To me, this is a transition/development year. We're not really looking to balls-out contend quite yet. We're setting up for next season, two seasons from now, three seasons from now. Case in point: we've got all of six skaters who are solidly in their prime years, and they are Helm, Abdelkader, Miller, Quincey, Kindl, Ericsson. (Woof.) And, just as tellingly, we're carrying ten skaters who are 25 or younger (i.e. not yet solidly in their prime years): Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, Jurco, Andersson, Glendening, Smith, DeKeyser, Lashoff, Ouellet. And we've got Mantha, Pulkkinen, Sproul, et al. on the horizon.
When you look at it that way, and you consider how well this team's done through these first 18 games (23 points, 50 GF, 42 GA, strong possession numbers, top-end PK, six players with ten or more points), I think you have to be pretty happy with what's going on and pretty excited about what's to come.
Hell, I'm not convinced we don't stand a chance to make a stink in the playoffs this year, even if we don't make any deals. We're certainly more poised than we've been the last couple of years with this roster playing as well as they have been. If Babcock can get them to elevate their game for the playoffs and Howard really locks it down, they just might surprise a whole lot of people.