Which 2019 NHL playoff teams are in danger of missing this season?

It is a near certainty that one of the NHL’s 16 Stanley Cup playoff teams from 2018-19 is going to miss the playoffs this season. It happens every year, and it would be completely unheard of if it did not happen again.

It is just a matter of which team (or teams) ends up missing.

Now, not every team is in danger as there are a handful at the top that would seem to be virtual locks: We will put the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals, and Nashville Predators in that group. Is there a team in there that you could see missing the playoffs? Even a significant injury to one or two players doesn’t seem to be enough to keep one out.

That leaves us with nine teams whose fanbases might have reason to be a little worried.

These are those teams.

A lot of things would have to go wrong (least likely to miss)

Colorado Avalanche. I almost put them among the locks because I am definitely buying their hype and think big things are ahead for them in the very near future. Their ceiling this year? Possible Stanley Cup team. But they have just enough questions (strong division around them, goaltending, relying heavily on a young defense) to put just a touch of doubt in there. Not a lot of doubt, but just enough.

Carolina Hurricanes. Like the Avalanche, I also wanted to put them in the “playoff lock” category but there are two things that could potentially hold them back. The first is the goaltending falls flat, which is something that has happened to this team on more than one occasion over the past decade. The second is they are in an absolutely loaded division where pretty much everybody made some kind of major change this summer. Not all of these teams can make the playoffs, and while I don’t think the Hurricanes are going to be one of the teams on the outside, the goaltending is enough of a question that the possibility is at least lurking.

Vegas Golden Knights. The top of the Golden Knights’ roster is great, and should be even better this season with a full year of Mark Stone on their top-line. It also took a Game 7 meltdown for the ages to keep them from advancing to Round 2. Their flaws are that the roster gets a little thin toward the bottom and I wonder how long they keep can giving a 35-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury such a heavy workload before he starts to break down. If everything goes right they could win the West for the second time in three years, but if something happens to Fleury or he starts to show some cracks things could unravel a bit.

It could happen (missing is possible, but not likely)

Pittsburgh Penguins. They had to fight down the stretch to make the playoffs a year ago, failed to win a single game once they got there, and made some pretty significant changes this summer. It remains to be seen whether or not they made the right changes, or if they are any better. The good news for them is they still have a few superstars and a No. 1 goalie.

Calgary Flames. They were the No. 1 team in the Western Conference going into the 2019 playoffs and had the second best record in the entire league, so going from that to outside of the playoffs would be a pretty big swing. They probably will not be that good again and a regression should be expected. But missing the playoffs? How could that possibly happen. Well, how confident are you in Cam Talbot and David Rittich in goal? That is how it could — emphasis on could — happen.

[MORE: NHL Power Rankings: First look at 2019-20 season]

Most likely candidates

Dallas Stars. This sort of feels like a long shot because they have great talent at the top and added another top-line player this summer in Joe Pavelski. But they made the playoffs with only 93 points a year ago (most years that is not good enough) and still have some depth issues at forward. They are in a really tough division, the depth is lacking, and they relied heavily on Ben Bishop‘s .934 save percentage.

Winnipeg Jets. Two years ago this team was in the NHL’s final four and looking like an emerging power in the Western Conference. Last year they never looked quite right and took a big step backwards. This summer they watched as their defense was decimated one piece at a time. If Dustin Byfuglien stays away they will barely be able to put together an NHL caliber blue line. Connor Hellebuyck is a solid goalie, but he may not be good enough to cover for that group.

Columbus Blue Jackets. This is the team everyone expects to miss after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky, and admittedly, it does look grim. But they won 50 games the year before Panarin arrived, Duchene only played a handful of games in Columbus, and they still have some great young core players coming back. The key is the goalies. Replacing Bobrovsky won’t be easy, and that will be the hurdle that could prove to be too tall, especially in that division.

New York Islanders. Islanders fans are no doubt tired of hearing about how their team is likely to regress this season, and honestly, I don’t blame them. The 2018-19 season was an incredible story and unexpected success that reignited a hurting fanbase. But there are real flaws with this team, especially offensively. Like the Hurricanes and Blue Jackets they have to deal with a loaded division, and they were the only team that did not do anything significant except to replace Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner with Semyon Varlamov. That is a concern.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.