So how can those teams make the next step? With training camps continuing, NHL.com today examines why fans of the unlucky eight can hold onto their playoff hopes (teams listed in alphabetical order):
Last season: 17-30-9, 43 points, 20 points out of fourth place in Honda West Division
How it ended: A 3-2 loss at the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 15 began a skid of nine games without a win (0-6-3) that saw the Ducks go from tied with the Colorado Avalanche for third in the West to last in the eight-team division, nine points out of fourth place.
Biggest offseason change: Anaheim was quiet in free agency, which should be mean bigger roles for some of their younger players. Forward Trevor Zegras, 20, scored 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 24 games last season. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale, 19, scored eight points (three goals, five assists) and averaged 19:35 in ice time in 24 games. They could be joined by forward Mason McTavish, the No. 3 pick of the 2021 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old scored 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in 13 games last season with Olten of the Swiss League, the second-highest professional league in Switzerland.
Why they could get in: The Ducks’ promising group of young players, which also includes forwards Jacob Perreault, 19, and Brayden Tracey, 20, should add energy and enthusiasm to an experienced returning core, which includes defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler and forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Max Comtois and Jakob Silfverberg. John Gibson has proven to be an elite goalie, and with better play in front of him could help Anaheim get into the hunt for a top-three spot in the Pacific Division or a wild card.
Last season: 24-26-6, 54 points, nine points out of fourth place in Honda West Division
How it ended: The Coyotes were fourth in the West on April 6 but lost 11 of their final 16 games (5-10-1) and missed the playoffs for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.
Biggest offseason change: Arizona reconfigured its defense and goaltending, adding defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere, Conor Timmins and Anton Stralman and goalies Carter Hutton and Josef Korenar, and subtracting defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and goalies Darcy Kuemper, Antti Raanta and Adin Hill. Andre Tourigny was hired as coach July 1 to replace Rick Tocchet, who was 125-131-34 in four seasons.
Why they could get in: Moving to the Central Division this season will make the Coyotes’ road to the postseason difficult, but not impossible. The defense is mobile, led by Jakob Chychrun, Gostisbehere and Timmins, and there are talented forwards who can create with the puck, including Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Phil Kessel. Tourigny built his reputation in junior hockey but has experience working with NHL players, as an assistant with the Avalanche and Ottawa Senators and as an assitant to help Canada win the 2021 IIHF World Championship. Gostisbehere, Keller and Schmaltz will also be out to prove they’re better than their play showed last season. A motivated group with a smart coach could equal Arizona fighting for a wild card.
Last season: 26-27-3, 55 points, four points out of fourth place in Scotia North Division
How it ended: The Flames got within four points of the Montreal Canadiens for fourth place in the North after winning three of four from April 23-29, including two wins against the Canadiens. But they couldn’t sustain their push, going 4-3-0 to end the season.
Biggest offseason change: Defenseman Mark Giordano, captain since 2013-14 and the Norris Trophy winner voted as best defenseman in the NHL in 2019, was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. New voices will have to fill the leadership void, among them forward Blake Coleman. The two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning signed a six-year contract July 28.
Why they could get in: Coleman adds championship experience to a talented forward group that is topped by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. Losing Giordano leaves a hole among defensemen, but Nikita Zadorov, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 28, will supply physicality and Juuso Valimaki could add stability; the 23-year-old scored 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in 49 games after missing the 2019-20 season because of a knee injury. Goalie Jacob Markstrom finished strong, with a 2.00 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in his final 15 games. With coach Darryl Sutter, who replaced Geoff Ward on March 4, having a full training camp to install his system, the Flames could be in contention for a top-three spot in the Pacific.
Last season: 24-25-7, 55 points, nine points out of fourth place in Discover Central Division
How it ended: The Blackhawks were within three points of fourth place in the Central on April 22 but went 0-5-1 in their next six games and never got closer than eight points out the rest of the season.
Biggest offseason change: Chicago had a changing of the guard at defenseman, trading three-time Stanley Cup winner Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Caleb Jones on July 12, and then acquiring defenseman Seth Jones in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Adam Boqvist on July 23. In Seth Jones, the Blackhawks get a 27-year-old No. 1 defenseman with the same ability to play big minutes in all situations that Keith did during his prime, and Caleb Jones, Seth’s younger brother, showed flashes of potential during three seasons with the Oilers. Chicago also acquired goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 27 after the 36-year-old was voted the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL last season.
Why they could get in: A potential new top pair of Seth Jones and Jake McCabe, who agreed to a four-year contract July 28, will help cut down on the 33.7 shots on goal the Blackhawks allowed per game last season, tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the most in the NHL, and with Fleury, Chicago should improve on its 3.29 goals allowed per game, tied for seventh most on the League. Forward Patrick Kane remains an elite offensive talent and forward Alex DeBrincat was third in the NHL with 32 goals last season. Centers Jonathan Toews (chronic immune response syndrome) and Kirby Dach (wrist) should be healthy, and center Tyler Johnson was added in a trade with the Lightning on July 27. The improvement in their own end, combined with a solid offensive attack, should add up to the Blackhawks being in the hunt for a top-three spot in the Central this season.
Last season: 23-19-14, 60 points, four points out of fourth place in Discover Central Division
How it ended: The Stars got within two points of a playoff spot April 26 but went 2-4-2 to finish the season.
Biggest offseason change: Ryan Suter signed a four-year contract July 28 and will strengthen a top-four defensemen group that includes John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell. Dallas also added to its goaltending depth by signing Braden Holtby to a one-year contract July 28. Holtby was 7-11-3 with a 3.67 GAA and .889 save percentage in 21 games with the Vancouver Canucks last season but has the potential to form a solid partnership alongside Anton Khudobin; Ben Bishop is still working his way into playing shape after missing last season recovering from knee surgery.
Why they could get in: The Stars nearly made the playoffs last season despite playing most of it without Bishop and top-line center Tyler Seguin, who returned for three games in May after recovering from offseason hip surgery. They’re deeper at defenseman with Suter and top prospect Thomas Harley, the No. 18 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft who is ready to add a strong two-way element to the group. Dallas also is brimming with goalies in Holtby, Khudobin, Bishop and Jake Oettinger, who had a 2.36 GAA and .911 save percentage in 29 games as a rookie last season. And with a healthy Seguin, there should be enough offense to compete for a top-three spot in the Central or a wild card this season.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Last season: 21-28-7, 49 points, 14 points out of fourth place in Honda West Division
How it ended: The Kings went 9-6-3 through their first 18 games and were tied for third in the West on Feb. 24. They went 5-11-3 in their next 19 games to fall nine points out of a playoff spot.
Biggest offseason change: Los Angeles got more skilled at forward with the additions of Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson. Danault, who signed a six-year contract July 28, was the top defensive center available in free agency and gives the Kings outstanding two-way depth through the middle behind Anze Kopitar. Arvidsson, a two-time 30-goal scorer, was acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on July 1.
Why they could get in: Los Angeles should be stocked with youthful energy and enthusiasm during the next step in its rebuild. Center Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, should have a regular spot in the lineup this season and could be joined by forwards Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari and Akil Thomas and defenseman Brandt Clarke, the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. The Kings are developing a young core that could be the engine that drives them into contention for a wild card this season.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Last season: 21-28-7, 49 points, 14 points out of fourth place in Honda West Division
How it ended: A four-game winning streak got the Sharks within one point of a playoff spot April 3, but they went 4-12-3 in their final 19 games, including eight games without a win (0-7-1) from April 10-24.
Biggest offseason change: San Jose revamped its goaltending, signing James Reimer to a two-year contract July 28 and acquiring Hill in a trade with the Coyotes on July 17. They’ll compete to replace Martin Jones, who was 15-13-4 with a 3.28 GAA and .896 save percentage in 34 games last season and had the final three seasons of his six-year contract bought out July 27. Reimer was 15-5-2 with a 2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage in 22 games with the Carolina Hurricanes and played well with the Sharks during their push to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16. Hill was 9-9-1 with a 2.74 GAA and .913 save percentage in 19 games last season.
Why they could get in: San Jose has top-level talent with forwards Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, and defensemen Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. Forwards Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano were signed to add experience and leadership. The Sharks were in the playoff hunt despite an .891 team save percentage that was tied with the New Jersey Devils for second worst in the NHL (Philadelphia Flyers, .880). If Reimer and Hill can provide better goaltending, the Sharks could be in the hunt for a wild card.
Last season: 23-29-4, 50 points, nine points out of fourth place in Scotia North Division
How it ended: The Canucks were two points out of a playoff spot March 24, but didn’t play again until April 18 due to NHL COVID-19 protocol. Playing their final 19 games in 32 days, they went 7-11-1, including a six-game losing streak from April 26-May 4.
Biggest offseason change: Vancouver added high-end skill with the acquisitions of Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland in a trade with the Coyotes on July 23. Ekman-Larsson should supply outstanding depth behind defensemen Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers. Garland, who was third on Arizona last season with 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 49 games, adds to a stacked top-nine forward group and could slot in at right wing on the second line alongside Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.
Why they could get in: The Canucks could be a better team now than they were when they lost to the Golden Knights in Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Without the responsibilities of being the No. 1 defenseman he had for most of his 11 seasons with the Coyotes, Ekman-Larsson could return to the form he showed from 2013-19, when he scored at least 12 goals six straight seasons and at least 42 points five times. Garland adds extra punch to an offense that should have no problem scoring with center Elias Pettersson healthy after a wrist injury ended his season March 2. Vancouver has the potential to have one of the deepest, most skilled forward groups in the NHL, which should allow the Canucks to compete for a top-three spot in the Pacific or a wild card.