Wednesday, September 30, 2015
2014-15 record: 43-26-13 (99 points)
Lost to Anaheim in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Andrew Ladd
The Winnipeg Jets made a furious push to make the playoffs for the first time since their days as the Atlanta Thrashers. However, like the Thrashers team that made the playoffs in 2007, the Jets were promptly swept out of the playoffs. Unlike that team though, the Jets look primed to build on their playoff appearance with largely the same cast as the one that ended the regular season, and they may be younger than they were with a couple of additions from within. Offensively, they were middle of the pack, but the top line of Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, and Bryan Little all scored more than 20 goals each. Secondary scoring wasn't a problem, either, as five of the nine players that are returning scored in double digits. Only one of the departed, Michael Frolik, will have any impact on the team, as he was counted on for versatility and penalty kill, the latter more important, since the Jets were short-handed the most times last season. Defensively, there is great depth, something that came in handy when injuries hit. In addition, Dustin Byfuglien's ability to move between forward and defense gives the Jets greater flexibility when it comes to setting lineups. In goal, Ondrej Pavelec finally started to play like the goalie the Jets envisioned...some of the time. Yes, he struggled in the first half of the season, which opened the door for Michael Hutchinson to seize the starting job for a time before he too struggled. More consistent play in goal will be needed, but at its best, it can propel the Jets to greater heights.
Prediction: 3rd in the Central Division
The Jets still have players like Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey at the door waiting to make their NHL debuts, and with the current group finally knowing what it takes to become playoff contenders, it's time for them to take that next step and become Stanley Cup contenders. They have the ability, but will the consistency come along for the ride?
It won't take long for the Rebels to find out how good they really are, as they'll be welcoming Swift Current on Friday and the defending Ed Chynoweth champion Kelowna Rockets on Saturday.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
2014-15 record: 45-26-11 (101 points)
Lost to the New York Rangers in Conference Semi-finals
Captain: Alexander Ovechkin
Another year, another disappointing end for the Capitals in the Alexander Ovechkin era. It feels like the tape is on repeat for the Capitals, who realize that the clock is ticking on getting their superstar player a Stanley Cup and given that they haven't advanced to the Conference Finals, the Caps decided to try and make the moves needed to get them to the promised land. Last year, it was raiding the Pittsburgh blue line for a couple of key acquisitions; this year, it's the right wing and two players that have shone on the big stages. For the first time in a while, the Capitals are no longer just a one line team, as Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie give them options on three lines. Yes, it's still Ovechkin's team, and there is the possibility that the Caps could be without Niklas Backstrom for a while to start the season, but with Derek Roy being a possible fill-in, that could mean significant top line minutes for Evgeny Kuznetsov. As for the left side after Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson are no slouches. The concern here, as it is on the blue line is depth if anyone goes down for a significant period of time. Speaking of the blue line, they boast two pairings that can match up with any team in the NHL, as homegrown talents John Carlson and Karl Alzner, as well as Pittsburgh defectors Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, form that group. After that, all bets are off, as the current third pairing is Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov, both of whom missed significant time to injuries. In goal, this is where things are great, as Braden Holtby returns and has established himself as a top-line starter. Phillipp Grubauer will get first crack at backing up Holtby after Justin Peters couldn't cut the mustard while Peters will likely be battling Dan Ellis for the right to be third string goalie.
Prediction: 1st in the Metropolitan Division
The Capitals will be facing a now-or-never situation with Ovechkin just now entering his 30's. The window of opportunity isn't closed yet, but another early exit could be a problem down the line.
Monday, September 28, 2015
2014-15 record: 49-29-5 (101 points)
Lost to Calgary in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Henrik Sedin
The Vancouver Canucks finished over the 100 point mark and were eighth on offense despite just having two players with 20 or more goals. None of that mattered after they were outclassed by Calgary in the opening round. Now, where they go from here is anyone's guess, as they seem confused as to whether to rebuild or go all in for another playoff run.
Only Henrik Sedin and Radim Vrbata scored 20 or more goals, but thanks to 10 other players finishing with double-digit goals, the Canucks had a balanced attack that netted that eighth place finish on offense. The bad news is that they lose three of those 10 players, as Shawn Matthias, Nick Bonino, and Zack Kassian all move on. However, only the Matthias defection has the potential to hurt, as Bonino fell off after a hot first half and Kassian never really showed the heart necessary to fulfill his potential. Replacing that scoring output, Brandon Sutter will get his chance to show what he can do without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in front of him, as he still managed 21 goals in a third line role while Brandon Prust will add heart and toughness. Defensively, the depth took a hit when the Canucks traded Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim and Adam Clendening to Pittsburgh in the same deal that saw Sutter and Bonino trade places. Unless Matt Bartkowski or Frank Corrado show they can handle regular NHL duty, the depth here is going to rear its ugly head. The unit as a whole isn't fast, another hole exposed in the playoffs, and isn't exactly getting any younger or bursting with talent in the pipeline. In goal, Ryan Miller was okay, but when he went down to injury late in the season, Eddie Lack took control of the starting job and was the starter entering the playoffs. Now that Lack is also moving on, that means Jacob Markstrom will see the backup job, and if Miller either gets injured or falters, the depth will be severely tested, as there's almost nothing past Markstrom.
Prediction: 5th in the Pacific Division
The Canucks surprised many by making the playoffs last season. However, the playoffs exposed them as needing much work. Whether the work they've done in the off-season will translate to another playoff is anyone's guess, and for that matter, no one knows if they're rebuilding either.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
2014-15 record: 30-44-8 (68 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Dion Phaneuf
The Toronto Maple Leafs are used to being known as a laughingstock of the NHL, but never was the laughter louder than last season, and it was brutal for Leafs fans. To that end, president Brendan Shanahan took an ax to most of the front office and coaching staff, as well as one of their best goal scorers in recent years. For new General Manager Lou Lamoriello and new head coach Mike Babcock, it's going to be a house building from scratch, and there will be bound to be mistakes. At the very least, the quick fixes of years past are history.
Up front, a dreadful offense will now have to find some way to replace Phil Kessel's production. Kessel often had a love/hate relationship with Toronto media, and given that he didn't always put his best foot forward, the move was a big step in Babcock establishing his authority within the locker room. That puts the likes of Nazem Kadri and Dion Phaneuf on notice. As for goal scoring, James van Riemsdyk will be looked upon to pick up a little bit of the production, as will Kadri, who faces a now or never situation to be the top center the Leafs have lacked since Mats Sundin left town. As for who else will be stepping up, it's going to be a bunch of short-term fixes in Shawn Matthias, P.A. Parenteau, Mark Arcobello until the youth such as Kasperi Kapanen, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are ready to carry the load. Defensively, they were just as bad, and Phaneuf's reprieve should serve as motivation to be closer to the player the Leafs envisioned they were getting. Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner are facing critical years, as both will be expected to step up their games to the next level. Young depth here is good, but unproven, as Martin Marincin, Scott Harrington, and Stuart Percy haven't had much NHL experience to show for it. In goal, it's Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, and neither were any good last year. The team in front was partially culpable for the problems here, but Bernier will need to cut down on the soft goals while Reimer has hit his ceiling as a good backup/spot starter.
Prediction: 8th in the Atlantic Division
The Maple Leafs will still be terrible this year, but for the first time since the lockout, there's actually a sense that things will be changing for the better with a new coaching staff and a new front office. Now, if only they can get a player like Auston Matthews in next year's draft...
Saturday, September 26, 2015
2014-15 record: 50-24-8 (108 points)
Lost to Chicago in Stanley Cup Finals
Captain: Steven Stamkos
The Tampa Bay Lightning ended up two wins short of winning their second Stanley Cup in franchise history, but the development of many of their key players has them believing that they can get back this year to the point of practically staying pat. Up front, the Lightning is still led by Steven Stamkos, though he is in his final year of the current contract and no deal has been in place as of this writing. Whether or not it is a distraction remains to be seen. Beyond him, the Lightning are stacked, as they led the league in offense, and it's been no accident that players such as Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat have broken through together through the minors and now the NHL. Certainly, coach Jon Cooper knows the buttons to push, and the Lightning can roll four lines of offense, so keying on Stamkos is no longer an option for opposing defenses. On the blue line, depth is a concern beyond the top four, but the top four are as good as any in the league, and it begins with Victor Hedman, who has become the team's number one defender. The signing of Anton Stralman prior to last season was also a shrewd move. The five through seven holes on the blue line can be considered up for grabs, which means don't be surprised if either Slater Koekkoek or Anthony D'Angelo end up starting on the Lightning roster on opening night. In goal, Ben Bishop was sterling, and he also showed his toughness by playing through pain in the Stanley Cup Finals. Losing Andrei Vasilevsky for 2-3 months will hurt, as he showed he was ready for NHL duty last season and even held his own when he had to start in place of Bishop in the Finals. Ray Emery gets his chance to back up Bishop in the interim. The power play was passable, but the top-ranked offense should be better than middle of the pack. On the penalty kill, the Lightning were top-10, and with pretty much the same roster and coaching staff in place, that should figure to remain the same.
Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic Division
The Lightning didn't make any significant changes to a roster that made the Finals last year, and health willing, they should make another deep run in the playoffs.
Friday, September 25, 2015
2014-15 record: 40-33-9 (89 points)
Missed the playoffs
The 2014-15 season was one to forget for the San Jose Sharks, as the bad vibes that stemmed from the meltdown of the previous year's playoffs carried over into the year, with squabbles between players and coaches and in some instances, players and front office personnel. Bizarre decisions such as not naming a captain for the season after Joe Thornton was stripped of the C prior to the season were the subject of many jokes from opposing fans, notably when the Sharks paid a visit to Winnipeg one time. A new season will begin, and a new bench boss will lead the way, as Todd McClellan parted for Edmonton and Pete DeBoer, late of Florida and New Jersey, will be overseeing things. The pressure to win now remains, as General Manager Doug Wilson is still on the spot. To that end, the Sharks bolstered all three facets of their team, as Joel Ward, Paul Martin, and Martin Jones join the team. Ward will add about 20 goals to a team that should be better than middle of the pack offensively, as Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture are capable players, but got little help from players such as Tomas Hertl and saw signs that both Thornton and Marleau could be experiencing a decline in numbers more so. Brent Burns remains the ever-present wild card here, as he can play forward or defense as needed without his offensive production tailing off. On defense, Martin will help, as only Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Burns played anywhere near expectations. It's a unit that struggled, and it would help if Mirco Mueller can shake off the rookie doldrums. In goal, Antti Niemi is out and in comes Jones, who has far better numbers in rather limited playing time. The question will be whether Jones' numbers were a product of a superior Kings' defense. At this point, he's a better option than Alex Stalock, who was thought to have been a potential starter-in-waiting after a solid 2013-14, but struggled last year. In turn, the porous defense led to the penalty kill falling to the bottom third of the league, and with the power play in the top ten, it is imperative that the Sharks improve on the kill.
Prediction: 4th in the Pacific Division
The Sharks' troubles should be behind them now that there is a more harmonious locker room, but with some issues lingering, not to mention both Thornton and Marleau in decline and possibly subject of trade rumors, the Sharks are not out of the danger zone just yet. It's still a win-or-else proposition for them, and if the Sharks don't show measurable improvement, the fans' frustrations will be on display in the Shark Tank.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
2014-15 records: 51-24-7 (109 points)
Lost to Minnesota in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: David Backes
It's the same ol' song and dance for the St. Louis Blues, as they were their usual spectacular self in the regular season. However, once the playoffs began, it was another early exit for the Blues, as they have yet to make the Conference Finals since 2001 and have been eliminated in the opening round three years in a row and counting. Few changes were made for the Blues, and unless you count T.J. Oshie for Troy Brouwer, the Blues' fortunes rest on the usual cast of playoff underachievers.
Up front, Vladimir Tarasenko emerged as a major scoring threat and was one of the very few Blues that showed up for the playoffs. The 8-year contract extension was well deserved, and he will be the face of the team for years to come. However, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and David Backes accounted for three goals combined in the playoffs, and this was after each scored 20-plus goals individually. Brouwer will be counted on to bring some playoff mojo to a team that is severely lacking in it. Defensively, the unit was less than the sum of the parts despite Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo's best efforts. There's still depth on this unit, but Jay Bouwmeester will need a rebound season and they will need to replace some of the toughness that left when the Blues decided not to re-sign Barret Jackman. Brian Elliott and Jake Allen return as the goalies, and while both are good, neither has truly seized the starting role, and that may take a toll at some point. Special teams are top-10 across the board, which is one thing the Blues have nothing to worry about.
Prediction: 1st in the Central Division
The Blues will make the playoffs once again, but given their playoff failures, anything short of the Stanley Cup Finals could signal major changes behind the bench and with player personnel.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
2014-15 record: 43-27-12 (98 points)
Lost to the New York Rangers in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Sidney Crosby
The Pittsburgh Penguins were supposed to be a heavy favorite to contend for the Stanley Cup last year. Along the way, they forgot how to score and fell to 19th despite having both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. A closer look reveals that while Crosby played closer to the level one is used to seeing, Malkin was slowed by injuries while only Patric Hornqvist contributed significantly, and even he missed time to injuries. With new faces in Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr, plus Russian import Sergei Plotinkin, the Penguins should see their offensive numbers rise. Of course, it also helps that the Penguins may have finally solved their perpetual wing issue with the acquisition of Phil Kessel, whose only issue will be whether he plays alongside Crosby or Malkin. Defensively, Kris Letang should be healthy, but he will be coming back to a pretty different blue line, as it will be considerably younger. Olli Maatta gets a mulligan for a sophomore season wiped out because of health while either or both Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumolin will see time now that Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff move on. With Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy having question marks, it is possible that Adam Clendening and/or Tim Erixon could see time, as well. Goaltending is in good hands, as Marc-Andre Fleury played like an MVP in keeping the Penguins in the playoffs, as well playing lights out despite bowing out to the Rangers in five games in the opening round.
Prediction: 3rd in the Metropolitan Division
The Penguins should know by now what coach Mike Johnston expects of them, and with Kessel on board to play alongside either Crosby or Malkin plus Fleury's MVP-like performance, there's no reason to think the Penguins shouldn't be strong contenders once again. However, they do play in a division with Washington and the Rangers, so anything can happen.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
2014-15 record: 33-31-18 (84 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Claude Giroux
The Philadelphia Flyers, with the exception of their power play, were awful. That season cost Craig Berube his job as head coach and now, it will be up to Dave Hakstol to right the ship. Keep in mind that Hakstol's coaching experience consists of several years at the University of North Dakota, which is college hockey. After a trying season, it will feel like back to Fundamentals 101 for many of the Flyers players who underperformed.
Offensively, bottom third of the league, although they had no trouble scoring on the power play, which ranked third. Better play at even strength, particularly from players like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier would help, as well as, unreasonable at it may sound, better play from Vincent Lecavalier and R.J. Umberger. Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux did much of the heavy lifting up front, and that's too much for two guys to do. Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl will both be counted upon to improve their goal totals, as both have 30-goal scorer potential. Defensively, this is where things get interesting, as one or two rookies could be getting a crack. Mark Streit is an offensive force from the blue line, and Michael Del Zotto is solid. Beyond that, they're banking on Radko Gudas and Andrew MacDonald to be solid stay-at-home types while any of Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg could be seeing time in a Flyers uniform as rookies. Steve Mason posted good numbers in goal, but when he got hurt, that's where the problems occurred in goal. Health will remain an issue for Mason, which is why they brought in Michal Neuvirth, who himself will be looking to show that his numbers last season were a mere product of a bad team (Buffalo) and show that his confidence is back to where it should be.
Prediction: 6th in the Metropolitan Division
The Flyers are still a team of underachievers with a couple of players playing closer to or exceeding expectations. For the Flyers to contend, they will need better years from key players, particularly the young players, and hope that one or two rookies on the blue line will make a big impact.
Monday, September 21, 2015
2014-15 record: 43-26-13 (99 points)
Lost to Montreal in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Erik Karlsson
The Ottawa Senators were well on their way to an early Spring in January when they fired Paul MacLean as head coach and tabbed Dave Cameron as interim coach. By mid-April, the Senators found themselves in the playoffs on the backs of both an unheralded AHL lifer in Andrew Hammond and superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson. The good times ended in the first round though, as Hammond looked mortal before Craig Anderson kept the team in the thick of things before succumbing to Montreal in six games.
The same cast of significant players save for Eric Condra and Eric Gryba return, as the Senators will now find out if Cameron is indeed the right fit for the Senators. Anderson and Hammond will form the backstopping duo, as Robin Lehner was shipped to Buffalo, thus defining the goalie situation better, as they will hold down the fort while Matt O'Connor develops in the AHL. Defensively, it's Karlsson's team, and his pairing with Marc Methot is clearly the best on the team. Cody Ceci is a rising player while Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki are solid players. Chris Phillips is on the downside of his career and he may not be ready in time for the season to start, which places pressure on Jared Cowen to finally start living up to the promise that led him to be a first round pick in 2009. Offensively, it also begins with Karlsson, as he led the team in scoring. Kyle Turris is pretty good, but it was a pair of rookies in Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman who stepped up, and both will look to avoid the sophomore slump. Mika Zibanejad is another rising star up front, but Bobby Ryan begins a contract extension and will need to do better than the 18 goals he registered last season.
Prediction: 4th in the Atlantic Division
The Senators will benefit from a full year under Cameron's guidance and though Hammond's epic run shouldn't be expected, he should be good if he can unseat Anderson, who has a slight edge on the starting goaltending job. As always, the Senators' hopes fall on the shoulders of Karlsson.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
2014-15 record: 53-22-7 (113 points)
Lost to Tampa Bay in Conference Finals
Captain: Ryan McDonagh
The New York Rangers dealt with the adversity of not having one of the best goalies in the NHL for a quarter of the season, yet were able to come away with the Presidents' Trophy. However, any and all magic that could have carried them to a second straight Stanley Cup Final disappeared before they could get there, as they were eliminated by Tampa Bay at the doorstep. A few tweaks here and there, and the Rangers figure to be near the top once again.
Up front, they lose Martin St. Louis to retirement and traded away Carl Hagelin to Anaheim. Replacing them is Viktor Stalberg, who was last seen in Milwaukee of the AHL, and Emerson Etem, a developing talent that has goal scoring potential, but was unable to unlock it in Anaheim. Finding pieces to fill the depth there will be a challenge, as the Rangers had to get a little creative with the salary cap to re-sign Derek Stepan. The biggest unknown here is how Mats Zuccarello will be after injuries cut his playoff run short after the opening round against Pittsburgh. Defensively, a great unit got better with Keith Yandle arriving at the trade deadline, and having him for a full season should offer balance to a team that is already great in its own end. A player to watch is Brady Skjei, who is likely ticketed for Hartford, but could crack the NHL roster at some point, particularly if Dan Boyle struggles to get out of the gate again. In goal, Lundqvist missed time because of injuries, but was still the player the Rangers are accustomed to seeing when healthy. Antti Ranta will have a tough act to follow, as he replaces Cam Talbot and his 16-4-3 record while Lundqvist was out as the backup.
Though the penalty kill slipped in the playoffs, it was great in the regular season, and figures to be so again despite losing Hagelin. The power play should be better with a full season of Yandle, as they struggled for much of the season.
Prediction: 2nd in the Metropolitan Division
The Rangers will always be near the top of the division for as long as their defense and goaltending hold true to form. Their third ranked offense was a bit of a surprise, though having Rick Nash discover his elite scoring touch had much to do with it. How the Rangers handle the grind over the season will determine if they make the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
2014-15 record: 47-28-7 (101 points)
Lost to Washington in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: John Tavares
For most of the season, it looked like the New York Islanders would win the Metropolitan Division. However, entering the playoffs, their special teams, namely the power play, betrayed them as they went down to Washington in seven games in the opening round. Pretty much the same cast returns from last season, and with only the New York Rangers likely to take a small step back, making the playoffs will be tough in a Metropolitan Division fraught with six potential playoff contenders.
Depth up front is not a concern. However, finding consistent linemates for John Tavares is, as the left wing was a revolving door. The right side is just as uncertain, as Kyle Okposo could very well be on the move as he enters the final year of his contract. He's also still recovering from an eye injury that cost him a quarter of the season. There are many good players up front, which made one-time 30 goal scorer Michael Grabner expendable. It's simply finding the right chemistry for the top three lines, though Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski are comfortable enough to constitute two-thirds of a line and Frans Nielsen is a Selke Trophy candidate year in and year out. Defensively, things really fell into place with pre-season trades for both Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, both of whom signed extensions during the season. The unit as a whole is better than the 23rd ranking they have, though the Isles would love for either Scott Mayfield or Ryan Pulock to eventually make at least the third pairing. Depth is not a concern here, either, which allowed them to move Griffin Reinhart for draft picks. In goal, things get a little dicey, particularly if Jaroslav Halak goes down for any period of time. Last year, he was exactly the goalie the Isles needed. However, he wore down as the season progressed and the cavalcade of backups (Kevin Poulin, Michal Neuvirth, and Chad Johnson) were not very good. This year, it's Thomas Greiss' turn, and if he falters, well, there may not be much of a choice but to put recent acquisition Christopher Gibson in.
Prediction: 4th in the Metropolitan Division
The Islanders return much of the same lineup, which is a good news, bad news kind of deal. The good news is that the Isles are talented enough and deep enough to make a good run in the playoffs. The bad news is that until they improve their special teams, particularly their power play, that run may be shortened.
Friday, September 18, 2015
2014-15 record: 32-36-14 (78 points)
Missed the playoffs
Since 1983, the New Jersey Devils had one General Manager in Lou Lamoriello, and in the time since, the Devils won three Stanley Cups and made two more Finals. Many of those came with Martin Brodeur as the goalie. Those days are long gone (three years, really, but it feels like an eternity for Devils fans) and with Lamoriello stepping down, only to resurface in Toronto, there will be a new regime in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the same sad sack Devils of the last three seasons remains.
To try and improve the third worst offense, the Devils picked up Kyle Palmieri and Jiri Tlusty. That's not exactly great moves, but they should move the needle a little, particularly if Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri both improve on their numbers and if guys like Travis Zajac and Reid Boucher find their games. A player to watch could be Pavel Zacha, who has the tools to be a great power forward. Defensively, there is decent depth, with Adam Larsson finding his way and Damon Severson showing he belongs. Adding John Moore and David Schlemko should give both Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill time in the AHL if neither take that next step forward in their development. Goal is where there are no questions, as Cory Schneider is the guy, and once Devils coaching realized that Keith Kinkaid was a viable backup, it improved the Devils immensely from the beginning of the season. However with the new coaching staff, whether the special teams remain status quo is up in the air. Basically, it will be Penguins East, as Ray Shero is the General Manager while John Hynes is head coach and brought along Alain Nasreddine with him. Geoff Ward also joins the coaching staff.
Prediction: 8th in the Metropolitan Division
The Devils are basically starting over this season, and it will be a long season, particularly on offense. Realistically, a chance at Auston Matthews is what Devils fans hope for this season.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
2014-15 record: 47-25-10 (104 points)
Lost to Chicago in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Shea Weber
For most of the 2014-15 season, it appeared that the Nashville Predators would be the ultimate out of the playoffs to Persidents' Trophy story. However, the last fourth of the season and the playoffs showed that the Predators began to run out of gas, ultimately falling to a playoff-tested Chicago team that would win the Stanley Cup. Most of the Preds players return except for trade deadline acquisitions Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, as well as Taylor Beck. In their place is Barret Jackman, Cody Hodgson, and KHL import Steve Moses. Jackman will provide a stay-at-home presence that could help Shea Weber be more effective on the power play by reducing his penalty kill responsibilities. Hodgson will be looking for a fresh start after bottoming out with 13 points in Buffalo while Moses will be looking to break the KHL Curse that the likes of Roman Cervenka and Alexander Radulov have failed to do. Offensively, they found a couple of players that can spearhead it from the front as Filip Forsberg and James Neal proved to be solid while support players such as Mike Ribeiro, Craig Smith, and Colin Wilson contributed their fair share. The defensive unit is also solid, with Weber and Roman Josi being the top pairing while both Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis still have room to grow. Pekka Rinne proved that his injury problems of the previous two seasons were behind him as he played his way into Vezina Trophy consideration, and a repeat of last season wouldn't hurt, as Carter Hutton is merely serviceable while Marek Manzanec will continue to develop in Milwaukee.
Prediction: 4th in the Central Division
The Preds fine-tuned their roster with the hope that Jackman still has something left and Hodgson will benefit from leaving Buffalo. Still, the roster as currently constituted is not likely to be enough against powerhouses like Anaheim, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
As you know, this blog is not exactly above Leaf bashing, and if you've figured it out already, you know where this is going. Before I do that though, the Islanders have proven to be gamblers when it comes to player moves, and most of the time lately, it's worked for the best. Getting a solid bottom two line player in Beck will help, as will replenishing the pipeline with Gibson and Finn, who help the goaltending and defenseman area, respectively. As for the Leafs, this is a major gamble in that the Leafs are betting they will be getting the Grabner who put up 34 goals in 2010-11 and not the Grabner that has not only been injury prone, but also the player that has put up 20 goals in the last two seasons...combined. Add to the fact that seemingly, Grabner's only other positive attribute is speed, and it ca be said that the Maple Leafs gave up far too much for a player that teases with 40-goal potential, but hasn't come close to delivering in all but one season since he became an NHL regular. More telling is that the Leafs would be willing to give up two of their better prospects (Finn and Gibson) and a player that they just traded for this off-season (Beck). Yes, this is Brendan Shanahan's team now, and this trade may already be a defining point in his time with the Leafs.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
2014-15 record: 50-22-10 (110 points)
Lost to Tampa Bay in Conference semi-finals
Entering the playoffs last season, it was expected that the Montreal Canadiens would make a deep run to the Stanley Cup Finals, with some even picking them to win it all. However, an anemic offense and a Tampa Bay Lightning team that solved Carey Price and the defense long enough to win undid a sterling 110-point season by the Canadiens. You can pretty much expect the same from this year's Canadiens. Outside of Alex Semin and Zack Kassian, both of whom flamed out in previous stops, that 20th ranked offense and 23rd ranked power play doesn't figure to budge much. Yes, there's Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, and PK Subban, but who else will be scoring on a regular basis? While contributions from Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk are nice, the scoring depth is rather thin. Defensively, the Canadiens have no such problem, as they were the best defense in the league and it begins with a blue line crew featuring Subban, Jeff Petry, and Andrei Markov and ends with Carey Price, who took home four trophies including the Hart Trophy.
The Canadiens are still rather small up front, though the addition of Kassian and the emergence of Jacob De La Rose helps in this regard. However, if either Nikita Scherbak or Michael McCarron make the roster, it would not only add more size, but also scoring, as Scherbak is immensely talented while McCarron can make his living in front of the net.
Prediction: 3rd in the Atlantic Division
Unless some key players find the scoring touch that has eluded the Canadiens, it will be up to Price and the defense to keep the team in games most nights. And woe be the Canadiens should Pacioretty goes down due to injury.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
2014-15 record: 46-28-8 (100 points)
Lost to Chicago in Conference Semi-finals
Captain: Mikko Koivu
The Minnesota Wild had to fight their way just to make the playoffs for the second straight season, and had mid-season acquisition Devan Dubnyk not played the role of Superman, the Wild would have been a rather expensive disaster sitting at home instead of making the Conference semi-finals. With largely the same lineup thanks to salary cap constraints, the Wild will have to make do in order to make the playoffs in an increasingly tough Central Division
Despite finishing in the top half of the league on offense, only Zach Parise lived up to expectations consistently while the other scorers either had stretches of inconsistency (Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker) or fell below expectations (Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville). Consistent production from key players plus Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund would be nice. Defensively, the Wild are as good any of the elite teams in the league, having finished sixth. Dubnyk provided stable goaltending that had struggled amongst Niklas Backstrom, who is still in Minnesota despite being a $4 million third string option, Darcy Kuemper, and John Curry. Expecting Dubnyk to play 38 straight games again would be a folly, so it will be likely up to Kuemper to be the player he was late in 2013-14.
Great defense did translate to a great penalty kill, and that figures to be the case once again while the power play was just awful, and was proven to be a downfall in their loss to Chicago in the playoffs.
Prediction: 6th in the Central Division
The Wild return basically the same team as last year. That would be great...except that just about every other team in the division improved. For the Wild to make the playoffs this season, they will have to be more consistent from beginning to end.
Monday, September 14, 2015
2014-15 record: 40-27-15 (95 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Dustin Brown
After three straight years of at least making the Conference Finals, winning the Stanley Cup in two of those years, the Los Angeles Kings' late rally towards the playoffs finally fell short. The 2014-15 season was a forgettable one for them, as the cloud of legal issues and under-performance by some key players conspired to finally bring down a team that was looking to make their usual late push. Now, they will have to soldier on without clutch performer Justin Williams and defensemen Robyn Regehr and Andrej Sekera. In addition, the dark cloud off the ice claimed both Jarrett Stoll and Mike Richards, while the same cloud still hangs over Slava Voynov, who missed much of last season while he was sorting out those issues. The good news is that 2015-16 will be a new year, and they add Milan Lucic to the mix, who will be looking to add physicality. A healthy Tanner Pearson, as well as a bounce back year from Dustin Brown, would help immensely, as players such as Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli, and Jeff Carter had to carry the load too often up front. Defensively, Drew Doughty was a Norris Trophy finalist despite just registering one power play goal, but along with Jake Muzzin, wore down as the Kings' blue line depth was severely tested throughout the season. Getting healthy support players is key to continued success, although it would help more if the offense picks up a little. Jonathan Quick was his usual self, though 72 games is a little much, particularly since the Kings didn't have a great deal of confidence in the since departed Martin Jones despite equally solid numbers from him. It will be up to Darryl Sutter to find a way to give Quick more rest and have confidence in new backup Jhonas Enroth.
Prediction: 2nd in the Pacific Division
The Kings will rank near the top in puck possession once again. However, more of those pucks need to end up in the back of the net if they want to try for a third Stanley Cup in five seasons. Getting some much needed help for star players such as Quick, Kopitar, and Doughty would also be great, as well as some consistency in winning games, as the slow start, end strong method finally caught up with the Kings last season.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
2014-15 record: 38-29-15 (91 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Willie Mitchell
After a couple of seasons where they finished at the bottom of the league, the Florida Panthers had a respectable showing last season, staying in playoff contention for much of the season. Now, with the youth a year wiser and veterans that are still with the team providing a winning mentality, the Panthers will be looking to make the playoffs for just the second time since the turn of the century.
The Panthers were still dreadful offensively, as just two players cracked the 20-goal barrier, and one that just missed the mark (Jimmy Hayes' 19) was traded in the off-season. However, those numbers were somewhat deceptive, as the offense had a bit of a spike thanks to trade deadline acquistion Jaromir Jagr, who showed that he has some life left in his 43-year old body. His presence also helped Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, and both will likely be having him as a linemate again, as Jagr re-signed with the team after the season ended. Nick Bjugstad and Brandon Pirri (the two 20-plus goal scorers) will have Reilly Smith, who came over in the Hayes deal, as a linemate. The bottom two lines are a nice balance of skill and toughness. Defensively is where the Panthers make their hay, as the blue line is fairly well stocked as far as depth is concerned, and that begins with Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad. While he showed why he as taken first overall last year, he did benefit from the presence veterans Wille Mitchell and Brian Campbell, who both also helped Dmirty Kulikov rediscover his game. In goal, it begins and ends with Roberto Luongo, who picked up where he left off from the last stint he had in Florida. He stole games for lesser talented Panthers teams of the past, and now, with an improved team in front of him, he won't have to steal as many games, though he is still capable of doing so if the youth don't progress as planned.
Prediction: 6th in the Atlantic Division
In a division where just about any team save for Toronto could be playoff contenders if the cards fall right, the Panthers can boast the most balanced team. However, for them to take the next step forward, the youth has to step up and be better than what they were or else another year of playoff-free hockey awaits.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
2014-15 record: 24-44-11 (62 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Andrew Ference
The light at the end of the tunnel has arrived for the Edmonton Oilers. Not since the days of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier has one player been seen as The Guy like Connor McDavid, and given the Oilers' luck lately, they need him.
Other than the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes, no team was a bigger disaster than the Edmonton Oilers last year. The Dallas Eakins era lasted all of a season and a half before he was finally given his walking papers and though interim head coach Todd Nelson did indeed inject a little life into the horrible offense, the defense was still an outward mess, as both regular goalies (Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth) registered a GAA of over 3.00 each, and the blue line was a special kind of terrible. Gone is Fasth and in his place is Cam Talbot, who showed he can play when he substituted for Henrik Lundqvist, but the question is whether he can replicate some of that success behind a still unstable defensive unit. Speaking of that unit, the Oilers are bringing in some new faces, as they picked up a puck mover (Andrej Sekera), a stay-at-home player that is still growing as a player (Griffin Reinhart), and a hard-hitting sandpaper type of player (Eric Gryba). Don't forget about Darnell Nurse, who could be a major player if he makes the team this season.
Up front, the young talent up front hasn't turned into what the Oilers thought they were getting, and much of that is the lack of continuity with coaching systems. While Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did alright, Taylor Hall missed a fair amount of time and Nail Yakupov only did well once Eakins was shown the door. Now, throw in Leon Draisaitl, who was nearly ruined at the hands of the previous regime, and of course, Connor McDavid, and the offense should be better. As for the coaching and front office, Todd McLellan adds credibility to the coaching spot and though he could never get San Jose to the promised land, just guiding the Oilers to playoff contention would be enough this year. If nothing else, the players will buy into what McLellan is selling on both offense and defense. Peter Chiarelli brings experience to the General Manager position, something that the often Oiler legend retreads showed little of in the times since the lockout of 2005.
Prediction: 6th in the Pacific Division
With so many new faces and yet another new system, it may take a while for the Oilers to find their rhythm. Instant success, even with McDavid there, won't come easy, but for the first time in years, hope is finally here for a fan base that has suffered since 2006.
Friday, September 11, 2015
2014-15 record: 43-25-14 (100 points)
Lost to Tampa Bay in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Henrik Zetterberg
The Detroit Red Wings cracked the 100 point barrier last year and were one of the better balanced teams in the league. However, cracks started to show, as a goalie that started the year in the minors had to rescue them from falling out of playoff contention and their leading scorer had trouble finding the back of the net late in the season. Not even a well-played series against eventual Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay could take some of the hurt out of the Red Wings. The departure of coach Mike Babcock for greener pastures in the off-season didn't help matters, nor did Pavel Datsyuk needing surgery that will likely force him to miss the start of the season. However, there is good news, as the man that will be replacing Babcock as head coach is Jeff Blashill, who despite having no NHL coaching or playing experience, is a familiar face to many of the Red Wings players thanks to a year as an assistant coach with the team and more recently, three years as head coach in Grand Rapids, where Detroit has their AHL affiliate.
Unlike recent years, the Red Wings didn't lose anyone of significance, as only Stephen Weiss was bought out. In addition, the Red Wings finally got the right-handed shot from the blue line they wanted, as Mike Green will be coming over from Washington. Brad Richards was also signed in the hope that he has something left as a second line center. Still, it will be all about youth up front, particularly since Datsyuk may miss the start of the season and Zetterberg may be experiencing the early stages of a decline. That means guys like Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar will be expected to lead they way offensively and beyond while Zetterberg will continue to provide leadership by example. Defensively, even with Green, depth remains a concern, as beyond the top three, the other defensemen are either unproven still or average, at best. In goal, there will now be a fight for the starting job, as Jimmy Howard struggled mightily after an injury not only derailed what was a stellar season, but also his momentum. Those struggles, plus Jonas Gustavsson's injuries, opened the door for Petr Mrazek to take the job late in the season and for the playoffs, where he showed that he belonged. With the competition, it will be the best man winning the starting role.
Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division
Despite ongoing issues on the back end, the problems there aren't nearly as glaring as one may think. Up front, it is scoring by committee, as five players (Datsyuk, Tatar, Nyquist, Abdelkader, and the since departed trade deadline pick-up Erik Cole) scored 20 goals or more. That balance, plus familiarity with the new coach, should help the Red Wings make the playoffs once again.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
2014-15 record: 41-31-10 (92 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Jamie Benn
How does the second best offense manage to miss the playoffs? If you're the Dallas Stars, you negate that with a defense that tied for 26th. To fix that problem, the Stars will now have more than $10 million tied to its goaltending, as Antti Niemi joins Kari Lehtonen in goal. That's one goalie who posted a respectable 2.59 GAA, but could never get his team over the hump when it counted the most and another goalie that posted a dreadful 2.94 GAA, numbers that would have been at home on last year's Edmonton Oilers squad. Of course, some of the problem can also be tied to the longstanding problem of the blue line that hasn't been able to identify a number one defender. That doesn't figure to change anytime soon, although Johnny Oduya is a slight upgrade over Trevor Daley and Stephen Johns could get a look as a sixth or seventh defenseman. At least John Klingenberg broke through last season and he figures to replace Daley's production easily.
Offense is where there is no problem, as returning Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn returns along with Tyler Seguin. Along with Jason Spezza, they will be joined by recent Stanley Cup winner Patrick Sharp and a healthy Valeri Nichushkin, who could be the next big star in Dallas.
Prediction: 5th in the Central Division
The Dallas Stars have the offense to be Stanley Cup contenders, but until questions about their defense and goaltending are answered, the Stars will have a hard time moving in the tough Central Division.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
2014-15 record: 42-35-5 (89 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Nick Foligno
Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets were expected to expand upon their breakout 2013-14 season in which they made the playoffs. However, a slow start and over 500-man games lost helped stunt the team's growth as they missed the playoffs. This year, they add a couple of Stanley Cup winners up front and will rub rabbit's feet that they can avoid the trainer's room as much as possible. Their offense didn't suffer too greatly, as both Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno led the team in points while being one few players that didn't miss any significant time, with Johansen being one of just two players to play all 82 games (David Savard was the other). Continued production from those two players and Scott Hartnell, plus bounce back years from Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky would keep the team heading in the right direction. It would also help if any of Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, or possibly Sonny Milano takes the opportunity to have a breakout year and if either or both Rene Bourque and David Clarkson rediscover their offensive touch.
Defensively, this was where injuries severely tested the team depth, as only Savard and Jack Johnson played more than 70 games. To that end, the Blue Jackets drafted Zach Werenski to help the pipeline, but it would be to their benefit if 2012 first round pick Ryan Murray can stay healthy, as injuries have prevented him from fulfilling his full potential. In goal, this was also where injuries took their toll, as Sergei Bobrovsky was never the player he was in the lockout-shortened 2013 season or even the season where the Blue Jackets made the playoffs. Curtis McElhinney is a fine backup, but 32 games from a career backup is not exactly something that inspires confidence from the fan base.
Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division
Yes, the Blue Jackets improved, but so did the Islanders, Capitals, and Penguins. Even the Rangers, who took a slight step back in the off-season, remain a top contender. That's a formidable challenge for the Blue Jackets to overcome, particularly with the injury bug that hit last season still fresh in the team's mind.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
2014-15 record: 39-31-12 (90 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Gabriel Landeskog
A year after making the playoffs as the Central Division champions, the Colorado Avalanche took a step back and ended up missing the playoffs. The culprit? Their less than sterling defense. This time, their offense also took a step back, as it was largely inconsistent for most of the season and only got back on track towards the end of the season. In a division where every team is good enough to make the playoffs, the Avalanche will have a hard time making headway even with the new additions. Gone is Ryan O'Reilly and taking his place is Carl Soderberg. Meanwhile, the Avs added Blake Comeau to provide responsible two-way play, Nikita Zadorov and Francois Beauchemin to bolster a blue line unit that lost its way more so when Erik Johnson went down with an injury, and Mikhail Grigorenko as a reclamation project for coach Patrick Roy, who should be able to do something for his former pupil in Quebec of the QMJHL. The offense, on paper, should be better than the 59 points that leading scorers Jarome Iginla and Gabriel Landeskog put up, but a large part of the offense's success hinges on players getting hot at the same time more often. The blue line figures to be better, but by how much remains to be seen. Beauchemin is no longer a top-flight option while Zadorov is still developing, and there's also how Johnson will feel after missing the second half of the season. The only truly sure thing here is Tyson Barrie, who has proven to be a solid offensive option from the blue line.
Semyon Varlamov fought injuries last year and wasn't the same player that was a Vezina finalist the previous season. The result was Reto Berra proving to be a disaster while Calvin Pickard showed he was ready for NHL duty, The quandary here what to do with Berra, who is still under contract.
Prediction: 7th in the Central Division
Anything can happen in the Central Division, as all seven teams are better than what their records indicated, and that includes the Avalanche. However, that also means the Avs will have a harder hill to climb, as they still have defensive concerns. Of course, getting Nathan MacKinnon to overcome his sophmore slump last year would help immensely.
Monday, September 7, 2015
21014-15 record: 48-28-6 (102 points)
Won the Stanley Cup
Captain: Jonathan Toews
The Chicago Blackhawks have survived key players leaving for other teams due to salary cap issues and they've survived the ever-constant scrutiny of fans and analysts at the first sight of trouble. They've even survived a few weeks without Patrick Kane because of injury. Yet, here we are, the Blackhawks raising another Stanley Cup banner for the third time in six years. Predictably, the same problems that have plagued them post-championship time have reared their ugly head once again. Sure, they could survive the losses of Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, and Johnny Oduya. However, the cloud that hangs over Kane could be something of a distraction and is potentially something that the Blackhawks will have to deal with this season.
As for the team at hand, the Blackhawks do return a very formidable defensive unit that boasts a strong top-four group that will now feature Trevor Daley taking Oduya's place. Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are both great, but it was the Niklas Hjalmarsson who really stepped up when the games counted the most. Up front, even with Kane's issues, the Blackhawks still have Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. The questions here will be whether the new additions (e.g. Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov) will be able to fill the void left by the departed players. Two players to watch for potential breakout years are Teuvo Teravainen and Marko Dano, as both are young and are eager to prove they belong. Goaltending is in good hands, as Corey Crawford showed his resilience in the playoffs after a disastrous beginning and has now cemented himself as a clutch performer. His backup Scott Darling was a feel-good story last year and can fill in if Crawford needs a rest.
Prediction: 2nd in the Central Division
The Blackhawks will be looking to do something that hasn't been done since 1998, and that is repeat as Stanley Cup champions. As their two previous Stanley Cup reigns have shown however, it won't be an easy task. Is this year the time they finally do it? A little luck and a lot of playoff magic would help.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
21014-15 record: 30-41-11 (71 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Eric Staal
An outwardly disastrous start by the Carolina Hurricanes (they didn't win a single game in October) was an omen for a team that has long been a good team up front on paper, but short on production on the ice. Finishing fourth worst on offense, the Hurricanes entertained offers for much of their core, with the only real change being Alex Semin being bought out after he couldn't escape Coach Bill Peters' doghouse for much of the season. Besides that and Eddie Lack coming in to challenge Cam Ward for the starting goaltender's job, not much has changed for Carolina as they continue to stockpile talent in the pipeline, particularly on the blue line, which had been long neglected in former General Manager Jim Rutherford's time.
Where to begin? The entire offense underperformed, with key players such as Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner scoring well below where they should be while Jordan Staal missed half the season due to injury. About the only players up front that did decently were Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask, and while it's reasonable to expect more from Lindholm entering his third year in the league, Rask's production was a pleasant surprise. Defensively, they actually got better once Cam Ward got into a rhythm late in the season, and now entering his final year in the current contract, he will be pushed by Lack in an effort to improve a defense that has three solid players on the blue line in Ron Hainsey, Justin Faulk, and James Wisniewski, and not much else at the moment. Noah Hanifin and Haydn Fleury will be impact players there, but to expect either to make the team this coming season may be too much to ask. For the struggles of the offense, they actually did well on the power play, and continued to have success on the penalty kill, and those units will be counted upon to keep the team in games.
Prediction: 7th in the Metropolitan Division
Off years from many of the key players plus about a half a season of getting used to Peters' coaching style led to one of the worst seasons in Hurricanes history. There's a lot of factors that need to go right for the Hurricanes to think about the playoffs, but that's far too many ifs to contend with for a team that will have a hard time escaping the basement.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
2014-15 record: 45-30-7
Lost to Anaheim in Conference Semi-Finals
Captain: Mark Giordano
A year ago, the Calgary Flames were expected to be one of the harder working teams with little to show for it. However, that hard work translated to a playoff berth and a series win for the first time since 2004. Now, expectations are higher, and the Flames didn't stand pat, as they improved an already solid defensive unit and got one of the better free agents on the market. Though the Flames were in the top ten on offense, a majority of that was the Johnny Gaudreau/Sean Monahan, Jiri Hudler line. A fully healthy Sam Bennett could change that, as he proved to be worth the wait after missing much of the season due to shoulder surgery and spending time in Kingston to get back in playing shape. Michael Frolik comes to the Flames as a solid two-way player that can help a penalty kill unit that wasn't great. Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense, and the blue line provides just that, as three players (Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Dennis Wideman) scored over 40 points each while Kris Russell missed by six points. Now, they will have Dougie Hamilton as a teammate, and the Flames look dangerous in that area, with any combination of Deryk Engelland, Tyler Wotherspoon, newcomer Jakub Nakladal, and a recovering Ladislav Smid competing for that sixth defenseman role.
If you're looking for a potential weakness, it's in goal, as Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, and Jani Ortio are all competing for the starting job. While the Flames finished in the middle with a similar configuration last year, three goalies on one-way contracts could either be a genius move or a disastrous one.
Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific Division
Expectations are higher in Calgary, and even though the goaltending situation is far from settled, everything else looks good. The question is whether how the players will respond to increased pressure to succeed now that they are no longer in the shadows.
Friday, September 4, 2015
21014-15 record: 23-51-8 (54 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Brian Gionta
The Buffalo Sabres' season from Hell is over, and though they didn't get the ultimate prize in Connor McDavid, they did end up with an equally good player in Jack Eichel. To ensure that his transition to the NHL is as smooth as it can get, the Sabres made quite a bit of moves, from getting Robin Lehner to hopefully solidify the goaltending position to picking up Ryan O'Reilly to help mentor Eichel in addition to being the top center, the Sabres of the 2015-16 season will not be the sad sack group of the previous two seasons.
Yes, it all begins with Eichel, but the Sabres' rebuild began in earnest with the draft of Sam Reinhart the previous season. From there, they traded for both Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane with the expectation that both will benefit from the change in scenery, though it remains to be seen if Kane will be a benefactor, as he was out prior to the trade. If nothing else, the Sabres will be far better down the middle than in previous seasons and everyone will be looking for redemption, particularly Matt Moulson, who failed to even crack the 20-goal mark. Defensively, they lost a key figure in Nikita Zadorov, as he went the other way in the O'Reilly deal, but they do retain Rasmus Ristolainen, who posted the worst +/- on the team, which was a byproduct of both youth and overall badness of the team. Having Bogosian for the full year will help, and along with Josh Gorges, they will have to continue to be leaders for the likes of Ristolainen and either Jake McCabe or Mark Pysyk.
For the second straight year, the Sabres employed at least five goaltenders. The acquisition of Lehner, who himself hasn't established himself as a regular NHL goalie due to injuries, is a major gamble, but one that General Manager Tim Murray is willing to take, as he knows Lehner from his days in the Senators' front office. New head coach Dan Bylsma will have a chance to steer the Sabres in the right direction after a year away from the bench.
Prediction: 7th in the Atlantic Division
The Sabres were awful in every sense of the word last year. Their reward is Eichel, who will have a lot of expectations upon him, but a fair amount of support in shouldering them. Expecting the Sabres to make the playoffs this year is a stretch, but they won't be so terrible that they will be in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes, either.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
21014-15 record: 41-27-14 (96 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Zdeno Chara
The Boston Bruins went from comfortably in the playoffs in 2014 to out of the playoffs in 2015. Despite a good as usual defense, they weren't the same defense of previous years, as key players such as Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk either missed time or were traded away prior to the season. The defensive unit went from solid to suddenly old, and it doesn't figure to get any better, as Dougie Hamilton was traded for three draft picks in the off-season. The good news is that Torey Krug is still around, and will likely be joined by Joe Morrow, who appears to be in line to take Hamilton's spot eventually. System play will still help, provided that Chara can stay healthy and guys like Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg can prove to still be effective. Up front, they missed David Krejci for a fair amount of time, which partially explains why the Bruins fell to the bottom third of the league on offense. They will now have to make up for losses of Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, and Carl Soderberg, and some of that could be made up if Matt Beleskey proves that his career high of 22 goals wasn't an aberration and Jimmy Hayes, acquired in the Smith trade, continues to improve. Patrice Bergeron is still one of the best two-way players, and will be counted up to lead the way once again while David Pastrnak will look to expand on his rookie year. Tuukka Rask fell to 2.30 GAA, and given that he played 70 games last season, it will be paramount that the Bruins give him more rest while either Jeremy Smith or Malcolm Subban will be given a chance to replace underused Niklas Svedberg.
Prediction: 5th in the Atlantic Division
The Bruins will be struggling to make the playoffs again this season, and they didn't do enough to fill the holes that were exposed last season. Getting out from salary cap hell was the start for new General Manager Don Sweeney, but now, it may become a rebuilding year that may get complicated if their best players have to miss any time for any reason.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
2014-15 record: 24-50-8 (56 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Shane Doan
The Arizona Coyotes were awful, to make a long story short. Offense? Second worst. Defense? Third worst. Penalty killing unit? Tied for second worst. About the only thing that went well was the power play, which actually finished in the top third of the league. Even that may become an aberration, as while Oliver Ekman-Larsson returns, his partner Keith Yandle does not, as he was shipped out at the trade deadline last season. If you're looking for any signs that the offense or defense will be better, it's going to be a while, as the Coyotes will once again struggle to score goals and unless Mike Smith regains his 2011-12 form, they will have trouble keeping pucks out of the net. As for the good news? Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, the latter was one of the pickups in the Yandle deal, look like near certainties to make the opening night roster, and both would have actually led the Coyotes forwards in goals among returning players (Mark Arcobello had 17 with four teams while Sam Gagner had 15, which tied Duclair's junior goal totals).
Defensively, they hope the likes of Boyd Gordon and Brad Richardson will help up front and that Steve Downie will add toughness to a team that could use it. Antoine Vermette returns after a brief, albeit successful stay in Chicago, and he will bring a winning mentality and reliability to the team. Defensively, Zbynek Michalek returns after a short stay in St. Louis while Nicklas Grossmann joins the team, with both providing responsible, yet slow players in their own end. If Mike Smith falters in net again, there isn't much of a fall-back, as Anders Lindback will be the backup.
Prediction: 7th in the Pacific Division
It will be another long year for the Coyotes, and though they missed out on either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, they appear to be front-runners for Auston Matthews in next year's draft.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
2014-15 record: 51-24-7 (109 points)
Lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in Conference Finals
Captain: Ryan Getzlaf
Since the lockout, the Anaheim Ducks have advanced a round, yet it is where they want to be that remains the issue. Discipline was what stood between the Ducks and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, as they saw Chicago eventually win their third Cup in six years. The Ducks didn't stand pat, as they will be welcoming a few new faces up front, as well as new faces on the blue line and in goal. Incoming at forward include Carl Hagelin, who was acquired in a trade that saw Emerson Etem go to the New York Rangers, and Mike Santorelli. The latter, along with Shawn Horcoff, give the Ducks considerable depth down the middle, but if the Ducks want to take that final step, they need guys such as Jakob Silfverberg, Jiri Sekac, and newly acquired Chris Stewart to pitch in, as the Ducks are still fairly too top heavy up front. As a unit, the blue line is very good, but they don't have one true standout, and this is where someone such as Hampus Lindholm or Cam Fowler would be well advised to take charge. There is veteran leadership to help them along, even with Francois Beauchemin gone, as Kevin Bieksa will step in. In goal, Fredrik Andersen took hold of the starting goaltender job and didn't let go, and now, it is likely he will have a new backup, as Anton Khudobin was brought in, most likely to give John Gibson more starts in the AHL. For all the good the Ducks did last season, they did so despite a pitiful power play, which is a surprise given the talent, and an overall defense that ranked 20th in GAA.
Prediction: 1st in the Pacific Division
The Ducks largely benefited from facing inexperienced teams in the playoffs, but were outclassed when faced with a proven winner in Chicago in the Conference Finals. The Ducks won a lot of one-goal games, but those could have gone the other way if it weren't for timely goaltending.