The Vegas Golden Knights (expansion team), Colorado Avalanche (last place in the NHL by 21 points the previous season), and the New Jersey Devils (won the draft lottery the previous April) all shocked the hockey world last season by making the postseason after horrible (or non-existent) season’s the prior year. The same thing happened with the Toronto Maple Leafs (won the draft lottery the previous April and were in last place in the NHL in 2015-16) and Edmonton Oilers (second-to-last in the NHL that season) in 2016-17 after dreadful seasons. In this article, NoVa Caps looks at some of the biggest longshot teams to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though it doesn’t mean that we think those teams will make the playoffs.
The Sabres were dead last in the NHL with 62 points last season and have not made the postseason for seven seasons but there is reason to be optimistic about this team if you’re a Buffalo fan. The Sabres selected defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who recorded seven goals, 20 points, and a +4 in 41 games in the Swedish Hockey League, with the No. 1 overall pick, and acquired forwards Conor Sheary, who mostly was a first-line forward with Sidney Crosby with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Jeff Skinner, a three-time 30-goal scorer with the Carolina Hurricanes. They also signed goaltender Carter Hutton, who led the NHL with a .931 save percentage and a 2.09 goals against average, to a three-year contract with the team after going 17-7-3 with the St. Louis Blues last season to bolster their goaltending. The Sabres have some great cornerstones with center Jack Eichel, who led the team with 25 goals and 64 points, forward Casey Mittlestadt, who tallied five points in six games to end the season after signing with the Sabres in March, and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who recorded six goals and 41 points last season. If Hutton can provide the goaltending he was able to last year with the Blues and Skinner and Mittlestadt provide consistent scoring for this team, then they could be a playoff team this season. It is also important to note that the past two draft lottery winners made the playoffs the following season.
The Coyotes got off to a horrific start, going 12-32-9 in their first 53 games (including 0-10-1 in their first 11 games), but turned it around, going 17-9-3 in their final 29 games (a .637 points percentage). Had they gone on that pace all season, they would have had 105 points, good for second in the Pacific Division and only four points behind the Golden Knights for first. With the additions of center Alex Galchenyuk, who tallied 19 goals and 51 points in 82 games for the Montreal Canadiens last season, and forward Michael Grabner, who had back-to-back 27 goal campaigns with the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils the past two seasons. They also have an underrated blueline, which is led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who signed an eight-year contract extension this summer. The Coyotes also have Jason Demers, who had six goals and 20 points last season, Nicklas Hjalmarsson, if he can stay healthy, and Alex Goligoski, who had 12 goals and 35 points last season, on defense. Antti Raanta, who was second in the NHL with a .930 save percentage and a 2.24 GAA behind Hutton, signed a three-year contract extension with Arizona on April 6. The Coyotes also have Calder Trophy nominee Clayton Keller, who led the team with 23 goals and 65 points last season. If the Coyotes can put it together for a full season, look out.
The Oilers had a disappointing season after coming in at the second divisional spot in the Pacific Division with 103 points in 2016-17. Edmonton boasts the back-to-back Art Ross Trophy winner, Connor McDavid, who tallied 41 goals and 108 goals last season after he had 30 goals and 100 points the prior year. The Oilers also have Leon Draisaitl, who tallied 25 goals and 70 points in 78 games and was on pace for 74 points if he had played a full season. If Milan Lucic (10 goals and 34 points), Ryan Strome (13 goals and 34 points), Oscar Klefbom (five goals and 21 points) can step up and Cam Talbot can get back to the goalie that tied Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby that tied the NHL lead two seasons ago after going 31-31-3 with a .908 save percentage and a 3.02 GAA last season, then the Oilers will become the Stanley Cup contender they thought they would be last season this season. In order to do that, they must tighten up their defense after allowing the seventh most goals in the NHL (263) last season and produce on the power play after ranking 31st with a 14.8 efficiency unit. In the offseason, the Oilers added forward Kyle Brodziak and defensemen Jakub Jerabek and Kevin Gravel to add depth to their roster. With lower expectations, unlike last offseason, the Oilers could potentially thrive.
By Harrison Brown