While some NHL teams spend the offseason rebuilding, the majority of teams work to rebuild their rosters. The process includes filling areas of concerns throughout the lineup, whether it be up front, on the back-end, or in the net. The goal is almost exclusively to build a complete team from top to bottom, as that is the typical way to succeed in today’s NHL.
In recent history, some teams have attempted to break free of the “complete team” mold in favor of prioritizing specific sections of their teams. The Montreal Canadiens failed to build up their offense or defense last season, instead hoping Carey Price would carry them to the promised land on his own. Price was injured, and the Canadiens fell apart accordingly.
The Canadiens’ case was the rare example of a team trying to be strong in only one aspect of the game, however. The Dallas Stars represent the most similar example in today’s league, but their strength is not in the net. They have an all-world offense led by perennial Art Ross winners Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but their defense is average and their goaltending is shaky at best on most nights. One can rattle off the names of skill players up front without any difficulty, but moving to the backend becomes a challenge and moving to the net becomes impossible.
Ignoring the average defense, the Stars have the clearest case of a weakness that must be addressed in the NHL. Dallas is a Stanley Cup contender, but their kryptonite is dangerous enough to blow up the entire campaign. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi do not form a formidable duo for any team, much less a contender.
Head Coach Lindy Ruff addressed the idea of keeping the pair in the offseason.
We had two goalies who won us 25 games. We had two goalies who I think were the backbone of where we got to. You want some [of those goals] back but every time you lose a game you want something back. I think these two guys did a real good job for us. I think the [two goalie system] worked.
Ruff may be bluffing to attempt to gain value for his goaltenders, but given the fact that the pair remains the netminders in Dallas, he may genuinely feel that way.
Another team with a clear weakness is the New York Rangers, though they are actively seeking a fix to their problem. The Rangers did not buy out Dan Girardi or Marc Staal this offseason, and did let Keith Yandle leave for free agency. New York brought in possession negative Nick Holden, gave inexperienced youngster Brady Skjei a larger role, and called it an offseason.
The way the Stars and the Rangers connect is through, how they plan on contending. The Stars feature an offense that can outscore any team on any night. Rolling four lines deep with two lines of legitimate top six scoring threats, the Stars hope to simply outscore their goaltending problems. As Ruff danced around, it seemed to work in the regular season last year and so far the Stars are 2-1 despite surrendering eight goals in three games.
The Rangers, on the other hand, are attempting to compensate for their potentially league-worst defense by rolling four lines of scoring threats and having an All-World goaltender in net. The Rangers offense can depend on any of the four lines on any night, while Henrik Lundqvist could also single-handedly win a game on any given night.
So, while the Rangers and Stars may not have the same problems, the gist of the solution is similar. The two teams hope that their strengths can be so strong that they outweigh their weaknesses, rather than creating complete teams.
The idea is bold and not yet proven to work, but it certainly serves as a reason to watch the Rangers and Stars try to pick up wins as the season progresses.