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Gary Lawless

TSN Senior Correspondent


No Stanley Cup playoffs in Canada. That’s the scene this spring in the country that considers itself the leader in all things hockey.

There will be great representation of the Canadian-based NHL teams at the world championship coming up in Russia, and there’s also the World Cup coming this fall.

But for NHL fans, May and June are supposed to be all about the pursuit of the Stanley Cup. Those hopes are dead for yet another season, making it 23 years and counting since the Stanley Cup was captured by a team based in Canada. Woe Canada, indeed.

It’s no stretch to say that streak won’t come to an end next season. There are no championship contenders in Canada right now, nor will there be in the near future. Rebuild is the most popular catchphrase in a lot of Canadian front offices right now.

Since the chances of all seven Canadian teams missing the playoffs in the same year are, according to Elias Sports Bureau, one in 600, let’s assume it won’t happen again next year. The question is: Which teams are most likely to be on the road to respectability?

1. Montreal Canadiens: Getting a healthy Carey Price back for the beginning of next season gives the Habs a chance to be back in the playoffs as early as next spring. This is factor No. 1.

Montreal has a handful of expiring contracts, but no one of note is in the position to walk. Maybe they fire Michel Therrien and get the juice of adding a new coach. This roster is better than its 2015-16 results. Still, expect general manager Marc Bergevin to try and upgrade a few positions.

Bottom line, if Price is healthy, the Habs make a run at the playoffs and could even win a round as currently constructed.

Estimated time of playoffs: 2016-17

Carbonneau: Habs are a few pieces away

Former Montreal Canadiens' forward, head coach and three time Stanley Cup champion Guy Carbonneau joins Mike Tyler of TSN 1150 to talk playoffs and Pepsi/Subway "Hoist The Cup" promotion.

2. Calgary Flames: GM Brad Treliving has two priorities this off-season: Find a No. 1 goalie and extend Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Issues in the crease held the Flames back this season. They sit 30th in the NHL is team save percentage and 11th in goals for. The Flames have north of $12 million coming off the books in goalie salary. The UFA goalie market isn’t deep, with Cam Ward and James Reimer being the most interesting names. Could Treliving pry prospect Matt Murray out of Pittsburgh prior to an expansion draft?

The Flames have strong pieces on the blueline and two of the NHL’s best young players in Gaudreau and Monahan. They’re not far off.

Estimated time of playoffs: 2016-17

3. Winnipeg Jets: Certainly Canada’s most underperforming team this season and maybe the biggest disappointment in the entire league. From 99 points in the Central Division and a playoff berth to membership in the lottery pick race in a single season. The question for the Jets: Was this an anomaly? Lack of discipline sunk this team. Winnipeg’s power-play goal differential was second worst in the NHL at -22. It killed them.

H&L's 5:15 Referendum: Petan, Morrissey & Kosmachuk.

Hustler and Lawless discuss whether Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey and Scott Kosmachuk are a part of the future for the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets need to be better in goal, but prospect Connor Hellebuyck showed he’s on the verge with a .918 save percentage in his 26 games this season. Centre Mark Scheifele broke through (27 goals with three games left on the schedule) and a number of prospects got their feet wet. The Jets will have competition for roster spots next year and should be much better. The question for them is can they close the gap on the rest of the Central? It’s still the toughest division in hockey.

Estimated time of playoffs: 2017-18

4. Ottawa Senators: It looks like head coach Dave Cameron is out but will that really fix what ails the Senators? Nope. They’ll tread water next season unless things go perfectly in the health department. They’re trying to grow organically and prospects Colin White and Thomas Chabot should be the next to come on-stream. Owner Eugene Melnyk won’t like this, but expect the Senators to be on the outside of the playoff picture next year as well.

Erik Karlsson is a great start, but the blueline falls off dramatically when he’s on the bench. Mark Stone is the best forward but he needs help. The Sens are too thin to sustain through the expected adversity of an NHL season. They need time.

Cameron: Challenge all year has been puck management

Steve and Todd talk to the head coach of the Ottawa Senators Dave Cameron about the goal for the final 3 games, the play of the young guys and an update on Mark Stone.

Estimated time of playoffs: 2018-19

5. Edmonton Oilers: GM Peter Chiarelli has the largest war chest of assets to work with and could make some major improvements to his club via trades. With Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse the only untouchables in Edmonton, the GM has pieces such as Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov to put in play.

The Oilers need to get better in goal and on the blueline, but they have the assets to make it happen. Chiarelli will be among the most watched GMs in the NHL this summer. Still, it’s a lot to ask the Oilers to go from the very bottom of the NHL to a playoff berth in one off-season. Look for the Oilers to take a few steps, just not enough.

Estimated time of playoffs: 2018-19

6. Vancouver Canucks: Where to start? Actually, that’s a question it seems the Canucks are still asking themselves. Are they in teardown mode? Or are they trying to retool?

Abbott: Virtanen needs to move beyond the "I'm learning" mindset

Jon Abbott says Jake Virtanen says he's learned from a two-game suspension for a late hit, but Abbs says Virtanen now needs to start moving beyond the "I'm learning" stage and start putting those learning moments into game situations. Abbs also discusses the move of Andrey Pedan to a swing player role and suggests it's going to be a lot more work than it might seem.

They should be looking to bottom out.

Take the Sedins out of the picture and this roster is bleak. Ryan Miller appears done and the jury is still out on Jacob Markstrom. The blueline has Alex Edler, Chris Tanev and then a lot of hope. Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter are strong in the middle, but neither screams No. 1 centre. The Canucks need to go farther down before they can go up.

Estimated time of playoffs: 2018-19

7. Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs have put a lot of work into tearing down their roster and, give them credit, have been serious about the job. Now comes the hard part: the actual rebuilding. The prospect pool is fairly shallow. They need help everywhere. The Leafs best prospects, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen are very raw and can’t be expected to transform a team.

Masters: Kadri could be a good #2 centre on contender

TSN Leafs reporter Mark Masters joins Game Day with Matt Cauz and Gareth Wheeler to discuss the wild couple of weeks Nazem Kadri has had to close out the 2015-2016 season.

Toronto’s big hope for a step forward is with the draft lottery and the free-agent signing of Steven Stamkos. If they manage to win the lottery and draft Auston Matthews then follow it up with Stamkos, then they could move up this list.

Estimated time of playoffs: 2018-19