Every year in the NHL there is a handful of teams who really have no hope of competing, and most of the time that’s by design. The teams will obviously never admit that they’re tanking, but instead, say that they’re focused on getting younger and giving ice time to their “next generation”. The best example of this was when the New York Rangers wrote a letter to their fans this past season:
I’ll get to the Eastern Conference in a second, but for now, I want to focus on the Western Conference where it appears that there are as many as 15 organizations who are coming into this season with a “playoffs or bust” mentality.
Notice that I used the word “organization” instead of “teams”. Obviously, the players in the room are going out trying to win every single night, but it isn’t that hard to see which organizations are more focused on the future, than the upcoming season.
Let’s start with the teams who made the playoffs last year:
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: They led the West with 117 points last season and there’s no doubt that they’re going for it. With over $7 million in cap space, I could even see David Poile make another move before the season starts.
WINNIPEG JETS: Yes, they lost Paul Stastny, but the rest of their young core is still in-tact. They didn’t make any big additions, but it’s more-or-less the same roster that delivered last years 114 point season. It’s clear what their intentions this year are.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS: The biggest surprise in sports last year went out this offseason and brought in Paul Stastny and Nick Holden. They lost David Perron and James Neal, but they still have decent depth on the wings. It still sounds weird to say, but anything less than the playoffs for Vegas would be disappointing.
MINNESOTA WILD: With a new GM at the helm, I was expecting big changes to the Wild’s roster this summer. That didn’t happen. It’s still the same team that finished fourth in the West last season. If they don’t make it this year? Then we could be looking at a roster overhaul.
ANAHEIM DUCKS: Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are only getting older but they do have some really nice young pieces who could take steps forward this year. They’ll be leaning on the likes of Rakell, Montour, Silfverberg, Kase, and Ritchie more than ever this year, but it’s obvious that the organization has playoff expectations.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: They missed out on John Tavares, but locked up Evander Kane and brought back Joe Thornton. Playoffs have been the standard in San Jose for close to a decade, that isn’t changing this year. With only 5 forwards under contract for 2019-20 though, a disappointing year could lead to some big changes.
LOS ANGELES KINGS: All three California teams are in similar spots. While they all have some nice young pieces, their cores are aging. LA is another example of that. Their window is closing, and with the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk, it’s clear that they won’t be satisfied with anything less than a playoff berth.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: The Avalanche didn’t get a lot of attention for their breakthrough 17-18 campaign and that’s mainly because everyone was too busy gushing over the Golden Knights. They squealed thanks to a win in game 82 over St. Louis and had a good offseason as well. With a new goalie (Grubauer), some added depth (Cole and Calvert), and a young core that should take another step forward, it’s easy to see why the Avs have their sights set on taking another step forward.
So those were the eight teams that made the playoffs last year, and it should be no surprise that they all expect to be right back in the big dance this season. The West gets interesting when you start looking at the teams that missed the playoffs last season. Almost every team that missed out last year, is in “playoffs or bust” mode.
ST.LOUIS BLUES: After dealing Paul Stastny at last years deadline, there were reports that Doug Armstrong was making close to everyone available. Instead of selling off in the summer, he bought into his current core. They gave their forward core a facelift by adding Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon, and David Perron. If the playoffs don’t happen this year, jobs will most likely be lost.
DALLAS STARS: Many thought the Stars would be a juggernaut last season after they had added Martin Hanzal and Alex Radulov. They missed the playoffs last year and you’d imagine that a second straight miss for a team with the amount of skill that the Stars have, someone will have to pay the price.
CALGARY FLAMES: Glen Gulutzan and Brian Burke got the ax after the team underperformed last year, only winning 37 games. They made a big splash acquiring Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm in exchange for Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland. They also signed James Neal, which should give their offense a much-needed boost. Goaltending still worries me, but there incredibly improved and should be right there in terms of the playoff picture.
EDMONTON OILERS: No playoffs this year will likely mean the end for both Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan. They didn’t do a lot to improve their team this summer, instead, they’ll be relying on some bounce-back performances and better special teams. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, they just need to live up to their potential. There isn’t an organization with more on the line than Edmonton.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: Did I say no one has more on the line than Edmonton? I lied. After missing the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade, there were rumours that the Hawks would be making huge changes. They have a core that appears to be getting close to its expiration date, and they didn’t do a lot to change that this summer. Still, they have a tonne of skill and they know how to win. A healthy Corey Crawford will go a long way to helping them rebound, but if the Hawks miss this season, it could lead to the dismantling of a dynasty.
ARIZONA COYOTES: Clayton Keller is going to be a superstar, Oliver Ekman-Larsson already is, and Antti Raanta was one of the best goalies in the league once the calendar flipped to 2018. The pieces are there in Arizona, and it might sound surprising, but this is a team that could shock a lot of people in 18-19. When they say their goal is to make the playoffs, you better believe they mean it.
That’s 15 teams who will be playoff contenders. Only eight will get in and that means seven teams will be mightily disappointed. Now you might be thinking “well there are 16 teams in the Western Conference. What do you mean only seven will be disappointed?”.
Well, that brings me to the Vancouver Canucks. Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat are fantastic young players. Quintin Hughes will be one day as well, and I’m very high on Jonathan Dahlin and Elias Pettersson as well. The bottom line is that they will not be remotely good enough for the playoffs this year. Coming dead last and getting the first overall pick would be fantastic for this organization and I’m pretty sure they recognize that, even if they won’t admit it publicly.
The West is clearly jam packed and it should make for a fantastic 2018-19 NHL season.