Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Home Improvement

This is PNC Arena, home to the Carolina Hurricanes. Last season, the arena was also home to the worst drawing NHL crowd, as they drew just over 12,000 people on average, a full thousand less than the next worst team in the Arizona Coyotes. On Monday, it was also home to a postponed game that wiped out the Hurricanes' match-up with the Detroit Red Wings. The reason? According to NHL.com, the following was discovered:

The Hurricanes discovered a broken seal on the main compressor that runs the ice chiller at 6 p.m. ET, resulting in the ice temperature rising from the game-time standard of 21 degrees to about 30 degrees, president Don Waddell said. They initially postponed warmups by 30 minutes to fix the seal, which was leaking Freon, but the temperature did not drop quickly enough to allow the game to be played.
In case you're asking the last home game prior to Monday, it was two days prior, when the Hurricanes beat the Sabres in a shootout. As for the problems of the ice, this is something that the people who maintain the arena should have been on top of, seeing as the Hurricanes are the only pro sports tenant in the arena.  On any level of hockey, this is poor in terms of teams not doing due diligence to ensure that both teams are playing on a surface that is safe enough, but given that this was an NHL team who failed here, it not only shows a lack of preparation on their part, as well as the arena maintenance crew, but also puts those who traveled into Raleigh from other places out of money and possibly a chance to root on their team.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Take it Outdoors

Now, that all of the teams participating in the outdoor games have their uniforms sorted out, it would be fair to assess each one, beginning with the Centennial Classic.

The designs you see for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings are what they will be wearing for the Centennial Classic at BMO Field, home to both Toronto FC and the Toronto Argonauts. The Maple Leafs went with elements of their past incarnations for their uniform design. The stripe that runs through the middle was previously on the Pats sweaters while the Arenas' T will be found on the breezers. Meanwhile, the Red Wings kept it rather simple, with only a silver stripe on the arms that also features the years they won the Stanley Cup. Though Toronto has the better sweater design, both teams earn high marks for going in different directions when it comes to the collar.

Up next is the Winter Classic match between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks slated for January 2 at Busch Stadium. Of the teams participating in the outdoor games, the Blues have the best looking sweaters, edging out Toronto for that distinction. It's as close to a throwback as it gets, as much of the design was inspired by the team's first years in the NHL. If the Blues' design was the best, then the Blackhawks would be on the opposite spectrum. Clearly, playing in as many outdoor games as they have has shown that the idea well has run dry for them. If there was ever a case for limiting how many outdoor games you can play in a specific time period, you can point to the Blackhawks for that.

Last up is the Stadium Series, and the participants in that matchup are the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins unveiled their look a few weeks ago, and certainly, going gold was a wise decision, as was the idea of having the triangle encircle the captaincy or alternate designation. The patch on the left is a nod to the team's four Stanley Cups, and the side numbers are on the shoulders. The sweater loses points for the numbering, though, as it rips off the World Cup North American team template.

A few days ago, the Flyers unveiled their design, and going black on their sweaters isn't the worst idea, but having black numbers and lettering is a bad idea, even with the orange nameplate and white outlining on the numbers. The Flyers would have been better served with white numbering and lettering.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Shaking Things Up in Colorado?

It hasn't exactly been a good year for the Colorado Avalanche, as their defense has been a problem for a few years and counting now. Between Patrick Roy leaving the team weeks before the season started and continued underachieving, things are not looking good for the Avs, short or long term. Their immediate past hit rock bottom yesterday, as they surrendered 10 goals in a 10-1 loss to Montreal. That loss now leaves them in last place in the Western Conference. So, what to do to fix the Avs? This would be where I put on my General Manager's hat, and that means I have a few ideas.


  • One of the greatest follies of the Greg Sherman/Joe Sacco regime (you know, the one before Joe Sakic/Patrick Roy) was handing Gabriel Landeskog the captain's C during the lockout shortened season of 2013. Not everyone can handle those responsibilities at 20 years old, and certainly, Landeskog has proven that he's no Sidney Crosby or Jonathan Toews (the jury is still out on Connor McDavid). Going a year with four alternates would give the Avs a better idea of who's ready for the captaincy, and should it be Landeskog, that year of re-establishing himself would be beneficial.
  • Trading someone from the "core" group. Semyon Varlamov has been brilliant at times, but he's also been bad at times, and while much of that is a reflection of the team in front of him, he also should be shouldering some of the blame, too. Throw in Calvin Pickard showing that he's ready for a starting job, and that should spell the end of Varlamov's time in Colorado. Jarome Iginla deserves better than what he's been saddled with in his three seasons in Colorado, and they would be wise to shop him before the deadline to a contender and get something in return.
  • Firing Jared Bednar as head coach would be unwise, as he didn't have the benefit of a full off-season to implement his system. Doing so would further set the Avs back and ruin any front office credibility that Joe Sakic may have left.
  • Erik Johnson has been the best of a sorry defensive lot, but he's also been hurt in almost every season he's played in Colorado. Trading him may hurt in the short term, but there's something to be said for getting something for a player while there's still value, and Johnson's value isn't going to be any better at this point.
Of course, the real problem of the Avs is the same one that befalls the other Denver franchises other than the NFL's Broncos: ownership. Until that changes, it may not matter what moves the Avs make to try and right the ship.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

No Sunshine State

The Florida Panthers weren't supposed to be just 11-10-1 as the calendar turned to December, yet that is where they stand. While that isn't normally grounds to fire your head coach, the Panthers upper brass evidently thought so, and and after losing to Carolina on Sunday, relieved Gerard Gallant of the head coaching duties. General Manager Tom Rowe will be the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The firing comes in the midst of the Panthers falling a little short of expectations, as they were supposed to be near the top of the Atlantic Division after making firewagon changes to the roster, adding Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, and James Reimer in the off-season. As to why Gallant would possibly be fired this soon, the special teams would be a culprit, as they were the team's downfall last season in their first round exit against the Islanders, and continued to be a problem area for the Panthers. Rowe, who previously coached in the AHL and KHL prior to becoming the General Manager for the Panthers, will get the chance to help turn around the team's problems on special teams.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Please Refrain from Golden Shower Jokes

For all the time that the Las Vegas team that will be starting play in 2017, there was a lot of hype and misdirection far as what the name of the team was going to be, given owner Bill Foley's penchant for fake copyrights. Last night, the suspense ended when the team announced that they will be known as...

The Vegas Golden Knights.

I don't know about you, but that's not very inspiring. Between Foley's insistence on having the Knights somewhere in the team name to not having the Las in Las Vegas in the name, there was some sharp criticism to be found. Mine will largely stick to what was presented, as the logo isn't going to jump out at you in any manner. It's almost as though they copied the Atlanta United FC template for logos:

As you can see for comparison purposes, neither looks inspired in either design or color scheme. The Las Vegas team's color scheme is steel, gold, black, and red, though the red isn't found in the primary logo. Not exactly intimidating on the ice unless you plan on boring the opposing team to death, though I will wait to see what they trot out for uniforms. If steel and gold aren't their primary sweater colors, it will have been an even bigger wasted opportunity.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Catching Up

It's been some time since I last put something on this blog, and predictably, there's items that should be addressed, so let's get to it.

  • First, the picture you see is Wayne Gretzky in Simpsons form, as he will be lending his voice and likeness to a December 11 episode of the Simpsons. Where I really give the animators props is the fact that they even got the right side of the sweater being tucked in, a long-time Gretzky trademark in his playing days.
  • Connor McDavid scored his first NHL hat-trick in Saturday's 5-2 win over Dallas that also saw the Oilers get off the losing streak. While it took McDavid a little longer to get his hat-trick compared to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, there is the matter of him missing half the season last year.
  • Evander Kane is still a Buffalo Sabre. The long-rumored Kane to Vancouver deal fell through, according to sources, when the Canucks balked at the Sabres' asking price. It was thought that the Sabres were going to try and recoup some of what they lost, value-wise, in the deal they made with Winnipeg to get Kane.
  • Dylan Strome got returned to Erie from Arizona. The move came a day after the Otters named Kyle Pettit the captain for this season, a role Strome held last season. It will be interesting to see what happens with Strome and the Otters and whether the Otters decide to move Strome, as the Otters are actually doing well and they may be looking to try and sustain their current run of success for a little while longer. Hamilton may be an option, since Dylan's younger brother Matthew currently plays there.
  • It's the Trans-Canada Highway bottleneck in the East Division of the WHL, as Regina leads the way with Swift Current, Moose Jaw, and Brandon all just behind them, and Saskatoon and Prince Albert are bringing up the rear. Prince Albert likely conceded the season, as they traded Brendan Guhle to Prince George for three players and draft picks.
  • SKA recently had a 15-game winning streak snapped against Avtomobilist.
The hockey season is still young, and there is still more to happen. For now, I get to rest a little.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Marek Svatos passes away at 34

Fans of the Colorado Avalanche in the times since the lockout of 2004 will undoubtedly remember Marek Svatos. Unfortunately, this piece is going to be more of a remembrance, as he was found dead in his Colorado home over the weekend. He was 34.

A former seventh round pick in 2001, he played his junior hockey with Kootenay of the WHL for two seasons before joining the Avalanche's then-AHL affiliate Hershey in 2002. He made his debut with Colorado in the 2003-04 season, but was still considered a rookie when he played his first full season with the team in 2005-06, where he posted career bests in goals (32) and points (50). He also posted 26 goals in the 2007-08 season, and unsurprisingly, that was when the Avs made the playoffs in that decade. However, things were not quite as good in his later time, as conflicts with coach Joe Sacco in the 2009-10 season led him to being a healthy scratch for some games before he took his game to the KHL for the following season. That time would be short-lived, as he eventually found his way back the same season with Nashville and Ottawa. He would go on to finish his hockey career in his native Slovakia, where he played two seasons.

He leaves behind a wife and two children, and there is no official word on the cause of death.

Friday, October 28, 2016

All Together Now!

Before the start of the season, the Anaheim Ducks were without Rickard Rakell and Hamphus Lindholm, both of whom were still unsigned as they were awaiting their new contracts while under the restricted free-agency tag. Given the Ducks' salary cap problems, namely that they are up against it, it was thought that the Ducks could lose one or both players.

Somehow, the Ducks managed to get both signed to long-term deals, as Rakell was the first to come off a few days ago. Yesterday, Lindholm followed suit and is now under the Ducks' control for six more years. So, what move or moves could the Ducks make to get under the cap? Simon Despres is headed to long-term IR, meaning his cap hit won't count until he's ready, whenever that may be, as concussion issues are what's sidelining him at the moment. Also, to make room for both players, Shea Theodore and Emerson Etem were sent down, and while it is still possible that Theodore could be called up again, the likely casualty would be Clayton Stoner. As for the newly signed players, their contributions will be welcomed by a team that has begun slowly, yet is just now finding their way with a recent stretch that has seen them win three in a row.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mavericks Report: Nothing like Home Cookin'

The road so far hasn't been kind to the Missouri Mavericks two weeks into the season, and never was that better illustrated than this past weekend, when the Mavericks were dropped 4-1 Friday by the Wichita Thunder and their home opener the following evening, where they had better success against the Indy Fuel in a 2-1 win.

The Mavericks will need to find some spark on the road, as the schedule takes them to Quad City on Wednesday before two games in Brampton, ON on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Mavericks Report: Stumbling out of the Gate

The Mavericks Report is back, although much like my laptop charger decided to take a dump over the weekend, so too did the Mavericks. In their season opening weekend in Allen, TX, the Mavericks picked up where they left off. Unfortunately, the last anyone saw of the Mavericks, they were getting kicked out of the playoffs by the Americans, who would go on to win the Kelly Cup. The Mavericks were never truly in the first game despite two goals from Radolslav Illo and a goal from Dane Fox, as the Mavs fell 6-3 on Saturday. Sunday wasn't much better, as the Mavs couldn't muster a goal in a 4-0 loss to the same Allen Americans.

The Mavericks play tomorrow at Wichita before coming home to open that portion of the schedule against the Indy Fuel.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I Watched This Game: The Auston Matthews Edition

"I Watched This Game" makes a return this season, and what a better way to kick it off than the NHL debut of the 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews. The Toronto Maple Leafs traveled to Ottawa to take on provincial rival Senators, and it was certainly an entertaining game.

The highlights, as written from the Senators fan perspective, since I opted for the 2006 red Senators sweater and ended up getting paired with a couple of Maple Leafs fans in a sea of Blues and Blackhawks fans.


  • The Sens' intro was pretty creepy, as the players' faces were on the back screen as they were being introduced one-by-one.
  • That didn't take long, as Matthews scored his first goal on a nice behind the goal pass by Zach Hyman found Matthews in front, and he didn't miss.
  • The Sens tie it up after Erik Karlsson's shot gets knocked down by Bobby Ryan in front, who finds the puck quickly and deposits it past Frederik Andersen. If the Sens can get 30 goals from Ryan, they will finally be getting the player that they thought they were getting.
  • The Sens take the lead on a laser from the blue line by Karlsson. In case you forgot, he was the team's leading scorer for a reason.
  • Matthews scores number two on a nice drive to the net after pick-pocketing a Sens player in the neutral zone.
  • DAMN YOU, AUSTON MATTHEWS! A hat trick in the second period puts the Leafs back up by one.
  • Derick Brassard ties things back up after another Leafs relapse defensively. Remember this, as it will be important later.
  • DAMN YOU, AUSTON MATTHEWS...AGAIN! A give and go with William Nylander sees Matthews put the Leafs back up by one.
  • Kyle Turris sends the game to overtime as he scores, and in the process, is showing that the injury issues of last season are behind him.
  • Turris scores the game winner in overtime after Matthews fails to cover Turris in time.
The Leafs-Sens match-up was nothing short of exciting on both ends. While Matthews was a dynamic force offensively, he also has a few things to clean up before he can be the player he wants to be, though he did own up to the mistake in overtime that sent the Leafs home with just the one point. Also, you do have to play defense, and the Leafs far too often, had some trouble with that, as for every goal they scored, the Senators had an answer. Similarly, the same could be said for the Sens, though Craig Anderson did bail them out a handful of times, stopping Mitch Marner on a shot.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I Watched This Game: Pre-season Special

The NHL regular season begins in six days, and with players still fighting for roster spots, that means hockey games sometimes take place in cities where there isn't an NHL team. Case in point: yesterday in Kansas City, where the St. Louis Blues took on the Washington Capitals. Naturally, the Blues playing here makes sense, since the Blues recently struck an agreement to partner with the ECHL's Missouri Mavericks, thereby making the Mavericks not only an affiliate of the Islanders, but also the Blues. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the game, I'll just put in the observations of the game.


  • Seemingly, it was youth music night, as the intermission band was a Metallica tribute band called Hammerhedd, which consists of three youths. For being kids, they handled the material quite well, especially since it was mostly from the 80's portion of the discography. Also, the National Anthem was performed on guitar by a 13-year old. Again, no complaints here, as he did quite well.
  • The Capitals dominated the shots on goal, and the results showed, as they won 4-2.
  • I know it's preseason, but there were opportunities to shoot that Vladimir Tarasenko passed up on.
  • The Sprint Center was a hazardous place, as a fan was forced to leave after taking a errant puck to the head while a referee skated off on his own power after getting his legs taken out by a falling Tarasenko.
  • The Blues still have work to do, and clearly, not having that physical presence that David Backes provided will take a toll at some point during the season.
  • Christian Thomas is making a case to stick with the Capitals after a two-goal night. Meanwhile, Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik put up three point nights each.
  • Braden Holtby wasn't in net. No matter, as Phillip Grubauer had a fairly easy night in goal, as the Blues couldn't muster many shots during the game.
  • Attendance for the game was comparable to a Blues game and would have been more than a few other teams in the NHL.
Those were the views picked up from the game, and I will see you on Wednesday for Opening Night.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Getting Back in the Air

WINNIPEG JETS

2015-16 record: 35-39-8 (82 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Blake Wheeler

The high of making the playoffs two seasons ago faded when the Jets had trouble keeping pucks out of the net. With the team generally staying the course when it comes to how they want to build the team, that meant growing pains for a lot of the prospects who came along during last season. It wasn't until a bounce of the ping pong ball that the movement gained some steam, as the Jets were elevated to second overall in the draft. There's still things to figure out, but the future beyond this season looks bright.

It was an all-around bad year for the Jets, as the offense barely made the middle of the pack status offensively. While it was relatively top heavy, with the likes of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Dustin Byfuglien carrying the load, there is a logjam of youth that is ready to contribute, with Nikolaj Ehlers already there and any of Patrik Laine, Nic Petan, and Joel Armia, among others, at the doorstep. The offense will have to improve from within. Similarly, the defense is in the same spot, as they were 22nd overall despite trotting out Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. Now, with the uncertainty surrounding Jacob Trouba and his contract issues, that could cause a few more problems. It would help the defense a little more if goaltending was more consistent, as incumbent starter Ondrej Pavelec was hurt for half the season and when he was healthy, he wasn't great. Connor Hellebuyck got a taste of NHL action, but needs another year in the AHL while Michael Hutchinson is a back-up in every sense of the word. Special teams were outwardly dismal, as the penalty kill suffered, but the power play was even worse. Laine should help the power play, but the Jets will need to stay out of the box a little more to improve the penalty kill.

Prediction: 5th in the Central Division

The Jets are committed to a youth movement, but first, they may wish to solve their back line issues, especially since trouble could be ahead if there isn't a resolution to the Jacob Trouba situation. At the very least, their offense should see an uptick thanks to a potential superstar in Laine.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Getting Over the Hill

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

2015-16 record: 56-18-8 (120 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Alexander Ovechkin

It wasn't supposed to be another season ending in disappointment for the Washington Capitals. Not after picking up clutch performers such as T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams last off-season. Not after winning the Presidents' Trophy by a wide margin for the best regular season. And certainly not to their playoff nemesis the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would go on to hoist Lord Stanley at the end of the playoff season. The Capitals didn't make any major moves, but expectations are the same as before: win a Stanley Cup.

Offensively, it always begins with Ovechkin, who scored 50 goals for the third straight year. Oddly enough, he didn't lead the team in scoring, as Evgeny Kuznetsov had his breakthrough year and led the team with 77 points, six more than Ovechkin. Offense is certainly not an issue, but getting a player that can score the dirty goals in front of the net may be a need moving forward, and perhaps Brett Connolly, a former first round pick in 2010, can finally fulfill his potential in that manner. Defensively, depth could be an issue, particularly since there is no true workhorse on the blue line, but a group of solid players. Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen proved to be reliable together, but the Caps would benefit better with a healthier John Carlson. In goal, don't expect Braden Holtby to carry the load the same way he did last season, not after Phillipp Grubauer showed that he could fill in when needed. However, on the days Holtby starts, expect sterling goaltending, as he is just now entering elite company when it comes to the league goaltending, as evidenced by his Vezina Trophy win. The power play was in the top five, as it should be when you're boasting the likes of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Niklas Backstrom. The penalty kill was even better, finishing second, though it remains to be seen just how much of an impact Lars Eller could have, as he is replacing Jason Chimera and Mike Richards.

Prediction: 1st in the Metropolitan Division

Unquestionably, the Capitals will make the playoffs. However, until they solve their inability to get to the Conference Finals in the Ovechkin era, all doubt will remain. In short, it will be Cup or Bust for the Capitals this season.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bottom of the Ocean

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

2015-16 record: 31-38-13 (75 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Henrik Sedin

From an unexpected playoff push two seasons ago, things almost immediately fell apart for the Vancouver Canucks since then, as in most categories, they managed to hover near the bottom, including the standings. Yet, they opt to seek for a band-aid approach in a last-ditch effort to get the Sedins another playoff berth before they retire despite the need to eventually identify some young talent. It's going to be a wild ride in Vancouver, one way or another.

A team that features the Sedin twins should not be second to last on offense, yet thanks to various injuries, underperformers, and young players not quite reaching their potential, that's what happened. Their solution? Sign Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal, and while it may solve the revolving door that was the third forward spot on the Sedin line, it is still a chasm to fill, as only Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen scored more than 20 goals last season. Getting improved numbers from the likes of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and Emerson Etem are a must. They were only marginally better defensively, though a top pairing of Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev isn't going to scare anyone. To that end, the Canucks traded for Erik Gudbranson, which will add physicality to the blue line in need of it, though it came at the cost of Jared McCann. A healthy Alex Edler should help, as will improved depth that could see as many as two rookies on the blue line. In goal, things get murky, as Ryan Miller is in the final year of his contract, and despite posting mediocre numbers, enters the season as the starter. Jacob Markstrom earned an extension and should be cutting into the number of Miller's starts. The power play, predictably, was awful, and the hope is that Eriksson, as well as new assistant coach Doug Jarvis, can boost that unit. The penalty kill was middle of the pack, though it did miss Brandon Sutter for half the season.

Prediction: 7th in the Pacific Division

No one is quite sure what the Canucks are doing to ensure future success after the Sedins, as the rebuild has hit some snags. Truthfully, it would be no surprise if the Canucks are closer to the Nolan Patrick sweepstakes, otherwise known as the 2017 NHL Draft. The Canucks want the playoffs this season, but at what cost will it be to their future?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

More Pain Ahead

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

2015-16 record: 29-42-11 (69 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: TBA

Entering their 100th year since they formed, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of a painful, to put in coach Mike Babcock's words, process of rebuilding. That pain last season resulted in being dead last in the standings, yet brought them a sense of hope, as the lottery went their way and they were able to draft Auston Matthews. The pain will continue, but with a youthful core learning on the job, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Offensively, when your leading scorer only amasses 45 points as Nazem Kadri did, you know your offense is terrible. Of course, they also let their only 20-goal scorer from last season leave, as P.A. Parenteau went back to the New York Islanders. For better or for worse, any success of the youth movement will largely hinge on Matthews, who draws comparisons to Jonathan Toews. If true, the Leafs will have their true number one center not seen since Mats Sundin last played there. There are other young players ready to make an impact, as Mitch Marner, William Nylander, among others, will vie for spots, but having a healthy James van Riemsdyk, as well as an improved Kadri will be key. To ensure that opposing players don't take too many liberties with the group, the Leafs signed Matt Martin, and along with Leo Komarov, will be just as important to the development. Defensively, they were still bad going by rankings, but shaving 17 goals off the total was a sign that the blue line is getting better. The problem is that only Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner qualify as top four defenders at the moment. There's a lot of bodies competing for the next four spots, but no true standouts, though Martin Marincin showed his worth on the penalty kill. In goal, the Leafs are hoping newcomer Frederik Andersen will be able to replicate his numbers with Anaheim, but this will also be his first true starting job, as he's always split with John Gibson. Jhonas Enroth was signed to buy Garret Sparks a little more time with the Marlies. Predictably, the power play was awful, and it will probably be that way again until it is known just how much of an impact the kids will make. The penalty kill was middle of the pack, which was a by-product of the team buying what Babcock was selling.

Prediction: 8th in the Atlantic Division

It'll be another long year for the Maple Leafs, yet it appears that fans are willing to buy into pain now for sustained success later. After years of short fixes and trading away draft picks, getting a player like Matthews may very well be the thing that changes their fortunes...in a few years.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Striking While Hot

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

2015-16 record: 46-31-5 (97 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Conference Finals
Captain: Steven Stamkos

In spite of the continuous drama surrounding whether the Tampa Bay Lightning would lose Steven Stamkos one way or another, coupled with the Jonathan Drouin problem, the Lightning somehow managed to do very well for themselves, eventually solving their bugaboos along the way in the process. After another Conference Finals appearance that saw Drouin contribute after a few months exile in the AHL, the Lightning not only got Stamkos to sign on for eight more years, but they also headed off another potential problem, as they signed franchise defender Victor Hedman to a long-term deal. The Lightning are ready to take advantage of the window of opportunity now, but there are still things to sort out.

The Lightning had their early season struggles offensively, which explains their 12th place ranking in that category. A healthier Stamkos plus having a bounce back season from Tyler Johnson and Drouin being on board for a full season should help that number. One potential issue is whether they get Nikita Kucherov signed on time. Beyond that, there isn't much for the Lightning to do here. Defensively, the signing of Hedman means the Lightning won't have to worry about their top two defenders, as Anton Stralman also returns. However, depth may be something of an issue, as it does get a little thin. Still, this is a unit that should be able to replicate their 7th ranked defense. In goal is where things get interesting, as Ben Bishop is in his final year of his current deal, and despite playing Vezina-caliber hockey, Andrei Vasilevsky is ready to assume the starting job at some point. Tampa Bay will have to make a move there at some point, especially with the Las Vegas expansion draft looming. The power play outage that the Lightning suffered was one of the more inexpiable things to happen to the team, though getting everyone back on the same page could help here. Conversely, the penalty kill was near the top, and as long as everyone is healthy, it should remain in the top third of the league.

Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic Division

The Lightning managed to make the Conference Final last year despite not having Stamkos for much of the playoff run and with clouds hovering over them all season long. Now that Stamkos is under contract for his prime years and Drouin is happy, things should be even better than before with the Lightning...if the goaltending situation doesn't become another distraction.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Circling the Waters

SAN JOSE SHARKS

2015-16 record: 46-30-6 (98 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup Final
Captain: Joe Pavelski

A year ago this time, the San Jose Sharks were being criticized for sticking with Doug Wilson as General Manager and hiring Pete DeBoer, he of two failed coaching stints in Florida and New Jersey, as head coach. This season, it is now all about taking that final step, as the Sharks made their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, but fell short in the end. Many key players return, with a couple of players hoping to make an impact.

Up front, it's the Joes, as Thornton and Pavelski led the team offense. Whereas the elder Joe was thought to be on his last legs, DeBoer's decision to include Thornton in the leadership role despite the actual captain role going to Pavelski may have been one of his moves, as Thornton was tied for fourth in league scoring. Scoring depth was big, as Logan Couture led the team in playoff scoring, and it only figures to get better, as Mikkel Boedker joins the team. Brent Burns is not only the team's best option on the blue line, but he's also been versatile enough to play up front. Given the depth on the back end, however, he may be needed there, as the Sharks aren't as good depth-wise. David Schlemko only merely offsets the loss of Roman Polak, though Mirco Mueller may be ready after an AHL refresher. In goal is where things get interesting, as Martin Jones may be backed up by Aaron Dell, who has only played as high as the AHL level for about a year. Jones proved his worth after coming over last off-season, but if he goes down for an extended period of time, things may get a little dicey here. The power play was really good, as they finished 3rd, and it only figures to be just as good with Boedker joining the forward ranks. The penalty kill could use some work though, as it was rather mediocre. Another year in DeBoer's system could help, as the Sharks were getting used to the coaching styles.

Prediction: 1st in the Pacific Division

The Sharks will have a tough act to follow, as their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance raises expectations. Much of the same cast returns, and with a little more speed, the Sharks could be back again. Then again, if something happens to Jones, it could be a problem.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Taking the Next Step...

ST. LOUIS BLUES

2015-16 record: 49-24-9 (107 points)
Lost to San Jose in Conference Finals
Captain: Alex Pietrangelo

Entering year 50 of their existence, the St. Louis Blues have the ignominy of being the only team left from the class of '67 that has never won the Stanley Cup. However, last season was quite possibly their best season yet, and there is optimism that they can do it again. However, as it has always been in the Central Division, the road won't be easy.

One of the biggest changes for the Blues this season will be that they won't have the toughness of either David Backes or Troy Brouwer. While the smaller lineup may very well push Vladimir Tarasenko closer to 50-goal territory, the lack of a physical presence may make things harder for the likes of Robby Fabbri and Jaden Schwartz. The only addition was David Perron, who is back for a second run with the team. A solid defensive unit returns largely intact, and despite the persistent trade rumors surrounding Kevin Shattenkirk, the Blues can boast up to seven NHL-caliber defenders. In goal, it's Jake Allen's show now, as the Blues traded away Brian Elliott. This will be Allen's first primary starting job in the NHL, and the safety net in case he falls is Carter Hutton, who can spell Allen for a handful of games just in case. Both units on special teams were great, but the turnover, both on the ice and behind the bench, may affect the team in that regard.

Prediction: 4th in the Central Division

The Blues are looking to take the next step forward now that they know how to get to the Conference Finals. However, losing a little physicality may cause them to step back a little, though they do have a pretty good chance in an increasingly speedy Central Division.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Victory Formation

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

2015-16 record: 48-26-8 (104 points)
Won the Stanley Cup
Captain: Sidney Crosby

Stop if you've heard this before: the Pittsburgh Penguins struggled out of the gate despite high expectations, replaced their head coach in the middle of the season, began to play like winners, and would go on to win the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. Believe it or not, that's been the narrative of the last two times the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup, including last season. This season, they would love to repeat the narrative of 1991 and 1992, when they repeated as champions.

Despite being one of the bigger names in the league, Sidney Crosby remains a polarizing figure among fans, but you don't need to be a fan to see that he really does make his teammates better, a fact rewarded by his Conn Smythe winning performance in the playoffs. His best came when the supporting cast kept changing due to call-ups from the AHL. A healthier Evgeni Malkin will make the Penguins even more dangerous offensively, especially now that there is a viable third scoring line consisting of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel. The offense begins from the stick of Kris Letang, and with Trevor Daley as another option, offense will once again be a strength. Defensively, the Penguins were just outside the top five, and the only loss there was Ben Lovejoy. However, depth should not be a problem. In goal is where things get interesting, as it has been Marc-Andre Fleury's crease for a while, but injuries opened the door for Matt Murray, who carried the mail there en route to the Cup. Now, the question is who to go with, as both are proven in key situations. The power play was only middle of the pack, but having a full season of Mike Sullivan behind the bench should help a little while the penalty kill will look to repeat their performance, as they finished fifth.

Prediction: 2nd in the Metropolitan Division

Much of the cast that was on the ice for the Stanley Cup presentation returns, and Sullivan will have a full season to further implement his system. The pressure of repeating will loom, but if there is a team that has the potential to do it, Pittsburgh is it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Serving the Youth

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

2015-16 record: 41-27-14 (96 points)
Lost to Washington in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Claude Giroux

The Philadelphia Flyers were supposed to be a team in transition last year, as they were shedding dead-weight contracts left and right and were getting used to a head coach whose experience consisted of college. However, something happened along the way, and the youth that was supposed to have trouble learning the game for much of the season put it together enough to sneak into the playoffs and give the Presidents Trophy winning Washington Capitals all they could handle. This time around, expectations will be higher, but in a tough Metropolitan Division, they may be forced to scrap for a playoff spot once again.

Offensively, the struggles of getting used to coach Dave Hakstol's system were evident for much of the season. This was especially true of Jakub Voracek, who followed a career year with a rather dismal one, as he could only muster 11 goals. However, Brayden Schenn began to show signs of why the Flyers traded for him in 2011, as he finished only behind Wayne Simmonds, plus the emergence of Shayne Gostisbehere added an element from the blue line. Improvement across the board would be nice, especially from the secondary options. They Flyers drafted defensively the past few seasons, and now may be the time where some of those players begin to compete for spots. Gostisbehere is already there, and he may be joined by 2015 first round pick Ivan Provorov, who has nothing left to prove in the WHL. Of course, the veterans of the group provide solid, if unspectacular play. In goal, it almost seemed as though if one goalie got hurt, the other stepped up. That was the case for Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, both of whom posted good save percentage numbers and split the load in the playoffs, though Neuvirth had the better showing there. Both special teams units fell from the previous season, though the power play proved to be in better shape than the penalty kill. Boyd Gordon comes over to help the penalty kill while a full season of Gostisbehere should improve the power play standing.

Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division

The Flyers will be a better team, but by how much will be determined by just how well they navigate a tough Metropolitan Division. A wild card spot is more realistic than finishing third in the division, but they will be a tough out themselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sens-e of Urgency

OTTAWA SENATORS

2015-16 record: 38-35-9 (85 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Erik Karlsson

There was no furious finish to make the playoffs this time for the Ottawa Senators, and it was shortly after that disappointing result that the Senators decided to make wholesale changes. Bryan Murray stepped down from the General Manager position and Pierre Dorion is now running things. His first move was replacing Dave Cameron as head coach and coaxing Guy Boucher from Switzerland for a second try at the NHL coaching carousel. Dorion would also convince Marc Crawford to come in as an associate. To further emphasize the win now mode that owner Eugene Melnyk has, the Senators traded away Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard. The moves have been made, but will it get the Senators a playoff spot?

Offensively, the Sens ranked ninth, and a fair amount of that can be attributed to Erik Karlsson, who starts everything from his own end and led the team in scoring by 21 points. Some of those pucks from Karlsson's stick have to find forwards, and five different players scored more than 20 goals, though the Sens are still waiting on Bobby Ryan to fulfill his 30-goal potential he flashed while in Anaheim. Of course, having a healthy Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur wouldn't hurt, either, as both missed time to injuries, with MacArthur missing almost the entire season. Defensively, they were not good, and a large part of the problem was lack of depth on the blue line. When Karlsson is your leading defenseman, that carries as much good as it does bad, as he's not the greatest in his own end, but he does work well with his usual defense partner in Marc Methot. After those two plus Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci, things become worrisome, as the Sens don't have a regular fifth defender that can play most nights. In goal, Andrew Hammond was bound to fall off from the previous season, and he did, as he battled injuries and inconsistency. That opened the door for Craig Anderson to become starter once again, and he did fairly well despite the numbers. Things could have been worse for the Senators without the goaltending. Special teams was another problem, as they finished in the bottom fifth in both categories. Changes will have to come from within, though the penalty kill could benefit from the return of Chris Kelly.

Prediction: 7th in the Atlantic Division

The Senators have the offense to compete, but without a defense that can hold the fort better, any hopes of making the playoffs are remote. Whether the coaching changes will improve the team remains to be seen, though any success will still be on the shoulders on the goaltending.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Out of Time?

NEW YORK RANGERS

2015-16 record: 46-27-9 (101 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Ryan McDonagh

Two consecutive seasons after reaching the Conference Finals, the New York Rangers took a couple of steps back. Yes, they made the playoffs, but they showed signs of wear and tear, and their defense that had long been known for locking things down suddenly looked mortal. The Rangers went into the bargain bin for free agents, and figure to be a little younger, thanks to a trade and a signing of the hottest college free agent of the off-season. As always, though, the Rangers are in win now mode, but is the window closed?

Despite having five players finish with more than 20 goals, thus their 7th place ranking offensively, not having a healthy Rick Nash hurt here, as he is still a difference maker even as he continues to drift further into his 30's. Trading for Mika Zibanejad cost them Derick Brassard, a difference of -6 goals, but the Rangers do get younger up front. The quest to get younger got a boost when Jimmy Vesey opted to sign with the Rangers as a college free agent, and along with Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers could have an injection of youth to go along with the tested veterans. Defensively, Skjei would be a welcome addition to the team, as many of the blue liners had off-years. Even Ryan McDonagh, who led the team in the +/- category, didn't post his usual offensive numbers. The task gets even tougher, as Keith Yandle took his offensive output to Florida, leaving the rest of the unit to make up for the loss there. Is the Henrik Lundqvist that showed up in the first round loss to Pittsburgh a sign of things to come or an instance of an elite player having a bad spell at the wrong time? That is a question of whether the Rangers finally decide to give him a little more rest, as Antti Raanta more than showed that he could shoulder the load when necessary. The power play was middle of the pack, and this is where Yandle's contributions will be missed the most, as there is no immediate replacement. On the penalty kill, it was as bad as it could get, which explains why the Rangers picked up both Nathan Gerbe and Michael Grabner in free agency.

Prediction: 4th in the Metropolitan Division

The longer Summer for the Rangers should help in getting them back to deeper playoff runs. However, their defense must shore up, as they began to show cracks, and Lundqvist must show that his dismal playoff showing was not a sign that he is slowing down. Youth will be served one way or another, but the veterans will have to have bounce back seasons if they want to be Stanley Cup contenders again.

Monday, September 19, 2016

No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

2015-16 record: 45-27-10 (100 points)
Lost to Tampa Bay in Conference semi-finals
Captain: John Tavares

For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders won a playoff series. However, that euphoria would be short lived, as they were thoroughly outclassed by Tampa Bay in the following round. Though there was considerable roster turnover when it came to the forwards, as well as the potential problem of having too many goalies that could start for other teams, the Islanders are actually positioned well for a deep playoff run. After all, the team does still center around John Tavares.

Tavares will have new linemates, as the right wing formerly occupied by Kyle Okposo is open, with one-time linemate P.A. Parenteau and Ryan Strome competing for that spot while Andrew Ladd should hopefully end the carousel at left wing. The key component to the Islanders' continued success will be the younger players such as Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Strome, as they all took a step back. Of course, they also lost Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin, which may very well open the door for Mathew Barzal if he has a strong training camp. Defensively, the top four spots are spoken for, and the only battle will be for the final two spots, as Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are ready for the NHL. In goal is where things truly get interesting, as Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, and J.F. Berube all showed starter caliber goaltending. Halak was the starter to begin, but went down for the season in March, opening the door for Greiss, who led the Isles through the playoffs. Berube proved to be capable when pressed into action. The power play could be better, and it remains to be seen how Ladd and Parenteau will help improve that unit. As for the penalty kill, how much the loss of Okposo and Nielsen will impact the fourth ranked unit will be one to monitor.

Prediciton: 4th in the Atlantic Division

After Washington and Pittsburgh, the battle for the third spot in the Metropolitan is anyone's guess, and the Islanders are squarely in the middle of it. How they manage their losses from last season, as well as how quickly the new guys integrate into the system will determine whether they can move up in the league. Of course, getting production from whoever ultimately seizes the starting goaltending job will also help.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Heating Up

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

2015-16 record: 38-36-8 (84 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Andy Greene

The first season after longtime General Manager Lou Lamiorello stepped down from the role ended the same way it began: good goaltending, but needing offense. To that end, the Devils' attempts to be more of an up-tempo team took another step forward, as they traded for the franchise forward that they lacked since Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk left town. They still need to improve, but it's a step forward.

Despite getting 30 goal seasons from Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique, the only other players to notch double digit goals were Travis Zajac, Mike Cammalleri, and Devante Smith-Pelly, the last of the three actually split time between New Jersey and Montreal. With that in mind, the Devils pulled the trigger on a trade for Taylor Hall, who should benefit from not having to face the more physical Pacific Division teams for half the season. Obviously, he will have the burden of being the franchise forward the Devils have lacked since 2013, but he is also motivated. Scoring depth will still be an issue, which could also open the door for Pavel Zacha to make the jump to the NHL from the juniors. Despite losing Adam Larsson in the Hall trade, the Devils have good depth on the blue line when it come to their own end. However, that same group was complicit in the Devils' lack of offensive punch, as Damon Severson led all defenders with 21 points. Finding scoring there will be much harder. Goaltending has no such issue, as Cory Schneider has made the transition from Martin Brodeur fairly seamless. He's been the team's best player by far, and backup Keith Kinkaid is competent, but will need to rebound from a less than sterling season in which he posted just okay numbers and Scott Wedgewood waiting in the wings. Special teams were in the top ten each, and while Hall will only add to the power play while the penalty kill was up there, too.

Prediction: 7th in the Metropolitan Division

The Devils need more offense, especially from their blue liners, but getting Hall will answer the Devils' need for a focal point when the Devils have the puck. As always, defense and goaltending will continue to rule the day for the Devils, who need it until the offense comes around.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Onward March

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

2015-16 record: 41-27-14 (96 points)
Lost to San Jose in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Mike Fisher

The Nashville Predators made history last season, as they not only got to play in a game seven for the first time in franchise history, but also win that game seven against Anaheim in the opening round. However, they would go on to lose to San Jose in the following round after a dismal showing in game seven of that series. Sensing urgency, the Preds decided to make a couple of franchise-altering moves, trading long-time defender Shea Weber to Montreal for PK Subban, changing the dynamic of the blue line there, as well as going for a more team speed oriented squad, something that will be further cemented by the Subban trade. The Predators believe they can stay ahead of the curve in the Central Division, but will those moves be enough to get them over the top?

Down the middle is still a weak point for Nashville, although picking up Ryan Johansen last season gives them a center with number one potential. However, other than Mike Fisher, the depth there remains rather thin. On the wings, there is no such issue, as James Neal and Filip Forsberg are the lead scorers there, with Craig Smith providing solid secondary scoring. However, Colin Wilson will need to prove that he's more than just a playoff performer, as his regular season numbers were rather ordinary. The swap of franchise defenders leaves the Predators with a decidedly different outlook on how to approach games from the blue line. Subban is faster, and regardless of who he ends up being paired with, things will be more exciting there. However, the most important player there is Roman Josi, who may very well be the best overall defender on the team. Depth-wise, there will be a number of players battling for the last two spots on the chart, but the Preds are very good on their top four. Pekka Rinne finally stayed healthy after a couple of seasons battling injuries, and while he isn't the player he once was, the rest for a stretch of games leading into the playoffs helped, as he almost single-handedly stole a game or two in the playoffs. He may be forced to play a little more in the regular season, as the backups are Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros, neither of whom have had extensive NHL experience. Both special teams units were in the top half of the league, but as it is for the even strength, how Subban will change the dynamics of the power play and penalty killing units will be one to monitor.

Prediction: 2nd in the Central Division

The Predators are gearing their team towards playing the likes of Dallas and Pittsburgh, teams that use speed to score goals and generally cause havoc with the opposition. This may be the best Predators team yet, but until they reach the Conference finals, it will remain a paper dream.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Getting the Pride Back

MONTREAL CANADIENS

2015-16 record: 38-38-6 (82 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Max Pacioretty

The Montreal Canadiens' season began like a house of fire, but injuries to key players such as Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher caused that house of fire to eventually burn to the ground. That colossal failure to make the playoffs forced a number of changes, including swapping franchise defensemen, as PK Subban was sent to Nashville for Shea Weber. The Canadiens' roster is better suited to coach Michel Therrien's style, but as last season proved, they're only going to go as far as Price can carry them.

Contrary to popular belief, the Canadiens don't have as much trouble scoring as you think. Yes, the power play stunk, but the real problem was the lack of scoring depth, as beyond Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty, no one else scored more than 20 goals (Gallagher missed by one despite missing almost half the season). Out is Lars Eller and in comes Andrew Shaw and Alex Radulov. Shaw provides a bulldog presence that was absent when Gallagher went down, and now, with both in the lineup, the Canadiens should be twice as hard to play against, while Radulov is a one-year gamble in that his previous NHL stints didn't pan out so well. The Canadiens are hoping that his most recent time in the KHL, where he was a three time scoring champion and found happiness off the ice, will help result in a better run this time around. Defensively, injuries were a major problem, as the Canadiens employed enough players to supply two NHL teams a defensive unit. Weber will fit in better with what Therrien wants, but he may very well be the focal point of fan vitriol if he doesn't produce to normal standards, as Subban was a popular player there. In goal, it's all about Carey Price. While Mike Condon held down the fort admirably, there were instances where he was in over his head. To that end, Al Montoya was signed to provide insurance against another Price injury. While the power play was terrible, the penalty kill was just outside the top ten. They figure to be good again, and the power play will benefit from having Weber's shot at the point.

Prediction: 3rd in the Atlantic Division

The Canadiens saw what life without Price was like, and it wasn't very pretty. Of course, a locker room that wasn't on the same page half the time wasn't helpful, either. A new season, and a vote of confidence in Therrien later, the Canadiens are banking on a more harmonious locker room atmosphere, but until proven otherwise, it is about Price and how many games he can play.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Prey for Glory

MINNESOTA WILD

2015-16 record: 38-33-11 (87 points)
Lost to Dallas in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Mikko Koivu

It seems to be an annual ritual for the Minnesota Wild since they decided to blow money on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in 2012, as they almost always seem to struggle to make the playoffs. Whether it is the failed gambles for Dany Heatley and Thomas Vanek or a pipeline that hasn't had the returns that they hoped for, the Wild almost always seem to fall short of expectations. Now, it's Bruce Boudreau's turn, and all he has to do is get the Wild to play with more consistency for a whole season. Given that the salary cap continues to be a hindrance, that will be easier said than done.

Parise, when healthy, can usually be counted on for 30 goals a season. While Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle are solid when it comes to secondary scoring, the rest of the unit needs to pick up, especially Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker, and Mikael Granlund. Unfortunately, the reinforcements are Eric Staal and Chris Stewart, with the former coming off the worst season of his career since his rookie year while the latter has always been maddeningly inconsistent in production. Defense has been a strength, and will continue to be again. Suter is not a true number one defender, but he is certainly the Wild's best player on the blue line, and while the rest of the unit is still growing, as Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba, Mike Reilly, and Marco Scandella are all 26 and under when the season starts, there is potential to be even better, especially since Scott Stevens steps in as an assistant coach. The challenge for Boudreau is to give Devan Dubnyk a little more rest, as he's played over 70 games last season to go along with the 38 in a row he started the season before. That workload helped to explain his troubles in the playoffs, and it will be up to Boudreau to work Darcy Kuemper in a little more, something that the previous coaching staff did not do. The power play was middle of the pack, and certainly, improved production across the board will help a little in that regard. However, the penalty kill was near the bottom, and a more aggressive approach would be helpful.

Prediction: 6th in the Central Division

While everyone else ahead of them in the Central Division improved in the off-season, as well as the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild face an uphill climb once more if they hope to make the playoffs. It could be a long year in Minnesota this season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Kingdom Crumbling Down?

LOS ANGELES KINGS

2015-16 record: 48-28-6 (102 points)
Lost to San Jose in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Anze Kopitar

The Los Angeles Kings have been going all in for another Stanley Cup since 2012, but the last two seasons, the results have been far less than what they've hoped for, as they fell way short both times. Now, the salary cap threatens to have a stranglehold on the team's chances, thus closing a window of opportunity that may be there for just another season or two. Yes, they still have elite players at key spots, but whether they can field a team that be filled out with competent role players is another question.

Up front, Anze Koiptar has been their best player since he joined the NHL, and now, he has the captaincy added to his name. Unlike predecessor Dustin Brown, it shouldn't be a problem for him to adjust to the role while maintaining his production. Tyler Toffoli figures to be the next great offensive star for the team, and he already is a 30-goal scorer, while Jeff Carter continues to post solid numbers. Beyond that, there are question marks, namely can the Kings get continued secondary scoring from the likes of Tanner Pearson, Teddy Purcell, and a presumably healthy Marian Gaborik? They'll need it because Milan Lucic took both 20 goals and an imposing power forward type that opened doors for the offensive stars with him to Edmonton. A spike in numbers from Brown is hoped for, especially now that he no longer has the burden of wearing the captain's C. Defensively, they're as good as ever, and they are led by Drew Doughty, who finally got the recognition he deserved with his first Norris Trophy win. Jake Muzzin is solid, and a healthy Alec Martinez would certainly help, as would a healthy Matt Greene. However, the rest of the unit will be cobbled together by a combination of Brayden McNabb, Tom Gilbert, Zach Trotman, and Rob Scuderi. In a perfect world, either Kevn Gravel or Derek Forbort make an impact in the NHL. In goal, Jonathan Quick will continue to get the lion's share of the starts, and he shows little signs of slowing down. In the event he has to rest, one-time understudy Jeff Zatkoff will fill in. The power play was in the top ten, and figures to be again with Doughty and Kopitar leading the way. However, the penalty kill needs improvement, and certainly, not having their full compliment of players will help a little.

Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific Division

The Kings still have all the pieces necessary to make another Stanley Cup run, but time may be running out, as the salary cap looms large against their chances. They cannot afford to miss on another gamble the way they did when they traded for Andrej Sekera two seasons ago.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Readying the Roar

FLORIDA PANTHERS

2015-16 record: 47-26-9 (103 points)
Lost to NY Islanders in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: TBA

It was two seasons ago that the Florida Panthers were practically the doormat of the NHL. In truth, that was the most recognition they received in 14 seasons other than the 2011-12 aberration that saw them make the playoffs the lone time in that stretch. That anonymity began to fade a little in the 2014-15 season and seemingly, the 2015-16 season provided hope that the Panthers would be in it for the long haul. Despite an early exit in the playoffs, an Atlantic Division crown is an indication that the Panthers are on the right track, but they'd like to accelerate that evolution, and the off-season moves were a sign of that.

Up front, it's the kids' show, as Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, etc. are all 25 and under and are under contract for a few seasons, at least. Jaromir Jagr, who is definitely not a kid, but seemingly plays like one despite his 44-years on the planet, has been setting good examples for the rest to follow, and he led the team in scoring last season. If there is a concern, it's how the new pieces will fit in on the right side, especially the bottom two lines. Defensively, they're basically retooling and building around Aaron Ekblad, who is also under contract for the foreseeable future. Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk are the new faces that will fill out the defensive six along with Ekblad, Mike Matheson, and whoever emerges from the group of Jakub Kindl, Alex Petrovic, Ian McCoshen, and Steven Kampfer. In goal, Roberto Luongo has been great since returning to the Panthers almost two and a half seasons ago, but he is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season after hip surgery. James Reimer was signed to not only be the goalie while Luongo recovers, but also provide quality backup goaltending and provide a buffer against next season's expansion draft. Reto Berra was also picked up for depth. If the Panthers hope to harbor Stanley Cup aspirations, they will need to fix their special teams, though picking up Yandle should help the power play. On the penalty kill, that's less of a certainty, though Demers may likely be seeing penalty killing minutes.

Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division

The Panthers still need to win a playoff series, as they haven't done so since 1996, when they made the Stanley Cup finals. However, as last season proved, they are finally putting it together and feel that with a youthful core combined with veterans that can contribute significant numbers, the window of opportunity may be open for a while. The question is whether Florida can take advantage.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bigger and Tougher

EDMONTON OILERS

2015-16 record: 31-43-8 (70 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: TBA

The same story of the Edmonton Oilers missing the playoffs yet again keeps going, but this time, it feels different, as the current regime are actually sticking to a plan. Yes, these are not the Oilers of recent years, as they've made an effort to not only build from the back out, something that was started prior to last season, but also get bigger. Let's not forget that there is that McDavid kid up front that is expected to be the one to lead them into the playoffs.

It's Connor McDavid's team for better or for worse, as the off-season trade of Taylor Hall almost officially makes him the face of the franchise. Despite missing half the season, he did manage just over a point a game to finish third on the team in scoring. He makes everyone better, and the latest player that may get the opportunity will be Milan Lucic, a big, physical player that fits the vision of General Manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McClellan. He joins fellow bigs Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian as guys you'd have to get through if you're going after McDavid and Co. That should afford the latest first round pick Jesse Puljujarvi the luxury of not having to face the best players off the bat. On the blue line, it's still a work in progress, and the return for Hall was Adam Larsson, who may very well be finding his stride. Still, like the rest of the group, he does come with questions, as he doesn't provide great offensive numbers, a sore spot that saw only Andrej Sekera provide anything from the blue line. In time, Oscar Klefbom and Brandon Davidson could help, but both had injury issues last season. Darnell Nurse provides a physical presence while the sixth spot will be a rotating group amongst Griffin Reinhart, Mark Fayne, and Mark Fraser. In goal, Cam Talbot struggled for the first month of the season, losing the starting goaltending spot for a time to then-backup Anders Nilsson. However, between Nilsson's struggles and Talbot finding his game, it seems that Talbot is now comfortable as starter and will look to have a more consistent season. Jonas Gustavsson will back him up this season. Special teams were middle of the pack, as the power play only needs a quarterback from the point on that unit. Penalty killing wise, having everyone healthy will go a long way to determining what is needed for improvement.

Prediction: 5th in the Pacific Division

The Oilers are inching closer to making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, but they may be a year away before that streak finally ends. They're building around Connor McDavid, and it is unquestionably his team now, but more consistency from the back end will be needed if they want to be more than just on the cusp of a playoff spot team.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Clipped Wings

DETROIT RED WINGS

2015-16 record: 41-30-11 (93 points)
Lost to Tampa Bay in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Henrik Zetterberg

It took the final game of the regular season, but the Detroit made the playoffs for the 25th straight year last season. However, they were dispatched fairly quickly by Tampa Bay in the opening round. It took some luck to extend the playoff streak last season, but that luck may be gone if they want to make it 26 seasons in a row.

Offensively, if it weren't for Dylan Larkin pacing the team with 23 goals, the Wings would have missed the playoffs. Now, they have to replace Pavel Datsyuk, who intends to finish his career in Russia, and that won't be an easy task. Henrik Zetterberg is still there, but beyond that, the rest of the team will need to rebound from a collective drop in goals scored. Bringing in Frans Nielsen will at least replace some of the production Datsyuk took with him, but Thomas Vanek is a reclamation project and Steve Ott adds almost nothing at this point in his career, so it will be up to the likes of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and the rest of the young players to pick up the pace. Defensively, they have never been able to replace Nicklas Lidstrom since he walked into the sunset in 2012, and the unit as a whole is largely a collection of players that are solid, but not great. They will have to be this way again for Detroit to be be competitive, especially since the leader from that group was Mike Green with 35 points, a respectable number, but more was to be expected. In goal, Petr Mrazek was inconsistent, losing the starting job for a few weeks to an even worse Jimmy Howard. A more consistent Mrazek would help, especially since despite the lack of consistency, he did post solid numbers in goal. Neither special teams unit was particularly special, as both finished in the middle of the pack, but the power play took it worse, as it was closer to the top the season before.

Prediction: 6th in the Atlantic Division

The Red Wings benefited from Dylan Larkin's presence last season, as he was enough to get the Wings to another playoff appearance. This time around, the rest of the team will have to rebound after a collective decline in numbers. There's not much to get excited about for the Wings, but if nothing else, they will have motivation to close out the time at Joe Louis Arena with another playoff appearance.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Shooting for Greater Heights

DALLAS STARS

2015-16 record: 50-23-9 (109 points)
Lost to St. Louis in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Jamie Benn

A top-flight team in the regular season thanks to the offense, the Dallas Stars were ultimately undone in the playoffs thanks to a defense that still needs work and goaltending that only gave back modest returns on a $10.4 million investment for both goalies. Still, the Stars have considerable talent to work with and with a pipeline that is giving them a fairly wide open window of opportunity to win it all, expecting the Stars to make a Stanley Cup run isn't out of the question, health willing.

Everything that the Stars owe to their success begins with offense, and despite only having John Klingberg on the blue line that provides any offense, the front lines score in bunches. Jamie Benn topped 40 goals while Jason Spezza and Tyler Seguin scored north of the 30 goal barrier. That trio is good enough to carry the team offensively, but there is good depth in terms of players that can score, and provided Seguin is healthy, something that wasn't the case in the playoffs where he missed all but one game, the Stars can cover for some of their deficiencies in their own end. The blue line is going to be breaking in two new faces from within in Stephen Johns and Esa Lindell, as well as Dan Hamhuis via free agency. While it remains to be seen if the moves add up to a better defense, it can't be worse than Alex Golligoski, who was a disaster in his own end, something that was exposed in the playoffs. If there's any position that the Stars truly need to address though, it's in goal. The $10.4 million duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi only produced moderate results, as their combined 2.78 GAA and .905 save percentage in the regular season may have been good enough to skate by, but it fell apart in the playoffs, as seemingly neither is capable of carrying the mail for the long playoff grind. When it comes to special teams, the offensive sparks carried over to the power play, where they ranked fourth. Of course, if they drew a few more penalties, that would make it even more deadly. The penalty kill was in the top third of the league, a product of the overall team speed that is capable of making teams pay if they're asleep at the wheel.

Prediction: 1st in the Central Division

The pieces are in place offensively, and certainly, they got bigger defensively. Whether the latter got any better will be answered during the season, but until the goaltending situation gets solved, it may be the one thing that holds them back from hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Regrouping the Troops

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

2015-16 record: 34-40-8 (76 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Nick Foligno

Just about anything that could go wrong with the Columbus Blue Jackets' season did, ranging from a slow start that cost Todd Richards his head coaching job early in the season to Ryan Johansen butting heads with John Tortorella, leading to his trade to Nashville for Seth Jones to goaltending that either couldn't stay healthy, get any decent production, or both. A full season of Tortorella behind the bench should at least give the team some stability, plus the pipeline is ripe with players that will either help the team at the NHL level or in Cleveland, where a Calder Cup winning year undoubtedly gave the youth playing there a major boost.

Up front, there's a lot of talent on the wings, but no number one center. That used to be Johansen, but given the trade, that leaves a collection of second line centers to try and fill the top center role until Pierre-Luc Dubois is ready for the role. Dubois has a pretty good chance of sticking with the Blue Jackets straight out of the draft, but won't have to produce right away, as Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, and Cam Atkinson all are fairly sure bets to score more than 20 goals apiece, with the first two netting 30 goals each last season. However, production took a major nosedive beyond the top four, particularly with Nick Foligno, who may have been the one to suffer the worst from the Johansen trade. Besides Dubois, other rookies up front that could make the opening night roster include Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, and Sonny Milano. The return for Johansen was Seth Jones, who was thought to be the heir apparent in Nashville. Columbus is now his team, and he won't have to wait to see if he's ready to be the lead dog on the Blue Jackets' blue line. Along with Ryan Murray, who finally stayed healthy for a full season, David Savard, and possibly Zach Werenski, youth will be served on the blue line, and the potential to be great is there. That would greatly help the overall defense that saw only Calgary end up worse than them. It is Sergei Bobrovsky's crease for now, but he must remain healthy and produce consistenly. The backup role is Curtis McElhinney's for now, but even worse numbers may put his spot on the NHL roster in peril, particularly since Joonas Korpisalo played well enough when he filled in on the NHL and was lights out in the AHL playoffs. Special teams suffered, as well, as the offensive woes from the back end manifested itself on the team's dive in the power play standings while the team was too undisciplined too often to offset any ability on killing penalties.

Prediction: 6th in the Metropolitan Division

The Blue Jackets must avoid another slow start, an undesired trademark of Richards' teams as head coach, and they must rediscover what made them on the verge of perennial playoff appearances. Of course, health is one thing that can solve a lot of problems, but figuring out who can carry the mail down the middle is going to be a bigger issue that won't be solved so easily.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Digging Out Again

COLORADO AVALANCHE

2015-16 record: 39-39-4 (82 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Gabriel Landeskog

Despite the fact that the Colorado Avalanche have made the playoffs just twice since the turn of the decade (I'm counting the 2009-10 season), things are rarely dull in the Centennial State these days. As badly as the Avs fell apart towards the end of the season, that would just be the tip of the iceberg, as a rather underwhelming free-agency haul was punctuated by Patrick Roy leaving the head coaching spot about a month and a half later. New head coach Jared Bednar will be tasked with not only getting his system implemented with a little more than a month to go, but also get the team to buy into a defensive system that actually works.

Despite the talent up front, the Avs were not very good offensively. Matt Duchene did hit 30 goals, but as it was with the rest of the team, more was expected of him. Nathan MacKinnon will be in an Avs uniform for several years, but he has to stay healthy, as injuries have hit the last two seasons. Only Duchene, MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Jarome Iginla scored more than 20 goals, and all have their fair share of question marks heading into the season, with Duchene being perpetually on the trading block, MacKinnon's heatlh, Landeskog showing lack of discipline at times, and Iginla nearing the end of the road. Other than Carl Soderberg, Joe Colborne, and Mikko Rantanen, there isn't much scoring depth up front. Defense is just as bad, and it was that way the entire time Roy was head coach. Erik Johnson is solid, but appears to be miscast as a top pairing defender while Tyson Barrie is primarily an offense-first player. Francois Beauchemin was one of the better defenders on the team, which is a clear indictment on just how bad the Avs are on the blue line, and now, they're breaking in Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras into the mix, meaning two players that are just barely old enough to drink are going to be tasked with fairly significant minutes. That could be a problem, particularly since they only added Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercioch for depth. In goal, someone has to pay the price for total team relapses on defense, and unfortunately for Semyon Varlamov, he's that guy. Yes, he hasn't played up to his Vezina finalist billing of 2014, but now that Calvin Pickard will at least stick as the backup, he will have someone breathing down his neck for what may possibly be a battle for the starting job in Colorado. Both sides of the special teams ledger were not very good, and if the power play is to get better, someone other than Iginla must step up.

Prediction: 7th in the Central Division

Unlike most teams, the Avs are basically having a cram session when it comes to breaking in a new head coach, and given the troubles on both sides of the puck, especially defensively, anything other than a last place finish in the division would be considered overachieving.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Climbing Back

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

2015-16 record: 47-26-9 (103 points)
Lost to St. Louis in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Jonathan Toews

Individually, the Chicago Blackhawks players were award winners, as Patrick Kane became not only the first U.S. born player to win the Art Ross Trophy, but he also took home both the Ted Lindsay and Hart Trophies as MVP, as voted by both the players and the press, respectively, while teammate Artemi Panarin took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. As a team, however, falling well short of the ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup, one that would have made them the first back-to-back winner since Detroit turned the trick in 1997 and 1998 is one that will not sit well with them. As it was then, the salary cap struck again, this time, forcing the Blackhawks to try and find replacements for guys like Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, and letting rental Andrew Ladd walk. Their replacements are likely coming from within, as some of the prospects that have bide their time in Rockford should be ready to go.

Up front, it's still the Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews show, as Kane finally stayed healthy long enough to win the scoring title while Toews remains the man that steers the ship when it comes to on-ice and locker room leadership. Adding Panarin prior to last season was a major plus, as he was the second leading scorer on the team. However, secondary scoring will be needed, as the gap between Kane and the fourth leading scorer (Brent Seabrook) was almost 60 points. Given that youth will have to be served, expect around three or four rookies to be around for the duration of the season, so the bottom six spots are going to be varying. On the blue line, things are much more in place, as the top-four of Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Brian Campbell will take up the majority of the time. Michal Roszival, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Michal Kempny will vie for the final two spots, though Ville Pokka will also be in the mix for one of two spots remaining. In goal, Corey Crawford is the starter and Scott Darling is the backup, so nothing has changed since the middle of their last Stanley Cup run. The power play was the second best in the league, but fixing a penalty kill that ranked 22nd is imperative if the Blackhawks hope to win another Stanley Cup this season.

Prediction: 3rd in the Central Division

A longer summer after three straight seasons of at least making the Conference Finals figures to make the Blackhawks more motivated and well-rested. However, is the salary cap finally taking a toll on their window of opportunity to win another Stanley Cup? The Blackhawks have been counted out before, and we all know the results some years, so it wouldn't be wise to bet against them even in an increasingly tough Central Division.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Gaining Strength

CAROLINA HURRICANES

2015-16 record: 35-31-16 (86 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: TBA

Last year was a step in the right direction for the Carolina Hurricanes, even after missing the playoffs yet again and despite trading away longtime face of the franchise Eric Staal near the trade deadline. Between building up the blue line and players buying into coach Bill Peters' system, there is every reason to believe that the Hurricanes will sooner or later make the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and sustain that success for the future.

Up front, the trade of Staal means that the Hurricanes will need a new locker room leader, and while there is no clear cut candidate, that doesn't mean there isn't a player that can do the job, as the younger players are beginning to take on more prominent roles with the team and the veterans are helping out, too. Offensively, they were challenged even with Eric Staal, but on the bright side, Jeff Skinner finally showed no ill effects of his concussion issues in recent years to post 28 goals and show the potential for 30 goals a season. Victor Rask also showed goal scoring potential in his second season, and while Jordan Staal will never post the numbers big brother did at his best, he does provide a solid two-way presence. However, a bounce back season from Elias Lindholm, as well as contributions from newly acquired Teuvo Teravainen and possibly Sebastian Aho are imperative. Defensively, the Hurricanes are showing major growth despite the fact that only Ron Hainsey is the only player there with regular playing time that is over 25. It begins with Noah Hanifin and is led by Justin Faulk. The better news here is that there is more talent in the pipeline, a clear indication that General Manager Ron Francis is wanting to build from the back out. Cam Ward returns at a pay cut, and despite respectable GAA, he didn't have good save percentage numbers. It would help if Eddie Lack can put last year's miserable numbers behind him and play like he did in Vancouver.

Prediction: 8th in the Metropolitan Division

Growing pains are still to be had in Carolina, especially when it comes to offense. At the very least, the defense will be better and the youth will be served.