The puck has dropped on the start of the 2016-2017 NHL season. Here is a quick preview of what you can expect this year.
It appears that Sidney Crosby’s concussion is not serious, which is good news for the returning Stanley Cup champions. The Pens have all the pieces in place from last year’s campaign to make another run at hoisting Lord Stanley’s cup. The Pens are loaded with talent. As so often is the case in Pittsburgh it comes down to goalie play. The question in net is: Will Matt Murray be able to dislodge Marc Andre-Fleury when he returns from his injury?
The Capitals enjoyed a magical regular season run last year en route to the President’s Cup. First-year Caps head coach Barry Trotz got the most out of his superstars and installed an effective (if somewhat unflexible) system that emphasized physicality. The Caps will enjoy another great regular season but questions linger about whether they can get over the hump in the playoffs.
- NY Islanders
The Islanders always seem on the cusp of putting together an elite season. They often, sadly, also seem on the brink of another rebuild. Jonathan Tavares is one of the best in all of hockey, but he can’t do it by himself. The Islanders signed former Winnipeg Jet Andrew Ladd to a 7-year deal in the offseason, hoping the winger can add some much needed firepower.
Almost no one gave the Bolts a real shot at re-signing Steven Stamkos – but they did. Almost everyone thought Jonathan Drouin would never succeed in Tampa – but he did. Tampa’s GM Steve Yzerman is a genius. This is a young, talented, and complete team that will be a serious threat to win the Cup for years to come.
Last year, without Carey Price, the Habs were a mess. The offseason was a tumultuous one, too, with PK Subban dealt to Nashville. I expect the Habs to bounce back this year. Price is back, Shea Weber (acquired for Subban) is one of the best D-men in the league, and Max Pacioretty is one of the league’s most elite goal scorers.
Years of high draft picks – the result of years of losing – are finally paying dividends for the Panthers. Amazingly enough, Jaromir Jagr – once considered a selfish locker room cancer – is proving an invaluable mentor to the talented young Panthers. Now if the NHL would just give up on leaving this team in South Florida and move it to Quebec City.
Locking up Brad Marchand was a very good move by the Bruins, now the question is whether or not Marchand can continue to play at the same high level we saw in the World Cup. I love the offseason addition of David Backes.
The Rangers aren’t the Rangers of a couple of years ago, but as long as Lundqvist is in net this team will be competitive. I expect Rick Nash to bounce back and the Rangers to squeak into the playoffs (I almost put the Blue Jackets in this final slot).
If it weren’t for a rash of injuries the Stars might be the class of the NHL. Offseason surgery to Jamie Benn and an injury to Tyler Seguin in the World Cup certainly cast a pall over the start of the season for the Stars. I expect this team to get healthy and win the Central.
We were told that eventually the salary cap would catch up to the Blackhawks, but somehow, they continue to be a threat at making a Cup run. With Kaine and Toews, the ageless Marian Hossa, and the unbelievably brilliant addition of Artemi Panarin from the KHL last year, the Hawks boast plenty of offensive firepower. The Blackhawks possess a solid defensive core – led by Keith and Seabrook – and Crawford has shown he is capable of leading a team to a Cup in net. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the Blackhawks raise yet another Stanley Cup.
- St. Louis
The Blues are like the Caps of the West: consistently putting together elite regular season performances only to fail in the playoffs. The decision to bring back Hitchcock – but to also hire his successor Mike Yeo – seems bizarre to me. I think the Blues falter a little this year, but still make it to the playoffs.
- San Jose
The Sharks ran into a buzz saw in the Stanley Cup finals last year against a white-hot Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sharks are once again poised to make a Cup run. The Sharks are getting older and have several high-profile players who will become free agents at the end of this year. As a result, I expect the Sharks front office to go all in this year in an effort to hoist the Cup.
This team will rise of fall on the backs of their big three – Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler. They struggled last year when their big three struggled. I expect bounce back years from their corps, which will be enough to get them into the playoffs. Will be fun to see net-minder John Gibson finally get to play every day.
Never count the Kings out when it comes playoff time. Assuming, of course, that the Kings can make into the playoffs. I think they sneak in (but look out for the Flames and Coyotes) but the aging (and slowing) Kings are likely about to see their window of opportunity close.
The Predators have it all: goaltending, solid defensive play (headlined by the newly acquired PK Subban and returning blue liner Roman Josi), and offensive firepower. To make the leap to Cup contenders the Predators will need to see more additions on the offensive side of the ice – they can’t simply rely on Forsberg and Neal to carry them.
Since they moved to Winnipeg, the Thrashers/Jets seem to always be a year away from being truly competitive. I think this is the year that some of the Jets young guns (Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers) help the Jets squeak into the playoffs. How far the Jets can go likely depend on how ready goalie Connor Hellebuyck is to carry the load in net in the post Pavelec era. Getting young stud d-man Jacob Trouba under contract (or moving him for value) would certainly help, too.
Tampa over Pittsburgh
Chicago over San Jose
Stanley Cup Finals
Tampa over Chicago