About a half of the NHL season has elapsed and it is time to take a look at how things have gone thus far for the 14 teams that failed to qualify for last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As expected, it is a mixed bag. Some franchises are moving in the right direction, while others need to rethink their organizational philosophies.
Things are looking up on Long Island, and the Flames faithful have to be pleasantly surprised with Calgary’s faster-than-expected turn-around. Meanwhile, Edmonton still can’t convert its myriad first-overall picks into on-ice success, while the loss of Radim Vrbata has the Coyotes searching for offense.
Let’s take a closer look at each team’s odds to return to the playoffs this year.
New York Islanders (61 points): 1/15 to make the playoffs
The Isles have been dominant at home, and their young stars – John Tavares, Brock Nelson, and Kyle Okposo – have grown up. The special teams still need work, but New York is consistently able to score goals. Jaroslav Halak has been dynamite in net, tying Billy Smith’s franchise record for consecutive wins with ten earlier in the year.
Nashville Predators (64 points): 1/10 to make the playoffs
The Predators’ defense has been the best in the NHL, anchored by perennial Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber and last year’s second-overall pick Seth Jones. And even when opponents do glimpse a scoring chance, the Preds have superstar goalie Pekka Rinne walling up the net. Add in some offense from Rookie of the Year candidate Filip Forsberg, and Nashville is poised to end its playoff drought.
Winnipeg Jets (58 points): 5/7 to make the playoffs
The Jets are very good on defense and in goal, and are getting a surprising amount of offense lately from their less-than-impressive forward corps. The Jets understand the way that they need to play in order to win and embrace tightly played games with lots of overtimes and shootouts.
Playing in the Western Conference is both a blessing and a curse for the Jets. Eight of 14 Western teams will make the playoffs (versus eight of 16 Eastern teams), but the bulk of the NHL’s best teams all reside out west, meaning a tougher schedule for Winnipeg. That said, they currently have a seven-point cushion over ninth-place L.A.
Washington Capitals (56 points): 5/7 to make the playoffs
After a slow start offensively, the Caps have found their scoring touch lately and the points have followed. A strong 6-2-2 mark in the last ten has Washington seventh in the East, six points clear of ninth-place Florida.
Vancouver Canucks (53 points): 5/6 to make the playoffs
After a rare down season, the Canucks have bounced back under first-year head coach Willie Desjardins. The scoring has dried up of late, but Ryan Miller has been excellent in net. The team is currently seventh in the Western Conference with games in hand on every other team in the conference, but their recent play – especially at home – leaves a lot to be desired.
Florida Panthers (26 points): 7/5 to make the playoffs
With Roberto Luongo back between the pipes in Miami, the Panthers are stingy on defense but struggle to score. They have no consistent offensive threats, but play a tight-checking style and are competitive late in a lot of games. Aaron Ekblad, last year’s first-overall draft pick, has been as good as advertised and will challenge Forsberg for the Calder Trophy.
The team is just four points back of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but its -14 goal difference doesn’t inspire much confidence for the second half.
Toronto Maple Leafs (47 points): 7/5 to make the playoffs
It’s the same story as last year for Toronto (though it’s playing out earlier this year): a hot start followed by ineptitude. Randy Carlyle is out as coach and Peter Horachek is in. It hasn’t made a difference. The Buds are seven points out of a playoff spot and have just four points (two wins) in their last ten games.
Calgary Flames (51 points): 3/2 to make the playoffs
One of the biggest surprise in the early going, the Flames looked like Stanley Cup contenders at the quarter pole. Things have been up-and-down since then, though; the Flames lost eight in a row in December, but are a solid 7-3 in their last ten. With the Western Conference extremely tough again, Calgary’s playoff chances no longer look promising. They currently occupy the last spot, but have last year’s Stanley Cup champs (Los Angeles) hot on their heels.
Ottawa Senators (44 points): 2/1 to make the playoffs
The Senators neither excel nor are truly dreadful in any one area. They tend to play close, low scoring games. Goalies Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner are solid but not spectacular. This team defines average. Average wasn’t good enough for management, though, which let go of head coach Paul MacLean. The move hasn’t paid dividends yet, as Ottawa is still well back of a playoff spot.
New Jersey Devils (40 points): 4/1 to make the playoffs
Like Toronto, New Jersey is seeing last season repeat itself: the Devils can’t score and rarely pick up the extra point in OT or the shootout. They have been very poor on the PK, as well, and are 14 points out of the playoffs. They should already be building towards next year.
Arizona Coyotes (23 points): 6/1 to make the playoffs
Mike Smith has really struggled between the pipes and the Coyotes’ defense hasn’t helped the situation. Arizona lacks an offensive star and youngster Oliver Ekman-Larsson has had a difficult season. The Coyotes brass has to be kicking themselves for not trying harder to re-sign Vrbata given the numbers he is putting up in Vancouver. The Yotes are 14 points back of eighth in the West.
Carolina Hurricanes (35 points): 17/2 to make the playoffs
Injuries early in the season put Carolina in a huge hole. They have played decently of late, with a winning record in the last ten (5-4-1). But the early struggles are going to be too much to overcome, as the Canes are nearly 20 points back of eighth in the East.
Edmonton Oilers (17 points): 90/1 to make the playoffs
The Oilers might have a lot of young players with a ton of talent, but whatever they’re trying isn’t working. They give up goals in droves and scoring has proved difficult. The incessant losing led to the ouster of coach Dallas Eakins after just a season and a half. The team has responded a bit going 4-4-2 in the last ten. But they are still 20 points back of eighth in the West and get dominated within the conference.
Buffalo Sabres (31 points): 100/1 to make the playoffs
The Sabres have scored the fewest goals in the league and have given up the most. The team put together a modest win streak earlier in the year behind the exceptional play of goalie Jhonas Enroth; but no goalie could lead this team to a winning record. The talent simply isn’t there. The Sabres are 23 points back in the chase for the post-season and have lost ten straight in regulation.
(Photo credit: Michael Miller (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo may appear cropped.)