With the playoffs in full swing, it’s easy to forget about the 14 teams who’ve already cleared out their lockers and headed out to the cottage for summer vacation. That’s the nature of the NHL — once the playoffs arrive, you’re either still alive or you barely matter.
But today, let’s offer up some encouragement to those 14 teams who weren’t invited to the post-season dance. And we’ll do it using the 16 who were. For each of the outsiders, let’s pick out one problem the team is facing – in some cases we’ll have plenty to choose from – and then see if we can find some hope in one of this year’s playoff teams.
The issue: They’re not sure if they can trust their young goaltender. Connor Hellebuyck was supposed to be the real deal. He had the pedigree, the resumé and a decent rookie season in 2015–16. But this year, his first as a starter, he wasn’t very good, and now the Jets may be wondering how much faith they should have in the 23-year-old.
But just look at: The St. Louis Blues. Hellebuyck may have struggled this year, but things never got as bad as they did for Jake Allen, whose struggles were bad enough to get his coach fired and who was even left at home during a road trip. Was he able to rebound? Ask the Wild.
Goaltending is voodoo and you never really know what you have in anyone, especially younger players. But Allen is a good reminder for Hellebuyck fans that a shaky few months aren't necessarily anything to panic over.
The issue: They tore it all down. They followed all the steps in the rebuild recipe. But so far, the results just haven't been there, and patience is starting to wear thin.
But just look at: The Edmonton Oilers. No rebuilding team has spun their wheels for longer than the Oilers. But this was the year that the big step forward finally, mercifully arrived. It could happen in Buffalo, too.
Sure, a lot of Edmonton's success has to do with winning the Connor McDavid lottery, and we know that's still a bit of a sore spot in Buffalo. But while the Sabres may not have a McDavid, they do have Jack Eichel, and like McDavid was this year, he'll head into camp looking to rebound from a season disrupted by injury. The Sabres really do look a lot like the Oilers did at this time last year – a great young core up front, good if somewhat unproven goaltending, questions on the blue line. They've got a way to go and there are no guarantees, but an Oiler-like turnaround doesn't seem out of the question.
Update: On Thursday Buffalo fired GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Blysma.
The issue: A disappointing season cost a well-respected coach his job. But instead of a fresh voice, they just brought back somebody who'd already coached them years ago. Sure, that guy won the franchise's only Stanley Cup, but can you really get anywhere by chasing past glories?
But just look at: The Anaheim Ducks. There's a bit bigger gap between Ken Hitchcock's championship in Dallas and Randy Carlyle's in Anaheim, but otherwise the similarities are hard to ignore. And while Carlyle's hiring raised a few eyebrows last summer, so far it's led to a division title and a trip to the second round.