Offseason Team Needs: Pacific Division
Team needs: secondary scoring, top-four defenseman
The Ducks won the Pacific Division - arguably the toughest division in hockey - thanks in part to a career year from Ryan Getzlaf, stellar goaltending performances from John Gibson, Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen, and an absolute embarrassment of quality forward depth.
The Ducks will move on from Hiller this offseason, and probably roll with a talented, affordable Gibson-Andersen tandem. The Ducks are rumored to be in talks to acquire a player of Ryan Kesler or Jason Spezza's quality, and a "big game" transaction of that sort will likely cost them a good young forward (or two). Luckily the Ducks have drafted and developed players so well that they can comfortably deal from a surplus.
If the Ducks need to target an area to improve, it's along the blue-line. Only two Ducks defenseman finished in the black in shot attempt differential this past season (Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen), and a lack of quality defenders is likely a big reason the Ducks were outshot so often last season.
San Jose Sharks
Team needs: goaltending, top-line forward
It's obscured by the painful way they exited the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs - squandering a 3-0 series lead against the eventual champions from Los Angeles - but the Sharks may have been the second- or third-best team in the NHL a year ago. They're loaded at every position, have a bevy of young contributors, and rack up victories at an insane rate in the regular season.
If there's an obvious position that the Sharks could upgrade, it's probably in goal. They don't have much faith in Antti Niemi, or they wouldn't have felt the need to turn to Alex Stalock in the playoffs. Niemi has been excellent for several seasons, but wasn't that good a year ago and wasn't good enough in the postseason. Niemi is still reliable, but if the Sharks had a serious lights-out netminder, there'd really be nothing to separate them from the Kings.
In terms of key losses, the Sharks are going to lose Dan Boyle from their blue-line - and that actually creates a void up front. San Jose intends on moving burgeoning power forward Brent Burns back to his natural position on defense, and that leaves a gaping hole on Joe Thornton's right wing. Replacing Burns is tough to do, as he ranks among the best forechecking forwards in the game.
Los Angeles Kings
Team needs: blue-line depth, salary cap flexibility
The Stanley Cup champions are loaded with young talent, and have more roster flexibility than anyone else in the league. Scary thought, that. They also have a star forward in Anze Kopitar who may demand $10 million (or more) in the summer of 2016.
The Kings have some key players headed to free-agency, including top-four defender Willie Mitchell, depth defender Matt Greene, and first-line winger Marian Gaborik. Ideally the Kings would be able to retain those pieces and Gaborik in particular. They might be able to, but they have to keep a Kopitar extension and the summer of 2016 in mind.
Also, as good as the Kings were, they also had players like Jeff Schultz, Matt Greene and Robyn Regehr logging important blue-line minutes this season. They can probably improve on their defensive depth, and do so without breaking the bank, this summer.
Team needs: backup goaltender, top-four defender
It has escaped the attention of most casual observers, but last season the Phoenix Coyotes morphed into a defensively porous side that relied enormously on a very dangerous power-play for offense. That's not head coach Dave Tippett's usual approach, but here we are.
The Coyotes really need more offense at even strength, and signing forward Radim Vrbata should be priority No. 1. The Czech sniper has been a legitimate top-line scoring threat for a few years now, and might have a case for most underrated player in the league. A pending unrestricted free agent, the Coyotes need to get his autograph on a new deal.
Beyond that the Coyotes blue-line is very, very young and with Derek Morris headed to unrestricted free agency, the Coyotes could use some veteran help on the backend. At the moment their projected top-four includes Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek and Michael Stone. A steady veteran would be a useful addition to that group. Also it's time for Brandon Gormley to play in the NHL full-time.
Team needs: youth, skill, secondary scoring
The Canucks are nowhere near as bad as their results last season would suggest, which is probably good news for the new management team.
This club still boasts a solid veteran defense corps, and one elite forward line. Beyond that it's a dog's breakfast, and this offensively challenged team needs to get younger and more skilled in a hurry.
The Canucks are expected to trade Kesler, which will exacerbate their "one-line team" problem. So how do you trade one of the league's best second-line centers and in the process build a second and a third line that can come out even (or better) against secondary and tertiary competition?
It's pretty tough, especially in a division where teams like Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles have 14 good forwards (or more) in their respective organizations - but gambling on young out of favor players with upside on the trade market would be a good start.
Beyond the critical youth and forward depth issue, Vancouver could use a capable veteran goaltender to spell Eddie Lack (gambling on Jakob Markstrom seems misguided in the extreme), and probably two top-nine centerman. London Knights center Bo Horvat is likely to make the team next year, but he won't be ready to fill Kesler's shoes as a 19-year-old.
Team needs: first-line center, starting goaltending
The Flames are far away from contending, but there were some excellent developmental signs last season. Sean Monahan is an impressive player, Johnny Gaudreau looks like the real deal, and Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are a legitimate top pairing. That's a solid core of players to build around, and Calgary will have a top-5 pick at the draft to supplement that group.
Where Calgary really needs help is in goal, because Karri Ramo isn't likely going to get it done as a full-time NHL starter. A team with goaltending as its Achilles heel is something of a Brian Burke staple, but maybe new Flames general manager Jim Treliving can talk Burke into a player like Jonas Hiller, Ryan Miller, or Thomas Greiss on the lower end.
In addition to getting better goaltending, a first-line center to help protect Monahan from the toughest matchups would be helpful - as would a second pairing defender. Dennis Wideman is a liability at even strength, as is Ladislav Smid. Kris Russell could use a steady player to partner with, otherwise the puck will spend an awful lot of time in Calgary's end of the rink whenever Giordano and Brodie take a breather.
Team needs: forward size, good defensemen
The Edmonton Oilers and their fans are desperate to see this team take a step forward. After years of collecting losses and first overall picks, it's time for this club to become at least mediocre (instead of just pathetic). Actually, it's long past time for that.
Taylor Hall is an elite piece, but beyond that, this club doesn't really have any generational talents despite their persistent top-of-the-draft selection slot. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, and Nail Yakupov have skill to burn, but at this point in their respective careers, they're not moving the needle at five-on-five - especially against tough competition.
Adding a serious second-line center who could push Sam Gagner to the wing (he's not a center; any competent NHL organization would have figured this out years ago) and not get pushed around would be a big step forward for this side. As would adding maybe three top-four defenders.
The likes of Andrew Ference, Schultz and Martin Marincin shouldn't be playing at the top of the lineup, and Jeff Petry is their only reliable tough minutes blue-liner. Darnell Nurse could make the club next year and his skating along would help, but in this division, that quality of defense isn't getting it done.