Here now is my second annual NHL Season Preview! I do apologize for the delay in getting it published. It’s been a busy time for me and it only gets busier as the week draws ahead.
Last season the Sharks went to a place they never went to before,the Stanley Cup Finals,but they fell in the end to the Penguins in six games. This year San Jose is hoping to not just get back to the Finals,but also win them. Do guys like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have anything left? They’re both 37 and in the twilight on their careers. The goaltending with Martin Jones was superb last season and should continue as such. Young guns like Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl should continue to make great progress as the future leaders of this squad and captain Joe Pavelski should have another great season as well. Dan Boyle just retired which means its defensive core has a bit of a hole left behind. I think the Sharks will still win the division,but getting back to the Finals will be difficult.
The Kings lost to the Sharks in horrible fashion during last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and as a result,captain Dustin brown was stripped of that title and it’s since been given to Anze Kopitar. Milan Lucic left for Edmonton and the team didn’t make any moves to improve their roster. They do,however,still have Jonathan Quick who is and has been a reliable netminder and a strong defenseman in Drew Doughty. Tyler Toffoli looks to continue to be a scoring machine,having 31 goals last season. I think Los Angeles is still going to be a quality playoff team despite losing Lucic and they’ll be a playoff team,but not make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. I also potentially see a trade involving Brown if his heart isn’t exactly with being on this team.
The Ducks had a season full of promise and championship hopes fall by the wayside last season and fell to the Predators in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. Coach Bruce Boudreau was fired thereafter. Randy Carlyle,who won the Cup in 2007 with Anaheim,is back to try and repeat the feat. With him to do it are captain Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler who are continuously impressive players. The position that’s most in question is their goaltending. They acquired Jonathan Bernier in the offseason,but it looks like it might be the young John Gibson who they’ll count on to be their main netminder after trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto. Overall,the Ducks have the ingredients to get back to the postseason,but without a lot of the players who helped get them there last season now gone,it’s going to be tougher.
Last season the Oilers were hoping to be a lot better than they have been in the last decade. While their record didn’t reflect it,they made progress in terms of their play on the ice and the way they’re being coached,not to mention their goaltending came around with the addition of Cam Talbot. Now the Oilers are hoping to see what kind of team they’ll have with their now-captain Connor McDavid and hope he is healthy enough to play a full season. Milan Lucic came over via free agency to embody the toughness this team needs, he replaces Taylor Hall who was traded to the Devils. With Lucic, McDavid,and Talbot, along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, Edmonton should have a good mix of core players to have something good brewing in terms of a possible playoff berth. As an Oilers fan,I so want to put them in the postseason,but don’t want to be wrong if they don’t make it. Again.
The Coyotes are still a young team that’s developing and finding their way. One player who isn’t so young is Shane Doan,who returns for his 21st season with the team. The soon to be 40-year-old had 28 goals last season and the team is hoping he can still produce such an outstanding year. Mike Smith looks like he will be the starting goaltender again after producing some quality starts last year with three shutouts in 32 games. Max Domi had a standout rookie season with 18 goals and hopes to build on that in his second season. They probably won’t see the postseason,but their impact on the ice will definitely be noticed.
The Flames are a work in progress team but have acquired a key piece in goaltender Brian Elliott who should give them a boost at that position. Young center Sean Monahan should improve on his 27 goal season last season. Troy Brouwer also comes over from St. Louis after a stellar postseason. It’s yet to be seen how well they can do on special teams. I think Calgary will be a work in progress but will improve their record by a few points.
The Canucks had a down year last season after being a perennial playoff team. They still have the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik,who are in their twilight years and Ryan Miller in between the pipes. All three players are 36,though,and you have to wonder who the next generation will be to lead Vancouver in the future. I think the Canucks will have a major rebuilding year while young guns like Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen finding their way.
Last season the Stars had high expectations that weren’t met as they lost to the Blues in the second round of the playoffs. Dallas hopes to meet the expectations they had last year and soon with many veterans on the final year of their contracts,the window of opportunity it winnowing. But with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin leading the way on offense, the Stars shine very bright. Add in Jason Spezza and his 33 goals last season and the recipe for success is there. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen should continue to share time guarding the net. Come playoff time, the Stars should go with the guy who has won a Cup before,that would be Niemi. I think Dallas will be the West’s best team record-wise and has a chance to get to a Cup Final.
The Predators got a lot better in the offseason by trading Shea Weber to the Canadiens in exchange for P.K. Subban,who supplies some of the best offense from the back-end in the NHL. He should do well with young Filip Forsberg,who had 33 goals last season and Mike Fisher,who was named captain in the offseason. Pekka Rinne had a down year last season but remains one of the league’s best netminders. Nashville could very well be a contender in the West,but for now,I have them finishing strong in the regular season,but possibly losing in the second round of the playoffs.
Last year the Blues almost made good on my prediction on them going to the Cup Finals,but they came up short against the Sharks. In the offseason, David Backes signed with Boston and goaltender Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. You would think the Blues would be a bit worse. Not so fast. They’ve still got high scoring forward Vladimir Tarasenko,who had 40 goals last season and 71 points and young Colton Parayko is showing how great of a young defenseman he is becoming. The question for me is can Jake Allen fill the shoes of Elliott as the main netminder? I think St. Louis will still be alright and hope to win one for their coach,Ken Hitchcock,who intends to retire after the season.
The Blackhawks got rocked in the first round of the playoffs by the Blues and in the end they far from met their expectations as a perennial Cup contender. The team didn’t get much better with veterans like Andrew Shaw getting traded to Montreal in lieu of getting a new deal. They do still have outstanding players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews,and Marian Hossa. They also have a young second-year player in forward Arteri Panarin,who was named Rookie of the Year last year and scored 30 goals. Chicago always seems to surprise us when we think the team’s window is narrowing and this season could prove us wrong as to how well they’ll do. I think,however, they’ll make the postseason but lose in the first round again.
The Wild looked to be dead in the water last season before they fired their head coach,John Yeo. His replacement,John Torchetti, was able to turn things around and the team made the playoffs. Bruce Boudreau is now coaching and honestly it’s going to be a lot tougher this time around. They did acquire Eric Staal to bring some veteran leadership onto the club and to try to get back to his former self. He joind a star studded Minnesota squad with Zack Parise, Ryan Suter,and Jason Pominville. Devan Dubnyk is still a good goaltender for this team,but one has to wonder how long he can keep it up. I think the Wild will snag a Wild Card spot,but will lose in the first round.
The Avalanche are getting a fresh start so-to-speak with their head coach Patrick Roy stepping down in Mid-August. Jared Bednar has the task of getting Colorado back to the postseason after a three-year absence. Nathan McKinnon leads the way scoring 52 points last season and earning a long-term deal. Tyson Barrie was also locked up long-term after netting 49 points. Semyon Varmalov struggled a bit last season but hopes to play better without his old coach around. I think you’ll see a lot of improvement from the Avalanche this year,but it won’t result in a playoff berth just yet. Perhaps in one more year.
The Jets didn’t make the postseason after doing so in 2014-15. The team is in a big rebuilding mode after dealing away Andrew Ladd at the trade deadline last season. They did select Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in the draft. Blake Wheeler was named captain in the offseason and is in a line-up with standout defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele. I don’t see Winnipeg making much noise in terms of wins this season,but there are better days ahead.
The Capitals had a great regular season winning the President’s Trophy with 120 points. However, the Penguins gobbled them up in the playoffs in yet another season ending without a Cup appearance or a championship. This year’s bunch is hoping things will be different. The ingredients are there with outstanding players such as Alex Overchkin, Nicklas Backstrom,and T.J. Oshie. The goaltending of Braden Holtby should continue to be a strength for Washington. I think they’re a lock to win the division and another President’s Trophy,but it’s going to be tough to beat teams like the Penguins and the Lightning who have been to the Finals recently.
The Penguins claimed Lord Stanley’s Cup for the fourth time in franchise history last year and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t be able to do it again this year. Of course you have the likes of Sidney Crosby,Evgeni Malkin,Phil Kessel,and Marc-Andre Fleury,but you also have guys like Justin Schultz,who wasn’t getting it done in Edmonton but has found a place in Pittsburgh where he looks like he’s fitting in. Special teams looks to be good,if not better,especially when Kris Letang had 27 power play points for you the year before. Also,Matt Murray looks like he’ll be a good solid back-up to Fleury. I think they’ll be back in the championship hunt,they’ve been there before and are capable of doing it again.
Last season the Flyers had a decent season with 95 points,but bowed out in a gritty playoff series against the Capitals. This season the young core of the Flyers is still in tact. They’ve got second year defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere who has great offensive output and was second in voting for the Calder Trophy. He’s just a small piece of the puzzle with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds playing great hockey. Simmonds is an all-around tough guy who’s not afraid to mix it up if need be. Steve Mason continues to be a pretty good goalie for Philadelphia and this year should be no different. I think the Flyers will be in the postseason once again,but more than likely will be out in the first round.
After a 101 point season and an exit in the first round of the playoffs courtesy of Pittsburgh, the Rangers hope to remain one of the East’s best teams. It’ll be hard to do with several players leaving like Keith Yandle being shipped to Florida. Their window of opportunity is narrowing with an aging Henrik Lundqvist and Rich Nash. They did sign Jimmy Vesey as a college free agent to bring youth and talent to the front line. You’ve also got Mats Zuccarello who led the team in scoring last season. I think New York is going to make the postseason again,but I don’t see them winning a series.
The Islanders wrapped up their first season in Brooklyn with 100 points on the season before losing in the second round to the Lightning in the playoffs. They’re hoping to make it another year with 100 points,but it may be tougher as Matt Martin,Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen left for Toronto,Buffalo,and Detroit,respectively. They did acquire Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera to team up with John Tavares add some offense and fill the void left behind by Nielsen and Okposo. Jaroslav Halak will have to wrangle the starting goalie job away from Thomas Greise who performed wonderfully well in Halak’s absence due to injury. I think the Isles will get to the playoffs,but will lose in the first round. Do me a favor,though,get rid of those ugly ass black and white jerseys.
The Devils for a while looked to be contending for a playoff push before falling to 12th place in the East at season’s end. The team has since become a lot better. They traded for forward Taylor Hall from Edmonton and gave them Adam Larsson in return. Hall will team up with young center Pavel Zacha who may make the leap to the big club at age 19. Two 30 goal scorers,Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique,will continue to be productive as long as they stay healthy. Their goaltending is top notch with Cory Schneider and should keep New Jersey in contention for a playoff spot in a crowded wild card field. I think they fall short,though!
The young Hurricanes have been rebuilding for the past couple of seasons and I think they still need some more time before they storm into the playoffs again. A lot of players walked but Cam Ward is back in front of the net for Carolina. Teuvo Teravainen should make an impact after having 35 points last season in Chicago. Center Victor Rask got a contract extension which shows that the Hurricanes are committed to their future. How much of a future does Jordan Staal have in Carolina,though? His brother,Eric,was traded last season and part of why he came there was because of his brother. Perhaps next season they’ll make a playoff push,these guys need more seasoning.
The Blue Jackets are in a rebuilding mode of sorts. Last season they traded Ryan Johansen at the trade deadline to Nashville. Not many moves were able to be made in the offseason. Will Nick Foligno find his way offensively again? Will Sergei Bobrovsky overcome his injuries and his own decline? One thing’s for sure and that’s that Brandon Saad is a reliable scorer for Columbus and should be a lot more comfortable in his second season there. I think the Blue Jackets have a ways to go before they’re even in the postseason conversation.
The Panthers are coming off of one of their best years in memory,if not ever and should remain one of the East’s beasts this season. Jaromir Jagr is 44 is showing how ageless he is and how he has yet to slow down (The dude’s been playing pro hockey since I was 9). Aaron Ekblad is becoming one of the best young defensemen in the league and Keith Yandle comes over from Arizona to bolster the blue line. Jonathan Huberdeau was given a contract extension after a 50-plus point season last year. Roberto Luongo is enjoying a career rebirth in Florida and should continue to be on top of his game in front of the net. I think that Florida can be a contender for the Cup, but it remains to be seen if they can take that next leap.
The Bruins will end their two year playoff drought this year. I keep waiting for them to get back to the postseason since with guys like Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand still there that it seems strange to see them not there. Boston signed David Backes in the offseason to provide more scoring and versatility on the ice. David Krejci had 63 points last season and the team is hoping he can stay healthy to do more of that. Tuukka Rask,however,needs to be the goalie of old in order for the Bruins to be better themselves. I think the team does make the postseason and perhaps gets their coach,Claude Julien,off the hot seat.
After getting to the Finals in 2014-15,the Lightning took a few steps back and registered 97 points in the standings. They did,however,reach the Eastern Conference Finals where they fell to the Penguins in seven games. It will take a lot from guys like Steven Stamkos,who remains on top of his game, as well as Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman to try and get Tampa Bay back to the Finals. Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy will continue to be outstanding goaltenders,but Bishop should start most of the time. I think the Lightning will be about the same as they were last year,but in the postseason is where this team shows us they can really shine.
After a hot start last season,the Canadiens fell and fell hard once Carey Price was out for the year with injury. The task to fill the net with capable goaltending was a difficult one. Drama was also rampant as tensions between P.K. Subban and coach Michel Thierren and as result,Subban was shipped to Nashville in exchange for Shea Weber. Weber will more than fill the role that Subban played and much,much more. Andrew Shaw also comes over after being a pivotal part of Chicago’s two Stanley Cup runs. Max Pacioretty needs to overcome to label of the “worst captain in Habs history” and have a better season this year in order to retain that title. Price is back and should be healthy now. I think Montreal will bounce back and try to get back to the playoffs. I think they fall short,but it wouldn’t surprise me if they got back somehow.
Despite the season they had in 2015-16, the Red Wings were able to qualify for the playoffs where they bowed out in the first round to the Lightning. Following the season,Pavel Datsyuk was traded to Arizona and he then retired and is playing in the KHL. They still have Henrik Zetterberg,but he is on the downslope of his career. They do have some promising young players in center Dylan Larkin who had a good rookie year and goaltender Petr Mrazek who may be the starting goaltender in place of Jimmy Howard sooner than later. Their 25-year playoff streak is impressive,but sadly I don’t see it lasting, they’ll come close to a playoff spot,but I don’t see it happening. I’m surprised it happened at all last year. But unfortunately Joe Louis Arena will close in the regular season.
After making the playoffs in dramatic fashion in 2014-15,the Sens took a step back last season with much of the team plagued with injuries. Ottawa is looking to make a return trip to postseason play with Erik Karlsson,who is a perennial Norris trophy candidate and for good reason,too. Dion Phaneuf,who was traded from Toronto to bolster the defense was limited with a foot injury to make his presence felt. Mike Hoffman led the team with 29 goals and should build onto that total. Craig Andersen will be the main goaltender for the Senators with Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond waiting in the wings to prove himself. I think that Ottawa is able to make the playoffs,but with their questionable goaltending,it may cost them a chance at the postseason.
The Sabres improved immensely last season and will continue to this season. Buffalo will rely on second year player Jack Eichel who was outstanding in his rookie year,Evander Kane who is coming back healthy,and Robin Lehner who is coming back from injury. Kyle Okposo comes over from the Islanders to provide an imposing presence on the wing. Ryan O’Reilly will also have an impact after leading the team in scoring last year. This team is definitely making strides and all the right moves to get themselves back into the win column more and more,but they’re going to come up short a little. I think they will be a fun playoff team to watch in 2017-18.
The Maple Leafs have been a project team for a while and last season they were only to able to get 69 points in the standings,earning them the top spot in the draft in which they selected Auston Matthews. Matthews will team up with their first round pick from last year,Mitchell Marner,Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. Their biggest question mark will be the goaltending. Who will be the main netminder? Frederik Andersen was signed in the offseason to fill the void,but is injured and could miss the first month of the year. It looks like Garret Sparks could be the man to step in during Andersen’s absence. There’s a reason why Mike Babcock got an eight-year deal to coach this team,and that’s because they’re still rebuilding. They’ll get slightly better,but that’s about it.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
San Jose over Chicago
Los Angeles over Anaheim
Minnesota over Dallas
Nashville over St. Louis
Washington over N.Y. Rangers
Philadelphia over Pittsburgh
Florida over N.Y. Islanders
Tampa Bay over Boston
Los Angeles over San Jose
Nashville over Minnesota
Philadelphia over Washington
Tampa Bay over Florida
Los Angeles over Nashville
Tampa Bay over Philadelphia
Stanley Cup Finals
Tampa Bay over Los Angeles in five games