Leafs: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Kyle Dubas should heed the words of fellow Toronto manager, Masai Ujiri and realize that things need to change in Toronto. His tone-deaf end of season press conference should have fans at least a little worried. This is a team that has monster offensive talent but is flawed in many ways and not built to win in the playoffs. Poor defense, lack of depth and inability to play physical hockey have plagued them year in and year out and you can’t just run it back with the same core again and expect things to change.
Penguins: Has the window really closed? It feels almost crazy to say but after a decade and half this Penguins group may not be contenders anymore. It’s hard to imagine a core that includes Sid and Geno not being threats to win the Cup but after getting swept in the first round last year and knocked out of the play-in round by the 24th seeded Habs this year, it looks like age may finally be catching up to them. Many of their key players are getting deeper into their 30s, the defense is riddled with problems and the goaltending situation isn’t as strong as it once was. The Penguins window feels like it is a light breeze away from shutting down and it’s going to take some pivoting to keep it open.
Panthers: They deserve one more chance to run it back. The Panthers are loaded with underrated talent that gets slept on simply because of the market the play in. Legitimate stars in Barkov and Huberdeau, great depth, solid defense and what should be a star goaltender in Bobrovsky. Bob was supposed to come in and be the missing link but was massively disappointing. If I’m the Panthers I hope that the top three goalie on the planet didn’t just suddenly lose all his talent. I give Bob a chance to return to form next season. Florida should try to upgrade their D core a little bit, but with this same group and with Bobrovsky playing Vezina quality between the pipes like he normally does, this roster is dangerous.
Rangers: The one and only team that has nothing to worry about after being bounced from the bubble. The future is almost blindingly bright for this group. The Rangers were already a team on the rise and they’re about to get significantly better after winning the rights to the first overall pick and young phenom, Alexis Lafrenière. The Rangers are loaded with talent at every position and virtually all their key players are 28 or younger. Shesterkin looks like a star in net, the defense is solid with Trouba and young stars like DeAngelo and Fox and the forward group is going to be one of the most feared in the league with Panarin, Zibanejad, Kakko and Lafrenière.
Jets: The Jets have to be disappointed after getting bounced but this team is going to be back and continue to be a threat to contend. They were really put up against the ropes after losing key players in Scheifele and Laine and were overmatched by Calgary. Hellebuyck is a star in net and the Jets have an embarrassment of riches at forward. They’re still a good group but after a brutal summer last year that saw them lose Byfuglien, Trouba, Myers and Chiarot on defense, an upgrade to the position will make them as big a contender as any team in the league.
Oilers: Ken Holland has a massive mess to clean up from he who shall not be named. The Oilers should continue to make the playoffs but a team that relies so heavily on just a small handful of players is going to have trouble winning playoff hockey. McDavid and Draisaitl are otherworldly and Nuge has quietly been playing like a star but this roster is just flawed. Poor depth, mediocre D without a real cornerstone and subpar goaltending… aside from the centre position this teams needs upgrades throughout the entire roster. Edmonton got knocked out by the 23rd seeded team, a team that shouldn’t even be in the playoffs. It’s delusional to think that this current group could ever hope to be a contender. If you’re a fan or player you’re praying Holland can work some magic here and get a better supporting cast around Edmonton’s big three players.
Wild: The least surprising team to be bounced from the bubble. The Wild have been in the same situation for what feels like a long time. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, but nowhere near good enough to compete with the top teams in the league. They play boring hockey and the roster, while it has some depth just lacks high end talent and big difference makers. They’re not bad but have no one who can take over a game. While they don’t have major weaknesses they don’t really have major strengths either. Minnesota feels a bit stuck in the dreaded world of not good enough to contend, but not bad enough to rebuild.
Predators: I don’t know what it is, but something needs to change here. This roster looks good on paper and has been successful in the past but something just isn’t working in Nashville anymore. The Predators rank mid to low on most metrics in the league in terms of offense, defense and special teams. The goaltending is no longer elite, but it feels like they should be similar to the Blue Jackets, elite D and great depth at forward. Unlike Dubas in Toronto, David Poile has acknowledged that there are problems and that changes will be made, so at least Nashville is acknowledging the challenge and has a willingness to correct it. This one feels trickier to judge in terms of how to pivot, but there’s still a lot of talent here and with the right moves this team can very quickly be competitive again.