The first round of the playoffs is a roller coaster for fans of the 16 teams involved, one filled with drama, tension and (hopefully) exhilaration. Sometimes, it can even be fun – at least as far as feeling like you’re going to vomit for two straight weeks can ever be considered fun.
But the first round can be a tough time for fans of the 14 teams that didn’t qualify for the post-season. Maybe you’re left agonizing over how close your favorite team came to making it. Or maybe you’re watching the league’s best go head-to-head and realizing how far away your team really is. In either case, it can make for a frustrating time.
So today, let’s offer up something that can be hard to come by at this time of year: Hope. Let’s go through all 14 of the teams who are sitting at home right now, identify one of their (in some cases many) areas of concern, and match them to a playoff team that can offer them a reason for optimism.
The issue: They can’t – or won’t – spend to the cap.
But just look at: The Ducks. Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk has long made it clear that he doesn’t feel the team needs to spend to the cap to be competitive, even going so far as to infamously claim that cost-per-point is the only stat he’s worried about. But while there are certainly examples of high-spending teams that don’t get value for their money, the recent history is fairly clear – you need to spend to contend.
That’s disheartening news for Ottawa fans dreaming of a Cup but they can draw some inspiration from a handful of teams that have had success despite a lack of spending. And no low-spending team has been better than the one that finished right behind the Senators on this year’s cap list: the Anaheim Ducks. (If the Ducks happen to fall victims to a stunning first round upset, remember that the Predators spent even less.)
The issue: They need a major upgrade to their goaltending. Without a top prospect on the way or much to get excited about on the free agent market, they’ll probably have to hit the trade market to do it.
But just look at: The Wild. Granted, this may not be all that comforting to Hurricanes fans, since the Wild were the worst team to make this year’s playoffs and look like they’ll be easy fodder for the top-seeded Dallas Stars. But the Wild are a reminder that it is possible to find goaltending at a reasonable price, having added Devan Dubnyk last year for just a third round pick. So are the Flyers (Steve Mason) and Lightning (Ben Bishop). Those were all mid-season deals; you’d assume the Hurricanes will want a new starter in place by training camp, and prices for goaltenders tend to be higher during the off-season. Still, history suggests there will be good goaltending available at a reasonable cost. You’ve just got to find it.