Every year there a couple of teams across the NHL that make the playoffs after missing the previous year. If one of those teams is making the playoffs, that means a team that made the playoffs is going to have to miss.
So let’s take a look at the playoff teams from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and see which ones are most likely to miss.
Since the 2020 postseason was a little different with the qualifying round, we are only counting playoff teams as teams that advanced through the qualifying round and to the Round of 16 as playoff teams. It just makes it easier. So for the purposes of this exercise, if your team lost in the play-in round, we are not considering them a playoff team. Only teams in the field of 16 are included.
Teams least likely to miss (should be safe)
Tampa Bay Lightning. The defending Stanley Cup champs have too much talent, are too good, and are still a legit Stanley Cup contender even without Nikita Kucherov during the regular season.
Colorado Avalanche. Maybe the best roster in the league on paper.
Vegas Golden Knights. They have two top-pairing defenders, two No. 1 goalies, and a deep collection of impact forwards. Definite Stanley Cup contender.
St. Louis Blues. When they get Vladimir Tarasenko back from injury an already strong team is going to get a huge addition.
Boston Bruins. Even with the questions on defense the forwards and goalies are good enough to push them through.
Washington Capitals. They have won their division in five consecutive seasons. They may not win the division this season, but there is no way there are four teams in their division that are better than them.
It could happen (but not likely)
Dallas Stars. The goalies and defense make me say no chance, but the offensive questions and some early season injuries give me a little bit of pause. There are some really good teams in that division.
Carolina Hurricanes. Deep group of forwards and an outstanding defense make them what should be a Stanley Cup contender. As long as the goaltending holds up. That is the wild card here.
Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are always a mystery and capable of winning 10 in a row or losing 10 in a row, so you just have to roll the dice and see what you get. Carter Hart is the real deal and there is enough talent here that I think they are a playoff team. But that division is fierce and at least one or two really good teams in it is going to miss.
It might happen (entering the danger zone)
New York Islanders. If the Islanders get in, I could see them winning a round or two again and making a run. Here is the problem: They have to finish with a better record than four of Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo during the regular season. They finished fifth out of that group a year ago (behind Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh) while another team, the Rangers, was just a single point behind them. Making the playoffs is not a lock here, even for an Eastern Conference Finalist from a year ago.
Calgary Flames. We know four teams in the North Division are going to make the playoffs. I feel confident in saying Toronto and probably Edmonton (lost in the qualifying round in the bubble) will be among the top-four. I am confident in saying Ottawa will not be. After that, you have Calgary, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver fighting for two spots and I am not sure there is all that much separating them.
[Related: Preseason Power Rankings for contenders and pretenders this season]
Vancouver Canucks. They took a big step a year ago, won a playoff round for the first time since 2011, and were a Game 7 away from the Western Conference Final. The top half of their lineup is good enough to make a lot of noise. The bottom half of the lineup is a major liability and the goaltending is a big question mark.
Montreal Canadiens. In a normal year they would not have been even close to the playoffs a year ago. But they were the 24th team into the bubble and then shocked the hockey world by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins to get into the field of 16 where they lost a very close, tough series to the Philadelphia Flyers. They were probably better than their record might have you believe a year ago, and they did have a really strong offseason, but is that enough to get back in the playoffs?
Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have caused chaos two postseasons in a row, sweeping the 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago and then beating the Toronto Maples in the qualifying round a year ago in a season nobody expected them to do anything. Did they add enough offense? What if the goaltending does not repeat its performance? Those are the two big questions that could hurt them.
It probably will happen
Arizona Coyotes. They are not going to be better than Colorado, Vegas, or St. Louis so that means their ceiling is probably fourth place. The goaltending is encouraging, but where is the offense going to come from? Are they better than one of Minnesota, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles? Maybe some of them. But this is still a roster lacking in difference makers and that can be difficult to make up.
Chicago Blackhawks. Similar to Montreal, this would not have been a playoff team in a normal year. But they were one of the 24 teams in the bubble, beat the Oilers in the play-in round to sneak into the Round of 16, and were quickly dispatched by the Vegas Golden Knights. Out of all the 16 playoff teams, this is the one I am most confident in saying will not be back in the playoffs this season. It is an undermanned roster to begin with two completely unproven goalies, but it is also going to be dealing with some significant injuries all season.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.