Ranking the East teams who missed the playoffs

Thumbnail image for Olli Jokinen.jpgWith the playoffs just a few hours away, this is surely a great time to be a hockey fan. That being said, there are fourteen teams on the outside looking in. No doubt about it, they must feel more than a little jealous and probably are asking themselves what went wrong (OK, many are just wondering “Should I use a 9-iron?” but still). With those sad souls in mind, I decided to rank their chances of making the playoffs next year.

Obviously, this is as hasty as it gets, but I hope you find this fun. First, let’s start with the Eastern Conference.

1. New York Rangers

Now, previous success isn’t always an indicator of how a team will do in a season (just ask the Colorado Avalanche), but I think the Rangers might have the best shot to make the playoffs next year. They’re not very deep and are arranged incredibly poorly, but this is the East we’re talking about here.

2. Carolina Hurricanes

A lot went wrong for Carolina this season, but they still finished the year pretty strong. Naturally, they have some rebuilding to do, but Eric Staal and Cam Ward are a nice start.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

Well, we know that the Lightning will add a new coach and general manager, for one thing. Who knows if the team will make some major changes, but if not, it’s hard to imagine a trio of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier missing the playoffs again.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

Their roster is kind of a disaster, but the team has the deepest pockets of any franchise who missed the playoffs. That has to count for something, even in a salary cap system.

Jump for the three teams in the East that will probably stay in the cellar next year.

5. Atlanta Thrashers

This team is far-and-away the biggest mystery. They have a ton of cap room for this summer so in a few months they could be No. 1 on this list. Then again, the franchise sports the order and logic of a tornado, so they could just as easily drop to No. 7.

6. Florida Panthers

Florida’s front office spoke of big changes. We’ll see. They might rank higher in the actual East standings next season, but I still think they’ll miss the playoffs. Those other teams seem more able to have a nice run. At least at this point, six months before the 2010-11 season.

7. New York Islanders

This team has a long way to go before they reach contender status, but I like a lot of the things they’re doing. 

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”