Although they lost in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, the New Jersey Devils came a long way from the depressing, playoff-missing season they suffered the year before. The Devils showed the NHL that there is no limit to the amount of impact a team can have on the playoffs, no matter what their previous record had been.
After missing the playoffs, teams undergo draft picks, trades, restructuring, staff changes and most importantly attitude changes. These alterations can change losing teams into powerhouses or pull elite teams into a season-long slump.
The 2012 playoffs were as thrilling and unpredictable as ever. The first-seeded Vancover Canucks went from being Stanley Cup finalists in the 2011 playoffs, to losing in the first-round to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, who went on to become the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions.
There is no telling how a team will do at the beginning of a new season. Every losing experience is a growing one and missing the playoffs one season can ignite a team’s fire for seasons to come.
In these slides are the top five playoff-missing teams whose fires could be blazing throughout the next season.
The Buffalo Sabres have everything a team needs to make it to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, during the last season, the Sabres were not firing on all cylinders.
Olympic goaltender Ryan Miller had a slow year and the Sabres’ secondary scoring was disastrous.
Buffalo can count on Miller bouncing back next season, but they needed to add depth to their offense if they hope to succeed.
With two first-round draft picks, the Sabres did just that in picking up two centers, Mikhail Grigorenko (40 G, 40 A, 59 GP) of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts and Zemgus Girgensons (19G, 25A, 57PIM) of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints.
The additions of a potentially high-scoring playmaker and a tough guy center could be just what the Sabres needed to add second and third-line depth to their offense.
In the 2012 Draft, the Jets passed on highly regarded forward Filip Forsberg to pick up two-way defenseman Jacob Trouba in an attempt to reinforce their blue line.
With already solid defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien on the roster, Trouba could be the final link in Winnipeg’s defensive chain.
Passing on the tempting Swedish forward during the draft might have agitated some Jets fans, but in doing that, the Jets’ committed to an aspiration of becoming a strong defensive team—an aspiration that is well within the reach of Winnipeg.
Arguably the biggest surprise during the 2012 NHL draft was the Carolina Hurricanes' acquisition of Jordan Staal, brother of Carolina superstar Eric Staal, from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for rookie Brandon Sutter, a prospect and draft picks.
Jordan Staal just put up the best numbers of his career (25 G, 25 A, 65 GP) and the chemistry he could have with his brother might unleash a Sedin-like performance from the duo and ultimately spark the team’s entire offense.
Carolina also have a solid goaltender in Cam Ward, who put up decent numbers this season (30 W, 9.15 SV%) despite being hung out to dry by his team all season.
The lack of depth in Carolina’s offense is a little disturbing, but the Staal family reunion could be the spark the Hurricanes’ need to get back to the playoff-making team they used to be.
The Oilers are tired of having the first pick in the draft.
Edmonton just acquired Sarnia sensation Nail Yakupov in hopes that the Russian sniper will be the last star forward the team needs to become a consistent contender in the playoffs.
In the last two years, the Oilers drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall with two consecutive first overall draft picks. Despite showing a lot of potential in the past season, the two forwards had their seasons cut short with injuries and were unable to fully perform in Edmonton.
If Edmonton’s rookies can stay healthy, Yakupov, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall can grow into more experienced and durable NHL players—and pose a serious threat to other teams in the process.
The Tampa Bay Lightning essentially had the same team this past season as they did when they reached the conference finals against the Boston Bruins in the 2011 playoffs. The only difference was that goaltender Dwayne Roloson never came to play and backup Mathieu Garon provided no relief.
In a painful development for the Lightning, the team was forced to watch their former backup goalie Mike Smith, who they traded to the Phoenix Coyotes at the beginning of the season, play fantastic hockey all season and throughout the playoffs for Phoenix. Had Tampa Bay hung on to Smith, they would have seen his potential and never would have traded him.
Tampa Bay patched that problem up fast by drafting Andrei Vasilevki, the top-ranked European goaltender in the NHL 2012 Draft.The Lightning also traded for Nashville Predators backup goalie Anders Lindback.
On top of acquiring a goalie replacement, the Lightning used their first-round pick to pick up Slater Koekkoek, a much-needed defenseman from Peterborough of the Ontario Junior League.
With superstar forwards like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning do not need to worry about scoring goals. Their focus was directed toward their weaknesses and these changes could bring Tampa Bay back to the playoffs next season.