NHL: Where Are Last Season's Playoff Teams Now?
With the NHL season already over a quarter of the way complete, now is as good a time as any to take a look at where last season's sixteen playoff qualifiers are now.
While some clubs are sitting pretty, it has been an early season struggle for a number of perennial playoff teams, namely the New Jersey Devils, who, along with the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers are battling hard for that first overall pick in June 2011.
Without further adieu, here is a look at how last April's Sweet Sixteen are faring at the 25% mark of the new season.
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09-10 Playoffs: Eighth seed in the Western Conference, eliminated by San Jose in six games (first round).
Today: 12-7-1 (25 points), First place in the Northwest Division
Aside from the Phoenix Coyotes, the Avs were THE surprise team last season, qualifying for the playoffs when many were pegging them to be Western Conference basement dwellers.
One need look no further than the Avalanche for evidence that this is now in fact, a kid's league. Winger Chris Stewart is quickly turning heads and becoming one of the best power forwards in the game today. Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny add stability and skill up the middle. Sprinkle in seasoned vets like Milan Hejduk and John-Michael Liles, and all of a sudden you have a core group of players that should make any team take Colorado seriously.
The only question mark lies in goal. The team is staying above water with Peter Budaj right now, who is mending the twine while Craig Anderson is injured. Anderson is the big key to this team. If he plays half as good as he did last season, the Avalanche should find themselves back in the postseason for the second straight season.
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09-10 Playoffs: Eighth seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Philadelphia in five games (Conference Final)
This season: 13-6-1 (27 points), First place, Northeast Division
When you trade away the best goaltender in last season's playoffs—and the only reason the team upset Washington and Pittsburgh—a trip down the standings and into mediocrity may be in order.
Tell that to Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens.
Price has been remarkable this season and, for now, has made Les Habitants faithful forget about Jaroslav Halak. Montreal has allowed a second-fewest 39 goals against in their first 20 games.
Goaltending won't be the reason the Habs lose games this year. Lack of scoring will be. The team needs stronger outputs from Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, who are off to slow starts with 14, six and 11 points respectively.
What is most impressive about the Canadiens accomplishments so far is the fact they have been without Andrei Markov for most of the season, and for the most part going forward. A small descent back to earth by Carey Price should be expected, but for now, it looks like the division belongs to Montreal or Boston.
09-10 Playoffs: Seventh seed, Western Conference. Eliminated by Chicago in six games (first round).
This season: 9-6-3 (21 points), Fifth place, Central Division
The Preds have been nothing if inconsistent so far this season. A putrid offence, combined with a hit-and-miss performance by goaltender Pekka Rinne have them in the basement of the uber-competitive Central Division.
Offensive production is this club's biggest downfall. At the 18-game mark, only two players, Cal O'Reilly (13) and Steve Sullivan (10), have double digit points totals.
What that does is put an awful lot of pressure on your netminder. Rinne has been good, but if this team is going to overcome the likes of Detroit, Chicago, and now even St. Louis and Columbus, they will need him to be Superman.
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09-10 Playoffs: Seventh seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Chicago in six games (Stanley Cup Final)
This season: 13-6-2 (28 points), First place, Atlantic Division
The Flyers are continuing to ride their high from last June and look like the class of the Atlantic Division thus far.
Philly's firepower has led their early season surge. The Flyers have scored 75 goals through 21 games, more than any other team in the league. Claude Giroux and Mike Richards have led the way up front, but the biggest story surrounding this team is the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovksy, who came out of nowhere to land the starting gig out of camp. All he has done is go 11-3-1 and posted a .920 save percentage.
The Flyers very much look like Stanley Cup contenders this year.
Los Angeles Kings
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09-10 Playoffs: Sixth seed, Western Conference. Eliminated in six games by Vancouver (first round).
This season: 13-6-0 (26 points), First place, Pacific Division
The Kings were a trendy Stanley Cup pick at the start of the season, their solid start has only made them trendier. The Kings have been particularly tough at home, going 8-1 at the Staples Center to start the season.
Out to prove last year was no fluke, Jonathan Quick is your early favourite for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder. His 11-2 record, .940 save percentage and 1.82 goals against average are numbers only rivaled by Tim Thomas so far this season.
Up front, Anze Kopitar continues to blossom into superstardom, but it is Justin Williams who leads the team with 20 points. His biggest challenge going forward will be staying healthy, a virtual impossibility for him over his career.
The play of veteran Jarret Stoll should also not go unmentioned. He has been a solid offensive presence and a reliable two-way player.
The Kings look poised for prime time. Just wait until Drew Doughty completely finds his game again.
09-10 Playoffs: Sixth seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Philadelphia in seven games (second round).
This season: 11-5-2 (24 points), Second place, Northeast Division
Coming into this season, no other team had a worse taste in their mouths than the Bruins. Up 3-0 against Philly in the Eastern Quarterfinals last spring, the Bruins succumbed to one of the biggest choke jobs in hockey history.
However, thanks to a rejuvenated Tim Thomas, the Bruins are looking forward and should battle Montreal for top spot in the Northeast all season long.
After a terrible 2009-2010 season, Thomas has rebounded in a big way. So big that you could make an argument for him being the league MVP as it stands now.
The newly-acquired Nathan Horton has been everything the team could have hoped for, and more. Milan Lucic is having the breakout year everyone expected him to have last year. And Mark Recchi is still alive.
Boston also stands to get Marc Savard back, only adding to the offensive depth. A lot of people didn't think the Bruins had the scoring to compete for a playoff spot this season, but so far so good in Beantown.
Detroit Red Wings
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09-10 Playoffs: Fifth seed, Western Conference. Eliminated by San Jose in five games (second round).
This season: 13-3-2 (28 points), First place, Central Division
The Wings just keep on rolling.
Since the Olympic break last season, nobody has been able to touch the Red Wings. Joe Louis Arena continues to be one of the toughest barns to get a road win in. The Wings have lost only once in regulation at home this season.
Jimmy Howard can't lose, Pavel Datsyuk is still clutch and Nicklas Lidstrom is playing like he's in his twenties and not his forties.
Detroit seems to be out for vengeance this season and the rest of the league has taken notice once again.
09-10 Playoffs: Fifth seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Pittsburgh in six games (first round)
This season: 9-10-1 (19 points), Third place, Northeast Division
It has been a struggle for the Sens early on. Their problems are simple: They can't score enough goals, and they can't keep the puck out of their own net.
Beyond Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa looks helpless offensively. Jason Spezza has turned into an inconsistent threat. While he has been playing better of late, the Sergei Gonchar signing hasn't gone according to plan yet.
A team that was once the talk of the Eastern Conference has fallen mightily.
The Sens currently sit in 10th spot in the conference, on the outside looking in. Barring something dramatic, that is likely where they will stay.
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09-10 Playoffs: Fourth seed, Western Conference. Eliminated by Detroit in seven games (first round).
This season: 10-5-5 (25 points), Second place, Pacific Division
Just like the Kings, the Coyotes are out to prove that '09-'10 was no fluke. After a slow start, the 'Yotes are in the midst of an impressive six-game winning streak that looks to have turned their season around.
Both of their fans should be happy.
After a breakout campaign last year, Wojtek Wolski has been all but invisible in the early part of this season and if the Coyotes are going to maintain any kind of offensive stability they need him to get going. That, and a healthy Shane Doan.
The backbone of the team is goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. That comes to nobody's surprise. While it is a lot to ask of him to repeat his '09-'10 performance, he is the ultimate key to this team staying in playoff contention.
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09-10 Playoffs: Fourth seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Montreal in seven games (second round).
This season: 11-8-2 (24 points), second place Atlantic Division
The biggest struggle for the Pens this year has been consistency. They've rarely played a solid 60 minutes at a time and threw away a few wins in the dying minutes of games.
The team was rescued by Brent Johnson in the first quarter of the season, after an atrocious start by Marc-Andre Fleury, who has finally started to turn his season around.
The Pens of course are led by the two-headed monster in Crosby and Malkin, but defenceman Kris Letang is blossoming into a star pivot on the blueline. That makes the departure of Sergei Gonchar a little bit easier. The powerplay is an issue (as it was with Gonchar in the lineup), and if the team ever finds their game with the extra man, it will be a scary season for their Eastern Conference cohorts.
Pittsburgh currently stands sixth in the conference. By all accounts so far, they will be battling Philadelphia for the division title all season long.
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09-10 Playoffs: Third seed, Western Conference. Eliminated by Chicago in six games (second round).
This season: 10-7-3 (23 points), Second place, Northwest Division
The Canucks are supposed to (and still may) challenge for the Western Conference title, but so far this season, they have been pedestrian at best.
The Sedins are doing what they do, leading the team in points with 24 each and looking alike and all that. The team got solid starts from Raffi Torres, Mason Raymond, Alex Edler and Ryan Kesler. However, the simple truth is that Roberto Luongo has been less than impressive.
If Vancouver is going to live up to expectations, Luongo has to be better. Usually he isn't playing this badly until April.
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09-10 Playoffs: Third seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Boston in six games (first round).
This season: 8-11-3 (19 points), fourth place, Northeast Division
As Ryan Miller goes, so go the Buffalo Sabres. When Miller is out with an injury, the Sabres are very beatable.
After a terrible first ten games, Buffalo is 5-4-1 in their last ten, and at least staying afloat. It is early, but the Sabres look nowhere near the level they were at last year.
No Sabre got off to a worse start than Tyler Myers, last season's top rookie. He looked destined for the dreaded sophomore slump, but his play and his numbers have improved over the last ten games.
Jordan Leopold and Derek Roy have carried the Sabres early on. Without their performances, the Sabres could be mentioned in the same conversation as the Islanders and Devils.
Can they make it back to the playoffs? If they do, Ryan Miller should be the Hart Trophy winner.
San Jose Sharks
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09-10 Playoffs: First seed, Western Conference. Eliminated by Chicago in four games (Conference Final)
This season: 9-6-4 (22 points), Fourth place, Pacific Division
For what seems like the 58th straight season, the hockey world is wondering: Is this the year for the San Jose Sharks?
So far the answer is no, but if you think the Sharks are finishing the season in fourth place in their division, give your head a shake. They are just too talented up front. I don't need to name the obvious players, but when you add the likes of Logan Couture into the mix, the Sharks will be heard from sooner or later.
They say you have to lose to learn how to win. Well if that is the case, the Sharks name's should be being etched on the Stanley Cup right now.
New Jersey Devils
09-10 Playoffs: Second seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Philadelphia in five games (first round)
This season: 5-13-2 (12 points), Last place everywhere
What more can be said about the Devils downfall?
The Kovalchuk contract is already killing this team, and we're only two months into it. Yikes.
Zach Parise is out for two months. Martin Brodeur is injured for two-to-three weeks.
Its amazing that John Maclean lasted longer than Barry Melrose did in Tampa.
The good news for the Devils is that it can't get worse. They only have one win at home. They will win more. But ask the Carolina Hurricanes how hard it is to bounce back from this kind of start.
Ilya Kovalchuk might be longing for his days in Atlanta.
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09-10 Playoffs: First seed, Eastern Conference. Eliminated by Montreal in seven games (first round).
This season: 14-5-2 (30 points), First place, everywhere.
The Capitals can score goals. We know that. We knew that last year. We knew that three years ago. Washington is essentially the exact same team they have been for the past three seasons.
They play a high-octane game, that, while entertaining, is ultimately beatable. I mean was anyone THAT surprised when Montreal upset them last season?
Until they prove anyone different, the Caps will continue to be billed as a team built for the regular season.
With Atlanta and Tampa Bay vastly improved, the Southeast Division title won't be as easy attainable for them.
Michal Neuvirth has solidified the number one spot between the pipes with Sergei Varlamov out and it will be interesting to see what happens down the stretch between the two.
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09-10 Playoffs: Second seed, Western Conference, Stanley Cup Champions
This season: 11-10-2 (24 points), Fourth place, Central Division
Call it a Stanley Cup hangover if you want, but the fact is the defending champs play in what looks like the toughest division in the NHL.
It is no secret that the Blackhawks lost some key components in the offseason, but they remain extremely skilled. The question going forward will be surrounding depth. Are they deep enough up front to contend again?
Hoping to solidify their goaltending situation, Chicago went and grabbed Marty Turco in the summer, a signing that hasn't reaped any rewards so far. It isn't out of the question to think that Corey Crawford could be their best choice in net going forward.
The Blackhawks are a gifted team and well coached, but their faithful have to be at least somewhat worried, especially with the likes of St. Louis and Columbus making gains in the Central.