The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a wonderful thing. This past year, we saw the worst team, in the regular season, in the playoffs make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and give the Penguins a run for their money. Now I’m here to prove the keys for every team to make the playoffs. There’s really no time to preface this as there are thirty-one teams.
We will take it by division. First up, the Metropolitan.
The Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs last season, and it wasn’t really close. The Hurricanes will likely remain one of the younger teams in the NHL next season, with their average age under the league average. Trading away Eddie Lack leaves the No. 2 goalie slot wide open, and I think that’s one of the keys to their success. Finding a good No. 2 goalie, perhaps one that is able to challenge Cam Ward for his No. 1 spot will help the Hurricanes a lot. Carolina was in the bottom half of the league in both goals for and against, so improving those numbers will obviously help their case exponentially.
Columbus Blue Jackets
I think trading for Artemi Panarin is going to help the Jackets more than many think. He has potential to be a perennial 30-goal scorer and will only help one of the NHL’s most potent offenses become more dangerous. The Blue Jackets have arguably the best goaltender in the league with Sergei Bobrovsky, and should have no trouble making the playoffs. The major key for Columbus is doing what they did last season, and perhaps doing it even better. For them, it’s not so much an issue of making the playoffs, it’s performing in them.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils were far and away one of the worst teams in the league last year, and there’s no argument for the other side whatsoever. Having one of the better goaltenders in the NHL clearly only got New Jersey so far, and they look to rebound this season. Nico Hischier could very well come in and perform very well for an otherwise weak Devils team. Adam Henrique and his performance is going to be the major key for the Devils this season, as his point totals were respectable last year, but his +/- was absolutely dreadful at -20.
New York Islanders
The Islanders just missed the playoffs last season. Getting beat out by Toronto by one point. For the Islanders to get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs, their defense needs to play better. If the Islanders have any hope of keeping John Tavares, they need to make the playoffs, and have their defense stop leaving their goalies on an island.
New York Rangers
The Rangers made the playoffs last year, frankly, on the back of Antti Raanta’s unreal run when Henrik Lundqvist struggled. After trading Raanta to the Coyotes, the Rangers don’t have a No. 2 set, and certainly not one of the better goalie situations, but that’s neither here nor there. Whoever their backup ends up being, I think Magnus Hellberg will be their guy, he needs to play well when Lundqvist inevitably falters. The Rangers have one of the better offenses in the league, but it’s hard to win with just one goalie performing well.
The Flyers weren’t great last season, there’s no doubt about it. However, they certainly weren’t terrible, and very well could have made the playoffs with a run of good play in the middle of the season. With Steve Mason’s heart set on leaving Philly, the Flyers hopes lie on Michael Neuvirth and likely Anthony Stolarz. The goalie play is a big key to their success as they don’t have a great offense to keep up with the rest of the Metro.
The two-time defending champions. There’s not much to say about the Penguins here. They are undoubtedly the best team in the league. They had the most potent offense in the NHL last season and should have no issue doing the same this year. The only significant area of question is who takes that No. 2 goalie slot, the seemingly recurring theme, from Marc-Andre Fleury. The defense is a slightly questionable area, as they were in the bottom half of the league in goals against, but should be no worry for the best scoring team in the league.
The Capitals are far and away the best regular season team in the NHL. But that’s just it. The best regular season team. For one reason or another, the Capitals just can’t get anything to click in the playoffs. Their concern is not with making the playoffs, they should have no trouble doing that. They were the best defensive team in the regular season, and the third best scoring team. The only real area of improvement for the Capitals is honestly the offense. Well, that and making it past the second round.
The Bruins were among the league’s best defensively, and around the middle of the league offensively. For the Bruins, the main key is scoring more and having the points distributed more evenly. They were to some extent, but from fifth to sixth highest totals on the team, there was a 12-point difference. Tuukka Rask cutting down on the “Really Bad Starts” (a stat from Hockey Reference) wouldn’t hurt either.
Simply put, the Sabres can’t have someone who played in 61 games be their top point getter. It just can’t happen. The Sabres need to improve exponentially on offense to even think about making the playoffs. With decent goalie play this season and Jack Eichel remaining healthy all year, the Sabres could very well make the playoffs. Assuming they get better on offense as well.
Detroit Red Wings
The Wings need Jimmy Howard to stay healthy all year, and to play like he did last year before getting hurt if they have any hope of making the playoffs. They also need the defense to step up and not leave their goalies on an island endlessly. Danny DeKeyser is going to play a huge role in the Wings’ success this season after a down year in 2016-17. The Wings have offensive potential, and Dylan Larkin is the name to keep an eye on after a sophomore slump in 2016-17.
The Panthers weren’t great last season, and likely won’t be great this season, especially after losing their only 30-goal scorer in Jon Marchessault to Vegas in the expansion draft. While his production will be picked up by committee, the Panthers need to score more as a whole, as well as defend better if they have any hope of making the playoffs. Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov are two names to keep an eye on for Florida.
The Canadiens won the Atlantic last season on the back of Carey Price. However, a goalie only gets you so far, and they lost in the first round of the playoffs. For Montreal to get back to the playoffs, the need to be a better offensive team. In order to do so though, Alex Galchenyuk needs to remain healthy all year, and consistently put up points.
The Senators made the playoffs on the back of an inspiring season from Craig Anderson. They were among the league’s worst in scoring, and some of that could come back to the fact that Erik Karlsson had their highest point total, but that seems to work for them as they made it to the Conference Finals. To get back to the playoffs, Craig Anderson needs to have another phenomenal season, in what will likely be one of his last, and they need to be much better offensively.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning just missed the playoffs last year without their best player, Steven Stamkos. Andrei Vasilevskiy and Peter Budaj need to play well this year if the Lightning have any chance of making the playoffs. Steven Stamkos also needs to stay healthy for most, if not all, of the season, and return to Steven Stamkos-form.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto squeaked into the playoffs last year. The Maple Leafs were one of the league’s best teams offensively, but struggled defensively. Obviously, they’ve got to improve defensively, but they could easily be the league’s best offensive team with another year under Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner’s belts.
The Blackhawks, like the Capitals, are one of the league’s best teams in the regular season. And again, that’s just it, the regular season. They downgraded one of their best players in Artemi Panarin to Brandon Saad. Chicago is amongst the league’s best offensively and defensively. To continue making the playoffs, the Blackhawks need Jonathan Toews to step up a little bit more and have Corey Crawford play like the elite goalie Blackhawks fans think he is.
The Avalanche were far and away the worst team in the NHL last season, and it wasn’t even close. They were the worst in the NHL both offensively and defensively. The Avalanche’s core is one of the youngest in the league, but it will be hard for them to make the playoffs. Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene both need to step up massively for the Avs to even maybe think about the playoffs. Losing Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft as well will likely bite them in the butt though, with Semyon Varlamov being an OK goalie at best.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are keeping the Stars competitive. There’s no way to sugar coat it either. After trading for Ben Bishop this offseason, the Stars have one of the better goalies in the league. After being the second worst team defensively in the NHL, they need all the help they can get. Seguin and Benn need to continue performing well, and Ben Bishop needs to learn how to be a productive goalie while being left on an island endlessly.
The Wild were among the league’s best offensively and defensively, and look to do the same this season. The Wild had the easiest schedule in the league though, as per Hockey Reference. For Minnesota to remain successful, Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu need to not have the second and third highest point totals, respectively, on the team.
Ahhh yes, the Predators. The Cinderella story of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Losing James Neal to Vegas in the expansion draft is a big loss, however, they Predators still have players on their roster to fill his shoes, to some extent. In terms of improvement, Nashville definitely has to get better defensively. Pekka Rinne has also got to play like he did all season for this team to be successful.
St Louis Blues
The quality of player falls off significantly after Vladimir Tarasenko for St Louis. Despite there being room for concern in that regard, the Blues still managed to be in the top half of the league both offensively and defensively. Jake Allen needs to have another strong season for St Louis to even think about remaining contenders.
The Jets had one of the best offenses in the NHL, but that doesn’t do much for a team when they also have one of the worst defenses. Connor Hellebuyck had a respectable season, and needs to do the same this season. But having a decent goalie only takes you so far when you have a shaky at best defense.
The Ducks won the Pacific after being one of the best defensive teams in the NHL. However, the offense struggled, only scoring enough goals to get them 17th in the league, which is fine considering they’ve got one of the better goalie situations in the league with John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier. The Ducks need to improve offensively, but will be fine if they don’t, in order to make the playoffs.
Arizona was among the league’s worst both offensively and defensively, and it probably doesn’t help their case when their second highest point total comes from a defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. After trading for Antti Raanta, their starting goalie should cause them little, if any trouble. But, like many perennial basement dwellers in the league, they need to improve everywhere.
The Flames finished the season near the middle of the league both offensively and defensively. After trading for Mike Smith, their goals against figure should decrease at least a little bit, and Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk having another year under their belts, the Flames could be a team to reckon with. But the two need to have better years than they did this year to get lead the Flames back to the playoffs.
Edmonton was among the league’s best both offensively and defensively this past season, placing top-10 in the leauge in both respectively. Having the best player in the league on your roster, you’re never really going to struggle too much. The Oilers are among one of the youngest teams in the NHL, and with more experience under their belts, they should challenge in a fairly weak Western Conference. The main thing Edmonton needs to improve and make it back to the playoffs is more experience. Scoring and defending a little better wouldn’t hurt either.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings were among the league’s best teams just a few years ago. Now, they’re basement dwellers, to some extent, and have one of the worst offenses in the league. Their only saving grace being that they are still, somehow, one of the better defensive teams in the NHL. To make the playoffs this season, it’s plain and simple. They need to score more, and shoot when given even the slightest chance
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are an interesting case. Their offensive and defensive numbers are similar to the Kings, ranking just slightly higher than Los Angeles in each. No matter, the Sharks are one of the league’s better teams. Offensively, there is significant room for improvement, with Brent Burns having the most points and a share of the most goals on the team. While he is an offensive minded defenseman, he definitely shouldn’t be the leading scorer on a team. Assuming other players step up on offense, the Sharks could once again challenge for a Stanley Cup in a fairly weak Western Conference.
The Canucks were among the league’s worst offensively, but were….just kidding I misread it, they were bad defensively too. The Canucks need to improve exponentially on offense to even think about making the playoffs. It’s not the greatest thing when two of your top three point-getters are the massively overrated 36-year old Sedin twins. Don’t get me wrong, the Canucks were bad on defense, but they were even worse on offense, and there isn’t much hope for them if I’m honest.
Vegas Golden Knights
It’s luck of the draw that the new kid in town is the last team on this. I’ve discussed their roster before and I think Vegas could be in for a decent season. However, they didn’t get much offense in the expansion draft or the draft itself, and that could come back to bite them in the butt. They went into the expansion draft with a Ken Holland mindset of “Grit and muscle is better than offense.” It’s too early to say what Vegas for sure needs, but I have a sneaking suspicion that their problem will be offense for a few years to come.