With much of the heavy lifting done for the summer, it’s time to take stock of the 14 teams that failed to make the NHL playoffs to determine which ones have put themselves in the best position to return to the dance in 2016.
Today we’ll take a look at the Western Conference also-rans. Tomorrow, the East’s leftovers.
Los Angeles Kings (95 points, 9th)
When they fell short of a berth this season, the Kings became only the fifth team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup and then miss the playoffs the following year. An inconsistent offense (19thin the league at 2.64 goals per game), a brutal 3-15 mark in OT and the shootout, the injury to Tanner Pearson and the loss of top-four defender Slava Voynov conspired to derail the defending champs.
The Voynov situation continues to hang over the team, and with the loss of Andrej Sekera to free agency, the defense looks shakier than it did down the stretch. Jamie McBain won’t solve that problem.
Pearson will be back to solidify the second line, but there will be plenty of new faces up front. Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll are out. Milan Lucic, acquired in a trade from Boston, is in. The obstreperous winger seems like an ideal fit for the Kings, but there are reasons for concern. His points per 60 minutes numbers have declined each of the past three seasons and there are a lot of hard miles on his 27-year-old frame. It’s possible that he’ll be rejuvenated in a new setting—especially if he skates on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik—but GM Dean Lombardi may have invested in damaged goods.
This team will be in the mix, but that defensive situation needs to be addressed before anyone makes playoff plans.
Dallas Stars (92 points, 10th)
GM Jim Nill went big with the acquisition of veteran winger Patrick Sharp and highly rated prospect Stephen Johns from Chicago in exchange for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt, then addressed the newly created hole on his back end by signing Blackhawks UFA defenseman Johnny Oduya. On an in/out basis, it’s clear that these deals make the Stars a better team now than when the season ended.
Sharp is more than just a massive talent upgrade over spare-part winger Garbutt. The 33-year-old brings some Stanley Cup swagger to a roster that largely lacks big-game experience. He also adds versatility to a group that finished second in the NHL in scoring last season, averaging 3.13 goals per game.
Oduya isn’t the top pairing blueliner the Stars needed, let alone the true No. 1. He’s not especially effective at moving the puck in transition, and he won’t generate anything near what Daley could offensively. What he does bring is a stabilizing defensive presence that should help reduce the amount of time that this team spends trapped in its own zone. He’s more effective man-on-man than the smaller Daley and is less likely to crack under intense pressure. He’s also a player who can handle heavy penalty kill minutes. Those are valuable attributes that the coaching staff will love.
Oduya joins a likely top-four of Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg and Jason Demers. Not the sort of blueline that puts a scare into opponents, but it should be better than the group that ranked 19th in shots allowed (29.9 per game) this season.
With Antti Niemi battling the streaky Kari Lehtonen for playing time, and new goalie whisperer Jeff Reese on hand to keep them both on track, the Stars are primed to grab the seventh or eighth seed.
Colorado Avalanche (90 points, 11th)
Playing in the Central Division makes the Avs a longshot to get back into the hunt this time around. So does the loss of elite, two-way center Ryan O'Reilly, who was shipped off to Buffalo. He’ll be sorely missed on a penalty kill that ranked fifth in the league last season. Free-agent signing Blake Comeau will try to fill that void, but the upside isn’t there. Mikhail Grigorenko could provide some of that missing offense, but an inconsistent defensive game makes him a total wild card.
The defense was buttressed with the additions of Francois Beauchemin and Nikita Zadorov, but neither player is a sure-fire upgrade. Beauchemin can handle 20-plus minutes a night but at 35 he’s on the downside of his career. Zadorov is just the opposite. At 20, his best years are all ahead of him ... but probably a bit too far ahead for him to be a real difference maker this season. All things considered the defensive unit that ranked 21st last season should improve, but nowhere near enough to leapfrog the Kings or Stars.
San Jose Sharks (89 points, 12th)
Underperforming veterans, sophomore slumps, brutal goaltending and a fractured core combined to make the Sharks last season’s most disappointing team. It would be nice to paint 2014-15 as an aberration but even after a summer of shakeups this group is more likely to replicate its 15th-place finish in goals-for (2.73) and 24th in goals-against (2.76) than match it top-four results of both categories in 2013-14.
GM Doug Wilson brought in a new voice behind the bench in Peter DeBoer and moved on from Antti Niemi by investing in Martin Jones, an unproven starting goalie. There’s potential for improvement with this swap, but the 25-year-old is a work-in-progress. There’s also risk with the addition of defenseman Paul Martin as well. The veteran blueliner is a solid puck mover and reliable minutes muncher, but lacks the physical game to be ideally suited for the rough-and-tumble Western Conference. He should, though, make an impact on a penalty kill that was a miserable 25th last year (78.5%).
Joel Ward brings that missing physical presence and despite being 34 has relatively low mileage. He can elevate up and down the roster as needed and should be a nice add to the top-nine.
It’s tough to rule anyone out in the Pacific, especially with the Canucks looking ready to slide, but the Sharks will need to make their own breaks to earn a spot.
Edmonton Oilers (62 points, 13th)
A new GM (Peter Chiarelli). A new coach (Todd McLellan). A new superstar (Connor McDavid). A new starting goalie (Cam Talbot). A new top-pair defender (Andrej Sekera). And depth up-and-down the roster (Mark Letestu, Griffin Reinhart, Eric Gryba, Anders Nilsson, Lauri Korpikoski). It’s hard to imagine any team has had a better off-season than the Oilers, but don’t think for a minute that they’ll get a sniff of the playoffs next year, not in this stacked conference.
Arizona Coyotes (56 points, 14th)
The 'Yotes ranked 29th in goals scored (2.01) and 28th in goals allowed (3.26) last season. That’s an awful lot of ground to make up. Adding Boyd Gordon and Brad Richardson (along with repatriating Antoine Vermette and Zbynek Michalek) gives them some veteran glue but won’t solve the overlying talent deficit. Neither will the signings of Steve Downie and John Scott. This team isn’t thinking playoffs. It’s gearing up for a run at local boy Auston Mathews in the draft.
• Ten years ago today, everything changed for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
• After four seasons, Semyon Varlamov will finally have some company in Colorado.
• If it is indeed real, this tribute to the Blackhawks proves that someone has made much better use of their time this summer than the rest of us.
• The Bruins, Penguins and Sabres are said to be in talks with free agent defenseman Cody Franson. Tough financial fit for the B’s, but they clearly need him the most. Could a trade involving Torey Krug open up the cap space?
• Always nice to hear about a former player giving back to the game. Big stick tap to Brent Sopel.
GALLERY: Greatest NHL Players By Jersey Number
Greatest NHL Players By Jersey Number
00 — John Davidson
If this list included the WHA, I would've given this spot to Hall of Famer Bernie Parent, but JD, who wore 00 for the Rangers in 1977-78, gets the nod over Martin Biron, who wore it briefly with the Sabres but shows up later in this set.
1 — Terry Sawchuk
This number's been retired by five of the Original Six teams, making it the second-most debatable digit. Other wearer's: Georges Vezina, Johnny Bower, Glenn Hall, Turk Broda and Bernie Parent. I took Hall of Famer Sawchuk for his career shutouts mark (since broken by Martin Brodeur), four Vezina trophies and four Stanley Cups all while battling a string of physical and mental maladies.
2 — Doug Harvey
Feel free to make an argument for Eddie Shore, but it's impossible to ignore 10 first team all-star berths and seven Norris trophies.
3 — Pierre Pilote
The Blackhawk Hall of Famer's lack of size belied his toughness and ferocity. He was an ironman workhorse who once cold-cocked both Rocket and Henri Richard in one brawl. One of the game's best blueliners of the 1950s (three Norris trophies), Pilote's name went on the Stanley Cup along with Bobby Hull's and Stan Mikita's in 1961. Of note, Zdeno Chara, the 2008-09 Norris Trophy-winner, wore 3 for his first eight seasons before switching to 33 in Boston, where he has produced his best numbers.
4 — Bobby Orr
Forget hockey — Orr is the greatest athlete to wear the number, period.
5 — Nicklas Lidstrom
The headliner of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 was the greatest defenseman of his generation. He claimed seven Norris Trophies and put together a 14-year stretch during which he finished no lower than sixth in the voting.
6 — Toe Blake
Before he became hockey's greatest coach, Blake — whose first name was Hector — spent 11 seasons on Montreal's famed Punch Line, winning the Hart Trophy in 1939.
7 — Phil Esposito
Howie Morenz may be the choice of the game's mythologists, but the indomitable Espo would have bowled over the pipsqueak and eaten his lunch.
8 — Alex Ovechkin
Apologies to Hall of Famer Cam Neely, but there's only one Great 8. With three Hart Trophies and five Rocket Richards to his credit, Ovechkin will be remembered as one of the greatest goal scorers of all time.
9 — Gordie Howe
A grand total of 24 Hall of Famers have worn 9, but there's only one Mr. Hockey.
10 — Guy Lafleur
It's hard to ignore six straight seasons of 50-plus goals, not to mention two MVPs and five Stanley Cups.
11 — Mark Messier
It was either Moose or Fred Boimistruck.
12 — Dickie Moore
He took the number from Jean Beliveau — and handed it off to Yvan Cournoyer — but Moore gets the nod for his sweet mitts (a then-record 96-point season in 1958-59) and indomitable grit.
13 — Pavel Datsyuk
The number was lucky for Mats Sundin and Teemu Selanne, but neither can match the two-way artistry of Datsyuk.
14 — Brendan Shanahan
Tough to pass on Hall of Famer Dave Keon, but 656 goals and nearly 2,500 penalty minutes highlighted the career of Shanahan, who may be the greatest power forward ever.
15 — Milt Schmidt
It would have been nice to honor the Rocket for his rookie sweater, but it's impossible to overlook Schmidt's nearly 15 seasons of two-way excellence that included the 1939-40 scoring title, leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 1941, and winning the 1950-51 Hart Trophy. He would have done even more if he hadn't spent four years in the Canadian Air Force during World War II.
16 — Brett Hull
The Golden Jet wore this number for five seasons, but it was the Golden Brett who made it his own with 741 career goals and one of the biggest personalities the game's ever seen.
17 — Jari Kurri
Maybe not as flashy as Ilya Kovalchuk, but 601 career goals — and a strong two-way game — give Kurri the edge.
18 — Serge Savard
Nod goes to the Hall of Famer and 1968 Conn Smythe-winner. . . despite a strong write-in campaign for Rory Fitzpatrick.
19 — Steve Yzerman
Maybe the toughest call in the list, as 19 has a storied past (Larry Robinson, Bryan Trottier) and has become the premier player's number of choice in recent years (Joe Sakic, Joe Thornton). But Stevie Y's three Cups and legendary leadership break the logjam.
20 — Luc Robitaille
Surprisingly little competition for such a commonly worn number, but Lucky Luc would hold his own in a more stellar bunch with his 668 career goals, 1,394 points and Hall of Fame enshrinement.
21 — Stan Mikita
From Dr. Hook to Lady Byng, he was the premier pivot of the 1960s.
22 — Mike Bossy
He scored 53 goals as a rookie in 1977-78, the first of his nine straight 50-plus seasons that included four Stanley Cups and the 1982 Conn Smythe. Bossy's career average of .762 goals per game is the highest percentage in NHL history.
23 — Bob Gainey
Famed Soviet coach Anatoli Tarasov called the owner of the Selke Trophy from 1978-81 the best all-around player in the world.
24 — Chris Chelios
We thought he'd never go quietly into that good night, but he finally did at 48, as the longest-tenured blueliner (26 seasons) in NHL history, taking his three Norris trophies and three Stanley Cups with him.
25 — Joe Nieuwendyk
He scored 564 career goals and was an integral part of Stanley Cup championships with three different franchises (Calgary, Dallas, New Jersey).
26 — Peter Stastny
The Czech defector scored 1,059 points in the 1980s and was the first European-born and trained player to enter the Hall of Fame.
27 — Scott Niedermayer
You can make an argument for Frank "Big M" Mahovlich, but Nieds won every major team trophy from juniors to the NHL (four Cups) to the Olympics, along with a Norris and a Smythe.
28 — Steve Larmer
The list of wearers includes Claude Giroux, Reed Larson, Pierre Larouche and Tie Domi, but Larmer had the most distinguished career, playing at better than a point-per-game pace for almost 13 full seasons from 1982-95.
29 — Ken Dryden
Five Stanley Cups and five Vezina trophies in just seven NHL seasons. Enough said.
30 — Martin Brodeur
You can't go wrong with the NHL's all-time wins and shutouts leader.
31 — Grant Fuhr
Ignore his .887 career save percentage. No goalie was ever better at turning in a big stop at a key moment, and he has the Stanley Cups and a Vezina Trophy to prove it. For good measure, Fuhr scored 14 points in 1983-84, a single-season record for goaltenders.
32 — Claude Lemieux
The feisty Lemieux edged out Dale Hunter by virtue of his legendary playoff heroics that included the 1995 Conn Smythe.
33 — Patrick Roy
Montreal's legendary St. Patrick made 33 the number that a generation of Quebecers dreamt of wearing. He didn't do too poorly with Colorado, either.
34 — Miikka Kiprusoff
He switched to 34 after arriving from San Jose to find Dean McAmmond wearing his preferred 37 in Calgary. Hadn't done too shabbily, reaching the 2004 Stanley Cup Final and beating out Martin Brodeur for the Vezina in 2006.
35 — Tony Esposito
Apologies to former SI.com colleague Darren Eliot (L.A. Kings, 1985-87), but Tony-O edges him out by virtue of being the only Hall of Famer to wear this number.
36 — Jussi Jokinen
The one-time shootout king blossomed into a 30-goal scorer for Carolina in 2009-10.
37 — Patrice Bergeron
A premier two-way forward whose impact reaches far beyond stats, Bergeron has won three Selke Trophies, a Stanley Cup and five international championships, including gold at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.
38 — Pavol Demitra
One of the greatest players ever produced by Slovakia, Demitra scored 304 goals (including three seasons of 35-plus) and 768 points. He was killed in 2011 when the plane carrying his KHL team crashed shortly after takeoff.
39 — Dominik Hasek
The Dominator took the number he made famous when he was dealt to the Sabres and found his old 31 taken by Grant Fuhr.
40 — Henrik Zetterberg
With Luc Robitaille holding onto 20, Hank decided to double the number he'd worn with Timra of the Swedish Elite League. He scored 43 goals and 92 points during Detroit's Cup-winning 2007-08 season.
41 — Jason Allison
Allison kept the digits he was handed in his first training camp with the Caps, and had a pair of 30-plus goal seasons for Boston (1997-98 and 2000-01).
42 — Sergei Makarov
Makarov made 42 his own after the 24 he wore with the Red Army was unavailable when he joined the Flames in 1989. He won the Calder Trophy that season, as a 32-year-old NHL rookie.
43 — Martin Biron
After ditching the 00 he donned briefly as a rookie, Biron wore 43 with some distinction. He posted five winning seasons as a starter, his best being a 30-20-9 campaign for the Flyers in 2007-08.
44 — Chris Pronger
A member of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2015, Pronger played the game in permanent Beast Mode. He wore 44 for Hartford, St. Louis and Edmonton until being dealt to the Ducks in 2006.
45 — Jonathan Bernier
As a two-year starter in Toronto, Bernier stands out from the crowd of fringe NHLers that have worn this number. He won a career-high 26 games in 2013-14.
46 — David Krejci
A number worn surprisingly often, but never with great honor until Krejci came along. The Bruins center twice led the postseason in scoring and played a vital role in his team's 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
47 — Alexander Radulov
He had two productive seasons in Nashville, including a 26-goal, 58-point campaign in 2007-08 and is still wearing 47 ... in Russia. He got our nod over offensively-gifted but defensively-challenged blueliner Marc-Andre Bergeron.
48 — Scott Young
The 16-season veteran had a 40-goal slate for St. Louis in 2000-01 and retired in 2006 as a three-time Olympian and two-time Cup champ.
49 — Brian Savage
Joe Juneau scored 102 points as a rookie wearing this number, but Savage honored it with more consistency, four times topping the 20-goal mark for Montreal.