Predicting Which 2016 NHL Lottery Teams Will Make Playoffs Next SeasonJune 17, 2016
Predicting Which 2016 NHL Lottery Teams Will Make Playoffs Next Season
Thirty teams all start the NHL season with at least one thing in mind: make the playoffs. From there, anything is possible.
Whether you're the defending Stanley Cup champion or the league's last-place team, you start from scratch in the fall with 82 games to gather enough points to be in the top eight slots in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Of the 14 teams that didn't qualify in 2015, five made the leap this year. The Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers qualified for the 2016 playoffs in the East. The Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars did it in the West—with the Sharks making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Those teams offer hope to the squads that fell short this year, and we're picking another five with a decent shot at getting out of the NHL Draft Lottery and into the crapshoot that is the playoffs.
Some have suffered for years, others have had what look like minor hiccups. The ability to add key free agents, or shore up an obvious deficiency through trades, high-end draft picks on the horizon or a good young core that is on the verge of coming together are some of the possible factors that make these jumps possible.
Click ahead to see if your team is on the list of those most likely to go from the windowless basement to a room with a view.
Things went horribly wrong for the Calgary Flames this season, but with a general manager willing to make big changes and another high draft pick just around the corner, the team should be able to get back into the top eight in the Western Conference next year.
There were plenty of reasons the Flames took a huge step backward after making it into the second round of the playoffs in 2014/15. Captain Mark Giordano was coming back from a torn biceps muscle that kept him out of the final third of the season. His blue-line partner T.J. Brodie broke a bone in his right hand in the preseason. Highly touted addition Dougie Hamilton had a hard time adjusting to his new team with a hefty role right off the hop.
However, it is goaltending that stands out as the biggest problem to address this offseason. There's a reason the team is being linked to the likes of Pittsburgh Penguins veteran Marc-Andre Fleury and Anaheim Ducks RFA Frederik Andersen right now. They could also potentially test the waters on the free-agent market, with James Reimer a suitable target.
The Flames were last in the league in goals allowed per game even though they gave up the eighth fewest average shots per contest. Their 3.13 goals-against average was much higher than the middle-of-the-pack 2.60 they posted the previous season. The Dallas Stars were the playoff team with the highest GAA this spring at 2.78.
Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio combined for an .892 save percentage. No other group was south of the .900 mark. Hiller and Ramo are both unrestricted free agents and RFA Ortio hasn't shown he's capable of being a reliable starter, so off to work GM Brad Treliving goes.
When addressing the media back in April, Treliving alluded to what's happening now on the trade market because of next summer's expansion. This via the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson:
As it looks right now, if there is expansion, the rules and the overview we’ve been given talks about protecting one goaltender. So the natural thought is who has two goaltenders, and how quickly do they want to get rid of one?
With new contracts due for young stars Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and money to be spent to shore up the goaltending, there won't be much more available for any expensive free agent additions unless salary is going the other way as well.
That's why Treliving decided to part ways with reigning coach of the year Bob Hartley and talked about internal growth following his exit meetings with players, via Sportsnet's Eric Francis:
It’s unrealistic to say there are going to be 25 new faces here. There’s three ways to improve – bring someone in from the outside, potentially improve by eliminating someone from the inside and, more often than not, it’s internal growth. That was a big message today. This is a very critical summer for every player and for us as an organization ... You can improve quickly in this league – you have to make the right decisions. There is a very good young nucleus here and solid veterans. We need to make some changes that can put us right back in a playoff spot next year. There needs to be moves made and that’s the GM’s job. But we need internal growth.
With Gaudreau, Monahan and Sam Bennett set to be joined by a very good player at sixth overall in the coming draft, the Flames can expect some of that growth to happen fairly quickly up front. And their defense is impressive. If the team gets its goaltending in order, it will be back to challenging for a playoff spot.
New Jersey Devils
There was a time last season when the New Jersey Devils looked like they might make a real push for the playoffs. But injuries to Mike Cammalleri and Cory Schneider, in addition to a seller's mindset at the trade deadline, kept the team on the sidelines for a fourth straight spring.
General manager Ray Shero has plenty of work to do this offseason but has some nice pieces in place to make a relatively quick turnaround. Most importantly, he has a franchise goaltender in Schneider and an improving young defensive group to build around.
In their favor is the fact they were top 10 in goals allowed per game and penalty killing last season. First-year head coach John Hynes did a good job making his team hard to play against.
Their problem is offense—the Devils were dead last in goals scored per game. That problem was magnified when Cammalleri was shut down for the season after 42 games. He had 14 goals and 38 points at that point and was driving scoring along with Kyle Palmieri and Lee Stempniak during the early part of the year. With playoff prospects in question, Stempniak was traded away at the deadline for a pair of picks.
A healthy Cammalleri and a shrewd move or two by Shero on the free-agent market or via trade to add some more scoring power, and the Devils should be able to qualify in a wide-open Eastern Conference next year. Former Devil and current color commentator Ken Daneyko told Chris Ryan of NJ.com he liked what he saw from a team in transition last year:
They're getting there. I thought it was a positive year. They're a much more exciting team, much more creative team," Daneyko said. "They've got to find a little more five-on-five scoring because their special teams is great. But I think they're going to be a team that can contend for the playoffs.
Shero is not making any promises himself, according to NJ.com's Steve Politi. He added some salary in a deal for Marc Savard's contract in order to add a second-round draft pick, but still has lots of wiggle room. Teams can go 10 percent over the salary cap in the offseason, and the Devils will get some relief when Savard goes on long-term injured reserve in the fall.
Even a little improvement offensively will give the Devils a real shot at competing for a spot in the top eight. Having a top-five goalie like Schneider in place can mask a lot of flaws during a rebuild.
The Winnipeg Jets went from a surprise second-round playoff team to one of the worst in the Western Conference in a single year. Things, though, aren't as good as they seemed two seasons ago and definitely not as bad as they were this past year.
Poor goaltending was the prime suspect in the Jets' drop. They went from being tied for 10th in goals allowed per game in 2014-15 to 22nd in 2015-16. It's hard to believe anybody was all that surprised considering netminder Ondrej Pavelec's track record. A marginal starting goaltender for the majority of his time in the NHL, Pavelec went from a career-best .920 save percentage in 50 games in 2014/15 to a .904 save percentage more in line with his median this year.
The good news? The Jets should finally be ready to move on from Pavelec as the go-to goalie. Connor Hellebuyck was one of the team's most promising prospects in limited action this year. The 23-year-old Hellebuyck had a .918 save percentage in 26 appearances with the Jets before he was forced back to the minors for roster reasons in February.
Even some minor improvement in that area should boost the Jets right back to where they belong as one of the more promising young clubs in the Western Conference. They have size, speed and a strong work ethic that was on display as they went on a late-season surge this past season. They won their last four games and went 6-2-2 in their final 10 contests even though they shipped out captain Andrew Ladd at the trade deadline.
The Jets have strong possession numbers. They were sixth-best in the Western Conference in shot attempts percentage in close games this season and were first in the league in the category the previous year.
Raises for young stars Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba may make the return of Ladd a longshot in free agency, especially since the Jets paid superstar defenseman Dustin Byfuglien handsomely in his extension. There's still a chance Ladd could choose to come back, though, knowing this team is on the brink of something special.
Even if he doesn't, they should get an immediate replacement in the second-overall pick from the upcoming draft, and a number of talented young prospects are very close to making the NHL roster.
One injury turned the Montreal Canadiens from a Stanley Cup contender to a bottom feeder in the Eastern Conference. Of course, when the injured player is defending Hart and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price, a plummet isn't all that surprising.
Even with a healthy Price, the Canadiens may not be Cup contenders again without some significant improvements. The defensive depth isn't great, and there are holes at the center position that the emergence of Alex Galchenyuk only begins to fill.
However, the playoffs are a very realistic proposition...as long as Price is healthy again.
Brendan Kelly of the Montreal Gazette thinks one brash offseason move can solve the majority of the Habs' problems, according to his blog:
There’s a lot of talk about the Leafs going after (Steven) Stamkos and how that’s a good fit because he’s a boy from the suburbs of the Six. But Montreal has one huge advantage on the Leafs—the Habs are potentially in a position to do some damage in the postseason in the next year or two…if they can pick up a star like Stamkos. The Leafs, not so much.
The Canadiens’ biggest problem is their inability to score. Their second-biggest problem is their lack of a decent-sized, seasoned No. 1 center. Bingo, both problems solved in one phone call.
It's hard to argue against that point. Even if they don't land Stamkos, some internal growth and the addition of another reliable sniper via free agency would put the Habs right back on track.
The Boston Bruins might be the easiest pick to return to the postseason after missing out for the second straight spring. Why? They had as many points as Detroit (93) but lost out on the final playoff spot by virtue of a tiebreaker.
They finished with that many points despite a mediocre season from goaltender Tuukka Rask, who recorded his lowest save percentage since his rookie year, but who is also likely to bounce back given his NHL track record.
Elsewhere, a few upgrades in the offseason by general manager Don Sweeney could allow the Bruins to seal their playoff fate much sooner.
They still have a strong core of players, with David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Matt Beleskey up front. Youngsters Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak should provide some support from within, and if the team can't find a way to bring back unrestricted free agent Loui Eriksson, perhaps Sweeney can find some value in a free agent the way he did with Beleskey last summer.
On the defensive front, Zdeno Chara is entering his twilight years but is still an effective force and had a bounceback campaign this season after an injury-plagued year in 2014-15. Dennis Seidenberg has an anchor of a contract at $4 million the next two years, but the Bruins could buy him out any day now to free up some more cash for a free agent like Keith Yandle.
RFAs Torey Krug and Colin Miller will have a new deals this summer and join Chara, Kevan Miller, and Adam McQuaid as the core group in need of another reliable piece for the top four.
Bruins writer Joe Haggerty of CSN New England suggests this is one way Sweeney can right the ship:
Sweeney said the Bruins wouldn’t shy away from free agency if it’s the right price for the right player, and that could end up being the case for either Yandle or (Alex) Goligoski.
One of Sweeney’s best moves from last season was gauging the free-agent market on July 1 and getting a valuable player in Matt Beleskey at a good price tag. If he can turn the same trick for a defenseman, things will be looking up a bit on Causeway Street.
Stats via NHL.com. Salary cap numbers via GeneralFanager.com