Which NHL teams that missed the playoffs are getting back this season?
I see three obvious candidates and a few potential wild cards.
Every year there is always at least some turnover when it comes to the NHL’s 16 playoff teams. It is never the exact same field two years in a row and it is usually multiple teams that get in.
In 2022-23 we had New Jersey, Winnipeg, the New York Islanders and Seattle all make that jump.
When looking ahead to the 2023-24 season I see three teams that have a great chance to rebound this season, and two potential wild card teams that should at least be in serious contention for a playoff spot.
Let’s get into it.
Who is definitely bouncing back to make the playoffs
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
This was arguably the most disappointing team in the NHL during the 2022-23 season and it was a testament to how poorly of a job the previous front office of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke did in constructing a roster.
How do you get completely, fully healthy seasons from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, still have them play at a high level, and still miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade-and-a-half?
Staggering incompetence. That is how.
The Penguins still had a chance to make the 16-team field over the final week of the season if they could have simply beaten two awful teams in Chicago and Columbus. They ended up losing both. And while the players on the ice deserve their fair share of blame for losing those two teams, the simple reality is the players on the ice were not very good and were put in a position to need to win those two games by a front office that had no idea what it was doing.
Now there is a new front office in town, and new general manager Kyle Dubas has overhauled nearly half of the roster in one offseason, with the most significant addition being reigning Norris Trophy winner and future Hall of Fame defenseman Erik Karlsson.
That alone could be a game-changer for the Penguins, and he seems like a perfect fit for the way they play and the type of talent they still have around him.
It is not reasonable to expect Crosby and Malkin to both play 82 games again (mainly because they have only done that in the same season one time in their entire careers) but you should be able to count on a few things to help make up for that.
They will still be very productive when they do play. They are not just going to cease being productive hockey players over night.
The rest of the team is better than it was a year ago, especially a re-tooled bottom-six that might still lack offense, but will at least not be bleeding chances and goals against every night.
If Karlsson doesn’t improve the power play, nothing will.
I expect Tristan Jarry to be better. Maybe not great. But he is better than what he showed last year.
The top-four on defense looks legitimately strong with Kris Letang, Karlsson, Ryan Graves and Marcus Pettersson rounding out that group. There is a lot to like about that core, and having one of Letang or Karlsson on the ice for 80 percent of the game is a nice advantage to have.
It is also not like this team missed the playoffs by a significant amount. They missed by a single point. They should be able to make that up.
2. Buffalo Sabres
It is time.
It is going to happen.
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