Five teams made the playoffs last season after missing the playoffs in 2014-15. Unfortunately for fans of any Canadian team, the five franchises that were displaced all resided north of the border. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens bowed out of playoff contention after competing for the Stanley Cup in 2014-15.
The Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers all returned to the playoff fold in 2015-16. The Sharks, who finished 12th in the Western Conference during 2014-15, made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their return to the playoffs. I’m sure at the beginning of last season, not many people had picked the Sharks to come out on top in the West.
Life comes at you fast, and this is life in the salary cap era. Seven new teams made the playoffs in 2014-15, and five teams returned to the postseason during the 2013-14 season.
Hope springs eternal optimism for hockey fans in September, where fans of teams on the outside looking in can at least envision a scenario where their team makes the playoffs. Alas, some teams will disappoint their fans during the upcoming season.
Here are five teams that I think could miss the playoffs in 2016-17. My apologies for ruining your September optimism.
The Flyers squeaked into the playoffs last season despite not excelling in any facet of the game. They had a bottom-10 offence, a mediocre blueline and middling possession statistics. They were also a beneficiary of the loser point by securing 14 overtime losses, which was second-highest in the league behind the Carolina Hurricanes.
One breakout star who emerged last season was Shayne Gostisbehere. ‘The Ghost’ broke out with 46 points in 64 games, and earned himself a Calder nomination. The Flyers desperately needed him on what was a below-average NHL defence.
The Flyers didn’t do anything to address their blueline in the offseason. That’s probably because they have some serious talent in their pipeline with the likes of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Samuel Morin. However, unless one of them makes a major Gostisbehere-esque leap the Flyers will likely have trouble on defence next season. Although Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth provide an adequate goaltending duo, the Flyers are likely to give up lots of scoring chances next season. That spells trouble for a team that was already on the bubble.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have enjoyed a jaw-dropping 25 straight years in the playoffs. That streak has been in jeopardy for a couple of seasons now, and this sets up as the year the Red Wings finally bow out of contention.
The Red Wings tied the Boston Bruins with 93 points last season but made it to the playoffs with one more ROW. They accomplished this even though the Bruins goal differential was +23 better than the Red Wings.
Pavel Datsyuk retired from the NHL in the offseason, giving the Red Wings one less weapon on a subpar offence. Captain Henrik Zetterberg also enjoyed his least productive offensive season since his rookie year.
It is unlikely that the additions of Frans Nielsen and Tomas Vanek are enough to offset the loss of Datsyuk and the decline of Zetterberg. Nielsen is known as a two-way forward, while Vanek is playing on a one-year “prove it” contract after being bought out by the wild. The Red Wings are on the bubble and could make the playoffs if Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar have bounce back seasons if Dylan Larkin takes another step forward, and if Petr Mrazek plays like he did in the regular season.
There are many “ifs” on the Red Wings roster, making it easy to see them missing the playoffs in 2016-17.
New York Rangers
After making the playoffs for six straight seasons, it is not hard to envision the Rangers playoff window closing. Despite having one of the best goaltenders in the world at their disposal, there are enough question marks on this team to make them a candidate to miss the playoffs in 2016-17.
Part of the Rangers success last season was their balanced scoring attack, which got lost some weapons in the offseason with the trade of Derrick Brassard and the departure of Keith Yandle via free agency. Mika Zibanejad is an adequate replacement for Brassard, but the Rangers did nothing to strengthen their blue line after the loss of Yandle. They made some savvy offseason signings with the likes of Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey, but Rick Nash needs to bounce back after a poor 2015-16 campaign.
The Rangers had the worst Corsi percentage of all playoff teams last season, mainly because they generated the 26th most shots in the league last season. Their offensive success overshadowed what was probably a lucky offence. The Rangers had the highest PDO in the league last season at 102.44, and it is more than likely that their puck luck ends next season, resulting in regression.
Everyone should have sympathy for all of the teams playing in the Central Division. This year, the Wild might be the team who deserves the most sympathy.
By no stretch are the Wild a bad team, but they are not among the elite in the Central. It is hard to argue that the Wild are better than any of the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks or Nashville Predators. Even the teams who finished behind them, the Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche, have exciting young rosters and could steal a few points from the Wild next season.
The Wild are in a less than enviable position, where their top offensive weapons are either oft-injured and/or on the wrong side of 30. Zach Parise has missed time with injury in each of the last three seasons. Captain Mikko Koivu continues to be productive, but veterans Jason Pominville and new addition Eric Stall both struggled last season.
The young players are the Wild are solid, but lack superstar potential. Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula are all quality players, but they don’t push the Wild over the top.
Similar to the Rangers, the Wild has poor Corsi statistics and a high PDO last season. They also had by far the best penalty differential in the league, which masked a 27th ranked penalty kill. Bruce Boudreau should help in that department, but he also isn’t equipped with the superstars he had in Washington and Anaheim. The Wild have zero room for error next season in an ultra-competitive Central Division.
I know what you’re thinking. The Anaheim Ducks are reigning Pacific Division champions, how could they miss the playoffs? It wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory that a Pacific Division champion bowed out of the playoffs the following year.
Despite having a stellar finish to the regular season, the Ducks have to prove that their putrid start to last season wasn’t a mirage. Part of the
reason they turned around their season was thanks to coach Bruce Boudreau, who was let go following a fourth straight game seven loss. Firing Boudreau came off as a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, and bringing back Randy Carlyle further raised eyebrows.
The Ducks, in part thanks to Boudreau, had the best powerplay and penalty kill in the league last season. Can Carlyle help the Ducks retain the league’s best special teams? If he doesn’t, the Ducks could be bound for regression. Anaheim was one of only three playoff teams to finish with a negative goal differential at even-strength, which was overshadowed by their strong special teams play.
Although John Gibson is a star in the making, he no longer has the safety net of Frederik Andersen behind him anymore. Johnathan Bernier will be reunited with his former coach in Carlyle, but he still has ways to go before he is once again considered a legitimate NHL netminder.
While the Ducks are the biggest long shot of the group to miss the playoffs, they did not get better in the offseason and will ice a core that’s one year older. How will their psyche hold up after consecutive game seven losses? Despite their success, it is not unfathomable to see the Ducks missing the playoffs next season.
Stay tuned for the five non-playoff teams who could qualify in 2016-17.