Five NHL Teams Most Likely To Return To The Playoffs (2019-2020)

With the 2019-2020 NHL season beginning October 2nd, the six and a half month grind will start soon with 31 teams going for the Stanley Cup.

After seeing the St. Louis Blues magical run from last place to winning the Stanley Cup last season, that reminded everybody that if a team can just make the playoffs, anything can happen.

With last season behind us, the teams that missed out last season are looking to crack the top eight in the conference, but some are better prepared than others.

Here are the five teams that seem best equipped to make it back to playoffs this season.

5. Arizona Coyotes

If you stopped paying attention to hockey in January 2019, you’d be shocked to hear two things.

One is that the Blues became the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions, and two, the Arizona Coyotes ended the 2018-19 season four points out of a playoff spot.

For years the Coyotes have been a cellar team in the NHL, trying to develop young players and accepting teams bad contracts to get extra draft picks.

Despite always having a lot of cap space, the team was not able to spend due to unstable finances for the franchise.

However, 2019 seems to be a different story as the Coyotes have handed out several big contracts in the last few months.

Nick Schmaltz, acquired in a trade during last season, was given a seven-year contract worth about 41 million dollars. Schmaltz played well, scoring 14 points in 17 games before getting injured, by the Coyotes trusted what they saw.

More recently the Coyotes extended budding star Clayton Keller to an eight-year, 57.2 million dollar extension. While Keller had a down season in 18-19, the year prior, he scored 65 points, and the team believes he will return to that level.

The two headline a young core of forwards who will be joined by big offseason acquisition, Phil Kessel. Kessel, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, joins the team two years after totaling 92 points. Kessel will be tasked with leading the offense.

The only question about this team will be it’s goaltending as they Coyotes don’t have a bonafide number one goaltender. However, the duo of Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper did well enough last season to get the team close, a similar performance this season, and a healthy season for Raanta could be enough.

With captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson leading a strong core of defensemen, the Coyotes have a real shot at turning the franchise around and making it back to the postseason this year.

4. Florida Panthers

The Panthers could go one of two way this season like any perceived offseason winner could.

The pieces they brought in could mesh nicely with their current core and the team will improve, or backfire and help progress nothing.

However, the offseason moves the Panthers made to get better didn’t start in free agency like most other teams.

April 8, 2019, saw the Panther hire three-time Stanley Cup champion coach Joel Quenneville to be the new head coach.

This move signifies more than just another coaching change for the Panthers, but it signifies an actual culture change as well. With Dale Tallon firmly in position as general manager it allowed the team to finally start moving in a clear direction this offseason, and oh did they make some moves.

The Panthers were able to snag one of the three top free agents from the 2019 NHL free agency class, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Signed to a seven-year, 70 million dollar contract, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner is now tasked with fortifying the net for a team that wants to escape mediocrity and become a bonafide playoff contender.

Joining him were the signings of defenseman Anton Strålman and forward Brett Connolly. Neither are game-changing signings but are two veterans who bring success, and playoff experience with Strålman being on the Lighting this past season as they led the league in points and Connolly helping the Capitals win the Cup in 2018.

The trio will be tasked with helping Floridas’ current core take the next step and bring consistency to the organization.

The team is led offensively by forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, who are both coming off of 90 point seasons. Behind them are forwards Mike Hoffman and Evegenii Dadonov who both totaled 70 points last season, and defenseman Keith Yandle, who bounced back with a 62 point season in 18-19.

The Panthers are no slouches when it comes to having good individual players, their fault has more so been the team as a whole not coming together when it’s mattered most the past few seasons.

However, with additions of one of the better goaltenders in the league and experienced depth players, the Panthers have the pieces in place to start their new culture on the right foot and make the playoffs this season.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

Like they have for the past decade the Blackhawks will look to franchise forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to lead the team this season as they look to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

This time though, Kane and Toews look to have plenty of help behind them.

While last season was not a banner year for the Blackhawks, the team had many positives to look at.

Forward Alex Debrincat exploded in his second season by scoring 41 goals and helping a powerplay that needed a lot of help. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson had a career year by totaling 60 points and bounce-back seasons from veterans Brent Seabrook and Brandon Saad.

The team even made out great in the Nick Schmaltz deal by getting back Dylan Strome and Brandan Perlini. Strome revitalized his young career after being traded to the Hawks as he totaled 51 points in 58 games, and while Perlini didn’t have the same kind of season as Strome, he has the chance this year to make his own impact on the team.

Unlike years past the Hawks made an emphasis going back to the middle of last season to make moves to add depth to the roster.

Acquisitions like Darke Caggiula and Ryan Carpenter and the call up of David Kämpf adds much-needed depth to the forward core. The team also addressed its defensemen core with unexpected trades for Calvin De Haan and Oli Määttä. The two of them are not stars but are solid puck-moving defenseman who will solidify the core.

The biggest issue for the team the last two seasons as ultimately been the health of longtime starter Corey Crawford. His season-ending injuries the last few years have derailed the Hawks, but this time the team has an insurance policy or two.

Prospect Colin Delia played well last season and earned a three-year extension and will help whenever the Hawks need him. The team also signed Robin Lehner to a one-year, low-risk deal. Lehner played a big role in helping the Islanders get to the second round in the 2019 playoffs.

With a good mix of experienced veterans and young players, as well as the best depth they’ve had in a few seasons, the Hawks are poised to make it back to the playoffs in 2020 and try to make the next decade as succesful as this past one was.

2. Philadelphia Flyers

There are two things that highlighted the Flyers 2018-19 season, mascot sensation Gritty, and the lack of goaltending consistency.

The Flyers had an NHL record eight different goalies started at least one game last season.

This obviously wasn’t by choice, a combination of poor play and injuries led to the Flyers wild goaltending situation last season, one they hope fixes itself this upcoming season.

Highly touted prospect Carter Hart, one of their eight starters last season, now enters his first full season at the NHL level. The young goalie was called up around the middle of last season and played well in his time, going 16-13-1 with a save percentage of .917.

With veteran goaltender Brian Elliot in net as well, the Flyers will look to the two of them to stabilize the teams’ defense, while the rest of the team looks to bounce back.

Veteran forwards and leaders Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux had down years compared to their 17-18 campaigns, and other forwards like Travis Konecny and James Van Riemsdyk had solid but not spectacular seasons.

While goaltending was the main issue last season for the Flyers, another was the fact that their group of young players haven’t taken that next step yet.

Former No.2 overall pick Nolan Patrick has yet to have his breakout season, young defenseman Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere both went down in scoring and had bad +/- ratings and as of this moment, Provorov isn’t even signed yet.

While this might seem like negatives for the team it also can turn into positives.

With not as many veteran forwards as previous seasons, Patrick has the chance this year to break out, the team also has a great center duo in Sean Couturier and newly acquired Kevin Hayes. With plenty of offensive players around him, Patrick could shine this season as either a playmaker or a goal scorer.

While Provorov and Gostisbehere had down years, the team will hope that the 18-19 was just a down year for all and that they will bounce back (and of course sign Provorov).

Overall the Flyers have the talent on paper to stack up well in a wide-open eastern conference, and

1. Montreal Canadiens

The last few years have been quite a whirlwind for the Montreal Canadiens.

After dealing with issues such as injuries to franchise goaltender Carey Price and trading away P.K. Subban, and several questionable moves in years past, the team may have helped build itself back into being a playoff-caliber team.

Missing out on last seasons’ playoffs by three points may have been hard to deal with but the team learned a lot of things about itself last season.

Max Domi had a career year as he totaled 72 points for the team after being labeled a bust with the Coyotes. Jonathan Drouin upped his point totals and +/- in year two with the team and rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi played well as an 18-year-old rookie, despite concerns that he may have been brought up too quickly.

The team also benefited from good seasons from Tomas Tatar, whom they acquired via trade last offseason and Phillip Danault, who had a career-high 53 points in his third full season with the team.

The key to last season was the improvement of their defensive core that aided in the bounce-back year for franchise goalie Carey Price.

Price struggled mightly during the 17-18 season, posting a horrible 16-26-7 record in part due to the team struggling offensively and being terrible on defense.

While they weren’t elite last season, they improved just enough to help Price have a 35-24-6 record in 18-19, and if they can make another jump this season, while also seeing some of their other young players like Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen be NHL ready this season the Canadiens could be a dangerous team come playoff time.

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