Monday, December 25, 2017

Taking Your Puck and Going Home

This holiday weekend has been rather odd in the hockey world, as two players were unhappy with their current situations and decided to walk away. It's safe to say that neither will be seeing anymore time on the NHL or AHL level, as both are repeat offenders.

First up, Alexander Burmistrov. You may remember him as a former first round pick of the then-Atlanta Thrashers in 2010 that left for Russia after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season due to butting heads with then Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel. He returned in 2015 to the Jets, only for him to eventually butt heads with current Jets coach Paul Maurice. Last season, it came to a head, and he was sent down to Manitoba of the AHL, only for the Arizona Coyotes to claim him off waivers. He did not sign with Arizona after the season, opting to sign with the Vancouver Canucks prior to this season. Now, this bit of news from Pass it to Bulis, as Burmistrov was once again, unhappy with his playing time, and after getting scratched from the team's last game for a seventh defenseman, he has decided to retire from the NHL. Yes, at the age of 26, Burmistrov has decided to pack his bags and head back home.

Next up, Steve Moses. Undrafted after spending four years at the University of New Hampshire, he would begin his professional career in 2012-13 with Jokerit, and would play with them for three seasons, including their first year as a member of the KHL. In the off-season of 2015, he would sign a one-year deal with Nashville with the expectation that he would be on the NHL roster. However, prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, he was sent down to Milwaukee of the AHL, and was unable to get noticed enough to even crack the Predators' roster. That December, his contract with the team was terminated so he could return to the KHL, this time as a member of SKA-St. Petersburg. He would spend the rest of the 2015-16 season, as well as all of 2016-17, with the team until signing with Rochester of the AHL prior to this season. His time with Rochester would be short lived however, as he was suspended by the team recently for breach of contract, and as of right now, he is now signed with Jokerit again.

As odd as the two instances of walking away have been, it was hardly the first, as Vadim Shipyachov had been signed with the Vegas Golden Knights prior to the season, but was sent down to Chicago of the AHL. His complaining about not being in the NHL was fairly well-documented, and his NHL contract would be terminated soon after so he too, could return to the KHL.

I don't know what to make of this, but it is clear that the level of play between North American hockey and European hockey can be too much for certain players to take, and while it is notable that the players gave it a shot, leaving in the middle of a season does them no favors when it comes to future North American opportunities.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I Watched This Game: Here's to the Next 100 Years

In a rare occurrence, there was a mid-afternoon weekday game that wasn't on a holiday. Why? It marks the first game of the next 100 years of the NHL's existence, as on this day, the first two games of the NHL's existence happened on this date in 1917, as the Montreal Canadiens and original Ottawa Senators squared off, as well as the Montreal Wanderers and the then-Toronto Arenas. The Canadiens and Senators had their Centennial game outdoors at Landsdowne on Saturday, and now, it's the Maple Leafs' turn today. Unfortunately, there is no team that can actually imitate the Wanderers, so the Carolina Hurricanes will have to do. Yes, I watched this game.

  • In case you were wondering about the Arenas-Wanderers game, it ended up being a 10-9 affair that went the Wanderers' way. Remember that, as it will be important later.
  • The Leafs, who are wearing sweaters similar to what you see above, are once again without Auston Matthews, who has been sidelined for the past few games.
  • Despite Matt Martin in the box for holding, the Leafs get on the board first, as Leo Komarov nets a short-hander past Scott Darling to give the Leafs the lead.
  • Shortly after Martin gets out of the box, Roman Polak puts a hit on Marcus Kruger. Josh Jooris takes exception, and both he and Polak scrap. Both get five, but Jooris gets the extra two minutes, putting the Leafs on the power play.
  • Mitch Marner finally decided to break out of a scoring slump on the ensuing power play, wristing one past Darling after making a few Hurricanes look like pylons.
  • Komarov and Justin Williams decide to have a scrap of their own, and both sit for five minutes each.
  • Jeff Skinner dangles half the team, and beats Frederik Andersen to cut the lead in half. Andersen should have stopped that one.
  • Brett Pesce decides to be a perp and slash. His reward is two minutes in the box.
  • A mad scramble in front of the Hurricanes net saw Darling make a pretty good save. Unfortunately for him, James van Riemsdyk was on the other side of him and he found the puck, which he puts past him to make it 3-1.
  • Remember when I said Marner picked the perfect time to break out of his slump? Well, he decided to put together the best individual effort of the game, leading the Hurricanes on a merry chase around their own zone before finding Tyler Bozak in the slot. Bozak makes no mistake and makes it 4-1 Leafs.
  • That 10-9 score from 100 years ago? The Leafs may very well be matching that total at this rate.
  • van Riemsdyk misses a chance to put the Leafs up by four, and breaks his stick on Victor Rask's stick. That's no good, and he sits for two minutes. 
  • Shortly after that penalty was killed, Nazem Kadri gets careless with his stick, and has to sit for two minutes for getting his stick too high.
  • 4-1 after one period, and the Hurricanes get carry over power play time, but they better find offense fast.
  • The second period was uneventful, as nothing happened, and it remains 4-1 Leafs.
  • A van Riemsdyk cross check puts the Hurricanes on the power play, but they do jack all and it remains 4-1.
  • Leafs' passing gets rewarded with a goal, as Patrick Marleau manages to bank a shot from behind the net off of Justin Faulk and into the net to make it 5-1 Leafs.
  • Before I could begin typing that last sentence, the Hurricanes bungle the faceoff, and Kasperi Kapanen takes the puck and lets loose a laser past Darling to make it 6-1.
  • William Nylander decides to get in on the scoring, as he too, wrists one past Darling. 7-1 Leafs.
  • Sebastian Aho holds, so he is sitting for two minutes.
  • Connor Carrick scores with 90 seconds left in the game, making it 8-1 Leafs, and the possibility of them matching the Arenas' score from 100 years ago.
  • Game over, and the Maple Leafs have to settle for eight. They needed this game to break out of a recent drought offensively, and Marner's performance was especially needed, as he had his drought broken this game, as well.
The Maple Leafs fans were treated to a great game, and many of the school children took some time off to catch this game. Here's to the next 100 years of the NHL.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Trade of the Season

For months, it was talked about that the Colorado Avalanche and the Nashville Predators were interested in swapping Matt Duchene. However, Nashville refused to give to the Avs what they wanted. On Sunday, the talks finally ended with Duchene getting traded. However, it wasn't to Nashville, as Ottawa entered the picture a few days prior to the trade getting announced. So, who gets what? Let's break it down:

  • Nashville gets Kyle Turris from Ottawa. Not exactly who you thought the Predators were going to get, but this one made the most sense, as not only does Turris slot in perfectly as the second line center that Nashville craved, but also did so without breaking the bank or their defensive core (more on this later). Turris also signed to a six-year extension with an annual cap hit of $6 million, thus ensuring that they don't have to worry about whether Duchene would walk after next season.
  • Ottawa was the team to end up with Duchene, and he will play immediately, as the Senators are taking on the Avalanche in Sweden this week, so he just had to change locker rooms. It's a fresh start for Duchene, who also gets the bonus of playing in his home province.
  • Colorado gets a first round pick in 2018 and a third round pick in 2019 plus Andrew Hammond and Shane Bowers from Ottawa plus a second round pick in 2018 and Vladislav Kamenev and Samuel Girard from Nashville. The Avs get draft picks, which is always important, and one of those is a first round pick in 2018, which they could leverage into something else if they choose to do so. Bowers was the Senators' first round pick in 2017, and figures to be a third-line player, at best while Hammond had one great season in 2015, but has fallen off considerably since. Kamenev became a victim of the Predators' newfound depth down the middle while Girard was dealt from the Predators' perpetual position of strength, as Alexandre Carrier and Dante Fabbro are also top blue line prospects who are in the pipeline.Both could be helpful for the Avs in the near future, as Kamenev has second line center potential while Girard could be the solid two-way player that the Avs need on the blue line.
So, who won the trade? Colorado got what they wanted, and in earnest, can rebuild with prospects and players that can help. Nashville got what they wanted in a second line center plus the security of knowing they will have him for six more seasons maximum and their defensive core remains intact. Ottawa gets the impact player that they needed down the middle, though it is hard to tell how much of an upgrade Duchene is over Turris, since their numbers are closer than one thinks. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fully Completely

In my early days of this blog, I used to fuse music with hockey, and in some cases, posted old interviews from online rags that no longer exist. For today at least, I return to my roots, though for reasons that I wish were better than this. From the moment that the world, and the country of Canada found out that The Tragically Hip's lead vocalist Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it was an inevitability. Rather than wait out the time until his departure from this world, Downie and company would embark on one last tour of Canada. The tour would happen last year, with their last show happening in their hometown of Kingston, ON in a sold out K-Rock Centre. Today, the news broke that Downie finally succumbed to the disease, yet a legacy will live on, as there are many things being done in the name of finding cures. Where the Tragically Hip really leaves a legacy is within their own country, as they have long been known as Canada's band, as they embodied everything about Canada, right down to some major junior hockey clubs, particularly with the Kingston Frontenacs, who wore Tragically Hip themed sweaters for a game last season.

Rest easy, Gord, and know that a country will remember you for all you done in the time you were on this planet.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I Watched This Game: All the Action You Can Handle

Last night, the Nashville Predators had their home opener in which they would raise their first banner as last year's Western Conference Champions. There was no shortage of excitement and suspense on the evening from beginning to end. I watched this game.

  • Before the Predators took on the Philadelphia Flyers, there was the matter of raising a banner to rafters, with former captain Mike Fisher and current captain Roman Josi meeting at the banner to help raise it.
  • Josi was scratched from the game due to injury, meaning Samuel Girard was making his NHL debut.
  • The much maligned power play, at least to start the season, gets off the schneid for the Predators, as Craig Smith was able to put one away. He will need to return to 20-goal status if the Preds hope for something more than just a Conference title this season.
  • Smith's goal was all the scoring in the first period, and he also took a two minute minor for slashing late in the period.
  • The Predators look like they're going to pull away, as Scott Hartnell and Nick Bonino score to make it 3-0 midway through the second period.
  • No, it isn't going to be a blowout, as before Yannick Weber's penalty gets killed off, the Flyers get on the board thanks to Andrew MacDonald.
  • Nolan Patrick follows it up with his first NHL goal to cut the lead to one. I like Nolan Patrick and think he another great player from the Brandon Wheat Kings system.
  • PK Subban goes to the box for two, but the Preds kill it off. Unfortunately, they're caught for having too many men on the ice, and have to kill that off, too. Valtteri Filppula ties it up, and with that, it is game on after two periods, with the teams tied at 3.
  • Travis Konecny speeds down the ice and puts the Flyers ahead.
  • A questionable Hartnell penalty leads to another Filppula goal to make it 5-3 Flyers.
  • Don't look now, but the Predators just woke up, as Filip Forsberg scored to make it 5-4 Flyers. 
  • Dale Weise and MacDonald get two minutes each, making it a 5 on 3 power play for Nashville. Hartnell takes full advantage, and ties it up, or does he?
  • The Flyers challenge that the play was offside, but get victimized by the Mike Sullivan Rule, and not only have the goal count, thus tying the game at 5, but also have to deal with the indignity of taking a 2 minute delay of game penalty. It's still 5 on 3, though one of the original penalties gets taken off because of the goal.
  • Forsberg plays hero, as he nets the final tally of the game, as Nashville caps off a momentous evening with a 6-5 win.
The Predators haven't made things easy in the first three games of the season thus far, but getting that win, particularly in the way they did, should serve as a confidence booster for the rest of the season. No Josi for the game, and no Ryan Ellis until January meant the Predators have to still figure out their blue line situation. The good news is that Girard looks like another potential keeper for a team that just comes out with quality blue liners left and right.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

NHL Predictions

The NHL season kick off tomorrow, and because I did so well at predicting what would happen last season (note: I did not), I am back at it again. Like last year, these set of predictions will have nothing to do with the season preview and all to do with just going off the cuff. This time around, it's being posted here as opposed to just being on facebook, as I intend to go into detail as to why I think this way.

  • I thought it would happen last year, and it didn't, but I am going to go with it once again and say Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will get traded. The Oilers are on the verge of salary cap hell, and Nugent-Hopkins' contract is the most logical one to get moved. Carolina has the prospects to offer and would appear to be the most logical choice. Nashville could be kicking the tires here, too, as their search for another center could lead them here. Plus, Nugent-Hopkins is under team control for four more years.
  • Matt Duchene will remain in Colorado this season. The Avalanche have overplayed their hand on what they could get for Duchene and are more likely to either trade him after this season or watch him walk after next season. Either way, this is something that could make a bad situation in Colorado even worse. Oh, and Colorado still hasn't fixed their Titanic-sized holes on the blue line.
  • Despite having the likes of Vancouver, Colorado, and Vegas breaking their fall in the standings, the Detroit Red Wings will win the draft lottery and like their baseball cousins in the Tigers, be able to expedite their rebuild with the first overall pick.
  • Charlie McAvoy will win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He's in a good spot with the Bruins having a still serviceable Zdeno Chara leading the way and an emerging Brandon Carlo taking the pressure off of McAvoy. His playoff cameo showed promise, and that promise will turn to production by season's end, particularly when Adam McQuaid goes down to his annual injury.
  • Carolina will finally end the league's longest current playoff drought this season. They've been building a solid blue line and their offense is starting to show, with Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho being viable options. Scott Darling will likely struggle a little, but he will find his footing eventually and be the answer in goal that they've needed.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers will be the first team to fire their head coach during the season, as Dave Hakstol was put on notice when the Flyers plucked Kris Knoblauch from Erie of the OHL to be an assistant coach. The Flyers have a lot of talent on paper, but far too few actually doing anything on the ice, namely Jakub Voracek and Cladue Giroux. That must change.
  • The New York Rangers are the most likely team that made the playoffs last year to miss the playoffs, as other than Kevin Shattenkirk, they did very little to change their roster. Now, they're planning on having 2017 first round pick Filip Chytil start the season with the team. That will not go over well. Remember how the Rangers almost screwed up Manny Malhotra's career by playing him before he was ready?
  • Nashville will be a far better team this season, as last year was about figuring out who to pair PK Subban with plus dealing with injuries. This year, they will still have injuries to deal with, but they are better prepared this time around with the depth having had playoff experience. Don't underestimate the importance of the Alexei Emelin trade, as he will be a presence in his own end. 
  • This is going to be the Blackhawks' last stand, as they prepare to enter their own version of cap hell. Anything short of a deep playoff run, and Joel Quennville is most likely walking away instead of being fired. 
  • The Stanley Cup Final will be the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers, and Edmonton takes home the Stanley Cup, with Connor McDavid being named the Conn Smythe winner.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I Watched This Game: Preseason 2017 Edition

Preseason hockey came to Kansas City tonight, and it was the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild, and yes, I watched this game. The first period saw the Blues and Wild exchange goals on really good passes, with Brayden Schenn feeding Vladimir Tarasenko on the power play to make it 1-0. The Blues were exposed on the power play in the Nashville series last year, and putting Schenn with Tarasenko can only help matters, as evidenced by that goal. Charlie Coyle fed Luke Kunin, who was cutting in on goal to even the score late in the period, one of the rare times in the game that Jake Allen was unable to stop the puck. Curiously, Allen was pulled in the middle of the second period so backup Carter Hutton could get some time. A Blues goal in the second period left the score at 2-1, but the Wild would score early in the third period, as Kunin would cut to the net and force a shot from the point to go off a Blues player trailing him and past Hutton. With 4.3 seconds to go in the game, Coyle would take a Blues turnover in their own end and bury it past Hutton to make it a 3-2 final.

So, what can be taken from this game? For the Blues, fixing the power play saw some fruit with Schenn and Tarasenko together, the blue line is going to need some time to gel, particularly if either or both Jake Walman and Vince Dunn get time in the NHL due to injuries, Jake Allen is in mid-season form, and despite getting power play time, Tage Thompson is better served starting in the AHL. For the Wild, Mike Reilly is still not ready for NHL duty, as he had some lapses in his own end, Kunin impressed by going to the net on the first two goals despite being credited for just one of the two, and Devan Dubnyk may be needed to bail out the team once again, as they mostly had trouble getting the puck past Allen and Hutton.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Stalled Take-Off


2016-17 record: 40-35-7 (87 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Blake Wheeler

It seems that no matter what the Winnipeg Jets try to do, there's always something that undermines their chances at making the playoffs. This time, it was goaltending. For all of the scoring that the Jets did, it almost always seemed that they needed all of it just to offset the goals that were being given up. With a new starter and improved blue line depth, they hope that the problem is solved on some level.

Offensively, Patrik Laine was exactly what the Jets hoped for and more, as he led the team in goals and helped elevate the numbers of Mark Schiefele and Nikolaj Ehlers. Though injuries wreaked havoc with Bryan Little and Matthieu Perreault, both put up decent numbers alongside Blake Wheeler. Bottom forward depth could be improved, but if Kyle Connor can stick with the NHL team, then it may take care of itself. The blue line has decent depth, but it was tested last season when Tyler Myers was in and out of the lineup for various reasons. Adding Dmitry Kulikov should help, as should an emerging Josh Morrissey. Dustin Byfuglien remains the top offensive option from the blue line. Goaltending was a major problem, as Connor Hellebuyck was not ready for the full-time starting job, and neither Michael Hutchinson nor Ondrej Pavelec were viable backup options. Now, Steve Mason assumes the starting job, and while he also has something to prove, he should push Hellebuyck to be better. The season before, both special teams units were horrible. Last season, the power play improved to the middle of the pack, a byproduct of the team's improved offense. However, the penalty kill was almost as bad as it was the season before, and as was the case before, staying out of the box might be a good idea, as the Jets were one of the most short-handed teams in the league.

Prediction: 6th in the Central Division

Once again, the Jets have a lineup that can compete with any team on most nights. However, the same problems are rearing their ugly heads, as they not only play in a tough Central Division, but also have questions about their penalty kill and it remains to be seen if Mason can in fact, improve the team's abysmal goaltending.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Weagle Has Fallen


2016-17 record: 55-19-8 (118 points)
Lost (yet again) to Pittsburgh (again) in the Conference semi-finals (again)
Captain: Alexander Ovechkin

The Washington Capitals were hoping to at some point in the last three years hoist a Stanley Cup. However, as it's almost always been in their existence, they once again failed to make it out of the second round. This time, it was another President's Trophy winning season that was followed by another loss to Pittsburgh. Now, they have the indignity of having to replace several key parts while dealing with a salary cap that threatens to be the noose on their chances of winning a Stanley Cup in the near future.

The Capitals still have a formidable core up front, with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin leading the way. However, Ovechkin slumped to 33 goals, far below what is normally expected of him, and like most Capitals, wasn't much of a factor in the playoffs. The problem is that 48 goals went out the door in the off-season, as Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson both were victims of the Capitals' cap problems. That didn't stop the Capitals from signing both TJ Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov to long term deals, deals that the Capitals could be getting buyer's remorse from in a few years, particularly with Oshie. Secondary scoring has the potential to be a problem, which is why Andre Burakovsky will need to step up this season. If the forwards have the potential to be a problem, then the blue line is already knee deep in it. Three players are signed beyond this season, and unfortunately, one of them is Brooks Orpik. They were forced to let Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk walk while they saw Vegas take Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft. John Carlson could be on his way out after the season if the Capitals don't get creative with salary cap maneuvering. As for composition, it's Orpik, Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen, and whoever can claim a spot on the third pairing, as that is likely to become youth being served here. In goal, this is surprisingly the most stable part of the team, as Braden Holtby mans the net as a starter. He was fairly ordinary in the playoffs, but the team in front of him deserves just as much blame here. Phillipp Grubauer returns as a backup. The exodus in Washington is most likely going to be affecting the special teams, as Alzner and Williams were significant players on the penalty kill and power play, respectively.

Prediction: 2nd in the Metropolitan Division

For all of the team's inability to manage the salary cap and keep certain key players, the Capitals are still in decent shape as far as making the playoffs. They may need to rely more on a pipeline that is soon to be tapped out during the season, which could lead to yet another season of failure in the playoffs.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Lifting the Curtain


Expansion team
Captain: TBA

Soon, the curtain will lift on the inaugural season of the Vegas Golden Knights, and like many a team in their first year before them, there will be struggles. However, there will be no shortage of excitement, as they are given the standard grace period for expansion teams. Yes, this will be one experiment to watch.

For being an expansion team, it isn't everyday that former 30-goal scorers are made available in the expansion draft, but that is exactly what happened for the Golden Knights, as Jonathan Marchessault scored 30 last year and James Neal has done it before in his career. Beyond that, it's largely a gamble that Vadim Shipachyov can translate his game from the KHL to the NHL while every other forward is either no better than the second line or is unproven. On defense, they have a lot of bodies, but very little in the way of an actual top pairing. Jason Garrison is the best of a fairly mediocre lot, but it could be Shea Theodore that could emerge as a top guy. Don't be surprised if Nate Schmidt solidifies himself as an everyday NHLer, as his playoff performance in Washington attracted the attention of current Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee. Beyond those three, depth isn't bad, but they're all interchangeable at this point. In goal, this is where they are set. Marc-Andre Fleury was the prize, and he will be out to show that he has something left after having to pass the torch to Matt Murray in Pittsburgh. Calvin Pickard is also getting a fresh start after playing behind an awful defense in Colorado the past couple of seasons. The special teams are an unknown at this point, but there is no question that goaltending is going to be important here.

Prediction: 7th in the Pacific Division

Despite having a big name or two, the Golden Knights are going to field what can be best described as a team of mismatched parts. The good news is that they have a plan and it showed in their Entry Draft strategy. That fruit may be borne in a few years, but it will scarcely help in the immediate future.

Sunday, September 24, 2017



2016-17 record: 30-43-9 (69 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Henrik Sedin

2011 seems forever ago for the Vancouver Canucks, as last season was one long trek through the muck of one of their worst seasons in recent history. Now, they begin again with a new head coach, several stopgaps, and with any luck whatsoever, some youth that will finally inject much needed energy into the team. Of course, it's not going to lead to the playoffs, but marked improvement is priority one.

The offense was once again a black hole, as no one scored more than 20 goals, and the Sedin twins are going to be 37 when the season starts. It begins with Bo Horvat, who is the future of the team and looked like he was going to be great until he tailed off late in the season like the rest of the team. Sam Gagner and Alexander Burmistrov were signed to offer veteran presence for the young players. However, it will be Brock Boeser and Loui Eriksson that hold the key to improving the offense, as Boeser showed what he could do in a nine game trial after signing with the team out of college late in the season while Eriksson bombed out after signing a 6-year deal prior to last season. The defense was not much better, as injuries and generally ineffective play hindered this unit. Losing Nikita Tryamkin will set the unit back in its development, but overall health is key, especially with Chris Tanev and Alex Edler. Michael Del Zotto was signed to add depth, though the biggest question is whether Olli Juolevi can make the team to start the season. In goal, Ryan Miller was often under siege and underappreciated, as it could have been a lot worse for Vancouver the last two seasons. Now, it's Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson who man the nets, and both will likely be in a time share until someone claims the job. Special teams were just like the 5-on-5, as in it wasn't pretty.

Prediction: 8th in the Pacific Division

The Canucks are in for another long season, and it's not going to be better for another few years. Even with improved health and career seasons from a few players, this is a team that is most likely headed to the top of the Draft Lottery.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Continuing the Celebration


2016-17 record: 40-27-15 (95 points)
Lost to Washington in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: TBA

Last season, the Toronto kicked off their centennial year with hope, and as they continue their celebration of 100 years in existence, hope is turning into expectation, and the window looks like it is just now opening. With a generational talent in Auston Matthews, several quality young players, and goaltending that keeps them in games, there is no reason to think that the pain that the Maple Leafs front office has been expecting will continue for much longer.

Sure, the fifth best offense begins with Matthews, but there are other players who made themselves known, as Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Connor Brown all made impact in their first season in the NHL. Meanwhile, Nazem Kadri established career highs in goals and points while James van Riemsdyk may be playing himself out of Toronto after this season not for his play, but for the fact that Toronto may not be able to afford him. That was why the Leafs hedged their bets that Patrick Marleau has at least three good years left in him. Defense is improving, but there were instances where the Leafs had to try to win 5-4 shootouts because the defense couldn't hold the fort long enough. Another year together plus the addition of Ron Hainsey and the return to health of Morgan Rielly can only help. In goal, Frederik Andersen showed cracks alongside the defense, but for the most part, he was everything the Leafs hoped they were getting and more. The power play reflected the team's offensive efforts and the penalty kill was surprisingly effective, although they will need to figure out a new shutdown tandem.

Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic Division

The Leafs tear down of a few years has already produced a playoff appearance and though they say they're still rebuilding, it's tough to keep that hand for as long as Matthews does his impersonation of Jonathan Toews, as he is a game changer and the rest of the team is likely to follow suit. The Leafs may have finally figured it out and championships are not too far off in the future.

Friday, September 22, 2017



2016-17 record: 42-30-10 (94 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Steven Stamkos

The Tampa Bay Lightning were an exercise in frustration last season, as their high hopes of making a deep playoff run ended before they even had the chance to get out of the starting blocks. Injuries to both Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, as well as slow starts by everyone not named Nikita Kucherov conspired to keep the Lightning from making the playoffs. This year, they're hoping to have everything line up once again and make the deep playoff year later.

Not having Stamkos for much of the season meant that someone had to keep the Lightning's hopes afloat, and it turned out to be Nikita Kucherov. After him, however, the only other 20 goal scorer was Jonathan Drouin, and he was traded in the off-season. In many ways, it was a byproduct of the team's overall struggles for parts of the season, as both Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson missed a little time to injuries and were unable to find any consistency, Alex Killorn still remains inconsistent, and scoring depth suddenly became an issue. A return to health by Stamkos, who now faces questions of durability, as he has missed time to injuries in the last three seasons, would help. On the blue line, Victor Hedman was the player everyone expected him to be and then some, as he pitched in with 56 assists, putting him just behind Kucherov for the team's scoring lead. Anton Stralman remains Hedman's reliable sidekick, but after that, questions arise. Mikhail Sergachev is in line for a spot on the team if he proves to be too good for major junior, but for the most part, figuring out the chemistry with the pairings amongst Dan Girardi, Braydon Coburn, Jake Dotchin, Andrej Sustr, and Slater Koekkoek will be important. In goal, it's Andrei Vasilevskiy's crease now, as long time starter Ben Bishop was sent out at the trade deadline. The goaltending last year was merely average, and now that there is a clear cut number one goaltender, there should be more stability. Peter Budaj, who came the other way in the Bishop trade, figures to be the backup. Special teams ranked in the top half, with the power play seeing major improvement from the previous season while the penalty kill looks to rebound from its slight decline.

Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Health and consistency were all that stood in the way of Tampa Bay and a chance at making a deep run in the playoffs. This year, they're banking on both things being set right; however, the stakes aren't just confined to playoffs, as the seats of the coaching staff could be warmer if such problems persist.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Taking One Last Bite?


2016-17 record: 46-29-7 (99 points)
Lost to Edmonton in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Joe Pavelski

A year after making the Stanley Cup Finals, the San Jose Sharks discovered that the Stanley Cup hangover was a reality, as they were given the run around by Edmonton in the opening round. Now, the Sharks are facing a crossroads, as for the first time since 1997, they will be without Patrick Marleau. They will also be another year older, and with few solutions in the pipeline that are ready for primetime.

Marleau was the main player that left the Sharks, and he took 25 plus goals with him to Toronto. It will be up to the likes of underachieving Joonas Donskoi, Chirs Tierney, and Mikkel Boedker to get their offense up and running. Joe Pavelski is still productive, as is Joe Thornton, but both are on the wrong side of 30. Defensively, they're still very good, as Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are signed to long term deals, and both should provide at least five good seasons each. Third pairing players are a question, but they have good depth here and should be fine. In goal, Martin Jones is proving by the day why he was given an extension, though Aaron Dell is likely to see more time, as he proved to be a solid backup. Special teams will need work, as both were in the bottom half of the league.

Prediction: 3rd in the Pacific Division

The Sharks still have the talent to make the playoffs, but the window is rapidly closing, and it bears watching the job security of Pete DeBoer, as they took a step back from their Stanley Cup Final run.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Singing a Different Tune


2016-17 record: 46-29-7 (99 points)
Lost to Nashville in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Alex Pietrangelo

By the All-Star Break, the St. Louis Blues were underachievers who expedited the succession plan and put Mike Yeo in as head coach in February, replacing Ken Hitchcock. By the time the season ended, the Blues were in the playoffs and even handled themselves fairly well, advancing past Minnesota in the opening round. The task at hand for this season will be for Yeo to prove that he was the right choice to succeed Hitchcock.

The Blues have largely gone away from their bruising style of past seasons, watching both Troy Brouwer and David Backes walk prior to last season, and now, trading Ryan Reaves. The good news was that the Blues finished in the top half on offense. However, other than Vladimir Tarasenko, there was very little consistency. That was why Brayden Schenn was brought in, and he will provide more capable scoring in the middle. The defense was better after the Kevin Shattenkirk trade, and this unit figures to be better. Depth may be an issue, however, as Jay Bouwmeester is expected to miss time to start the season, so it may be sink or swim time for this unit. The Jake Allen that started the season wasn't very good, but like everyone else, the coaching change helped improve his game, and now there is no question that he is the starter that the Blues were hoping for when they traded Brian Elliott prior to last season. The special teams were great in the regular season, but they will need to figure out where it went wrong with the power play in the playoffs.

Prediction: 2nd in the Central Division

The Blues didn't do very much in the way of moves, but it is clear that they are trying to adapt to what the rest of the division is wanting to do. Whether or not they have enough to put in a deep run remains a question.

Monday, September 18, 2017

March of the Penguins


2016-17 record: 50-21-11 (111 points)
Won the Stanley Cup
Captain: Sidney Crosby

Just when you thought it was safe to count out the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, they decided to rise from near death to not only make a great first impression, but also come off the mat three times en route to becoming the first team since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. This time around, there are a few notable changes, but the one constant is that the key players remain.

The mark of a great player is that he makes his teammates better, no matter who they are or their skill level. Exhibit A: Sidney Crosby and his linemates in Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. Bear in mind that Guentzel finished his first year as a pro after a few years of college and Rust is more of a role player. The same can be said for Evgeni Malkin, whose primary linemates were Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary. The lone question mark is who centers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, as Nick Bonino left for Nashville after the season. Defensively, the Penguins were average, and that was BEFORE Kris Letang went down to injury prior to the start of the playoffs. No matter, as Justin Schultz stepped up in a big way to lead the unit. Letang returns, and the unit as a whole is full of solid, if unspectacular types. In goal, they couldn't hold back Matt Murray for much longer, and though it was a team effort in the playoffs, as Marc-Andre Fleury and Murray had the starting job in the playoffs at varying times, the torch has officially passed to Murray. Antti Niemi will be expected to fill in every once in a while and hopefully not mess things up too badly. The power play was good enough to finish third in the league, but had its moments of lapses while the penalty kill has room to improve.

Prediction: 1st in the Metropolitan Division

The only things that could derail the Penguins' hopes of three-peating are injuries and the short rest from the past two seasons. Crosby and Co. aren't exactly over the hill yet, so the window to win more championships is still wide open.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Uphill Flight


2016-17 record: 39-33-10 (88 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Claude Giroux

The Philadelphia Flyers are team that is seemingly stuck in the rut of mediocrity. Not bad enough to be dead last (yet somehow still managed to pick second overall in this year's draft), but not good enough to be playoff contenders. Yes, it's that weird middle ground that the Flyers will continue to occupy until something major happens. Until then, it's anyone's guess where the Flyers will be when it comes to the playoffs.

For all the talent up front, the Flyers still finished in the bottom third of the league offensively. It's not good when three of the four leading scorers were the only ones to score above 15 goals. It gets more complicated, as one of them, Brayden Schenn, was traded in the off-season. The good news was that Nolan Patrick was the prize for landing the second overall pick in the draft, and he may very well land a spot on the second line. The bad news is that not much else was done up front other than swapping Schenn for Jori Lehtera. Defensively, the team was merely okay, although there is a good chance that the Flyers could see one or two rookies make their debuts. Ivan Provorov leads the way, and any of Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, and/or Philippe Myers could join him alongside veterans Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, and Brandon Manning. In goal, the Steve Mason/Michal Neuvirth experiment didn't work, so now they are planning to pair Neuvirth with Brian Elliott, who himself is coming off an average season in Calgary. It may just be a matter of time before Anthony Stolarz stays with the Flyers for good, as he's been knocking at the door for a couple of years now. The special teams were a reflection of the team's inability to be anything besides average, as the power play was middle of the pack and the penalty kill was bottom third of the league.

Prediction: 6th in the Metropolitan Division

The Flyers may do just enough to make things interesting in a crowded Metropolitan Division, but until something dramatic happens, there is no denying that they are going to be nothing more than just your average NHL team.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Keeping The Course


2016-17 record: 44-28-10 (98 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Conference Finals
Captain: Erik Karlsson

The Ottawa Senators in recent seasons have been a hard team to figure out. One year, they're playoff contenders, and the next, they're in the hunt for the first overall pick. So it goes for a team that wants to gain consistency when it comes to making the playoffs. One thing is for certain, the Senators will be a team to watch.

For a team that features Erik Karlsson, the Senators didn't do all that great offensively. Yes, they have the firepower in Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, and Mike Hoffman, but the drop-off was fairly precipitous. The good news was that Bobby Ryan, who has largely struggled in his time in Ottawa, may have finally turned that corner in the playoffs and will look to continue to build on that momentum. It also helped that Clarke MacArthur was finally healthy after missing nearly two seasons to concussions. On the defensive side, the only uncertainty here is who gets paired with Karlsson, as Marc Methot was claimed in the expansion draft, then traded to Dallas. Coach Guy Boucher's system was instrumental in the team's top third finish on defense, and as long as Karlsson buys into it, so will the rest of the team. In goal, Craig Anderson is still the guy in goal, and certainly, his resolve with the off-ice issues helped galvanize the team. He's still got life in him, but now for the first time in a while, there is a future after him, as Mike Condon played well when Anderson tended to his wife. Special teams must improve, as both finished in the bottom third.

Prediction: 4th in the Atlantic Division

What we've known about the Senators and Guy Boucher is that both can provide spetacular flourishes when no one's looking. However, when all eyes are on them, it's often unpredictable as to what will happen. One way or another, the Senators are going to make things interesting.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reloading Blueshirts


2016-17 record: 48-28-6 (102 points)
Lost tp Ottawa in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Ryan McDonagh

The New York Rangers actually had a decent season. However, because they play in the tough Metropolitan Division, they ended up taking one of the Wild Card spots, where they proceeded to make the Conference semi-finals. The path the playoffs for the Rangers once again figures to be through the wild card, as each of the teams in front of them are still at the very least, as good as them, if not better. This time around, they will have one more year of experience for the rookies of yesteryear, as well as a little more pressure to succeed.

Offensively, the Rangers came out like gangbusters, which largely explains their fourth place finish in that category. However, the scoring was spread around pretty well, as the four leading scorers had over 50 points, but none reached 60. They will be minus one of them, Derek Stepan, as he was traded to Arizona, but they pin their hopes on a healthy Mika Zibanejad, who showed his potential in the playoffs. Defensively, they should be better, but the lack of offense from that unit was staggering, as Nick Holden led the team in goals by defensemen. To that end, that was why they sought out Kevin Shattenkirk to help in that part. A player to watch here is Anthony DeAngelo, acquired in the Arizona trade, and whether or not he can crack the lineup at some point in the season. If he does, that would help the team's offense from the blue line. As for their defensive issues, it would help that Henrik Lundqvist returns to his form, as he missed time to injuries, and his play was affected by inconsistency and a shorter break prior to last season. He won't have Antti Raanta looking over his shoulder, so he should feel less pressure to succeed in that regard. This time around, Ondrej Pavelec will be the backup, and he has something to prove after spending most of last season in the AHL. The power play was good, but had room to grow, and Shattenkirk should be a factor here, while the penalty kill wasn't great.

Prediction: 4th in the Metropolitan Division

It's not often that a team that had over 100 points in a season can be thought of as a dark horse, but the Rangers are in that position thanks to a division that features many heavy hitters. They have the talent to make some noise in the playoffs, but do they have enough to make the Finals?

Thursday, September 14, 2017



2016-17 record: 41-29-12 (94 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: John Tavares

The New York Islanders had a disappointing season, one that saw their head coach get fired midway through the season and their long-time starter get sent to the AHL for a chunk of the season. While Doug Weight was able to right the ship just enough to get the Islanders close to a playoff spot, it may prove to be a single patch on a boat that is springing several leaks. Yes, this year's Islanders will have the potential to be more exciting off the ice than on. Unfortunately, off-ice may consume the team's on-ice product if it doesn't get resolved.

Offensively, the Islanders ranked in the top third of the league, but that number is largely deceiving because the defensemen contributed a fair amount, as five players topped 20 points, and the front line remains top heavy. John Tavares still leads the way, but heading into his free agency year, his contract has the potential to be a distraction to himself, the team, or possibly both. Anders Lee led the team in goals, but the Isles need much more out of Andrew Ladd, who only amassed eight assists, which largely explains his paltry 31 point total. Jordan Eberle should help with the offensive totals, but the Isles are going younger, albeit a year or so too late. Matt Barzal, Josh Ho-Sang, and Anthony Beauvillier are all expected to have roles up front. The blue line has no trouble pitching in on offense, but they also contributed to the team's bottom third finish on defense. Losing Travis Hamonic won't help, as he was the team's best defender in his own end. Of course, it will help that the goaltending will finally have some semblance of order, as Halak and Thomas Greiss are splitting duties, which is a far cry from the weird three goalie system that also included the since departed J-F Berube. Halak was better after his AHL exile, and Greiss showed that he was ready to be the starter, and both will have plenty to prove. The penalty kill wasn't bad, but the power play was the team's undoing, as they were near the bottom of the league. Eberle figures to help with the man advantage.

Prediction: 7th in the Metropolitan Division

The Islanders almost always seem to be in some kind of turmoil off the ice, and certainly, issues with their home arena and Tavares' contract qualify. On the ice, the team should be better, but until goaltending and the power play both get resolved, the Islanders will have a hard time making way in a tough Metropolitan Division.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In Purgatory


2016-17 record: 28-40-14 (70 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Andy Greene

The rebuilding process for the New Jersey Devils has been long, slow, and often painful, and never was that any more evident than last season, when just about everything went wrong and they finished last in the Conference. The good news is that their talent level will be improved. The bad news is that it's barely moving the needle and they will likely endure another long season.

The offense of the Devils is slowly, but surely improving, as they went from last in the league to last in the Conference, as only Vancouver and Colorado were worse. Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall will be getting some help, as Marcus Johansson and possibly Nico Hischier will join the team. Hischier is a favorite to stick with the team straight out of the draft, as Travis Zajac is out with injury to start the season, and they're woefully thin in the middle. On the wings, the Devils are fairly good, as Hall and Palmieri are joined by Adam Henrique, Johansson, and Drew Stafford. The defense has the players to field a competent squad, but no real chemistry to even field one competent pairing. Andy Greene will be 35 during the season, and many of the good offensive players from the blue line have defensive issues, though Damon Severson should improve with one less distraction, as he was recently signed to a new deal. Goaltending, once a strength, was an unmitigated disaster, as Cory Schneider was uncharacteristically awful, and by the end of the season, was splitting starts with Keith Kinkaid. Special teams were just as bad as the team's five-on-five play, and outside of Hischier, help from the pipeline isn't really expected, particularly if players such as Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian don't make the team out of training camp.

Prediction: 8th in the Metropolitan Division

Expect another brutal year in New Jersey, where just about everything needs to go right just to be competitive. The offense will be a little better, but unless Schneider rebounds from a horrible season, that improvement may be all for naught.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Smash Hit


2016-17 record: 41-29-12 (94 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup Finals
Captain: TBA

The regular season for the Nashville Predators was anything but extraordinary, as they needed just about the entire season to secure the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Once the playoffs started, they got Red Light Fever, as they didn't just beat Chicago in the opening round, but did so in a sweep and in rather dominating fashion. That set the tone for a playoff that was filled with firsts, and though they fell two games short of the Stanley Cup, it only opens the door for future playoff runs. The question is the same that befalls all runners-up and whether they can avoid the Stanley Cup hangover.

The Predators needed most of the season to figure out who to pair PK Subban with, and once they figured it out (it was Mattias Ekholm), the Predators had three above average pairs, but with Ryan Ellis slated to be out until January, that means they will have to figure out who to pair with Roman Josi. Newcomer Alexei Emelin figures to be the favorite to be slotted alongside Josi. Depth should be no issue, especially if either Samuel Girard or Alexandre Carrier crack the opening night lineup. Up front, they will need to find replacements for James Neal and Mike Fisher, though that shouldn't be too difficult, as there is no shortage of hungry players wanting to crack the lineup for good (Pontus Aberg and Fredrick Gaudreau) and leadership. The JOFA line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson are all signed to long-term deals, and are expected to lead the way offensively, and newcomer Nick Bonino will be the second center. Scott Hartnell was brought back to provide solid third-line play. The Predators were kicking the tires on Matt Duchene, an indication that they were looking to improve center depth, but if Colton Sissons and/or Calle Jarnkrok can step up, that may be solve their problem without moving any pieces. In goal, Pekka Rinne benefited from playing less games in the regular season, and the result was a playoff performance that almost got the Predators the Cup. He'll be 35 in November however, so crucial play from Juuse Saros will be a factor in just how much rest Rinne gets during the regular season. Special teams were pretty good, though they clearly benefited from the number of power play opportunities, something that they will have to create once again.

Prediction: 1st in the Central Division

The Predators will have less rest than in past seasons thanks to their playoff run, but don't expect the Predators to rest on their laurels. They will not only be motivated to finish what they started, but also have a chance at claiming their first division title. The latter won't be easy, since every team has always been tough, but the Predators are more ready now than they've ever been.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Setting Things Right


2016-17 record: 47-26-9 (103 points)
Lost to NY Rangers in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Max Pacioretty

The Montreal Canadiens once again, were reliant on Carey Price to carry the team and once again, that strategy failed, as the Canadiens won the division, but were bounced in a rather weak effort by the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. Now, they may be on the verge of salary cap hell, and there just simply isn't enough bodies to field a Stanley Cup contender. Sure, they'll likely make the playoffs once again, but it may not be long before this version of the Canadiens are talked about in the same breath as the late 90's Buffalo Sabres teams.

Up front, the Canadiens are very strong on the wings, but as always, are weak down the middle. The failure of Alex Galchenyuk to finally claim the top center role only complicates things, as his allergy to playing competent defense is all that holds him back, especially in a Claude Julien system. Max Pacioretty was a 30-goal scorer again, but disappeared in the playoffs, but he was hardly the only one. They really need to find secondary scorers, as Alex Radulov left and Jonathan Drouin is still in prove it mode, and solidify the center spot, and it wouldn't hurt if Phillip Danault takes that next step forward. The blue line was a strength a year ago, but it also lacked speed, something that the Canadiens found out the hard way when they saw what Shea Weber provided as opposed to PK Subban. Weber is still a weapon with the slap shot, but the rest of the supporting cast is changing, as Andrei Markov wasn't tendered an offer and left for the KHL, and Alexei Emelin was plucked in the Expansion Draft. David Schlemko is likely to compete for a spot on the last pairing and Karl Alzner was a nice pickup, but offers nothing that last year's group didn't already have. Price showed no ill effects of injuries that wiped out his 2015-16 season, and as a result, was given an 8-year extension in the off-season. The Canadiens are going to go as he goes once again, and Al Montoya and Charlie Lindgren will see action every once in a while and in the AHL, respectively.

Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division

The Canadiens are still a strong team for as long as Price mans the nets. However, they did little to actually improve their team, as Drouin came at the price of Mikhail Sergachev, who was almost certainly ready for the NHL, and Drouin only merely replaces Radulov, one of the few Canadiens to show up in the playoffs. The Canadiens may be having their last stand as Stanley Cup contenders if they fall well short this season.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Climbing Out


2016-17 record: 49-25-8 (106 points)
Lost to St. Louis in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Mikko Koivu

The Minnesota Wild began last season like gangbusters, as they had a hot start to their season. However, as the season drew to a close and the playoffs began, they hit a lake-sized pothole and were done after just five games in the playoffs. Expectations weren't high last season, and despite the hot start, expectations are not very high this season. Minnesota might as well be Missouri, as they are now in "Show-Me" mode with the fans.

Offensively, that hot start was most evident in the fact that they finished the regular season second in goals per game. Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter are driving forces that are just now reaching their prime while Eric Staal had a career resurgence after a few down years. However, players such as Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle struggled not only with injuries, but also consistency. The rental of Martin Hanzal didn't work out, and the team offense struggled mightily in the playoffs, as they scored only seven goals in five games. Defensively, they were very good, but they are now needing to figure out the depth problem, as the third pairing looks like a sore spot, particularly since Gustav Olofsson and Mike Reilly are unproven at the NHL level and Kyle Quincey and Ryan Murphy are nothing more than depth players at this point. In goal, there's nothing to worry about when it comes to starter Devan Dubnyk. He's as advertised, but the need for a reliable backup reared its ugly head late in the season, and as a result, Dubnyk had too much on his plate. Still, he kept the Wild in the playoff games despite not getting much help in the scoring department. The special teams ranked in the top third of the league, but losing Scott Stevens behind the bench may affect the team's penalty killing unit.

Prediction: 5th in the Central Division

The Wild are a team that just barely avoided salary cap hell when they found a taker for Jason Pominville's contract, but that only scratches the surface of the problems ahead. The investments to both Parise and Ryan Suter haven't translated to wins when it matters the most, and now, Parise's contract has the potential to be a millstone for a team that simply doesn't have the resources to patch up the holes that are beginning to spring. They'll be in tough to make the playoffs, but they should be thankful that Dubnyk is playing his best hockey right now or it could be worse.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Losing Their Touch


2016-17 record: 39-35 -8 (86 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Anze Kopitar

Once again, the defense of the Los Angeles Kings was near the top of the league, but like recent seasons, the offense was lagging far behind. The result was not only missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, but also sweeping changes in the front office. Dean Lombardi's trade deadline gambling and inability to manage the salary cap cost him his job as General Manager while Darryl Sutter's inability to adapt to the current NHL style of play cost him the head coaching job. The Kings are a team in transition, now, but they intend to maintain their identity as one of the toughest teams to play against. Whether they can strike a balance between offense and defense is a question that won't be answered overnight.

The defense begins from the back end out, and even though it got bad from the outset, as Jonathan Quick missed a chunk of time, this group was pretty good given the circumstances. Peter Budaj, and later Ben Bishop, helped keep the ship afloat until Quick returned, and now with Quick ready to go again, it will be up to Darcy Kuemper and Jack Campbell to stake a claim to the backup job. The blue line is in good hands with Drew Doughty, as he drives this unit. The group behind him is still solid, but Jake Muzzin must rebound from a terrible season. Depth here is not a problem. Up front is where the problems were, as Anze Kopitar was far from his usual self, as he had trouble balancing production and captaincy duties. Jeff Carter was reliable, and Tanner Pearson did well, but the rest of the group was not. Tyler Toffoli is looking to be healthy and return to 30-goal territory while Kopitar is just hoping to be more comfortable with the added responsibilities. Adrian Kempe will be looking to make an impact, while Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik are contractual millstones at this point. The penalty kill was great, but the power play reflected the team's troubles scoring.

Prediction: 5th in the Pacific Division

A return to health may help prop up some of the offensive numbers, but given the team's lack of overall speed, the Kings just might be treading water until the cumbersome contracts of Brown, Gaborik, and the long-since departed Mike Richards come off the books.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Licking Their Wounds


2016-17 record: 35-36-11 (81 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Derek MacKenzie

To call the Florida Panthers a hot mess last season would be an understatement. The Panthers stumbled out of the gate, the acquisitions prior to the season weren't panning out, the head coach was left at the airport after a road loss and being fired, and oh yeah, they missed the playoffs by a fairly wide margin. If there was ever a team that needed to hit the reset button, it was the Panthers. Dale Tallon was reinserted as General Manager, and now, with stability returning to the team's front office, the clean up on the ice begins.

Things were brutal for the Panthers, and offensively, it doesn't figure to be much better, as leading goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault was plucked in the Expansion Draft. That leaves Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov as the only 20-goal scorers from last season that are returning, and Barkov missed considerable time to injuries. Their next two leading goal scorers are also not returning, as Jaromir Jagr was not tendered a new contract and Reilly Smith was traded to Vegas. That's a lot of goals going out the door, and ex-KHLer Evgeny Dadonov and free-agent signing Radim Vrbata were signed to replace some of that production. It would also help if both Barkov and Nick Bjugstad can stay out of the trainer's room and Jared McCann can finally break into the lineup full time. 2017 first round pick Owen Tippett will also have a shot at sticking on the NHL roster. The blue line wasn't much better, as Aaron Ekblad hit a wall in his third season while the rest of the unit was merely okay. There's talent on this unit, and they will need to show more than what they did last season. In goal is where things may very well get dicey. Roberto Luongo never truly recovered from off-season hip surgery, and James Reimer was forced into the lineup more often. The result was a goaltending duo that may see a shift in who sees more starts, as Reimer is more likely to see starts with Luongo needing more rest. The offensive struggles carried over onto the power play while the penalty kill was surprisingly near the top of the league.

Prediction: 6th in the Atlantic Division

The Panthers are in clean up mode, and any hopes of making the playoffs will hinge on whether or not key players can stay healthy. At worst, off-ice distractions should be a thing of the past, but on the ice may be a far different story.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Striking it Rich


2016-17 record: 47-26-9 (103 points)
Lost to Anaheim in Conference semi-finals
Captain: Connor McDavid

A decade of failure and lottery picks that have mostly not panned out put the Oilers in the bottom leading up to last season. What a difference one year makes, as now, they are a team truly on the rise. Of course, it helps that one of the lottery picks that has panned out is Connor McDavid. There's no question that the team will go as he goes, but the other problems that the Oilers had in the past were also solved along the way. The question now is whether they can keep the momentum going.

McDavid gets all the headlines, and rightfully so, but Leon Draisaitl also deserves some press, and the Oilers agree, as both players were given extensions heading into this season. McDavid made a goal scorer out of Patrick Maroon, who scored 27 goals, but can the effect carry over to newcomer Ryan Strome? He was picked up in a trade for Jordan Eberle and can bring a solid two-way game, but will his offensive game benefit in the same way? Offensive scoring depth may be an issue, as there just simply isn't enough spots to play on the same lines as McDavid and Draisaitl, but there are now enough big physical players to keep teams honest about taking liberties with both players. If Jesse Puljujarvi can get past his growing pains of last year, the Oilers will be even better. On the blue line, it was often a black hole, as the Oilers looked lost often in the dark years. Last year, it was a strength thanks to General Manager Peter Chiarelli committing to fixing the unit. From an offensive standpoint, Oscar Klefbom was finally able to stay healthy, and his offensive output was welcomed by a team that had lacked a playmaker from that end. Signing Kris Russell prior to last season paid off, as his play helped the likes of Adam Larsson and Darnell Nurse realize more of their potential, and while Larsson will never be half the player Nicklas Lidstrom was (see the scouting report from Larsson's draft year), he at least provides smart, calm play in his own end that may never be an offensive force. In goal, Cam Talbot was a workhorse, as he solidified another major problem spot for the Oilers since the lockout. One potential problem is that there still isn't a reliable backup, and if the workload causes problems, look out below. Special teams were about what you thought, as the power play was great, but the penalty kill could use a little work.

Prediction: 2nd in the Pacific Division

The Oilers are built to win now, and certainly, they can make a deep run as soon as this season. One thing to watch for is health, as the Oilers were largely unscathed last season, and everyone say what the Oilers were without McDavid the season before. This is McDavid's team, and the Oilers will need the stars to align once again to keep everything in order.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Clipped Wings


2016-17 record: 33-36-13 (79 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Henrik Zetterberg

As the final seconds ticked down before the reality of missing the playoffs hit, it was icing on the cake for a Detroit Red Wings team that has only just begun to feel the pain of rebuilding. Almost everything that could have gone wrong did, and though they are entering a new arena in downtown Detroit, it's going to be a while before they can be playoff contenders again.

Up front, many of the young players that were expected to take the next step forward didn't, and the result was a team near the bottom in scoring. Henrik Zetterberg put up good numbers, but he's also on the wrong side of 35, and apart from Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha, there wasn't much in the way of improvement. Dylan Larkin took the biggest tumble, as he was able to get only 32 points in 80 games, and certainly, the stubborn coaching of Jeff Blashill wasn't helpful, as he waited a little too long before letting Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou loose. The veterans other than Zetterberg were also complicit in the team's struggles, as they too, took downward turns in numbers. Defensively has long been a sore spot since Nicklas Lidstrom retired in 2012, and it doesn't figure to be better anytime soon. Mike Green is a fine option for offense from the blue line, but the unit as a whole isn't going to put fear in anyone. Trevor Daley was added to at least make the group look respectable, but this is a unit in trouble. In goal, Petr Mrazek was supposed to be the starter, but he struggled with the role, and generally outplayed by Jimmy Howard when he was healthy. Mrazek has a lot to prove, especially since he was left exposed in the expansion draft, while Howard just simply needs to repeat last season while staying healthy.

Prediction: 7th in the Atlantic Division

This is just going to be plain bad for the Red Wings, as there isn't much to inspire confidence that they will even be competitive. With ownership changing hands after Mike Ilitch's death, as his son Chris runs the team now, this could be the last season for General Manager Ken Holland and Blashill if they don't show signs of growth.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Putting the Shine Back on the Star


2016-17 record: 34-37-11 (79 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Jamie Benn

The Dallas Stars once again had issues preventing the other team from scoring. Unlike 2015-16, however, they weren't able to score enough to compensate, and as a result, missed the playoffs. This inconsistency under General Manager Jim Nill's watch led to major changes, none more so than behind the bench, where Lindy Ruff was handed his walking papers and in comes Ken Hitchcock, whose goal is to shorten the goal differential gap. Other changes to the team should also come in handy.

Up front, it still goes through Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but secondary scoring behind them wasn't nearly as present, as Brett Ritchie was the only other player to score over 15 goals. That was why Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal were brought in. Depth remains an issue, as the team is clearly reliant on their superstars up front. On the back end, John Klingberg was great on offense, but allergic to playing defense, and that isn't going to fly in Hitchcock's system. To that end, Marc Methot was picked up in a trade with Vegas to quite possibly paired with him and do for him what he did for Erik Karlsson in Ottawa. Beyond that, it's pretty much a logjam, as Dan Hamhuis will pair with either Esa Lindell or Julius Honka while the third pairing is far from settled. For the second straight year, goaltending was a disaster. Antti Niemi was bought out, and Ben Bishop was signed to a six-year deal to take hold of the starter's job. While it still remains the same system money wise, as Kari Lehtonen is still on the team, it establishes roles, and in Lehtonen's case, he's better suited as a backup at this point in his career. Special teams need to be fixed, and the moves made were designed to that end.

Prediction: 3rd in the Central Division

The Stars still have the pieces in place offensively, and for the first time in a few seasons, roles in net are clearly defined. However, the uncertainty of the blue line past the second pair could provide problems. In theory, the Stars should be better in the standings, but in practice, it may tell a different story.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reloading the Cannon


2016-17 record: 50-24-8 (108 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in the Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Nick Foligno

A 16-game unbeaten streak highlighted the Columbus Blue Jackets' season as they finished with the most points in franchise history, yet a first round loss to Pittsburgh illustrates that they have a long way to go where they want to be. The pieces are in place for a sustained playoff run, and with many of their key players yet to reach 30, the window may be as wide open as it gets.

When John Tortorella was brought it, he brought accountability to a team that had largely struggled with that in recent years. It begins with Nick Foligno, who rebounded to post respectable offensive totals while providing much needed leadership. Cam Atkinson was an offensive force that should be better with Artemi Panarin joining the team in a trade from Chicago. The trade came at the cost of Brandon Saad, but there are more than enough players who can provide what he provided. There isn't a true number one center, but Alexander Wennberg took a big step in that direction, and now he has the contract to prove it. They will need to replace Sam Gagner and William Karlsson, but if Pierre-Luc Dubois can step in right away, that will take some pressure off the rest of the team. The blue line is the strongest it's ever been, and provided Zach Werenski shows no ill effects of an eye injury suffered in the playoffs, figures to be a strength for a long time. Werenski and Seth Jones are both top defenders while David Savard and Jack Johnson have provided the team with a solid shutdown pair. Gabriel Carlsson could push for time, and the pressure is now on Ryan Murray to do something or get left behind. Sergei Bobrovsky finally stayed healthy for the first time since 2013, and it was reflected in his second Vezina Trophy. Playoff success still eludes him, but staying healthy was a major step for him, and provided the injury issues are behind him, he should be a major player for a while.

Prediction: 3rd in the Metropolitan Division

Despite falling off a little towards the end of the regular season, the Blue Jackets are a team on the rise. Health will always be an issue until proven otherwise, but we've seen what happens when key players are healthy. The Blue Jackets figure to be in the mix in a tough Metropolitan Division.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Digging Out...Again


2016-17 record: 22-56-4 (48 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: Gabriel Landeskog

It was a season to forget for the Colorado Avalanche, and it was awful BEFORE the season started. Anything and everything that could go wrong, did, and the result was a historically bad season that began with a coaching change a month before the season started and dropping out of the top three spots in the NHL Draft after the season ended. Most of the core returns, which means digging out is going to be far easier said than done.

The Avalanche learned that picking up short-term veterans with no speed was death, which in large part explains why they will be going much younger than usual. Of course, it would help if Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Matt Duchene (if he isn't traded before the season starts) all hit the 20 goal mark, something that only Mikko Rantanen was able to hit. If that weren't enough, the next two leading goal scorers after those four are no longer on the team (Rene Bourque with 12 and Mikhail Grigorenko with 10, also the only other players to hit double digits). Incoming are Colin Wilson and Nail Yakuppov, both of whom are undoubtedly reclamation projects. If there is a positive, Tyson Jost is expected to make the leap to the NHL, and he should provide badly needed help in possession numbers up front. The blue line is still a mess, though it is clear that they are finally going to let the prospects sink or swim here, as Francois Beauchemin was bought out, and Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercioch were not the answer in supplementing the defense. The current group really can't do any worse, as Tyson Barrie was dreadful, Erik Johnson couldn't stay healthy again, and Nikita Zadorov remains unsigned at this time. There isn't much hope with this unit, and with Chris Bigras and Andrei Mironov near locks to make the NHL roster, this will also be a unit that will have no choice but to learn on the job. In goal, it's not much better. In fact, it might actually be much worse, as Semyon Varlamov couldn't stay healthy for a third straight season, and a solid but overmatched Calvin Pickard is now backing up Marc-Andre Fleury in Las Vegas. Jonathan Bernier did fairly well in Anaheim last season, but he still has a bad habit of letting in the soft goal every now and then. If he's starting in Colorado, the Avs are in even more trouble.

Prediction: 7th in the Central Division

Keeping Jared Bednar as head coach despite the wretched season was smart, seeing as this will be his first real chance at implementing his system with his staff in place. It remains to be seen if the Avs will actually do anything, as they largely return the same crew that didn't crack 50 points on the season. At the very least, things will begin much calmer to start the season, but where it goes from here is likely not good.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Chicago's Last Stand?


2016-17 record: 50-23-9 (109 points)
Lost to Nashville in Conference quarterfinals
Captain: Jonathan Toews

The Chicago Blackhawks were supposed to have another deep run in the playoffs last season, with a Conference-leading 109 points and a core that is still going strong. Nashville and its stonewall defense had other ideas, and now, the Blackhawks are a team on the verge of collapsing. Key players were traded (i.e. Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson), left the team through other means (Trevor van Riemsdyk) or are retired/not playing this season (Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa). The core of the team is still here, but depth will be tested in a major way, with their playoff hopes being at its most endangered since Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews' rookie years.

Up front, everything still goes through Kane and Toews, though Kane is the far better offensive option. Losing Panarin will hurt, but he could have either returning Blackhawk on one line, as Patrick Sharp is out to prove that he still has something left while Brandon Saad returns a more complete player than when he left in 2015. Richard Panik showed that he could step up in a bigger role, and it wouldn't be a major upset if Alex DeBrincat contributes right away if he ends up on a line with either Kane or Toews. The blue line is where there is more concern about depth. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remain, but Connor Murphy, picked up in the Hjalmarsson trade, is the next best defender on the team while Michal Kempny will be having a bigger role. If that didn't set things up well, it can only get worse if the youth (Gustav Forsling and Ville Pokka) fail to step up and/or Czech import Jan Rutta doesn't play to expectations. Goal could be an issue, too, as Corey Crawford didn't hold the fort as well last season, and now, his backups are unproven Anton Forsberg and J-F Berube. The moves aren't too helpful in fixing a dreadful penalty kill, which will now be minus both Hossa and Marcus Kruger.

Prediction: 4th in the Central Division

In the past, the Blackhawks have been written off any time trouble rears its ugly head, but each time, those reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. This time, they may not be so lucky, as depth will be tested, and this season will be a referendum on just how well they have developed their prospects. Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride in Chicago.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Next Step Forward


2016-17 record: 36-31-15 (87 points)
Missed the playoffs
Captain: TBA

The good news for the Carolina Hurricanes is that they're building a very good team stocked with defensive prospects. The bad news is almost everything else, as they still didn't have enough offense to overcome their deficiencies in goal and that was reflected in the fact that they finished dead last in attendance. It should be noted that General Manager Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters are making the most of the hand they are dealt, and while it's resulted in a pipeline that is rich in talent, there hasn't been a top player that can put the team on their shoulders, though that too, is being resolved slowly.

Offensively, they could use some help scoring, as only Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho broke the 20-goal barrier, with Skinner almost hitting 40 goals. Down the middle is where things get dicey, as Jordan Staal is better suited to centering the second line while Victor Rask didn't take the step the Hurricanes hoped he would take. Getting increased production from Teuvo Teravainen would help, but it appears that Elias Lindholm may have hit his ceiling. From the time Francis took over as General Manager, one of his missions was to improve a blue line that had been short on homegrown talent. Consider that done, as Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Noah Hanifin are all regular contributors, and all still have room to grow. Adding Trevor van Riemsdyk in a trade secures part of the third pairing, but there will be competition to be his partner, as no less than three players are in the running. Goaltending was a major issue, and with no imminent help in the pipeline, that was why they went out and got Scott Darling from Chicago. This will be his first time as full-time starter for an NHL team, so it remains to be seen how well he can handle that pressure. Cam Ward remains, though as a backup.

Prediction: 5th in the Atlantic Division

Carolina badly needs to make the playoffs if they hope to see some semblance of a spike in attendance numbers. At worst, the Hurricanes have improved in most areas, while at best, they may just become the playoff team that they've wanted to be since the rebuild. It's been painful for them, but the light at the end of the tunnel may be fast approaching.