On the Cusp of Disaster
Which Bubble Teams Must Make the Playoffs
Disappointing Western Teams Fight for Final Spots
Who’s in the race: It’s deadline day, which means teams are declaring themselves as contenders or pretenders. Among the contenders, there are those that are actually taking a run at Lord Stanley and then there are GMs who simply want to have their job next season to do the same.
There are a slew of disappointing teams who need to make the playoffs just to save face, which means regrettable decisions on deadline day.
With the east playoff picture settled (seedings aside), this list focuses out west. Which teams desperately need to make the playoffs?
Let’s get into it.
Vegas being on this list says it all. They shocked the world as a cup finalist in their inaugural season and have kept that standard. Trading for Jack Eichel, signing Alex Petriangelo, and dispersing of numerous high draft picks means Vegas is all in all the time.
They’re currently holding onto the final wild card spot, but Dallas is only two points back and has four games in hand. In the Pacific division, they’re two points back of third with two more games played than Edmonton. With the Robin Lehner injury and this season not going according to plan, what is the fallout if Vegas doesn’t make it? With few draft picks, prospects, and a capped out team, perhaps the expansion fantasy is running low.
Speaking of capped out, underperforming teams, the Stars desperately need to make the playoffs. It certainly seems longer than two years since this team was in the cup final. But with their two key components of that team — Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin — having down seasons, that explains the drop off. After a dismal start to this campaign, Dallas has been coming on strong and sits only three points back of Vegas, with four games in hand. Missing the playoffs would be a disaster for them, which increases the likelihood of keeping their own rental in John Klingberg. If they get in, they’d have momentum.
A team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can’t miss the playoffs, right? Sitting third in the Pacific division at time of publication, the Oilers are trending well and have gone 6-3-1 in their last ten. The Oil is also only two points behind the Kings for second in the division with two games in hand. But this team has also been streaky and if (when?) their goaltending cools down and exposes their weak defensive coverage, could they slip into the wild card spot? They’re in good shape, but the more they slide the more attention their roster construction receives.
The Predators are having a significant bounce-back season with Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen factoring in as large reasons for that. Their big decision comes down to pending UFA Filip Forsberg. Forsberg wants to stay and Nashville wants to keep him, but as of Feb. 20 contract talks have stalled. If they keep him without an extension, they don’t only have to make it, but go on a deep run. If they trade him by 3PM ET on Monday, they are already looking ahead to next year. Tough spot for GM David Poile.
It doesn’t look good for the Jets, but they’ve gone 6-3-1 in their last ten to give their fans a glimmer of hope. Six points back with two games in hand, have they finally righted the ship? They have the roster to go on a deep run and certainly their underperformance this year can be attributed to goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Usually a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate, Hellebuyck has a 2.99 GAA and 909 SV. If he gets going, the Jets have a chance — and with how much money is spent on a suddenly aging roster, management needs him to.
Will they do it: Of the teams listed, three out of five will make it. Winnipeg is coming on strong, but will come up shy. The other spot likely comes down to Vegas and Dallas, with the Stars edging them out. Vegas missing the playoffs is a bet no one made at the beginning of the season.