The real star of the expansion draft wasn’t Marc-Andre Fleury or James Neal, it was George McPhee. The general manager’s draft has set Vegas up to be contenders sooner rather than later.
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Seven of last spring’s 16 playoff teams didn’t qualify the season before. In 2016, five newcomers were in the playoff field. Seven new teams made the playoffs in 2015.
Many fans understand that the NHL postseason turnover rate is high, but no one believes it will be his or her team that doesn’t make it.
Here is our list of the top five teams most vulnerable to missing the playoffs in 2018:
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are a quality defensive team. They boast skilled players. But they may be growing stale.
They were a below average offensive team last season, ranking 19th in goals per game, and Patrick Marleau, second with 27 goals, left through free agency.
Teams in Pacific Division seem to be improving, while the Sharks are primarily relying on the same cast. Key performers Joe Thornton, 38, Brent Burns, 32, and Joe Pavelski, 33, are all older than 30. The Sharks need younger players to win roster spots and provide a new spark.
New York Rangers: On paper, the Rangers still have a playoff-caliber roster. But there are enough questions about this team to wonder if the Rangers will take a half-step backward.
Center Derek Stepan was dealt. Is Mika Zibanejad ready to be a No. 1 center? Will defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk be a dominant performer? Can Kevin Hayes step up? Will Jimmy Vesey take another step in his development? Will Pavel Buchnevich have a breakthrough season?
The Rangers have enough unknowns to put them on the watch list.
Boston Bruins: It’s hard to envision the Tampa Bay Lightning missing the playoffs for a second season in a row. That means at least one team has to go in the Atlantic. It’s not unthinkable that five teams make the playoffs from Metropolitan.
In the Atlantic, the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the rise, and the Montreal Canadiens have goalie Carey Price. The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders will be improved in the Metropolitan.
The Bruins barely made the playoffs with 95 points last season. Are they better than that this season?
Ottawa Senators: The Senators are a well-constructed team, built to be successful in the playoffs.
They have the world’s most dominant puck-moving defenseman in Erik Karlsson. He is a difference-maker.
Thanks to Guy Boucher’s coaching, this team is challenging to play against during the playoffs. Just ask the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, who needed seven games to beat them in the Eastern Conference final.
You can find folks around the NHL who believe the Canadiens are more vulnerable than the Senators.
But what is worrisome about the Senators is that last season they seemed to rely heavily on emotion. They rallied around goalie Craig Anderson, whose wife was battling cancer. It is difficult to maintain that emotional edge season to season.
This Ottawa team is reminiscent of the New Jersey Devils in their glory years, when general manager Lou Lamoriello was in his prime there. The Devils used to be a better playoff team than a regular-season team. It was acceptable to say the Devils could win the playoffs if they can qualify for the playoffs. The Senators could be similar.
Chicago Blackhawks: It seems ridiculous to project that a 109-point team could miss the playoffs the following season, especially one that includes Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith.
But the Central Division is ultra-competitive, and it seems as if we must make room for the vastly-improved Dallas Stars. The Winnipeg Jets could also be a force if their goaltending holds up.
The St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators should be at least as strong as last season.
Can we say that about the Blackhawks? The loss of Niklas Hjalmarsson is significant, and the team’s defense now seems like a question mark. Marian Hossa is also out for the season with a medical issue. Will the Blackhawks score enough goals? How productive will Nick Schmaltz be? Yes, Brandon Saad will fit nicely back with Toews. But Artemi Panarin was a dynamic weapon. They will miss his chemistry with Kane.
Plenty of respect remains for the Blackhawks but they have to be on the list because they have more unknowns than other teams in this division.
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