5 likely playoff teams that need to add depth to become contenders

NHL trade deadline
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It was two months ago that we took a look at which teams have done the best (and worst) job building around their star players with some surprising (and not-so-surprising) results. Teams like Tampa Bay, Colorado, Carolina, Florida, and Pittsburgh had done the best, icing teams that were able to still significantly outscore their opponents when their highest paid players were off the ice.

Teams like Edmonton, Chicago, San Jose, and rebuilding teams like Buffalo, Detroit, and Arizona were predictably at the bottom.

Now that the season is at its unofficial halfway point we wanted to take an updated look at that and zero in on some potential playoff teams that still need to better address their depth.

You can read the initial analysis and numbers here. 

Just as a starting point, here is an updated look at the teams with the best goal differentials when their two highest paid forwards are off the ice. Again, this is not a PERFECT barometer, but it does at least give us some idea as to which teams have been able to build around their stars at a reasonable level.

Here are the top-10 goal differentials, and as you can see by their points percentages in the league wide standings, they are some of the best teams in the league.

The Kings are remain the biggest surprise team on there. But everybody else? Legitimate Stanley Cup contenders that not only have superstar players, but are also able to control the game and dominate when those superstars are not playing. Great signs.

Just for comparisons sake, here are the bottom-10 teams.

Not surprisingly, a lot of teams that are struggling in the standings. A lot of those duos are very good (particularly the Larkin/Bertuzzi duo in Detroit and the Couture/Meier duo in San Jose) but they just have so little else around them that it holds the rest of the team back.

But let’s take a minute to look at some teams in the middle of the pack that are likely headed to the playoffs, but still need more around their top players.

New York Rangers

Highest salary cap hits: Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider
Goal differential at 5-on-5 when neither is on the ice: minus-8 (33 goals for, 41 goals against)
Points percentage rank league wide: Seventh

The Rangers are fascinating team because their record is stellar and has them among the best teams in the league. Their success is based on having about five high-level players having great years (Panarin, Kreider, Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad) and arguably the best goalie in the league this season (Igor Shesterkin). A few game-changing superstars and an elite goalie can mask a lot of flaws and take you a long way. But there is a limit to how far that can get you, because at some point those superstars at the top are going to go cold offensively. That is when the secondary players become vital, and right now the Rangers do not have that on their bottom lines. The frustrating thing is the potential for it is there with a collection of young talent that includes Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko, and Filip Chytl. The potential is there. It just has not happened yet. But if the Rangers are truly going to become a Stanley Cup contender this season they need to be better when Panarin and Krieder are sitting on the bench.

Nashville Predators

Highest salary cap hits: Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene
Goal differential at 5-on-5 when neither is on the ice: minus-5 (35 goals for, 40 goals against)
Points percentage rank league wide: Ninth

At the midway point of the 2020-21 season the Predators looked like a team that needed to be torn down to the ground and rebuilt. Now they have one of the best records in the league and some of their recent big-money additions that had previously disappointed are now producing. It also helps having an elite goalie in Juuse Saros. The Predators have one of the best records in the league, but like the Rangers have some concerns from their bottom lines.

Calgary Flames

Highest salary cap hits: Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau
Goal differential at 5-on-5 when neither is on the ice: minus-10 (45 goals for, 55 goals against)
Points percentage rank league wide: 14th

The Flames are a tale of two teams. When the Tkachuk and Gaudreau are on the ice they outscore teams by an absurd 40-10 margin. It is seriously one of the best, most productive duos in the league. They are nearly unstoppable. When those two leave the ice? Things rapidly decline and the Flames get outscored by 10 goals. You obviously do not want to separate Tkachuk and Gaudreau to balance out the scoring because they are too good together. But you are also not going to go very far in the playoffs with only one line that is capable of outscoring the other team.

Boston Bruins

Highest salary cap hits: Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak
Goal differential at 5-on-5 when neither is on the ice:
Minus-11 (41 goals for, 52 goals against)
Points percentage rank league wide:
11th

Scoring depth beyond the top line has been a Boston problem for a couple of years now, and they briefly found a solution to it a year ago when Craig Smith and Taylor Hall slotted in around David Krejci on the second line. But Krejci is gone, has not been replaced, while Smith and Hall have not really had big seasons. The Bruins are a playoff team and have a lot of things going for them (amazing top line, Norris caliber defenseman in Charlie McAavoy, goalie depth) but they really need more around that top line if they are going to hang with Tampa Bay, Florida, and Carolina.

Edmonton Oilers

Highest salary cap hits: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl
Goal differential at 5-on-5 when neither is on the ice: Minus-16 (30 goals for, 46 goals against)
Points percentage rank league wide: 16th

The poster child for laughably top-heavy team that needs depth. When we did our first analysis on this subject the Oilers were at the bottom of the league, literally the worst team when their top two players were off the ice. They have improved, but only marginally, and not anywhere near enough to be where they need to be. They decided Evander Kane is worth the risk and that might help on the ice, but that is probably not going to be enough given the state of the rest of the forwards, defense, and goaltending.

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