A few things happened in the NHL this year that have not been seen in a very long time. First and foremost, the Detroit Red Wings streak of 25 consecutive years in the playoffs came to an end. Second, the Edmonton Oilers are back in the playoffs after ten years sitting on the sidelines. These playoffs will certainly be very different for fans. Younger fans have never experienced the Red Wings vying for a lottery pick and most do not remember the Oilers playing in the postseason. With these streaks ending, it is a perfect time to look at teams that have been mired in a playoff drought. Let’s start off with teams that have recently fallen short and work our way to teams that have really missed the thrill of the playoffs for a long time. A quick note about this article is that it has been constructed with teams that have missed the playoffs for two or more consecutive years. Teams that have missed the playoffs in the past, but are in a playoff spot currently, are not counted in this article.
Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks: Two Years
The Winnipeg Jets are going on year two without their infamous white out. Out of all the teams in the league, this has one of the most intense fan bases. They pack the MTS Centre and literally raise the volume to a crazy level. It is one of the most fun organizations to watch during the post season. Looking at this roster at the beginning of the year, there was a lot of young talent. Guys like Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck, and Nikolaj Ehlers were expected to lead this team to the promised land. Inconsistency and lack of a true starting goalie overshadowed them the whole year. They just could not put it all together. Is it the coach? Is it the core group of players or is it the team leaders? It could be all of these things with the core leaders not getting their message across along with the coaching staff. One thing this organization has going forward is its depth of player talent. Eric Comrie, Kyle Connor, Nicolas Petan are but a few names on the list. These players are going to be amazing to watch once they get to the NHL. This organization has a really bright future. It is just a matter of time before they put it all together on a consistent basis and get back to the playoffs.
Sometimes it is hard to predict what Jim Benning is going to do with the Vancouver Canucks. Are they going to do a rebuild? Load up for the playoffs? Try a band-aid fix with his club? These types of questions have been around this Vancouver organization for quite some time now. This year’s trade deadline was marginally better compared to last year’s deadline as they moved some of their UFAs but the regular season has been a grind for this fan base and club. They have two legendary players in the Sedin twins but after that it is tough to see what this club has to offer in the near future. On the bright side, they have guys like Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko, and Olli Juolevi making strides but after that, it is a lot of average players and prospects. There is a lot of uncertainty with this club and with no clear direction, it is going to be a while before they make it back into the playoffs.
Colorado Avalanche: Three Years
The only bright spot with this organization going forward is their All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon and probably the No.1 overall draft pick this year. This team went from the playoffs a couple of years ago, to a team that looks like one of the worst teams in the past 20 years. There are a lot of holes to fill for General Manager Joe Sakic. Trade rumors still surround their captain Gabriel Landeskog and super star Matthew Duchene. If these trades happen, it will officially kick this rebuild into action. This organization needs to gather prospects and assets. When you look at the cupboard, it is pretty bare. They have an older defense core and a goalie in Semyon Varlamov who has not returned to form ever since the last time they made the playoffs. It all started with the Ryan O’Reilly deal and it has been downhill ever since, and they miss O’Reilly badly. Not only to mention that their former head coach, Patrick Roy, walked out right before training camp. The organization was doomed from the start. They need to be in full rebuild mode. Sakic has his hands full and it will be fun to watch if one of his two super stars gets dealt and how long this rebuild will take. Just at a glance, it will take a long time to put out this dumpster fire in Denver.
New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes: Five Years
The Devils have not been in the playoffs since they reached the cup final against the Kings in 2012. In fact, they seem to be going backwards. If there is a team with misfortune it is the Devils. Zach Parise went back home to Minnesota after the 2012 season and Ilya Kovalchuk decided to go back to Russia after the 2013 season. The club relied on both players heavily to get wins season after season. Once they left, the team went from an average club to one that struggles year after year. Cory Schneider had an off-year this year but has been the only bright spot on the team. They lack depth on the wings and have no top tiered prospects. What they do have is solid goaltending prospects in Mackenzie Blackwood, Scott Wedgewood, and Ken Appleby. Under the mentorship of Schneider, one of these goalies will make it big time in the NHL and everyone knows that to win a cup you need solid goaltending. This organization just needs a better group of forwards and defensemen. The club still has a couple more years in this rebuild.
Similar to the Devils, the Arizona Coyotes made a good playoff showing in 2012 but they have been on the decline ever since. They have good young assets in Max Domi, Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Lawson Crouse, and Jakob Chychrun to name a few. They also have a young GM in John Chyka who has had a rocky start to his career in Arizona, making some rookie mistakes. One of those would be declining to trade Radim Vrbata when he was a UFA and there was a market for him. Lucky for them, the Coyotes will have another high draft pick this year. The parts are there for this club, it is a matter time before the youth mature. However, the biggest thing hanging over this club is where are they going to play in the future. As of now, the Coyotes have no place to play in the near future and the league wants to build a new rink with tax payer money. This has sparked a debate between the state legislature and the NHL. That is a huge problem. Could they be on the move? It might happen but hopefully not. The future is bright for this team but it will happen more in the distant future and maybe not under the desert sun.
Buffalo Sabres: Six Years
What a long road it has been for the Sabres. Many people and experts thought this team was going to take the next step in their rebuild. They never did this year. It all started with losing their star forward, Jack Eichel, at the beginning of the season due to an ankle injury. Frustrations mounted as their team was inconsistent despite having so much talent. This team has a solid forward core but needs another defenseman and a goalie that can be relied upon. When you look at the defense it is not that good beyond Rasmus Ristolainen, Dimitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian who have had off years themselves. And when it comes to goaltending you can get the good Lehner or the bad Lehner. They have committed to Robin Lehner while giving up a lot for him in the trade with Ottawa; he needs time to develop. I would expect to see another trade for a defenseman or a signing of one in the offseason. It can only help this club. Maybe one more year of maturity will help this young group. With this talent alone, you can expect them to contend for a playoff spot either next year or the year after.
Carolina Hurricanes: Seven Years
Out of all the teams mentioned here, this club surprisingly is the closest to the playoffs. The youth movement in Carolina has taken effect this year. No one foresaw this team coming on so late in the year and making a push but they have. If there are things for opposing teams to exploit, it is the Hurricanes absence of consistent goaltending and an impact star forward. Cam Ward and Eddie Lack have both had their fair share of starts but have not looked like the “go to guy.” Eddie Lack was even called out by his own coach to get his act together. On the flip side, he has been battling injuries this year and lately his game was turning around. Maybe sometimes a good call out can get your game going again. When you look at this forward core, there is no one big standout player. They have young players that need time to develop, but if this team wants to make the playoffs in the future, they need a true star. The bright star of this team now is their defense core. They have drafted so well over the past years with defensemen and they are reaping the rewards now. Players like Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, and Jaccob Slavin have played great hockey and are the reason this team is in the hunt this year. Defense wins games and it is showing now with this final push for the playoffs. If they can upgrade and get a star forward and a consistent true starting goalie, this team can be a serious threat next year or in the coming years.
Those are the teams that have not made the playoffs in a long time. Many of these clubs are trending in the wrong direction and it does not look good. Overall, the upcoming playoffs will be fun to watch especially with different teams in the mix. Detroit had their fun but now Edmonton gets their chance. It will be interesting to see what moves these teams make in the off season to get them back into the playoffs. This just creates more races and intensity for the fans. That’s all fans can ask for.