NHL Predictions: How Many Seasons Away from the Playoffs Is Each Franchise?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2012

NHL Predictions: How Many Seasons Away from the Playoffs Is Each Franchise?

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    It was all glory for the Los Angeles Kings once the playoffs started.

    They were a flawed team in the regular season, one that had a difficult time scoring enough goals, and they struggled to win games.

    However, they did just enough to secure the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

    A late-season trade brought them high-scoring winger Jeff Carter. That changed the overall chemistry, attitude and on-ice product. There was no stopping the Kings in the postseason.

    They may have barely made the playoffs, but they were clearly the best team once the money was on the table.

    You have to get in the top eight in the Eastern or Western Conference. In this piece, we look at each team and predict how many seasons each team is from making the postseason.

New Jersey Devils

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    The Devils rolled through the Eastern Conference playoffs last year and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    They were pushed to the brink quickly by the Kings and rebounded nicely, but got closed out in six games.

    In 2010-11, the Devils didn't even make the playoffs. A non-playoff year could be on the horizon without superstar Zach Parise, who signed a free-agent deal with the Minnesota Wild.

    The Devils lost their heart and soul. Head coach Peter DeBoer will get a good effort, but the Eastern Conference champions won't make the playoffs.

    But the 2013-14 season will be another story. They will make it after a one-year absence.

New York Islanders

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    The Islanders just can't seem to make any progress.

    The biggest reason is that they play in such a tough division and have to go up against teams like the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins.

    Despite the presence of superstar John Tavares, the Islanders are still two seasons away from making the playoffs. The competition is simply too tough.

New York Rangers

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    The Rangers were the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and were dominant throughout the regular season.

    They appeared to be on their way to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals until they were bounced by the Devils.

    The Rangers had everything except adequate scoring, and they have addressed that in the offseason by adding Rick Nash.

    They not only will make the playoffs this year, they should be the Stanley Cup favorites.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Flyers will have their hands full once again with the Rangers and Penguins.

    They may not be the top-ranked team in the Atlantic Division, and the goaltending may once again cause head coach Peter Laviolette to lose sleep.

    The team has defensive issues outside of the net. But the Flyers can score, and they will make the playoffs. Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds may not get past the second round, but they will be there at the end of the regular season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    There is no question that the Penguins are one of the most talented teams in the league.

    They have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. There is no stopping the Penguins as far as earning a ticket to the postseason is concerned. The question will be how far they can go and what kind of run head coach Dan Bylsma will take them on.

    When all is said and done, they may end up squaring off with the Rangers in the postseason. The winner of that matchup may end up representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins thought they were in great position to repeat their Stanley Cup championship last year.

    They had an up-and-down regular season, but when general manager Peter Chiarelli looked at his roster, he knew the Bruins were as talented as any team.

    However, it takes more than talent, and the Bruins didn't play postseason hockey with the same bravura they showed in 2011. They were bounced in overtime of the seventh game of the first round by the Washington Capitals. The Washington Capitals.

    The Bruins will not have Tim Thomas this season. The flaky goalie has decided to take a season off. Still, Tuukka Rask should be solid in the net. However, Claude Julien may not feel great about the team's backup goalie situation.

    Nevertheless, the Bruins are going to the playoffs and may be good enough to push teams like the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins to the limit.

Buffalo Sabres

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    Can the Sabres get back to the playoffs? It depends on how they start the season.

    Last year, a poor start buried them, and even a strong second half didn't allow them to get all the way back.

    The Sabres need to show more toughness and assertiveness. Goalie Ryan Miller got run over by Boston tough guy Milan Lucic early last season, and the Sabres did not respond. The team never got over that bruising.

    Head coach Lindy Ruff won't stand for that this year. Bufflalo will respond and make the postseason this year.

Montreal Canadiens

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    The proud Montreal Canadiens finished last in the Eastern Conference last year.

    The season was doomed from the start, and they never made a run at the postseason.

    Still, with talented players like Erik Cole, Max Pacioretty, Carey Price and P.K. Subban, the Canadiens have plenty of talent.

    They will rebound this year and remain in playoff contention until the final two weeks of the year.

    They won't make it this year, but they will be back in the playoffs in 2013-14.

Ottawa Senators

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    It was a shocker last year when the Senators rebounded from a miserable 2010-11 season to secure the No. 8 spot in the playoffs last year.

    They pushed the Bruins during the regular season and even secured the lead in the Northeast Division for a short time. Thanks to head coach Paul McLean, defenseman Erik Karlsson and veterans Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, the Senators were explosive and exciting.

    They pushed the Rangers to seven games before falling in the first round of the playoffs.

    They won't be so lucky this year, and the Senators will not make the playoffs. They won't find their postseason magic again for two more seasons, as the chemistry will evaporate.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Maple Leafs were on track to make the playoffs for about two-thirds of the season.

    Then the roof fell in. The biggest need for the Maple Leafs was quality goaltending as the season ended. They have not addressed that need to this point in the offseason.

    However, there's still time to make a move, and it will happen. If they make a deal with the Vancouver Canucks and bring in Roberto Luongo, it may be just what the Maple Leafs need.

    The Maple Leafs make the playoffs this year.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Hurricanes have only made the postseason twice since the 2004-05 lockout, but general manager Jim Rutherford is not taking those shortcomings likely.

    He brought in Jordan Staal from the Penguins and Alex Semin from the Capitals. The Hurricanes will be a gritty team this year and fight for the playoffs all season. They should grab the eighth spot on the season's final weekend.

Florida Panthers

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    It was a shocker when the Florida Panthers not only made the playoffs last season, but finished first in the Southeast Division.

    They struggled at many points near the end of the season, but they had enough to hold on. They played the Devils tough and pushed them to overtime of the seventh game of the playoffs, but they could not close the deal.

    Look for the hangover to continue. Despite last year's success, the Panthers fall back this year and can't sustain the past achievement. They will make the playoffs again in 2013-14.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    After getting to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, the Lightning were not even a playoff team last year.

    That's hard to fathom. They have the best goal scorer in the NHL in Steven Stamkos and a supporting cast that includes Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Victor Hedman.

    The Lightning will win the division and will be back in the playoffs this year. They may even challenge teams like the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers and Bruins for Eastern Conference superiority.

Washington Capitals

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    It was another troubling season for the Capitals, as Bruce Boudreau was fired early in the year and Dale Hunter took over.

    The play was inconsistent, although the Caps did well enough to make the playoffs. They ousted the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in seven games and pushed the Rangers to seven games before they lost.

    Hunter quit at the end of the season, and new Hall of Famer Adam Oates takes over behind the bench.

    The Caps are still searching for an identity. They are lost, as Alex Ovechkin is not the same player he was and goalie Braden Holtby must prove he can sustain success. They will miss the playoffs for at least two more seasons.

Winnipeg Jets

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    The Jets are a tough and spirited bunch who fight hard every night. They can be especially difficult to beat on home ice.

    However, Evander Kane and Bryan Little (above) won't make the playoffs this year. They are at least two seasons away from getting back to the playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Blackhawks have made the playoffs each of the past two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.

    Making the playoffs is not good enough. The team must get back to Stanley Cup contention to satisfy its rabid fanbase.

    The goaltending may not be quite good enough to get there. However, they will make the playoffs again this year thanks to Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Now that they have traded their top scorer, Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers, the Columbus Blue Jackets are ready to dominate the Western Conference.

    Just joking.

    There's no way this team will come close to contending for at least three more seasons.

    There are some talented players, most notably Jack Johnson, who came over from the Los Angles Kings in the Jeff Carter deal. However, this team has too many holes, including in the net.

Detroit Red Wings

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    This is the year the Red Wings may learn how the other half lives in the NHL.

    They will not be able to look on their blue line or in the corner of their locker room for Nicklas Lidstrom to provide relief when the game is on the line. He has retired

    They will struggle without him—at least by Red Wings standards. However, they still have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The Wings may not win the Stanley Cup this year, but they will make the playoffs.

Nashville Predators

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    The Predators were getting hammered in the offseason.

    Ryan Suter had left Nashville to sign a big free-agent deal with the Minnesota Wild, and hard-shooting defenseman Shea Weber had signed a huge offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers.

    It appeared that all was lost. However, the Preds matched the offer, and Weber will remain in Nashville. Along with goalie Pekka Rinne, Weber gives the Preds upper-echelon talent.

    However, the loss of Suter will nag at them all season. The Preds will find they don't have enough goal scoring and will miss the playoffs for the next two seasons.

St. Louis Blues

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    The Los Angeles Kings were the surprise team of the postseason last year.

    The St. Louis Blues were the surprise team of the regular season.

    When Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench, they were struggling to win games and gain points. Hitchock made a few adjustments, the Blues turned up the defensive pressure and they went on to win the Central Division.

    The Blues depend on the all-out hustle of players like T.J. Oshie (above) and the goaltending of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Nothing changes this year, and they win the division title again.

Calgary Flames

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    The Calgary Flames are in the NHL's version of hockey hell.

    They are not good enough to make the playoffs. They aren't bad enough to make it likely they will ever come away with the No. 1 pick in the draft.

    They have an older core group of players led by Jarome Iginla, and they are at least four years from making the playoffs. It's another season of .500 hockey in Calgary.

Colorado Avalanche

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    There's plenty of heart and hustle in Colorado, but just not enough ability.

    The Avalanche have one of the most exciting young players in the league in Gabriel Landeskog, who scored 22 goals as a rookie and should get 30 this year. However, the Avalanche have at least two years to go before they make the playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers

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    There will be struggles a-plenty this year for the Edmonton Oilers. There will be nights when the defense gives up boatloads of shots and goals. There will be nights when the offense just misses clicking. There will be nights when they make too many mistakes.

    Those are called growing pains. They won't last.

    They won't even make up the majority of the nights in this season. They Oilers will do enough to make the playoffs. They will end up with the No. 7 or 8 seed, and they will fight hard once they get to the postseason.

    After this year, they will no longer be satisfied to make the playoffs. They will be Western Conference contenders.

Minnesota Wild

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    The Minnesota Wild hit a grand slam in the offseason. The time had come for general manager Chuck Fletcher to make his big move, and he did not fail.

    Fletcher brought home Zach Parise and Ryan Suter as the top two prizes of the free-agent season. The talent level in Minnesota has gone up dramatically.

    The Wild will make the playoffs and may even win a round or two. Look for this team to be a consistent threat in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

Vancouver Canucks

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    The Vancouver Canucks have been the NHL's dominant regular season team in recent years.

    However, when it comes to the playoffs, they can't get the job done. The last three years, they have been eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins and the Los Angeles Kings. All of those teams went on to win the Stanley Cup.

    The Canucks have too much talent to miss the playoffs. Henrik and Daniel Sedin still lead the offense, and new No. 1 goalie Cory Schneider will give them a lift.

    However, the window of opportunity for a Stanley Cup is closing.

Anaheim Ducks

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    The Ducks are just a little bit short of where they need to be.

    They have a very unhappy player in high-scoring Bobby Ryan and another talented player in Corey Perry, but something is not quite right with this team.

    They are not likely to find the answer with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench. He wants his teams to play stellar offensive hockey, but he knows he must temper that desire by preaching defense. As a result, his teams play with tension and pull in too many directions.

    The Ducks fail to make the playoffs for at least two more years.

Dallas Stars

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    The Stars are tired of missing the playoffs. They are going for it in 2012-13.

    They traded for talented Derek Roy, who has been questioned for his lack of grit while with the Buffalo Sabres. They have added ancient warriors Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. They have Michael Ryder back to score clutch goals.

    The Stars may not be Cup contenders, but they will push the Sharks to the limit. They will be nip-and-tuck for the playoffs for the final spot, but will most likely fall short.

Los Angeles Kings

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    This is a no-brainer.

    The Kings solved their goal-scoring deficiencies during the final weeks of the regular season and were a juggernaut by the time the playoffs started.

    They dominated the postseason and they could repeat their title this year. They are not likely to be a President's Trophy contender, but they know how to win when it's all on the line.

    They have top clutch players in Jonathan Quick, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. They are sure to make the playoffs this year.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    They were one of the best stories of the postseason last year, but that's not going to help in 2012-13.

    There's just too much uncertainty surrounding the Coyotes. Will they stay in Phoenix? Who will own them? Where will Shane Doan play? What will they do without Ray Whitney?

    What they won't do is make the playoffs. It will be at least four years before the Coyotes make the playoffs again.

San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks have done everything they can to show the hockey world that they are not a Stanley Cup-caliber team.

    However, they have the talent to make the playoffs once again. That's what the Sharks do with Joe Thornton on the roster. They play well enough in the regular season to make the playoffs. Sometimes, they look sensational.

    However, when it's winning time, something always goes wrong. The Sharks will make the playoffs again this season, but they are not as good as they were a couple of years ago, and they may not be such a sure thing in future years.