One of the benefits of a “post-lockout” NHL is the parity that now exists throughout the league. Since the 2004-05 work stoppage, 29 of the 30 NHL teams have made the playoffs, and the divisional races and playoff seeding in every season are determined by just a few points.
In the first part of this two-part series, we looked at five teams who missed the playoffs in 2011-12 that have the best chance to return to the playoffs in 2012-13. Now, here is a look at five teams who made the playoffs in 2011-12 and could miss the postseason in 2012-13.
1. Ottawa Senators (41-31-10, 92 Points, 8th Place in Eastern Conference in 2011-12)
Despite making the playoffs and battling to a seventh game in their first round series against the New York Rangers, the Ottawa Senators face a number of challenges heading into 2012-13.
The 2011-12 season was a pleasant surprise for the Senators. After finishing the 2010-11 season in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, Ottawa returned to the playoffs in Paul Maclean’s first season behind the bench.
The key to Ottawa’s success was their offense. The Senators finished 4th in the NHL in goals per game during the regular season. Defenseman Erik Karlsson led all defensemen in the NHL with 78 points (19 goals, 59 assists) en route to winning the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.
As good as their top line of Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson was a year ago, Ottawa lacks secondary scoring. The departure of Nick Foligno, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on July 1st, hurts their scoring potential. Besides the top line and Karlsson, Foligno had the most points of any Senator in the regular season.
The Senators appear to be placing a lot of faith in rookies for the upcoming season, particularly Jakob Silfverberg. However, if Silfverberg doesn’t produce the way Ottawa expects him to, their potent offense from a year ago will take a big hit.
Alfredsson decided to return for another season in Ottawa, but even though he had a solid offensive year in 2011-12, there is no guarantee that the 39-year old will put up the same numbers in 2012-13.
Another question is whether Ottawa’s defense, which was 24th in goals against per game last season, will fare better with Mike Lundin and Marc Methot on the blueline instead of Carkner and Filip Kuba.
With more questions than answers in Canada’s capital, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Ottawa slips out of the playoff picture.
2. Florida Panthers (38-26-18, 94 Points, 3rd Place in Eastern Conference in 2011-12)
Last offseason, the Florida Panthers added a number of veterans to go along with the young group of players. The result was the Southeast Division Championship, and their first playoff appearance since the 1999-2000 season.
Now in his second year behind the Panthers bench, head coach Kevin Dineen faces the difficult task of defending their division crown.
One of the challenges that the Panthers will face in 2012-13 is finding a replacement for defenseman Jason Garrison, who signed with the Vancouver Canucks in the offseason. Not only was Garrison a durable, solid player in his own zone, he quarterbacked the Panthers’ power play, which was 7thin the NHL a season ago. Kuba joined the Panthers blueline after Ottawa didn’t re-sign him, but he doesn’t have the same booming shot that Garrison does.
One player the Panthers will be relying on for a lot of offense this season is rookie Jonathan Huberdeau. The 19-year-old is expected to start the season as the Panthers’ second line center. Even though Huberdeau is a Calder Trophy candidate, there is no guarantee that his success in junior hockey will translate to the NHL, at least in his rookie campaign.
The other factor that influences the Panthers’ playoff chances is the improvement of other teams in their division. Although the Panthers made solid additions by bringing in Kuba, Peter Mueller, and George Parros, other teams in their division like Carolina and Tampa Bay made bigger changes to improve their rosters.
Despite winning the Southeast Division last season, Florida lost more overall games than they won, and were only five points away from missing the playoffs. With the improvement of the Hurricanes and Lightning, as well as a formidable Capitals team within their division, making the playoffs for a second year will be a stretch in South Beach.
3. Phoenix Coyotes (42-27-13, 97 Points, 3rd Place in Western Conference in 2011-12)
In the Pacific Division, where three teams were separated by three points and four teams were separated by eight points; the Phoenix Coyotes rode a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season and clinch the Division Title. Had they lost one of those games, they would have lost out on the Division title. If they lost two of them, they would have finished as the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
This season, the result could very well be finishing out of the top eight in the West altogether.
One of the reasons is the Coyotes relied on “scoring by committee” to finish with the 18th best offense in the NHL could very well lose two of their best offensive players from a season ago. Ray Whitney, who led the Coyotes with 77 points, fled within the division to Dallas over the summer.
If captain Shane Doan elects not to return to Phoenix, it could be the biggest loss of the offseason. Doan wants to return to the Coyotes, but the uncertainty about the team’s future in Phoenix has delayed him making a decision about re-signing.
Assuming that Doan doesn’t return, the Coyotes are going to have a difficult time making up for the goals and points that were provided by him and Whitney. Steve Sullivan will help the Coyotes with some offense, but not enough to make up for what they lost from a year ago.
Without additional offensive help, there will be even more pressure on goaltender Mike Smith to keep the Coyotes in games. The 30-year-old undoubtedly had the best year of his career in 2011-12, but whether he can play at such a high level again (2.21 goals against average, .930 save percentage) is uncertain.
If Smith can’t save the Coyotes night in and night out, it could be a long winter in the Arizona desert.
4. New Jersey Devils (48-28-6, 102 Points, 6th in Eastern Conference)
The last teams to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and then miss the playoffs the following season were the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers, who both missed the playoffs in 2006-07. The New Jersey Devils could very well be joining that list in 2012-13.
New Jersey’s biggest challenge in defending their Eastern Conference Championship will be to find some way to make up for the loss of Zach Parise. The Devils kept the majority of the roster in tact, but their only addition in the off-season was role forward Krystofer Barch.
Even with Parise, the Devils offense was in the middle of the pack in the NHL (15th in the league in goals per game). In order for the Devils to stay at that level, they will need more offense collectively from Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, and superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk.
One of the Devils’ biggest question marks entering the season is also its most ironic: Will the play of future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur be consistent in the upcoming season? Although Brodeur was solid in the second half of the regular season and superb in the playoffs, his goals against average and save percentage were in the bottom half of the league. And he is also 40 years old.
In a tough Atlantic Division, and with a number of questions surrounding secondary scoring, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see New Jersey’s season end without a postseason appearance.
5. San Jose Sharks (43-29-10, 96 Points, 7th in Western Conference in 2011-12)
The San Jose Sharks have made the playoffs every year since the 2003-04 season, but their streak could be ending in 2012-13.
In a very close Pacific Division and Western Conference, the Sharks didn’t clinch a playoff berth until their second-to-last game of the regular season. However, they were also just one point away from winning the division.
The Sharks’ recent run of regular season success has been highlighted by their potent offense. However, their top guns of recent years will soon have to give way to some of the younger forwards on the roster.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been the two most consistent Sharks since the lockout, but their point production has dropped in recent years. Both centers are 33 years old, and the odds of them rebounding to record 80-90 points in a season are unlikely. Instead, the Sharks will need more production from young stars Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.
As mentioned before, the Pacific Division was one of the closest in the NHL during the regular season. If the Kings have a better offensive year than they did last year, and the Ducks can produce the offense that propelled them to 4th place in the Western Conference in 2010-11, the Sharks could be on the outside looking in for the first time in nine seasons.