Missing the playoffs – no matter which team you are – feels bad but if there is one thing the NHL is not short on, its parity. Any team always has a shot to win no matter the apparent circumstances. Last year the Vegas Golden Knights made a run to the Cup finals after having 200-1 chances at the beginning of the season. Every team knows that all you have to do is make it to the playoffs to have a shot at hockey’s biggest prize.
These are three teams that missed out on the playoffs in 2018 and should return to the tournament come the spring of 2019.
3 NHL Teams That Will Return to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Calgary Flames – Last Season: 5th in the Pacific Division (84 points)
The Flames have failed to consistently make the playoffs since the Jarome Iginla era ended. Thier last seasons in which they made the playoffs in back-to-back years were from 2008-2009. They have made the playoffs twice since then but one was in a year in 2015 where they were still dealing with a full roster turnover and the other was in 2017 where they were swept by the Ducks in the first round. However, 2019 looks like the year that the Flames take another step forward as a team no longer in a rebuilding phase.
General Manager Brad Treliving decided he was not satisfied with the roster the Flames had assembled recently and opted to make a bold trade that saw a significant swap of stars. Treliving shipped one of the NHL’s top-20 defenceman in Dougie Hamilton to Carolina for a package of former 5th-overall picks, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. At first glance, it seems like an odd move for the Flames but it is because they badly need scoring. This is why they brought in James Neal as well. Calgary finished 27th in league-wide goals-for last season and had the third-worst goal differential in the western conference.
In order for Calgary to succeed in 2019, they will need contributions from each of the new players they’ve brought in. Neal may be getting older but he has still never netted less than 20 goals in a single season while Lindholm should compliment the ever-steady Mikael Backlund nicely. Hanifin is still just 21 years old and if he has a breakout offensive year, could push his 2019 point total from 32 in 2018 to 40+. As long as Mike Smith can have a bounce-back year in net, the Flames will be a much-improved team in 2018-19.
Florida Panthers – Last Season: 4th in the Atlantic Division (96 Points)
Florida was the best team in the NHL that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. They’re young, they’re quick, and can play at both ends of the ice. The Panthers missed the playoffs in 2018 by a single point despite winning their last five games of the year. In 2019, it shouldn’t come down to the wire. The Panthers play in perhaps the best division in all of Hockey but should perform the same way they played after the all-star break in 2018 for all of 2019.
The offseason acquisitions weren’t huge for Florida but the one that stuck out was the addition of Mike Hoffman via Ottawa. Hoffman’s addition to an already deep top-six gives the Panthers one of the best and highest producing groups in the entire NHL. Couple this with the fact that Owen Tippett – the Panthers 3rd-overall pick from 2017 – could be ready to step into the NHL to begin next season with the big-league club and you get a team that could compete for the most goal production in the NHL. With the addition of Hoffman, five of the Panthers top-six forwards scored 56+ points last season.
Florida will have dependable scoring but what will determine the limit of their success is their defending. Roberto Luongo is now 39 years old but is coming off a very solid season in which he posted a .929 SV% and 2.47 GAA in 35 games. The defence needs to be just a bit better in front of the veteran goalie and with the addition of ex-KHLer Bogdan Kiselevich, the defensive core should be just a bit more stable than it was at the beginning of last season. Kiselevich plays a very defensive game and if he can adjust comfortably to the NHL style of play, could be the optimal grinding/penalty-killing option the Panthers need.
St. Louis Blues – Last Season: 5th in the Central Division (94 Points)
In a surprising offseason twist, the Blues decided to make a handful of moves indicating that they want to go all in on the next couple of seasons. Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years in 2018, management decided to move dollars and draft picks in order to acquire talent that is ready to win now. The Blues moved both a first and second round pick, along with a couple regulars in their starting lineup, in order to acquire the two-way standout centre, Ryan O’Reilly. They also threw down 10.75 million dollars to sign the free agent trio of Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and Patrick Maroon.
The drastic amount of moves will be force the Blues into a position where a lot of new faces are going to jumble up the lines that have been so promising on the team for so long. However, it also does spread out the talent and make St. Louis a far deeper team. Each of the Blues top-three lines has players that have proven they can eclipse the 60-point mark as well as players that can come back and play a bit of defence. This instead will give St. Louis a line-A and line-B concept instead of one scoring heavy top-line with all the offensive weapons like in 2017-18.
St. Louis may have missed the playoffs last year but that was no thanks to their solid defence. The Blues actually finished the year allowing the sixth-least goals in the league and only got better defensively with the two centres they picked up in the offseason. There is not one place in the Blues lineup that shows a lack of ability to score and if they continue their good defensive trend from last year, should make a push for the top of the Central Division in 2019.