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Which non-playoff teams have the best shot next season?

It's been a rough season in Detroit. How close are the Red Wings to starting another long streak of playoff appearances? Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

For fans of the non-playoff teams, the final stretch of the season is the toughest time of the year.

There is no more hope for a miraculous run to slip into the postseason, so the only thing left to root for is spoiling rivals' postseason chances and looking for signs of a bright future.

But not all fan bases head into this offseason with the same level of optimism for 2017-18. Some teams are on the rise, some are on the decline and others are stuck in the middle.

With that said, let's have a look at which teams have the best chance to make noise next season and which clubs have a long way to go.

Eastern Conference: Bright futures

Buffalo Sabres
Offseason goal:
Acquire a puck-moving defenseman

It has turned out to be a disappointing season in Buffalo, where the Sabres expected to compete for a playoff spot after signing Kyle Okposo in the offseason. There are concerns about some of the moves made (and not made) by general manager Tim Murray as the team entered this season with a weak blue line and hardly any scoring depth. However, former No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel has emerged as an elite player with 50 points in 52 games. With a franchise player in place, the Sabres can focus on filling in around him.

A major part of that focus needs to be on defense. Aside from Rasmus Ristolainen, who has back-to-back 40-point seasons at just 22 years old, Buffalo's group on the back end is pretty barren. It severely lacks any defensemen with puck skills. Finding the next Torey Krug or Jared Spurgeon should be at the top of Buffalo's to-do list.