How they miss the playoffs: Distracted by his snub from Canadian Olympic camp, Jamie Benn struggles early, and the rest of the offence can’t compensate. It’s another year of growth for young players, while veterans like Ray Whitney and Horcoff see another season wasted.
5. Minnesota Wild
Last season: 26-19-3, 55 points, 8th seed in West, lost in conference quarter-finals to Chicago
Who’s gone: C Matt Cullen, RW Devin Setoguchi, F Pierre-Marc Bouchard, RW Cal Clutterbuck, D Tom Gilbert
Who’s new: LW Matt Cooke, RW Nino Niederreiter, D Keith Ballard
How they make the playoffs: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are among the best players at their respective positions. Defenceman Jonas Brodin makes more noise in his second season, and goaltender Niklas Backstrom plays 50-plus games for the first time since 2010-11.
How they miss the playoffs: Not enough talent behind Parise, Suter, Mikko Koivu and Brodin costs the Wild too many games. The problem is offence, as young players like Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund aren’t yet ready to assume major roles.
6. Nashville Predators
Last season: 16-23-9, 41 points, 14th in West, missed playoffs by 14 points
Who’s gone: LW Sergei Kostitsyn, F Matt Halischuk, D Jonathan Blum, RW Bobby Butler
Who’s new: F Viktor Stalberg, C Matt Cullen, LW Eric Nystrom, F Matt Hendricks, D Seth Jones
How they make the playoffs: Shea Weber and Jones form the most formidable defensive pair since Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Pekke Rinne has a Vezina-calibre season, and the Predators win a lot of 1-0 games.
How they miss the playoffs: A lack of offence frustrates even defensive-minded coach Barry Trotz, who’s forced to hand major minutes to too many bottom-six forwards. Without a capable NHL backup, Rinne gets fatigued from playing too many games.
7. Colorado Avalanche
Last season: 16-25-7, 39 points, 15th in West, missed playoffs by 16 points
Who’s gone: RW David Jones, D Shane O’Brien
Who’s new: LW Alex Tanguay, C Nathan MacKinnon, D Cory Sarich
How they make the playoffs: In MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny, the Avalanche boast strength down the middle that leads to immediate offensive improvement. New goaltending coach Francois Allaire turns Semyon Varlamov into a goaltending star, and Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic show they know what they’re doing.
How they miss the playoffs: Varlamov continues his career trend of getting injured, hanging well-past-his-prime Jean-Sebastien Giguere out to dry behind a mediocre-at-best defence. The Avalanche get another high draft pick and this time look toward the blue-line.
1. Los Angeles Kings
Last season: 27-16-5, 59 points, 5th seed in West, lost in conference final to Chicago
Who’s gone: LW Dustin Penner, C Brad Richardson, D Rob Scuderi, G Jonathan Bernier
Who’s new: F Matt Frattin, LW Dan Carcillo, G Ben Scrivens
How they make the playoffs: Goaltender Jonathan Quick, with a brief Sochi appearance in between, has a consistent season even with Bernier gone. Some minor roster changes show that some turnover is good after winning a Stanley Cup in 2012.
How they miss the playoffs: The same injuries that depleted the Kings in the playoffs refuse to go away. Quick somehow falls apart, and this gritty group of forwards wasn’t assembled to win high-scoring games every night.
2. Vancouver Canucks
Last season: 26-15-7, 59 points, 3rd seed in West, lost in conference quarter-finals to San Jose
Who’s gone: C Derek Roy, C Maxim Lapierre, D Keith Ballard, G Cory Schneider
Who’s new: C Brad Richardson, C Bo Horvat, D Yannick Weber
How they make the playoffs: Coach John Tortorella’s defence-first, shot-blocking system makes Roberto Luongo look like Ken Dryden in his prime. Daniel and Henrik Sedin score plenty of goals in transition and cash in on contract extensions.
How they miss the playoffs: The Sedins don’t like playing Tortorella hockey, which isn’t a fit for such a skilled group of forwards. Luongo can’t get his act together and GM Mike Gillis wonders if he made the right choice in trading Schneider to the Devils.
3. San Jose Sharks
Last season: 25-16-7, 57 points, 6th seed in West, lost in conference semi-finals to Los Angeles
Who’s gone: F T.J. Galiardi, F Tim Kennedy, G Thomas Greiss