Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Finding hope for the non-playoff teams

Depending on which team you root for, this can be a great time to be an NHL fan. Obviously if your team is still alive, you’re on the edge of your seat, wondering if they can keep their run going and win the Stanley Cup. But even if your team was eliminated in one of the first few rounds, you’ve probably built up enough hatred for whoever knocked them out that you’ve still got something to cheer for — or at least against.

But what about the teams that didn’t make the playoffs at all? These days, that’s almost half the league. And it can be a tough time of year for those fans. It’s already been a month since you last saw your team play, but any off-season fireworks are still weeks away. The lottery has come and gone and you know where your team’s first-round pick will be, but there’s still nearly two months before they get to actually use it. And on top of all that, you have to sit around watching the contenders remind you of how much better they are than your team.

So today, let’s help out those fans by offering up a dose of encouragement. We’ll go through all 15 of this year’s non-playoff teams and pick out one or more problems they’re struggling with. Then we’ll see if we can find a team that was recently facing the same issue, or at least something close, and still made the 2018 playoffs.

If these teams could do it, maybe yours can to. Know hope, fans of non-playoff also-rans. Or at least, a lack of crippling despair.

Calgary Flames

The issue: They just hired a new head coach. But while Bill Peters has NHL experience, his track record isn’t exactly stellar.

But just look at: The Bruins. It’s true that Peters may seem like an odd choice to replace Glen Gulutzan; guys who’ve missed the playoffs for four straight years and have managed to post a sub-.500 record in the loser point era aren’t usually the candidates you rush to snap up as soon as they hit the market.

But records and resumes aren’t everything, as Bruce Cassidy has shown in Boston. Before he was handed the Bruins’ job, Cassidy’s only head-coaching experience had been a stint in Washington in which he hadn’t even made it through two seasons. That was followed by one year as an assistant in Chicago, which also went poorly. But he’s back in the NHL, and so far he’s done a fantastic job. Sometimes the right guy is the right guy, no matter what the numbers say.

Buffalo Sabres

The issue: They’re terrible. They finished dead last in the entire league, and while they have some good young pieces and should improve, a return to the playoffs feels a million miles away right now.

But just look at: The Maple Leafs and the Devils, two teams that picked first overall and then went to the playoffs the very next year.

We’ll give the Sabres a two-for here, since their fans probably need all the optimism they can get. Winning the draft lottery certainly helped, and Rasmus Dahlin should be a star. That may not happen right away, of course, and the Sabres will be thinking long-term when it comes to their new blueliner. But as the Maple Leafs and Devils have proven over the last two years, the gap between dead last and a playoff spot isn’t as big as it looks in today’s NHL.

Carolina Hurricanes

The issue: They’re a good young team that seems to be everyone’s pick to break out before every season. Then the goaltending stinks, the young roster doesn’t live up to expectations, and they miss the playoffs yet again.

But just look at: The Jets. It’s hard to remember it now, but it wasn’t that long ago that it looked like the Jets might be doomed to hover around the playoff bubble without ever making the leap. The Jets and Hurricanes each finished the 2016–17 season with 87 points, and the previous year saw Carolina finish well ahead of Winnipeg in the standings. But the Jets stuck with the plan, and it paid off. Today, their rise to the top of the league feels like it was inevitable all along, but there were plenty of times when it felt like they’d never get there, just like it does for Carolina right now.

That doesn’t mean the Hurricanes ever get there – the Jets had Connor Hellebuyck and far more stability in the organization. But even in today’s NHL, it’s still possible to make big strides fairly quickly if a

Edmonton Oilers

The issue: Oh god, they really are going to find a way to blow the Connor McDavid era, aren’t they?

But just look at: The Penguins. We won’t belabour any comparisons here, since the Oilers obviously have a long way to go to get anywhere near Pittsburgh’s level. But McDavid is a generational franchise player, and history is clear: Teams that get those players win Stanley Cups. Sometimes it happens quickly, like it did for Sidney Crosby. Sometimes it takes longer than you’d think, as it did for Mario Lemieux. But assuming McDavid becomes a centre in the Crosby/Lemieux/Wayne Gretzky category – and there’s every indication that he will – then he’s going to bring a Cup to Edmonton. It’s basically a sure thing.

You know, unless they really screw it up. But they probably won’t.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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