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Playoff Chances for 10 NHL Teams on the Bubble Right Now

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2014

Playoff Chances for 10 NHL Teams on the Bubble Right Now

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The NHL playoff race is tightening up heading toward the final third of the season, especially for teams jockeying for wild-card berths. Six teams in the Eastern Conference are currently in contention while four are battling for the final two spots in the Western Conference. A handful are clinging to their wild-card berths, hoping to fend off the challengers below them in the standings.

    For teams on the playoff bubble, several factors come into play which could make or break their seasons. Some teams are hampered by injuries to key players. Some are struggling to score. Others have defensive or special team concerns. Failing to address these issues could mean the difference between a playoff contender and a pretender.

    Here's a look at 10 current NHL playoff bubble teams, the reasons they're in this position, what they must do to bolster their playoff hopes and their chances of clinching a berth.

     

    All stats unless otherwise indicated are courtesy of NHL.com.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    The website Man Games Lost lists the Hurricanes among the league leaders in man games lost to injury. Injured puck-moving defenseman Joni Pitkanen is gone for the season. They've struggled on special teams, sitting 27th on the power play (14.0 percent) and 24th (79.8 percent) on the penalty kill. They're giving up over 30 shots against per game and struggle to hold a lead after two periods.

     

    How to Get an Edge

    Management could shop for another scorer and a penalty-killing specialist. They need more offense from recent blue-line addition John-Michael Liles. Staying healthy down the stretch will improve their playoff hopes.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Fifty percent.

Dallas Stars

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    Young scorers Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are responsible for most of the Stars' offense. Despite being fifth overall in shots on goal per game (32.0), they're not getting enough secondary scoring. They're 23rd overall on the power play with an efficiency rating of 15.9 percent. They've struggled defensively, sitting 22nd in goals against per game (2.89) while giving up over 31 shots against per game.

     

    How to Get an Edge

    They need more production from their secondary scorers, especially veterans like Ray Whitney, Rich Peverley and Erik Cole. A trade for an experienced scorer could be necessary to boost their playoff hopes. They must tighten up defensively.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Forty percent.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    The website Man Games Lost lists the Red Wings among the league leaders in man games lost to injuries. Key veterans like goaltender Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson have been sidelined at various times. That's forced the Wings to rely more on younger, less experienced players. They are 21st overall in goals per game (2.49) and 22nd in power-play percentage (16.2 percent).

     

    How to Get an Edge

    A healthier roster over the remainder of the season would certainly make a difference. A trade for another experienced scorer would also help, but it could cost them a promising young player.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Sixty percent.

Minnesota Wild

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    The Wild lack offensive depth. Only the woeful Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers have averaged fewer goals per game (2.31) this season. They also have the fourth-fewest shots per game (26.7). Injuries to Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu contributed to those poor numbers. Starting goalie Josh Harding is currently battling multiple sclerosis symptoms.

     

    How to Get an Edge

    Parise recently returned to action and Koivu is expected back before the Olympic break. Harding could return following the Olympic break. They could consider shopping for scoring depth. The Pioneer Press' Chad Graff reports general manager Chuck Fletcher is monitoring the trade market but is unwilling to use his young players as trade bait.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Fifty percent.

New Jersey Devils

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    Beyond Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias, the Devils' offensive production drops sharply. They're struggling to score, sitting 25th in goals per game (2.35) and last in shots per game (26.2). They're also 29th in faceoff percentage (46.1 percent). The website Man Games Lost lists them seventh in man games lost to injury (205).

     

    How to Get an Edge

    Adding a top-six forward is a must. NJ.com's Rich Chere reports GM Lou Lamoriello could target a left winger for his first line. They're also finally fully healthy for the first time this season.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Forty percent.

Ottawa Senators

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    The Senators' early-season struggles forced them to play catch-up in the standings. They need a top-six scoring winger. They've given up the third-most shots against per game (33.6), overworking their goaltenders. Their penalty kill is 25th overall (79.7 percent) and they have difficulty holding a lead after two periods.

     

    How to Get an Edge

    The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports GM Bryan Murray will seek a scoring winger before the trade deadline. They must also tighten up defensively to avoid burning out their goalie tandem down the stretch.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Fifty percent.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    After overcoming a poor start to climb into playoff contention, the Flyers are struggling heading toward the Olympic break. Their goals against per game is far too high (2.83) and they are 21st in faceoff percentage (49.0 percent). Their defense is showing signs of wear. Starting goalie Steve Mason must regain his confidence.

     

    How to Get an Edge

    GM Paul Holmgren isn't afraid to shake things up. He could seek an experienced shutdown defenseman and a skilled faceoff man. Mason must shake off his recent struggles. The defense must improve.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Forty percent.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    Despite spreading their scoring throughout their roster, the Coyotes lack a true scoring star. Captain Shane Doan's recent absence to illness also hurt their offense. Starting goalie Mike Smith is struggling, which explains their bloated 2.94 goals against per game.

     

    How to Get an Edge

    They need a scoring left winger. Sportsnet's Roger Millions reported via Twitter they could be a destination for Calgary's Mike Cammalleri. Smith must regain his once-stellar form for the Coyotes to gain ground in the standings.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Forty percent.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    Apart from the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler, the Canucks are struggling to score. They are 22nd in goals per game (2.48), possess the second-worst power play (13.8 percent) and are struggling to retain a lead after two periods. Pursuing additional scoring depth is the obvious answer, but they're hampered by limited cap space ($2.11 million) and lack depth in available prospects to offer as trade bait. 

     

    How to Get an Edge

    Management could seek affordable scoring depth near the trade deadline. They need more production from slumping forwards Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and David Booth. 

     

    Playoff Chances

    Sixty percent.

Washington Capitals

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Why They're on the Bubble

    The Capitals' offensive depth declines sharply beyond first-line stars Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. They've been plagued by inconsistent goaltending for much of this season. The defense has given up the fourth-most shots against per game (33.4).

     

    How to Get an Edge

    Acquiring an experienced shutdown defenseman tops the list but finding one won't be easy. They also need better performances from their goalie tandem, especially starter Braden Holtby. Unless management can add another top-six scorer, they'll need more production from their secondary forwards.

     

    Playoff Chances

    Fifty percent.

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