With 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.