Every NHL season features winners and losers. Teams for which everything went right, and teams for which everything went wrong. The gap between these two situations is wide, with the former typically making it to the playoffs while the latter usually holds down a spot in the draft lottery.
For instance, the Chicago Blackhawks were caught in a storm of "best-case scenarios" last season.
They came out of the gate flying and never cooled off. Patrick Kane discovered his focus, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery emerged as an outstanding goaltending duo, and young players such as Brandon Saad were able to make an impact.
It's no accident that Chicago celebrated a Stanley Cup victory while, say, the Florida Panthers were left to pick up the pieces after a disappointing regular season.
Florida was racked with injuries from the get-go, and never found the depth needed to make any kind of noise. A team that could have been in the running for a division banner ended up selecting third overall at the draft, left to wonder what might have been had the cards been dealt a little differently.
That's how we're approaching the best-case scenario for each team: the sequence of events that would give every team the best season possible. Some teams need more outlandish things to happen to make the playoffs than others, but we're going to try to keep things realistic here.
The Anaheim Ducks finally resolved a situation that had grown stale and old when they dealt Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators over the summer.
They'll miss the four-time 30-goal scorer, but it isn't like they walked away from the trade empty-handed. Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen are both former first-round draft selections and should be able to help the Ducks right away.
Noesen could grab a bottom-six wing role out of camp as Anaheim is thin on that side, and Silfverberg will likely be given every opportunity to be an impact player on this team.
A no-letdown season from Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf would be outstanding as well. Toss in another great year for Viktor Fasth and maybe a trade partner for Jonas Hiller, and the Ducks could have an outstanding season.
Game 6 is likely still lodged in the throats of the Boston Bruins as a whole, and they'll enter the 2014 season revamped and ready to climb to the top of the mountain again. The team's core is locked up for the foreseeable future, and the retooling that Peter Chiarelli committed to over the summer could pay some serious dividends.
Loui Eriksson won't remain the most underrated player in the NHL for long, and his strong two-way game and hustle fits in perfectly with this Bruins team.
The B's clearly believe that Tuukka Rask is an all-world goaltender, and another season like 2013 would go a long way towards proving that their faith wasn't misplaced when they signed him to a monster eight-year extension over the summer.
Jarome Iginla will be hungry all season long and should adequately fill the hole left when Nathan Horton left via free agency.
The best-case scenario for the Bruins would be to jump right back into the Stanley Cup Final—something this talented and well-coached team is very capable of doing.
The Buffalo Sabres went all-in on free agents such as Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff a few offseasons ago, and the results have been underwhelming. The franchise is committed to a full-on rebuild now and has been trying to deal Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek since the trade deadline last season, though GM Darcy Regier told NHL.com he believes the duo will start the season in Buffalo.
Getting a fair return for these players is a must if Buffalo wants to be able to look at 2014 with anything besides regret. The duo have been the pillars of the Sabres for years now, and selling them off for a bag of pucks would be a disservice to the franchise.
A year after shoring up the center position at the draft by selecting Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons in 2012, the Sabres aggressively pursued the biggest, meanest defenders available in the draft in 2013.
Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen could evolve into an awesome top pairing for years to come, and another strong year of development for these four first-round selections will bode very well for Buffalo moving forward.
Locking up RFA center Cody Hodgson is also paramount.
After nine seasons of clinging to the ghost of 2004, the Calgary Flames have finally given in to the idea of a full rebuild. Whether or not they received full value for Jay Bouwmeester and Jarome Iginla is moot at this point.
They received packages of prospects and selections, and that's a positive for a team that really didn't have a good farm system in place.
In a perfect year, the kids would erupt and show that they are capable of putting up big numbers on a consistent basis. Sven Baertschi will have the chance to show that he can be an elite point producer in 2014, and moving on without Miikka Kiprusoff is becoming increasingly likely.
Karri Romo would have a great season for the Flames in a best-case scenario year, and the defense would play way over their pay grade.
Sean Monahan will be given a big chance to secure a spot on the opening-night roster for Calgary, and he could be the legitimate No. 1 center the team has lacked for the better part of two decades.
The Carolina Hurricanes had a disappointing 2013 season, but received one heck of a consolation prize in Elias Lindholm. He was widely considered the most NHL-ready prospect available, and he could make an immediate impact on a team that desperately needs more from the role players throughout the lineup.
Eric Staal and Alexander Semin got the job done last season, but secondary threats were nowhere to be seen. A bounce-back year for Jeff Skinner is a must if the 'Canes hope to avoid another down year, and Cam Ward will need to reemerge as a top-level goaltender as well.
Carolina made several under-the-radar moves that could pay off. Picking up Andrej Sekera at the draft was an outstanding trade, and the signing of Nathan Gerbe is a low-risk, high-reward deal that could give them another option for the bottom-six.
Bottom line: the Hurricanes need more out of their young players to have an excellent 2014 season. The time is now for young players such as Justin Faulk, Zac Dalpe and Ryan Murphy to step up and play a bigger part moving forward.
2013 was a storybook season for the Chicago Blackhawks. They were untouchable for most of the year, and while they were pushed to their limit during the playoffs, they still managed to bring the Stanley Cup back to Chicago.
Best-case scenario for the 'Hawks? Everything that they just did, they simply have to do it again.
That's a tall order for any franchise, especially one with the Cup bullseye on the back of their sweaters, but if any team can turn the trick twice, it's this one. The core is still in place, and a few outstanding young players are ready to make the jump as well.
Teuvo Teravainen in particular could be an impact player for Chicago, as he's been outstanding in Europe since being drafted in 2012.
Things can't get much worse for the Colorado Avalanche at this point. The young and promising team has underachieved brutally over the last few seasons and are much more talented than their low win totals suggest.
The best-case scenario season would see Patrick Roy's debut go off without a hitch. If players like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog can learn to play with Roy's competitive attitude, then the Avs could return to glory sooner rather than later.
There's still some work to do on the blue line though, and trading Paul Stastny early in the season or Ryan O'Reilly later on could secure some much needed help on defense.
Most importantly, Semyon Varlamov needs to cement himself as a bona fide starter in the NHL. He's been incredibly hit-or-miss for Colorado over the last two seasons, and a third might force the Avalanche to look elsewhere for help between the pipes.
A 50-point rookie campaign from Nathan MacKinnon certainly wouldn't hurt matters either.
The Columbus Blue Jackets scratched the surface of relevancy in 2013, almost making the playoffs and receiving an outstanding performance from Sergei Bobrovsky along the way. While the goaltender was a large part of the 11th-hour charge at the postseason, there's still a lot to like about the Jackets in 2014.
Jarmo Kekalainen was wise not to jump the gun to re-sign Marian Gaborik. The former New York Ranger will get the chance to prove that he's worth big bucks before receiving them. Adding Nathan Horton around Christmas time after he recovers from shoulder surgery will also provide a boost to a team that, if all goes well, will be in the playoff hunt.
The best-case scenario for Columbus involves its young players stepping in and playing prominent roles early. Cam Atkinson will need to score goals for a team that might not be prolific in that department, and 2012 second-overall selection Ryan Murray will finally make his NHL debut.
Most importantly, Bobrovsky will need to prove that 2013 wasn't a fluke. He'll be a question mark until he proves that his play wasn't just a Jim Carey-like flash in the pan.
New general manager Jim Nill didn't play around during his first summer running the Dallas Stars. He aggressively addressed the franchise's weakness down the middle and acquired a possible perennial All-Star in Tyler Seguin.
Best-case scenario for the Stars would be Seguin quickly proving that he's able to carry the weight that comes with being a No. 1 center in the NHL. He wasn't given that chance with the Boston Bruins, and he largely played second fiddle to the team's more established players.
In 2014 he'll have a chance to put his hard-partying ways behind him and post some major points with Jamie Benn.
Dallas is slowly getting bigger and tougher on the blue line, while defenders such as Jamie Oleksiak and Brendan Dillon are proving to be impact players.
The new additions will need to work out cleanly and Kari Lehtonen will need to stay healthy for Dallas to improve in 2014.
Valeri Nichushkin is the wildcard in all of this. He appears ready to play in the NHL, and an outstanding season from him coupled with the emergence of a new Seguin could put the Stars over the top this year.
Considered one of the bigger winners of free agency, the Detroit Red Wings were able to improve their top six without giving anything up via trade. Stephen Weiss is a steal for less than $5 million a season, and he'll give coach Mike Babcock more versatility than Valtteri Filppula did.
Daniel Alfredsson could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how his desire to win the Stanley Cup affects the team. Having a veteran to "win one for" in the locker room is typically a positive thing though.
For the Wings to have a good first season in the Eastern Conference, they'll need their youngsters to continue to improve. Their affiliate in Grand Rapids won the AHL's Calder Cup in 2013, and the top players from that team will need to flesh out Detroit's roster in 2014.
Big seasons from Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson Danny DeKeyser would make the Wings one of the teams to beat in the East for 2014.
Different season, same story for the Edmonton Oilers.
The best-case scenario for this young and capable team is simple: All the kids need to evolve into top-end NHL stars. The talent is there, but no one has really come along to teach the group how to be winners as a whole.
Possessing the skill to be a top team in the NHL is one thing. Knowing how to be a top team in the NHL is a different beast entirely.
2014 is an important year for the Oilers. They have too much talent to continue to miss the playoffs, and another year on the outside looking in may prompt some changes. Adding David Perron could pay off in a big way for Edmonton, and adding a more defensive-minded center in Boyd Gordon was one of the best under-the-radar signings of the summer.
Much of the weight of the upcoming season rests squarely on the shoulders of Devan Dubnyk and a steadily improving defense that added Andrew Ference as a free agent and Darnell Nurse at the draft. If they can prevent goals and be even an average defensive team, the Oilers have the offensive firepower to make up the difference.
Packed to the brim with blossoming talent, the Florida Panthers might as well be the Edmonton Oilers-South. Jonathan Huberdeau won the Calder Trophy as the best rookie in the NHL in 2013 and has proven to be a player worth building around.
Aleksander Barkov is just another piece of the promising puzzle for the Panthers and joins Rocco Grimaldi and Nick Bjugstad in arguably the best stable of young centers in professional hockey.
A few things need to happen for the Panthers to recover from an injury-riddled 2013 season.
Jacob Markstrom will need to make the shift from promising up-and-comer to solid NHL goaltender. He was given the trial by fire in 2013 and came out of the season with the experience of what it feels like to be shelled on a nightly basis by the best players in the league.
His numbers weren't great, but he'll be better for the experience. The time is now for him to emerge as one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL.
Avoiding the injury bug would be a monster help for this team, and the kids all making the transition to go-to guys in the NHL would make the Panthers a possible dark horse for playoff contention.
The Los Angeles Kings have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to their 2013 season. They pushed through two of the most vicious playoff rounds in recent memory to make it to the Western Conference Final, only to be greeted by the Chicago Blackhawks.
While they didn't win the series, they proved that their 2012 Stanley Cup victory was no fluke—this is an excellent team that is built to last.
The defense is outstanding, the ability to score goals is there, and we all know what Jonathan Quick brings to the table on a nightly basis.
The best-case scenario for the Kings in 2014 isn't complicated. Keep on truckin' and avoid the injury bug. The rest will fall into place for one of the most properly constructed teams in hockey.
Tyler Toffoli could make a charge at the Calder Trophy as well, showing that L.A. isn't just solid for now but will be for years to come.
Onlookers granted the Minnesota Wild a one-year grace period in 2013.
They added a lot of big pieces in 2012, and the assumption was that it would take the group 12 months or so to settle in. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise garnered most of the attention last season as the team squeaked into the playoffs, but there are some other moving pieces worth keeping an eye on in play here.
For the Wild to have their best possible season, some of their young players are going to have to make some noise.
We all know what we'll get out of the top portion of this lineup. The team will only go as far as the secondary guys takes it, however.
Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Zach Phillips and Mathew Dumba are four players that are poised and ready to make some noise in the NHL. Granlund had a rookie season to forget, while Coyle put up solid numbers in his debut campaign.
Big years from those guys would catapult Minnesota from a fringe playoff contender to a team that could seriously contend for the Cup. All of this hinges on Niklas Backstrom staying healthy or Darcy Kuemper providing a surprise, Sergei Bobrovsky-like season.
The Montreal Wild went from selecting second overall at the draft in 2012 to making it all the way to the playoffs in 2013. That's quite the turnaround for a team that few predicted would make it to the dance. Much of the rapid progress came about because of the youth playing outstanding hockey, and 2014 will require the same, lest the squad take a step back.
Brendan Gallagher isn't the kind of player that is even aware of regression means, so another strong season from him is likely. Daniel Briere gives the Habs another option down the middle of the ice, and Alex Galchenyuk seems ready to have his first All-Star-caliber season.
All the steps forward in the world won't matter if Carey Price can't find his game though. He limped into the playoffs and never regained his early-season form as Montreal folded in the first round to the Ottawa Senators.
That's the best-case scenario for the Nashville Predators.
As usual, the defense is ridiculous and the goaltending will be solid. The forwards just need to do a bit more lifting in the offensive zone. The additions of Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg and Eric Nystrom will help, but it won't be enough to push this team to truly elite status.
Career years from Colin Wilson and Craig Smith could though, and Filip Forsberg will be given every chance to succeed after getting his first cup of coffee in the NHL in 2013.
The youth on the blue line is absurd at this point, as the Preds added Seth Jones to a group that already contained Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm. So the pieces are clearly there for Nashville to take a step forward.
They'll just need to do it as a group, with everyone improving with few (if any) regressions.
This is a tough time to be a fan of the New Jersey Devils.
At the end of June, Forbes reported that the franchise was "being crushed by $230 million of debt." That came only four days after The New York Post wrote that the team had missed the first $3 million payment of a restructured agreement to pay down that debt.
Tack on the sudden departure of $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk and the fact that David Clarkson bolted over the summer, and the Devils have had a rough couple of months—especially considering that they missed the playoffs in 2013.
They brought in Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe to try and provide some offense, and made a huge draft-day deal for goaltender Cory Schneider. He'll likely begin to take over starting duties for New Jersey this year, and legend Martin Brodeur could be relegated to keeping track of line changes by the end of the season.
The best-case scenario for the Devils would be finding some way to stop the financial bleeding. The product out on the ice will only suffer if the franchise isn't on stable footing.
The New York Islanders may have another All-Star on the way in 2014. Ryan Strome is set to make his long-awaited NHL debut, and the junior-level scoring phenom could find himself alongside John Tavares right out of the gate this season.
The best-case scenario for this Isles this season would see them making the playoffs once again and perhaps even fighting its way out of the first round.
They gave the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins everything they could handle before bowing out in the first round—there's nothing to be ashamed of there.
Locking up underrated defenseman Travis Hamonic was a smart move, as was getting at least a small return for Mark Streit who had demonstrated little interest in returning to Long Island.
Pierre Marc-Bouchard could be another sound addition for a franchise that has frequently found diamonds in the rough, and Cal Clutterbuck will likely become a hard-hitting fan favorite for the Islanders.
Fans of the New York Rangers have been adamant about the fact that the Blueshirts would be a better team if not for the restrictive system that ex-coach John Tortorella had in place. The team will get the chance to prove it out on the ice in 2014, as newcomer Alain Vigneault will bring a higher tempo to the table.
The big key for the Rangers will be quickly adjusting to his new system and getting the most out of Brad Richards and Rick Nash. Those guys are making some big bucks, and good seasons for them would catapult New York back to their perch as Stanley Cup favorites.
It'll be interesting to see how Henrik Lundqvist looks out on the ice without his team diving in front of every puck on every shift, and how the team manages a totally new system will likely spell success or doom for this team.
The Ottawa Senators received an unforeseen blow during the offseason when longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson decided to leave town for the Detroit Red Wings. The franchise didn't seem intent on limping along for long though, and announced the acquisition of Bobby Ryan just a few hours later.
Ryan gives the Senators a top-notch and elite scoring threat, and once paired with passing magician Jason Spezza, the pair could reach new career highs all around.
One of the more inspiring stories of the 2013 season, Ottawa fought its way into the playoffs despite missing its best player at every position for much of the year. Making it to the second round was a bonus in this injury-laden season, as was the chance to be able to draft Curtis Lazar in the first round.
Ottawa's best-case scenario would be to get back to the playoffs and to stay healthy. This could be one of the more surprising teams in the league this season if Ryan clicks without much of an issue and Clarke MacArthur provides some secondary scoring help.
2014 is a make-or-break season for general manager Paul Holmgren. One way or the other, this is a positive thing for the Philadelphia Flyers.
If he ends up sticking around, that means his questionable sequence of moves over the last few seasons has actually paid off and the team is performing well. If he is excused from his duties, that means that Philly will no longer be under the control of a man who seems to think that running an actual NHL franchise is a lot like running a fantasy team from a computer.
For the Flyers to do any kind of damage this year, the duo of Steve Mason and Ray Emery will need to outperform expectations. Emery was outstanding for the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Flyers don't have nearly the same amount of talent on defense.
Big years from the Schenn brothers would go a long toward making Holmgren's moves look a little better on paper, as would a solid 60-or-70-point season from Vincent Lecavalier.
The Phoenix Coyotes did something in 2013 they had never managed to do as a franchise before: lure one of the top free agents to the desert to play hockey.
Mike Ribeiro is an instantaneous upgrade to the top six, and he'll be counted on to do a lot of heavy lifting for a team that gets scoring from throughout the lineup. Keith Yandle would be a household name if he was playing elsewhere and is one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.
The 'Yotes also managed to keep Mike Smith in the fold, and the freshly drafted Max Domi is a player with a ton of heart and skill.
Best-case scenario for Phoenix would be a return to the playoffs. They can do that by playing the kind of hockey that the Buffalo Sabres used to specialize in: scoring from all four lines and from the blue line while the goaltender keeps the team in every game.
For the upteenth offseason in a row, the Stanley Cup favorites are the Pittsburgh Penguins. After months of speculation, the team managed to keep Kris Letang in the fold and also managed to add gritty defenseman Rob Scuderi to the lineup once again.
Keeping Pascal Dupuis was also a huge positive this offseason.
Pens fans hope that Beau Bennett is every bit the elite goal scorer that they hope, and a strong campaign from him would add just another layer to the constant attack that is the Penguins.
All the offense in the world doesn't help when your goaltender has confidence issues though, and Marc-Andre Fleury is likely on thin ice after falling apart once again during the playoffs in 2013.
A best-case scenario season for Pittsburgh would go along the same lines as 2009, with the team playing top-notch, injury-free hockey while receiving All-Star caliber goaltending from Fleury.
The San Jose Sharks are in the process of embracing the future while still leaning heavily on important players from the past. There's little doubt that Logan Couture is now the offensive leader on this team, and coupled with Joe Pavelski, they make up the new faces of the franchise.
That doesn't mean that the old guard is ready to hang it up though.
For a best-case scenario season, the likes of Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau will need to continue to post outstanding numbers from their usual posts. Tyler Kennedy is a proven winner and should give San Jose even more scoring depth, and Tomas Hertl has the talent to be an impact rookie.
Add in another Vezina-worthy campaign from Antti Niemi, and the Sharks will be right back in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
The St. Louis Blues raised some eyebrows recently by re-signing Jay Bouwmeester to an extension while Alex Pietrangelo is still in need of a contract, but that doesn't mean that the team doesn't posses one of the better groups of puck-moving defensemen in the NHL.
Cut from the same beat 'em up cloth as the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues have been on the verge of emerging as legitimate Cup contenders for a few seasons now. They just always seem to be a day late and a dollar short.
Dealing David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi gives St. Louis another power forward up front, and it's clear how this team intends to win hockey games.
The best-case scenario for St. Louis will see their defense finish better than 17th-best. If the Blues aren't scoring enough goals, it's likely that one of their three starting-caliber netminders would be moved for help up front as well.
Steve Yzerman has been the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lighting since 2010, and as such he's had enough to time truly put his stamp on the team. The results have been mixed so far. After reaching the Eastern Conference final during Yzerman's first year, Tampa has struggled to find that level of play again.
He made the tough business decision to buy out Vincent Lecavalier this summer, and signed free agent Valtteri Filppula to a five-year contract to shore up the hole that left at center.
Drafting Jonathan Drouin gave the Lightning yet another offensive weapon, but the biggest question mark for this team is in the defensive zone. The defensive group is rag tag on its best nights, and the trade for Anders Lindback hasn't paid off the way the franchise had hoped.
To address that concern, Yzerman went out and dealt for Ben Bishop during the 2013 season, giving the team two young and talented, yet unproven goaltenders. For Tampa to return to the playoffs, it will need to prevent goals at a much higher rate than it did last season.
They were the 26th-worst defensive team in the league last year, which is what made the choice to pass on Seth Jones at the draft so interesting.
If not for a miracle comeback by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs would have been heading for the second round. Instead, the team suffered a heartbreaking series of events and was left to lick its wounds for the summer as the Bruins moved on.
Now that Toronto has made it back to the playoffs, anything less this season would be considered a colossal step backwards. Especially considering the team added several key pieces over the last few months.
The team showed that it has zero faith in James Reimer despite him leading the squad to the playoffs with his strong play in 2013. Adding an outstanding young goaltender like Jonathan Bernier is tough to argue against, but Toronto now has a goaltending controversy on its hands.
The best-case scenario year for the Leafs would see them move on to the second round and improve on a mildly surprising 2013. David Clarkson will need to supply exactly what the team signed him on for (20-plus goals and a lot of sand paper) and the possible debut of Morgan Rielly is a positive.
Players on the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers probably feel like the victims of some Freaky Friday-esque plot here.
Where the Rangers are going to be expected to play a more high-tempo game, new 'Nucks bench boss John Tortorella will likely want to see a bit more rough and tumble out of Vancouver—not exactly something the franchise has been known for over the last decade or so.
How the team responds to Torts and his brash coaching style will be the Canucks story to watch moving forward.
Or will it be the continued goaltender drama surrounding Roberto Luongo? Regardless, for Vancouver to have a best-case scenario season, these two storylines will need to sort themselves out in a hurry.
No news is typically considered good news in most cases. For the Washington Capitals however, a quiet offseason full of non-stories and non-signings isn't a good thing.
They allowed Mike Ribeiro to walk, balking at his request for a four- or five-year contract. While it's fine to not want to marry oneself to an aging star, the fact of the matter is that the Caps don't have a plan B. One has to assume that they did their due diligence on free-agent centers like Stephen Weiss, but nothing ever came of any phone calls.
It would be tough to argue that this team is better than the one that bowed out of the playoffs in the first round last season. In fact, the franchise hasn't made it beyond the second round since 1998, making management's faith in this core interesting to say the least.
The best-case scenario for the Caps this season would be to have another team gift them a top-notch center prospect like they gave away Filip Forsberg. A surprise appearance by Evgeny Kuznetsov would provide a massive boost for Washington—otherwise this team is likely looking at similar results in 2014 as it suffered in 2013.
This summer the Winnipeg Jets committed a ton of money and term to their apparent core. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, the franchise gave $93.1 million to Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little.
While all three are good hockey players, that's a lot of dough for a group that has yet to do much damage during the regular season. We don't know what they can do in the playoffs because they haven't been there yet.
The best-case scenario season would simply see this Jets group make it to the playoffs for the first time since moving to Winnipeg.
Mark Scheifele is one of the best prospects in all of hockey, and he's had a ton of time to mature in juniors over the last few years. A strong, Calder-worthy performance could be enough to put Winnipeg into the playoff picture, but this is a team with a lot of prove in 2014.
Franklin Steele is a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter or check out his latest articles for more interesting musings about all things hockey. And maybe the occasional chili tip and random nerdish outburst. No promises though.