Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Finding positive thoughts for the non-playoff teams

The​ first round is​ a weird​ time​ to​ be​ a fan​ of a non-playoff​ team.

On the one​ hand, it’s like​ being​ the kid who’s​​ sick at home, watching with your nose pressed up against your bedroom window while everyone else frolics outside. On the other hand, sometimes the playoffs are more fun when you don’t have a rooting interest, or at least less stressful. And more importantly, as all those playoff teams get eliminated, their fans get to be sad too. Welcome to the pity party, losers.

Therefore, I can understand if you non-playoff fans have some mixed feelings these days. But today, let’s try to tilt the scale to the bright side. Let’s go through all 15 teams that didn’t make the postseason and come up with at least three positive thoughts as we head into the offseason. And since that will admittedly be more difficult for some teams than others, we’ll work our way down from the easiest to the most challenging case.

Positive thoughts, everyone. Let’s find our happy place. Starting with the easiest non-playoff team to feel good about …

Florida Panthers

The negative: Despite plenty of young talent, they missed the playoffs yet again and still haven’t won a single playoff round since 1996.

Positive thought No. 1: All that young talent is still there and most of it should still be getting better. Sasha Barkov is still just 23 and is already considered one of the league’s elite young players (not to mention among the very best cap values). Mix in a breakout year from Jonathan Huberdeau and some of the pieces are already in place.

Positive thought No. 2: They just hired one of the best coaches ever in Joel Quenneville. Will all due respect to Bob Boughner, that should be a massive upgrade behind the bench.

Positive thought No. 3: They’ve made it clear that they’re going to spend a ton in the offseason, which we all assume includes signing two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Goaltending sunk them this year, so adding a star there changes the team’s entire outlook even if they don’t make any other moves.

See? Optimism is easy. Granted, the Panthers are the tutorial level. Let’s up the difficulty just a bit.

Arizona Coyotes

The negative: The Coyotes missed the playoffs for the seventh straight year, the longest streak in a Western Conference where only one other team has missed for more than two.

Positive thought No. 1: The Coyotes finished the year with more wins than they’ve had since their last trip to the postseason. They won ten more games and had 16 more points than last year, so there was very clear progress. That obviously doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s better than the alternative.

Positive thought No. 2: That progress came despite a season marred by plenty of injuries to key players. That included their starting goalie, a loss that would have derailed most teams. Every team has injuries, but give the Coyotes slightly better luck in the health department and they make the playoffs. And even with all those injuries, they still won more games than the Avalanche, who are already on to the second round.

Positive thought No. 3: Speaking of goaltending, the Coyotes head into 2019-20 with two potential starters in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, which is two more than some of the other teams on this list have. That could lock down an important position, or it could open the door to a trade. Either way, the Coyotes are in solid shape heading into next season and most of us probably already have them penciled into the playoff race.

New York Rangers

The negative: You know how sometimes you think a team will be bad and even they seem to think they’ll be bad, but then miraculously they’re actually really good? That happened to a New York team this year, but it wasn’t the Rangers.

Positive thought No. 1: It’s a rebuild. Jeff Gorton has made that clear. This season had its ups and downs, but it was basically all part of the plan. If anything, they won a few more than most of us expected.

Positive thought No. 2: They won the lottery and will pick second, meaning they’ll almost certainly get a blue-chip prospect in Jack Hughes or (more likely) Kaapo Kakko. They overachieved expectations and still got a potential franchise player. It was the best of both worlds.

Positive thought No. 3: In addition to their own pick, they also have Winnipeg’s first and Tampa’s second. And don’t look now, but they might still get the Stars’ first too, if Dallas makes it to the third round.

Montreal Canadiens

The negative: They came into the season’s final week in good shape to snag a wild card, but stumbled and missed the playoffs. That makes this just the second time since the 1920s that they’ve missed in consecutive years.

Wait, that’s can’t be right.

(Double checks the numbers.)


Positive thought No. 1: They missed the playoffs by two points in a year when just about everyone thought they’d be terrible. And they did it while racking up more points than three Western playoff teams. That might be a sign that the format is unfair, but it reinforces how strong a season Montreal just had.

Positive thought No. 2: Goaltending is crucial for every team, but when you’re paying your starter a league-high $10.5 million against the cap, you absolutely have to be getting All-Star level play out of the position. In recent years, Carey Price hadn’t always provided that. But this year, the old Price was back. Wait, Habs fans probably want us to avoid the word “old” here.

Positive thought No. 3: Remember when everyone thought Marc Bergevin was a terrible GM who’d surely be fired any day now? You should since it was less than a year ago. But this year’s moves largely worked out and Bergevin’s reputation has at least been given a polish. That’s good news for Habs fans, seeing as how Geoff Molson has apparently decided that Bergevin will be around forever.

OK, this hasn’t been too bad, but I’m pretty sure that’s the last 96-point team we’re going to find on our list. Let’s bear down and think positive.

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