Five teams ready to roar back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16

The 2014-15 season provided many surprises. Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa making the playoffs while the Kings, Bruins, and Avalanche missed out landed all over the spectrum in terms of surprise. One thing is for certain is that nothing is for certain, so don’t expect the same 16 teams to battle next April for the Stanley Cup. Teams from the lottery will crash the party next year. Here are our five candidates:

Los Angeles Kings

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 11:  Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to play behind, Tyler Toffoli #73, Trevor Lewis #22, Jarret Stoll #28 and Dustin Brown #23 during the first period against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center on April 11, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – APRIL 11: Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to play behind, Tyler Toffoli #73, Trevor Lewis #22, Jarret Stoll #28 and Dustin Brown #23 during the first period against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center on April 11, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Okay, this is some low hanging fruit for sure. The 2013-14 Cup champs basically missed the playoffs because of their horrible shootout record (damn you, extra point!). But overtime going to 3-on-3 could help a team with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik on it. Add Milan Lucic and surely this team can’t miss the playoffs two seasons in a row … can they?

Columbus Blue Jackets

UNIONDALE, NY - APRIL 11: Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates his goal at 9:37 of the third period against Jaroslav Halak #41 of the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 11, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. This is the last regular season game to be played in the building as it stands now. The team will relocate to the Barclay's Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City starting in the 2015-16 season. The Blue Jackets defeated the Islanders 5-4 in the shootout. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

UNIONDALE, NY – APRIL 11: Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates his goal at 9:37 of the third period against Jaroslav Halak #41 of the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on April 11, 2015 in Uniondale, New York. This is the last regular season game to be played in the building as it stands now. The team will relocate to the Barclay’s Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City starting in the 2015-16 season. The Blue Jackets defeated the Islanders 5-4 in the shootout. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

This seems in direct contrast to when I said that Todd Richards could be on the hot seat if he starts slow with the expectation that will now be on the Jackets this season. While still true, I don’t think the team will start slow at all. I guess that’s part of the expectation, but this is a playoff team now. How far they go is another matter, but this team has to be healthier than they were last season. Add in Brandon Saad, and that makes the Jackets a very interesting team come April and May.

Dallas Stars

MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 21:  Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks skates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on March 21, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Sharks 2-0.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

MONTREAL, QC – MARCH 21: Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks skates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on March 21, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Sharks 2-0. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Kari Lehtonen’s production dipped in 2014-15. His .903 save percentage was the worst in his career, and his 2.94 GAA was his worst since 2009 when he only started 45 games in his final season in Atlanta. So Stars GM Jim Nill went out and acquired Antti Niemi … a former Stanley Cup winning goalie … for a seventh round pick. Whether the two goalies rotate or Niemi takes the job outright, this is a significant upgrade for the Stars and should just be enough to get them back to the party. Patrick Sharp joining Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Jamie Benn should seal the deal.

Boston Bruins

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 9: A Boston Bruins fan holds up a towel late in the third period against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on April 9, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Bruins 4-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

SUNRISE, FL – APRIL 9: A Boston Bruins fan holds up a towel late in the third period against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on April 9, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Bruins 4-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

It didn’t start out as a great off-season for the B’s, but the trade of Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s contract for Jimmy Hayes and the financial flexibility to sign Matt Beleskey should give Claude Julien enough to get back to the playoffs. Tuukka Rask’s numbers dipped last season, but they dipped to a 2.30 GAA and a .922 save percentage which is still excellent in his first season of heavy work (67 starts were easily a career high.) Just repeating that performance should be enough, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he improved as he will used to the workload.

Edmonton Oilers

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 12:  Jordan Eberle #14 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his second period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 12, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 12: Jordan Eberle #14 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his second period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 12, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me eight times and I’m an Edmonton Oilers fan. Is Connor McDavid enough to make the difference this time around? No. Are Connor McDavid, Cam Talbot, Andrej Sekera and Griffin Reinhart enough? Maybe. The difference maker to me is Todd McClellan, a good coach who will come in with better options in goal and on the blue line than the Oilers have had, and somebody who was a perennial playoff contender with the Sharks. That means something to an organization who were lost with the inexperienced Dallas Eakins at the helm. That McClellan’s teams were eliminated in the first round means nothing to Edmonton, who would kill to be eliminated in the first round.

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