Dollars to donuts says the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers can’t bear to watch a second of the first round of the NHL post-season.
Less than a year after their playoff dominance, it must kill both groups of players to sit on the sidelines and watch with the rest of us schmucks.
Fortunately, there’s always next year Â– and if this year is any indication, that’s no empty slogan anymore. As evidenced by the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders in particular, it is very much within the realm of possibility to go from the refuse bin to the Ritz in a single season.
So, which non-playoff teams this year will join Stanley’s 16 this time next year? Let’s have a look and hazard 14 guesses:
Boston: All those who believed the Bruins weren’t far off found themselves confronted with a tough reality when Dave Lewis’ crew finished the season on a 5-17 skid.
What’s worse, the Bruins have some $33 million already committed to next season, meaning management won’t have the ability to bulk up with two elite players like they did last summer. Unless Phil Kessel turns into the second coming of Cam Neely, they’ll be in tough again. Playoffs? No.
Carolina: Cam Ward and the Â‘Canes missed Martin Gerber more than they thought they would. But the goalie market is flooded with guys looking for a(nother) chance.
Carolina will also have some cap room to work with and if they can supplement their still-young lineup with a few hungry veterans, springtime in Raleigh will be cool again. Playoffs? Yes.
Chicago: Yes, the Hawks had a scary number of injuries to key players this year. Still, they need to not only re-sign Michal Handzus, but also add secondary scoring oomph and increase the veteran contingent on the blueline. That’s a tall order, especially for a team with a history of mismanagement. Playoffs? No.
Colorado: The Avalanche remind me of the 2005-06 Toronto Maple Leafs, who nearly made the playoffs after a memorable late-season push. The Leafs ultimately failed in that chase, then failed again after another valiant attempt this year.
The Avs already have matched the first part of Toronto’s trajectory with their near-miracle March and April. As long as they’re spending nearly a quarter of their cap room on Joe Sakic and Jose Theodore, they’ll do the same thing in ’07-08. Playoffs? No.
Columbus: Assuming Doug MacLean isn’t deposed between now and next fall, the Blue Jackets GM will need to address his team’s goaltending, defense corps and forward uniÂ…OK, he’s got a lot of addressing to do.
But if the whispers are true and ownership makes a change, MacLean’s replacement may be tempted to treat the roster as a work-in progress. That would be a shame, as a demolition project is probably more appropriate. Playoffs? No.
Edmonton: The Oilers have already publicly spoken of big changes before they next play. I believe them. I also believe that, though they’ll be better than they were this year, it won’t be enough for a post-season berth next year.
That opinion might change, of course, if Ales Hemsky, Fernando Pisani and Joffrey Lupul are brought out of their respective comas. Playoffs? No.
Florida: OK, so the Panthers don’t have an NHL-caliber goalie (starter or otherwise) signed for next season, their top two scorers (Olli Jokinen and Nathan Horton) are rumored to be fed up with the organization, and they’re the only team that employed one guy to fill both the GM and coaching roles this year. A fountain of optimism, they ain’t. Playoffs? No.
Los Angeles: I refuse to assess the Kings until they declare the precise day and time Dan Cloutier is to be jettisoned out of their dressing room. Until then, any talk of the playoffs for this squad is a whole lot of hot air. Playoffs? No.
Montreal: Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau’s protests to the contrary aside, there is no doubt the Canadiens made many strategic mistakes this season, starting with big-dollar deals for Alex Kovalev and Sergei Samsonov and stretching right down through the last game of the season when Cristobal Huet was wrongfully inserted into Montreal’s showdown with Toronto.
The bad news extends into the off-season, as they’ll have to shell out sizeable dollars just to retain the services of their current talents (Andrei Markov, Radek Bonk, Michael Ryder, Mike Komisarek). They’ll also almost certainly lose Sheldon Souray to a West Coast team Â– and though that’s good for their 5-on-5 play, their leadership and power play will take a big hit. Playoffs? No.
Philadelphia: Nobody is a bigger fan of what Flyers GM Paul Holmgren did when he took over from Bob Clarke early this season. Thanks to his efforts, the Flyers now have an above-average goalie (Martin Biron), an embarrassment of riches when it comes to young players, and significant cap room to go after the likes of Daniel Briere or Chris Drury.
As quickly as they fell to pieces this year, Philly could put them all back together next season. I think they’ll still fall a little short, but expect them to be in the hunt right into the last week of the regular season. Playoffs? No.
Phoenix: The Coyotes were the second worst team in the league this season and haven’t made the playoffs in five of the last six years, which explains why even someone of Wayne Gretzky’s stature could only sit by idly as GM Mike Barnett and the rest of the Great One’s pals were summarily dismissed by Phoenix ownership Wednesday.
The Â‘Yotes will be better without veterans Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan, Curtis Joseph and Mike Ricci taking up cap space, but Gretzky already has said Phoenix won’t attempt to augment the lineup by spending like drunken sailors at this summer’s unrestricted free agent signing derby. And that will probably result in another year of desert dubiousity. Playoffs? No.
St. Louis: The Blues were 27-18-9 after Andy Murray replaced Mike Kitchen behind the Blues’ bench this year. They’ve consciously kept a core group of gritty young players together and when Erik Johnson shows up to training camp, their blueline will be among the NHL’s most burgeoning. Playoffs? Yes.
Toronto: The Leafs were oh-so-close to qualifying to be crushed by Buffalo in the first round this year. Unfortunately, with much of their ’07-08 money going to the overpaid (Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina) and underperforming (Andrew Raycroft) members of the roster, they won’t be quite so close next year. For the long-term benefit of the franchise, that’s probably a good thing. Playoffs? No.
Washington: The heat is starting to settle on GM George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis to start surrounding Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin with a few honest-to-goodness top-line NHLers.
With less than $20 million committed to salary next year, there is no excuse Â– OK, other than a distinct lack of sold-out games Â– for the Caps to play cheapo again this summer.
That said, with some additional scoring depth and more experience on the blueline, Washington could make the same leap their division rivals in Pittsburgh did in ’06-07. Playoffs? Yes.
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