The 2013 NHL playoffs are right around the corner, which is good news for fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks—they are in the postseason after all.
Fans of franchises that missed the dance are already looking ahead to the NHL draft in June, and wondering if their favorite team will fare any better in 2014.
It's easy to look at some teams and understand why they didn't quite make the cut.
However, the ridiculous turnarounds of the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens should give fans with rooting interests in a few other franchises hope for 2014.
So which teams have the best chance to pull an Islanders and make the playoffs seemingly out of nowhere next season?
The 2013 Florida Panthers have had one of the worst seasons in recent memory—being the worst offensive and defensive team throughout a season will typically lead to a very forgettable campaign.
However, things are not as ugly as they appear.
Florida was one of the first teams to be ravaged by injuries this year, as they lost three important regulars before the season even started. Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim were both injured while playing overseas during the lockout, and young defenseman Erik Gudbranson missed time after injuring his shoulder while wakeboarding.
Couple those losses with Stephen Weiss, Ed Jovanovski and Kris Versteeg all requiring various season-ending surgeries, and it's easy to see why the Panthers have taken such a massive step back after winning the Southeast Division in 2012.
Just getting healthy will be a huge boost to Florida, but there is a lot more to like about this young team heading into 2014.
Jonathan Huberdeau has been spectacular at times, and should garner plenty of attention when it comes time to hand out the Calder Trophy. Dmitry Kulikov also started to turn his game around towards the midway point of the season, and Jacob Markstrom should be much more steady behind an actual NHL-caliber defense next season.
Adding one of Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin or Nathan MacKinnon at the draft in June won't hurt anything either.
All in all, the pieces are in place for Florida to bounce back in a big way in 2014.
What is wrong with the Colorado Avalanche?
One has to believe that a shakeup is coming after the Avs failed to live up to even the most modest of expectations in 2013. They are currently the worst team in the Western Conference and appear slated for another lottery selection at the draft in June.
Is the "we'll get 'em next time" attitude that Coach Joe Sacco brings to the locker room finally wearing thin enough to give the brass enough reason to fire him? One would have to believe so after back-to-back disappointing seasons.
The good news here is that things can't get much worse in Colorado. They are the fifth-worst offensive team in the NHL and the fourth-worst defensive team, allowing 3.11 goals per game.
Gabriel Landeskog missed some time in 2013 and never really found his groove as he gave in to the dreaded sophomore slump. He'll be better next year, and having Ryan O'Reilly on board all season long should be a huge boost.
P.A. Parenteau has quietly been one of the best free agent signings from the class of 2012 as he leads the team in scoring with 41 points, and Matt Duchene has bounced back in a big way after a very forgettable 2012.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will be the key to a turnaround season in 2014. He didn't have a whole lot of help in front of him this year, but a .901 save percentage and a 3.06 GAA just won't cut it at this level.
For the Avalanche to have a better year in 2014 they'll need a swift shift of culture via a coaching change (see the Montreal Canadiens for how huge this can be) and better goaltending from Varlamov.
A lot more help from the defense is a must as well, but it's hard to believe that this is a team that will finish at the bottom of the pile again. There's too much homegrown talent here.
Adding Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin to the mix wasn't enough to put the Carolina Hurricanes into the playoffs in 2013. While both additions have excelled in their new zip code, scoring depth has been an odd problem for the 'Canes, and the porous defense has allowed 3.2 goals per game.
Allowing more than three goals on average is never going to get a team anywhere in the NHL these days, and Carolina will need to shave this number down in a big way in 2014.
The top line of Semin, Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty have been among the best in the business in 2013. Staal has reestablished himself as a premier power forward, Semin has shown that he isn't quite as enigmatic as the Washington Capitals made him out to be, and Tlusty has erupted for 21 goals and 34 points.
There's a drop off after this trio, however.
Jeff Skinner hasn't been good through long stretches in 2013. He's posted 23 points but has a reckless plus/minus rating of minus-20. That just isn't good enough for a second line player in the NHL. The second unit as a whole has been disappointing, even with J. Staal posting 28 points.
The biggest reason for Carolina's bad season has been the overall failure of the youth to step up and support the top-line guys.
Skinner has regressed, and the likes of Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman have failed to make any sort of impact whatsoever.
2014 is a new year, and all the youngsters that Carolina has will have another season under their collective belts. If Skinner and Co. can turn things around next season, the Hurricanes will be a much better team.
A healthy season for Cam Ward would also be a large boost, as he's only played in 17 games for the Hurricanes this year.
Despite being one of the youngest and most promising teams in the NHL, time is of the essence for the Edmonton Oilers. They've been "promising" for at least two years running, and eventually the time comes to turn some of that promise into results.
Several of Edmonton's young stars dominated in the AHL during the lockout, leading some pundits to think that 2013 would be the year that the "stacked" Oilers would finally make the postseason. That hasn't been the case, as they have been one of the weaker teams in the Western Conference.
Taylor Hall has been outstanding, leading the team in scoring with 45 points. Sam Gagner has also managed to stay healthy and was one of the hottest players in the NHL at the beginning of the season.
So-so seasons from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Magnus Paajarvi, and a lack of help from the bottom-six has caused what should be a vaunted attack to be average on most nights. The Oilers are also in the bottom-third in team defense, and need to shore up some holes on the back end.
Devan Dubnyk has shown that he can carry the load as a starting goaltender in the NHL, but has been anywhere from solid to abysmal on a night by night basis.
At some juncture, the Oilers will trade lotto selections for playoff appearances, and 2014 should be better for a team that has the talent to fill the net with the best of them. They need to add grit in the offseason, but it's much easier to add sandpaper than it is to add a game breaking forward.
Edmonton has plenty of those, and could add another cornerstone piece at the draft in June.