Just because a team misses the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s not necessarily a bad one as these next five prove. Ranked in order of likelihood of reaching the 2015-16 postseason, here are the top five non-playoff teams of this past year.
5) Florida Panthers
One gets the sense that these cats are just finding their stride.
Despite only one playoff appearance since making it in 2000, and that one (2011-12) coming largely off the strength of 18 overtime/shootout losses, the Florida Panthers were legitimate contenders to reach the postseason.
Granted, they had 15 loser points and still fell eight points short of making it this year. However, there’s every reason to believe that a team comprising nine former first-round picks (including 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr) has the talent to make the postseason, especially with one more year under their belts (not necessarily including Jagr, there).
For the record, the Oilers only had eight former first rounders last season, including Leon Draisaitl, who played just 37 games (not including Darnell Nurse, who only played two).
4) Boston Bruins
While the Boston Bruins took a step back—to put it lightly—in 2014-15, it wasn’t so much of one that the playoffs should be out of reach next season. Sure, they fell 21 points in the standings relative to their 117-point Presidents’ Trophy-winning season in 2013-14, but they only missed the playoffs by three as the ninth-place team in the East.
Salary-cap problems prevented the Bruins from signing a single unrestricted free agent of significance last year to improve their team (Simon Gagne), including two of their own players (Andrej Meszaros and Jarome Iginla). They also had to trade Johnny Boychuk as a result of the cap squeeze.
While things will still be tight this upcoming season, lessons learned will likely prevent the Bruins from missing the playoffs for a second-straight season, even if just barely.
3) Dallas Stars
Like the Boston Bruins, bigger things were expected of the Dallas Stars this past season. They fell short of the playoffs obviously, by the same eight points as the Panthers, but in the Western Conference, which perhaps indicates a greater degree of difficulty to get back next season.
Still, any team boasting the talents of Tyler Seguin, (soon-to-be healthy) Art Ross Trophy-winner Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Valeri Nichushkin, and Ales Hemsky… well, is clearly lacking some defensive star power. General manager Jim Nill thankfully has a lot of cap space to go out and either trade for or sign someone valuable via free agency.
As long as he doesn’t go out and get Sergei Gonchar (again) they should be all right.
2) Columbus Blue Jackets
Two stats stick out specifically when talking about the 2014-15 Columbus Blue Jackets: A 16-0-1 record to end the regular season and a league-leading 508 man-games lost. So hilariously bad did it get injury-wise that contract holdout Ryan Johansen was ironically one of only two Blue Jackets to play in all 82 games (David Savard was the other).
The Blue Jackets are probably not as good as that 16-0-1 record, but they’re definitely not as bad as the 6-15-2 one they suffered through to start the season. They’re probably somewhere in the middle, which would put them right in the playoff hunt come next season.
1) Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings may have just missed out on the playoffs this past season, but, had they made it, even just barely, they would have been an opponent to avoid. At least in theory, anyway, based on their past postseason success (two Stanley Cups since 2012).
All the postseason hockey over the previous five years tends to wear you down (13 series, 76 games, and essentially one full season more than the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers over that span). Essentially playing without a top-four defenseman in Slava Voynov likely also factored in to their lack of regular-season success, which still translated into 95 points.
That total should not be marginalized, nor should the Kings be next season.