15-16 NHL Season Preview
Sports are back! From about mid July to the end of August, I just can’t be bothered to write stuff. Even when interesting things happen, such as the Jays trade deadline followed up by there emergence as the best team in the American League, I just didn’t feel like writing about it. And I don’t get paid for doing this. And hardly anyone other than you are reading this. Anyway, now I’m starting to get the urge to write again. It is October. Football is in full swing, MLB playoffs are starting up, and your favorite…the NHL is back. So why dick around? Here is my season preview/prognostication.
Anaheim Ducks – They’re winning the Cup. All my fears about this squad were put to rest during last year’s run to game 7 of the West final, and they’ve only improved this offseason. Loaded everywhere, and all the assets and then some to improve by the deadline.
Los Angeles Kings – This SHOULD be the case. They SHOULD bounce back. But man, what train wreck this team has been since winning the 2014 Cup. I’m not sure Lucic will improve them much, they’re kind of the last team that needs a player like him, but they should be back in the playoffs as long as more off ice issues don’t come about.
Calgary Flames – Not to piss on Flames fans, but this is more a result of being the best of the rest in this division. The honest, non Oiler fan way I can look at things is that I don’t think they’re that good. Watched them a ton last season, and they just got every single bounce. When that starts to happen, a team gets a ridiculous level of confidence which is what happened here. Then the offseason moves are getting a bit overrated. Dougie Hamilton WILL BE a number 1 guy, but he’s not there. East is far less physical than the West, he was really inconsistent last season despite good numbers, he’s young. He will be a number 1, he’s just not there. And I’m a huge Frolik fan, but he’s a 3rd line guy. So this is more of a result of a division that lacks depth then a stamp of approval of the Flames being good. Also I said it before, say it again, Bob Hartley’s track record is he has a shelf life of 3-4 years. I do like though that a fast team might be faster with Hamilton, Frolik and Bennett so that will be tough to handle. Playoff team, but not a good playoff team.
Vancouver Canucks – It always seems as though I’m giving the Canucks more of the benefit of the doubt than anyone else. I believed that in 2013 they would finally emerge as a playoff power, they got swept. In 2014 I believed Torts would actually work short term, he immediately was a disaster. I’ve believed they’ve been solid at the draft table in years past, they have not. Yet here I go again. I don’t think they’re AS BAD as most are making them out to be. Yes, they are not what they were. Yes, the Sedin’s and Ryan Miller are on the back 9 in their careers. But they have some good young pieces stepping in this season, I don’t feel like they downgraded much this offseason, I believe Bieksa is well past his prime, and that this is a well coached group. Remember, Calgary needed all the bounces in the world to get in, while the Canucks cruised to a 101 point season.
San Jose Sharks – They’re better than the Oilers up front, and much better on the back end. But they downgraded behind the bench, in net (in my opinion), and they’re getting pretty old. Again, the Sharks could be 3rd in the division. But they could be 6th. I’m saying 5th but I would be lying if I said it was anything more than a hunch. I’m not a Peter Deboer fan at all though and I’ve heard the book on him is that he doesn’t simplify things for his teams. The Toronto media seems to enjoy overrating this style of a coach.
Edmonton Oilers – This rebuild got a total mulligan when they won McDavid. Combine it with a high end coach and GM coming in, a goaltender who was analytically one of the best in the league last year, a bit of an upgraded D, and the kids all a year older. So it should be a massive improvement, but massive improvement is what was needed to just be in the playoff hunt let alone in the playoffs. I just have to be honest about it, and that is that 5 teams in this division are still better than they are. Until 2 of Nurse, Klefbom and Reinhart are established as top 4 D-men, I just don’t see them getting in the playoffs. I will say though that they should have an elite PP, and Justin Schultz is a massive X factor for them. If Schultz gets his game back to where it should be, it’ll be a major boost for the Oil and at least have them playing meaningful games come March.
Arizona Coyotes – Stay down for 1 more year and hope you strike gold in getting Auston Matthews. He would be incredible for this drastically failing franchise. An Arizona born and raised kid playing for the Yotes, perfect. I will say though, I don’t like picking a Dave Tippett coached team to finish last in the division. Watch for the goaltending to just be the worst you’ve ever seen because as we all know Sean Burke was the greatest goaltending coach of all time and Dave Tippett’s system in no way contributes to good goaltending numbers.
St. Louis Blues – They haven’t figured out the playoffs yet, mainly because Doug Armstrong can’t figure out that Hitchcock can’t hide his shitty goaltending in the playoffs like he can in the regular season. If he goes and actually improves the goaltending, they’ll win in April too. As of writing this, I would suggest Jonas Hiller makes sense. He’s at least an upgrade over Elliot and Allen. They have everything else needed to succeed.
Nashville Predators – They’ll start declining under Peter Laviolette, as it’s just what teams do under him. But his shelf life is 2 or 3 seasons, so they’ll be good again this season as long as Pekka Rinne stays healthy again.
Minnesota Wild – I really don’t know what to make of them. Devan Dubnyk started to show cracks already in the playoffs of being back to what he has been in his career which is an ok goaltender but not a legit number 1 guy. I really believe Dubnyk is either a great backup or an ok starter, but that’s it. As for the rest of the team, when they signed Parise and Suter, they were largely depending on their system to develop the surrounding cast which at the time was being praised (take note Jets fans). Half the guys Chuck Fletcher traded, the other half either hasn’t become what was expected, or is taking their sweet time. This roster is good enough to be in the playoffs, but not good enough to go far.
*Chicago Blackhawks – All of a sudden people are thinking nothing has changed with this team and it’ll be same old, same old. Back to the West final, top of the Central division, nothing to see here. Hey, I loved how Stan Bowman handled the cap situation. Didn’t off load guys for picks, just for lower cap hits. Plugged a lot of holes. Farm system looks good, roster is in it’s prime, looks good. But it’s still A LOT of change, and the Patrick Kane saga isn’t a dead issue. That’s still likely to be a distraction. I think they’ll make the playoffs, but it’ll be down to the wire.
*Dallas Stars – Everyone just LOVES what this team did this offseason. But, come on. Don’t look at the noise, look at the results. Improved defensively? No. Improved the blueline? No. Goaltending better? Not really. So how is this team going to be so much better? I like them a little better than the Jets and Avs, but splitting hairs. I think they’re good enough to get in the playoffs, but they won’t go far. IF Tyler Seguin decides to grow up and develop a 200 foot game, then it would be massive for the Stars. But as of right now I believe they’re in a group with the Jets, Avs, Canucks, Flames, and Sharks fighting for the final playoff spots in the West. All of those teams can get in, none of them can go far.
Winnipeg Jets – I hope this isn’t the case, but much like the Flames, the Jets are a lot more likely to fall back this season than to take another step or maintain the success they had. Then, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien need new contracts. Can Pavelec and Hutchinson play as amazing as they did last season? That’s the big question. Nik Ehlers, perhaps Josh Morrissey, and another step from Mark Scheifele could off set that though. Again, they could finish as high as 5th and in the final wildcard spot, MAYBE 4th depending on how the Patrick Kane things plays out in Chicago. But right now, they’re stuck in that group.
Colorado Avalanche – They would be a playoff team in the East. They are even with the 3-5 teams in the Pacific. This is much more about how tough this division is than the Avs not developing. The blueline is still a work in progress, and while Beauchemin is a good signing for them, he slows this team down even more which I believe was their big problem last year. All the teams that seem to buck analytic trends (the Leafs, Avs and Flames) all have teams that can fly, and last year the Avs brought in vets thinking they were helping but likely hurt them as a team as the vets slowed them down. They are building a powerhouse though. Luckily for them they had the 2010 and 14 seasons which has distracted observers from believing their rebuild wasn’t moving fast enough.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Maybe just me, but I’m not near as high on this team as others. Not to say they aren’t a top team in the East, obviously they are. But I don’t see them knocking off anyone who’ll come out of the West. BUT, if they dealt Stamkos as I laid out a little while back and got what they needed, they could become that elite team many already believe they are. Still need a horse or two to emerge on the blueline in my mind. Would also need to get a good 2 way center back in a Stamkos deal. But make no mistake, this team is going to be the elite of the East for a long time.
Montreal Canadiens – Yet another Canadian team that had no business being as good as they were last season. Carey Price was one of the easiest Hart trophy picks in league history. Seems like just yesterday I was on an island telling everyone how good he was as idiots proclaimed “you have to go with Luongo, he won in 2010!!!” Anyway, the Habs tried hard to upgrade their size in the offseason. But the problem is that they don’t have the horses down the middle. Tomas Plekanec is OK, but he’s not the answer. David Desharnais is nice, but not the answer. Alex Galchenyuk needs to be used there, but he’ll need some time to adjust. So I hate what they’re running with at center and I believe that’s the real problem. You can add Alex Semin and hope he can overcome the disappointment label and shine this season. The Habs still can’t match up with the big boys down the middle and that is vital come playoff time.
Florida Panthers – I can’t believe I’m saying this. So I might be early on calling them a playoff team. But I just look at the type of guys they’re building with and it’s IMPRESSIVE! Barkov, Bjugstad, Huberdeau, Ekblad, Gudbransson, Kulikov, Matheson, McCoshen, and now Lawson Crouse in this draft. We’re talking SIZE, they can skate, and we’re talking about key positions. Then you add a stud goaltender like Luongo and a very weak division, and I like them to get in the dance.
*Detroit Red Wings – If they were still in the West, no way would I put them here. But they aren’t. So they’re still going to be on the cusp of getting in. And they’ll still produce players. But the combination of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall getting on in years and Mike Babcock moving on isn’t good in my opinion. I think Jeff Blashill is going to be good as head coach, but Babcock is pretty difficult to top. Something else I don’t love about them moving forward is that while they’re producing good players still, they aren’t producing them in the middle or on D. Still in the playoffs I’m thinking, but the drop off is coming soon.
Ottawa Senators – This is a team that I really don’t know what to make of. They rode a title wave of momentum in the 2nd half of last season to get in the playoffs. They’re really well setup moving forward, but I think they were way above their heads last year and will come back down to earth. Neither Anderson or Hammond will play as amazing as the Hamburgler did last season. If they are to get back in the dance this season, Curtis Lazar and Cody Ceci are 2 kids who have the talent to take the next step and emerge as stars.
Boston Bruins – Too much turmoil I’m thinking. Still have talent in all the right area’s. But Julien is a dead coach walking. Lucic was the heart of this team. And I just don’t like what’s going on there. It seems like they want to full on rebuild but have only gone half way to this point.
Toronto Maple Leafs – 7th, but I honestly think they might compete for a playoff spot. Doubt they get in, but they’ll be solid. They aren’t going to bottom out I know that. Babcock is too good of a coach, too much talent still on the roster, and no key players are getting too old. It’s almost as if I could see this playing out that they get back to being a playoff team sooner than expected, but end up not having the high end talent to win a Cup because they never bottomed out. We’ll see. I don’t like how many undersized wingers they have coming. MAYBE Marner makes the jump to being a full time center in London this season, but that’s a big ask.
Buffalo Sabres – Much improved, but I still think they end up in the basement of the division. The East is so bad though that they could be a playoff team too. They aren’t near as bad as last year, but I just don’t think they moved ahead of anyone in the offseason. And Dan Bylsma gets a lot of fanfare, but I’ve never been a big fan. The Pens won a Cup with him behind the bench, and then got worse and worse as time went on. A lot of this really depends on Robin Lehner who has had an awful preseason. Obviously Tim Murray believes in him a lot more than I do. If he is right on Lehner, they contend for a playoff spot. If I’m right, this is where they end up. But while they might spend another year at the bottom a lot like the Oilers, they are loaded moving forward and will be among the best in the East before too long.
Washington Capitals – LOVE what they did. Nothing big, but just some nice moves for a team that was already close. Oshie is an upgrade over Brouwer, Williams is an upgrade over Ward. And then Wilson, Burakovsky, and Kuznetsov all are on the upswing and it doesn’t look like any of their guys are primed for a drop off. Add it all up and you have my pick for Eastern conference champs, despite being burned by them many times before.
Pittsburgh Penguins – In the regular season they’ll be fine. Kessel will boost Sid’s numbers, the PP will improve, and they shouldn’t be hit with the injuries as hard as they were last season. But I don’t believe in Mike Johnston as a coach, and I really don’t believe in Jim Rutherford as a GM. He’s now sunk three 1st round picks into wingers and he’s only been there for 18 months. That’s…not good. But again, they are built for the regular season. They aren’t built for the playoffs though and as I once said on twitter I’ll say again: When are we going to start noticing that the Pens are wasting Sid’s career?
NY Rangers – Does anyone notice that they’re a model franchise? I think everyone still sees them as a big spending, big ego, Rangers of old. But they have faded further and further away from being that team to the point now where when they lose a guy, they have a guy ready to go as a replacement. It’s really impressive. Best blueline in the East, solid down the middle, and we know the goaltending is there.
*Columbus Blue Jackets – This team is getting far too much love. They are really well rounded, but people talked about the Saad pickup as if it was the final piece to the puzzle. Sure. Who needs a good blueline, hey? This is a very good team. They aren’t a great team. They’re a playoff team, and the type of team which will give higher seeds problems when they get there. But they aren’t what they are getting made out to be, much like the Wild weren’t the next big thing that they were getting made out to be at this time last season.
NY Islanders – On the rise for sure, but management scares me. I feel like they got over on the Oilers at the draft, but was ANOTHER forward really the way to go? Barzal was far and away the BPA, but I just don’t know if that was the right move for them and then they traded up again to 28 to take ANOTHER forward. And again it was a kid I personally loved in Anthony Beauvillier, but still. The only concern I have for them repeating last season is if Halak can stay healthy, and I don’t think he will. If he does, I’m going to be proven wrong because then they’ll likely get in. But I’m not betting on it.
Philadelphia Flyers – Of the last 3 teams, the Flyers are the best situated. Ron Hextall has them going in the right direction. That D is going to be awesome in 2-3 seasons, and I love that they aren’t rushing any of those kids. Giroux is still young enough to go through this rebuild and Couturier is one of the best 2 way center’s in hockey, so they look real good down the middle. But as for right now, they just aren’t a good team. A year at the bottom and possibly landing a top 3 pick wouldn’t be a bad thing at all for this organization. But that’s going to be tough to do with Jersey and Carolina in the same division.
Carolina Hurricanes – They are much like Philly in that the blueline moving forward now looks awesome. But the thing is that they don’t have the horses up front that the Flyers do. Add to that, Eric Staal could be on the move by next summer. And if he goes, I’m guessing Jordan would be dealt because let’s be honest about it; he was only brought into appease Eric and he isn’t worth what he’s getting paid. Jeff Skinner has had concussion issues, but there was also the issue of him getting pretty overrated after his rookie season. This is a dog franchise right now, but that’s not on Ron Francis, it’s the mess Jim Rutherford left. As brutal as it looks, Francis has them going in the right direction.
New Jersey Devils – Now we’ll REALLY see how good of a GM Ray Shero is! He’s not stepping into the same situation he did in Pittsburgh that’s for sure. Pavel Zacha isn’t Sid Crosby. Adam Henrique isn’t Evgeni Malkin. Travis Zajac? Well, he COULD be Jordan Staal. The problem here for the Devils is that Cory Schneider might be too good for them. They really need to fully tear it down and rebuild, and Schneider will keep them in games. It’s always a catch 22. You want to be bad enough to pick high, but you don’t want to allow a losing culture to creep in.
Western Conference Final
Anaheim vs St.Louis
I HAVE to think Doug Armstrong finally goes and gets the Blues a goaltender. Even if the Hawks get back into the playoffs, I don’t see how there big guns wouldn’t gas out after so many deep playoff runs. And the Blues are built for the playoffs, they just need to get a real goaltender. But even if they get one, they aren’t getting past the Ducks. The guys they added, and how much talent they have coming, and how much better that blueline can get, it’s Anaheim’s year.
Eastern Conference Final
Tampa Bay vs Washington
This will be just about everyone’s pick I’m sure. I seen TSN had it the other night as theirs. I’ve had the Caps since about July 5th. They only made a couple of moves this offseason, but I felt like they were so close last season, and now Kuznetsov and Burakovsky are a year older, Orlov will replace Green on the blueline, and as I said previous Williams and Oshie are both nice upgrades. Tampa is just pretty clearly the best team in the Atlantic. The Caps have 3 or 4 challengers in the Metro, I don’t see anyone who can give the Lightning issues in the Atlantic except maybe Carey Price…and he’s a goaltender, not a team.
Stanley Cup Final
Anaheim vs Washington
I’ve been burned by the Caps plenty of times before. But I’m going with them again to get to the final. But they won’t beat the Ducks. They’ll pose a TOUGH challenge. The Caps for years now are the 1 team other than Boston in the East who would match up well with the size and speed of the West powerhouses. So in no way do I think this would be a cake walk for the Ducks like it has been for the Kings and Hawks the last 2 years. But in the end, I just think it’s the Ducks year. They proved themselves last season, and they are really improved this year. Barring major injury problems, I don’t see how they don’t win it all in 2016.
Hart – Sidney Crosby
With all the assets they’ve sunk into getting Sid scoring help, he’ll put up massive numbers.
Norris – Drew Doughty
The morons who didn’t vote for him last season will make up for their horrific mistake last season. Well, it wasn’t a mistake. Morons do moronic things.
Vezina – Carey Price
He should come back to earth a bit, but he’s still elite and I’m proud to say I was one of the very few outside of Quebec who noticed before the 2014 Olympics.
Adams – Todd McLellan
This award is for the coach who’s team surprises the most. So I’m saying McLellan because if the Oilers rise up, he would get a ton of credit. But I don’t think they will…it’s a tricky award to predict.
Selke – Anze Kopitar
He’s overdue to win this award. The Kings will rebound this year, and he SHOULD finally get it.
Calder – Connor McDavid
I’m tempted to say Eichel, just because I feel like as an Oilers fan I’m jinxing this. But he’s going to put up big numbers, especially being on a high end PP.
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