The first round of the NHL Playoffs has concluded and the action did not disappoint. The play picked up to the norm of playoff hockey after teams shook off the rust in the qualifying round. Twenty-two teams made it to the bubble and now eight teams remain alive as the playoffs start. Let’s see how those teams stack up and next year’s expectations for the eliminated teams.
Expectations for Eliminated Teams
St. Louis Blues
The defending champions underperformed mightly during the NHL restart. They went 0-4 in the qualifying round and then lost to the Vancouver Canucks in six games. However, the Blues are a well-built veteran team that should compete for the Stanley Cup next year. Look for the Blues to bounce back next season and reach the playoffs once again and make a deep postseason run.
The Calgary Flames lost in six games to a talented Dallas Stars team. Next season the Flames will return almost all of their high-powered offense. They will look to improve their defensive core, as Mark Giordano is getting old and is not the dominant player that he once was. I expect the Flames to be in the playoff hunt again next season.
The Coyotes benefitted from the twenty-four team restart, as they would have not made the playoffs with the typical sixteen team format. The Coyotes were able to upset the Nashville Predators in the qualifying round to reach the playoffs, but they did not have enough firepower to compete with Colorado. They have a big decision in the offseason with the hopeful resigning of forward Taylor Hall. If Hall resigns expect the Coyotes to compete for a playoff spot, if not they could be in for a tough season.
The Blackhawks are another team that benefitted from the twenty-four team restart, as they would have not made the playoffs with the typical sixteen team format. The Blackhawks were able to upset the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying series, but their weaknesses showed in their series to Las Vegas. The Blackhawks will be a fringe playoff team next season, however, if their defense improves they should be able to capture a playoff spot.
The Canadiens are yet another team that benefitted from the twenty-four team restart, as they would have not made the playoffs with the typical sixteen team format. They upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round but were dominated by the Flyers in the first round. Their progression next season and beyond is tied to what Bergevin does to reshape this roster a bit, and if Julien, one of the best coaches in the game, returns to the bench.
The Capitals looked poised to make a deep playoff run this season. However, they ran into a streaking New York Islander squad. Their depth scoring showed to be crucial in their series loss to the Islanders. Their first priority in the offseason is to resign goaltender Braden Holtby. If Holtby does not resign they will have Samsonov as their starting goaltender who is more than capable. No matter who the goaltender is the Capitals should be in the same position as this year.
The Hurricanes looked stronger than any team in the qualifying round but that ran out in the first round against the Bruins. They weren’t able to capitalize on Boston losing Tuuka Rask and not having top-goal scorer David Pastrñak for a couple of games. Considering that there won’t be much turnover, the Canes should be a playoff team. Carolina’s roster is filled with team-friendly contracts, and stars just about to reach their prime.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Once again, the Blue Jackets were giant killers this postseason. Their defensive structure had stifled the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs, but they ran out of steam against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their dynamic goaltending duo will be back for next year as they look to compete for a playoff spot yet again.
8. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks young core kept their hot streak against the St.Louis Blues, as they were able to upset them in six games. Their young core will need to keep up the high-level of play against the Golden Knights, who have looked to be the most complete team so far in the bubble.
7. New York Islanders
The Islanders easily took care of the Capitals in the first round. The Islanders have to be the hottest team in the restart. Their offense looked better, but still not at the level that they expect. They will ride their stellar defensive play and hope the offense comes around in their second-round series against the Flyers.
6. Dallas Stars
Dallas got the much needed secondary scoring in the first round. Their defense and goaltending remained solid throughout the first round. Tyler Seguin and Jaime Benn had a great series against the Flames. The Stars will need the secondary scoring to continue, as well as the high-level of play from Seguin and Benn.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers kept the momentum on their side with making easy work of the Canadiens in the first round. The Flyers have a skilled, deep, and tough team that seems to but they never take their foot off the pedal. The Flyers will look to cool off the Islanders and advance to the Conference Finals.
4. Boston Bruins
The Bruins were able to overcome the loss of Tuuka Rask, as he left the bubble for family reasons, and David Pastrñak, who was injured after celebrating in game one. The Bruins finally looked like the team that dominated the regular season. They face the Lightning in the second round, who will be looking to prove that they can play in the postseason.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay made quick work of the Blue Jackets in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. This Lightning team is tougher and scrappier than the normal Lightning team. They look ready for a tough matchup against the Bruins in a series that looks like it could go to seven games.
2. Colorado Avalanche
The Avs showed their offensive firepower in the first round against the Coyotes, by scoring twenty-three goals in five games. If they can keep up their offensive juggernaut they will be a scary team to face in the next couple of rounds.
1. Las Vegas Golden Knights
Las Vegas has looked to be the most complete team since the NHL restarted. The Golden Knights made quick work of the Blackhawks in the first round. They got top goal-scorer Max Pacioretty in the last series, which makes this team even scarier than it already was. The Golden Knights look like the favorites to win the Western Conference and compete for their first Stanley Cup to add to their short franchise history.