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How eight Eastern Conference teams can get back into playoffs

Panthers, Rangers, Sabres among those who didn't qualify last season

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

For the eight Eastern Conference teams that missed the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, their goal since the second week of April has been determining how to extend their season into May, or even June, like the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. examines how those eight teams can take the next step and qualify for the playoffs this season:



Last season: 44-30-8, 96 points, one point out of second wild card

How it ended: The Panthers' 25 wins after the All-Star break were the most in the NHL, and their 52 points (25-8-2) tied the Nashville Predators for the League's highest total. But it wasn't enough to offset their 19-22-6 start to the season.

Biggest offseason change: Forward Mike Hoffman was acquired in a trade from the San Jose Sharks on June 19, the same day the Ottawa Senators traded him to San Jose. Hoffman, 28, was third on the Senators last season with 22 goals, his fourth straight season with at least that many. He'll add to a talented top-six forward group that includes centers Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck, who led the Panthers with 31 goals.

Video: Looking at the offseason moves by the Panthers

Why they could get in: The Panthers could have five players who scored at least 20 goals last season in their top six: Trocheck, Evgenii Dadonov (28), Jonathan Huberdeau (27), Barkov (27) and Hoffman -- and Nick Bjugstad, who scored 19. Florida was one of the top teams in the NHL in the second half last season and got better with the addition of Hoffman. The top six will allow coach Bob Boughner to shelter their emerging young talent. Forward Owen Tippett, their first-round pick (No. 10) in the 2017 NHL Draft, scored one goal in seven games with Florida, then scored 36 goals in 51 games with Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League. He'll likely be a full-time NHL player this season, as will forward Henrik Borgstrom, who scored one goal in four games after signing his entry-level contract March 26. With their offensive ability, if goalies Roberto Luongo and James Reimer can stay healthy, they could push as high as a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division.



Last season: 36-35-11, 83 points, 14 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Hurricanes held the second wild card, but a 5-2 loss against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 15 began a six-game losing streak (0-4-2) that dropped them out of playoff contention.

Biggest offseason change: The Hurricanes hired a new general manager (Don Waddell) and a new coach (Rod Brind'Amour), and they traded or lost in free agency four of their top eight scorers from last season: Forwards Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan, and defenseman Noah Hanifin. Among the additions are Dougie Hamilton, who scored 17 goals last season, tied for the most in the NHL among defensemen, and Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft who is expected to produce in a top-six role as an 18-year-old.

Why they could get in: The Hurricanes have arguably the deepest group of defensemen in the NHL, with Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, who signed as a free agent, joining Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk and Trevor van Riemsdyk, with prospects Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean competing for ice time. There's also talent up front, led by forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. If goaltender Scott Darling plays closer to the level he did during his first three NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Hurricanes should be able to compete for a wild-card spot and end their nine-season playoff drought.

Video: De Haan on signing a four-year deal with Carolina



Last season: 35-37-10, 80 points, 17 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Islanders held the second wild card entering their game against the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 19, but a 5-3 loss started a 2-10-4 stretch that likely cost them a playoff spot.

Biggest offseason change: Off the ice, it was hiring Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations May 22 and coach Barry Trotz on June 21. Their arrivals, however, could not prevent the biggest change on the ice, the departure of center John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1 as a free agent. Tavares was selected by the Islanders with the No. 1 pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, and his 621 points (272 goals, 349 assists) are the most by an Islanders player who wasn't part of the four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83.

Why they could get in: Although Tavares and de Haan left, the Islanders have plenty of talent. Center Mathew Barzal, 21, won the Calder Trophy last season, when he had 85 points (22 goals, 63 assists) to become the second player other than Tavares since 2009-10 to lead the Islanders in scoring (Kyle Okposo, 69 points, 2013-14). Forward Anders Lee scored 40 goals, the first Islanders player with that many since Jason Blake in 2006-07. Jordan Eberle had his fifth-straight 20-goal season, Josh Bailey had an NHL career-high 71 points, and talented young forwards Kieffer Bellows, 20, and Joshua Ho-Sang, 22, should push for NHL spots this season. Trotz will have the Islanders play a more structured defensive style, which should allow them to cut down on the NHL-high 35.6 shots per game and 293 goals they allowed last season. New York also added veteran goaltender Robin Lehner and forwards Valtteri Filppula, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Martin and Leo Komarov. Little is expected of the Islanders, but if the defense improves there's a chance they'll score enough to contend for a wild-card spot.

Video: Discussing how the Islanders can improve defensively



Last season: 34-39-9, 77 points, 20 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Rangers turned their focus to 2018-19 and beyond Feb. 8 when a letter sent to their fans from general manager Jeff Gorton and president Glen Sather hinted at a rebuilding phase. During the next 18 days, the Rangers traded defenseman Nick Holden to the Boston Bruins (Feb. 20), forward Michael Grabner to the New Jersey Devils (Feb. 22), forward Rick Nash to the Bruins (Feb. 25) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning (Feb. 26), getting back prospects and draft picks in return.

Biggest offseason change: David Quinn was hired as coach May 23 to replace Alain Vigneault and be a new voice for what's expected to be a young roster. Quinn has NHL experience as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche in 2012-13, but the Rangers hired him because of the success he's had with younger players, including spending the past four seasons at Boston University, where he helped develop Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, Arizona Coyotes center Clayton Keller, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, Minnesota Wild forward Jordan Greenway and Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk, among others.

Video: Rangers are named No. 7 in Prospect Pipeline

Why they could get in: Henrik Lundqvist remains one of the top goaltenders in the NHL and should give the Rangers a good chance to win every time he plays. The defense in front of him, led by Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk, skates well enough to be productive at both ends of the ice. Depth at center is strong, led by Mika Zibanejad, who scored an NHL career-high 27 goals last season, and rookies Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, who each got some NHL experience last season. With better efforts from forwards Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, plus another strong season from forward Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers have a chance to make their rebuilding project a short one.



Last season: 30-39-13, 73 points, 24 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Red Wings began the season 10-8-2, which had them third in the Atlantic Division, but a 4-3 overtime loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 19 started a 3-7-5 stretch that saw them fall to sixth in the division, 10 points out of third place at the Christmas break and eventually miss the playoffs for the second straight season.

Biggest offseason change: With center Henrik Zetterberg's future unknown because of a back injury, the Red Wings will continue to give younger players more ice time. Among that group could be forward Filip Zadina, the No. 6 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. Zadina is the highest-selected player by the Red Wings since Keith Primeau (No. 3, 1990 NHL Draft) and would be the first 18-year-old to play for the Red Wings since Martin Lapointe in 1991-92. Zadina dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, his first in North America from his native Czech Republic, scoring 44 goals in 57 games. He'll have to work harder to find that kind of space to produce in the NHL, but coach Jeff Blashill should be able to protect Zadina from tough matchups early in the season to help him find his confidence before moving him up the lineup.

Video: Custance on Zetterberg being sidelined by back injury

Why they could get in: A rich crop of prospects, led by Zadina and center Michael Rasmussen (6-foot-6, 221 pounds), has the Red Wings feeling good about the future. But their present looks good as well, even if Zetterberg isn't available. Forward Dylan Larkin is an elite playmaker, and forward Anthony Mantha scored a Red Wings-high 24 goals last season at age 23. Forward Gustav Nyquist is a three-time 20-goal scorer, and Andreas Athanasiou, who could slide to center in Zetterberg's absence, is among the fastest skaters in the NHL. Jimmy Howard was solid in net, and the addition of Jonathan Bernier further strengthens the position. The Red Wings play a smart style, can score, and could push for one of the wild card spots in the conference.



Last season: 29-40-13, 71 points, 26 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Canadiens extended their winning streak to five with a 10-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 2 and were third in the Atlantic Division. But they went 3-7-1 in their final 11 games of the calendar year and were 12 points out of third place in the division entering 2018.

Biggest offseason change: The Canadiens will have a different look offensively after scoring 207 goals last season, third fewest in the NHL. Five-time 30-goal scorer Max Pacioretty was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday for forward Tomas Tatar, forward prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Tatar, 27, is two years younger than Pacioretty and has scored at least 20 goals in four straight seasons. Suzuki, 19, could push for an NHL spot this season. He was fourth in the Ontario Hockey League last season with 100 points (42 goals, 58 assists) in 64 games. The Canadiens also traded forward Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Max Domi on June 15. Domi had 52 points as a rookie in 2015-16 but scored nine goals in each of the past two seasons. Montreal also acquired forward Joel Armia in a trade from the Winnipeg Jets on June 30. He had NHL career highs in goals (12), assists (17) and points (29) last season. There also is hope that Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the No. 3 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, can show he's ready to play center on one of the top three lines.

Why they could get in: Goalie Carey Price can lift a team to the postseason on his own. He spent the offseason refining his movement in the crease and improving other areas of his game to get back to his elite level. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17, Price's 2.16 goals-against average and .928 save percentage were the best of any goalie who played at least 50 games. If he's on top of his game, the Canadiens won't have to score a lot to compete in the wild-card race.

Video: MTL@TOR: Price shuts down Kadri with his blocker



Last season: 28-43-11, 67 points, 30 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Senators swept their two games against the Colorado Avalanche in the SAP NHL Global Series in Stockholm and were third in the Atlantic Division on Nov. 11, but they went 1-10-2 in their next 13 games to fall out of playoff contention.

Biggest offseason change: The Senators shifted full force into a rebuilding effort with the trade of defenseman Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks on Sept. 13. Karlsson led Ottawa in scoring or tied for the lead the past five seasons. In return, the Senators received immediate help in forward Chris Tierney and defenseman Dylan DeMelo, plus forward prospects Rudolfs Balcers and Joshua Norris, and four draft picks. Tierney, 24, had 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 82 games. DeMelo, 25, had 20 assists in 63 games. Each could be in for a bigger role with Ottawa. Also gone is forward Mike Hoffman, their leading goal-scorer the past five seasons. The Senators acquired Mikkel Boedker, a solid middle-six forward who had 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists) in 74 games and selected forward Brady Tkachuk with the No. 4 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft with the hope he can work himself into a top-nine forward and produce as a net-front presence on the power play.

Video: Senators continue to keep busy this offseason

Why they could get in: If the past holds to form, goaltender Craig Anderson should be in for a big season. In four seasons with the Senators that start with an even number (like 2018-19), he has a 2.19 GAA and a .930 save percentage in 117 games; in seasons that start with an odd number (like his disappointing 2017-18), he has a 2.98 GAA and a .910 save percentage in 234 games. If Anderson's even-numbered season streak keeps going, it could go a long way toward the Senators being a surprise wild card contender.



Last season: 25-45-12, 62 points, 35 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Sabres lost their first five games (0-4-1) and likely were out of playoff contention at 3-7-2 at the end of October.

Biggest offseason change: After winning the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery, Buffalo selected defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the No. 1 pick. Dahlin, 18, is a franchise player who should step into a top-four role this season and be a big contributor at 5-on-5 and on the power play. He also should help make life easier for the Sabres' talented crop of forwards, which was bolstered by offseason trades for Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes), Conor Sheary (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson (St. Louis Blues). The Sabres also upgraded in net, signing Carter Hutton, who was first in the NHL in GAA (2.09) and save percentage (.931) among goalies to play at least 30 games.

Video: Rasmus Dahlin takes the No. 1 spot on the list

Why they could get in: With the moves made during the offseason, there's potential for a big climb after finishing last in the NHL standings. The Sabres are confident Hutton will build on his outstanding 2017-18 now that he's a No. 1 goalie for the first time in the NHL. The defense of Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella also should help. The biggest area of improvement is at forward, where the Sabres added Skinner, a three-time 30-goal scorer, Berglund, a three-time 20-goal scorer, and Sheary, who scored 41 goals the past two seasons and is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, to a group that already included Jack Eichel, forward prospect Casey Mittelstadt, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo. There's no reason to think the Sabres can't copy what the Avalanche did last season and go from last in the NHL to the playoffs in one season.

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