The 2018-19 NHL season didn’t unfold the way every team would have hoped. To be fair, any club not named the St. Louis Blues didn’t quite get the ending it wanted.
But for the 15 squads that missed out on the playoffs, last year wound up being increasingly disappointing. Several teams that were absent from the post-season have made improvements to their rosters, bettering their chances at going one step further in 2019-20.
Here are the three clubs that best-positioned themselves to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this time around.
1. Florida Panthers
The Panthers’ outlook changed pretty drastically this summer, and a lot of it has to do with the signing of Sergei Bobrovsky.
Last season, the Panthers were just one of three teams that didn’t have a goalie who finished with a goals-against average of 3.00 or better while playing a minimum of 25 games. Those goaltending woes will be immediately corrected with the addition of Bobrovsky, who brings with him two Vezina Trophies.
The club also bolstered its depth with the additions of Anton Stralman, Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari. Stralman figures to slot into the top-4 on defence, while the two forwards likely situate themselves as regulars in the bottom-6 up front.
Additionally, luring head coach Joel Quenneville to Sunrise, Fla., should benefit the squad greatly, especially when it comes to the development of star Aleksander Barkov.
The Panthers are on the come up, just look at the odds. VegasInsider has given them the fourth-lowest odds to win the Eastern Conference this year.
2. Arizona Coyotes
If it weren’t for a turbulent end to the season in which the Coyotes lost eight of their last 11 contests, the club may have been in the playoffs instead of the Colorado Avalanche.
That poor play down the stretch can’t be undone, but after missing the post-season by only four points, the team pulled off a trade to help address its biggest need - goal scoring.
Nabbing Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins will immediately help the Yotes, who finished tied for third-worst in goals last season. After notching 27 tallies while playing just a tick under 18 minutes per game in 2018-19, the move to Arizona should allow the 31-year-old to see the ice a little bit more and help him reach the 30-goal mark.
Throw in the addition of Carl Soderberg to help strengthen its depth down the middle, and Arizona could be able to muster up enough offence to grab a playoff spot if its defence and goaltender Darcy Kuemper can have another solid campaign.
3. New Jersey Devils
Given the pure opportunity that awaits the Devils in a weaker Metropolitan Division, they have a fair shot of making it into the post-season this year.
In the NHL, recency bias is common, which is why some may forget the Devils made the playoffs just two years ago. That season, only one player recorded more than 55 points on the squad, and it was backstopped by the mediocre Keith Kinkaid.
There’s no questioning that this year’s roster is much stronger than the one Taylor Hall carried to the playoffs in 2017-18. Summer acquisitions like P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes can help kickstart an offence that tied for sixth-worst in goals scored last season.
If the defence can prove to be serviceable, and former Barrie Colt Mackenzie Blackwood can take a step forward in year No. 2 between the pipes, then New Jersey should be able to compete for a playoff berth in a relatively weak division.
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