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How doors to postseason closed for 14 teams

Why they were eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoffs; and how they can return next season

NHL.com @NHL

Before turning our focus to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begin Wednesday, let's take a look at the 14 teams that have been eliminated from postseason contention, examining what went wrong for each, the necessary next step and reasons to feel good about the future.

The teams are presented in alphabetical order.

 

Arizona Coyotes

What happened: A 2-6-0 October and a 3-11-2 December had the Coyotes well off the pace by Christmas. Arizona averaged 2.33 goals a game and was outscored by 63 goals despite a strong season from goaltender Mike Smith. The power play and penalty kill each are in the bottom five in the League. Long-term injuries to forward Max Domi and center Brad Richardson hurt. Domi combined with forwards Anthony Duclair and Shane Doan to score 66 goals in 2015-16. This season, they've scored 20.

What's needed: Center. There are talented wings, but getting them the puck has been difficult. Rookie Christian Dvorak came on late and could be one answer, but lots more help is needed. Top defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski each underperformed by their standards. After scoring 44 goals during the past previous two seasons, Ekman-Larsson dropped to 12 this season. Smith has two more seasons on his contract and played well, but regularly saw 35 or more shots a night. A commitment to defense must return.

Reasons for optimism: Arizona's rookies scored more than 100 points in 2016-17, with forwards Dvorak, Brendan Perlini and Lawson Crouse and defensemen Jakob Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo each playing regularly to complement second-year players Domi, Duclair and Jordan Martinook at forward and goaltender Louis Domingue. Forward Tobias Rieder and defenseman Connor Murphy each are 24 and still improving. Prospects Clayton Keller, Christian Fischer and Dylan Strome are expected to join the youth movement next season, and the Coyotes have two first-round picks in the 2017 NHL Draft, including a top-five choice who could help right away.

-- Jerry Brown

 

Buffalo Sabres

What happened: The Sabres fell behind early in the season, in part, due to injuries. Forward Jack Eichel missed the first 21 games with a high ankle sprain and Buffalo went 7-9-5 without him. Defenseman Zach Bogosian missed 26 games with three separate injuries. Forward Kyle Okposo has missed 15 games with three different ailments. Forward Evander Kane missed 12 games with four broken ribs he sustained in the season opener. But even when healthy, the Sabres lacked consistency; three times this season they were able to string together three straight wins, but they had losing streaks of three or more games seven times.

What's needed: Aside from better luck with injuries, the Sabres need better play from their defense. Buffalo allows a League-high 34.3 shots per game and has the 26th-ranked penalty kill (77.3 percent). Robin Lehner (.920 save percentage) and Anders Nilsson (.923) provided steady goaltending, but they were under duress all season with the volume of shots faced. Buffalo also needs more offense from the back end; Sabres defensemen scored all of 17 goals, led by Rasmus Ristolainen with six.

Reasons for optimism: The Sabres are young and growing together. Eichel scored at nearly a point-per-game pace (57 points in 60 games), Kane scored 24 of 27 his goals at even strength, and Ristolainen (45) and forward Sam Reinhart (47) had career-highs in points. With prospects like defenseman Brendan Guhle and forward Alexander Nylander on the way, there's hope.

-- Joe Yerdon

Video: BUF@COL: Reinhart slams home rebound for PPG

 

Carolina Hurricanes

What happened: The Hurricanes began the season 3-6-4. They lost five in a row going into the NHL All-Star break and had a 1-6-3 stretch shortly after the break. Carolina struggled in overtime (5-9) and the shootout (2-6), and is 12-19-9 on the road.

What's needed: The Hurricanes went with four alternate captains this season (Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and Victor Rask) following the departure of long-time captain Eric Staal prior to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. Settling on a captain might solidify the team's identity. If Carolina is to end its eight-season absence from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it needs better goaltending than Cam Ward and Eddie Lack produced this season. Carolina also needs more scoring from the third and fourth lines. The defense could use a veteran with penalty-killing experience to replace Ron Hainsey, who was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline.

Reasons for optimism: Skinner has scored a career-high 37 goals. In his second season, Jaccob Slavin (plus-24) established himself as a quality shutdown defenseman. He and fellow sophomore Brett Pesce (plus-24) form Carolina's top pair. Justin Faulk, with a career-high 17 goals, anchors the second pair with Noah Hanifin, the Hurricanes' first-round pick (No. 5) in the 2015 NHL Draft. Rookie Sebastian Aho, 19, has 23 goals and a playmaker's vision, giving Carolina a versatile forward with a tremendous future. The Hurricanes' 13-game point streak (9-0-4) from March 9-30 showed remarkable staying power in the playoff race.

-- Kurt Dusterberg

 

Colorado Avalanche

What happened: Coach Jared Bednar needed cram sessions to familiarize himself with his personnel after being hired on Aug. 25, two weeks after Patrick Roy abruptly resigned. The Avalanche were 9-9-0 on Nov. 21 before a 2-11-1 stretch sent them into a freefall. They've scored the NHL's fewest goals (164) and allowed the most (275). The power play is 30th in the NHL (12.7 percent), the penalty 29th (76.3 percent). Defenseman Erik Johnson (broken fibula) missed 36 games and goalie Semyon Varlamov had season-ending hip surgery on Jan. 26.

What's needed: More depth on defense and on the third and fourth lines. Younger, faster players would be a better fit for Bednar's up-tempo pressure system. Rebound seasons are in order from defenseman Tyson Barrie and forwards Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. Each saw a major slip in production. MacKinnon's 52 points (17 goals, 35 assists) lead the Avalanche; Duchene went from 30 goals to 18. Colorado also needs a return to form for Varlamov, who has been inconsistent since being a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14; backup Calvin Pickard was overworked in his absence.

Reasons for optimism: A high first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft is guaranteed. Colorado's stable of young, talented players could bounce back or provide a return in offseason transactions. There is hope for the future with forwards Mikko Rantanen, 20; J.T. Compher, 21; Tyson Jost, 19; and Sven Andrighetto, 23. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov, 21, made strides before breaking an ankle Feb. 20. Minor-league prospects such as defenseman Chris Bigras, 22, and forward A.J. Greer, 20, will push for jobs in camp.

-- Rick Sadowski

Video: STL@COL: Compher buries juicy rebound for a PPG

 

Dallas Stars

What happened: Injuries were a constant theme for the Stars during a disappointing season and helped cost coach Lindy Ruff his job. Forwards Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, Cody Eakin and Ales Hemsky each missed significant time, and center Mattias Janmark did not play at all because of a genetic knee disorder. The Stars never were able to overcome the injuries and couldn't rekindle the offense that led the NHL in scoring last season. At the other end, the goaltending tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi struggled to find consistency.

What's needed: Better special teams. Dallas has the NHL's 30th-ranked penalty kill at 73.9 percent, the power play was 20th (17.9 percent). The Stars were second behind the New Jersey Devils for most shorthanded goals allowed (11).

Reasons for optimism: The core is young, and forward Jamie Benn could return to Art Ross-winning form after dealing with injuries throughout this season. The youthful defense went through growing pains, but Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, Stephen Johns, and Julius Honka each are under 24 and made strides. Dallas also is expected to have Janmark, 24, back in the lineup; he has shown promising signs since he started practicing late in the season.

-- Sean Shapiro

 

Detroit Red Wings

What happened: After a 2-1 victory against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 27, the Red Wings were on a six-game winning streak and had opened the season 6-2-0. At that point, it looked as if their 25-year playoff streak would survive Detroit's final season at Joe Louis Arena. However, Detroit didn't win back-to-back games in regulation again until mid-January, and that was followed by a 2-6-4 stretch that dropped the Red Wings to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Forward Henrik Zetterberg, 36, has 66 points (16 goals, 50 assists), but no one else has more than 46.

What's needed: Detroit needs a significant upgrade on defense but doesn't have much cap space. Danny DeKeyser has struggled all season and Mike Green requires too much help in his own zone to be a top-pair option. Niklas Kronwall has been a major part of the Red Wings for a decade, but he's 36 and slowing down. The Red Wings also need forward Dylan Larkin to rebound from a tough second season. He's dropped from 45 points to 31 and from plus-11 to minus-27.

Reasons for optimism: Young forwards Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou have combined for 35 goals and shown game-changing ability. Tomas Tatar scored 24 goals, and rookie defenseman Nick Jensen became a solid performer after a midseason call-up.

-- Dave Hogg

Video: DET@CAR: Mantha beats Lack for second goal of period

 

Florida Panthers

What happened: After personnel and front office changes in the offseason, the Panthers lost key forward Jonathan Huberdeau for the first four months with an injury in the preseason finale. Coach Gerard Gallant was fired on Nov. 27, with general manager Tom Rowe taking over. Still, a 5-0-0 road trip put the Panthers at 28-20-10 on Feb. 21, with a five-game homestand coming up. But their season quickly unraveled; the Panthers went 1-7-1 in their next nine games. The revamped defense corps, featuring newcomers Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Mark Pysyk, added speed from the back end, but Florida has given up 2.85 goals per game compared to 2.44 last season. Top center Aleksander Barkov being limited to 61 games because of injuries didn't help.

What's needed: Forward Jonathan Marchessault proved a tremendous free agent acquisition by reaching the 30-goal plateau, but the Panthers still need more complementary scoring for the first line of Huberdeau, Barkov and Jaromir Jagr. Second-line forward Reilly Smith went from a career-high 25 goals last season to 15 and Jussi Jokinen went from 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) to 28 (11 goals, 17 assists). Center Nick Bjugstad has seven goals in 53 games, two seasons removed from leading Florida with 24 goals. The Panthers also need better play in their defensive zone.

Reasons for optimism: Much of the nucleus is intact from last season, when the Panthers won the Atlantic Division, starting with Barkov, Huberdeau, forward Vincent Trocheck, Smith and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. Simply having Huberdeau for a full season should make a big difference; the season-defining 1-7-1 stretch included six one-goal losses (not including empty-net goals).

-- Alain Poupart

 

Los Angeles Kings

What happened: When No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Quick returned after missing more than four months with a groin injury on Feb. 25, the Kings won that afternoon and pulled within five points of the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators for the two wild cards into the playoffs from the Western Conference. Scoring remained a problem, however, and Los Angeles went 7-7-3 during the next five weeks, steadily losing ground and eventually a playoff spot to the much-hotter Blues (12-4-2), Flames (12-5-0) and Predators (10-6-2).

What's needed: A bounce-back season from center Anze Kopitar should have ripple effects. He averaged 24 goals in his first 10 seasons with the Kings, but has 12 this season. The defending Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's best defensive forward is minus-10; he finished second in the NHL last season at plus-34. Kopitar likely would benefit from the addition of a high-scoring wing on his line, similar to the type of upgrade that sparked Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks after Patrick Eaves was acquired from the Dallas Stars on Feb. 24.

Reasons for optimism: The cornerstones for the Kings remain in their prime. Kopitar (29), Quick (31), leading scorer Jeff Carter (32) and defending Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty (27) remember what it took to win Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014. A third straight lengthy offseason will allow plenty of time for preparation. Two forwards in their mid-20s, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, also have shown they can produce in the NHL.

-- Dan Arritt

Video: EDM@LAK: Pearson beats Talbot with top-shelf snipe

 

New Jersey Devils

What happened: The issues that plagued the Devils last season have been evident again; they rank 28th in the League in goals-per game (2.21), 29th in goals scored 5-on-5 (113), and 29th in shots per game (27.8). The Devils had two players score 30 goals last season; this season, Kyle Palmieri is tops with 26. Goaltender Cory Schneider has the highest goals-against average (2.79) and lowest save percentage (.909) in his seven NHL seasons, and the Devils went 2-11-2 in March.

What's needed: Depth scoring and greater consistency on defense. A good draft wouldn't hurt. The Devils have 11 picks, seven in the first four rounds, and general manager Ray Shero is no stranger to making draft-day trades. Shero might also try to shore up the defense by signing a free agent when the market opens on July 1.

Reasons for optimism: Left wing Taylor Hall, acquired in a trade from the Edmonton Oilers on June 29, has done his part on offense in his first season with the Devils, with 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists). New Jersey also had eight players make their NHL debuts and have had 12 rookies play at least one game. Among the rookies making an impact is center Pavel Zacha, who leads New Jersey rookies with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists). Forward Miles Wood has 17 points (eight goals, nine assists), 64 hits and 104 shots on goal. Defenseman Steven Santini has 83 hits and 35 blocked shots.

-- Mike G. Morreale

 

New York Islanders


What happened: A puzzling offseason by general manager Garth Snow carried over into the regular season. Versatile center Frans Nielsen was allowed to leave via unrestricted free agency on July 1 and was never adequately replaced. The decision to carry three healthy goaltenders on the roster for nearly the entire first half of the season either often left the Islanders with six defensemen or short a forward who could have helped offensively, such as right wing PA Parenteau, who signed on July 2 but was waived Oct. 10. It also may have negatively impacted Jaroslav Halak, who was waived on Dec. 30 and sent to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, where he stayed for nearly three months before returning to New York.

What's needed: A replacement for Nielsen. The Islanders have to find a No. 2 center who can contribute offensively and defensively, and win faceoffs. New York was rumored to be in the mix for Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, but Duchene remains with the Avalanche. It might be a deal Snow revisits at or close to the 2017 NHL Draft.

Reasons for optimism: Forward Joshua Ho-Sang. The Islanders may finally have their sidekick to center John Tavares in Ho-Sang, a first-round pick (No. 28) in 2014 who brings the fans out of their seats nearly every time he has the puck and has adjusted nicely to the NHL since being promoted from Bridgeport at the beginning of March.

-- Brian Compton

Video: NYI@BUF: Ho-Sang finishes break with outstanding move

 

Philadelphia Flyers

What happened: The Flyers won 10 straight games between Nov. 27 and Dec. 14 and were third in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins. Between Dec. 15 and March 1, Philadelphia went 10-16-4 and scored an NHL-low 54 goals in those 30 games.

What's needed: More consistency on offense. The Flyers scored four or more goals in a game 22 times and one goal or fewer 21 times. Better seasons from some of their core players also are needed. Center Claude Giroux and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere each had hip and abdominal muscle surgeries in May and rarely appeared to be playing at 100 percent. Forward Jakub Voracek and center Sean Couturier were extremely streaky. Forward Brayden Schenn tied for the League lead with 17 power-play goals, but scored eight at even strength.

Reasons for optimism: The Flyers have one of the deepest, most talented group of prospects in the League. Defensemen Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg could be contributors next season, as could goaltender Anthony Stolarz and forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker Award finalist who signed an entry-level contract March 31. They also had a League-high nine players skate in the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, including the starting goaltenders for silver-medalist Canada (Carter Hart), Sweden (Felix Sandstrom) and Slovakia (Matej Tomek).

-- Adam Kimelman

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

What happened: Injuries and inconsistent play in the first half of the season had the Lightning sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference in late January before they made a surge that proved to be too little, too late. Center Steven Stamkos tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee on Nov. 15 and could not recover from arthroscopic surgery in time for the final stretch of the season. Trading goaltender Ben Bishop and veteran forwards Valtteri Filppula and Brian Boyle appeared to signal the waving of the white flag, but Tampa Bay went 10-4-1 in March to get back in the playoff race before coming up short.

What's needed: A healthy Stamkos should make the Lightning contenders for the Stanley Cup in 2017-18. Stamkos had 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 17 games before he was injured. Even though the Lightning cleared cap space at the NHL Trade Deadline, GM Steve Yzerman will have tough decisions to make on which players to protect with the NHL Expansion Draft looming. The Lightning could use more depth and speed on defense and may have to trade a forward to get it.

Reasons for optimism: Forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Victor Hedman posted career-best numbers, and rookie forward Brayden Point and rookie defenseman Jake Dotchin proved to be mature beyond their years. All five are 26 or younger. Even if the Lightning have to trade a forward, their projected top two lines are as good as any in the NHL when healthy. Andrei Vasilevskiy shook off a rough stretch during the middle of the season to prove that he has the ability to be a No. 1 goaltender.

Video: TBL@MTL: Vasilevskiy stretches to make a great save

-- Corey Long

Vancouver Canucks

What happened : Injuries, illness and poor special teams all played a role in the Canucks missing the playoffs for a second straight season, but there was no bigger reason than the decline of 36-year-old forwards Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. Each will finish with his lowest full-season point total since becoming top-line forwards in 2005-06, and together they anchored the top unit on a power play that was near the bottom of the NHL. "We are bound for a playoff spot if our line is scoring like it should be," said Daniel Sedin, who scored four goals during a 46-game stretch in the second half. "Our job every night is to produce. It hasn't been there enough this year."

What's needed: Scoring depth, including from the defense. The Canucks are on pace to set a franchise record for goal futility for the second straight time; they have 176 goals, down from 186 last season. Outside of third-line center Brandon Sutter, who spent time on the top power-play unit, Vancouver doesn't have double-digit points from another bottom-six forward, and its defense is one of the lowest-scoring groups in the NHL.

Reasons for optimism: Center Bo Horvat has emerged as the leading scorer in his third season, erasing predictions of a third-line center ceiling when he was picked in the first round (No. 9) at the 2013 NHL Draft. Horvat, 21, has established good chemistry with 24-year-old forward Sven Baertschi, providing the foundation for a top-two line for the foreseeable future.

-- Kevin Woodley

 

Winnipeg Jets

What happened: It took the Jets 54 games and nine previous attempts to win three straight games this season. On March 30, Winnipeg got above the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 17. The Jets had three separate four-game losing streaks and a five-game winless streak between Dec. 6 and March 13. Winnipeg's biggest issue comes in goal, with a team save percentage of .900. The Jets also own the 25th-ranked penalty kill (77.5 percent). Injuries were a problem; several key players were down for lengthy periods of time; defenseman Tyler Myers, was limited to 11 games, none after Nov. 11, because of lower-body injuries.

What's needed: Better goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck had a .907 save percentage in 56 games, and Michael Hutchinson was at .903 in 28 appearances. Those are well below the NHL average save percentage of .913. Depth on defense became an issue because of injuries even after Jacob Trouba returned after missing 15 games because of a contract stalemate.

Reasons for optimism: Winnipeg's young offense shifted into another gear this season, with four players finishing with at least 60 points (Mark Scheifele, 82; Blake Wheeler, 74; Nikolaj Ehlers, 64; Patrik Laine, 64), moving the Jets into the top-10 in team scoring. Laine, 18, finished his rookie season with 36 goals. Scheifele, 24, is seventh in NHL scoring and reached the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career. Ehlers, 21, jumped to 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) in his second NHL season after finishing with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 2015-16. On defense, Trouba had an NHL career-high 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists), and rookie Josh Morrissey turned into a top-pair defenseman.

-- Scott Billeck

Video: WPG@STL: Laine pads lead with his second of the game

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