Every season there is plenty of turnover in the playoff picture as usually a couple of teams per conference fail to make the playoffs the year after doing so.
This, of course, means the door opens for some non-playoff teams to make it back to the dance.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of Eastern Conference teams who could bounce back and make the playoffs in 2017-18.
Tampa Bay Lightning
There aren’t many safe bets in hockey, but the Lightning bouncing back and making the playoffs next season is probably the closest thing you’ll find.
Last season they missed the playoffs by just one point despite several key players missing big chunks of games due to injury and not a single player appearing in all 82 games.
Steven Stamkos, one of the league’s best goal scorers, missed 65 games. The team’s No. 2 center, Tyler Johnson, missed 16 games. Brayden Point missed 14 games. Anton Stralman missed nine games. Nikita Kucherov missed eight games. Ondrej Palat missed seven games, and Victor Hedman also had to sit out a few.
While health is hard to predict, it’s fair to assume the Lightning’s top players will have better injury luck next season.
Parlay what should be a healthier lineup with the additions of Chris Kunitz, and Mikhail Sergachev, and there’s plenty of reason to believe the Bolts will make it back to the dance this year.
Despite horrendous goaltending — only Colorado finished with a lower team save percentage at 5v5 — the Hurricanes missed the playoffs by just eight points and stayed in the hunt until the final weekend of the season.
While they did not add a name-brand goaltender this off-season, they did add an underrated one who should drastically help solve the team’s woes.
That goaltender, of course, is Scott Darling, who ranks 3rd (behind only Carey Price and Braden Holtby) in 5v5 save percentage over the last four seasons. The sample size is smaller for Darling than a lot of others but, obviously, it’s encouraging he was able to keep that sort of company.
If he can give the Hurricanes even average goaltending, which history suggests he can, they’ll be in good shape given all the talent on the roster.
They aren’t loaded with big names up front, but their offense should be solid with a plethora of good, young forwards like Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Tervainane leading the charge. Mix in some capable veterans like Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, and Lee Stempniak, and there’s enough skill, and depth, for the offense to be potent.
With a top-4 of Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, and Brett Pesce, all of whom are young and still have room to grow further, their defense should be excellent as well.
The Hurricanes’ only question mark was goaltending, and they appear to have found their answer in Darling. If they did, I think they’ll surprise some people in 2017-18.