Predicting Which 2013 NHL Lottery Teams Will Make the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Under the new rules, all NHL teams that fail to make the playoffs are now eligible for the draft lottery and have a chance at winning the first overall pick in the following year's draft. Here, we examine which of those lottery teams from 2012-13 have the best chance to reach the postseason this year.
We have limited this to three teams from each conference (that's based on where they'll play this year under realignment). That doesn't mean other non-playoff teams from a year ago have no chance to qualify for the postseason in the upcoming campaign, but based on talent level, offseason moves and the return of key players from injury, the teams listed here have the best chance of making that jump.
The teams are listed here from third most likely to reach the playoffs to most likely in the Eastern Conference and then again in the Western Conference.
Feel free to comment on the list and mention any team you feel may have been omitted. As always, indicate why you feel your choice belongs on this list.
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A lot was expected of the Carolina Hurricanes last season after they signed Alexander Semin to a free-agent deal. Things were going fairly well until goalie Cam Ward was injured, derailing Carolina's playoff push. In the end, the Hurricanes finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with a disappointing 19-25-4 record.
Ward is healthy and ready to go. In case he's injured again, general manager Jim Rutherford has upgraded the backup goalie position by signing Anton Khudobin, Tuukka Rask's backup last year in Boston.
Ward gives the Hurricanes a netminder who has won a Stanley Cup, something that only a handful of clubs can boast. His presence should also boost the confidence of the team in front of him.
Semin signed a long-term extension and remains with the Hurricanes. Add top draft choice Elias Lindholm, and Carolina should have a potent attack.
Defense was the other weakness for the Hurricanes last year, and they have taken steps to upgrade this area by adding Mike Komisarek and Andrej Sekera to the roster. While neither of these players are all-stars, they should allow the other members of the Carolina blue line to play more appropriate roles this season.
The Hurricanes are flying under the radar right now. Last year, there was a lot of attention paid to the team. This fall, nobody is expecting much from the 'Canes, which may give them to chance to surprise a few people.
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The Philadelphia Flyers had issues on defense and in goal last season and shocked everybody by finishing 23-22-3 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
General manager Paul Holmgren spent a lot of money during the offseason to improve the Flyers, but it's not clear he got help in the two areas that hurt the team so much last season. Mark Streit and Vincent Lecavalier should add more offensive punch and should help the power play, but will they help shore up the defense?
The Flyers also added goalie Ray Emery and bought out Ilya Bryzgalov, but it's not clear if the duo of Emery and Steve Mason is good enough to get the Flyers back to the postseason.
Offensively, the Flyers are as good as almost anybody in the league. Claude Giroux is one of the league's elite players, and Scott Hartnell should be healthy and more productive this season. Players like Matt Read and Sean Couturier are still improving and have not yet reached their primes.
But on defense, the Flyers still lack a dominating physical presence. They are hoping that Erik Gustafsson develops into something special and that Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossman and Andrej Meszaros have bounce-back seasons and remain healthy.
In net, Emery has a lengthy injury history and hasn't played in more than 40 games in an NHL season since 2006-07. He was stellar last year in Chicago, but can he equal those numbers playing behind a much shakier defense in Philadelphia? Mason won the Calder Trophy back in 2008-09 but has been very inconsistent since then. One of these two needs to step up to help the Flyers reach the playoffs.
That being said, the Flyers may have enough firepower up front to sneak into the playoffs even without great goaltending and defensive play. If they get even average play in net and on defense, that could be enough for Philadelphia to return to the postseason.
Columbus Blue Jackets
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The Columbus Blue Jackets came as close to reaching the playoffs last year as possible, losing out on a tie-breaker to the Minnesota Wild. They finished the season on a 19-6-5 tear.
This year, Columbus has shifted to the Eastern Conference and hopes to qualify for the postseason for only the second time in the franchise's history.
The key for the Jackets is the continued strong play of Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. "Bob" was largely responsible for the team's late surge last season.
With the acquisition of Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline last season and the signing of Nathan Horton this summer, Columbus has enough scoring to be competitive.
Defensively, underrated Fedor Tyutin joins Jack Johnson, veteran James Wisniewski and highly touted prospect Ryan Murray to give Columbus offensive talent. Dalton Prout and Nikita Nikitin add a physical element on the blue line.
John Davidson's arrival in the front office has helped turn around this franchise. They now have the league's first European-born GM in Jarmo Kekalainen. It's a far cry from the days where nobody thought this franchise had much hope.
Columbus is clearly heading in the right direction. If they stay healthy and Bobrovsky is the real deal over an 82-game season, they could be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
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It's almost an annual event in Nashville. The experts look at the Predators' roster and talk about the talent they lost in the offseason and wonder how they will score goals. The predictions are full of gloom and doom. And nearly every year, general manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz figure out a way to keep the team competitive and reach the playoffs.
The presence of Pekka Rinne, one of the best goalies in the NHL, certainly helps. Rinne had hip surgery during the offseason and should be healthy again. His outstanding play keeps the club in almost every game. Getting reliable backup play from prospect Magnus Hellberg could help keep Rinne fresh late in the season.
Shea Weber remains a perennial Norris Trophy candidate, and Roman Josi is an underrated defenseman. Young Ryan Ellis and first-round draft choice Seth Jones keep the Preds deep and dynamic on defense.
The big question (as always) is where the goals will come from. The Preds tend to roll four lines and use an aggressive forecheck to wear down opponents and win a lot of 2-1 games. The addition of Filip Forsberg and Viktor Stalberg may help give a little more spark to the Nashville attack.
Defense remains the name of the game in Music City, and the Predators have plenty of it. The one thing most hockey observers should have learned over the years is never count the Predators out.
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The refrain is getting old now, and it may be now or never this season. We've heard for a few years about the Oilers' talented young forwards and how when they mature, the team will return to contention. Last year, they disappointed again and finished with a 19-22-7 record.
New coach Dallas Eakins should give the team a better work ethic and a more responsible defensive system.
The names up front are all familiar: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner. Some of these guys should be 40-goal scorers soon, and all of them have the ability to hit 30. Some more grit and responsible defense from the bottom-six forward would help as well.
Defensively, the Oilers added Andrew Ference during the offseason, and Justin Schultz should be better after adjusting to the grind of playing a full season of pro hockey last year. They may also get help from KHL vet Anton Belov and improvement by Nick Schultz and Jeff Petry.
Goaltending is a big key. Last season, Devan Dubnyk has a .920 save percentage, which is very impressive considering he didn't have a lot of defensive talent in front of him. The Oilers have two experienced backups available in Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachman.
So the key in Edmonton is if the defense has improved enough to end the franchise's seven-year playoff drought. Ference adds experience and stability, and Eakins could help the team play a more sound defensive style. If those things work out and Dubnyk is the real deal, the Oilers could be playing playoff hockey this spring.
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The Dallas Stars have new uniforms, a new coach in Lindy Ruff and a new GM in Jim Nill. They also have a lot of turnover on their roster. The question is if all of this change is enough to improve on last season's 22-22-4 record.
The Stars have added a lot of offensive talent and gotten younger. Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff are new additions who should get plenty of ice time up front. Top draft choice Valeri Nichushkin is very talented, and if he makes the team, he could add offensive spark if he adjusts to the North American style of play quickly. Ray Whitney adds experience and leadership, and Jamie Benn remains an up-and-coming forward.
The addition of veteran Sergei Gonchar on defense should help the power play. The veteran blueliner looked very strong in Ottawa last season, and the Stars hope he has one good season left in him. The team's other defensemen need to play more effectively in their own zone.
Kari Lehtonen has been good but seems to suffer lapses that often cost the team. If the Stars are to return to the playoffs, Lehtonen needs to be more consistent. Backup Dan Ellis should give Lehtonen enough rest to stay sharp.
If the Stars get better goaltending and defensive play, they have enough talent up front to qualify for the playoffs.