NHL Teams Already in Danger of Missing the Playoffs in 2015-16
A month into the NHL's 2015-16 season, several teams find themselves at, or near, the bottom of the standings. Whether it's an aspiring Stanley Cup contender such as the Anaheim Ducks (pictured) or a rebuilding club such as the Buffalo Sabres, their hopes of reaching the playoffs are already in jeopardy.
Various factors account for their respective difficulties. Some, such as the Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers, are struggling to score. Rebuilding teams, such as the Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs, are going through growing pains. For others, such as the Colorado Avalanche, bad habits continue to hamper them.
This slideshow lists the NHL teams already in danger of missing the playoffs in 2015-16. We'll examine why these clubs are struggling and whether they can save their respective seasons. This list is based on their position in the league standings as of Nov. 8, 2015. Feel free to voice your opinions in the comments section below.
Why they're in danger: After 14 games, the Philadelphia Flyers have a record of five wins, six losses and three overtime losses for 13 points. They're near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings. As of Nov. 8, the Flyers have a 22.9 percent probability of reaching the playoffs.
Critical factors: The Flyers are among the league's lowest-scoring teams. They're also among the worst defensive clubs. Their special teams (power play and penalty kill) aren't that special. The Flyers have won just once in their last six games. Starting goalie Steve Mason and playmaking winger Jakub Voracek are off to poor starts.
Can they save their season?: After a 4-2-1 start, the Flyers are quickly going off the rails. On Nov. 5, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi described the Flyers (the NHL's fifth-oldest team) as slow and out of sync. The stats support his opinion. Without a significant overall improvement, the Flyers risk falling completely out of the playoff chase before the end of 2015.
Why they're in danger: After 14 games, the Carolina Hurricanes have a record of six wins and eight losses for 12 points. They're near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings. As of Nov. 8, the Hurricanes have an 21.2 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: Offense is a big issue for the Hurricanes. They are among the league's lowest-scoring teams, while their power play is among the worst. The Hurricanes aren't getting much production from top forwards such as the Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan, and Jeff Skinner, while promising Elias Lindholm is having a horrible start. Backup goalie Eddie Lack is also struggling this season.
Can they save their season?: In the Hurricanes' 14 games, they scored more than two goals six times. They need their best scorers to step up their play, especially with the man advantage. If the Hurricanes offense continues to sputter, they will fall further out of playoff contention.
Why they're in danger: After 14 games, the Buffalo Sabres have a record of six wins and eight losses for 12 points. They're near the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings. As of Nov. 8, the Sabres have a 21 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: The Sabres are among the highest-shooting teams while ranking among the lowest in shots against. Unfortunately, they're among the lowest-scoring teams and give up too many goals. This rebuilding club still lacks skilled, experienced depth throughout the roster. They have thus far lost their starting goalie, Robin Lehner, top defenseman, Zach Bogosian, and one of their scoring wingers, Evander Kane, to injury.
Can they save their season?: Under head coach Dan Bylsma, the Sabres are better than they were a year ago. However, their lack of skilled depth throughout the lineup, exacerbated by the absences of Lehner, Bogosian and Kane, puts them at a definite disadvantage. There are just too many better teams ahead of them in their division and the Eastern Conference.
Why they're in danger: After 14 games, the Anaheim Ducks have a record of five wins, seven losses and two overtime losses for 12 points. They are near the bottom of the Pacific Division. As of Nov. 8, the Ducks have a 29.7 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: Apart from stellar goaltending by Frederik Andersen, the Ducks haven't been solid in their own zone. Offense, however, is the big problem. They're last in the league in goals for and among the worst on the power play. Their scoring forwards, led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, are all struggling at the same time.
Can they save their season?: The Ducks entered this season considered a Stanley Cup contender, but thus far, they look like playoff pretenders. This team has too much talent to be playing so poorly. Of late, they appear to be turning things around, having won four straight games. They can ill afford another lengthy winless stretch.
Why they're in danger: After 15 games, the Calgary Flames have a record of five wins, nine losses and one overtime loss for 11 points. They are near the bottom of the Pacific Division standings. As of Nov. 8, the Flames have a 13.1 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: The Flames have issues throughout their roster. Their goaltending is the worst in the league. The defensive corps ranks among the worst in shots against per game, as does their power play and penalty kill. Of the first-line forwards, only winger Johnny Gaudreau's been a consistent offensive threat. Except for winger Michael Frolik, the Flames aren't getting much from their secondary scorers.
Can they save their season?: The Flames' ability to stage late-game rallies last season glossed over many of their weaknesses. This season, they can't catch teams by surprise anymore. Of their problem areas, the most glaring is between the pipes. Without solid goaltending, they stand little chance of getting out of their current hole in the standings.
Why they're in danger: After 14 games, the Edmonton Oilers have a record of five wins and nine losses for 10 points. They're at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings. As of Nov. 8, the Oilers have a 29.3 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: The Oilers are among the league's worst puck-possession teams. Goaltending remains an issue for the Oilers, as starter Cam Talbot's numbers rank among the league's worst. However, it's not fair to pin the blame entirely on him. The Oilers still lack skilled, experienced at defense and on their checking lines. The loss of rookie sensation Connor McDavid to injury is a significant blow to their offense.
Can they save their season?: The Oilers are a better club than they were a year ago, but their defensive game remains their undoing. Even a healthy McDavid couldn't make up for inexperienced starting goaltending and defensive breakdowns. Until those issues are addressed, the Oilers face an uphill battle to reach the playoffs this season.
Why they're in danger: After 14 games, the Colorado Avalanche have a record of four wins, nine losses and one overtime loss for nine points. They're at the bottom of the Central Division standings. As of Nov. 8, the Avalanche have a 14 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: Just like the last two seasons, the Avalanche are a lousy puck-possession team. Semyon Varlamov's stats are among the worst for starting goalies this season. They're not getting much secondary scoring. Forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Jarome Iginla and Gabriel Landeskog account for nearly half of the Avs' goals.
Can they save their season?: The puck possession and defensive issues stretch back to 2013-14. Back then, Varlamov's stellar goaltending offset those issues. Not anymore. Unless head coach Patrick Roy is replaced (which seems unlikely) or changes his system, the Avalanche risk falling further behind their divisional rivals.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Why they're in danger: After 14 games, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a record of two wins, eight losses and four overtime losses for eight points. They are at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. As of Nov. 8, the Leafs have a 10.7 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: The Leafs are in the midst of a massive roster rebuild and lack skilled depth at every position. They're among the league's lowest-scoring teams. Just three forwards account for over half of their goals. While their defensive game has improved, they're still giving up too many shots. Their penalty kill is among the league's worst. They also lack a proven starting goaltender.
Can they save their season?: This season was lost for the Leafs from the opening puck drop. That's what happens in the first year of a long-overdue rebuilding program. Right now, the Toronto roster is no better than that of an expansion team. Forget about a miracle playoff run, there are just too many weaknesses throughout this lineup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Why they're in danger: After 15 games, the Columbus Blue Jackets have a record of four wins and 11 losses for eight points. They are at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. As of Nov. 8, the Blue Jackets have a 4.5 percent probability of reaching the 2016 NHL playoffs.
Critical factors: The Blue Jackets dropped their first eight games of the season. As a result, they replaced Todd Richards as head coach with John Tortorella. Though their play has improved of late, the Jackets remain among the league's worst defensive clubs. Of late, top forwards Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno and Brandon Saad have struggled to score.
Can they save their season?: Since hiring Tortorella, the Jackets won four of their last eight games. After struggling through most of October, starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's performance is improving. However, they need more production from their scoring forwards and a better effort in their puck-possession game. Another losing skid will be fatal to their playoff hopes.