Without delving into statistics and salary-capology, here’s what it will take to get the NHL’s Canada-based teams back into the playoffs next year:
Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs simply need time. Making the playoffs next year would be a minor miracle. Yes they say they’re on their program, have the coach in place, and are pleased with their young prospects, but a playoff spot in year two of this rebuild, year one after the gutting, is simply unrealistic. For all intents and purposes this an expansion team with really high priced, high profile management.
Ottawa Senators –They need another versatile blue liner to add depth, right after they find another top-two center. This team isn’t strong enough up the middle. Find a forward or two to tally as many points as your Norris Trophy D-man and you’re laughing. Well, that’s if you also fix a bad power play and an even worse penalty kill. They can still be a bubble team if some key forwards stay healthy (see MacArthur and Turris).
Montreal Canadiens – Hard to believe this team is so dysfunctional without Carey Price. Yes, we know, he’s the best at the most important position, but a lack of depth AND leadership was exposed this season. Center or a wing, I’m not convinced on Alex Galchenyuk, and who really knows how P.K. Subban is in the room, other than those in the room. My concern here long term is the all-important 4 C’s in hockey: character, chemistry, commitment, coaching. They all lead to the other one: confidence.
Winnipeg Jets – Lack of discipline includes being stupid as it relates to infractions and to not sticking to the game plan. Discipline to systems is as important as anything, just ask coach Claude Julien in Boston. He’s survived on it. Determining whether the future is now for goalie Connor Hellebuyck and if he’s the real deal would help a lot. This budget team needs to replace an Andrew Ladd and discover their team leadership. Lots of RFA’s; lots of work to do.
Calgary Flames – Please, stop the goaltending merry-go-round, the fans are getting nauseous. They made their own bed and established bad net minding karma by keeping three around at the start of the season. Hopefully, now, the answer to this question is Joni Ortio. Looks like it. How about him and just one other guy next season. Like the line-up, love the blue line, could add another forward. Is there a donkey or two in this room? That never helps.
Edmonton Oilers – Until they unload some young, dead weight from the front end, and re-build the back-end, forget-about-it. Playoff hopes here lie with one man; GM Peter Chiarelli. OK, two. Connor McDavid healthy for a whole season could be everything they need. Start adding some proper pieces and they could be downright dangerous.
Vancouver Canucks – Your two leading scorers will be 36-years old. It’s easier to list what this roster lacks than what it possesses in terms of characteristics and qualities needed to win. There are some youngsters getting experience in the line-up but they’re not talented enough on their own or developing fast enough to make the difference for 2017.
Best bets to get back in 2017 postseason: Montreal in the East and Calgary in the West. No guarantees.