Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Every NHL Team in 2016-17

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2016

Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Every NHL Team in 2016-17

0 of 30

    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Every team wants to believe it has a shot at the Stanley Cup when a new season begins. While that's technically true, it's not a realistic goal for many. 

    True best and worst-case scenarios will very depending on what stage of growth a franchise is at. There are teams considered top Stanley Cup contenders who have enjoyed recent success and will be in the hunt for a championship again. Others will be looking to climb out of the middle of the pack and get back into the playoff picture. Some will make the leap and win a round. 

    And yes, there will be those who make no progress at all or regress into the standings cellar. 

    The summer offseason moves have slowed with all 30 teams making their major moves and looking toward training camp. They may yet improve their hopes for the coming season between now and puck drop, but we'll take this opportunity to look at best and worst outcomes for next year. 

    Taking into account recent performances, upgrades and internal growth potential, we'll take a stab at where each team will land—with the knowledge the final answer could be somewhere in the middle of the range. 

    All stats via NHL.com unless otherwise noted

Anaheim Ducks

1 of 30

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: A surprising ouster from the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Nashville Predators took the Stanley Cup contender down a peg this spring. And the roster doesn't look better after the first wave of free agency, during which they lost David Perron, Chris Stewart and Jamie McGinn. But they still have good goaltending, a solid defensive lineup and top scorers Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf so they can't be counted out of the later rounds of the postseason. 

    Worst Case: It's hard to imagine the Ducks missing the playoffs after four straight Pacific Division regular-season titles. They have too many talented players to slip that far. But without more scoring from the secondary cast strong seasons from the likes of Getzlaf, Perry and starting goaltender John Gibson, the Ducks could be due for a step back in the standings and miss out on home-ice advantage for the first time since missing the playoffs in 2012. 

Arizona Coyotes

2 of 30

    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Arizona Coyotes have missed out on the postseason for four straight years but there is reason for optimism after a 22-point jump in the standings last year by the rebuilding squad—which has some promising young players in every position and more potentially cracking the club's roster this year. Captain Shane Doan is coming back as a mentor and traded for Alex Goligoski. Then the team brought in a couple of veterans for more depth in free agency. They could challenge for one of the wild-card spots in the Western Conference. 

    Worst Case: When a team is reliant on so many unproven young players who tend to go through a lot of ups and downs, there's no telling how good they can be—or how bad. If Doan's play drops off and the youngsters hit a wall, or if goaltender Mike Smith struggles, it could be another long season for the Desert Dogs. The Coyotes could find themselves in the draft lottery as one of the league's worst.

Boston Bruins

3 of 30

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: It's true the Boston Bruins have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons but last year they were tied with the Detroit Red Wings in points at 93 and only lost on the tiebreaker of regulation wins. The core remains from the 2011 Stanley Cup championship, including guys like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. The defense is dependent on individuals making big improvements, but the rest of the team could be good enough to get back into the playoffs and maybe even win a round.  

    Worst Case: The Bruins basically have two legitimate top-four defenders and then another four or five guys who would best be utilized in bottom-pairing situations. That puts a lot of pressure on Rask, who last year posted the worst save percentage in his seven NHL seasons. If the team doesn't find a way to improve there or get performances that exceed expectations, it could be another regression that finds them falling short of the playoffs with less than 90 points and in the red in goal differential for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Buffalo Sabres

4 of 30

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Best Case: The Buffalo Sabres made huge strides last season with a 27-point jump in the standings that took them from last place in the NHL standings in 2014-15 to 23rd last season. Adding to the impressive overhaul this year, general manager Tim Murray was able to bring in one of the most coveted scorers on the free agent market in Kyle Okposo. They're not yet Stanley Cup contenders but could challenge for the playoffs this season if the young players keep progressing positively and the goaltending from Robin Lehner is solid.

    Worst Case: Lehner was strong in 21 games but can he maintain a save percentage near the .925 he posted in action limited by injury in his first chance to grab the starting role? Will Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen improve on their impressive 2015-16 seasons? If the answer to one or both of these questions is no, the Sabres will fall well shy of the playoff race and could still be one of the teams in the draft lottery next spring.

Calgary Flames

5 of 30

    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Best Case: The Calgary Flames surprisingly reached the second round of the playoffs two seasons ago and boasted the coach of the year in Bob Hartley as a result. But the team finished fifth in the Pacific Division last year and failed to make the playoffs — costing Hartley his job in early May. Hartley had a hand in both the rise and quick fall but the team also had nine of its top 10 scorers in 2014-15 either tie or set new career highs in points. The group isn't as good as it seemed two years ago or as bad as last year's showing. Playoffs, though, are a real possibility again after the additions of goaltenders Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, and power forward Troy Brouwer via trade and free agency.

    Worst Case: A lottery pick isn't out of the question. Even though Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have emerged as one of the most dynamic young pairings in the league, the rest of the forward group isn't on the same level offensively and there is a dependence on defensemen like Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie to make major contributions. Elliott is a bit of a risk as well. The 31-year-old has played more than 50 games in a season just twice in eight seasons and will likely get a good 60 or so this year. The Flames need heavy improvement in that area to be able to climb out of the basement.

Carolina Hurricanes

6 of 30

    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Best Case: There were times last season the Carolina Hurricanes were looking like a potential playoff team. Not a real threat to make a deep run but a wild-card team that might win a game or two against one of the Eastern Conference's top seeds. And that's about all they can hope for this season as well, although there is a nice young core with lots of potential for the future. Shedding Eric Staal's big salary was an indication of the rebuilding phase the team has entered. 

    Worst Case: The club finished with 86 points last year but there is no guarantee they'll crack 80 again. The Hurricanes could be one of the league's worst teams if the goaltending tandem of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack doesn't improve from a year ago when they each posted save percentages of less than .910 and goals-against averages of 2.41 (Ward) and 2.81 (Lack). Offense is also a big question mark. They'll rely heavily on Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal and veteran newcomer Lee Stempniak for goals. If supporting scorers like Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask and Teuvo Teravainen disappoint, they could be a lottery squad.

Chicago Blackhawks

7 of 30

    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: One spot the Chicago Blackhawks didn't improve at the trade deadline was the defense. As a result, the team was out in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012. This offseason, while shedding salary up front and parting ways with some good secondary pieces, the Blackhawks also made a big addition on the blue line—adding Brian Campbell to support stars Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and give the Hawks a tremendous top four. Even with a more questionable bottom six forwards, the top six should provide enough to get them into the playoffs and capable of a deep run that could include a fourth Stanley Cup in eight seasons. 

    Worst Case: With a solid defense, strong goaltending and a few superstar forwards like defending Art Ross Trophy winner Patrick Kane and perennial Selke contender Jonathan Toews leading the way, the Blackhawks are not going to suddenly miss out on the postseason. However, they could find themselves in a battle for third in the Central Division and have to settle for a wild-card spot. The cap crunch continuously affecting their depth up front definitely makes them more susceptible to some disappointment.

Colorado Avalanche

8 of 30

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: Not a single player on the Colorado Avalanche roster had 60 points last year. The team has missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons and dropped eight points from a 90-point campaign in 2014-15 to 82 in 2015-16. Still, they did have 112 to win the Central Division three seasons ago and this year's defensive group—Francois Beauchemin, Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nikita Zadorov, Eric Gelinas, Fedor Tyutin, Chris Bigras and Patrick Wiercioch is the deepest they've had in years. Some improvements on the back end and consistency in goal could bring them into playoff contention.

    Worst Case: A floundering franchise with much higher expectations, the Avalanche could find themselves in one of those seasons where everything goes wrong and a gutting ensues. They were in the bottom third both in goals for and against last season and head coach Patrick Roy and general manager Joe Sakic are under a lot of pressure. The players know they need to turn things around sooner than later. If things start poorly, Roy could be canned and core players could be moved with the team looking at a new direction.

Columbus Blue Jackets

9 of 30

    Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Columbus Blue Jackets have some good young players but have had back-to-back seasons of regression with 89 and 76-point seasons after a 93-point year that got them into the playoffs for the first and only time in seven years. If they can recapture some of the elements that helped them into the postseason in 2013-14, it's possible they can jump from second last in the Eastern Conference to wild-card contention. That will be a struggle however, with five Metropolitan Division teams ahead of them making the playoffs last season. 

    Worst Case: First-overall pick anyone? The Blue Jackets could plummet to last in the league if the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers' offseason changes pay off and the Jackets' decision to promote from within turns out to be the wrong move. In 2013-14 the team had a 30-goal, 60-point forward in Ryan Johansen and a 50-point defenseman in James Wisniewski. They also had Vezina worthy play from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Last year, the top point-producing blueliner was David Savard with a paltry 25 points. No forwards scored more than 53, and Bobrovsky was outplayed by rookie Joonas Korpisalo in net. The team essentially stood pat this offseason hoping Seth Jones is the answer on the back end after dealing Johansen for him last season, and that the young players will improve quickly.

Dallas Stars

10 of 30

    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Dallas Stars finished first in the Western Conference and second in the league with 109 points last season, making it into the second round of the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2008. They accomplished this without superstar Tyler Seguin for most of the postseason and a terrible goaltending tandem that won a total of 50 games despite save percentages of .905 (Antti Niemi) and .906 (Kari Lehtonen) and goals-against averages of 2.67 (Niemi) and 2.76 (Lehtonen). Any improvements on the back end and the team should have a legitimate shot at a Western Conference title if not a Stanley Cup. Despite losing Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers in the offseason, the group appears stronger defensively thanks to the addition of Dan Hamhuis and a promising performance from Stephen Johns down the stretch and into the playoffs.

    Worst Case: If Niemi (32) and Lehtonen (32) don't improve their personal numbers and the team doesn't find another upgrade there, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Stars regress. Perhaps as far as a wild-card spot. As long as captain Jamie Benn and Seguin are healthy enough to lead the league's most deadly offense, it's unlikely the team will fall out of playoff contention. There is too much talent on front of the goalies to allow them to completely derail success.

Detroit Red Wings

11 of 30

    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for 25 straight seasons after squeaking in last year in the tiebreaker versus the Boston Bruins (regulation wins). Even with the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, the team has enough talent to keep that streak going. Dylan Larkin looks ready for the added responsibility in his sophomore season and the additions of veterans Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek should help with the secondary scoring. They aren't going to wow anyone once they get there, but qualifying is still an accomplishment. 

    Worst Case: The streak has been in jeopardy for years. They were in the tie with the Bruins last year, finished two points out of eighth in the conference the previous season, three points away from missing the playoffs in 2013-14, and just a single point ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013 in their last season in the Western Conference. It's possible the defection of Datsyuk to the KHL is the breaking point for a team in transition. The impressive streak could very well end, and the team still may not be low enough in the standings for a high first-round draft pick.

Edmonton Oilers

12 of 30

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: There have been expectations and talk about the young Edmonton Oilers group taking the next step in the hunt for the playoffs for years. They've picked high in the draft for a decade and still have not reached 75 points in a season since 2009. With some big moves this offseason that affected the core group, perhaps that will change this year and the playoffs will be a possibility. It hurt dealing away one of their most talented forwards in Taylor Hall but the got a young defensemen of need in return in Adam Larsson. Adding power forward Milan Lucic shifts the culture as the Oilers look to get more intensely competitive. If all goes well and Connor McDavid stays healthy, the team could make a massive jump and be a surprise playoff qualifier.

    Worst Case: Another lottery pick isn't out of the realm of reality for the Oilers. Lucic brings an attitude with him but he isn't going to fill Hall's skates offensively. McDavid was hurt in his rookie season and the Oilers have seen the career of former stud in waiting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins get derailed by shoulder problems. The defense is improved with the addition of Larsson but he doesn't have the dynamic offensive skills the team has been seeking since the departure of Chris Pronger.  If Cam Talbot and Jonas Gustavsson aren't among their team's best players on a nightly basis, the conference cellar is at least a familiar place for the Oilers.

Florida Panthers

13 of 30

    Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Florida Panthers got oh-so-close to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1996 but fell short in the series against the New York Islanders. With some aggressive additions, the Panthers are very much in the running for another division title and perhaps an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final. The team may not yet have the playoff experience—outside of the 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr—to make a jump to the Stanley Cup Final, but the team is on the rise.

    Worst Case: With the addition of Keith Yandle and Jason Demers on defense, James Reimer as insurance in goal, and improvement from the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith and Aaron Ekblad, the notion of missing the playoffs seems absurd for this club. As a worst-case scenario for a very talented group of players mixing experience with youth, a first-round upset in the postseason would be a disappointing finish.

Los Angeles Kings

14 of 30

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014, missed the playoffs in 2015 and then lost in the first round last season. With superstars at center in Anze Kopitar, goal with Jonathan Quick and on defense in Drew Doughty, the team is always a threat to make the playoffs—with 2015 the one exception over the past seven seasons. They should be a playoff team and the ability to win a round or two, although their window as a Cup competitor may have passed them by. 

    Worst Case: A scoring deficiency made more prominent by the loss of Milan Lucic to free agency is a big weakness. The Kings have a top notch defense but finished 14th in goals scored last season. If that position falls, it's possible they find themselves back on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race. The Kings added depth to the defense with Tom Gilbert and Zach Trotman but only Teddy Purcell up front. He's a nice player but not nearly as capable of impacting a game the way Lucic is. 

Minnesota Wild

15 of 30

    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    Best Case: The Minnesota Wild made some additions this offseason they hope will add some offense to their anemic group, which finished 18th in the league last season. Eric Staal is joining the team and Chris Stewart is coming back after a stint with the Anaheim Ducks. Zach Parise should be healthy and Ryan Suter had the best year of his career on the blue line last season. Oh, and one of the better possession coaches in the NHL is aboard in Bruce Boudreau. An offensive boost should help propel the team into the second round again after a first-round exit last year. A big year by goaltender Devan Dubnyk could land them into the third round for the second time in franchise history and first  since 2003.

    Worst Case: Staal's numbers have declined offensively the past couple of seasons and the 31-year-old's point-per-game days are long behind him. Parise's back may be a recurring issue, and 33-year-old Mikko Koivu is not an ideal candidate for a top center despite the fact he's coming off his best offensive season since 2011. If Boudreau can't turn the secondary scorers like Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker into consistent threats, the team may find itself struggling to make the playoffs in a highly competitive Western Conference. They backed into the postseason losing five straight last year thanks to the next closest competitor, the Colorado Avalanche, losing six in a row to end their season.

Montreal Canadiens

16 of 30

    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Best Case: We've seen the best and worst cases play out for the Montreal Canadiens over the past few seasons and they all seem to be attached to one player—goaltender Carey Price. Price was the league's MVP two seasons ago, helping the Habs to the second round of the NHL playoffs a year after guiding them into the Eastern Conference Final. If he is healthy and playing to his potential as one of the top few netminders in the league, the Canadiens could find themselves in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. Swapping P.K. Subban's offensive upside for Shea Weber's gritty and physical play in his own end could pay off in the short term, and the addition of Cup winner Andrew Shaw adds to the physical personality the team is looking to adopt.

    Worst Case: When Price went down with a leg injury in the first half of the season, the Habs became one of the absolute worst teams in the league, not only missing the playoffs but finishing in the bottom four in the Eastern Conference standings. If he isn't fully healed or suffers another injury, all the additions and risks they took in going for more goals with the Alex Radulov signing will be for naught. Price's health and play are key to this team and they could be eliminated from playoff contention again early if he struggles or goes down. 

Nashville Predators

17 of 30

    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Best Case: After an impressive showing in the playoffs last season, coming within a single win of what would have been their first Western Conference Final, the Nashville Predators are a team on the rise. Expectations are increased as well but with the addition of P.K. Subban on defense and improvement from Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok, they could win that big game next season and give themselves a chance at a Western Conference title.

    Worst Case: Pekka Rinne hasn't been the most consistent goalie the past few years. A better showing in the spring would have helped the team advance and his save percentage in the regular season was .908—well shy of his career average of .918. He had a .923 in 2012 and 2015 but was .910 and .902 in 2013 and 2014. A down year from Rinne and even one of the league's best defenses may not be enough to propel them past the first round again. Barring a big move from one of last year's non-playoff squads, a spot for the Preds in the postseason should be secure.

New Jersey Devils

18 of 30

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Best Case: Bringing in Taylor Hall was a big move for the New Jersey Devils, a team with a top tier goaltender but a huge need for offensive production. Their 182 goals were last in the NHL, but Hall has scored 20 or more in four of his six NHL seasons, with the other two shortened by injury. He has 328 points in 381 games and his presence could propel the Devils into the playoffs for the first time since they lost the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. If they get there, they could win a round thanks to the presence of netminder Cory Schneider.

    Worst Case: To get Hall, the team gave up a significant piece of the defense protecting Schneider in Adam Larsson. Only five blueliners are signed to one-way deals and there will be a lot of pressure on the goaltending if they don't find a way to add a significant piece to the group. If Schneider gets hurt, it could be a season not unlike the one the Montreal Canadiens had last year with the Devils finding themselves in near the bottom of the pack in the Eastern Conference.

New York Islanders

19 of 30

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Best Case: The New York Islanders made it to the second round of the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1993 and added a big piece in terms of postseason leadership in winger Andrew Ladd via free agency. He should help the team make up for the loss of Kyle Okposo and add another element they've been lacking. Jason Chimera comes in after the team lost Matt Martin, and former Isles winger PA Parenteau returns hoping to re-connect with pal John Tavares. The goaltending tandem is solid and the defense is solid as well, giving the Isles real potential to make it out of the Eastern Conference Final.

    Worst Case: After taking such a big step, anything less than winning a playoff round would be considered a failure. With the Metropolitan Division being so competitive and a tough early matchup possible, the Isles are no lock for the deeper rounds. A third straight 100-point season is likely so the playoffs are a worst case scenario for the Brooklyn boys.

New York Rangers

20 of 30

    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Best Case: After a disastrous first-round exit at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers will be looking to prove they are still among the best in the Eastern Conference. Some retooling may go a long way in helping them get into the playoffs and perhaps back into the third round. Mika Zibanejad, Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe all add speed to the lineup and the team looks capable of rolling four lines that can create mismatches. If Henrik Lundqvist can keep performing at a top level, the team will be a threat to represent the East.

    Worst Case: Despite the trade that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa for the younger Zibanejad and the loss of defenseman Keith Yandle, the Rangers core is largely the same. That may not be a good thing considering how they wilted in the spring after a 101-point regular season that nearly landed them in a wild-card spot. It's possible that a bad season or injury affecting Lundqvist could result in the Rangers missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and second since the 2004 lockout.

Ottawa Senators

21 of 30

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Best Case: The Ottawa Senators have qualified for the playoffs just once in the past three seasons and have an aging roster that got even older when they swapped young center Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard. They also brought back veteran grinder Chris Kelly, who can play important minutes on the penalty kill and in defensive situations. They're hoping a healthy team of veterans can make a run, but just making it back to the playoffs would be a big improvement. 

    Worst Case: Management is expecting the team to get back to the playoffs by turning over the coaching staff but leaving the player personnel on defense essentially intact. The team finished 26th in goals allowed last season, so unless new bench boss Guy Boucher and his associate Marc Crawford have some secret strategy to help improve that area without affecting the league's ninth best offense, it's very likely they will see another middle-of-the-pack finish. 

Philadelphia Flyers

22 of 30

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Best Case: It took a great finish to the regular season for the Philadelphia Flyers to make the playoffs for the second time in four years. They went 16-6-3 in its final 25 games. Once there, they were terrible offensively but got a great performance from goalie Michael Neuvirth and gave the Washington Capitals a tougher first round than expected. There are promising defensive prospects and still some very talented forwards that can produce enough offense to get by, so if the team gets that same kind of goaltending consistently in the regular season from Neuvirth and Steve Mason, they could be a wild-card contender. 

    Worst Case: The goalie position is so critical to their success that if Mason and Neuvirth disappoint and the young players on the blueline commit too many errors, things could fall apart quickly. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn carry the team offensively and the supporting cast hasn't shown an ability to produce at a higher level so an injury or prolonged slump to one of these critical members could be devastating to the team that finished 22nd in scoring last season with them healthy. A top five draft pick isn't out of the realm of possibility next spring. 

Pittsburgh Penguins

23 of 30

    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Best Case: The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins look like they'll have essentially the same roster this season and so there's no reason to believe they'll be anything less than Cup competitors again and potentially be the first team to hoist the trophy in back-to-back seasons since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98. 

    Worst Case: The only real area of weakness for the Penguins is on the blue line, where they depend heavily on Kris Letang for big minutes and offensive contributions. The loss of veteran Ben Lovejoy in free agency puts more pressure on younger players like Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin to be more sound in the defensive zone as well. If the group struggles in front of expected new full-time starter Matt Murray in goal, the team could drop from sixth place in goals against and in turn lose home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. First-world problems.

San Jose Sharks

24 of 30

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Best Case: The team has actually improved its already impressive forward depth with the addition of speedy forward Mikkel Boedker in free agency and has plenty of options for line combinations to create a deadly top nine and a very worthy fourth trio that could capitalize on matchups. They could find themselves back in the Stanley Cup Final with a chance for the franchise's first NHL title. 

    Worst Case: This team is way too talented to miss the playoffs but you have to wonder about their susceptibility to a potential first-round upset in a very competitive Western Conference. Goaltender Martin Jones handled his first year as a starter very well but even one bad round could be disastrous, especially since backup James Reimer bolted to the Florida Panthers in the offseason and the Sharks have no proven netminders behind their top guy at the moment. 

St. Louis Blues

25 of 30

    Billy Hurst/Associated Press

    Best Case: The St. Louis Blues got to the third round of the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2001. An impressive defensive group and some talented forwards led by superstar Vladimir Tarasenko means the Blues have the potential to make it back to where they fell short last spring. They can't be counted at as a potential Cup winner, either, to give coach Ken Hitchcock a storybook ending in his final season.

    Worst Case: The team traded away goaltender Brian Elliott and lost captain David Backes and power winger Troy Brouwer in free agency. Those are three key pieces from their playoff run last season. The Blues have lots of talent in every position and are in no way in danger of missing the postseason, but a lengthy run may not happen again. At worst, though, they should qualify for the playoffs and win a round or two.

Tampa Bay Lightning

26 of 30

    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Best Case: General manager Steve Yzerman has been a machine this offseason, signing captain Steven Stamkos and cornerstone defenseman Victor Hedman to new contracts, and locking up Alex Killorn long-term as well. This Tampa Bay Lightning team has grown as a group and is coming off deep runs the past couple of years—losing the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015 and falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final last season. With essentially the same lineup, the sky is the limit for these guys. The Bolts could bring the Cup back to Tampa this spring. 

    Worst Case: With so much talent and depth at every position, the Lightning are at worst going to be a top regular-season team that disappoints in the playoffs. If a unit like Montreal climbs back into the divisional matchup picture, the Bolts may not be facing the Detroit Red Wings in the first round for the third straight spring. Having to meet the Canadiens instead could lead to an earlier exit.

Toronto Maple Leafs

27 of 30

    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Toronto Maple Leafs finished dead last in the NHL with 29 wins and 69 points. Gradually tinkering with the makeup of the roster, the Leafs brought in a new starting goaltender in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks for Frederik Andersen, and drafted franchise center Auston Matthews. Nice players but not ones that are going to suddenly make the Leafs playoff contenders. 

    Worst Case: When the best case scenario is that bleak, the worst case is bound to be about the worst possible. Get ready for another season competing for a good spot in the draft lottery.

Vancouver Canucks

28 of 30

    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Best Case: The Vancouver Canucks scored just 186 goals last season, second worst in the NHL. So they went out and added Loui Eriksson in free agency. Eriksson has history with the Sedin twins in international play and had a 30-goal, 63-point season with the Boston Bruins last year. If he helps ignite the offense and secondary scorers from a top nine reliant on youth can contribute to a significant rise, they should be able to at least flirt with a playoff spot after missing out last year. 

    Worst Case: Eriksson, Daniel and Henrik Sedin could form one of the best top lines in hockey this season but if they don't get the production they need from the younger players, they may not get the support necessary to increase their wins enough to significantly climb the standings in the Western Conference. The goaltending spot and defense are also question marks with veteran Ryan Miller and backup Jacob Markstrom sharing the net and the blue line losing Dan Hamhuis in free agency. They could be right back at the bottom of the league standings if everyone doesn't reach their full potential. 

Washington Capitals

29 of 30

    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Best Case: The Washington Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy and set a Capitals record with 56 wins in the regular season, but lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. The team lost Jason Chimera but added guys like Lars Eller and Brett Connolly to strengthen the forward depth. The team is loaded and should be a top regular-season club with eyes on the Stanley Cup—a realistic expectation this time around. 

    Worst Case: Depending on the matchup, maybe a first or second-round loss in the postseason would be as far as coach Barry Trotz's team could conceivably fall. The club is too stacked top to bottom to fall short of the playoffs. 

Winnipeg Jets

30 of 30

    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Best Case: The Jets stumbled last season after a 99-point campaign that put them to the playoffs for the first time as a new franchise two years ago, but a lot of injuries helped derail things. The positives included center Mark Scheifele's 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 71 games, and rookie right wing Nikolaj Ehlers posting 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 72 games. The core hasn't changed much since the playoff appearance. The addition of rookie Patrik Laine, the second-overall pick from last spring, and more internal growth should lead to a return to the postseason. 

    Worst Case: Barring another injury riddled season, or troubles in goal that aren't resolved by the promotion of either Michael Hutchinson or Connor Hellebuyck, these Jets are not going to be picking so high this season. Even if they fall short, they should be in the mix for a playoff spot for the majority of the season. 

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!