New York Rangers
The Presidents Trophy winners of a year ago, the Rangers are knocking on the door to win the Cup. No team has been more successful in the Eastern Conference the past few years than the Rangers and now is the time for them and the King.
Fast, physical, and smart, the Ducks are the full package. Bruce Boudreau has had his problems winning in the playoffs, but the Blackhawks can’t win every year, right? RIGHT?
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning were outmatched a bit in the Final against the Blackhawks, but this team is young and talented and full of potent scorers and will be there come playoff time and have proven to have the resiliency of a much more mature team.
Patrick Kane rape allegations aside, there is no better duo than Kane and Toews. Talk about knowing how to win, the Chicago Blackhawks are in the midst of a dynasty in this parity day-in-age with 3 Stanley Cup winners in 6 years. Even though they have lost some key parts, you can never count them out come playoff time.
They are that team that rarely wows you, but always seem to be there. They are fast and smart and sport Carey Price as their goaltender. With Price in net, they have a shot of winning the Cup if they can get on a bit of a scoring run. If they don’t, well, you never know. Price is that good.
Braden Holtby showed me a lot last year. Played over 70 games in the regular season and looked as unbeatable as you could look in the playoffs when getting beat. Five on five this team may struggle, but they really put the “special” in special teams. If they can consistently defend, watch out.
St. Louis Blues
I almost wanted to put this team in the “would-be contenders” section since they are always that team that looks so good in the regular season, but lose in the first round. They are the exact opposite of the St. Louis Cardinals, who become a different team in the playoffs and knows how to win. I don’t know what the problem is, but this team should be making it out of the first round much more often. They do everything right.
No one expected this team to be as good as it was last year, but Rinne was Vezina-like and they had players like Forsberg and Josi breakout. It was a shame that Weber got injured early in the series against the Blackhawks last year, because that series took a serious turn with his absence. I don’t know if they can repeat last year’s showing and being in the same division as the Blackhawks is bad luck, but hey, maybe they can be the team to knockout the Blues this season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens get their own category. Sid the Kid needs help. Malkin was banged up last year, as well as Letang. Both are healthy, for now. But the biggest difference-maker could be new addition Phil Kessel, who was outcasted from Toronto. New scenery and Sidney Crosby should prove to be a lethal combo. If this team hits their stride sooner rather than later than this team could make a serious run at the Cup. If Kessel proves to be a flop, well, they can still get hot.
The Would-be Contenders
A lot like the Habs, the Wild do not often wow you, but they do the little things right and play hard and smart. Dubnyk emerged last season and saved them from obscurity. If last season was not a fluke for Dubnyk, then this team has enough to be a dangerous out in the playoffs and perhaps contend for the Cup. However, if their goaltending is an issue, like it was for the first few months last season, then this team’s playoff chances take a blow.
Detroit Red Wings
The team that keeps chugging into the playoffs will be there again come April. The likes of Datsyuk and Zetterberg make this team fun to watch, but their window to win again is closing fast. I’m not sure how much those two have left, but when on top of their game, they are tough to play against.
New York Islanders
The Isles overachieved last season, but there is no question they have some solid, young talent, especially on the offensive side of the puck. Their penalty killing was a liability last season and their defensive corps was inconsistent to say the least. For this team to take the next step into title contenders, they have to prove they can win the 2-1 games.
Just like the Wild, the Sens were saved by The Hamburglar. Their late-run into the playoffs was special, but that’s not to say they were undeserving. They had some young players emerge and Karlsson played on his own level. This is a dangerous team and more dangerous if their young players take another step forward.
The Sedin twins have been the center of this team for a good ten years, so that window is closing, but in the meantime, they continue to be a team to reckoned with. However, if the twins lose a step or two and nobody steps up, this team could be on the wrong side of the playoff line.
Los Angeles Kings
Two Stanley Cup victories in three years might have taken its toll on the team as they never seemed to hit their stride last year and missed the playoffs. I don’t see them missing the playoffs two years in a row.
Columbus Blue Jackets
A ton of injuries plagued this team for the first half of last season, but, once healthy, they ravaged the Eastern Conference. A healthy “Bob” and an emerging star in Johansen make this team one to watch for.
The Fast and the Furious
Speed. Speed. And more speed. The Stars are an über fast team that puts the pressure on opposing defenses. However, they have a downside and it is their own defense. They gave up a lot of high quality scoring chances and their goalies suffered from it. They have doubled down on Finnish goaltenders this season with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. If those two can be above average, coupled with more consistent defensive play, then this team could be very dangerous.
The Jets are not as fast as the Stars, but they add a more physical aspect to their game. They come at you fast and hit you hard. They might not have the most talented top-end of the roster, but they are well-coached and a tough team to play against. However, they are also on the young and inexperienced side, so back-to-back trips to the playoffs may be a bit much.
The Young and the Restless
Two years ago, the Avalanche under first year head coach Patrick Roy emerged as a contender. Filled with tons of youth, the sky was the limit. Unfortunately, that youth took a step back last year as they were poor for a majority of the season. With another year of NHL experience under their belt, this team can definitely challenge for a playoff spot.
The Flames were everyone’s favorite team to root for last season. They were a fun team to watch and are filled with youthful players, none better than Johnny Hockey. Whether or not they can continue on the upswing this season will remain to be seen, but their future is bright.
The Panthers, unlike the Flames, did not make the playoffs. However, they were much closer than people thought and almost caught the slumping Red Wings and Pens. Roberto Luongo saw a resurgence in his play and as did the never-aging Jaromir Jagr. If their young players continue to progress, the Panthers will once again be in the playoff hunt.
Connor McDavid, the #1 overall pick, is the best prospect to come to the NHL since Sidney Crosby. No pressure, kid. Alongside McDavid are a bunch of high picks that are nearly flops. If this team does not compete for a playoff spot this season, we could see some major roster overhaul.
Impactful New Coaches
Dan Byslma is the new head coach of this re-vamped Sabres team alongside last year’s #2 overall pick Jack Eichel. There is a renewed sense of confidence about this team. Bylsma took the Pens to consecutive Final appearances early in Crosby’s second and third seasons. I don’t know if the Sabres are that close, as Crosby did have Malkin, but who knows, hockey is a crazy sport.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Mike Babcock is probably the league’s best head coach, which is why it cost the Leafs a pretty penny to get him to leave Detroit. Toronto has been the source to lots of abject criticism for much of the past few seasons and deservedly so. From top to bottom, this organization has been a mess. Hopefully with Babcock behind the wheel, he can steady the ship over the next few seasons and start putting the puzzle pieces together to make the Maple Leafs competitive again.
If They Can Score
New Jersey Devils
Corey Schneider had a sneaky good season last year, but it meant very little since the Devils only scored more goals than the Sabres and Coyotes. They need to have a few players emerge to put the puck into the net or it is going to be another long season for the Devils, and by the looks of their new head coach John Hynes, don’t look for the Devils to light up any scoreboards any time soon.
The Hurricanes seemed like they should have been better, but again were plagued by the lack of goal scoring on the team. They are a young team with a lot to prove. Perhaps Stanley Cup winner Kris Versteeg and new goalie Eddie Lack can provide some inspiration, but in all honesty, this team is probably a few years away from being playoff contenders.
If They Can Play Defense
The Flyers are filled with offensive talent, yet they were 21st in scoring, despite being 3rd in the league on the power play. I expect them to be at least a top half offense, because that should usually translate into more goals. For their defense, well, they struggled last year and gave up a ton of goals and were terrible on the penalty kill. Steve Mason also struggled. There was a lot of struggling going on here and I expect the struggle to be slightly less this season.
I Don’t Know What To Say
San Jose Sharks
Their goaltending? Eh. Their offense? Solid enough. Their defense? Mediocre. Their new head coach? Eh. This team can win their division if the dominos fall right or can be a top five lottery pick. Lots of leeway.
The Bruins front office has taken a bad turn the last few seasons, starting with the Tyler Seguin trade and ending with the odd Dougie Hamilton move. Their drafts have been subpar and it has shown on the ice. What seemed like a potential dynasty a few years ago when they made it to the Cup Final has turned out to be sort of a dud. Maybe they can turn things around and Tukka Rask has a bounce back season. Tough to gauge them.
What Does The Magic 8-Ball Say?
There is not a lot of proven talent on this team. They finished 29th in goals per game and 28th in goals against per game. They also finished 29th on the penalty kill. At least they were a top ten power play, coming in at 7th. Although the talent may not be proven, there is young talent. It will be another year or two before this team is a playoff team.
Eastern Conference Final
Rangers over Lightning
Western Conference Final
Ducks over Blues
Staley Cup Final
Rangers over Ducks
These were the top two regular season teams last year, although I do not see that happening two years in a row, I do see both of these teams overcoming the heartbreak of losing a game 7 at home, with the edge going to the Rangers.