Big NHL Regular Season Preview

The NHL regular season begins tonight. How does it end six months from now?

Read on….

Eastern Conference

Chris says:

Top 3 teams from Metro Division

  1. New York Rangers

The reigning Metro division champs finish the regular season on top again – thanks to another stellar year in net for Henrik Lunqvist and the growth of young guns Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.

  1. Washington Capitals

Year two under Barry Trotz is going to pay big dividends for the Capitals. Trotz has done the seemingly impossible – motivated Alex Ovechkin. He has also built a solid defensive system in front of budding superstar Braden Holtby in net. The addition of TJ Oshie certainly doesn’t hurt either.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins

The rumors of the demise of the Pittsburgh Penguins are vastly overstated. The Penguins aren’t going to miss the playoffs – no matter how trendy that prediction may be among hockey talking heads. Indeed, the Pens top three lines are arguably the best in the NHL. How far these Pens can go will likely depend on the health of d-men Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, as well as the development of young d-men like Derek Pouliot and Briam Dumoulin.

Top 3 teams from Atlantic Division

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning

A healthy Steven Stamkos plus a breakout year from former #3 pick Jonathan Drouin will mean another strong regular season run for the Bolts. Drouin is poised for a huge breakout year after a strong showing in the pre-season. Ben Bishop has shown he is more than just a big body in net – it helps that he has a stud d-man in Victor Hedman playing in front of him.

  1. Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens rode the glove of goalie Carey Price all the way to the top of the Atlantic Division last year. While I expect another good year out of Price, I don’t expect he will be able to keep the Habs on top this year. I do expect a big year out of defenseman PK Subban and a breakout year for 21 year old Alex Galchenyuk. The Canadiens certainly have enough to make the playoffs again.

  1. Florida Panthers

Don’t sleep on the Florida Panthers. After years of being doormats, the rebuilt Panthers should make the playoffs. Look for a big bounce back year from Jonathan Huberdeau, who struggled in his sophomore season, and look for another big year from last year’s Calder winner – defenseman Aaron Ekblad. It’s not just the kids leading the way in Florida however, ageless Jaromir Jagr gives the team some much needed leadership and swagger and veteran goalie Roberto Luongo will keep them in games with his solid play in net.

Two Wild Card Teams

  1. New York Islanders

Don’t get me wrong, the Islanders have talent, and they are going to be a fun team to watch as they launch their inaugural season in Brooklyn. Jonathan Tavares is going to win a Hart trophy in the near future and line mate Kyle Okposo could be an 80 point plus threat if he can stay healthy. Not to mention that 22 year old Ryan Strome – coming off a 50 point season – is poised to become a superstar. The problem for the Islanders is that they have Jaroslav Halak in net, which is simply not enough to get this team far in the postseason.

  1. Buffalo Sabres

This is not a typo – yes those Sabres, the league-worst 54-point Sabres from last year. The Sabres traded for Ryan O’Reilly in the offseason, drafted stud Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel, and will finally get to see former Winnipeg Jet Evander Kane on the ice in Buffalo. The Sabres will score goals – no doubt about it. Look for Evander Kane to net more than 40 and for Eichel to challenge Connor McDavid for the Calder. The question is how many goals will they give up and the answer is probably a lot. Robin Lehner isn’t the answer in net and the defense in front of him is thin. I think, however, that they will win enough 5 to 4 games to have them sneak into the playoffs.

Mary says:

Top 3 teams from Metro Division

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Easy: Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, and Letang.

  1. New York Rangers

Expectations are sky high for the Rangers. Stanley Cup finalists in 2014. Eastern Conference Finalists in 2015. Lundqvist will once again carry the team on his back, but it might be a tad easier with three powerful lines in front of him.

  1. Washington Capitals

Ovechkin and goalie Braden Holtby with keep the team in contention. They might even perform better with TJ Oshie.

Top 3 teams from Atlantic Division

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning

They will hopefully have Hedman all season. If he remains healthy they will be unstoppable. Now if only someone could convince Bishop to remain in the net and not on the blue line….

  1. Montréal Canadiens

Price is so talented he will lead the team into the playoffs again, but he cannot make them win the division, especially if Hedman is healthy. Subban is also a great offensive defenseman, but he needs to remember his position: defenseman. If he can concentrate on the blue line and assist his team they might take the top spot from Tampa Bay. MIGHT.

  1. Detroit Red Wings

No Michael Babcock. No Pavel Datsyuk until November. They also placed Danny DeKeyser, Alexey Marchenkp, and Darren Helm on the IR. But you cannot discount the Red Wings. They’re the RED WINGS. They captured Brad Richards, who will easily handle the second line until Datsyuk comes back.

Two Wild Card Teams

  1. Buffalo Sabres

Talk about a 180 change. Talented Bylsma with corral the team around Evander Kane and rookie standout Eichel to take the team into the playoffs. They may not advance past the first round, but the team will have a new spark to them. People will want to watch these games.

  1. New York Islanders

Tavares will have another standout year as the team relocates to Brooklyn. But, like Chris said, Jaroslav Halak is not strong enough to push the team deep into the playoffs.

Western Conference

Chris says:

Top 3 teams from Central Division

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

Look, Patrick Kane controversy or not, you just don’t bet against the defending Stanley Cup champions. Will they run away with the division? No. Are they thinner in depth because of the salary cap? Yes. But this is still a team built to win now.

  1. Winnipeg Jets

Don’t look now but the once-lowly Thrashers are about to build a dynasty in Winnipeg. The Jets are young and physical. Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and Andrew Ladd are all underrated. Mark Schiefele and Jacob Trouba appear on the cusp of becoming stars in this league and youngsters Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey look to make this Jets team even more dangerous than the one that finally made the playoffs last year. The real question is whether or not Ondrej Pavelec and/or Michael Hutchinson can play consistently well enough in net to keep these young Jets in games.

  1. Nashville Predators

When you have Pekka Rinne in net and a stud blue line anchored by Shea Weber and Roman Josi you are always going to be competitive. The question is whether or not they have the fire power up front to win enough games in the very tough Central Division. James Neal and Filip Forsberg are the real deal on that top line, but lots of questions marks remain offensively for this Nashville squad.

Top 3 teams from Western Division

  1. Anaheim Ducks

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are still the most potent line combination in the NHL. I also like the addition of Carl Hagelin to play on the wing of one of the best two-way centers in the league in Ryan Kesler. I also think the veteran addition of Shawn Horcoff – a former Oilers Captain – will help. The Ducks defense looks solid, especially after they fleeced the Penguins last year in the deal for former first rounder Simon Despres. John Gibson is the future net minder in Orange County but the question is the future now? The Ducks brought back Frederik Anderson and added Anton Khudobin as insurance, so it remains to be seen when Gibson will take up residence in net on a full time basis for the Ducks.

  1. Calgary Flames

The Calgary Flames are definitely a team on the rise. Johnny Hockey – Johnny Gaudreau – scored a rookie high 64 points this year, and 19 year old former first round pick Sam Bennett looks to make a similar splash this year. Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler join Johnny Hockey on a dangerous top line. The Flames second line looks improved as well with the young Bennett centering Michael Frolik who was signed as a free agent after a big year in Winnipeg. Defensively the Flames are improved thanks to the addition of former Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton.

  1. Los Angeles Kings

To be honest, after the Ducks and the Flames the once-mighty Pacific remains kind of a mess. I like the young Oilers, but not enough to pick them to finish ahead of the Kings. While the Kings are not the Kings they were of a couple of years ago, I do believe that they have the pieces in place to make another playoff appearance – after missing the playoffs last year. Off ice issues led to the departure of Slava Voynov, Mike Richards, and Jarret Stoll. I like the addition of Milan Lucic from the Bruins to the Kings who should also see big seasons out of Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. Drew Doughty remains one of the best d-men in the league and Jonathan Quick continues to be one of the league’s top net minders.

Two Wild Card teams

  1. Dallas Stars

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are arguably the scariest point producing linemates in all the NHL. That top line got a little more scary with the addition of veteran Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks. The real question is do the Stars have enough pieces around this top line to make it to the post-season. I think they do. Look for a big year from a healthy Valeri Nichushkin and solid enough d-play (boosted in part by the addition of Johnny Oduya). While I don’t think you are going to win the Stanley Cup with Kari Lehtonen in net, I do think he is a serviceable NHL goalie.

  1. Minnesota Wild

The single biggest question mark for the Wild is whether Devan Dubnyk can dominate the way he did after being acquired by the Wild from the Arizona Coyotes? Dubnyk was nothing short of dominant. If he can sustain high level goalie play the Wild have enough pieces on both offense (Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek) and defense (Ryan Suter and rookie Mike Reilly) to challenge for a post-season spot.

Mary says:

Top 3 teams from Central Division

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

As long as they have Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford/Scott Darling one cannot count out the Stanley Cup champions. Three cups in the last six years. I’m not even going to address Patrick Kane. He was gone for a long time in the second half of the season and the team still pulled through.

  1. Nashville Predators

So many people picked them as number one, but again they don’t have Toews or Crawford. They do have Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber, which will push them to a very close second. I bet they watched plenty of tape from their first round matchup against the Hawks.

  1. St. Louis Blues

Can they get past the first round for once? The world thought they had the answers in 2014. Then in 2015. But do they for 2016? They feel optimistic when they signed Troy Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak. But they still have Jake Allen at the net. Price and Lundvqist proved the goalie is needed the most in the playoffs. The magic of Crawford and Darling snagged the Blackhawks another Cup. It all ends up on Allen. It’s hard to go with them due to their goalie performance the last two years.

Top 3 teams from Western Division

  1. Anaheim Ducks

They’re the one team who can challenge the Hawks for the Cup. They will win the West because of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kessler, Corey Perry, and big acquisition Carl Hagelin. Frederik Andersen let in a few bad goals in the Conference Finals, but the man can do it.

  1. Calgary Flames

They rose up last year and are here to stay. Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett will make it hard for the Ducks to win the West, but they will go far and deep into the playoffs. They managed to sign Michael Frolik, who will excel even more with Bennett on his side.

  1. Los Angeles Kings

While the Hawks received the majority of the attention in the offseason, it was tougher for the Kings. They cut Mike Richards after he was arrested when he was found with a controlled substance at the Canadian border. Then Jarrett Stoll was arrested for cocaine and ecstasy. Don’t forget the horrific domestic abuse case against Slava Voynov. Yet, without the trouble makers, the Kings can excel in a shaky division. They gained Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins. Drew Doughty will provide the much needed defense. They still have a major star in Jonathan Quick. Plus, coach Darryl Sutter. If anyone thinks Sutter will allow the Kings to miss the playoffs again is sadly mistaken.

Two Wild Card teams

  1. Winnipeg Jets

It is so hard not to like this team! A little town in Canada loves their team. (You hear that Gary Bettman? Put a team in Quebec City!) However, they don’t quite have the tools yet to compete on the level as the top 3 Central teams named above. Watch out for Alex Burmistrov and Nikolaj Ehlers!

  1. Minnesota Wilda

If Devan Dubnyk can repeat 2014-2015 the Wild will be a contender again.

 


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