Optimism is plentiful in the NHL these days, and especially so considering the 2017-18 regular season campaign stands poised to begin in a matter of weeks.
With yet another hectic offseason in the books, each and every NHL franchise has made a multitude of changes which they believe will significantly benefit their respective organization’s in the near future. On one hand, contending teams were quick to lock down critical assets as well as add depth skaters of the ability to ensure sustainable success over the course of a season. Conversely, for those teams in the midst of an on-going rebuild, further young assets were acquired in order to generate a promising future both on and off of the ice.
So, with all of the hype, expectations, and predictions revolving the NHL, it’s time to make an interesting and surely controversial prophecy. While everyone is interested in whether or not their favourite team will reach the Stanley Cup playoffs this season, let’s take a moment to dissect three teams who, despite clinching a playoff berth last year, will fail to do so in 2017-18.
2016-17 Season: 3rd in Atlantic Division; Eliminated by Ottawa in First Round
The Boston Bruins snuck into the postseason by a single point in 2016-17. However, having done little to improve their roster throughout this past offseason, exactly how does the team plan to clinch a playoff berth in 2017-18?
Offensively, the Bruins boast one of the most lethal top-sixs in the entire NHL. Led by long-time star Patrice Bergeron, Boston blasted out the ninth-most goals in the league last season and stands poised to do the same again this coming campaign. Further, with David Pastrnak now under contract long-term and Brad Marchand at the height of his game, the Bruins’ attack is showing no signs of slowing down.
Yet, with this being said, Boston could boast a much more potent offence, the trouble being that their bottom-six core of forwards is extremely thin and relatively inexperienced. With a number of young assets eager to grace NHL ice, the Bruins could find themselves depending on their top-six far too heavily this coming season – an over-dependence which could prove fatal to the team’s playoff hopes.
On defence, the situation is eerily similar. Zdeno Chara is not the intimidating threat which he used to be considering he is now 40 years-of-age, and losing Colin Miller and Joe Morrow robbed the team of considerable depth. While Charlie McAvoy projects to become an elite defenceman and is arguably the top prospect in the NHL, he and fellow blueliner Brandon Carlo should not be looked upon as pillar’s of the teams defence-core this early into their young careers. More recently, losing Tory Krug to a fractured jaw certainly didn’t help matters.
Further, there is Boston’s situation in goal. Although Tuukka Rask stands amongst the elite netminders of the NHL, he has played in over 60 games in each of the past three seasons and, as such, would do well to have a reliable and experienced backup netminder waiting in the wings. Unfortunately, neither Anton Khudobin nor Zane McIntyre fit the bill, as both hold limited playing time and success at the NHL-level.
Unless the Bruins can generate an immense amount of offence from their best forwards while playing shockingly stingy defence, it looks as though Boston could find itself on the outside looking in come to the end of the season. Yes, the team flourished with Bruce Cassidy behind the bench to end the 2016-17 season, however, the lack of depth within their roster as well as aging core could very well see the Bruins surpassed by a number of younger and improving teams.
2017-18 Prediction: 5th in Atlantic Division
2016-17: 2nd in Atlantic Division; Eliminated by Pittsburgh in Third Round
The Ottawa Senators were nothing other than a pleasant surprise in 2016-17.
Boasting a variety expectations to begin their campaign, the Senators enjoyed a consistent and relatively healthy regular season which saw the franchise accumulate a whopping 98 points – good for the sixth-most in the Eastern Conference. Further, the Senators battled tirelessly in the playoffs, pushing the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to a deciding seventh game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Yet, despite this immense and somewhat unexpected success, Ottawa will be hard-pressed to return to the postseason in 2017-18. As a team structured upon a highly conservative foundation, the Senators’ approach which emphasizes strong defence and timely goal-scoring could be at risk of collapsing as opposing teams find ways to adjust to Ottawa’s unique style. An unfortunate reality compounding this issue is the fact that Erik Karlsson will not be healthy to begin the season, as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery.
While Dion Phaneuf will be dependable, Thomas Chabot holds incredible promise, and Johnny Oduya is set to join the team as a free agent, Karlsson’s absence will be felt both on and off of the ice and will have a significant impact on the franchise’s success out of the gate. If the Senators stumble heavily to begin the 2017-18 campaign, the points lost early in the year could have a massive impact late in the season, and especially so given the competitive nature of the Eastern Conference.
Having secured a berth in the postseason last year with a three-point cushion, Ottawa will be heavily challenged to repeat the feat given the fact that a number of teams have improved drastically since last season. With the Toronto Maple Leafs trending up, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally healthy, and the New York Islanders a persistent threat, the Senators’ window to reach the playoffs has closed significantly, as the 2017-18 campaign will undoubtedly generate an extremely competitive wild card race.
If Ottawa can remain remarkably healthy and receive consistent production from throughout their lineup, they could challenge for a berth in the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, if opposing teams adapt to the Senators’ playing style and compromise their defensive foundation – which will, to an extent, likely be the case, – Ottawa’s ability to legitimately contend in an incendiary Eastern Conference will be hampered substantially.
2017-18 Prediction: 4th in Atlantic Division
San Jose Sharks
2016-17: 3rd in Pacific Division; Eliminated by Edmonton in First Round
After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015-16, the San Jose Sharks took a step back last season, falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the first-round of the postseason. Unfortunately, the Sharks’ backward trend is one which appears set to continue, as the franchise will have to overcome ample competition if they wish to clinch a playoff berth in 2017-18.
While San Jose’s core remains largely intact following Patrick Marleau’s departure, it is one which continues to age and degrade. Lacking considerable depth, the Sharks are in need of quality prospects and young players capable of producing at the NHL-level and supplementing the team’s offence. However, with only a handful of promising youngsters on the way, San Jose is risking the sustainability of their success in the long-term.
With that being said, heading into 2017-18 the Sharks will need immense contributions from a number of their less-notable players if they wish to legitimately contend. Individuals such as Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi, and Mikkel Boedker must prove themselves worthy of the top-six ice time which they will surely be thrust into, and Timo Meier must begin to illustrate the skills which made him the ninth-overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Outside of those with much to prove, the exploits of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns remain well known, and nothing other than excellence should be expected from this established group which leads San Jose on a nightly basis. Further, with a solid and deep defence-core in place as well as a reliable netminder in Martin Jones, the Sharks should remain a relatively competitive team – yet a fringe contender, to be exact.
In all, it will be extremely difficult for San Jose to clinch a playoff berth this coming season. With the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference likely to be claimed by Central Division contenders, it appears as though the Sharks must surpass the Calgary Flames in order to lock-down a place in the postseason. However, with one of the strongest defences in the NHL and a young core which continues to improve, achieving the feat will be much easier said than done for San Jose.
2017-18 Prediction: 4th in Pacific Division
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.