Editor’s Note: The Hockey News recently came up with a story about which three teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs might miss next season, and which three that missed out had a chance at making the postseason in 2016-17. We thought it was such a good idea that we decided to let our own Stephen Garai have a shot at it. Here’s his take.
Making the Stanley Cup Playoffs isn’t easy, as the season is long, physically taxing, and injuries to key players can change the course of a team’s season in the blink of an eye. The biggest thing that could hurt a team would be an injury to a key player either long term or at an important time like the playoff push. The Washington Capitals could have still made the playoffs last season, but a serious injury to captain Alexander Ovechkin would have made the task more difficult. Let’s take a look at a few teams that missed out on the postseason could make the playoffs who missed last season, and those who could be golfing early next season after making the playoffs in 2016.
When Carey Price went down for the season in November, Montreal’s season went into a tailspin they never recovered from, as it exposed just how reliant they had become on their star goaltender. If Price can stay healthy this season, he very well could be leading his team back into the postseason. Al Montoya was brought on to serve as Price’s backup, and although he has served his entire career in that role, he is more than capable of handling more games if needed. The Canadiens also made a blockbuster trade this offseason, sending P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber in a straight-up one-for-one trade of top defensemen. Rumors were circulating that Subban was rubbing teammates the wrong way. Bringing in Weber removes any of those possible distractions. Andrew Shaw was added to the Montreal roster at the draft, only surrendering two 2nd round picks in a trade for the center. With Price healthy, the additions of Shaw and Weber, and the removal of possible locker room distractions, the Canadiens appear to be as dangerous as ever entering the 2016-2017 season.
The Bruins may have lost Loui Eriksson to free agency, but came out ahead with the addition of David Backes. Backes will provide extra leadership to the locker room, as well as bringing his physical play to the ice. Backes is known for hitting like a Mack truck and for providing some offensive touch, and was a highly sought-after commodity for the Bruins. Another thing I like is Boston’s defensive corps. The average age of the Bruins’ defensemen is just shy of 29, which will combine experience and youthful energy at the Boston blue line. I expect big seasons from Torey Krug and Joe Morrow. Krug has shown that he can handle the NHL while the upcoming season is Morrow’s chance to show that he can be an everyday player on the Bruin’s defence. Throughout the last couple seasons, Tuukka Rask has seen his stats diminish slightly. It is solely on his shoulders to improve and if he wants to bring the Stanley Cup back to his native Finland, he will have to bounce back in a big way, which isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for the netminder. I expect the Bruins to at least earn a wild card spot in the playoffs
The Oilers made some big moves this off-season, most notably sending Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson. Hall has had a productive career despite suffering some injuries, but this trade could be a win-win for both teams. While Edmonton will surely miss Hall, they are surely doubling down on prize sophomore Connor McDavid. Comparing the two Larrson will not be putting up the numbers that Hall did, but he has accumulated some NHL experience and Edmonton needs all the help they can get on the blue line. I believe that goalie Cam Talbot has the capability of be as effective as Martin Jones of the San Jose Sharks. With some more time in the crease, I could see Talbot gaining confidence and becoming a reliable starter for the Oilers. Former King Milan Lucic, who much like Backes in Boston, will bring experience and physical on-ice play after signing a free agent deal with the Oilers. Lucic could have been brought on to look out for McDavid. Speaking of McDavid, many are expecting the young star to shine should he have an injury-free season, and I think he can lead his team to the postseason.
Detroit Red Wings
All good things must come to an end, including Detroit’s streak of 25 straight playoff appearances. This has been a tough off-season for the Red Wings, as superstar Pavel Datsyuk left Detroit high and dry holding on to his $7.5 million dollar salary cap hit. Luckily for the Red Wings, they were able to move that cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes and make themselves a player in the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes. However, they were unable to to land Stamkos, settling for a struggling Thomas Vanek in free agency. Their best addition this off-season was center Frans Nielsen from the New York Islanders. I cannot see Detroit entering the season with their current roster. According to generalfanger.com, the Red Wings are almost $5 million over the salary cap. They would have to make some moves to become cap compliant, and bringing on another defender couldn’t hurt. The problem here is that teams know they need help, and at the moment Detroit is desperate. Needless to say, the Red Wings will be missing Datsyuk this season, and with serious salary cap issues, possibly the playoffs as well.
New York Rangers
The Rangers have arguably the best goalie in the league in Henrik Lundqvist, but their defensive corps has been in less-than-stellar shape for a few years. Marc Staal has not been the same player since he suffered a serious eye injury, and a concussion at the hands of his brother Eric. Another player doing more harm than good is Dan Girardi. At 32, Girardi is making $5.5 million, and with $5.7 million allocated to Staal, these two are eating up a good amount of salary cap space. With no movement clauses in place, New York couldn’t even make either of these players available to be picked up by Las Vegas in the upcoming expansion draft. The inconsistent play of Rick Nash also does not help New York, he was brought on to be productive offensive force, and last season’s 15 goals, and 21 assists simply didn’t cut it despite only playing 60 games due to injuries. The Rangers have been in a bit of a rut, not bad enough to get a high draft pick, and not good enough to win a Cup. This could be the season where they make a run for a high pick in the draft lottery.
Los Angeles Kings
It appears as though the Kings have the look of a team that will either win the Stanley Cup, or not make the postseason at all. While they are bringing back most of their playoff team from last season I see the Kings being hit with playoff fatigue. Playoff runs are taxing, and deep runs make it all the harder to continue post season success. The same could be said about the Chicago Blackhawks, however, Chicago is much deeper then Los Angeles. During the offseason, the C was removed from the jersey of Dustin Brown and given to Anze Kopitar. It remains to be seen if this action will help Brown focus on rediscovering his game, or if it’s a sign that he’s on the downside of his career. The Kings were fairly quiet during free agency, most notably signing Teddy Purcell, and Jeff Zatkoff. Due to the lack any major signings this off-season the Kings are putting all of their eggs in the Jonathan Quick basket, which is a pretty safe bet. He is a multiple time Vezina finalist, however, if he were to suffer a long-term injury like Carey Price, I don’t see Zatkoff having the ability to pick up the slack. I see this being a particularly tough season for Los Angeles, and with other teams in the Western Conference getting better, the Kings are mostly staying the same.
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