The NHL is sometimes praised for having more parity than most major sports, which helps to generate more overall interest. Most of the major leagues have become extraordinarily predictable as of late. In the NBA, for example, a tiny handful of teams compete for the title every year. And in the MLB, there are teams that make the playoffs like clockwork, though the Yankees just missed out for only the second time in 19 years.
But in the NHL, playoff teams and true contenders typically vary from year to year. That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t teams, like the current Blackhawks, who stay hot for a number of years.
But still, it’s worth wondering: Which newcomers might we see in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Here’s a look at some teams who missed out on the postseason in 2013 but seem poised to get in this year. As you’ll see, the Eastern Conference offers more variables than the Western Conference.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – Tampa Bay has put together a very strong season to date. With 67 points, they sit second in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference alike. Their strong road play has defined them, because their 15 wins away from home are second only to the Rangers’ 16.
- Detroit Red Wings – Detroit, at fifth in the Atlantic, is far from a lock to return to the playoffs. However, given the Atlantic’s strength as compared to the Metropolitan Division, a fifth place finish would get the Red Wings into the playoffs so long as they finish higher than the Metropolitan’s #4 team.
- Carolina Hurricanes – Speaking of the #4 spot in the Metropolitan Division, it belongs to the Carolina Hurricanes. They are becoming a trendy playoff pick due to a streak of solid play recently. In fact, if you check the Betfair Betting odds for the NHL this season, the Canes are given 5/6 odds to win the Eastern Conference! These odds seem somewhat outlandish, because the Canes are roughly 20 points back of Pittsburgh in their own division. However, they do reflect the well-deserved respect Carolina is getting lately.
- Columbus Blue Jackets – Just a point behind Carolina in the Metropolitan, Columbus actually shares the same 5/6 odds and could still challenge for a playoff spot. They’ve been an up-and-down team as of late, however, and will need to find some consistency.
- Philadelphia Flyers – If the season ended today, Philadelphia would squeeze into the playoffs ahead of both Carolina and Columbus with the #3 spot in the Metropolitan Division. Worth noting, however, is that the #2 and #7 spots in the Metropolitan are separated by a mere four points. That should make this division a thrill to watch in the final third of the season.
*If the playoffs started today, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia would make it while Detroit and Carolina would tie for the second wildcard spot. Columbus would miss the playoffs.
- Colorado Avalanche – The West is more set in stone than the East, and it leans a bit more toward 2013 playoff teams. However, Colorado is among those few teams who missed out last year with a very solid chance of making the playoffs. A total of 71 points to date are good for a nine-point cushion for the #3 spot in the Central Division.
- Phoenix Coyotes – The Coyotes are a borderline-reach as they’re stuck at #5 in the Pacific Division with 58 points. The current wildcard leaders are Vancouver and Minnesota with 63 and 62 points respectively, however, so the gap Phoenix needs to make up is manageable.
*If the playoffs started today, Colorado would make it while Phoenix would not.