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.
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.