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How West's playoff outsiders get back in this season

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which begins Wednesday, Oct. 8.

Summer may be the most enjoyable season for many people, but when it comes to NHL teams, they want to put off the start to their summers as long as possible.

But for the six Western Conference teams that missed out on the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff party, their goal since the second week of April has been figuring out how to extend their seasons into May -- or even June, like the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

So how can the teams that missed the fun turn into postseason hits? As training camps open this month, NHL.com today examines why fans of the unlucky six can hold onto their playoff hopes:

ARIZONA COYOTES

Last season: 37-30-15, 89 points, two points out of final wild-card spot in the West.

How it ended: On March 27 the Coyotes won two straight to move into the conference's final wild-card spot, but one win in their final eight games (1-4-3) left them outside the top eight.

Offseason changes: One year after signing Mike Ribeiro to a four-year contract, the Coyotes bought him out in late June and replaced him by trading for Sam Gagner. They lost skill up front when forward Radim Vrbata left for the Vancouver Canucks, but a pair of recent first-round picks could replace him. Max Domi, the 12th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, may be ready to make the jump straight from junior hockey, while Henrik Samuelsson, the 27th pick of the 2012 draft, will start the season in the American Hockey League but isn't far from being NHL-ready. Forward David Moss was re-signed and the club added depth and versatility to their bottom-six forward group with Joe Vitale and B.J. Crombeen. Devan Dubnyk was signed to be the backup to goaltender Mike Smith after Thomas Greiss departed in free agency. Off the ice, the Coyotes lost assistant general manager Brad Treliving to the Calgary Flames but replaced him with former Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier.

Why they could get in: With coach Dave Tippett's tight defensive schemes backstopped by Smith, the Coyotes have the foundation needed to climb the standings in the tough Western Conference. The offense will be generated by two top defensemen, Keith Yandle, last season's leading scorer, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who was fifth among all defensemen last season with 15 goals. They'll have a solid group of forwards to get the puck, led by veterans Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Martin Hanzal and Gagner. Samuelsson and Domi were junior stars who helped their teams reach the Memorial Cup last season and could be close to making a similar impact in the NHL. Breaking through in the West won't be easy, but the Coyotes were there late in the season; it wouldn't be a surprise to see them grab a spot and not let go.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Last season: 38-32-12, 88 points, three points out of final wild-card spot in the West.

How it ended: The Predators were four points out of a wild-card spot coming out of the Olympic break but seven regulation losses in 11 games when the season restarted left them too big a hole to climb out.

Offseason changes: After 15 seasons the Predators will have a new coach for the first time, with Peter Laviolette replacing Barry Trotz. That means a new, up-tempo offensive philosophy and general manager David Poile spent the offseason adding offensive-minded parts. He set his focus up the middle, signing Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy. Jokinen is a seven-time 20-goal scorer; Ribeiro has averaged 62 points per season for the past 10 seasons; Roy had four straight 20-goal seasons before a series of injuries slowed him the past four seasons. Poile also got someone for those new centers to pass to, acquiring 40-goal scorer James Neal in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The signing of defenseman Anton Volchenkov adds a physical, shot-blocking presence to the defense corps. The only significant loss of the offseason was veteran forward Mike Fisher, who will miss at least the first two months of the season recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Why they could get in: Goaltender Pekka Rinne showed he is recovered completely from the hip issues that plagued him last season by winning the MVP at the 2014 IIHF World Championship, backstopping Finland to a silver medal. Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber heads one of the deepest, most skilled defense corps in the League, one equally capable at both ends of the ice. Poile has admitted his forwards are a work in progress, but there are quality pieces to choose from, led by Neal and Ribeiro, who were linemates with the Dallas Stars, and emerging younger players like Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg. The Ribeiro and Roy signings come with question marks, but Ribeiro has said his off-ice issues are behind him and Roy said he feels strong after spending the summer training with former player Gary Roberts. One of the bigger beneficiaries of Laviolette's hiring could be Matt Cullen, whose best seasons came when he played for Laviolette with the Carolina Hurricanes. A healthy Rinne combined with a more robust offense could add up to a wild-card spot for the Predators.

WINNIPEG JETS

Last season: 37-35-10, 84 points, seven points out of final wild-card spot in the West.

How it ended: The Jets went 9-3-1 after Paul Maurice replaced Claude Noel as coach Jan. 12 to get within two points of a wild-card spot, but won only nine of their final 22 games.

Offseason changes: It was a quiet summer for the Jets, with their biggest move the signing of center Mathieu Perreault. Michael Hutchinson will replace Al Montoya as the backup goalie. Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi were allowed to leave in free agency.

Why they could get in: Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff believes the best way to build a winner is through smart drafting and solid development, and his plan could be close to paying off. Center Mark Scheifele, the team's first draft pick after the move to Winnipeg, looks like a future franchise player. Defenseman Jacob Trouba, their first pick in the 2012 NHL Draft (No. 9), emerged as the best all-around defenseman in a group that also includes the steady Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian. Joshua Morrissey, the Jets' top pick in 2013 (No. 13), could earn a spot in that group this season. The addition of Perreault makes the Jets solid down the middle with Scheifele and Bryan Little. Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, again a full-time forward, are proven goal scorers, and 2014 first-round pick (No. 9) Nikolaj Ehlers could get the chance to join them. It's a potent group that should score enough to keep the heat off goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and have the Jets competing for a wild-card spot.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Last season: 36-35-11, 83 points, eight points out of final wild-card spot in the West.

How it ended: The pivot point for the Canucks' season occurred Jan. 18. Vancouver entered in the first wild-card spot, but a game with the Calgary Flames that night featured a line brawl off the opening faceoff and coach John Tortorella trying to get into the Flames locker room after the first period. Tortorella was suspended 15 days and the Canucks won 11 of their final 32 games.

The Vancouver Canucks signed goalie Ryan Miller to a three-year contract this offseason in hopes of finally bringing stability to the position. (@VanCanucks)

Offseason changes: There's an entirely new structure to the front office, now headed by president of hockey operations Trevor Linden. General manager Jim Benning came on board in May and hired coach Willie Desjardins in June to replace Tortorella, who had been fired after the season ended. Benning's first big roster decision was trading Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and two draft picks, including the 24th pick in the 2014 draft. Benning also added to his forward depth in trades that brought in Linden Vey from the Kings and Derek Dorsett from the New York Rangers. In free agency goaltender Ryan Miller signed a three-year contract and forward Radim Vrbata was signed for two years, likely to fill out the top line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. Also added for depth was forward Dustin Jeffrey and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. Defensemen Yannick Weber and Christopher Tanev were re-signed, as was forward Zack Kassian. Forward David Booth received a compliance buyout of his contract, defenseman Jason Garrison was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and forwards Mike Santorelli, Jordan Schroeder and Zac Dalpe were allowed to leave in free agency.

Why they could get in: Desjardins is coming off a Calder Cup championship and has shown an ability to connect with his players at all of his previous coaching stops. After the tumult of Tortorella, a calmer, friendlier approach will make for a better locker room. Miller upgrades the goaltending from the unproven tandem of Jacob Markstrom and Eddie Lack with whom the Canucks ended last season. Vrbata will be a solid addition to the top line, and Bonino, who had 22 goals with the Ducks last season, will add a scoring element to the second line, where he'll likely skate with a healthy Alexandre Burrows. There also should be an influx of skill and youth with young forwards Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk ready to compete for full-time NHL spots. Kevin Bieksa remains the best player on a physical, stingy defense that got a bit nastier with the addition of Sbisa. The Canucks have the talent to get back to the postseason, and a coach who could make a run for a wild-card spot that much easier.

CALGARY FLAMES

Last season: 35-40-7, 77 points, 14 points out of final wild-card spot in the West.

How it ended: The Flames won three of their first five games but then three in their next 15. They were a .500 team the rest of the season.

Offseason changes: Brad Treliving was hired as general manager and used free agency to begin to put his stamp on the organization. He signed goaltender Jonas Hiller, and added a big helping of toughness with the addition of defenseman Deryk Engelland and a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Brandon Bollig. Mason Raymond, who had a renaissance season with 19 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs, upgrades the offense, as does three-time 20-goal scorer Devin Setoguchi. Sam Bennett, the Flames' first pick (No. 4) at the 2014 NHL Draft, could be another player added to the forward group, which lost leading goal-scorer Mike Cammalleri in free agency.

Why they could get in: The Flames could be one of the youngest teams in the League, but that youth has pretty big potential. Sean Monahan, the Flames' 2013 first-round pick (No. 6), looks like a star in the making after scoring 22 goals last season. Johnny Gaudreau went from a college hockey star to scoring a goal in his only NHL game; he'll have all season in 2014-15 to showcase his skill. Bennett, voted the best pro prospect in the Canadian Hockey League last season and the No. 1 player on Central Scouting's final ranking, could have a big impact this season. They'll be supported by Raymond, Setoguchi, Sven Baertschi, Mikael Backlund and Jiri Hudler in the quest to improve the offense. Hiller raises the bar on goaltending and has a solid defense in front of him led by the underrated Mark Giordano. Coach Bob Hartley knows how to manage talent, so if the young players produce and the goaltending performs as it should, the Flames could be in the hunt for a wild-card spot.

EDMONTON OILERS

Last season: 29-44-9, 67 points, 24 points out of final wild-card spot in the West.

How it ended: With nine wins in their final 22 games, the Oilers finished with the fewest points in the conference for the third time in five seasons.

Benoit Pouliot scored 10 points in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs before signing a five-year, $20 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers. (Getty Images)

Offseason changes: General manager Craig MacTavish went big this offseason, literally and figuratively. He signed power forward Benoit Pouliot and giant defensemen Mark Fayne and Keith Aulie in free agency. A trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning brought in forward Teddy Purcell in exchange for center Sam Gagner, and defenseman Nikita Nikitin was acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. And with the third pick in the 2014 NHL Draft the Oilers selected center Leon Draisaitl. Pouliot, Fayne, Aulie, Purcell, Nikitin and Draisaitl all stand 6-foot-2 or taller; the three defensemen are at least 6-3. Defenseman Jeff Petry, forward Luke Gazdic and goaltender Richard Bachman were all re-signed, and defenseman Taylor Fedun and goaltender Jason LaBarbera were allowed to leave in free agency. Forward Ryan Smyth retired.

Why they could get in: In Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, David Perron, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers have the skill. Now they have size to open space for those players to shine. Eberle had 28 goals last season, as did Perron in his first season with the Oilers. Hall had 27 goals and Nugent-Hopkins had a career-best 56 points. Add to them Draisaitl, Purcell and Pouliot, who had a solid run for the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and suddenly the Oilers have a number of scoring options for coach Dallas Eakins to put together. Andrew Ference, Justin Schultz, Fayne, Petry and Nikitin are a strong defense corps that will be supported by a number of talented younger players, including Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom and 2013 first-round pick (No. 7) Darnell Nurse. The goaltending should be solid with Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth. If the additions on offense jell with the talent already in place, and the improved defense is able to make life harder on opposing forwards, the Oilers could grab a wild-card spot and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

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