The NHL regular season is over!
Congrats to the teams that made the playoffs! For the rest of you, back to the drawing board.
How will the teams that didn’t make the postseason make a run next year? Some teams need a bit of work – looking at you New Jersey and secondary scoring starved Philly.
Some teams need major work – Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, Edmonton Oilers – and will likely be helped by the draft.
Some have most of the right parts but need to play better – like the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings should have made the playoffs, but just didn’t turn on the off switch in time, along with a few other issues.
Others just need to get healthy and some are young and need a few tweaks to get into the race.
There were quite a few surprise playoff teams this season, from Ottawa to Vancouver to Calgary. We take a look at the playoff teams on the outs that should make the playoffs next year. Of course, the draft lottery on April 18, could completely shift this list around say … the Avalanche wins the No. 1 pick.
Absent of that happening, here is a list of five non-playoff teams we think can make a postseason run next year.
1. Dallas Stars (41-31-10, 92 points, 10th in the Western Conference)
Like the screeching sound of a Pantera guitar riff, the Stars will roar into the 2016 playoffs. Dallas needs to make maybe one addition on defense, but ultimately is solid at forward and goal.
Dallas has its own version of Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The rest should just fall into place around those pieces.
To finish out the season, Dallas went 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and 14-6-0 in their last 20.
“A lot of times you look around this league, two guys will have a different winger there, but the constant is they stay together,” coach Lindy Ruff said about Benn and Seguin. “Two guys have elite talent, different elite talent for me, Benn is more physical in-tight talent where Tyler has elite speed and an elite shot. Maybe even an elite one-timer, where Jamie probably doesn’t have that part of it, but he has the in-tight grit stuff where he can dominate a game.”
If Seguin didn’t miss time with a knee injury, there’s a chance they both could have finished 1-2 in scoring. Benn won the Art Ross.
Also, John Klingberg’s emergence (40 points in 65 games, playing 21:50 per-night) has leveled out the D to some degree, but Dallas probably needs one more solid defenseman to become a true contender.
2. Florida Panthers (38-29-15, 91 points, 10th in the Eastern Conference)
This team will be better – if all its young talent progresses as the Panthers hope.
Florida’s 5-on-5 CF% per Puckalytics finished 15th in the NHL, which is decent, especially for a team that missed the playoffs.. Forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov all have high-end potential. Bjugstad and Barkov could give the Panthers a strong 1-2 punch down the middle for the future.
Aaron Ekblad gives Florida a cornerstone for decades on D, and should start to play even more important minutes next year. All these players are age 22 and under.
And with Jaromir Jagr signed for one more year to lead the way, he can show all the young players the wonder of playing hockey in a state without an income tax. And they have Roberto Luongo in goal, who should get some Vezina love this year.
Considering Florida’s success this season, it could happen sooner than later. Issue would be goal scoring. Florida had just two players (Bjugstad and Brandon Pirri) who scored more than 20 this year.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (42-35-5, 89 points 11th in the Eastern Conference)
This should be met with a big ‘Duh’ based off how the Blue Jackets finished. They had nine straight wins and went 9-0-1 in their last 10 games.
The Jackets have two nice building blocks with Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen, who each had career highs in points with 73 and 71 respectively. They also have former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in goal.
Maybe defenseman Ryan Murray will finally get healthy? That could be said for the rest of the Jackets that had 508 man-games lost to injury according to Man-Games Lost, which led the league. Per the site, no other team had over 500. This was a team that was supposed to contend this year, if it didn’t have such a rough injury start. If they don’t make the playoffs next year, they’ll have a problem.
4. Colorado Avalanche (39-31-12, 90 points 11th in the Western Conference)
Another team with a ton of man-games lost to injury – 495 to be exact again per Man-Games Lost. Regardless of whether you agree with Patrick Roy’s nutso coaching style, few teams could survive losing a combination of a No. 1ish center (Nathan MacKinnon), a No. 1 goaltender (Semyon Varlamov) and a No. 1 defenseman (Erik Johnson) at various points during the year and each for extended lengths.
Defenseman Tyson Barrie had a quiet breakout year with 52 points in 79 games played. His shot attempts differential was in the negative according to the NHL’s enhanced stats site. But then again, so was almost every key player for Colorado – hence the ‘Roy Effect’ for this team.
Whether you agree or disagree with how Roy handles his coaching responsibilities and his look at #fancystats, this was the first time he has missed the playoffs as a pro or junior coach. With the amount of talent amassed on this team, it should be better when at full strength next year.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (30-40-11, 71 points 14th in the Eastern Conference)
The Canes are another team that was quite decent from a #fancystats perspective, their CF% at 52.5 percent 5-on-5 again per Puckalytics. They were doomed by injuries at the start of the year – with center Jordan Staal being out until late December. After he came back, the Canes played much better. Carolina went 14-7-3 in January and February.
If you gave me a team with him, his brother Eric at forward, defenseman Justin Faulk and goaltender Cam Ward as building blocks, you think that would be a pretty decent starter set.
Throw in younger forwards like Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner and you have some good, talented players. Outside of Faulk, defense remains a question, which should be addressed in the offseason. Add in a high-end draft pick, there’s a decent shot Carolina improves quite a bit next year.
Honorable mention: The Bruins missed the playoffs on the final day. And in spite the doom and gloom surrounding that team, they really aren’t in horrible shape to make the postseason next year. Ditto for the Kings really. Maybe a summer of rest will do well for both squads that have played a lot of hockey over the last few years.
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