar goaltending of backup Anton Khudobin, have seen Boston climb from a playoff hopeful to third place in the Atlantic Division nipping at the heels of second-place Toronto. The Bruins need Santa to arrive at TD Garden with good health for the remainder of the season. On second thought, Santa, save some of that bubble wrap you’re taking to southern California for eastern Massachusetts.
Buffalo Sabres - The Sabres roster includes names such as Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly and Marco Scandella, but they rank 30th in the 31-team NHL. They have won 9 of 35 games. They have scored the fewest amount of goals and are fourth worse in goals allowed. The power play is 30th in the League. Conversely, the penalty kill is ranked 11th and Buffalo is eighth in faceoff win percentage, so there’s that. Perhaps the Jolly Old Elf can deliver snow to Buffalo. Lots and lots of snow so the inhabitants of the Queen City will have something to complain about other than the Sabres. If global warming does not allow for heavy amounts of snow, some trades for young players, prospects, and draft choices and an all out rebuild will suffice. In the meantime, a win at the Winter Classic would be nice.
Calgary Flames - After a down year last season, the Flames have rebounded nicely. After a hot start to this season, Calgary has come back down to earth sitting just outside the playoff picture, this club has enough time to put on a push and qualify for the postseason. Johnny Gaudreau is in the League’s top ten in assists, points, and points per game. Calgary needs Santa to develop a healthy leg for Jaromir Jagr and a young defenseman with NHL experience to add depth to a solid blueline corp.
Carolina Hurricanes - Like Calgary, Carolina’s season could be extended into the playoffs or it may end in April, but in order for the ‘Canes to see playoff action, Santa will need to place a goal scorer under the Hurricanes’ tree. Offensively, Carolina is 28th in goals scored and that will not be good enough to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Teuvo Teravainen leads the Hurricanes but he is 70th overall among NHL point producers.
Chicago Blackhawks - One of the biggest examples of the salary cap at work, Chicago has struggled this season, for a Blackhawks team, that is. The Hawks look to be on their way to another postseason appearance but quite possibly as a wild card club. Once again, Patrick Kane leads Chicago in scoring but he is not in the League’s top of 20 scorers. The Blackhawks need to admit they are getting older with six players 30 years of age or older and four more age 29. Chicago must ask Kris Kringle to deliver some young, enthusiastic, legs to compliment Alex DeBrincat, who is clearly the future of the organization and will keep the United Center rocking for a number of years.
Colorado Avalanche - When coach Jared Bednar accepted the reigns before last season, he was charged with changing the club’s fortunes. This season, Colorado is one game above .500 but only four points out of a wild card playoff spot. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is the Avalanche has Minnesota, Calgary, Anaheim, and Chicago in front of them. With just five players possessing 20 or more points, it would be nice if old St. Nick could place a big-time scorer under Colorado’s tree but the view from the North Pole shows Bednar’s squad is in need of a young, mobile defenseman to reduce the workload of Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie
Columbus Blue Jackets - When one looks at the Blue Jackets’ record (21-13-2) and the fact they are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, it is easy to see them as a lock for the postseason however, they are in the NHL’s toughest division. While they are three points out of first place, Columbus has the New York Rangers and New York Islanders breathing down their necks trailing by two and four points respectively. After a recent 7-1 loss in Boston, coach John Tortorella said his team “needs to grow up a little bit and try to get better.” Perhaps Santa might have a veteran player with a history of deep playoff runs in his bag for Tortorella and his troops to help with that.
Dallas Stars - Let’s see... goaltending, got it. Scoring, got it. Special teams in the middle of the pack, not bad. So, why are the Stars in a wild club position and not in the top three of the Central Division? Because only three defensemen (John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Dan Hamhuis) have garnered more than 10 points this season. Hey Santa, could can you drop off the all-important puck moving blueliner who can quarterback the second power play unit before you leave Texas?
Detroit Red Wings - With the season Detroit is having, it might be easier to list what the Wings don’t want for Christmas. The Wings sit fifth in the Atlantic Division, seven points out of the wild card with four clubs ahead of them. To paraphrase basketball coach Rick Pitino, “Nicklas Lidstrom is not walking through that door, Pavel Datsyuk is not walking through that door, and Steve Yzerman is not walking through that door...” It looks like the elves should pack plenty of brooms, mops, and detergent in Father Christmas’ bag because it is time to clean house in the Motor City.
Edmonton Oilers - What has happened to the team almost everyone picked to make a trip to this year’s Stanley Cup Final? Simply put, they didn’t keep up. With the exception of last season’s MVP, Connor McDavid (6th in the League in scoring) and Leon Draisaitl, management didn’t keep up with the trend of making the club faster which every organization is doing these days. The old adage, speed kills, applies to today’s NHL and Kris Kringle needs to deliver that in abundance for the Oilers to right the ship and make some noise in this season’s playoffs much like they did last Spring.
Florida Panthers - Not too long ago, this franchise looked to have a bright future but after making some bad trades, firing a very good coach (Gerard Gallant), the Panthers are in a rebuild. Florida is bucking the trend by possessing a solid defense corps led by Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Mike Matheson. With $12,737,092 in cap space (according to our friends at CapFriendly.com), the Panthers need a shiny, new pair of scissors to loosen up the cap strings and spend some money on a proven point producer.
Los Angeles Kings - What a difference a new coach... I mean... a new year makes. Last season, LA was a floundering franchise with no light at the end of the tunnel, which is ironic for a team in the land of sun, sand, and surf. A change in the coaching and general manager departments has rejuvenated the Kings who look like a bona-fide Stanley Cup contender with forwards who have regained their scoring touches (hello, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar), one of the best defense units in the League, and a goaltender who will receive plenty of Vezina trophy votes. To put them over the top, the power play cannot be ranked near the bottom (27th) of NHL. Santa, you wouldn’t happen to have some PPGs (power play goals) in that big bag of yours, would you?
Minnesota Wild - This season has potential to be one where the Wild qualify for the playoffs, but it also has potential to be one where they do not. Minnesota sits two points ahead of arch-rival Chicago for the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. Having just three players (Eric Staal, Jason Tucker, Nino Niederreiter) with 10 or more goals will not get it done. Hopefully, the elves have constructed a goal scorer who will be headed to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Montreal Canadiens - As Carey Price goes, so go Les Canadiens. Montreal is a good team when Price is healthy. Without him, they are average at best. They are chasing four eastern teams (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Carolina, and New York Islanders) for a chance of getting the last wild card spot. Perennial all-star defenseman Shea Weber is out of action indefinitely with an injured foot which only hinders the Habs odds of seeing postseason action. Brendan Gallagher (14) and Paul Byron (10) are the only players with 10 or more goals on the season. One thing that would remedy that problem, not committing the second-most giveaways (484) in the League. Montreal needs Pere Noel to deliver tape with the sticky surface on both sides.
Nashville Predators - The defending Western Conference champions look to be as good as last year, if not better. The Preds are in the top three in the west and appear to be firing on all cylinders. They may move up to the top spot if they reduce their shots against per game. Nashville has given up the fifth most shots on goal this season. No doubt Santa will leave the piece of equipment known as “shot blockers”, clear plastic covers that attach to the boot of the skate, that protects players from foot injuries when blocking shots.
New Jersey Devils - One of the surprise teams in the League this season. New Jersey sits in second place in the Metropolitan Division and they do not appear to be slowing down any time soon. The Devils have speed throughout their lineup which gives opposing teams nightmares and when the puck is in New Jersey’s zone, the goaltending of Corey Schneider has made the difference on many a night. Team defense has been another big factor to NJ’s success and could take this club deep into the playoffs. The Devils received an early Christmas gift with the return of Brian Boyle from his fight with cancer and there is no better gift than that?
New York Islanders - With the scoring exploits of John Tavares (2nd in the NHL) and Josh Bailey (4th in the League), one would think NYI would be higher than in the final wild card position in the east. The Islanders rank second in goals for (123) among their NHL brethren but are dead last in goals against (124). The power play is seventh-best but the penalty kill, like the club’s goals against, is 31st in the League. Obviously, Santa needs to deliver good health to the defense corps which is known as a strong group when all of its parts are in the lineup. By the way, Santa, bring enough shot blockers for the Islanders because the Devils will not be willing to share theirs.
New York Rangers - Another Metropolitan heavyweight. The Rangers are in the first wild card spot and are two points behind third-place Columbus. New York ranks among the League’s upper echelon in goals for (5th), penalty kill (6th), and 11th in goals scored. However, leading scorer Mats Zuccarello is 47th in league scoring. When one strips away those numbers, it becomes clear that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still an elite player and the reason for most of NYR’s success. He has backstopped 17 of his club’s 19 wins. Backup Ondrej Pavelec has won twice in eight appearances making it clear that Santa Claus needs to bring two things to Madison Square Garden. First, a puckstopper who can be relied upon to win games when Lundqvist needs a rest. Second, a victory in the 2018 Winter Classic.
Ottawa Senators - Last season, the Senators advanced to the Eastern Conference Final before bowing out to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. This season, Ottawa is hoping to overcome six teams in the standings in order to make the playoffs. Things are not looking good for the Senators, who are three games under .500. Captain Erik Karlsson played in last season’s playoffs on two hairline fractures in his left heel. Some question whether the heel was ready for action when this season began because Karlsson has not been as effective as he has been in the past. Ottawa is 29th in goals scored and Mark Stone (14 goals) is the only player to have lit the lamp more than nine times. Goaltender Craig Anderson has been in the crease for nine wins in 26 starts. Finally, there are issues surrounding the possible building of a new home arena closer to downtown Ottawa and don’t worry, Santa’s bag is big enough to carry it. If the Sens can’t make the playoffs, at least they should be able to play in a new building.
Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers have failed to make the playoffs for two of the last three seasons and are on the outside looking in at this point. Philadelphia is three points out of the second wild card with only rival Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders in their way. Offensively, Philadelphia is 18th in goals scored and enjoying rejuvenated seasons from Jakub Voracek (44 points), Claude Giroux (41 points), Sean Couturier (31 points), and Shayne Gostisbehere (27 points), but defensively, Philadelphia’s penalty kill is 29th in the NHL. It looks like Father Christmas needs to stock up on more shot blockers along with pamphlets teaching the players how to pay more attention to detail.
Pittsburgh Penguins - As mentioned earlier, Pittsburgh is the defending Stanley Cup champions, but they are one point out of the second wild card position in the eastern conference. The Pens have been here before. Two years ago at Christmas-time, it looked as if Pittsburgh was not going to see playoff action, but a coaching change and some new players in the forms of call-ups and trades were just what the doctor ordered as the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup. This year, Santa does not need to deliver a new coach, but he did make an early visit when he placed defenseman Jamie Oleksiak (trade from Dallas) and goaltender Michael Leighton (trade from Arizona) under the Penguins’ tree.
San Jose Sharks - Occupying third place in the Pacific Division, the Sharks are one point ahead of Calgary and six points behind second place Vegas. Two seasons removed from the Stanley Cup Final, San Jose is not a goal-scoring juggernaut (28th in NHL) but they are preventing them with the best of them. In fact, they so good at team defense, they are ranked first in the League in goals against (83). That defense is also translating to the second-best penalty killing unit. For the Sharks to return to the SCF, they will need to do better than have leading scorer Logan Couture ranked 58th in the NHL in points. Kris Kringle needs to bring a player who can score goals in bunches ASAP (cough, Evander Kane, cough).
St. Louis Blues - For most of the season, the Blues have been at or near the top of the western conference. Although they hit a bit of a rough patch toward the Christmas break, they are strong in all departments. Goaltender Jake Allen (17-10-2) has been stellar. Jaden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz (currently on injured reserve), and Vladimir Tarasenko are in the top 20 of NHL scorers. At this point, the Blues need a few self-help books to help the special teams focus on getting the job done. St. Louis ranks 14th on the penalty kill and 23rd on the power play, so Santa hit up a bookstore before you fly over the Gateway to the West, would you?
Tampa Bay Lightning - Possessors of the best record in the NHL (25-7-2, 52 points), the Lightning failed to make the playoffs last season largely due to the injuries and unsettled goaltending issues. This year, the injuries have healed and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (22-8-5) is arguably the leading candidate for the Vezina trophy and will garner votes for the League’s most valuable player award as well. Oh, did I mention Nikita Kucherov is leading the NHL in scoring with 50 points in 34 games? Steven Stamkos stands third in League scoring. What could the jolly old elf possibly bring to Tampa Bay that would help them win their first Stanley Cup since 2004? Well, how about better penalty killing production. At the break, the Lightning are 22nd in the League on the PK. Don’t worry, coach John Cooper, Santa just placed the order to increase production of those shot-blockers.
Toronto Maple Leafs - The second-place club in the Atlantic Division is trending in the right direction. Toronto has a good blend of veterans, youth, speed, and scoring (fourth most goals in the NHL), but they are 3rd worst in shots allowed per game (34.06). Have no fear Leafs nation, shot-blockers will be under the tree in the Air Canada Centre along with video tapes on body checking. The more puck-carriers you hit, the fewer shot attempts you give up.
Vancouver Canucks - The good news for the Canucks is they are rebounding from a slow start and beginning to string some wins together. The bad news is they are seventh in the race for a wild card spot in the west. Brock Boeser is the future of the franchise and a legitimate rookie of the year candidate. Bo Horvat is another young player with a bright career ahead of him but what this club needs is an influx of more young players to support veterans Michael Del Zotto, Thomas Vanek, and Loui Eriksson. The Canucks do not have a fourth round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Santa do you have one in that big red bag?
Vegas Golden Knights - The team that may be... strike that... is the biggest expansion surprise in the history of hockey jumped out of the gate quicker than any other first-year team and never looked back. Occupying second-place in the Pacific Division, the Golden Knights are one of the fastest clubs in the NHL. Vegas has 14 players who have scored 10-plus points including six with more than 20 points. Five different goaltenders have combined for a goals-against-average of 2.97. What does Santa Claus need to bring to the Entertainment Capital of the World? Continued healing and love for the entire community. We will never forget the horrific event that occurred on October 1, 2017 and the Golden Knights have played a large role in bringing a sense of strength back to the city. Well done, VGK, well done, indeed.
Washington Capitals - Sitting in first place in the Metropolitan Division, Washington is trying to rebound from last year’s Stanley Cup failure and has the third best record in the League. The Caps are seventh in goals scored and 17th in goals allowed. As you can see, for the most part, Washington relies mostly on offense for its success. Alex Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals and is 16th in points while Evgeny Kuznetsov is 14th in the League in points. With all that offense, you would think Santa could fly over America’s capital city without stopping at Capital One Arena but no, with the power play ranked 16th and the penalty kill 21st, the special teams need some of his magic. Santa’s elves are working on manufacturing power play goals and defenders with heads on swivels.
Winnipeg Jets - In a virtual first-place tie with Nashville and St. Louis (each team has 46 points) in the Central Division, the Jets have been another surprise team this season. Blake Wheeler leads Winnipeg in scoring and is eighth in the League’s point race with 41 points. Mark Scheifele occupies 16th place in League scoring. Offensively, the Jets, as a team, are 3rd in goals scored. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has sprinted into Vezina consideration backstopping 18 (3rd best in the NHL) of Winnipeg’s 20 wins. The power play checks in at number four in the League and the penalty kill sits 20th and as Shakespeare wrote, “there’s the rub.” To pull away from the pack, the Jets need to improve the PK. Hey Santa, about those shot blockers...
Merry Christmas hockey fans!