This is the time of year that hockey fans wait for. This is the time that we think about all summer and fall while our favorite team battles it out for a seed. And when it's all said and done, either your favorite team makes it or not.
And we've been on both sides of the fence. We've watched our team battle it out for the eighth seed and stay atop the conference. It's a sport full of ups and downs but for a lot of teams, there are more downs than ups.
This is for the long-suffering fans of teams that have been waiting and waiting for their favorite team to finally make the playoffs after years of either just scraping in and then failing in five games or being at the bottom of the conference since December and no hope of the post season at all.
That's not just the Maple Leafs fans. It's not just the Oilers fans. This is also for the Islanders and the Jets and the Blue Jackets fans that we know and love.
It's not easy being a fan of these teams. It seems like endless seasons of failure and bad signings and horrible, lop-sided trades and a rebuilding process that seems to be taking a lifetime.
We're here to tell you that all is not lost. Most of these teams have the parts, they have the essentials to become a playoff team. A few are closer than others and all it takes is the right kid drafted or the perfect trade to happen and BAM! the playoffs are suddenly in sight.
The Penguins thought that the Hossa trade was the one that would make them Cup winners. And they got close but it wasn't enough. Then Shero traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin and who would have ever thought that this little Kunikaze and this old man would be the difference between raising the Cup and watching another team raise it? We never did but that was what made the difference.
You never know what trade or draft pick or turnaround by a player will be the payoff that gets your team the Cup. All is never lost.
For example, the Oilers. You know how much we love that team. But we love watching them not just because of Curtis's influence but because they're just on the cusp of greatness. You can see it, you can feel it when they play. (Well, most games because they still like to flame out sometimes.)
But with Taylor Hall (the heartbeat of that team) being the leader that they need and Jordan Eberle continuing his dominance on the score sheet and the emergence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins into the evasive and skillful forward that we all know he can be, the Oilers will be a team to contend with in the future.
The Oilers defense is not bad at all. When you really think about it, their defense is actually decent. They just need a few add-ins that would compliment Ryan Whitney's outlet passes and Ladislav Smid's defensive prowess.
Down the stretch, their goaltending had shored up quite a bit. Deven Dubnyk showed that he could be their number one and it's kind of a relief. Goaltending is the thing that separates playoff teams and those that miss it almost every year. A good d-man or two and a defensive forward that isn't as old as dirt and we could see this team making some major noise soon.
Or how about the Islanders? No one cares about them, right? They're a terrible team and always will be, right? We don't believe that for one minute.
John Tavares finished eighth in scoring. Eighth. That's pretty impressive on a team that finished 28th in goals scored. He's a special player and with the right guys around him, the Islanders will be dominant soon enough. Tavares is the type of player you build a team around and he needs a number two guy to ride shotgun with him. Toews has Kane. Crosby has Malkin. Hall has Eberle. These are dominant players who have a drive to win unmatched by anyone on their teams and they have that number two guy who is the skill to their drive. Tavares needs a guy like that and it could be someone already there or maybe someone they will draft.
Only time will tell.
The Islanders' defense is decent and with a lot of young kids, they can only get better. They just need a dependable goaltender like most of these teams that have missed the playoffs recently.
Other teams, like the Lightning and the Avalanche, they're only a piece or two away from the playoffs. With the Avalanche, they have quite a few lines that can score and they finally have a goaltender who can steal games for them. As Varlamov gets older, he will get better. And the Lightning have a sixty-goal scorer so they will be fine soon enough.
And then there are teams like the Flames and the Leafs where you don't even know where to start. The Flames need to start rebuilding and get some good prospects and just start from the bottom up. The Leafs, it kills us sometimes. We always liked Brian Burke but sometimes his decisions do not make sense and we think that the team could be better but they need a leader of sorts. Actually, this could be a whole post in itself so we're gonna stop now.
What we're trying to say is that it doesn't pay to get down on your team. There are a lot of positives in each team that fans can look at and say, "Yeah, okay, things aren't that bad" because it really isn't that bad at all.
Every team that missed the playoffs has a positive or two and as fans, we can hang our hats on that. As fans, we have to stand by our team whether they suck or not and cheer just as loudly.
It sucks watching your team have locker clean out day when other teams are preparing for the playoffs. But there's the draft and there's free agency and there's training camp and you never know what's going to happen.
Here's to the teams that didn't make the playoffs: We love you anyway and we will stand behind you no matter what because there's always next season.