Henrik Lundqvist

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Five non-playoff teams that could make postseason in 2020

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The New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars all had something in common in 2019. They all went from being non-playoff teams in 2018 to making it to the postseason last year. So if that scenario were to repeat itself next season, who would the new five playoff teams be?

There’s no denying that the current salary cap system has created way too much parity in the NHL over the last few years. It’s not difficult to envision five non-playoff teams sneak into the postseason at all, because a lot of these teams are so evenly matched.

So which non-playoff teams do we expect to make it to the postseason in 2020?

Florida Panthers: The Panthers made a couple of significant acquisitions in free agency this summer, as they added franchise netminder Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Brett Connolly. Signing Bobrovksy was huge because it addressed the team’s biggest need. Roberto Luongo couldn’t stay healthy anymore and James Reimer simply wasn’t getting the job done. The Panthers also have several offensive weapons at their disposal, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman and Vincent Trocheck. They could make a lot of noise in 2019-20.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens put up 96 points last year and still missed out on the playoffs, but there were plenty of positives for them to build on. First, Max Domi‘s adjustment to Montreal was seamless. He fit like a glove. Secondly, Carey Price and Shea Weber were able to stay healthy down the stretch. That will be the biggest key for the Habs in 2019-20. Getting sophomore forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi to contribute more offensively could also propel them into a playoff spot.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers got off to a bad start last year for a few reasons, but none more obvious than their mediocre goaltending. Once Carter Hart came into the picture, he managed to settle things down between the pipes. Avoiding a sophomore slump will be key for him if the Flyers are going to get back into the postseason, but they clearly have a talented enough roster to get themselves in.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

New York Rangers: The Rangers have been incredibly aggressive with their roster since sending a letter out to their fans outlining their plan to rebuild. Not only did they luck into getting Kappo Kakko in the NHL Entry Draft, they also found a way to sign the most dynamic free agent on the market, Artemi Panarin. The biggest question mark on this team is on defense, as they have big money committed to Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal and Brendan Smith. In goal, Henrik Lundqvist isn’t the same player he used to be but Alexandar Georgiev has the ability to fill in whenever King Henrik needs a break.

Chicago Blackhawks: Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has made tweaks to his roster this summer. He’s added Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Andrew Shaw via trade and he also signed Robin Lehner in free agency. The core group of players is still around and they can still contribute at a high enough level to help the ‘Hawks get into the postseason. But the West is going to be competitive this year, so the Blackhawks will have to stay pretty consistent throughout the year.

Honorable mention: The New Jersey Devils have added P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes to their roster, so seeing them improve by a wide margin wouldn’t be surprising. There’s still big questions surrounding the team’s defense and goaltending, but they were a playoff team two years ago. They could definitely be one of the biggest surprises in 2019-20. For now, they’re the sixth-likeliest team to go from not being in the playoffs to making it again.

MORE: 5 playoff teams that could miss postseason in 2020

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Power Rankings: Looking at every NHL team’s offseason

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With the 2019 NHL Draft in the rear-view mirror and all of the major unrestricted free agents signed, it is time to check in on how each team has improved (or failed to improve) so far this offseason.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we will be taking a look at the teams that have done the most (and the least) to get better.

Before we get to the rankings we do need to specify something very important: This is NOT a ranking of where each team stands in the league in terms of Stanley Cup contender or playoff status, or a ranking of how good each team is overall. It is simply a look at which teams have had the best and worst offseasons. If you have had a good offseason, you rank high. If you had a bad offseason, you rank low.

Obviously there is still time this summer for teams to get better (or worse), but this is simply a progress report of where their offseason stands right now.

Teams that are significantly better

1. New York Rangers. It would be difficult to have a better offseason than the one the Rangers have had. They added one of the league’s top offensive players (Artemi Panarin), a potential superstar thanks to some draft lottery luck (Kaapo Kakko), and a top-four defender (Jacob Trouba). They did all of that while giving up nothing of significance from their NHL roster. Is it a playoff team this season? That probably depends on how much Henrik Lundqvist has left in the tank, but they are close.

2. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban joining a core that already has Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall makes the Devils a fascinating team to watch. Now they just need to find a way to keep Hall beyond this season. Like the Rangers they may not be a playoff team this season, but they are definitely improved.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Losing Tyson Barrie off the blue line might hurt, but the Avalanche are loaded with young, impact defenders and by trading Barrie they found a perfect second-line center (Nazem Kadri) to complement Nathan MacKinnon … as long as Kadri stays on the ice and out of the player safety office. Along with the additions of Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky they now have some actual scoring depth to support their big three.

4. Dallas Stars. It would not be an NHL offseason without general manager Jim Nill raising another offseason championship banner. Even if Joe Pavelski shows some signs of decline and regresses from his 38-goal output this past season he is still just what the league’s most top-heavy team needed.

5. Arizona Coyotes. Phil Kessel is the big, headline-grabbing addition but Carl Soderberg could be a nice depth pickup as well. Even if Kessel starts to slow down he should still be able to run the Coyotes’ power play and make a significant impact.

Teams that are probably better

6. Florida Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s contract will almost certainly be an albatross on their salary cap in the next three or four years and probably end up in a buyout, but he might get them to the playoffs a couple of times before that. Bobrovsky is the big name, but don’t sleep on Anton Stralman and Brett Connolly as depth additions.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs. Their salary cap concerns were always overblown and they were always going to find a way to get out of them. They not only shed a lot of bad contracts and almost certainly created enough space to re-sign Mitch Marner, but they also managed to add a much-needed top-defender in Barrie. Jason Spezza may not be what he once was, but he should be fine as a third-line center for this team.

8. Chicago Blackhawks. The worst defensive team in the league made two solid additions in Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, then found a starting caliber goalie that just so happened to be a Vezina Trophy finalist this past season.

9. Minnesota Wild. Still do not understand the direction Paul Fenton has this team going in, but Mats Zuccarello is a definite upgrade in the short-term.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene is a nice addition and gives them another impact forward that might help a dreadful power play. So why only “probably” better? Because they had to trade an impact defender for almost nothing to be able to sign him. How much better you think the Predators are depends on whether or not you think they needed Duchene more than Subban. Or, probably more accurately, if you think Duchene is that much more valuable than Subban.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Good teams that have stayed the same

11. St. Louis Blues. It has been a quiet offseason for the champs, adding nothing of significance and losing nothing of significance. Nothing wrong with that when you are parading the Stanley Cup around.

12. Boston Bruins. The Bruins look to be returning mostly the same roster next season, and it will still be a Stanley Cup contender.

13. Carolina Hurricanes. Some musical chairs in net, but there should not be much of a drop off. The big win this offseason was Montreal helping them out with Sebastian Aho’s new contract.

14. Washington Capitals. Radko Gudas is probably a better player than Matt Niskanen at this stage of his career. Andre Burakovsky never panned out, but they made a couple of solid depth signings to fill his spot.

15. Calgary Flames. Still a potential Stanley Cup team with one pretty massive flaw in net.

Bad teams that are marginally better

16. Buffalo Sabres. Colin Miller, Marcus Johansson, and Jimmy Vesey are all solid additions for what amounts to very little in cost. That is the good news. The bad news this team still has a long way to go before it is a serious threat in the Atlantic Division or Eastern Conference Wild Card races.

17. Vancouver Canucks. J.T. Miller is pretty good and an upgrade for their forward group, but does this team, in this position, in this stage of its rebuild, need to be doing things like trading a future first-round draft pick or giving Tyler Myers a five-year, $30 million contract? It’s like … you’re kinda better, but what’s the point? The Jim Benning era, folks.

Good Teams that have gotten worse

18. Pittsburgh Penguins. Does swapping Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta for Alex Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun, and Brandon Tanev move you closer to a Stanley Cup? You should have serious doubts about that. At least the speculation on trading Evgeni Malkin or Kris Letang turned out to be just that and nothing ever came from it.

19. San Jose Sharks. Keeping Erik Karlsson is significant, but losing Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and returning the same starting goalie is also significant … for the wrong reasons.

20. Tampa Bay Lightning. The salary cap crunch and the RFA status of Brayden Point has resulted in some subtractions to the roster and no significant additions. That makes them a little worse simply by default, but they are still going to be one of the top teams in the league. Instead of 60 games, they might win … 50? 55?

21. Winnipeg Jets. I don’t really want to call Kevin Hayes a “loss” since he only played 20 regular season games with the team, but they have lost a lot off of their blue line with very little coming in to replace it.

22. Vegas Golden Knights. They are going to miss Colin Miller, and might really miss out on Nikita Gusev if they move him before they even realize what they had.

23. New York Islanders. They kept all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, but going from Robin Lehner to Semyon Varlamov in net could be a huge downgrade. Given how important goaltending was to the Islanders’ success this past season that could be a problem.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets. The free agent exodus that everyone expected to happen took place with the departures of Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene (and probably Ryan Dzingel). Gustav Nyquist is a fine pickup on a pretty fair deal, but they still lost a ton. And they still do not have a clear replacement for Bobrovsky.

Bad teams that have stayed the same 

25. Montreal Canadiens. The Aho offer sheet had us excited for about 20 minutes until we realized it was just a waste of everyone’s time. The only solution now is to try and offer sheet someone else!

26. Philadelphia Flyers. Kevin Hayes isn’t bad, but there is no way he plays out that seven-year contract in Philadelphia. They added Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen to their defense about four years after they should have. In the end, downgrading the defense (which I think they did) kind of cancels out whatever upgrade Hayes might be at forward. They have made a lot of transactions to remain right where they were.

27. Edmonton Oilers. Based on the moves this offseason (as well as the lack of moves) it seems likely that another prime season of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is about to be wasted. Such a shame.

28. Ottawa Senators. They brought in a bunch of new faces but nothing that is going to prevent this team from continuing to be one of the worst in the league.

29. Detroit Red Wings. Steve Yzerman has a lot of work to do and has been fairly quiet this summer.

30. Anaheim Ducks. They had to get rid of Corey Perry’s contract, but they still have a ton of money tied up in players on the wrong side of 30 (or very close to 30).

31. Los Angeles Kings. So far their effort to rebuild and get younger has involved trading Jake Muzzin and buying out Dion Phaneuf. The longer they drag their feet in gutting this roster the longer this team will remain in the basement.

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.

Rangers land Artemi Panarin with $81.5 million deal

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The rebuild in New York is over as the Rangers have signed Artemi Panarin.

The 27-year-old Panarin was the biggest fish in the NHL free agent pond and while he had his options, he’s decided on a seven-year, $81.5 million deal, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, to come to New York City.

“He’s only 27 years of age, he’s averaged 80 [points] over the last four seasons he’s played in the NHL, he’s a healthy body,” said Rangers president John Davidson. “We know he wants to be here in New York, specifically with the Rangers. It’s a perfect fit.”

After it became clear at the beginning of the 2018-19 season that he likely wouldn’t sign an extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the speculation about his future didn’t distract him during a memorable season for the franchise. In 79 games Panarin led the team with 28 goals and 87 points. That production continued into the playoffs with 11 points in 10 games.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

General manager Jeff Gorton knows that Henrik Lundqvist only has two years left on his deal and at age 37 the Rangers need to maximize the goaltender’s golden year in New York. Drafting Kaapo Kakko No. 2 overall last month only added to the franchise’s youth movement that already features Lias Andersson, Adam Fox, Vitali Kravsov, and Filip Chytil, among others. Once they sign Jacob Trouba, who was acquired two weeks ago, they’ll be much improved and still have plenty of room to work with to add.

“The idea of a [rebuild] is to get picks and Jeff did a good job,” Davidson said. “Then you go through the draft and you go through the development. As you do this you try your best to find ways to try to make it all happen even quicker and better. It’s all falling into place.”

Panarin’s choices reportedly came down to the Rangers and New York Islanders. There was even a late-night, big money offer on Sunday by the Blue Jackets to convince him to re-sign. The Florida Panthers showed plenty of interest and the rumors of the winger going there with Blue Jackets teammate Sergei Bobrovsky heated up after Panarin fired his agent in February and hired Bobrovsky’s. Only Goalie Bob will be taking his talents to Sunrise.

After signing Panarin, Gorton has just under $8 million in cap space to work with and contract decisions for restricted free agents Trouba, Brendan Lemieux, Pavel Buchnevich, and Anthony DeAngelo.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Rangers select Kaapo Kakko with second overall pick

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VANCOUVER — Kaapo Kakko will be the center of the New York Rangers’ youth movement after he was selected second overall during the 2019 NHL Draft Friday night in Vancouver.

The 6-foot-2, 187 lbs. Kakko, who was the top international skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, finished sixth in scoring in Finland’s Liiga this past season with 22 goals and 38 points in 45 games. Those 22 goals broke Aleksander Barkov‘s league record (21) for a U18 player.

Kakko was also the hero of the 2019 World Junior Championship after scoring the gold medal-winning goal in overtime against the United States. He also led his country to gold at the U-18 World Championship and the senior men’s World Championship where every game he seemed to put on a show.

Kakko, 18, was projected to be the No. 2 pick following American center Jack Hughes, who was taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils. Ending up in the second spot put the Rangers in a “no-lose” situation as new team president John Davidson put it last month. Their decision was going to be made by their rivals in New Jersey and either way they were going to land a promising player.

“These are the types of players that could help define a franchise,” Davidson said. “You have to make sure the timing is right, make sure they’re ready, etc. But I think every Ranger fan should have a smile on their face at picking No. 2.”

Along with Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Adam Fox, and Vitaly Kravtsov, among others, Kakko is another piece for general manager Jeff Gorton to add as the franchise transitions to get younger. With two more years remaining on Henrik Lundqvist’s contract, it’s not a complete rebuild, which could signal an aggressive summer in free agency and the trade market.

MORE: Kakko ready to make NHL leap next season

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Thornton not ready for retirement; Best Lundqvist trade scenario

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Cam Neely and Jeremy Jacobs were impressed by Zdeno Chara‘s level of courage throughout the Stanley Cup Final. (WEEI)

• It’s going to be a really interesting off-season for Torey Krug. (Bruins Daily)

• The Canadiens should force the Jets’ hand by going after Nikolaj Ehlers. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Could the Capitals move up or down in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft? (NBC Sports Washington)

• ESPN looked at how former first overall pick Patrik Stefan was able to move on from a disappointing career. (ESPN)

• The Hockey News got to chat with Penguins star Sidney Crosby at the NHL Awards. (The Hockey News)

• Will Barry Trotz and/or Robin Lehner come away with major awards in Vegas? (Newsday)

• What does the ideal Henrik Lundqvist trade scenario look like? (New York Post)

Rasmus Dahlin had one of the best rookie seasons in Sabres history. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• It doesn’t sound like Joe Thornton is ready to hang up his skates just yet. (NHL.com)

• Flames forward Sean Monahan believes his teammates Mark Giordano is a no-brainer for the Norris Trophy. (Flames Nation)

• What do the Vegas Golden Knights look for in a draft pick? (Sinbin.Vegas)

Neal Pionk was shocked when he found out he was being traded to the Jets. (Winnipeg Free Press)

• Bobby Brink might be the first player from Minnesota taken in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. (Minneapolis StarTribune)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.