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PHT Power Rankings: Non-playoff teams most likely to make postseason return

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It is the summer and with no games being played at the moment it is awfully difficult to rank the NHL’s 31 teams on a weekly basis. So the PHT Power Rankings will spend the next month taking a look back at some of the best (and worst) developments in the NHL, both past and present. Best trades. Worst trades. Best all-time teams. Any other random things we feel like ranking. This week we look at which of the NHL’s non-playoff teams from this past season that are most likely to make a return to the playoffs.

There were 15 teams in the NHL that missed the playoffs during the 2017-18 NHL season and you can guarantee that at least one or two from that group will bounce back and make the postseason this year. There were five such teams a year ago with the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, and Winnipeg Jets all making a return to the playoffs, with the Jets going all the way to the Western Conference Final.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we rank all 15 non-playoff teams from a year ago in order of which one of them is most likely to see a similar turnaround.

1. St. Louis Blues — The Blues were right there in 2017-18, falling just one point short of the second wild card spot in the Western Conference even after trading Paul Stastny at the deadline. They bolstered their lineup this offseason by trading for a great two-way center in Ryan O'Reilly, bringing back David Perron off a career year in Vegas for yet another stint, and signing Tyler Bozak in free agency. That is suddenly a pretty good looking offensive lineup to go with a team that was sixth in the league in goals against last season. Honestly, it would probably be a surprise if this team did not make the playoffs in 2018-19.

2. Florida Panthers –– The Panthers were one of the best teams in the league over the second half of last season, finishing on a 25-8-2 run over their final 35 games, and like the Blues, ended up falling just a single point short of the second wild card spot in their conference. With Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad, they have a really good young core in place, while Evgenii Dadonov proved to be an outstanding pickup last summer. They added another top-six winger to the mix with the trade for Mike Hoffman. Whether that is enough to close the gap on the top-three in the Atlantic Division remains to be seen (all of Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Boston were at least nine points ahead of Florida in the standings last year), but they should be right in the thick of the wild card chase. They’re not going to maintain the pace they played at over the second half of the season, but they’re also probably not as bad as they were in the first half.

3. Carolina Hurricanes — Trading Jeff Skinner is going to hurt the offense, but they have high hopes for 19-year-old Martin Necas and No. 2 overall draft pick Andrei Svechnikov. The real hope for optimism here though is on defense, a unit that looks to be absolutely loaded on paper after the offseason additions of Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, while still (for now) holding on to Justin Faulk. The Hurricanes were already one of the best shot suppression teams in the league and just need to figure out a way to get respectable goaltending (and let’s be honest, Scott Darling can not possibly struggle more than he did a year ago). Yes, we say this stuff about them every year, but one of these years it finally has to happen.

4. Dallas Stars — Even though the Stars did not make a big splash move during the offseason (they are, however, one of the teams rumored to have had interest in Erik Karlsson) they still made a pretty significant change to the team when they brought in Jim Montgomery to replace Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. The Stars have been one of the league’s most consistently disappointing teams given the high-end talent they have at the top of the roster (currently with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and Alexander Radulov) and the blockbuster moves they make every offseason. Yet every year they always seem to just settle in around the playoff bubble as a 90-92 point team. They are always so close, yet seemingly so far.

5. Chicago Blackhawks — The success or failure of the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks likely hinges on whether or not starting goalie Corey Crawford is healthy and able to play. When he was in the lineup last season, the Blackhawks were pretty good. When he went out of the lineup with a still mysterious upper-body injury they were of the worst teams in the league. Given the decline of the Blackhawks’ defense and their forward depth they are going to have to rely on goaltending quite a bit to carry them. A healthy Crawford might be able to do that. Their Plan B in net may not be able to.

6. Edmonton Oilers — It is stunning that the team with the most dominant offensive player in the world missed the playoffs by nearly 20 points last season. Also stunning that we are still not sure if they are good enough to be a playoff team this season. While it was the special teams units that mostly sunk the Oilers’ chances in 2017-18, this was still a pretty mediocre 5-on-5 team and they really didn’t make any significant changes to that roster. Given what has happened in previous years when they tried to make significant changes (Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson; signing Milan Lucic; Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome) maybe that is a good thing. Flawed as this team is, they do still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at the top of the lineup and there is always a chance they could go off and carry the team back to the playoffs.

[Related: 10 NHL people that need to have a better season in 2018-19]

7. Calgary Flames — The 2017-18 season was a giant disappointment for the Flames after there were such high preseason hopes. They were bringing back a really good young core with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, and spent a ton of money and assets to bring in Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith to shore up the back end. Even though the three young forwards all played well (and Gaudreau was fantastic) everything else just kind of fell flat. James Neal is a nice addition up front, but trading Hamilton is a big blow to the defense even with Noan Hanifin and Elias Lindholm coming back in return. Smith was okay in his first year as their starting goaltender, but he is entering his age 36 season and just being “okay” may not be good enough.

8. Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes finished with the worst record in the Western Conference and the third worst record overall, but they finished really strong, beat a lot of really good teams, and have a ton of young talent in place. When healthy, Antti Raanta was as good as any goalie in the NHL last season and if he can come close to duplicating that performance over a full year he could be a game-changer for the Coyotes. Another potential game-changer: Dylan Strome, the third overall pick from 2015. After dominating the OHL and AHL the past couple of years he showed some of that ability at the NHL level down the stretch run of the regular season. He is still a big-time talent. They also have what should be a strong 1-2 punch down the middle with Derek Stepan and Alex Galchenyuk. They are not all the way there yet, but if a few things break their way (Raanta being as good as he showed last year; Strome taking a big step forward) they could be a big surprise team in the Western Conference.

9. Buffalo Sabres — A lot was made over their return for O’Reilly, but other than Tage Thompson, that was very much a quantity over quality deal and is not something that is likely to change for the fortunes of the team anytime soon. If anything, it made them a little worse. Fortunately, that was not the only trade they made over the summer. Conor Sheary will not have Sidney Crosby next to him in Buffalo so he remains sort of a mystery, but they ended up getting Skinner from Carolina for a really good price. In the end, they lost one big-time player, picked up another, and have a bunch of question marks including Carter Hutton, their new starting goalie. Jack Eichel will still be great, though. So, honestly, probably expect more of the same.

10. New York Rangers — The rebuild is well underway and it is very likely that even more veterans will get moved before the trade deadline this season (Mats Zuccarello? Kevin Hayes?). Playing in a division that is absolutely loaded at the top it just seems like the playoffs are a real long shot, even with Henrik Lundqvist in net.

11. Montreal Canadiens — Their best and probably only hope is that Carey Price plays like the 2014-15 version Carey Price. Since that is still always a possibility that probably puts them ahead of a few other teams in the league that do not have Carey Price.

12. Vancouver Canucks — Vancouver spent the offseason acting like a team that is a playoff contender by spending big money on its bottom-six. This is not a playoff contender. Brock Boeser looks great, Bo Horvat is pretty good, they have some intriguing prospects, but it is still not a very good team overall. And something that seems to get overlooked is that Henrik and Daniel Sedin were still pretty solid last season (two of their top-three scorers), and they are not coming back.

13. Detroit Red Wings — They got a gift in the draft when Filip Zadina fell to them at No. 6 overall, but this situation is still very bleak as they are spending a ton of money on a team that is just not very good. They accumulated a lot of draft picks, but this is going to be a long, painful rebuild.

14. New York Islanders — They lost their best player (John Tavares) in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs and spent the entire offseason replacing him with fourth-liners to go with all of the other fourth-liners they already had. Mathew Barzal is a worthy franchise cornerstone, but he will not be able to do it all by himself.

15. Ottawa Senators — There is absolutely nothing to be excited about here This was one of the worst teams in the league a year ago, has already lost one of its top scorers this offseason, and it only seems to be a matter of when, and not if, Erik Karlsson gets traded. Matt Duchene and Mark Stone are also entering the final year of their contracts so they, too, could be on the move at some point. This looks like a lottery team.

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.

Three questions facing Calgary Flames

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Want to chew on more than three questions? Check these posts, too.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

1. Is Bill Peters a better coach than Glen Gulutzan?

Your mileage will vary on Bill Peters, a coach who served as one of Mike Babcock’s assistants in Detroit before getting his first head gig with the Hurricanes.

On one hand, the Hurricanes were analytics darlings and seemed perpetually on the cusp of greater things. While talent on hand naturally helps to push the puck in the right direction, a coach’s systems also can make a big difference when it comes to dominating possession.

Still, there’s also a chicken-and-the-egg discussion regarding Peters’ work and the Hurricanes horrendous run of goaltending. How much of it is on the talent in net – let’s not forget that Scott Darling carried fantastic numbers into Carolina – versus possibly being a matter of his system putting goalies in a tough spot? Goalie nerds undoubtedly love chewing on those questions, whether there are concrete answers or not.

The bottom line is that the Hurricanes never made the playoffs under Peters’ watch, while the Flames frequently underwhelmed under Glen Gulutzan’s tutelage. Peters stands as Flames GM Brad Treliving’s second hire, so there’s a lot on the line.

2. Did the Flames improve this off-season?

As mentioned in this post, the Flames saw significant changes to their roster this summer – not just their coaching staff – with Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox traded away, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin coming back, and James Neal signed to a hefty contract. Naturally, there were also some tweaks in depth positions, while the Flames decided to stick with Mike Smith as their likely workhorse (more on that in a moment).

The question Brad Treliving’s job may ride on is: did the Flames get better? Is it possible they’re merely in the same position or even got worse? You’re likely to hear plenty of differing opinions across the hockey world.

To venture some guesses, the Flames should probably improve on offense. Barring Neal hitting age 30 hard, he’s pretty much a rich man’s version of Micheal Ferland, at least right now. Elias Lindholm is a 50-point-or-so guy, and that outlook could change dramatically if he lands with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.

On paper, the Flames offense is more capable, and could possibly boast the depth they’ve sorely been lacking in their bottom-six. Of course, some of that depends upon how Peters deploys forwards, and how restricted they are in being creative versus playing it safe.

Calgary’s defense is another interesting riddle, as the analysis hinges on how you feel about Hanifin and Hamilton. If nothing else, Hanifin is much younger than Hamilton, and should be hungry to seek his first postseason berth.

And then there’s the goaltending …

3. What kind of goaltending will they get in 2018-19?

Considering his health challenges last season, it might be tempting to assume that the Flames would otherwise be in a great place with Mike Smith if you could merely turn injuries off like in “NHL 19.”

Let’s not forget that the towering 36-year-old has been through a lot during his career, and not just happy moments.

Smith began his career as a promising Stars backup before flubbing his first opportunity as No. 1 guy with the Lightning. After that, Smith’s lengthy stay with the Coyotes included a big contract, a Cinderella run to the 2012 Western Conference Final, and plenty of nights facing a barrage of shots on an aimless Arizona squad. Smith’s career and confidence was on the line at least once; as you may remember, he discussed his work with a sports psychologist in October 2015.

(Side note: it would actually be refreshing if more athletes, not just struggling ones, decided to address their mental health in similar ways. That might take some time, judging by the fact that Smith said he was initially “offended” by the Coyotes’ suggestion.)

It’s quite possible that Smith will carry over the best moments from 2017-18 (before the All-Star break, Smith generated a dazzling .926 save percentage in 41 games), and defy age by being a strong workhorse for Calgary.

The scary thing is that it sure seems like the Flames are essentially depending upon that to work out.

Granted, the Flames aren’t short on interesting goalie prospects, as Jon Gillies, David Rittich, and Tyler Parsons are all on the organizational radar. Gillies and Rittich received some NHL reps last season, for better and worse.

Are any of those goalies really ready if the bottom falls out for Smith? If not, would Treliving manage to pull off a trade that wouldn’t just pull the Flames deeper into the quicksand?

The good news is that the Flames boast a lot of talent. There’s an ideal scenario, one that’s not too far-fetched, where it all comes together for Calgary and they go from missing the playoffs to a deep run. That’s especially true if Treliving ends up being correct about Peters.

The Flames are swinging with power rather than accuracy here, though, as there are some considerable gambles taking place. We’ll find out next season if this team laughs its way to the bank or opens the door for even more instability.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Under Pressure: Brad Treliving

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

Heading into next season, there are a ton of Calgary Flames who are under pressure, but it all comes back to GM Brad Treliving.

Treliving is the person, after all, who:

  • Hired Glen Gulutzan, then fired him in favor of Bill Peters. Peters failed to take the Hurricanes to the postseason during his time in Carolina, so Treliving is taking a leap of faith.
  • Traded for Mike Smith last summer, and is sticking with Smith as Calgary’s starting goalie despite the netminder being at the not-so-tender age of 36. The Flames didn’t add an experienced backup, either. The Smith situation ranks as, what, three leaps of faith?
  • Treliving also made the franchise-altering trade that sent Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. (Treliving then signed Lindholm to a robust contract and still needs to come to terms with Hanifin, who’s an RFA hoping to build off of a breakthrough.)
  • There were plenty of other courageous moves. Treliving pulled the trigger to land Travis Hamonic during the 2017 off-season, a swap that seemed sensible at the time, but so far looks like a huge win for the Islanders. That summer was a rough one beyond Mike Smith working out, as re-signing Michael Stone seems to be a blunder. The Flames also bought out Troy Brouwer, one of Treliving’s worst signings.
  • Not enough risk for you? The Flames also signed 30-year-old winger James Neal this summer. Neal’s one of the league’s most reliable scorers, but the aging curve isn’t always kind to snipers like Neal. Did we mention he’s already 30?

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Generally speaking, Brad Treliving isn’t lampooned like some of Canada’s most-mocked GMs.

Swing and a whiff

He’s lost trades, sure, but they didn’t feel like unforced errors on the same scale as the blind piñata swings by Peter Chiarelli and Marc Bergevin. At least, they didn’t feel like forehead-slapping gaffes the moment they happened.

It’s also crucial to remember that, while the Flames have missed the playoffs in two of four seasons and only won one playoff series under Treliving, they were in a truly abysmal place when he took over following the 2013-14 season. Thanks to errors by Jay Feaster and Darryl Sutter, the Flames were in a cap mess, and they also suffered a five-year playoff drought from 2009-10 to 2013-14. Treliving deserves a lot of credit for the strides this team made.

Trading away Dougie Hamilton is fodder for debate, yet Treliving also acquired the defenseman from the Bruins in one of his best moves. Treliving also deserves ample credit for signing Johnny Gaudreau to one of the NHL’s best non-rookie-contracts, and generally hashing out team-friendly deals for many of their core young players.

That said, if you were to argue that just about everyone has an “expiration date” with a team – aside from maybe the truly elite performers and executives – then Treliving stands as a possible textbook example.

That bulleted list at the top of this post hammers home that argument, as even an above-average decision-maker can see mistakes start to pile up.

Sunk costs

As a rule of thumb, GMs don’t get a ton of cracks at finding the right coach. Treliving didn’t hire Bob Hartley, but he did select Gulutzan and now Peters. If Peters doesn’t work out, Treliving is likely to get a pink slip in the process.

Former Flames executive Brian Burke discussed Treliving’s reputation as a “riverboat gambler,” and provided some delightfully Burke-like analysis to the Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis:

“In this job you’ve got to be a riverboat gambler,” Burke said.

“I think that phrase is misconstrued. They take great chances, but they’re informed chances and that’s why they continue to gamble on riverboats. Being called a riverboat gambler is the ultimate compliment. He’s not afraid to take risks. You can’t do this job if you are.”

Well, if the ship sinks in 2018-19, the Flames might throw Treliving overboard.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s Calgary Flames day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Calgary Flames.

2017-18

37-35-10, 84 pts. (5th in Pacific Division, 11th in Western Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Noah Hanifin
Elias Lindholm
James Neal
Derek Ryan
Austin Czarnik
Alan Quine
Tyler Graovac

OUT:

Dougie Hamilton
Micheal Ferland
Adam Fox
Troy Brouwer (waivers, then buyout)
Matt Bartkowski
Cody Goloubef
Tyler Wotherspoon

RE-SIGNED:

Elias Lindholm
Jon Gillies
Dalton Prout
Morgan Klimchuk

Generally speaking, the Calgary Flames have been confusing because despite boasting some elite talent in Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano, they really haven’t been able to put it together for a deep run. They’ve missed the postseason two of the last four years, including in 2017-18, and have only won a single playoff round since 2009-10.

The Flames come into next season as a confounding presence for a different reason: GM Brad Treliving made massive changes.

[Under Pressure | Three Questions | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Now, this franchise isn’t shy about making big alterations. They were bold in landing Travis Hamonic for assets that could ultimately help the Islanders soothe their John Tavares wounds, while Mike Smith was a bold bet that mostly worked out.

Those types of tweaks feel more like small potatoes after this summer.

After years of falling short under Glen Gulutzan, the Flames opted for Bill Peters. The former Hurricanes coach’s path feels a bit like the Flames’ as a whole: there have been signs of promise, yet Carolina never made the playoffs under Peters. Like the team he’s coaching, Peters has a lot to prove.

While the Flames essentially traded away their 2018 NHL Draft, they still made big headlines during that weekend, sending Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Adam Fox to Peters’ former team in Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. Though the voting was close, PHT readers and many other pundits believe that the Hurricanes bested the Flames in that trade, and strange murmurs about why Hamilton allegedly didn’t fit in with teammates only made the swap seem murkier.

If that wasn’t enough, the Flames signed James Neal to a five-year deal that carries a $5.75 million cap hit. Such a contract doesn’t represent the worst-case scenario for what Neal might have fetched on the open market, but the bottom line is that’s dangerous term for a power forward who’s already 30.

The Flames also still need to sign Hanifin, whose value remains tricky to gauge.

Long story short, the jury’s very much out on this series of dramatic changes.

On the bright side, Neal and Lindholm bolster a Flames offense that already features Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik. It feels foolish to hope that Sam Bennett will finally “figure it out,” but maybe a linemate upgrade might enhance a player who’s still just 22?

Hamonic didn’t provide the supporting boost the Flames sought on defense, and now that unit is a bigger question mark after moving a star (albeit a polarizing one?) in Hamilton. There’s a chance Hanifin will develop into a defenseman at Hamilton’s level, but it’s currently a gamble. One would speculate that the Flames organization is betting on Peters’ system improving their defense, rather than any roster tweaks making the difference.

Once again, the Flames enter a season with some big risks in net.

Smith, at times, was able to save a surprisingly leaky Flames team from itself last season. Unfortunately, injuries and other factors kept him from dragging Calgary to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and age is a big concern as the big goalie is already 36. If a lot of starts fall to Jon Gillies and/or David Rittich, will Calgary flame out once more?

You can’t blame the Flames for sitting there idle after flubbing another opportunity to contend. That said, there are real questions about whether this team really improved or if the risks outweigh the rewards.

Prospect Pool

  • Juuso Valimaki, D, 19, Tri-City Americans (WHL) – 2017 first-round pick

You can probably pencil this Finn in as the Flames’ most promising blueline prospect. Valimaki, the 16th pick from 2017, generated 45 points in 43 games in the WHL, and Flames assistant GM Craig Conroy said that he has a shot at making the team in 2018-19.

“You hear what Bill Peters wants on defence and that’s Juuso Valimaki,” Conroy said to Torie Peterson of the Flames website. “It really is.”

“I expect him to come in here and really make a push, soon, to make the big club.”

Whenever he does, Valimaki brings a promising combination of size, smarts, and scoring to the table.

  • Dillon Dube, C, 20, Stockton Heat (AHL) – 2016 second-round pick

Conroy provided similar optimism about Dube making the Flames soon, too.

Dube’s shown potential as an agitating presence and hustle guy, to the point that he might have a leg up on other prospects in making the team sooner in a bottom-six role. Calgary certainly can use more support beyond their high-end talent, so that’s an appealing thought.

The 56th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft collected 84 points in 53 WHL games with the Kelowna Rockets, while Dube also generated four points in six AHL games in 2017-18.

  • Spencer Foo, RW, 24, Stockton Heat (AHL) – college free agent

Ready your bad Dave Grohl-related jokes, because Foo could be a fixture for the Flames … at least if he can fend off the team’s veteran forward options. Foo distinguished himself at Union College before turning pro last season, scoring two goals in four Flames games while also playing well (20 goals, 39 points in 62 AHL games) for the Stockton Heat.

His last name definitely serves as a handy tie-breaker against other prospects.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Where they stand: Pacific Division

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As summer rolls on, PHT will examine the four NHL divisions and see how each individual team stands.

Previously: Atlantic DivisionMetropolitan Division, Central Division

Anaheim Ducks

Summer summary: Big-picture, the Ducks are the same: a team with an excellent goalie who has had bad injury luck (John Gibson), mostly creaky top forwards, and a veritable war chest of quality young defensemen. They didn’t even make Gibson their first goalie under a long-term and expensive contract in … ages? (Since Jonas Hiller? J.S. Giguere?) Gibson remains without an extension, entering the last year of his dirt-cheap $2.5 million per year bridge deal.

The defense got a little younger in saying goodbye to the likes of Kevin Bieksa for veteran-yet-28-year-old Luke Schenn, even if it didn’t really get much better (Andrej Sustr‘s nickname might as well be “blah”).

They also gave Adam Henrique a somewhat-frightening extension.

After being swept by the hated Sharks in the first round, the Ducks waddled idly.

(Sorry, had to.)

More to do? Forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie remain without contracts as RFAs, which will eat into the budget-conscious team’s $8.734M in cap space (via Cap Friendly, as usual).

Beyond that, the Ducks really should try to sign Gibson to a team-friendly deal (in my opinion), and maybe extend Jakob Silfverberg as well.

Longer term, Anaheim needs to do some soul-searching. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler are all 33. Getzlaf and Perry both cost a ton for three more seasons, while Kesler’s contract runs one more year (through 2021-22). For a franchise that can be a little tight with cash, tough questions must be asked about whether this core can really contend.

If the answer is “No, we can’t compete with these guys,” then Murray would be wise to swallow a bitter pill and blow things up. Otherwise, the Ducks risk wasting money and being mediocre.

Where they stand? In the short term, there are some reasons to be optimistic.

This team dealt with some serious injury issues in 2017-18, yet Gibson and others kept them afloat, sometimes with ridiculously understaffed roster talent. If Murray’s going glass-half-full, he could picture a better season.

On the other hand, the speculation isn’t rosy for Kesler, and Perry looked pretty long in the tooth last season. If, say, the Oilers and Flames get their acts together, the Coyotes climb, and the Central remains deadly, the Ducks might get squeezed out.

This franchise has been able to find diamonds in the rough and work things out before, but right now, the outlook is a bit dreary.

Arizona Coyotes

Summer summary: Aside from maybe reaching for Barrett Hayton with the fifth pick, the Coyotes have enjoyed another pretty excellent off-season.

Maybe most importantly, they signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a contract that will essentially cover his prime, and it came cheaper than other stars like Drew Doughty. That could end up being a gem, but even if it was smack-dab in where he’s valued, it was huge not to lose a face-of-the-franchise.

The Coyotes also moved an up-and-down young player (Max Domi) for a more stable scorer who may thrive out of the Montreal malaise (Alex Galchenyuk). They then took on Marian Hossa‘s cap space to get a nice find in Vinnie Hinostroza, and also signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to what could be a nifty extension.

With Jordan Oesterle and Michael Grabner also injected in the mix, and maybe Dylan Strome possibly ready to finally help out, the Coyotes seem to be trending up.

More to do? Nothing too pressing. GM John Chayka should merely consider the cost-benefit analysis of possibly extending some players who will see their rookie contracts expire after 2018-19.

The biggest name, and maybe the guy with the biggest risk-reward question, is Jakob Chychrun. The 16th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft (who many expected to go higher) has experienced a stunted development so far, in part because of injuries. It’s tough to tell what the Coyotes really have here, although that’s the incentive to doing something early: if he ends up being a gem, Arizona might be able to land a bargain.

Where they stand? The Coyotes improved by pretty significant steps this summer. The questions are: how much better did they get, and how much farther do they need to go to really be a factor in the Pacific?

From here, the Coyotes boast modern-style pieces (and versatility) on defense, an interesting goalie duo (with Antti Raanta being the most promising, of course), and a very young offense that seems intriguing but maybe lacks the high-end weapons to really stand out.

The thing is, teams heavy with young players can sometimes make bigger leaps than expected. The Coyotes are being aggressive in trying to make that happen, sooner rather than later.

Calgary Flames

Summer summary: In 2017-18, the Flames ranked among the most puzzling NHL teams, boasting high-end talent that never really put it together. Management clearly saw reasons to make some pretty dramatic changes.

To start, Glen Gulutzan has been replaced by former Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. It’s an open question if Peters – whose Hurricanes never made the playoffs – will rank as an upgrade, or a significant one in that.

Some of Peters’ guys replaced some prominent Flames, as Calgary stole some draft weekend headlines by swapping Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. (The Flames were twiddling their thumbs a bit during the draft itself, as 2017’s Travis Hamonic trade cost them their first-rounder. Oops.)

That wasn’t the only bold move for Calgary, as the Flames handed James Neal a five-year contract that carries a $5.75M cap hit.

Whether you’re hot or cold on the Flames’ off-season, you can’t accuse them of doing nothing.

More to do? The Flames already warped the postscript of the Hamilton trade by giving Lindholm a meaty extension. They figure to complicate the viewpoint again whenever they hammer out a contract with Noah Hanifin, a 21-year-old RFA.

Considering that Hanifin can say “I’m a high first-rounder and you traded Dougie Hamilton for me,” it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy blueliner eats up much of the Flames’ estimated $5.39M in cap space.

GM Brad Treliving also must consider extending pugnacious forward Matthew Tkachuk, whose rookie contract only has one year left.

Where they stand? Even though many (raises hand) view the Hamilton trade as a downgrade for Calgary, the Flames still seem like a formidable team on paper.

Tkachuk’s line tends to hog the puck and befuddle defenses. The Johnny GaudreauSean Monahan duo is deadly, and could be even more dangerous if Neal and/or Lindholm really click with them. These off-season additions may finally help Calgary provide those lines with some supporting punch, Hanifin may very well break through, and Mark Giordano hopefully still has it as a Norris-level defenseman.

Still, there are reasons to worry. The Flames seem like they’re once again going to ask a lot of Mike Smith, who’s already 36. Giordano may hit the wall in a big way at 34. Hanifin might merely be solid instead of very good.

In this era of parity, it’s rare to see a team that could just as easily contend as miss the playoffs altogether … although maybe that’s the trademark of the Pacific Division as a whole?

via Getty

Edmonton Oilers

Summer summary: The Oilers could do worse than unveil a big banner that merely states “We didn’t make a bad trade!”

Edmonton’s moves were the definition of marginal, while they made a sensible-by-consensus pick by selecting Evan Bouchard with the 10th overall selection. A team with the best hockey player in the world shouldn’t get points for merely not shooting itself in the face – giving Connor McDavid more help would have been ideal – but you have to grade Peter Chiarelli & Co. on a curve at this point. So they didn’t fail, that’s nice.

More to do? Darnell Nurse, RFA defenseman and the seventh pick from 2013, still needs a contract. Getting that situation right (ideally with a cheap AAV and solid term, rather than a bridge deal) would brighten the outlook of a mostly tepid summer for Edmonton.

Again, the not-doing might be best for Chia. He didn’t stretch too far to exacerbate the Milan Lucic mistake. Despite rumors, affordable, solid defenseman Oscar Klefbom wasn’t recklessly moved, either. Not trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was probably the wiser choice (again, because Chiarelli), too.

Management needs to think long and hard about the future of their goaltending position. Cam Talbot had a rough season, and he’s entering a contract year. If he’s still the guy, he’d be a heck of a lot cheaper to sign today than if he bounces back. If not, why didn’t the Oilers take a flier on someone who might be a better answer?

Oh, because the Oilers actually decided to do the “potato vs. GM” bit? Not going to mash them up for that, honestly.

Where they stand? Do they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? If so, pencil them in for “plausibly competent.”

It’s still a little disconcerting that management is asleep at the wheel, with Chiarelli and Todd McLellan possibly in place to make the wrong adjustments, or few adjustments at all.

Certain situations might improve just by default. A rebound season for Talbot is feasible. Lucic being OK isn’t that outrageous, even if the climb might be short.

That said, this team missed the postseason by a mile, and didn’t really get better. Not great, yet maybe not “#FreeConnor” territory just yet.

Los Angeles Kings

Summer summary: It happened about a decade later than they probably would have preferred, but the Kings finally landed Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk, 35, ranks as one of the more intriguing wild cards of the off-season. How close is he to the world-class sniper who left the NHL with exactly as many points as games played (816)? If he has much left, we’ll probably see it, as Anze Kopitar essentially worked miracles with mediocre linemates last season.

The Kings also convinced Drew Doughty to sign an eight-year, $88M contract extension that begins in 2019-20. Los Angeles is clearly hoping that Father Time ends up being friendly.

More to do? Nope, not really. For better or worse, the Kings’ most significant players are pretty locked-in.

Where they stand? To a slight surprise, the Kings made a run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though being summarily swept by Vegas is a bullet point for those who don’t expect them to rank as true contenders.

The Kovalchuk addition is intriguing, and possibly a real boon. Los Angeles is expected to put him in “Ovechkin’s office,” which is a more conducive place for production than what Kovalchuk often did: massive power-play minutes, but patrolling the point for the most part.

It’s also worth noting that Jeff Carter‘s 2017-18 was derailed by injuries, so if both of those situations go well, the scrappy Kings suddenly boast two of the better (albeit older) snipers you’ll find.

Personally, this seems like a bubble team, as long as the aging curve doesn’t equate to gravity pulling the Kings down in a more drastic way.

San Jose Sharks

Summer summary: 2018 will stand as “The Summer of What Could Have Been?” for San Jose. They missed out on Kovalchuk and John Tavares, instead settling for quite a few re-ups with current players such as Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. They also convinced Joe Thornton to stick around for another year.

GM Doug Wilson wasn’t just snoozing in a tanning bed, though, as he essentially laundered the Mike Hoffman trade, getting rid of Mikkel Boedker‘s heinous contract and grabbing some assets for his trouble.

More to do? This summer’s to-do list is checked off (though they might need more time for “Be sad about Tavares”), but some future-focused questions remain. The biggest: what to do with Joe Pavelski?

Pavelski’s in the last year of his deal and is, somehow, already 34. Maybe the Sharks ride this out and sign him short-term, go with a long-term deal, or part ways sooner rather than later. It’s not necessarily an easy decision, but one way or another, a choice is looming.

Where they stand? The Sharks feel like they’re in a similar place as their California neighbors/rivals: there’s talent here, some of it frighteningly aging, and there are some sunny best-case scenarios.

On the other hand, this is a team that’s no longer dominating the regular season, and expectations are generally more muted. Could they go on another run, like when they fell to Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final? Sure, but they could just as easily fizzle out early in the playoffs, or even really flame out and miss them altogether.

Vancouver Canucks

Summer summary: The Sedins are officially gone, the Canucks made the smart move in drafting college-bound defenseman Quinn Hughes, and the team decided to keep Jim Benning as GM for reasons. (Trevor Linden’s had enough, though.)

Benning continues to confound in free agency, handing matching four-year, $12M head-scratchers to Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. Such moves would already be questionable for a team expecting them to be “playoff warriors,” but as a team with a skill deficit that remains huge, that’s some bad stuff.

At least they’re starting to gather some nice prospects.

More to do? Not much, although well-coiffed sniper Brock Boeser‘s entering a contract year. Maybe sign him to an extension during an early low-note in the regular season to give fans a boost?

“Not trading Christopher Tanev” might be a worthy consideration, though.

Where they stand? They’re bad, and the ideal scenario is probably to be bad enough to try to pair Quinn Hughes with his brother Jack Hughes. Come on, admit that it would be really cool for the Canucks to quickly transition from the Sedin twins to the Hughes brothers. Philadelphia might need to re-brand to “The Other City of Brotherly Love” at that rate.

Vegas Golden Knights

Summer summary: Credit Vegas with showing restraint in not overreacting to an unlikely playoff run, although the counter-argument is that a risky extension for Marc-Andre Fleury counts exactly as not showing restraint.

GKGMGM (Golden Knights GM George McPhee) decided to allow James Neal and David Perron to walk in free agency. That’s mostly prudent considering the actual makeup of the team, although I wonder if McPhee realized how affordable (four years, $4M AAV) Perron would end up being.

The Golden Knights didn’t just rack up losses, though, as they convinced steady center Paul Stastny to sign a very fair three-year deal. Hockey fans also get to find out if Daniel Carr and Curtis McKenzie ended up being the next diamonds in the rough (er, aces up the sleeve?) in Vegas.

More to do? Vegas still faces some challenging negotiations in locking up RFAs William Karlsson and Shea Theodore. Karlsson’s arbitration hearing is set for Aug. 4, so we’ll see if they hammer out a deal between this moment and the deadline for a verdict.

The Golden Knights also may consider signing some extensions beyond the scary (if understandable?) one for MAF. Nate Schmidt, Alex Tuch, and Deryk Engelland all enter contract years in 2018-19.

Granted, with the maybe-unsustainable success Vegas enjoyed, they might be better off letting some of those guys settle down a bit first.

Where they stand? Uh oh, this is a trap, isn’t it?

You’d have to be a bold gambler to expect the Golden Knights to make another deep run, as they did in their infant season by falling in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Vegas rode some positive forces, most clearly Fleury playing at a level in both the playoffs and regular season that we’ve rarely seen since Tim Thomas was on good terms with his Boston Bruins teammates.

Fleury’s almost certain to stumble to at least human levels, and that could bring Vegas down with him. There are also plenty of players capable of regression following career years.

On the other hand, there is talent here. The Karlsson trio, particularly Jonathan Marchessault, sure seemed pretty legit, even if they might eventually be better cast as a very, very good second line. This remains as soundly built an expansion team as the NHL’s ever seen, and maybe the best in contemporary professional sports.

Will they once again contend? It’s fearful to doubt them yet another time, but probably not. Could they make the playoffs? That’s not outrageous, yet that may come down to a favorite/most-reviled factor in Vegas: luck.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.