Being that it’s end of August, and not a lot going on in the hockey world, I figured I’d take a long shot at predicting the playoff teams for the 2017 NHL playoffs. I would love to be able to say that the Leafs have a shot at a playoff position going into this season, but I don’t see them fairing much better than bottom 5 overall in the upcoming season.
Let’s recap last season’s playoff teams:
|Eastern Conference||Western Conference|
|NY Islanders||Los Angeles|
|Tampa Bay||San Jose|
If you look at the list, there’s not a lot of teams that are poised to fall-off at a rate that will see them miss the playoffs this year. But there are a few. Here is who I think will fall out of the playoff picture this upcoming season:
Detroit Red Wings – Will the streak reach 25 straight seasons? It’s possible, but I view this team as on a decline. Losing one of the most skilled players in the game in Datsyuk will hurt Detroit, who as a team who barely scraped into the playoffs last season. They’ve made strides to make up for losing Datsyuk in signing Frans Nielsen and taking a chance on Thomas Vanek, but it feels as though this team is destined to miss the playoffs sooner rather than later. How can they avoid this? A good start would be to see Gustav Nyquist have a bounce-back season after posting only 17 goals last season, versus 27 the year before.
NY Rangers – This is a long-shot here, as the Rangers still boast the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, but they’ve quickly gone from a Cup-contender to a fringe playoff team in the past few seasons. Barring significant injuries, King Hank is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, fully capable of carrying his team to the playoffs alone, however if he is to go down with an injury, they remind me a lot of the Montreal Canadiens of last season. While the Rangers have been better offensively than Montreal in previous seasons, swapping out Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad seems like a downgrade for the Rangers, who heavily relied on the offense Brassard provided last season (1st on team with 27 goals). Again, this is a bold prediction, but one that seems more plausible than ever.
Who will replace these teams?
Montreal Canadiens – It could be as easy as saying “with a healthy Carey Price”, but they’ve also added more grit in Andrew Shaw, and potentially addressed a lack of scoring with Alexander Radulov. Sure there’s some concern around the maturity and dedication of Radulov, but a 1-yr deal is a very acceptable gamble by the Canadiens. Their biggest questions come on defense, with all eyes on how Shea Weber performs, after replacing dynamic player in PK Subban. I don’t see how this team misses the playoffs with a healthy Carey Price.
Buffalo Sabres – Is this team ready to make a run at the playoffs? I believe so. They’ve upgraded in both ends of the ice in adding Kyle Okposo up front, and Dmitry Kulikov, the only real question remains can Robin Lehner remain healthy and how will he perform as a full-time starter. If Eichel can avoid the sophomore slump, and if Lehner performs as the Sabres hope he does, this young team could carry the momentum of an excited fanbase into the playoffs. They’ll be a fun team to watch in the upcoming season.
Minnesota Wild – While the wild did add Eric Staal into the mix, in such a competitive Western Conference, the Wild feel like a team that outplayed their potential last season. This isn’t so much of the Wild team falling off in value as it’s more of a feeling that a non-playoff team from last season will push them out of a spot.
Who will replace Minnesota?
Winnipeg Jets – With the emergence of Mark Scheiffle last season (61 pts in 71 games), and a blueline that consists of Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba, this is a team on the rise. With the biggest question mark coming in goal, the Jets have plenty of young options in Michael Hutchinson, Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie, that if Ondrej Pavelec fails to perform, they have no shortages of options. The home crowd in Winnipeg is a fun one, and seeing them in the playoffs again would be great for everyone (except Minnesota that is).
Again, these are bold predictions, as we sit here 50 days before the start of the season. I’m sure there will be a team that surprises us all and makes a strong push for the playoffs (I’m looking at you Edmonton).