When the NHL convinced the NHLPA to return in a bubble this summer, part of the agreement was for an expanded postseason. Just seven teams were actually eliminated, finishing their seasons in early March with no chance at the Stanley Cup.
For many of the players on the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, and Buffalo Sabres, it has already been almost eight months since they last played a competitive hockey game. While those squads may receive some sort of extended training camp, it’s going to be a battle to get back into the postseason in 2021.
Even though it’s tough, that doesn’t mean they won’t give it a try. Many of the seven teams have made major additions this offseason, with some even completing sweeping changes to their roster.
The Ducks, who finished 29-33-9 in 2019-20, had almost no financial flexibility to do anything on the free agent market. Kevin Shattenkirk and Derek Grant were their UFA additions, both coming on three-year deals. They do however have a wave of young talent working its way up the depth chart, which could at any point propel them to success. The same could be said about the Kings, who spent even less in free agency. Los Angeles is just at the start of their rebuild and will hope that top pick Quinton Byfield can make an NHL impact quickly.
The Sharks were one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season, winning just 29 of their 70 games. This was a team that had just gone to the Western Conference Finals in 2019 and was still loaded with household names like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Logan Couture. Goaltending was a huge part of the problem for the Sharks, but bringing in Devan Dubnyk certainly doesn’t guarantee an improvement.
New Jersey had plenty of hype after landing the first-overall pick in 2019 and surrounding him with expensive players like Nikita Gusev and P.K. Subban. When Hughes didn’t immediately set the league on fire, the team couldn’t really compete in a tough Metropolitan Division. This offseason the Devils have landed a proven middle-six winger in Andreas Johnsson, a capable defenseman in Ryan Murray, and a Stanley Cup champion in Corey Crawford to help them get over the hump. Development from Hughes is likely the most important factor here.
The same could be said about the Senators, who have taken an extremely young roster and added veteran pieces all over the ice. Evgenii Dadonov and Matt Murray highlight the additions, though the draft was really where the Senators believe their offseason earned its stripes. It’ll be tough for Ottawa this year, but they’re obviously on the track towards postseason contention.
Detroit is only really a year into their full rebuild and has stripped their roster of any long-term contracts. Sure, they added veterans like Vladislav Namestnikov and Bobby Ryan in free agency, but those both seem more like trade chips than core pieces.
In Buffalo, it’s playoffs-or-bust at this point. The team signed free agent superstar Taylor Hall to a one-year deal, brought Eric Staal away from his home in Minnesota, and added depth up front with pieces like Cody Eakin. New GM Kevyn Adams isn’t focused on a rebuild, he’s focused on getting the Sabres back to for the first time in a decade.
But who actually has the best chance at making the postseason? Cast your vote below and make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments!
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