10 NHL Teams Guaranteed To Miss the 2011-12 Playoffs
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The dawn of a new season always prompts one to look ahead to the upcoming spring and the ensuing playoffs; however, there are always teams that can pretty much be written off as non-contenders right from the start.
For these teams, the cards may be stacked against them by either the personnel in their locker room, a lasting problem in the squad, a lousy system that the team isn't adapting to or even a handcuffing salary cap situation that holds them down.
There will be teams who will no doubt fight for the playoffs or maybe even some who will be surprisingly left off the brackets come the end of the season. However, for some teams there's no questioning the fact that they'll be seeing an early summer vacation.
Let's take a look at 10 such teams.
New York Islanders
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Well, this should certainly come as no surprise.
The New York Islanders have been pretty much a non-factor in the Eastern Conference since the NHL lockout—and that certainly doesn't appear likely to change this season.
After the retirement of their captain, Doug Weight, and the failed ballot initiative on August 1st that may have just condemned the franchise to relocation, things are looking just as bleak off the ice as they are on it.
The Isles brought in very little significant talent from free agency and instead lost most of what little skill they had going into this summer to other teams with a much better chance at winning.
In fact, pretty much the only things to look forward to for the Long Island team this year are their inevitable slug-fests with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the debut of a new third-jersey design that's yet to be released, but might have been leaked.
Either way, it's going to be another long season for the once-great Islanders team.
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Edmonton Oilers fans must be getting used to the pain their team puts them through year after year by now, but their hopes of success being not too far away aren't too far-fetched with the stockpile of young hotshots they've got running in their system.
However, they're not going to find that success this year.
Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are both coming off extremely promising rookie campaigns, as is Magnus Paajarvi, but let's not forget they've both only played one year in the league and will still need to grow and mature a lot before they'll be able to really carry the team.
Their defense also looks to be completely tattered, boasting nothing more than the combination of Cam Barker and Ryan Whitney to lead them (neither of whom would really even be a first-pairing guy on most other teams).
And while Oiler fans will argue that the addition of Ryan Smyth over the summer is a solid boost of veteran leadership to their team, it looks to me like nothing more than the re-acquisition of a washed-up player in the twilight of his career in a desperate grasp at nostalgia for long-lost winning days.
They will be better this season, but the Oilers will still be sitting on their couches watching the playoffs next spring rather than playing in them.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Similar to the Oilers, the Toronto Maple Leafs are showing flashes of success and could see a return to spring hockey in their near future. This, however, will not be their year.
They put together an impressive stretch at the end of last season, causing some people to think that they might sneak into the East's Top Eight in a very late and very surprising fashion, only to come up just short in the end.
The team has slightly improved this summer as the Leafs were able to shed some salary and beef up their roster with the addition of veteran Tim Connoly, who was brought in as a free agent from Buffalo.
The Leafs were also able to shed the salary of J.S. Giguere to help with their long-term cap situation, clearing the way for the promising-looking James Reimer to take the reins alongside Jonas Gustavsson.
Sadly, their efforts this season will once again wind up short. But, this is a team on the upswing with the possibility of being back in the thick of things in the East very soon.
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The good news for the Colorado Avalanche: This summer was extremely productive in solidifying a pretty bad goaltending situation by bringing in the talented Semyon Varlamov and veteran J.S. Giguere to replace Brian Elliot and Peter Budaj.
The bad news: That's pretty much the only thing the Avalanche fixed.
Their offense is still hard-pressed for star power beyond a hotshot Top Three of Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog (who looks ripe to make the Opening Night roster straight out of his first training camp).
Their defense, led by Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson, is still hardly even decent and can't really be relied upon in the way they'll need to be.
So, all of this adds up and makes for a pretty long season ahead for the Avs.
They do have some possible trade-bait talent in their ranks, however, and that could make them an interesting team to watch around the trade deadline in February.
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The Winnipeg Jets may be flying once again (bad and overused pun definitely intended), but their new reincarnation is hardly something to be feared.
Picking up where the dismal Atlanta Thrashers left off, the team really still falls short on the firepower scale in nearly every position on the ice.
They do boast some great scoring defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, who could quickly become fan favorites in Winnipeg.
However, beyond captain Andrew Ladd and young star Evander Kane, the Jets will not have a lot rolling for them this season up front.
Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec remain the netminders, with odds being highly in favor of Pavelec seeing most of the time in net this season.
And perhaps the most disappointing factor: The Jets had one of the biggest amounts of money to work with in terms of cap space this summer and they did virtually nothing with it.
In fact, arguably their biggest signing was Tanner Glass, who will rarely see any time on the ice on anything other than the fourth line.
The fans may be ecstatic to see the team back, but they're going to have to wait at least another year to see the playoffs return to Winnipeg as the Jets will definitely not be in them this season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
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Some people have begun to think the bulky moves the Columbus Blue Jackets made during the offseason have really beefed this team up and given them a much tougher edge for next season.
Well, it's not hard to have a tougher edge when there wasn't much of one to begin with. And as much as Blue Jackets fans will deny it, their team really hasn't done enough to bring themselves to a second playoff appearance.
Captain Rick Nash will no doubt be happy about the acquisition of Jeff Carter, which finally gives him a linemate that might actually help the high-scoring All-Star.
Vinny Prospal might also prove to be a pretty good move if he can find his scoring touch again, despite his rough years in New York, proving he really hasn't played well since leaving Tampa Bay.
And fans also love the move to bring in James Wisnewski, who has proven he can be useful on the power play.
But let me be blunt with you, Columbus. You're paying just under $6 million per season to a greedy underperformer who would be a second-pairing player at best on any other roster.
He's not going to be enough to turn around a defense that lost its only decent players from last season in Jan Hejda (signed with Colorado) and Rostislav Klesla (traded to Phoenix), and is now banking on him, Radek Martinek and Fedor Tyutin.
Columbus is going to have to keep dreaming and keep working on re-tooling their lineup if they want to get back to the playoffs again.
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The Ottawa Senators will be celebrating their 20th year in the NHL since re-emerging in 1992, and I personally think it's going to be a miserable year for their fans.
On one hand, the Senators are trying to appear "vintage" with a horribly ugly "heritage" alternative sweater they'll be wearing this season. They'll simultaneously be putting forth celebratory shenanigans that rival the Olympic opening ceremonies for completely unnecessary frivolity.
Here's what I have to say: First off, if you want to celebrate your team's history, wait until you actually have some (and not just a lone Stanley Cup Finals appearance where you unceremoniously got your clocks cleaned by a team from Southern California). Secondly, if you're going to celebrate greatness, it'd help if the team on the ice was actually capable of achieving some of it.
On Opening Night, the Senators will be bringing back the members of their inaugural roster from 1992. That team went on to post one of the worst single-season records in NHL history, going 10-70-4 for 24 points in 84 games.
Most Sens fans might not want to look back on that season at all. However, the current Senators might not be much better, making the celebration appear to almost be a distraction from the terrible product on the ice.
Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza are still in the fold, but there's virtually no offensive threat beyond them (with the possible exception of Milan Michalek on the occasional night), and the defense is definitely no better off being led by an obviously-past-his-prime Segei Gonchar.
In fact, the entire Senators roster is so chock full of underperformers and underachievers that it'd be a miracle if the Senators don't have the first-overall pick come next summer's draft.
Either way, there is absolutely no way this team is making the playoffs.
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Free agency hit the Dallas Stars like a freight train and it's not as though they didn't try to recover from it, it's that they really just couldn't.
First and foremost, they lost their cornerstone and kingpin in Brad Richards, who chose to move to New York.
However, they were also forced to part ways with veteran forward Jamie Langenbrunner, who signed an offer in St. Louis.
In an attempt to recover, Dallas made some gutsy moves early on in free agency, signing Michael Ryder from Boston to fill in for Langenbrunner. This is a solid deal, no question, and he'll provide a good wing to the likes of Mike Ribero.
Defensively, the Stars are taking a massive gamble on Sheldon Souray, who has not seen a single game in the NHL since late in the 2009-10 season, when his poor play saw him waived and sent down to the Minors by the Edmonton Oilers, who, in case you've been living under a rock the last few years, have been consistently the worst team in the NHL that entire time.
The Stars are hoping he can find his game again and prove to be the steal of free agency, but I really don't see that happening. He'll only give Dallas more headaches than help.
Their personnel is also really going to feel the pain of Richards' departure, as the No. 1 center duties now fall to Mike Ribero, who I'm not particularly sure is ready for the role just yet.
Likewise, Richards was by far the team's leading offensive player in just about every category, which means the rest of the team is going to have to find a way to seriously ramp up the offensive production this year if the Stars want to have any hope of competing.
Either way, I firmly believe Dallas will be watching the playoffs from their couches at home for the second-straight season.
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Here's where the decisions for who would miss the playoffs got much tougher.
GM Dale Tallon really pulled out all the stops this summer and spent a ton of money on some quality talent to try to turn his franchise around, but despite the fact that the team looks 1,000 percent better on paper than it did last season, I believe the Florida Panthers will miss the playoffs yet again in 2011.
However, that being said, I believe they will fight for it with everything they have and will come up just barely short.
The amount of quality players Tallon has brought in is mind numbing, as is some of the talent.
Ed Jovanovski, Scotty Upshall, Brian Campbell, Jose Theodore, Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley and Sean Bergenheim are just some of the names the Panthers will be sporting next season.
However, the Panthers were forced to say goodbye to their franchise goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who left for division-rival Washington in hopes of winning a Stanley Cup.
Despite all this amazing talent, the Panthers look like a team that was just sort of thrown together and they might not have the greatest chemistry as a unit.
The team will no doubt pull together and possibly even re-kindle some of that long-lost fanbase that's become mostly dormant since the team made the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, but they might have to wait a year to finally see the postseason again.
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The Calgary Flames put up a pretty bitter fight for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs last season, but they ultimately fell short for the second-straight year, and I think I can speak for the entire Flames fanbase when I say I was thinking there would be more changes than there were this offseason.
In fact, the Flames' only significant move was dumping Robyn Regher's salary off on the Buffalo Sabres in a trade at the NHL draft.
The Flames also parted ways with defenseman Adam Pardy, who left for Dallas.
Other than that, their only really significant import was defenseman Scott Hannan from Washington.
Normally when a team can't find a way to get into the playoffs for two-straight seasons, you do something about it to try to fix what didn't work. Instead, Jay Feaster has chosen to sit on his cards yet again and hope that they'll work out for him.
With how much more competitive the Western Conference has become this offseason, I really don't see how that philosophy can end well for the Flames.
Once again they'll be relying nearly exclusively on the offensive production of Jarome Iginla to carry the team and the goaltending of Miikka Kippursoff to backstop a relatively streaky and inconsistent defense.
Thus, I think for the third-straight year the cap-strapped Flames will be hitting the golf course early without playoff hockey in their future.
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