Tuesday, September 30, 2014
2013-14 record: 37-35-10 (84 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Andrew Ladd
The Winnipeg Jets have been continuing the tradition that the Atlanta Thrashers started when they first joined the league in 1999. That's not a compliment, and entering year four, Jets fans are getting restless. A largely unchanged (of any significance) roster returns, as does the front office. However, a coaching change was made in the middle of last season, and now, it is up to Paul Maurice, who took over mid-season, to get the Jets pointed in the right direction. Given the division they're in, it will not be easy.
Up front, the only real change is that Dustin Byfuglien is moving back to right wing, a position he played while in Chicago. While he was a major goal contributor from the blue line last season (20 goals), it was cancelled out by the fact that he was a major liability in his own end (-20). Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Evander Kane all return, which isn't bad. However, this is largely the same group that has overseen a playoff-less run since the Thrashers days, and Kane remains an enigma off the ice. The less said about the blue line, the better, as they've been in the bottom third of the league since their only playoff run of 2007. There are some good players here, with Jacob Trouba being a rising star. However, if the Jets are to get anywhere, they will need good health (Zach Bogosian, Paul Postma, and Grant Clitsome all missed time) and a return to form by Tobias Enstrom. If you're looking for a fatal flaw on the Jets, look no further than in goal, as Ondrej Pavelec posted horrific numbers (3.01 GAA) as a starter. An eventual replacement is in the pipeline (Eric Comrie and/or Connor Hellebuyck), but nothing right away if Pavelec continues to struggle.
Prediction: 7th in the Central Division
The Jets' path to the playoffs was already going to be tough, with five of the seven teams making the playoffs last season. However, a less than sterling defense and mediocre goaltending make it nearly impossible to say the Jets will be in anything more than the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
Monday, September 29, 2014
2013-14 record: 38-30-14 (90 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Alexander Oveckin
It's one thing to be disappointing in the playoffs. It's another to actually miss the playoffs, and that is something the Washington Capitals did after many seasons of never finishing at or above expectations in the Alexander Ovechkin-era. That led to the ax job on the General Manager and head coaching jobs, meaning George McPhee and Adam Oates were let go, and in their places would be Brian MacLellan and Barry Trotz.
Offensive depth remains an issue, but a large part of the their offense still goes through Ovechkin, who scored 51 goals en route to a Rocket Richard Trophy. Still, it didn't cover up his -35 rating, and worse yet, it also exposed the lack of depth on the blue line, as well as some issues with the old coaching regime's tactics. To that end, Trotz was brought in, and he brings a solid defensive pedigree with him. For depth, Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were brought in, which should at worst, provide the Capitals with six solid defensemen. Up front, Evgeny Kuznetsov finally gets the opportunity to show what he can do, and if he plays well, he will provide the Capitals with that elusive second line center they've been needing for years behind Niklas Backstrom. Braden Holtby would like a refund on last season, but he is now the unquestioned starter, which should improve his confidence.
Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division
The Capitals got better defensively, but everything is still on Ovechkin's stick, for better or for worse. Everyone that was ahead of the Capitals in the division last season improved save for the Flyers, which means it will be tough sledding for the Capitals to make the playoffs once again.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
2013-14 record: 36-35-11 (83 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Henrik Sedin
The 2013-14 season for the Vancouver Canucks is one that is neither likely to be forgotten anytime soon nor one that anyone associated with the team would like to remember. The John Tortorella Experiment ended after one year, but not before the Roberto Luongo Ferris Wheel finally stopped with a whimper, Tortorella trying his antics during an intermission against the Calgary Flames in a game, Mike Gillis getting canned after several trades gone awry (Derek Roy, anyone?), and Ryan Kesler asking for and getting a trade out of town.
This year, the Canucks will be dipping into their past, as Trevor Linden was brought in as President of Hockey Operations, and he brought in Jim Benning as General Manager and Willie Desjardins as head coach. Linden and Benning wasted no time giving the team a makeover, trading Kesler to Anaheim for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, and a first round pick in 2014 (which turned out to be Jared McCann). In free agency, Ryan Miller was brought in to give Eddie Lack more time to develop and Radim Vrbata will replace some of Kesler's production. Vrbata's addition means that the top three lines are more likely to be set in the places they were meant to be. Desjardins brings with him AHL championship experience, as well as WHL coaching experience, and he brings a more patient approach to the game, something that will go over well in the dressing room. Defensively, a change from the zone scheme will be welcome, and though depth is still an issue, it will help if Alexander Edler rebounds from a horrible 2013-14 campaign, but he will have to wait for redemption while he recovers from injury. Miller will provide a veteran presence in net, but he hasn't been the Ryan Miller of old, and given the win now market of Vancouver, any struggles he has could be magnified.
Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific Division
The Canucks are in a make the playoffs mode this season, and certainly, they have the pieces in place to do so. Goal could be a deciding factor, but a more harmonious front office this season will positively affect the players. After all, it can't be any more chaotic than last season.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
2013-14 record: 38-36-8 (84 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Dion Phaneuf
The Toronto Maple Leafs fell back to their usual bumbling ways after making the playoffs in 2013. From the disastrous maiden year of David Clarkson to the Dave Bolland Experiment gone awry to a defense that was easy to get around, the Maple Leafs took several steps back. Though Jonathan Bernier made his case to be the starting goaltender, he also got hurt, and that exposed both James Reimer and the defensive unit in front of the goaltender. The only moves the Leafs made to fix this unit were buying out Tim Gleason, trading for Roman Polak, and signing Stephane Robidas. None of those moves are exactly extreme makeover quality. The hope here is that Dion Phaneuf will rebound from a horrid year and youngsters Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly will continue to develop into solid players. Up front is where the team's strength lies, particularly the top two lines. The James van Riemsdyk-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel line posted their usual great numbers. It's the bottom two lines that could be an issue, particularly if Clarkson doesn't improve upon his 14 points in 60 games from last season.
Prediction: 7th in the Atlantic Division
The Leafs have more questions than answers at this point, which means they will be missing out on playoff hockey barring a miracle.
Friday, September 26, 2014
2013-14 record: 46-27-9 (101 points)
Lost to Montreal in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Steven Stamkos
The Tampa Bay Lightning were supposed to be a rebuilding team that was going to struggle last season. Losing Steven Stamkos for half the season due to a broken leg and later Martin St. Louis in a trade that saw Ryan Callahan come from the New York Rangers would have suggested this to be true. However, a funny thing happened, and the rookies stepped up, and Ben Bishop emerged as a top goalie for the Lightning as they claimed a playoff spot. However, Bishop was hurt, and down went the Lightning's chances of advancing. Stamkos is healthy once again, and the Lightning suddenly find themselves with higher expectations. Even though they're going to miss Calder Trophy candidate Jonathan Drouin for a month, Stamkos will have Callahan, Valtteri Filppula, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat helping up front, meaning the Lightning will have depth up front. Defense let them down in the playoffs, and other than Victor Hedman, the blue line was mostly in need of better talent. To that end, they traded for Jason Garrison and signed Anton Stralman in free agency. Brian Boyle was also signed to provide the team with badly needed size and a strong presence on the bottom two lines. Bishop seized the starting job last season, but his absence due to injuries was felt, which was why Evgeni Nabokov was signed.
Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division
The Lightning snuck up on last year, and now with higher expectations, they're going to have to prove that it wasn't a fluke. A healthy Stamkos and an improved blue line should ensure that the Lightning won't be a one-year wonder.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
2013-14 record: 51-22-9 (111 points)
Lost to Los Angeles in Conference quarterfinals
The San Jose Sharks became just the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose the series when they turned the trick against the Los Angeles Kings last season. The Sharks' actions during the off-season can be best described as a chicken running around with its head cut off, as they've let Dan Boyle walk, move Brent Burns back to the blue line, taken away all letter designations from their players until after training camp, and are toying with the idea of letting the backup goalie become the starter. While Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still solid point producers, only Marleau actually showed up for the playoffs, and Joe Pavelski emerged as a viable option while Logan Couture was never the same after getting injured prior to Olympic break. There's no shortage of offensive options, but fixing the power play is a must. The blue line sees Burns going back to the position he played on a regular basis as of three seasons ago. This move was necessitated by the Boyle departure, and there will be at least one more newcomer (likely Mirco Mueller) since Brad Stuart was traded. Antti Niemi had a good, but not great season. However, that season got much worse come playoff time, as he was yanked in favor of Alex Stalock, who had a great regular season as a backup, but he could not save the Sharks' sinking ship in the playoffs.
Prediction: 4th in the Pacific Division
The Sharks are doing just about everything to wash away the stench of the 3-0 to 4-3 series loss they endured. Whether or not any of it works will be figured out in the early parts of the season, and with jobs potentially on the line, the pressure to succeed is on more than ever.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
2013-14 record: 52-23-7 (111 points)
Lost to Chicago in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: David Backes
The St. Louis Blues started last season on a tear, and were in fact, a favorite to win the President's Trophy. However, the last six games of the season, and eventually the playoffs, did not look upon them too kindly, as they not only lost the Central Division title on the last day of the regular season, but also lost the playoff series against Chicago after being up 2-0. While the regular season offense and defense were great (for the most part), both ends unraveled in the playoffs. That was why Ryan Miller and his 2.70 GAA in the playoffs wasn't resigned and Peter Stastny was brought in to provide clutch scoring. Stastny joins 33-goal scorer Alexander Steen and four other 20-goal scorers (David Backes, TJ Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, and Vladimir Tarasenko) in the hopes that his playoff luck will rub off on them, as only Tarasenko lived up to any billing as a goal scorer in the playoffs. They will have to compensate somewhat for the loss of Vladimir Sobotka, who brought a toughness to the front lines.
Defensively, this unit can jump start an offense, but won't intimidate anyone, as only Barrett Jackman provides any grit of the regulars. That means the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Kevin Shattenkirk will all have to step up the transition game more so. Miller's departure opens the door for Jake Allen to become a full time NHLer after spending most of last season in the minors. He will be 1B to Brian Elliott's 1A, as the Blues will once again go with the hot hand throughout the season.
Prediction: 2nd in the Central Division
The Blues have offense for days and a system that keeps pucks out of the net. However, those systems seem to break down come playoff time, and now the Blues are playing catch-up with the Blackhawks and Kings of the world. The pressure is on to perform when it counts the most, so how the players respond this season may determine the fate of the coaching staff.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
2013-14 record: 51-24-7 (109 points)
Lost to NY Rangers in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Sidney Crosby
Stop me if you've heard this story before: the Pittsburgh Penguins crack the 100 point barrier in the regular season and have another early playoff exit. That refrain, which happened for the fifth year in a row since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, was enough for upper management to relieve Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma of the General Manager and head coaching duties, respectively. Taking over as General Manager is Jim Rutherford, who was talked out of retirement from being General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes. The new head coach is Mike Johnston, who was last seen taking the Portland Winterhawks to four straight WHL Finals and one Memorial Cup appearance.
Offensively, both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will have at least one new linemate, as Crosby will be without Pascal Dupuis will still be recovering from major knee surgery while Malkin lost James Neal in a trade with Nashville. In fact, the forward lines will have a makeover, mainly on the wings, something that remains familiar with the Penguins, as they've always sought help there since winning it all in 2009. The defense will have some new faces, as well, as Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik are out and Christian Ehrhoff and one from a group that includes Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumolin, and Scott Harrington are in. While Pouliot has an inside track, thanks to playing under Johnston while in Portland, don't expect Dumolin or Harrington to give up without a fight. Marc-Andre Fleury had a solid regular season, and he also found his game in the playoffs after a rough start to that season.
Prediction: 1st in the Metropolitan Division
The Penguins will make the playoffs again, but as it's always been, it will be what they do once they get there where they will ultimately be judged upon. Johnston is expected to implement a system that will get the most out of Crosby and Malkin, which likely means business as usual.
Monday, September 22, 2014
2013-14 record: 42-30-10 (94 points)
Lost to NY Rangers in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Claude Giroux
A chaotic season began with a change in coaches just three games in and ended with an early playoff exit. The off-season, while relatively quiet on the free agent front, was eventful, from Ron Hextall being named General Manager to Claude Giroux having a new hobby with male police officers. The only real change in the lineup is that R.J. Umberger will be joining the team after coming over in a trade with Columbus that saw Scott Hartnell go the other way. Other than that, the lineup remains the same, although the Flyers would love to get rid of Vincent Lecavalier's contract. Offensively, Giroux leads the charge, and though there are plenty of secondary scoring options, most of the players aren't consistent enough to overcome the defensive shortcomings. Speaking of the defense, it remains a problem, as Kimmo Timonen, their best defenseman last year, had to be talked out of retirement for this year. Braydon Coburn is still inconsistent, Mark Streit is strictly an offensive defenseman, and the average age of the six defensemen slated to start the season is north of 30. Despite the 20th rank on defense, it was Steve Mason who kept the Flyers in it most nights. His absence was felt the most in the playoffs, where the Flyers were simply shellacked when he wasn't there.
Prediction: 4th in the Metropolitan Division
Offensively, the Flyers can compete with anyone in the league, and as long as Steve Mason is healthy and building upon a solid 2013-14 campaign, the Flyers could be a dark horse to make a deep playoff run. However, the blue line unit remains average at best, and are in desperate need of a dominant number one player.
2013-14 record: 37-31-14 (88 points)
Missed the playoffs
The Ottawa Senators were expected to build upon a 2013 season that saw them make the Conference semi-finals. Instead, the defection of Daniel Alfredsson in the off-season, combined with some dysfunction in the locker room led to the Senators missing the playoffs last season and now with them looking for a new captain...again, the future of the team this season is uncertain. They have youth on their side, but it's time for them to deliver, as Jason Spezza and mid-season acquisition Ales Hemsky left for Dallas. Where Ottawa needs improvement from the most is from the blue line backwards, as they were 27th in the league on defense. The blue line on paper, should be a solid unit. However, they weren't all that great, though the normally reliable goaltending had something to do with it. A fully healthy Erik Karlsson and a more focused Jared Cowen will be key to the team's successes from the blue line this season. As for goaltending, no goaltender had a GAA below 3.00, and though Craig Anderson signed an extension in the off-season, he will still be pressed by Robin Lehner, who is the team's future in goal.
Prediction: 4th in the Atlantic Division
If everything breaks right, the Senators will be back in the playoffs. However, there is a lot of questions that have to be answered, and coach Paul MacLean will have to have the full faith of the players once again.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Saturday, the Prince George Cougars came into town, and things weren't great from the word go. Chase Witala and Jansen Harkins would put the Cougars up 2-0 after the first period. Goals from Paul Bittner and Jari Erricson would make it 3-1 in favor of Prince George heading into the final period. Layne Viveiros and Bittner would pull the Winterhawks within one, but the comeback was not to be, as Chance Braid would add two goals and give Prince George a 6-3 win.
The Winterhawks are back in action this weekend, as they will hit the road against Vancouver on Friday before coming home for back-to-back games against Everett on Saturday and Sunday.
2013-14 record: 45-31-6 (96 points)
Lost to Los Angeles in Stanley Cup Finals
The improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals for the New York Rangers should in theory, be a springboard to better things. However, a deflating five game loss to the Los Angeles Kings could say something different. A team that wasn't expected to advance very far in the playoffs, they exceeded expectations, and now that the Rangers have an idea of what to expect from Alain Vigneault, it will be up to the Rangers to put it all together to finish their business.
Offensively, the Rangers had a hard time in the regular season, as Mats Zuccarello led the team in scoring (of all the players that were there the entire season). Rick Nash scored 26 goals, but his disappearing act in the playoffs underscores the fact that he still hasn't done enough. 30-plus goals is where he should be, and that is a number he has not been at since coming over two summers ago. Martin St. Louis struggled when he came over in a mid-season trade, but found his way come playoff time, and he will be better for having a full season with the Rangers this season. A predominantly young group will have to step up, which means the likes of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Carl Hagelin will need to improve their scoring totals.
Defense is no problem, as the Rangers can roll out three solid pairings. Ryan McDonagh is emerging as a superstar, and players such as Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Kevin Klein are a good supporting cast. Dan Boyle replaces Anton Stralman, and while Boyle isn't the defensive stalwart Stralman is, he does provide offense from the blue line. This unit plays in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who has plenty left in the tank. A less than sterling first half gave way to a stellar second half and carried over to the playoffs, where he kept the team in it most nights.
Prediction: 2nd in the Metropolitan Division
The Rangers have the pieces in place and now carry experience of a deep playoff run with them. but with that experience comes expectations. The Penguins and Bruins are still in the same Conference, and both will want the spot the Rangers occupied last season.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
2013-14 record: 34-37-11 (79 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: John Tavares
The New York Islanders will be playing their last season on Long Island, moving to Brooklyn in 2015. Ending that time with a playoff run is probably going to be easier said than done, but at worst, they will have an offense that can compete with other teams most nights. It begins with John Tavares, who is the by far, the team's best player. His absence after getting injured during the Olympics was felt, as the offense was sparse, with only Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen joining Tavares in the 40-plus point club. Okposo led the club in points, but was only three points ahead of Tavares. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin join the team and will add secondary scoring to a club in desperate need of it. Other players to watch for include Ryan Strome and Michael Grabner, as Strome will be better acclimated to the NHL after a 37-game stint with the big club while Grabner hopes to rebound after an injury riddle season.
Defense is where things get dicey. Right now, the top pairing is Travis Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky, and while Hamonic would be a solid option on the top pairing on most teams, Visnovsky is the team's best offensive option from the blue line by default, and he's nearing 40. The rest of the group is what can be best described as average, at best. There was a reason the Islanders went with all defensemen in the 2012 NHL Draft, and it appears that the first pick from that year Griffin Reinhart is ready to join the Islanders. 2013 first round pick Ryan Pulock may not be far behind. At least the Islanders have a better duo in goal than last year, as Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson bring 2.25 and 2.10 GAA, respectively, to a team that was the third worst in the league on defense. How either will handle the team in front of them remains to be seen, as the Islanders are a far cry from the defensively strong Blues and Bruins.
Prediction: 6th in the Metropolitan Division
The Islanders have the ability to score, and this time, they won't have to rely on Tavares for all the scoring. However, until their blue line gets fixed and we find out just how well the goaltending tandem will handle facing many shots a night, the Islanders are not likely to make the playoffs in their last season before Brooklyn.
2013-14 record: 35-29-15 (88 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Bryce Salvador
The biggest story surrounding the New Jersey Devils is that Martin Brodeur will not be in a Devils uniform for the first time since he was drafted in 1990. The goaltending job is now 100 percent Cory Schneider's, and though his record didn't show it, he proved to be the guy that can replace Brodeur. Playing behind a blue line unit that is still strong even with the subtractions of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov helps, thanks in large part to the nice mix of veterans and young players. Offensively, the Devils would love for someone other than Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias to step up. To that end, Mike Cammalleri was brought in to provide goals, something that last year's acquisitions Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder did not do enough of, leaving Jagr and Adam Henrique to do the heavy lifting.
Prediction: 7th in the Metropolitan Division
Though Schneider and the defense will keep the Devils in the playoff hunt, it is the offense that will determine if they end up above the cut off line.
Friday, September 19, 2014
2013-14 record: 38-32-12 (88 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Shea Weber
Two straight seasons of hitting the golf course early prompted major changes for the Nashville Predators, which included a coaching change for the first time in franchise history. Out is Barry Trotz and in is Peter Laviolette, which means there is also a philosophy change for the team. A more offensive oriented approach is something that the new coaching staff is going for, and to that end, they brought in James Neal to help on the wing. Secondary scoring also got some help, as Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy were brought in, giving the Predators much needed depth, particularly since Mike Fisher will miss part of the season due to a torn Achilles tendon. The defense remains largely intact, as Shea Weber remains the leader of the unit. However, the pressure will be on Seth Jones to show improvement from a less than stellar rookie season. It will help that defensively responsible Anton Volchenkov joins the team, not only giving Jones more room to operate, but also take away some of the penalty killing workload from Weber, who played a lot of minutes on the special teams. All eyes will be on Pekka Rinne, as he aims to prove that his injury issues from this past season are behind him. Backup Carter Hutton showed that he is a capable goalie, though his GAA was just average despite the 20 win season.
Prediction: 6th in the Central Division
The Predators improved their lineup up front, but how quickly they adapt to the new style of play and the health in goal are question marks that are likely going to leave the Predators out of the playoff race once again.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
2013-14 record: 46-28-8 (100 points)
Lost to NY Rangers in Conference Finals
Even after an improbable run to the Conference Finals, the Montreal Canadiens are changing the infrastructure of the core of the team. The older leadership that was in place last year is gone save for Andrei Markov, and he will be joined by Tomas Plekanec, PK Subban, and Max Pacioretty as alternate captains, as they will be going that route for this season. In all likelihood, this is a chance for the Canadiens to see how both Pacioretty and Subban handle the leadership responsibilities while having Markov and Plekanec provide a helping hand for both players. As for on-ice production, it's not a surprise that both will be counted on to produce at the levels they're capable of, but it will be up to the supporting cast to provide the secondary goals, as the team was in the bottom third of the league on offense. It would help if Alex Galchenyuk shows he's ready for the added ice time and if new acquisition P-A Parenteau does better than Daniel Briere did last season.
Subban and Markov will be the top pairing, though the unit was solid last season, there will be at least one rookie cracking the roster, whether it is Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, or Greg Pateryn. Carey Price is backing those guys up, and he had a great year all around. Had he not gotten hurt during the Conference Finals series, it is possible the Canadiens would have made the Stanley Cup Finals. Dustin Tokarski proved that he could handle the pressure, playing well in Price's absence, but he will be competing with Peter Budaj for the backup role.
Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division
Even with the change in on-ice leadership, the Canadiens still have the pieces in place to compete with the big boys in Boston and Pittsburgh. However, offensive production is a must because Price and the defensive unit cannot bail out the team every night.
2013-14 record: 43-27-12 (98 points)
Lost to Chicago in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Mikko Koivu
Year three of the Parise/Suter experiment will begin with the same expectations as the previous two had, which means a deep run in the playoffs or else. A good start would be to make the playoffs with room to spare, as they've practically had to play to the last game in the regular season to get there. The offense should be better than tied for 24th in the league, and while Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and newly acquired Thomas Vanek will help, it is up to the young players such as Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, and Nino Niederrreiter to step up. Defensively, they did well despite having a revolving door in goal due to injuries. Ryan Suter is a minute-munching defenseman that sets the tone for the other blue liners, and it's possible that either Matthew Dumba or Christian Folin could be in the mix for a third pairing role. The Wild had five players play a game in goal, beginning with Nicklas Backstrom and ending with Ilya Bryzgalov. Health is something the Wild would like to have on their side, but Josh Harding is already injured, leaving Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper as the prohibitive duo that will be on the roster come opening night.
Prediction: 3rd in the Central Division
The Wild have the pieces to make a deep run. However, an offense that plays less than what is on paper and a goaltending unit that hasn't had the best of luck in terms of health will likely make it another down the wire season for the Wild.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The WHL season kicks off Friday, and nearly half the teams will be entering the season with a new bench boss. The Edmonton Oil Kings raise the banners for both the Ed Chynoweth and the Memorial Cup championships on Saturday against the Kootenay Ice. The East Division is looking to get a team to the Finals for the first time since 2006, and the Brandon Wheat Kings are prohibitive favorites to claim the division. In the Central Division, the Oil Kings will feel the pressure from the Calgary Hitmen, who have depth in most places, though they will be without Jake Virtanen for a month or two while he recovers from off season surgery.
Kelowna is expected to contend in the BC Division while looking to end Portland's reign atop the Western Conference. Speaking of the Winterhawks, they will have a new bench boss in Jamie Kompon as they look to reach the Finals for the fifth straight season. The Seattle Thunderbirds look to dethrone the Winterhawks in the US Division.
2013-14 record: 46-28-8 (100 points)
Won the Stanley Cup
Captain: Dustin Brown
The Los Angeles Kings just wouldn't stay down. Down 3-0 in the opening round, they won four straight, and down 3-1 in the following round, they took the next three games. In fact, had they not used their comeback magic to beat the Rangers in five games, they would have played the maximum number of games in the playoffs. Their offense was nothing special in the playoffs, and it was up to their defense to carry the day. When playoff time rolled around however, the Kings were able to turn it on at the right time every time, and the result was their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. The task now is to become the first team to repeat as champions since Detroit turned the trick in 1997 and 1998.
Offensively, only two players cracked the 50 point barrier (Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter). The 26th ranked offense in the league, it was the top ranked defense that put them into the playoffs, and though there were moments where the Kings were headed for a quick playoff exit, clutch scoring and a never-say-die attitude carried them through the playoffs. Having Marian Gaborik and Tyler Toffoli for a whole season should improve the offense. Only Willie Mitchell is not returning to a defense that was tops in the league, and there is no shortage of players that can take his place. Jonathan Quick is the man in goal, and despite a slight dip in playoff numbers, he did well enough to lead them to another Cup. Martin Jones showed that he can handle the backup duties, and will be counted on to spell Quick for 25-30 games.
Prediction: 2nd in the Pacific Division
It's fashionable to pick the Kings to repeat as the Stanley Cup champions. However, the Chicago Blackhawks are in the same conference, and they are none too happy that the Kings took the Cup back from them. There's also St. Louis, Anaheim, and Minnesota to deal with, but one should never count out the Kings.
Monday, September 15, 2014
2013-14 record: 29-45-8 (66 points)
Missed the playoffs
The Florida Panthers began the season with Kevin Dineen as head coach and Tim Thomas as their starter in goal. They ended the season with Roberto Luongo as the starting goaltender and an interim coach getting canned. Oh, and they finished only ahead of Buffalo in the standings. Luongo returns as the starter, and he is going to have to stop a lot of pucks if the Panthers want to make the playoffs. The defensive unit is decent, but only Edmonton prevented the Panthers from finishing last in GAA. Of course, every goaltender not named Luongo or Tim Thomas had something to do with that, and with Luongo and even Al Montoya there, the defense should be improved. Aaron Ekblad has the potential to be a star, but defensemen coming straight from the Draft rarely make a big impact right away. That is why the Panthers brought in Willie Mitchell to add mentorship plus a winning pedigree to a unit that needs it.
Nick Bjugstad led the team with 38 points. That's not a typo. It gives you an idea of just how terrible the Panthers were in scoring. A healthy Aleksander Barkov would help, and he was given some help in the form of Jussi Jokinen. In addition, Dave Bolland, Derek MacKenzie, and Shawn Thornton were added to boost the team's bottom two lines while providing a toughness that the Panthers sorely lacked. That should open a few more lanes for the offense.
Prediction: 5th in the Atlantic Division
To think that the Panthers could make the playoffs is outrageous on the surface. However, Luongo's presence offers a peace of mind for the team, and that alone could boost the team morale.
2013-14 record: 29-44-9 (67 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Andrew Ference
The Edmonton Oilers missed the playoffs...again. Once again, it was the defense that let them down, ranking last in the league. However, their offense wasn't exactly any help, as only four players scored north of the 50 point mark, and those four (Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, David Perron, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) were also the only players to score more than 11 goals. Part of the problem was that the Oilers were easy to push around, which was why the likes of Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne, Teddy Purcell, Keith Aulie, and Benoit Pouliot were brought in. All are 6'3" and taller, which will at least add size to a team that has lacked grit and size for years. They are still short in those categories, but the gap isn't nearly as wide as in previous seasons. Offensively, a bounce-back season from Nail Yakupov would help, as would Leon Draisaitl...if he makes the team straight from the Draft. The addition of the defensemen will at least provide the team with the idea that they actually have NHL caliber defensemen, something they could not claim for their starting six last season, as players such as Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz had to play more minutes than they needed to at times. Goaltending is the biggest question mark, as the duo of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth have never gone into a season as the starter. Someone has to emerge as the starter because it can't be any worse than the duo that started last season (Jason LaBarbera and Devan Dubnyk).
Prediction: 7th in the Pacific Division
The Oilers have been in rebuild mode since their last playoff appearance in 2006. It's time for the fruits of that rebuild to show up, but there are far too many holes for them to be anywhere other than in the running for the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes.
2013-14 record: 39-28-15 (93 points)
Lost to Boston in the Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Henrik Zetterberg
Yes, the Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs, thus extending their streak of playoff appearances to 23, and yes, they did it despite losing 421 man games due to injury. However, their less than sterling showing against Boston in the opening round raises quite a few questions. Nothing in the way of significant additions were made, and it wasn't necessarily because of lack of effort. In fact, they did attempt to go after a top-four defenseman, but their only move there was re-signing Kyle Quincey. It's fair to ask whether Detroit is still a choice destination for free agents to be, particularly when both Ken Holland and Mike Babcock are in last year of their respective deals and the fate of either man is unknown past this season. Staying healthy would be a great thing for the forwards, particularly Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsuyk, both of whom lost half a season each because of injuries. While Datsyuk showed that he was over his injury come playoff time, Zetterberg will be figured out this season, as he managed to play just two of the team's five games. Having both healthy and at the level they were playing at before the injuries would add to an offense that saw Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar emerge as future stars. If Anthony Mantha cracks the lineup and plays like the goal-a-game player he was last season with Val D'Or of the QMJHL, the Red Wings will be formidable up front.
The blue line has a bunch of solid, if unspectacular players, but many of them are still second pairing players, at best, with only Niklas Kronwall being a proven top pairing player. There isn't a second coming of Nicklas Lidstrom on the horizon, which was why the Red Wings were looking to upgrade this unit, to no avail. Jimmy Howard missed a few games to injury, but he was also never great in net, which for a team like Detroit, is not enough. He will have to play better than the 2.66 GAA he posted last season.
Prediction: 6th in the Atlantic Division
The Red Wings should be better just for the fact that they will be healthy. However, there are many questions, mainly on the defensive and front office sides of the team. Will the Wings play better than the sum of the defensive parts? Will Howard bounce back from a bad season? Will the contracts of the primary men in the front office and behind the bench be a distraction?
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Lost to Anaheim in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Jamie Benn
2013-14 record: 43-32-7 (93 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Conference quarterfinals
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been playing like a real team for the last two seasons, and it is no coincidence that they've been pushing for the playoffs in those seasons, making it last year and earning their first playoff wins in the process. The challenge now is to make it for the second straight year. In net, Sergei Bobrovsky has given the Blue Jackets the goaltending they've needed since they joined the league in 2000. In front of him, the defensive unit can trot out three solid pairings, with Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin being the duo trusted to deal with the opposition's top lines. Forwards can score, but Ryan Johansen's contract situation bears watching, as he remains unsigned as of this report. His 33 goals last season will be hard to replace if he misses any amount of time. Still, there are good options, as Scott Hartnell brings his 20 goals from Philadelphia last year to a team that has much in the way of secondary scoring. The keys to improving the offense will be a healthy Nathan Horton and any of Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, or Marko Dano making the leap to the NHL.
Prediction: 3rd in the Metropolitan Division
The Blue Jackets are a safe bet to make the playoffs, something that couldn't have been said before. However, they do need to figure out the Johansen contract situation or else it could be a problem down the line. Even without him, the Blue Jackets are a solid team all the way around.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
2013-14 record: 52-22-8 (112 points)
Lost to Minnesota in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Gabriel Landeskog
Widely expected to finish near the bottom of the league last year, the Avalanche instead finished near the top of the league, though an early exit in the playoffs dampened things. Naturally, the question of whether they can do it again is going to be raised. Much will depend on whether Patrick Roy is indeed the real deal as a coach and whether the team can do better at keeping starting goalie Semyon Varlamov from facing too much rubber. Despite an ordinary blue line in front of him, Varlamov played his best hockey to date, earning a Vezina Trophy nomination in the process. 60 starts is a realistic expectation for him, and he will face much of the same obstacles that stared him down last year. For an ordinary blue line, the Avs were better than the sum of their parts, and for the Avs to make the playoffs again, they will have to exceed expectations. Erik Johnson leads a unit that can contribute good offense, but needs to play better in their own end. Offensively, scoring is not a problem, even with Paul Stastny heading to St. Louis. Jarome Iginla should more than compensate for Stastny's production, though finding someone who can win faceoffs could be an issue on special teams. Nathan MacKinnon is looking to build on a solid rookie season while the likes of Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog look to continue their maturation.
Prediction: 4th in the Central Division
The law of averages in the previous six seasons has seen the Avs alternate awful seasons with good seasons (the 2011-12 season saw them put up a respectable 88 points). The hope is that the Avs will put together consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the 2003-04 and 2005-06 seasons. They have the tools, but a tough Central Division is not going to make it easy.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
2013-14 record: 46-21-15 (107 points)
Lost to Los Angeles in Conference Finals
Captain: Jonathan Toews
The Chicago Blackhawks were never quite the dominant team that ran through everyone in the lockout shortened 2013 season that saw them win the Stanley Cup, yet they were one win away from being the first team to make consecutive Cup Finals since Detroit and Pittsburgh did it in 2008 and 2009. Most of the same players from last year's team remain, and given their penchant for playing their best hockey when the lights shine the brightest, a third Stanley Cup in six seasons is not out of the question. However, they are also in the Western Conference, where the likes of Los Angeles, Anaheim, and St. Louis reside, so getting there is much easier said than done.
Goaltending can be spectacular at times, as Corey Crawford has proven to be a clutch player when the stakes are high. However, he also remains inconsistent at times, as shown in the Conference Finals. Defensively, the six that get trotted out there should be one of the best. However, uncharacteristic miscues filtered in and were their ultimate undoing in the Conference Finals. Returning to the responsible play around their own net is key if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs. Offense is the one aspect that is not an issue, as both Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa put in 30-plus goals each while Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews came within a goal or two of joining them. The player to watch is Teuvo Teravainen, who is expected to start as the third line center with Brad Richards holding down the second line duties. He could overtake Richards by midseason if either he plays beyond expectations or if Richards has nothing left in the tank.
Prediction: 1st in the Central Division
Conventional wisdom says that it is unwise to bet against the Chicagol Blackhawks for a Stanley Cup championship this year. However, Los Angeles is still in the Western Conference, and while they pose the biggest threat, Anaheim and St. Louis are also hungry to prove themselves, too.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
2013-14 record: 36-35-11 (83 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Eric Staal
The Carolina Hurricanes have taken the title of "Most Delusional Team" from the Calgary Flames, as every year, they believe they can make the playoffs and yet, they fall short. And yes, they spend a pretty penny on players that underachieve. Little was done to the team itself, but they will be operating under a new General Manager in Ron Francis and a new head coach in Bill Peters. Exactly how the new unit will fare with largely the same cast of players remains to be seen. The problems begin up front, with Eric and Jordan Staal playing below expectations, and while Jeff Skinner has proven to be a 30-goal scorer when healthy, he accounted for a third of the scoring amongst the group of the Staals and Alex Semin. That is unacceptable, and it would certainly help if Semin can be 100 percent on the health front again, as he missed a few games and was never right when he played. Secondary scoring is also an issue, as there wasn't a player that truly stepped up when the big four weren't scoring. Defensively, this is a passable bunch, with Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera proving to be a top duo. Goaltending is where things get interesting, as Anton Khudobin proved that he can be a starter, supplanting Cam Ward and his $6.3 million contract. Both suffered injuries during the season, and while Khudobin did well to overcome his injury, he also has never been the full time starter for a whole season. Ward, meanwhile, has regressed to the point of being shopped around, to no success.
Prediction: 8th in the Metropolitan Division
This is the first year that the expectations for the Hurricanes are likely to match the end result, as the Hurricanes were in disarray last year, and are likely going to take a while to recover. If the Staals and Semin, as well as some secondary scorers, flick on the switch, then they could surprise. Given their history, however, don't count on it.
Monday, September 8, 2014
2013-14 record: 35-40-7 (77 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Mark Giordano
The Calgary Flames missed the playoffs last year, but it felt different from the previous four seasons they missed the playoffs. Gone are the days of being perpetually at the salary cap ceiling, and there is no Jarome Iginla or Miikka Kiprusoff to lead the way. In its place is a hard working team that is short on overall depth, but a prospect system that looks far better than in years past. Goaltending will be a strong point, as Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo both are NHL-starter caliber players, and both will have something to prove, with Hiller needing to prove that he can still be that guy and Ramo needing to prove that he can keep the momentum going. The blue line is short on depth, with Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie being the only pair that strikes fear in any opponent. Forwards are also short on depth, and only one of two 20-plus goal scorers from last year (Sean Monahan) returns. A healthy Curtis Glencross and contributions from Mason Raymond and potentially anything from the youth such as Sam Bennett, Johnny Guadreau and Sven Baertschi will help.
Prediction: 6th in the Pacific Division
The Flames aren't expected to contend for a playoff spot anytime soon, but a hard-working unit is giving fans reason that there will be a light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel. How long it will last remains to be seen.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
2013-14 record: 21-51-10 (52 points)
Missed the playoffs
The story of the Buffalo Sabres last season read like a tragic comedy. From their third jersey unveiling to the change in regime to unloading the last of their veterans from the last good years of the club, it was a miserable time to be a Sabres fan. Fortunately, the new brass is showing promise and a familiar face is leading the way behind the bench, and there are top-end prospects waiting to get the Sabres back to prominence...three years from now, minimum.
As for right now, the goaltending situation is unsettled, as Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth are battling for the starting role vacated by Ryan Miller after a mid-season trade last year. Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett will bide their time in the minors, but both will be ready to pounce if either or both falter. Defensively, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros were brought in to provide a veteran presence for the likes of Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk. Ultimately, how the blue line will fare will fall on the shoulders of Tyler Myers, who has not played well since his Calder Trophy year of 2010. The forwards will be better by default simply by having somebody that can score goals for a full season, something that did not happen, as Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, and Chris Stewart were there for only a portion of the season at some point. A healthy and motivated Stewart plus Moulson not bouncing around will offer some help on the wings. However, center remains a concern, and for better or for worse, 2014 first round pick Sam Reinhart may be forced into the first line center role. That would mean the Sabres could have their top three centers be Reinhart, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Zemgus Girgensons, all first round picks within the last three years. Leadership up front was addressed with the signing of Brian Gionta.
Prediction: 8th in the Atlantic Division
The Sabres will stink again, but they may be winners for doing so, as it may very well mean they get their pick of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. They also own the Islanders' first round pick from the Vanek-Moulson trade last year, so they are rubbing rabbits' feet that the roll of the dice will go their way.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
2013-14 record: 54-19-9 (117 points)
Lost to Montreal in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Zdeno Chara
Despite winning the President's Trophy as the best regular season team last season, the Bruins have come to expect nothing less than a Finals appearance, so naturally, an early exit at the hands of hated rival Montreal did not sit well. However, it did not mean wholesale changes, but given the team's salary cap issues, they could not head into free agency to cover for the losses. That means the youngsters that have been plying their trade in the AHL will likely have to compensate for losing the 30 goals Jarome Iginla took to Colorado and the toughness that Shawn Thornton took to Florida. Other than that, the Bruins you saw last season will virtually look the same. Tuukka Rask returns, and he is as good as it gets when it comes to goaltending. Chara will have questions about whether Father Time will finally catch up to him, but he leads a defensive unit that was second best in the league. For all the talk about the Bruins' defense, they were actually third in the league in offense, and despite losing Iginla, the Bruins remain a scoring by committee, led by Patrice Bergeron. A healthy Loui Eriksson will certainly help.
Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic Division
The playoffs are a near certainty for the Bruins, who remain a difficult team to play against. To expect them to make the Finals is not out of the question, even with questions of who will fill out the bottom six and what moves they will make to get salary cap relief.
Friday, September 5, 2014
2013-14 record: 37-30-15 (89 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Shane Doan
The story of the Arizona Coyotes will likely pick up where the Phoenix Coyotes of last year (and several years before that) left off: solid defense, but severely lacking in goal scoring. While their defense wasn't anywhere near what the Coyotes were accustomed to (18th in goals against average), there were still times where it carried the day for them. A more focused and healthy Mike Smith will go a long way towards fixing that issue, as will improving a penalty killing unit that was in the bottom fifth of the league. Offensively, losing Radim Vrbata will hurt, as he was a sure bet for at least 20 goals a season. That means the likes of newly acquired Sam Gagner, a healthy Shane Doan, and either Max Domi or Henrik Samuelsson (or both) will have to pick up some slack. Offense from the blue line is not an issue, but finding forwards to help finish what they start is something the Coyotes need.
Prediction: 5th in the Pacific Division
Defense will keep the Coyotes in the playoff race, but until they find offensive playmakers, they will be an on-the-bubble team once again.
Thursday, September 4, 2014
2013-14 record: 54-20-8 (116 points)
Lost to Los Angeles in Conference Semi-finals
Captain: Ryan Getzlaf
For the second straight season, the Ducks won their division and for the second straight season, they couldn't close out a series in the playoffs. Now, the Ducks are experiencing a bit of a makeover, as veterans Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have moved on. Jonas Hiller, Nick Bonino, and Matthieu Perreault also left, and in their places will be rookies and Ryan Kesler. Scoring shouldn't be too much of a problem, as the top ranked scoring team in the regular season will still have Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the way. Kesler should compensate for Bonino and Perreault while giving the Ducks a legitimate second line center. However, there will be other players who have something to prove, as Rickard Rakell is set to make his case for a spot on the roster while others such as Jakob Silfverberg, Emerson Etem, and Kyle Palmieri seek to improve their standings on the roster. Defensively, they are solid, with Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm providing the team with much needed youth on the unit and Francois Beauchemin and Ben Lovejoy providing veteran leadership at that spot. The big question mark is in goal, where Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are expected to battle for the starting role. 31 combined regular season games between the two does provide concern, but the team's shift from Hiller in the playoffs towards youth is an indication that they are comfortable with the kids on the roster.
Prediction: 1st in the Pacific Division
The Ducks will once again be a great team in the regular season, but the heat will be on them come playoff time, and certainly, no one is feeling it more than Bruce Boudreau, who has yet to get any of his teams to the Conference Finals.