There is optimism in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal even though the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Jets, Maple Leafs, Senators, and Canadiens are not playoff-bound.
The hopefulness has to do with young players being showcased as they audition for a future roster spot, like Nikita Tryamkin (Canucks), Jordan Oesterle (Oilers), Freddie Hamilton (Flames), Marko Dano (Jets), Nick Paul (Senators), Phillip Danault (Canadiens), and several in Toronto.
The lineup of the basement-dwelling Maple Leafs has been stripped through trade-deadline departures and injuries, allowing head coach Mike Babcock to get an extended look at what stage William Nylander and others are in their development.
While the future appears bright with some of these youngsters, the trick is to not get fooled into how well a player performs when the pressure of a playoff push is off. The Maple Leafs have been down this road of false optimism many times before.
"One thing you have to be real careful of this time of year when you're a non-playoff team is over-evaluating what you have because the team you are playing against some nights isn't prepared to play," Babcock said on Sunday. "When you're a really good team, the teams prepare to play against you every night. They're excited to play you. You're a benchmark for them.
"When you're not, sometimes you can catch them off guard, so we don't want to over-evaluate anybody here."
With the Maple Leafs amid a six-game homestand, we asked a rival pro scout for his evaluation of a handful of Toronto's young players.
D Connor Carrick – Mid-sized puck mover with strong direct pass transition execution ... Sturdy in 1vs1 battle situations despite size limitations ... Secondary offensive situations moving forward ... D5-D6 upside.
D Frank Corrado – Mid-sized 2-way D with passable fundamentals, but he is lacking a separating skill ... Competent positional play that is improved by good hockey sense ... D6-D7 upside.
D Rinat Valiev – Finesse D-man with subtle offensive skills ... Strong first-pass game with ability to make finesse touch-and-seam plays in O-Zone ... The urgency and pace at which he operates will need to improve before he is NHL-ready ... His defensive game is maturing, with increased quickness in closing on his check necessary ... D5-6 upside.
F Nikita Soshnikov – Plays with pace and intensity ... Strength on the puck with good skill/compete utility ... 3rd line upside with PK and secondary scoring potential ... Good role player.
F Zach Hyman – F10-9 upside ... 4th line player with an ability to bump up to 3rd line for periods of time ... Skater with strong pursuit, recovery and drive to play game ... his best offensive tool is his shot and his willingness to follow it up, crashing the paint.
F William Nylander – 1st line NHL offensive player with elite possession skills ... He is hard to check with evasive skating … can change pace and direction at high speed and under full control of the puck ... Has risk in his game but has game-breaking skill ... Managing this risk/reward will define his production early on but at the end of the day his skill set makes others better.
The good news for the young Maple Leafs is that their season does not end with the NHL regular season in three weeks. They will return to the AHL and the Toronto Marlies to pursue a Calder Cup championship.
This is an important step. Look what it did for the Tampa Bay Lightning when its farm team in Norfolk won the AHL title in 2012. The Detroit Red Wings AHL team in Grand Rapids followed suit the next year and produced key players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and goalie Petr Mrazek.
A long run from Nylander and Co. this spring can only help the optimism cause.