There were four teams that made the playoffs during the 2021-2022 season that did not make the postseason the year before — the New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, and Los Angeles Kings.
While there tend to be teams that have established a certain level of play year-in and year-out, there is typically some change in the playoff picture every year. Improved health, a hot goaltender, or a new coach are a few of the reasons that a team might suddenly improve enough to get into the playoffs after missing the year before.
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Last Friday, we highlighted three teams that could miss the playoffs next season. Now, here are three teams that could make the jump into the playoffs next season:
Vegas Golden Knights
This is the absolute mildest of possible bold predictions for a team that might make the playoffs next season. Last season, for the first time in their franchise history, the Golden Knights missed the playoffs. They fired head coach Peter DeBoer and replaced him with Bruce Cassidy, but coaching was not the big letdown for Vegas in 2021-2022. It was injuries.
Vegas still has all of the elements needed to not only be a playoff team but a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They just need to stay healthy. A full season of Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, and Max Pacioretty can go a long way, and the Golden Knights have a deep enough roster that there will be real disappointment if they somehow miss the playoffs again in 2022-2023.
New Jersey Devils
Now this is a bold prediction.
Goaltending sunk the Devils’ season in 2021-2022, but their underlying numbers were decent, controlling 49.5% of 5v5 score-and-venue-adjusted shot attempts and 50.7% of expected goals.
This bold prediction is based on the expectation that the Devils can find an answer in goal and that some of their young stars can continue their ascent. Most notably, 21-year-old center Jack Hughes is ready to make the leap to stardom after scoring 56 points in 49 games last season. A healthy Hughes could push for 100 points and drag this team into the playoffs.
Admittedly, it is a big ask for New Jersey to go from a 63-point season to qualifying for the playoffs. But as we know, goaltending can make a massive difference and the Devils ranked 31st last season with a .881 save percentage. Just getting league-average goaltending should give the Devils a chance at the postseason, a place that they have visited once in the past 10 seasons.
The Canucks barely missed the postseason in 2021-2022, finishing five points behind Nashville for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. However, they played at a 106-point pace under Bruce Boudreau after he replaced Travis Green as head coach on Dec. 5.
It’s not like all was well under Boudreau. The Canucks were on the wrong end of the possession game, controlling 49.6% of 5v5 score-and-venue-adjusted shot attempts and 49% of expected goals, but they also got first-rate goaltending from Thatcher Demko. Having a legitimate starting goaltender is part of the reason to like the Canucks’ chances.
A complicating factor for the Canucks is that there are rumors of a possible J.T. Miller trade and that would likely hurt their chances. However, the Canucks have already re-signed Brock Boeser, inked Russian free agent Andrei Kuzmenko, and have a core built around Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat, and Quinn Hughes. That might just be enough to get Vancouver into the playoffs, something that they have accomplished just once in the past seven seasons.