Thanks to the return of the world's greatest goalie, the Montreal Canadiens are among last season's nonplayoff teams that could take the NHL by storm this season. When setting the new season's expectations, teams who were previously stung by injuries or bad luck are often underrated, as are the potential impacts of hot goalies, rookies and new coaches.
In fairness, it is incredibly difficult to predict the NHL standings, and which teams will be playoff-bound on April 9, 2017. In fact, a projection based purely on ranking teams by their previous season goal differentials has been shown to be just as accurate as the informed opinions of expert pundits.
Making these predictions more difficult are the handful of teams that dramatically defy expectations every season, like last season's Arizona Coyotes, Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes, who improved by between 15 and 22 points each.
Drawing on the experience of these four examples, and many more since 2005-06, the following "surprise team index" was crafted to provide at least some indication of which today's teams possess the factors that have led to unexpectedly strong seasons in the past; put another way, stash these team names away as your potential dark-horse contenders.