(Note: The following are moves that should be done or should have been done to benefit each particular team this offseason. These are not predictions of what moves will be done.)
Plugging Holes: Washington Capitals
The Hole: Second-Line Forward
Many people may think the Capitals' biggest need is on the back end. While true, that problem is best addressed within the system. With the expected development of future top-four blueliners Karl Alzner and John Carlson, the Capitals are actually better off on defense than most would think. Combine that future depth on the back end with the young goaltending tandem of Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, and Washington's most significant needs might actually be up front, especially considering the expected departures of Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov back to Russia.
The Fix: Sign F Nik Antropov (UFA, Rangers)
Antropov came to the NHL as a natural center, and while he has played wing for a large portion of his career, his ability to play up the middle would be a nice help in Washington. Last season, Antropov split time between the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers, recording a GVT of 7.8; which would have placed Antropov fifth on the Capitals last season. Even though the Capitals were strong offensively as a team in terms of GVT (15.8 at five-on-five and 21.1 on the power play), the group of Backstrom, Semin and Ovechkin would be greatly benefitted by adding the pending UFA Antropov's skill set (28 goals in 81 games last season).
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Washington Capitals, click here.
Plugging Holes: Carolina Hurricanes
The Hole(s): Power Wing
The Hurricanes certainly exceeded expectations in 2008-09 with a run all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. However, even with so much success, the team has specific areas that need improvement -- mainly, a big-scoring winger. The Hurricanes' forwards registered a minus-3.3 GVT (Goals Versus Threshold) last season at even strength -- that was fifth-worst in the Eastern Conference. Even if Erik Cole does re-sign in Carolina this summer (as expected), the team could still use some size and scoring on the wings.
The Fix: Sign F Mike Knuble (UFA, Flyers)
While the Flyers would probably like to re-sign Mike Knuble, the team's salary situation ($53 million invested already in next season's cap hit) leaves little room to invest any more money in its forwards. This cap trouble should allow for the Hurricanes to jump in and sign the 35-year-old winger. Last season, Knuble registered 27 goals (11 on the power play) and 20 assists in 82 games played. In fact, Knuble has played 82 games in three of his past four seasons. The veteran winger can play at even-strength, on the power play and kill penalties. For a team that had only one natural winger (Ray Whitney) with a GVT above 5.1, Knuble's 2008/09 GVT of 7.4 should fit in quite well.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Carolina Hurricanes, click here.
Plugging Holes: Florida Panthers
The Hole: Defenseman
What was the Florida Panthers' greatest strength last season may very well be its biggest weakness in 2009-10. Unless Jay Bouwmeester stuns the hockey world and stays in Florida, the Panthers are going to have to replace 25-plus minutes of All-Star defensive play on the back end. With Tomas Vokoun between the pipes, and a nice core of young forwards, Florida is going to need to move swiftly in order to replace Bouwmeester's myriad of skills. Considering the Panthers had the second-worst even strength defensive GVT (-26.2) with Bouwmeester, it is scary to think how this defensive group is going to struggle without his services.
The Fix: Sign D Greg Zanon (UFA, Predators)
Most expect it to be difficult for the rebuilding Panthers to sign a high-profile veteran free agent defenseman. As a result, targeting an effective player under 30 is probably the team's best opportunity to improve. In Zanon, the Panthers would be getting an underrated defenseman who was overshadowed by the likes of Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Suter in Nashville. Zanon is very physical (second on team in hits), blocks shots (first on team) and has good on-ice awareness. In fact, his GVT in 2008/09 was 5.3 -- an impressive number for a defensive defenseman (ahead of fellow defenders Chris Phillips 3.4, Robyn Regehr 2.1 and Mike Komisarek 0.7) and top ten overall on his own team.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Florida Panthers, click here.
Plugging Holes: Atlanta Thrashers
The Hole: No. 1 Defenseman
Atlanta, believe it or not, was seventh in the league in goals scored -- thanks to a very high shooting percentage typical of an Ilya Kovalchuk team -- while they were second to last in goals allowed. We might expect some regression on the goal-scoring side, but there's little hope for pulling the defense out of the league's basement without help. The only thing that kept them from allowing 300 goals was the goaltending of restricted free agent Kari Lehtonen, who has saved them more than 40 goals compared to an average goaltender over the last two seasons.
The Fix: Sign D Jay Bouwmeester (UFA, Panthers)
Loyal Thrashers fans will agree with me: Now is not the time for a losing team in a nontraditional market to sell its assets. Unless they want to go the way of the Coyotes, Atlanta needs to get serious about filling its unused cap space -- and the unused seats in Philips Arena. Ultimately that means a long-term contract for Kovalchuk, but they need to show him a commitment to winning first.
After they pick up an offensive talent with the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, what better way to keep going than to sign the biggest name on this year's free-agent market? Bouwmeester did it all in Florida, leading his team in even-strength, power-play and penalty-killing minutes and facing the toughest offensive opposition year after year. This season, he was on the ice 63 percent of the time in the last two minutes of close games, No. 2 in the league behind Scott Niedermayer and ahead of Norris Trophy nominees Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara. On top of all that, at age 25, Bouwmeester could easily maintain this level of performance all the way through a seven- or eight-year contract. In the short term, the boost in GVT also helps Atlanta make up most of the eight extra wins they needed to make the playoffs this season.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Atlanta Thrashers, click here.
Plugging Holes: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Hole: Defense
Tampa finds itself in a difficult situation. It has a bad team, but with the Islanders selecting Victor Hedman (in our scenario), they get John Tavares in the draft.
Normally a No. 2 pick -- think Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza -- fills one of the many holes on the 29th-best team in the league. However, Tampa already has two offensive centers in Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos, who have huge upsides and give general managers nightmares when they think about trading them away. (Of course, the seven years and $54 million left on Lecavalier's contract is a nightmare in its own right.) None of this points to a solution for a defensive corps that was 23rd in even-strength shots per game, 29th in power plays allowed, and 18th in shorthanded shots allowed. Some of that can be blamed on injuries to every top defenseman they had, forcing Tampa to use 18 D-men during the season, but even in the best of all possible worlds, the Lightning couldn't dress seven NHL-caliber defensemen if their lives depended on it.
The Fix: Sign F Karlis Skrastins (UFA, Florida)
First of all, improving the defense from the bottom of the league to near the middle doesn't require anything rash. Lukas Krajicek is a restricted free agent and should be brought back on a long-term deal. Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger are young and have been reasonably healthy in the past, so they won't likely miss half the season again, and Tampa has a huge number of defensemen under age 23, many of whom were high draft picks who need to shake out. Skrastins takes the pressure off the player-development process. He has played on the penalty kill everywhere he's been and has been Jay Bouwmeester's defensive partner against other teams' top lines since he came over from Colorado.
Skrastins' +2.5 Defensive GVT would also rank him third among the entire Tampa Bay roster, with only Martin St. Louis (+ 4.6 Defensive GVT) and Ryan Malone (+ 3.4 Defensive GVT) faring better than the former Panther.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Gabriel Desjardins is a contributor to Puck Prospectus, runs the statistical hockey site Behindthenet.ca and authored the offseason previews on the Atlanta Thrashers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Richard Pollock is an author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Richard by clicking here or click here to see Richard's other articles. Richard is also Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve and authored the offseason previews on the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers.