It seems a long way away, but all hockey fans know Christmas doesn’t come in December, it comes in spring, when the puck drops on the NHL playoffs. 30 teams get reduced to 16, and no one wants to be on the outside looking in. While the off-season is upon us, we count down the top three teams that you might see in May next season.
#3: Edmonton Oilers
It hasn’t been great times in the City Of Champions since 2006, but a face-lifted organization looks to change that. The Oilers finished well out of the playoff picture in 2013, ending their year at a distant 12th. The Oilers front office has put in work this summer, adding former Oiler Craig McTavish as GM, and hiring Dallas Eakins as head coach. They also shipped out captain Shawn Horcoff and young gun Magnus Paajarvi, and adding David Perron from St. Louis. If Devan Dubnyk can find consistency in net, the Oilers can easily get it done offensively, with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leading the way. Dallas Eakins will keep the team in great shape, and the Oilers will try to get it done down the stretch, where they’ve struggled in the past.
#2: Winnipeg Jets
It’s been a while since the Winnipeg Jets made the post-season. 1996 to be exact, when the old Jets organization had it’s final days. The new Jets are entering their third season in the NHL, and they hope this one is the charm. Winnipeg has a premier goaltender in Ondrej Pavelec, and a hard-working defensive core that includes Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian. With Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, and Andrew Ladd leading the way offensively, the Jets hope to take their game to the post-season, after finishing just outside the playoff picture in both seasons. The Jets added offensive depth with Devin Setoguchi, and will also welcome Michael Frolik off the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks team. With a fine-tuned roster, coach Claude Noel will look to keep the squad focused and disciplined throughout the year, and with a hockey-crazy city behind them, the playoffs don’t seem like a long-shot.
#1: Columbus Blue Jackets
NHL fans were taken aback when the Columbus Blue Jackets were in the playoff picture on the final day of the regular season, and Marian Gaborik and company look to show the critics that it wasn’t a fluke. Columbus has been the brunt of jokes for many years, and playing in the stacked Central Division didn’t do them any favors. With a trip eastward ahead of them, the Blue Jackets can take what they’ve learned from the Blackhawks, Blues, and Red Wings, and go to work on their new divisional opponents. The Blue Jackets excited Ohio with a mid-season revival, and adding even more firepower at the trade deadline gave them a great chance to make their second playoff appearance in franchise history. It came down to a tiebreak with the Minnesota Wild, and once again the Blue Jackets were finished prematurely. Jarmo Kekalainen has done a fantastic job building a hard-working, speedy squad, backed by the NHL’s best goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky. If ‘Bob’ has another solid season between the pipes, and the Blue Jackets’ surprisingly skilled depth can assist the high-powered top six, they may see themselves in the post-season.
With lots of hockey to be played in between now and the 2014 post-season, many predictions can be made, but one thing is for sure; time will tell.
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