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Ranking Eastern Conference Non-Playoff Teams’ Chances Of Playoff Return

Photo Courtesy Wayne Masut | Senior Staff Photographer

UWhen the regular season comes to a close, only eight teams in the Eastern Division will have earned the right to battle for the Prince of Wales trophy. Last year it was the Pittsburgh Penguins and not only did they represent the East, but claimed the ultimate prize in Lord Stanley’s Cup. Who will it be this year? Only time will tell, but until then let’s take a look at the teams who didn’t make it in the 2016-17 NHL season and deduce their odds of claiming a ticket to the post-season party.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last Season: 42-30-10, 94 points

Playoff Odds: Likely

While the Lightning started off last season at a snail’s pace, they finished it with a bang. They went 10-4-1 in March and fell just a single win short of making it to the playoffs. What I believe held the Bolts back was injuries and inconsistent play. Superstar forward Steven Stamkos tore his meniscus in November and Tampa Bay never seemed to find their mojo until the final stretch.

By then, it was too little too late. While the Lightning have lost a dynamic forward in Jonathan Drouin, they have depth that is second to none. They also obtained stud defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev from Montreal in exchange for Drouin. Forwards Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde have a solid opportunity to make their mark. This season, I see the core learning from experience and Tampa Bay claiming a spot in the playoffs.

Florida Panthers

Last Season: 35-36-11, 81 points

Playoff Odds: Unlikely

Times, they are a changing for the Florida Panthers. This team went through so many changes over the last months and, in my opinion, suffered for it. They lost Jonathan Huberdeau to injury for four significant months during the regular season as well as Aleksander Barkov. Then once their disappointing season finished they traded Reilly Smith to Vegas, bought out Jussi Jokinen, and let the mulleted legend Jaromir Jagr walk. I believe the biggest loss they have going into next season is the theft of Jonathan Marchessault who was pilfered by the Vegas Golden Knights during the expansion draft.

If there is any type of cure for the series of flesh wounds to the Panthers faithful, I highly doubt it was the acquisition of Radim Vrbata from Arizona and Evgeny Dadonov from the KHL. I see another bleak season for Florida after observing the damage of their ship’s hull.

Detroit Red Wings

Last Season: 33-36-13, 79 points

Playoff Odds: Unlikely

The Red Wings started off last season looking quite commendable, but that facade fell away to provide a disappointing final season at Joe Louis Arena. Goaltending inconsistencies and a dried up well of offense cost Detroit it’s first playoff run in over twenty years.

Now in a bit of a rebuilding phase, the Red Wings will lean on their youth in players like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou. I don’t think the fruits of their labors will enjoyed next season, but with the veteran leadership they possess, it won’t be long.

Buffalo Sabres

Last Season: 33-37-12, 78 points

Playoff Odds: Unlikely

The same old song and dance of injuries stunted the Sabres growth. Star forward Jack Eichel missed the beginning of the season as did defenseman Zach Bogosian. Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane, and other suffered injuries as well that saw Buffalo drowning in the standings.

With a healthy season, solid goaltending, and a continued success in their above normal shot attempts, the Sabres could be quite a contender. I think that the ruling variables will be too much for an on-the-cusp team that is still finding their consistency.

New York Islanders

Last Season: 41-29-12, 94 points

Playoff Odds: Likely

The Islanders were another team that missed the postseason by a single win, but had the all the makings of a contender. Last offseason they hit a major downgrade in the loss of center Frans Nielsen and never fully recovered. They drastically need to find a suitable replacement and the clock is ticking.

Be that as it may, New York still has much of it’s promising core from last season intact and could very well be one of the teams with a ticket to the postseason party. They’ll have to rely heavily on captain John Tavares while also trying to hammer out a contract extension with him, as he is an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last Season: 39-33-10, 88 points

Playoff Odds: Likely

The Flyers’ 2016-17 season had it’s shares of ups and downs. They went on a tear in December, but then began to unwind towards the beginning of January. Through most of the season, they were among the highest-scoring teams in the NHL, but as crunch time neared, Philadelphia was nowhere to be found. Some would say lackluster goaltending was a cause for their implosion and now with Steve Mason no longer with the team, they’ll rely on the tandem of Michal Neuvirth and the newly-signed Brian Elliott.

They have a plethora of talented scorers such as Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Jakub Vorachek. This core group assisted with an array of some of the best prospects in the league (Travis Sanheim, Samuel Mornin, and Robert Hagg) should get Philadelphia back into playoff contention.

Carolina Hurricanes

Last Season: 36-31-15, 87 points

Playoff Odds: Unlikely

The Hurricanes have been at the bottom of the pack for some time now. The 2015-16 season saw the end of Eric Staal’s reign in Carolina and a 2016-17 season that was filled with progress but a disappointing finish without the playoffs. Goaltenders Cam Ward and Eddie Lack showed promise here and there, but could never get the Hurricanes over the hump.

They hope to change that with a lucrative off-season. They’ve added a reliable goaltender in Scott Darling and some much needed defense with Trevor van Riemsdyk. For a bit of two-way play and scoring, they added Marcus Kruger and brought back Justin Williams with a two-year deal. Jaccob Slavin was also inked to a seven year extension. However, can they make it to the playoffs? In my opinion, this will be quite a task with such a talented Eastern Conference. I see Carolina there in the future, but not right now.

New Jersey Devils

Last Season: 28-40-14, 70 points

Playoff Odds: Unlikely

Plagued by a horrific 2-11-2 March, the Devils finished dead last in the Metropolitan Division. They had a heck of a time scoring goals, ranking 28th in the entire NHL in that category. Goaltender Cory Schneider had arguably his worst season in his seven-year professional career at a save percentage of .909. Let’s just say New Jersey looked like a lottery team and it showed in the standings.

Trades and free agency saw them nab a solid locker room guy in Brian Boyle, defenseman Mirco Mueller from San Jose, and forward Marcus Johansson from the Capitals. Johansson was acquired with picks that didn’t originally belong to the Devils. They also chose Swiss center Nico Hischier with the first overall pick in the entry draft. In order for them to return to the playoffs they’ll still need scoring and a more solid defensive structure. I’d say they’re moving in the right direction, but the team will need to build some chemistry before they can return to the playoffs.

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