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How seven Western Conference teams can get back into playoffs

Coyotes, Blackhawks, Canucks among those that didn't qualify last season

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

For the seven Western Conference teams that missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, their goal since the second week of April has been determining how to extend their seasons into May, or even June, like the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

NHL.com examines how those seven teams can take the next step and qualify for the playoffs this season:

 

[RELATED: How eight Eastern Conference teams can get back into playoffs]

 

ARIZONA COYOTES

Last season: 39-35-8, 86 points, four points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Coyotes had a three-point lead for the second wild card following a 6-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks on March 14, capping a 10-2-0 run, but they lost eight of their final 11 games (3-5-3) and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh straight season. 

Biggest offseason change: Forward Phil Kessel was acquired in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 29, giving Arizona a potential 30-goal scorer for the first time since Radim Vrbata scored 35 in 2011-12. Kessel averaged 27.5 goals the previous four seasons; no Coyotes player has scored that many since Shane Doan had 28 in 2015-16. Arizona scored 209 goals last season, tied for the third-fewest in the NHL with the Dallas Stars, but with Kessel, that number could go up considerably.

Why they could get in: The Coyotes have a solid backbone in goalies Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. Raanta was second in the NHL in goals-against average (2.24) and save percentage (.930) in 2017-18, and Kuemper, who became the starter after Raanta sustained a lower-body injury Nov. 27, was seventh in save percentage (.925) and sixth in GAA (2.33) among goalies to play at least 25 games last season. Each goalie is healthy entering the season and should split time in goal, but so is center Nick Schmaltz, who had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 17 games before sustaining a season-ending lower-body injury Dec. 30. If the Coyotes can be as good offensively as they've been defensively under coach Rick Tocchet, its possible they could finish in the top three in the Pacific Division.

Video: Tocchet on coaching Kessel again, Coyotes' goalies

 

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Last season: 36-34-12, 84 points, six points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Blackhawks started the season 6-2-2, but a 7-3 loss to the Blues on Oct. 27 began an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2), during which Joel Quenneville was fired as coach, and they weren't able to recover.

Biggest offseason change: The Blackhawks signed Robin Lehner, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL last season, to one-year contract July 1, giving them a solid complement to Corey Crawford, whose history with concussions has been a big reason for Chicago's struggles the past two seasons. Lehner had a breakout season with the New York Islanders, setting NHL career highs in wins (25), GAA (2.13) and save percentage (.930). He was voted the winner of the Masterton Trophy as the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, and, along with Thomas Greiss, won the William M. Jennings Trophy, which is presented to the goalies having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.

Why they could get in: With a healthy Crawford and Lehner splitting time, goaltending should be a strength. Defensemen Calvin de Haan (Carolina Hurricanes) and Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins), acquired in respective trades in June, add skill and experience to a defensemen group that includes Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Erik Gustafsson and Connor Murphy. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat are each coming off the best offensive seasons of their NHL careers, and Dylan Strome developed into a solid second-line center last season after being acquired in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 25. If a change of scenery works as well for forward Alexander Nylander, who was acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Henri Jokiharju on July 9, as it did for Strome, the Blackhawks could have enough to push for a wild card.

 

MINNESOTA WILD

Last season: 37-36-9, 83 points, seven points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Wild held the second wild card after a 3-0 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 7, but they went 1-4-1 in their next six games to slip out of playoff contention.

Biggest offseason change: Bill Guerin was hired as general manager Aug. 21 to replace Paul Fenton, who was fired July 30. Guerin had been assistant GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins the previous five seasons and has won the Stanley Cup four times, with the New Jersey Devils (1995) and Penguins (2009) as a player, and twice as a member of Pittsburgh's front office (2016, 2017). Guerin admittedly won't have much of a chance to change the look of the team after being hired so close to the start of training camp, but he said he likes the players and the situation he's walking into. 

"You look at the names and there are good players," Guerin said Aug. 22. "We have a lot of good hockey players. ... There are a lot of really good players up on that board. We've got a coach (Bruce Boudreau) that's won a ton of games, we've got Stanley Cup winners, we've got guys that have been around a long time. I have confidence this group is going to bounce back."

Why they could get in: The Wild got better up front by signing of forward Mats Zuccarello to a five-year contract July 1. Zuccarello had 40 points (12 goals, 28 assists) in 48 games with the New York Rangers and Dallas Stars last season. After breaking his arm in his debut with the Stars on Feb. 24, he returned late in the season and had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 playoff games, which tied Tyler Seguin for most on Dallas. His scoring should help boost the Wild, who were shut out in four of their final six games, as he joins an impressive group of forwards that includes Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Jordan Greenway and Mikko Koivu, who expects to be healthy for the start of the season after tearing his ACL in February. Minnesota will also have a healthy Matt Dumba, who missed the final four months of the season after having surgery to repair a ruptured right pectoralis muscle. With Dumba joining Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter as the top-four defensemen in front of goalie Devan Dubnyk, the Wild could be good enough to compete for a wild card.

Video: Bill Guerin joins the show to discuss his new role

 

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Last season: 35-36-11, 81 points, nine points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Canucks sat in first place in the Pacific Division on Nov. 8 following a 10-6-1 start, but they lost 12 of their next 13 games (1-10-2) to fall to seventh in the division.

Biggest offseason change: The Canucks made significant changes at defenseman during the offseason, signing Tyler Myers to a five-year contract, Jordie Benn to a two-year contract, and Oscar Fantenberg to a one-year contract on July 1. Vancouver also re-signed Alexander Edler, who scored 10 goals in 56 games last season and is in the discussion to be its next captain, to a two-year contract July 20. Myers' size (6-foot-8, 229 pounds) and skating could make him an ideal partner for Quinn Hughes, who had three assists in five games last season after signing a three-year, entry-level contract March 10. 

Why they could get in: The changes at defenseman should make the Canucks harder to play against, and with Jacob Markstrom emerging as a quality No. 1 goalie last season, goal prevention should be a strength. A full season of Hughes should also help energize an impressive offense that includes Calder Trophy winner Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. With Vancouver adding to its forward depth by acquiring J.T. Miller (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Micheal Ferland (Carolina Hurricanes) in trades, it could have a chance to compete for a wild card.

 

ANAHEIM DUCKS

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

How it ended: The Ducks were one point out of the wild card going into the All-Star break, but they lost their next five games (0-5-0) and never got back into playoff contention.

Biggest offseason change: Dallas Eakins was hired as coach June 17 after spending the previous four seasons as coach of San Diego, the Ducks' American Hockey League affiliate. Eakins struggled in his previous NHL coaching job, going 36-63-14 with the Edmonton Oilers before being fired 31 games into 2014-15 season. However, Eakins is credited with developing Anaheim's impressive group of prospects, among them forwards Max Comtois, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Isac Lundestrom and Sam Steel, all of whom could have a major impact this season. 

Why they could get in: The Ducks could have several players 23-and-under on the roster this season, and their youthful energy could invigorate a group that still includes captain and leading scorer Ryan Getzlaf, as well as forwards Jakob Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Ondrej Kase and Adam Henrique, and defensemen Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson. They also have an elite goalie in John Gibson; over the past five seasons, he is tied with Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks for the best save percentage in the NHL (.921, minimum 150 games). Gibson alone could carry the Ducks into contention for a wild card. Add to that a hungry, talented group of young players combined with healthy veterans out to prove the doubters wrong, and you have a team that could find its way back to the postseason.

 

EDMONTON OILERS

Last season: 35-38-9, 79 points, 11 points out of second wild card

How it ended: The Oilers were tied for the second wild card following a 3-2 shootout win against the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 16, but they went 1-8-3 in their next 12 games and as a result missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons.

Biggest offseason change: Their front office. Ken Holland was hired as general manager May 7, and Dave Tippett was named coach three weeks later. Holland proved he could build a championship team, helping the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup three times in 21 seasons as GM. Tippett is one of the most respected coaches in the NHL and has made the playoffs eight times in 14 seasons as a coach in the League. Their main job will be to build around a core that includes Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Edmonton's biggest offseason move was acquiring forward James Neal, who could play left wing on McDavid's line, in a trade from the Calgary Flames for Milan Lucic on July 19.

Why they could get in: Having McDavid and Draisaitl gives the Oilers an excellent foundation, but it's Tippett's defensive-minded game plan that should push Edmonton into playoff contention. Mike Smith, who signed a one-year contract July 1, gives them a dependable goalie for their new approach, as will another year of maturity for defensemen Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson and possibly Evan Bouchard, the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft who could be ready for the NHL after an outstanding season with London of the Ontario Hockey League. 

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: McDavid

 

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Last season: 31-42-9, 71 points, 19 points out of second wild card

How it ended: A 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 1 left the Kings in last place in the Western Conference at 3-8-1. Coach John Stevens was fired three days later.

Biggest offseason change: Coach Todd McLellan was hired April 16 with the hope his experience can get the Kings pointed in the right direction. In 10 full seasons with the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers, McLellan's teams reached the playoffs six times and won at least one series four times.

Why they could get in: With forwards Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, defenseman Drew Doughty, and goalie Jonathan Quick, the Kings have a strong core to build on. Each had a down season in 2018-19, but it's tough to see that happening again. As a result, they should start the season with extra motivation, as should forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored 16 goals in 64 games and was a healthy scratch frequently late last season in his return to the NHL. With the top players angry in a good way, Kovalchuk out to prove himself, and quality secondary scoring options Dustin Brown, Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe and Tyler Toffoli, the Kings are capable of making a quick turnaround and fighting for a wild card.

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