By now, everyone has made their season predictions for who will make the playoffs and who will ultimately lift the Stanley Cup. Experts mostly agree on the top eight teams from each conference, but every year some teams stick around the playoff hunt longer than expected and sometimes even make the playoffs.
These underdogs find unexpected talent, have great chemistry or have great coaching that propels them to over-achieve. Teams like this are usually energetic and have a good core of players to build around.
While they might ultimately fall short, these teams provide the league and their fans some excitement when there was little hope.
So here are four teams to watch out for as the season begins.
NOTE: These teams I selected would be underdogs to make the playoffs, not to win the Stanley Cup.
People forget that the Thrashers were in a playoff position throughout the first half of the season and in the beginning of the second half last year. They fell apart at the end of the season because of their dreadful defense.
The lack of support had an impact on Thrashers players, but with the relocation and increased fan support, the new Jets should surprise people.
The Thrashers were 17-17-7 at home last year with low attendance. The fans in Winnipeg will propel the Jets to a better home record, which will bring them closer to a playoff berth.
They missed the playoffs by 13 points last season. If the Jets can make up a majority of those points at home, then why can't they crack the top eight?
REASONS TO BELIEVE: More support, better goaltending and defense
REASONS TO BE SKEPTICAL: Tough Eastern Conference, travel in Southeast Division
The Islanders were one of the best teams in the NHL in the second half of last season. If it wasn't for a dreadful losing streak at the beginning of the season, the Islanders would have earned a berth or been in the playoff picture for longer.
The Islanders' youth is ready to blossom, and if the goaltending keeps up the play that Al Montoya put up at the end of last season, the Islanders will be a dangerous team this year. The Islanders were also hit by the injury bug last year, so if they stay healthy, they can push for a playoff berth.
REASONS TO BELIEVE: Youth movement is ready, momentum from last season, John Tavares
REASONS TO BE SKEPTICAL: Tough Eastern Conference, injuries, goaltending trouble
The biggest reason to believe in Colorado is Semyon Varlamov (they gave up too much for him, but that's another story).
The Avalanche struggled to find consistent goaltending last year and that hurt them. They are youthful and are the least likely to make the playoffs out of the teams on this list.
The Avalanche have players on their team who can take over a game, but the key is the chemistry. They are a team with a lot of potential (I'm looking at you Peter Mueller), but could self-destruct if the season does not start off well.
The Western Conference might be too much to handle for the Avalanche, but they could make a run to the playoffs.
REASONS TO BELIEVE: Goaltending consistency, youth, play-makers
REASONS TO BE SKEPTICAL: Inexperience, defensively weak
The St. Louis Blues have a team that can surprise a lot of people.
The Blues are dangerous, with veterans like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner and youth in David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart. Defensively, Alex Pietrangelo will try to build off a stellar year last season.
The key is the play of Jaroslav Halak. After a disappointing year, Halak should bounce back and be a key part of the Blues' resurgence. The ownership situation seems to be settled with Michael Hulsizer buying the team, and they have nice pieces put together to be a contender for a playoff spot.
REASONS TO BELIEVE: Jaroslav Halak, strong offense
As the NHL season starts, these teams start on the outside of the playoff bubble according to a majority of experts.
While the top six teams in both conferences seem to be locks, the other playoff spots should be up for grabs. If these teams can overachieve, they may be able to grab those spots and sneak into the playoffs.
Hockey's movement towards parity makes more teams competitive enough to make the playoffs and always leaves hockey fans surprised by over-achieving teams. If these teams get some luck, we can be talking about them as the Cinderella teams of the 2011-2012 NHL season.
Enjoy the games!
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