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.

Avalanche-Golden Knights stream: NHL Return to Play round-robin game

Avalanche-Golden Knights stream
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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Saturday’s round-robin matchup between the Avalanche and Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Avalanche-Golden Knights stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Two of the hottest teams so far in these playoffs will face off for a chance to earn the top spot in the West. The winner of this matchup will earn the West’s #1 seed; the loser will be 2.

Through two games, Vegas has scored 11 goals (by eight different players) while Colorado has allowed just one goal. The Golden Knights, even without their regular season leading scorer Max Pacioretty (undisclosed), has scored 11 goals in two round robin games. Seven have come in the third period.

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing in his 14th consecutive postseason, the longest active streak among the top four major professional sports leagues. New Orleans Pelicans guard J.J. Redick has played in 13 straight postseasons; the Pelicans are currently attempting to reach the NBA Playoffs, which begin on August 17.

In Jared Bednar’s first season in charge just over three years ago, Colorado finished last in the NHL with just 48 points. Now they boast Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon, Calder Trophy finalist Cale Makar and an enviable goalie tandem in Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Colorado Avalanche vs. Vegas Golden Knights
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, August 8, 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Avalanche-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Standings (tiebreaker is regular-season points percentage)

Colorado Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Vegas Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Dallas Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

Western Conference round-robin schedule

Sunday, Aug. 2: Avalanche 2, Blues 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Golden Knights 4, Stars 3 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche 4, Stars 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights 6, Blues 4 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, 3 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Lightning-Flyers, Avalanche-Golden Knights play for top seeds

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Jon Cooper wants to stop the conversation now: Steven Stamkos isn’t fit to play until he says so.

The coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning ruled out Stamkos for his team’s final round-robin game Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers (8 p.m. EDT, NBC) that will determine the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia won’t have top-line right winger Jakub Voracek, so neither team is at full strength.

”Injuries are unpredictable,” Cooper said of Stamkos. ”As of right now, he’s out indefinitely until he’s not. And I’ll be the person to let you know when that is. But you should know that he’s working his tail off and he’s eager to come back.”

The Lightning beat Washington and Boston without Stamkos and will again turn to Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy as their starting goaltender. Carter Hart starts for Philadelphia, which is also 2-0-0 in round-robin play and will have rookie Joel Farabee on the first line in place of Voracek.

Coach Alain Vigneault would only say Voracek isn’t available to play against Tampa Bay.

”Jake’s got a unique skillset: a veteran guy that’s been around and has played in some big games,” Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ”We’ll welcome him when he comes back and in the meantime keep chugging forward with the guys we have.”

Cooper said the Lightning have been focusing on peaking for Game 1 of their first best-of-seven series, which will be next week. Vigneault’s Flyers have been attempting to balance between winning and tuning up for when their season is on the line.

Tampa Bay-Philadelphia will decide which team faces Montreal after the Canadiens knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round.

”We know they got some top players that have a lot of skill and they got a really good power play,” Hart said of the Lightning

In the Western Conference, the Vegas Golden Knights set the goal of earning the No. 1 seed from the first day of training camp last month. That will be on the line Saturday when they face off against Colorado (3 p.m., NBC). The Golden Knights are going hard for home ice in the West even though there are no fans and all games are being played in Edmonton.

”The higher the seed, the easier path you get,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. ”When I say easy path, you get the lowest-ranked opponent, you get last (line) change, you get the benefit sometimes of a home dressing room over a visitor dressing room. There’s small benefits to it. I like the fact that our group thinks it’s important and we’ve played that way and prepared that way.”

Vegas isn’t 100% healthy yet with winger Max Pacioretty still not ready to play. DeBoer continues to say Pacioretty is close, though he’ll have to quarantine in Edmonton and produce four negative coronavirus test results before being eligible to practice or play.

The Golden Knights came back from deficits to beat Dallas and St. Louis, and look like a buzzsaw no matter who’s in goal between Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. The Avalanche similarly have a two-headed goaltending monster in Phillip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, and coach Jared Bednar isn’t eager to tip his hand on which one he’ll go with in the next round.

The Avalanche are also healthy. Grubauer, Francouz, captain Gabriel Landeskog, winger Mikko Rantanen and star rookie defenseman Cale Makar all missed time with injuries during the season.

With the whole crew together, Colorado is undefeated in two round-robin games and living up to the expectations set internally to get the top seed.

”We want to try and get home ice,” Bednar said. ”It’s been a goal of ours and we want it and our guys are playing like they want it. I like the focus and the intensity from our group at this point. Hopefully it takes even another step here for Vegas so we know that we’re good to go coming out of it.”

Kraken hire Everett Fitzhugh as club’s first broadcaster

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken have hired Everett Fitzhugh as the club’s first broadcaster, the team announced Friday.

Fitzhugh is believed to be the first Black team broadcaster hired by an NHL franchise. He has spent the past five seasons as the director of media relations and broadcasting for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. Fitzhugh served as the play-by-play broadcaster for the club.

”As someone who’s worked in hockey for over a decade and who has a long-held passion for broadcasting hockey, to be named a part of the broadcast and content team for a brand-new NHL franchise – particularly one with an organization as strong as the Kraken – is a dream come true,” Fitzhugh said in a statement. ”Getting to the NHL has always been my goal.”

Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke said Fitzhugh came highly recommended by those the team consulted with in making the hire. Fitzhugh’s exact role will be determined at a later date.

Fitzhugh was one of three front-office hires announced by the team. Seattle also hired Jonny Greco as the senior vice president of live entertainment and game presentation, and Lamont Buford will serve as vice president of game presentation.

The Wraparound: First Round seeding up for grabs Saturday

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL Bubble Wrap has your roundup of Friday’s wild postseason action.

• Friday was Elimination Day as the Oilers, Penguins, Predators, Panthers, and Wild all exited the postseason.

NHL GAMES TODAY

Round-robin: Avalanche vs. Golden Knights, 3 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream: Two of the hottest teams so far in these playoffs will face off for a chance to earn the top spot in the West. The winner of this matchup will earn the West’s #1 seed; the loser will be #2. Through two games, Vegas has scored 11 goals (by eight different players) while Colorado has allowed just one goal. Even without their regular season leading scorer Max Pacioretty (undisclosed), the Golden Knights have scored 11 goals in two round robin games. Seven have come in the third period. The Avs have been spreading the love on offense. Through two round robin games, each of Colorado’s six goals have been scored by a different player – two from defensemen (Cale Makar and Ryan Graves) and four from players in their first season with the Avalanche.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Round-robin: Flyers vs. Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestreamThe winner of this game will become the #1 seed in the East; the loser will be the second seed. Tampa, owner of the league’s best regular season offense (3.47 goals/game) has scored five goals in its first two games… and they’re without Steven Stamkos, who will not play against the Flyers after missing Tampa’s first two round robin games with a lower-body injury. He has been ruled out indefinitely. Carter Hart, who will turn 22 on Thursday, is expected to start after Brian Elliott got the nod in Philly’s last game vs Washington. Hart stopped 34 of 35 shots in their 4-1 win vs Boston last Sunday in his postseason debut, becoming the youngest Flyers goalie to win a playoff game.

Round-robin standings (ties broken by regular-season points percentage)

EAST
Lightning (2-0-0, 4 points)
Flyers (2-0-0, 4 points)
Capitals (0-1-1, 1 point)
Bruins (0-2-0, 0 points)

WEST
Avalanche (2-0-0, 4 points)
Golden Knights (2-0-0, 4 points)
Blues (0-2-0, 0 points)
Stars (0-2-0, 0 points)

SUNDAY‘S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Round-robin: Bruins vs. Capitals, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Round-robin: Stars vs. Blues, 3 p.m. ET – NBC
Game 5: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN