Can you believe the NHL season is upon us already? The hockey void in our lives is thankfully about to be filled again. Even though off-ice controversies are threatening to derail some good feelings about this new season, they aren't going stop me from being excited. Player movement was rampant this offseason, two potentially league changing rookies are getting their starts, and the defending champs look very vulnerable. Uncertainty makes for fun hockey, and that doesn't even count the 3-on-3 madness sure to come. Let's get predicty!
3. New York Rangers
4. New York Islanders
7. New Jersey
Thoughts: This is a sentiment echoed by many, but probably cannot be echoed enough: This Capitals team is the best since Alex Ovechkin began his career in DC 10 years ago. T.J Oshie is better than Troy Brouwer in generating shots and offense, and Justin Williams lives to make teams better in the playoffs, which of course the Caps desperately need. Their Power Play is still going to be lethal, and with their tremendous scoring and defense depth, this could well be their year. If they are going to break through, they'll have to get past the scary Pittsburgh Penguins, who now have Phil Kessel to go with Crosby and Malkin. The roster is better constructed than it ever was last season, and if the team stays healthy, they could be the team that emerges from the East. The defense corps is still a worry though. The Rangers are still very solid, but the same questions come about every year when talking about them breaking through: Can they get out of their own way? They have all the talent and the amazing goaltender, but the block almost seems mental now. The Islanders move to Brooklyn is emblematic of a team in some transition, which could cause a dip in performances this season as their environment shifts. The Blue Jackets with Brandon Saad have a terrifying Top 9 that if could stay healthy will be one of the best in hockey, and combined with Sergei Bobrovsky, they may have the needed ingredients to break back into the postseason. The qualifier here of course is whether their defense corps is good enough, and to this observer it might not be. Philadelphia has a new coach and maybe the best forward duo in the NHL of Giroux/Voracek, but little else; The Devils have great goaltending but little else as Ray Shero brings the team out of the Lamioriello era into the 21st century, and the Hurricanes will be a hungry team that possesses the puck well but does little else.
1. Tampa Bay
Thoughts: The defending Eastern Conference Champions don't look like slowing down at all this season, and with minor tweaks are still the favorites to make it out of the East, and possibly win the Cup. The Steven Stamkos contract situation is a distraction, but a minor one. And yet, they still have some pretty exciting prospects coming through their system too. They'll win the division unchallenged this season. It feels like in Montreal, the same story will be written again. Carey Price is dominant, but their system is inherently fallible and will keep them from breaking through once again. Maybe Alex Semin will help generate some needed offensive punch, but because it's Michel Therrien, it's just as likely he'll spend as much time in the press box as he will on the ice. In Detroit, out goes Babcock and in comes Blashill. His familiarity with the Red Wings bevy of young talent should do them wonders as they transition to a new era, but it will be the old horses of Datsyuk/Zetterberg/Franzen et al that keeps the playoff streak alive despite some defense corps issues and goaltending controversy. Keep an eye on the Florida Panthers (and not just because I'm a fan). Their young talent looks primed to blossom, and if it does they could break their playoff jinx. Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr could be one of the more fun lines to watch in all of hockey this season, and they should be a step quicker and more solid defensively too. The Ottawa Senators fairy tale last season was fun and all, but they've made exactly zero additions to make this team better. Having Erik Karlsson and being a young team at the core keeps them in the playoff race, but with the improvements other teams have made, it feels like they've been lapped somewhat. The Sabres will be a poor man's Blue Jackets: Amazing up front, weak on the blueline with the only difference being a tremendous question mark in goal. The Bruins had one harrowing offseason that leaves them with a skeleton D corps, slower up front, and probably a sacked coach at some point.
Finally, the Maple Leafs will be very bad, but they won't be the type of bad they were last season. With their entire roster comprising of almost only players on one year deals who are hungry to earn a new contract (either in Toronto or elsewhere), they will be a fun team to watch. Mike Babcock will also have them play a sustainable style where they'll limit scoring chances and possess the puck well. Their goaltending is very good for a bad team too. They'll be frustrating to play against all season.
Thoughts: The Blues are the NHL's version of the San Diego Chargers or Cincinnati Bengals: Fantastic regular season team, but they can never find the way to break through in the playoffs. That will probably stay the same way this season because Ken Hitchcock is surprisingly still the coach. If they can't find their way up in the playoffs, expect some major changes at Scottrade Center. The Stars are very likely going to be the most fun team in hockey. With Patrick Sharp joining the likes of Benn, Seguin and Spezza, they'll light up the scoreboard most nights, which should help them cover up some defensive deficiencies and massive goaltending issues (Niemi and Lehtonen, really?). The Blackhawks finished third in their division post their last two Cups, and with the massive changes they had to undergo this offseason, there's no reason to think that won't happen again, irrespective of the Patrick Kane mess that could easily get worse as the season rolls on. The Predators have the goalie, have the anchoring defenseman, and some interesting wingers to roll out this season. But their lack of depth at center is terrifying, especially in the West where centers win games and playoff series. They'll take a step back, but still make the postseason. Minnesota feels a bit long in the tooth, and the lucky streak of Devan Dubnyk does not feel at all repeatable. They'll kill penalties well, possess the puck equally, but it still feels like they're lacking that final piece. The Winnipeg playoff party was a fun one last season, but they feel like they're a year away from being consistently at the dance. Connor Hellebuyck will also be their fulltime netminder by the end of the season too. And for the advance stat denying Avalanche, karma will hit them like a ton of bricks once again, since their defense corps are still iffy and their bottom six is fairly poor.
2. San Jose
3. Los Angeles
Thoughts: All hail your regular season overlords, the Anaheim Ducks. Bruce Boudreau knows how to coach a team in the regular season. They are young, fast, physical, and talented in almost every department. The playoff question is one they'll have to answer in April and May, which they could not do last season. Why are the Sharks this high, you might be wondering? It all has to do with their coach, Pete DeBoer. He always, always, always has him teams overachieve in his first season in charge. In Florida, his Panthers were a tiebreaker away from the postseason in 2008-09, and in New Jersey? That team finished two wins away from the Stanley Cup. These Sharks are going to overachieve in the regular season, but still get dumped by their nemesis, the LA Kings, in the postseason, Speaking of them, the Kings had their own harrowing offseason, but seem a tighter knit group coming out of it. Milan Lucic really does fit the Kings profile, and adding Christian Erhoff brings depth to a defense corps that needs it badly. Everything that could go wrong for LA did last season, and don't expect that to happen again. The Calgary Flames might be hockey's most interesting team. Their defense corps is ridiculously good and insanely talented. Their young forwards have grown by leaps and bounds with their postseason experience last season, and might be even better with Michael Frolik on board. But, their goaltending is still suspect and will their performance take a dip because of poor possession numbers last season? They'll regress, but they're too strong to miss the postseason.
Ah, Edmonton. Is this the year you break through after having every #1 draft pick since the '05 lockout? Probably not, but there is reason to be optimistic. Their defense and goaltending should be a little bit better, but probably not good enough to make the postseason. Watching Connor McDavid will all of the other young forwards will be a treat though. In Vancouver though... oh boy. Jim Benning seems out of his depth with this whole GM thing. The roster is getting worse and worse by the year, and boy does it look like they overachieved last season. It's a race between them and Boston (funny enough) for the "worst run team in the NHL" moniker, snatched away from Toronto this offseason. And in Arizona... Auston Matthews is really, really good and is from Scottsdale. Get those lucky cats out now.
M1 Washington over M4 NYI in 6
M2 Pittsburgh over M3 NYR in 6
M1 Washington over M2 Pittsburgh in 7
A1 Tampa over A4 Florida in 5
A3 Detroit over A2 Montreal in 6
A1 Tampa over A3 Detroit in 6
M1 Washington over A1 Tampa in 6
C4 Nashville over C1 St. Louis in 6
C2 Dallas over C3 Chicago in 7
C2 Dallas over C4 Nashville in 5
P1 Anaheim over P4 Calgary in 5
P3 LA over P2 San Jose in 7
P1 Anaheim over P1 LA in 7
P1 Anaheim over C2 Dallas in 5
2016 Stanley Cup Final: M1 Washington over P1 Anaheim in 6 (Boudreau Bowl!)
President's Trophy: Anaheim
Hart: Steven Stamkos
Vezina: Braden Holtby
Calder: Connor McJesus
Norris: P.K Subban
Selke: Anze Kopitar
Jack Adams: Lindy Ruff
I was close-ish last year (I had Tampa in the Final), so maybe the jinx of being picked by me to do well is starting to fade! Probably not though. Enjoy the new hockey season!