Coaching camps are normally a time of optimism. Each crew believes it has an opportunity to make the playoffs. This yr, with 24 groups within the post-season, that optimism has by no means been larger as camps open up on Monday following a four-month break due to the coronavirus.
However with optimism comes heightened expectations.
Right here’s a have a look at every of the 24 groups and the distinctive pressures they face:
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
After three straight seasons of getting bounced within the first spherical, no crew has extra to show than the Leafs, who’re paying Mitch Marner, John Tavares and Auston Matthews more cash than another participant within the league. In the event that they don’t get previous the Blue Jackets, GM Kyle Dubas, who fired head coach Mike Babcock, will discover himself within the crosshairs.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
The bitterness of final yr’s first-round sweep continues to be lingering within the mouths of the Lightning, who have been certainly one of two groups that have been in opposition to this 24-team format. Because the Cup favourites, they should go deep. Something much less might value Jon Cooper his job as head coach.
Boston misplaced in Recreation 7 of final yr’s last and was the very best crew within the league when the season was placed on maintain due to the coronavirus. With an ageing roster (this may very well be Zdeno Chara’s final yr), the Bruins’ window on successful one other championship is closing.
On paper, the Penguins have the best play-in spherical opponent. However in actuality, no crew needs to face Carey Worth and the “nothing-to-lose” Habs. If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can’t get previous Montreal, which completed with 15 fewer factors within the common season, they’ll by no means hear the top of it.
Neglect about what we could have considered Edmonton firstly of the season. With Leon Draisaitl rising as a Hart Trophy favorite and Connor McDavid ending second in scoring, it is a superb crew. The query is whether or not the Oilers are mature sufficient to get previous a veteran Chicago crew. If not, it may very well be an extended post-season as another crew wins the Stanley Cup in Edmonton’s yard.
If not for Tampa Bay falling flat on its face, we’d be speaking much more about Calgary’s disappointing first-round exit a yr in the past. Keep in mind: this was the very best crew within the West. The items are nonetheless there to be the very best. But when they’ll’t win at an important time of the yr — even when it’s in opposition to the Jets — then modifications may very well be coming.
The highest-spending crew within the NHL pushed in all its chips this yr by buying Phil Kessel in the summertime and Taylor Corridor in December. Up to now, the outcomes haven’t been what anybody anticipated. With Corridor doubtlessly gone after the season, Arizona wants a deep run to justify the cash was nicely spent.
The Capitals gained their first Stanley Cup two years in the past. But when Alex Ovechkin hopes to get his face on the Mount Rushmore of hockey, he could must win one other one earlier than his profession is finished.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Growth franchises not often really feel the stress to win this early. However a visit to the Cup last in Yr One sped issues up. The truth that head coach Gerard Gallant was fired after the crew hit a mini velocity bump in December tells you all it’s good to know in regards to the win-now mentality in Vegas.
The Panthers haven’t gained a playoff spherical since 2012. In the event that they hope to alter that then Sergei Bobrovsky should begin incomes his $10-million wage. If not, then it may very well be an extended six extra years for the two-time Vezina Trophy winner.
There comes a time when each younger franchise has to take that step ahead. However with Cale Makar in his rookie season and prime prospect Bowen Byram nonetheless taking part in main junior, the considering is the Avs are one other yr or two away from that time.
The truth that GM David Poile fired a head coach for less than the second time in 21 years means that the stress to win in Nashville has by no means been larger.
These bunch of jerks are attempting to make the precise playoffs for the second yr in a row — one thing they’ve by no means completed within the historical past of the franchise. In the event that they don’t, they’ll relaxation simple figuring out that 5 of their top-7 scorers are 25 years outdated or youthful.
It’s been greater than a decade since Dallas superior previous the second spherical of the playoffs. However with 11 gamers who’re over the age of 30 — together with Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, who’re each 35 years outdated — there’s no telling whether or not the four-month pause will assist or harm a Stars crew that had been fading down the stretch.
The Jets acquired defenceman Dylan DeMelo and centre Cody Eakin on the commerce deadline for what that they had hoped can be an extended playoff run. However first, they should get previous the Flames. For that to occur, the stress is on goalie Connor Hellebuyck to proceed to play at a Vezina Trophy stage.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
They gained their first ever Stanley Cup a yr in the past, so the Blues might get swept within the first spherical and followers would nonetheless be within the streets singing Gloria.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
In a season the place they misplaced extra man-games to damage than another crew — and to gamers, akin to Seth Jones, who have been integral to their success — it’s superb that the Blues Jackets have been even within the playoff image when the season was halted. Now that everybody is wholesome, nobody is aware of what to anticipate.
The truth that the Wild employed the Canucks’ former director of novice scouting this week is an indicator that the crew is focusing extra on the draft than planning the Stanley Cup parade route.
Nobody can be stunned if Chicago, which has a core that has gained three Stanley Cups collectively, upset Edmonton within the play-in spherical. In the event that they don’t, then perhaps the Blackhawks can get round to that rebuild they’ve been pushing aside.
The Flyers wouldn’t be the place they’re with out 21-year-old goalie Carter Hart, who seemed just like the second coming of Carey Worth this season. And whereas the playoffs could make or break a goalie in Philadelphia, followers might be forgiving — no less than, we hope — if he ought to falter.
That is the primary post-season look for Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes. With Pettersson and Hughes nonetheless on their entry-level contracts, their window on successful could by no means be this broad open. On the similar time, it’s not closing anytime quickly.
No crew has much less on the road than the Habs. In the event that they win, it’s a bonus since nobody anticipated them to be within the playoffs within the first place. In the event that they lose within the play-in spherical, they may very nicely find yourself with the No. 1 decide and an opportunity to draft Alexis Lafreniere.
NEW YORK RANGERS
As a crew, the re-tooling Rangers will not be underneath stress. However for Henrik Lundqvist, who’s reign as a No. 1 goalie appears to be coming to an finish, this may very well be his final probability to steer the crew to glory.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Stress? The crew continues to be taking part in with home cash after dropping John Tavares to free company a yr in the past.