PARDON ME WHILE I GO THROW UP
Like any bad team, the positives sides of this season will be to see how the future of this team will be doing. Like any bad team, it is because the veterans on the roster are that awful. Max Domi will certainly be a fun player to watch, but Antoine Vermette returns from the third line center role he had at Chicago to be the Coyote’s first line center this season. Shane Doan is now nothing more than a third line scorer and Mike Smith’s competition is none other than the great Anders Lindback.
Plain and simple, this is going to be a disaster of a season for Arizona. They could have a year in which they hit over 80 points if some of their younger players hit over 40 points, but plain and simple, this team has lacked goal scoring for quite a while and a good man in Dave Tippett might have with not a ton of fault on his own. Also, I would do whatever I can to get hometown kid Austen Matthews to the Coyotes, even if it means trading up in the draft (ok, I am being delirious here, but you get my point).
The good news for Toronto fans is Phil Kessel is no longer on your team. The bad news is Phil Kessel is no longer on your team.
Yes, Mike Babcock is the new head coach and for what it’s worth, C. Montgomery Lamoriello is the new General Manager (let’s just ignore the fact that Kyle Dubas should be the new GM for now) and both have done a good job at lowering expectations and telling everyone that this rebuilding project will take baby steps. That is because this team is really awful. Nazem Kadri might be good, but how good would he be if his linemates are James Van Riemsdyk and Brad Boyes? How can Dion Phaneuf play well if his defensive partner is Matt Hunwick? The third line of Daniel Winnik, P.A. Parenteau and Nick Spaling might be good, but you know your a bad hockey team when a bottom six forward line is the highlight of your team. For the third straight year, good luck to Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer because they’re going to need it.
Guys, Connor McDavid is going to be good. Ok, now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the team. First, Todd McClellan is now the next messiah to lead the Oilers out of their nearly decade long irrelevance. Next, Andrej Sekera is a positive signing for a blue line that desperately needs one. Lastly, Cam Talbot may be an upgrade in goal assuming he can replicate how well he performed in New York last season.
However, this lineup still has one too many holes. Are Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz ever going to live up to their full potential? Is Oscar Klefbom good enough to last an NHL season, let alone play a top-four pairing role? Is Anton Lander seriously playing third line center? And is a former KHLer that never hit double digit points for a season until last year seriously playing top line minutes? Boy this team is going to be wierd, but hey, if you want to watch a future hall of famer (assuming McDavid’s development never hits the rails because Edmonton has never done that with any of their young players) on cheap ticket prices, this year is the year.
Welp, last season was surely a regression to the mean for Colorado. Now Patrick Roy could and possibly should be among the first head coaches to get fired this season. Time and again Colorado lacks a strong possession game, time and again Colorado lacks depth beyond the team’s best players and time and again Colorado has among the worst group of prospects in the NHL. Trading away Ryan O’Reilly had to be done for the sake for both parties, but it left such a gaping hole on one end and forces to bank on the likes of Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov to be good right now. Add in the fact that Blake Comeau is expected to play on the first line and it screams disaster for a once proud franchise.
If Semyon Varlamov and an actually improved blue line become the backbone of this team, they might have a chance, but many dumb and dumber gifs have been used for occasions such as this. Also, Mikko Rantanen could be the steal of last summer’s draft.
26. New Jersey
Speaking of once proud franchises, New Jersey is another that has seen better days. There are making positive moves such as hiring John Hynes as head coach and the continued development of Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson. Also, Cory Schneider is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Other than that, things aren’t looking good. Pavel Zacha could end up being a waste of a top ten pick in the long term, Mike Camalleri will have to be their best player again at age 34 and with an injury history and somehow Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus are still playing NHL hockey. Oh, and Kyle Palmieri will be a top six forward on this team. Also, Ray Shero and his lack of being able to draft and develop young players is the team’s new general manager. Not great.
When in doubt, always look at how little Carolina’s ownership invests in forward depth and you will see a hockey team drafting into the top ten from now until all of eternity. It’s almost become a human rights issue to see Eric Staal waste his career in Raleigh and for his own sake he should be traded to a contender. Which team that will be, we will never know (Minnesota Wild for Thomas Vanek?). The defense core isn’t that bad if things break right for the Noah Hanifin-Ryan Murphy pair, along with the acquisition of James Wisniewski. As usual though, the uncertainty of how good Cam Ward and netminder B will prevent the Hurricanes from making any positive progress in the NHL standings. Head coach Bill Peters did make this team into a positive puck possession team in his first year on the job and it will take more of that for Carolina to outmatch how good this team truly is on paper.
Remember when Brian Burke no longer wanted a young Sven Baerschi in Calgary? He’s expected to get top six minutes in Vancouver. Remember when Alex Burrows used to be a top line right wing on a Stanley Cup contender? He’s now playing third line minutes and is in his mid-30s. Speaking of mid-30s, that’s as old as the Sedin Twins and Ryan Miller are. Also in his mid-30s is Radim Vrbata, who had a great, yet luck driven season last year. Oh, and Brandon Sutter is getting top line minutes of all people. Finally, if you know who Ben Hutton is, you get a gold star. The major thing to look at are the developments of Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann this year. If all three of them develop a major role on this team and don’t look out of place there, this will not only be great for the Canucks in the short term, but in the long term as well. However, if anyone of them goes back to juniors after their ten-game trial, this will be a team that struggles to get to 85 points in an improved Pacific Division.
At the very least, Buffalo will be a fun team to follow. This team is much deeper than last year and Dan Bylsma is a major upgrade at head coach over Ted Nolan. There will be plenty of youngsters playing on this team in rookies Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Nic Deslauriers and second year veterans Zemgus Girgensens and Rasmus Ristolainen. Adding Cody Franson and Ryan O’Reilly on to the team makes them a team that certainly won’t be pushed around like they used to.
What will be intriguing is whether or not the Sabres have the talent in goal to help them win close games. Both Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson lack starting goaltender experience even though they have shown some good production from their previous teams. There are still some gaping holes in the lineup filled with veterans that should consider retiring soon (David Legwand, Brian Gionta, Mike Weber and Josh Gorges) and seeing how they will be replaced will be the story of 2016 and beyond.
So Andrew MacDonald was waived today. That’s step one of ratifying many horrible mistakes from the Paul Holmgren era for a once proud franchise. The next is seeing if Dave Hakstol can survive as an NHL head coach. The former University of North Dakota head coach will be the first to come from the college ranks into the NHL since the NHL expanded to 30 teams so this will certainly be the first true risk taken by general manager Ron Hextall.
The blue line for this team still shows one too many weaknesses right now, but there are plenty of prospects to potentially make an impact in the NHL by season’s end. The question will be whether they’ll receive it this year or continue to develop in the AHL or respective junior teams. Upfront, it will be damage limitation time for Hakstol when it comes to handling R.J. Umberger and Vincent Lecavalier, thus being able to see where Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton stand in terms of Philadelphia’s future. It will be an interesting season for the Flyers and it could go any direction depending on the players’ development in Hakstol’s system and how the Metropolitan division shapes out.
Call me a pessimist, but despite the irrational amount of injuries last season, Columbus has never been that great of a puck possession team under head coach Todd Rieriden. If that doesn’t changed, don’t be surprised if his job is in jeopardy this season. This team and city now have high expectations and plenty of exciting players to perform better than what they are capable of. However, massive contract extensions to Brandon Dubinsky and David Savard along with the expensive David Clarkson and Brandon Saad in the books could prevent the Blue Jackets to make any additional upgrades in the long term. Ryan Murray still hasn’t proven that he can stay healthy for a full NHL season and this will be the first ever season that the disgustingly underpaid Ryan Johansen could have two great linemates lined up with him. I could be wrong about Columbus, but don’t say I didn’t warn you if things start going off a cliff for this team.
WE DON’T KNOW
Anything that could go wrong, has been going wrong for Boston these last six months. First, they missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years. Next, they fire the general manager that helped them win a Stanley Cup and make another finals appearance. Then, the new general manager drafts three first round picks that lack first round talent. Now, both Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will be out due to injury and are without Dougie Hamilton who the new general manager traded away on draft night. A lot of things have to go right for Boston defensively this season. If there’s a year to prove that Tuukka Rask doesn’t rely on his blueline to prove that he is the best goaltender in hockey, it is this year. Also, if this is a year where goal scoring is the only way Boston makes the playoffs, it will be this year. Either way, the chemistry of this team seems way off course and another step towards rebuilding might have to be made if Boston ever wants to be a contender again.
As mentioned all 2015, ignore the outstanding performances that Andrew Hammond had last season guiding the Senators to last season’s playoff appearance. Instead, look at the depth of forwards that head coach Dave Cameron has at his disposal. The amount of scoring is so vast now that they don’t have to worry about how much of a bust Bobby Ryan has been to the team. What will make or break this Senators team will be how improved a young defense corps will be. Can Mark Borowiecki, Cody Ceci and Patrick Wiercioch make enough strides to prove that it’s not all about Erik Karlsson? Also, if Hammond is not able to even produce at a quality level this year, can Craig Anderson regain his form from 2013? All the pieces are in place for Ottawa to have another great season, but plenty of players will have to continue to improve upon what they did last season.
When things go right with Montreal, it is difficult to find a better trio of core players than Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban and Carey Price. When things don’t go so well, there is the realization that the depth of this team still has some work to do and there are pieces to this team that need to deliver or else. First, head coach Michel Therrien has never been known to being a puck possession first guy. Next, Alexander Semin, whether he is a great possession player or not, has to no longer be a healthy scratch and deliver as a top six forward again. Lastly, Alex Galchenyuk needs to finally become one of the best point-getters in hockey. The Canadiens might also lack an extra top-six winger and a top-four defenseman, but the pieces are in place for another conference finals run, but like always, things have to break right for this team to pull it off.
For the second straight year, Florida should have an improved roster with a smaller list of weaknesses. The addition of Reilly Smith should improve the top six forward group and another year with Nick Bjugstad and Alexander Barkov should someday make the Panthers a top-tier goal scoring team. With Aaron Ekblad also around for another year, the blue line should be well experienced too. All the pressure will be on the forwards and eventually, bottom six forwards Derek Mackenzie and Dave Bolland have to live up to their contracts. Head coach Gerard Gallant brought them above 50% in puck possession last year, but their lack of shot quality costed them and cancelled out a great season for goaltender Roberto Luongo. Who knows how much he’ll have left now that the veteran is getting into his late-30s. But that’s nothing compared to 44-year old Jaromir Jagr and his rejuvenated mullet.
Hartley Maaaaaaagic. Call it true! Call it Maaaaaaagic. When he’s with you!
Bob Hartley did it again!!! His lack of a strong possession game, yet strong on both special teams units and penalty differential lead the Calgary Flames to an ridiculous run towards the playoffs last season. Can that be replicated this year? Probably not, but if it does happen, it will be because Hartley and general manager Brad Treveling improved the roster immensely and the rest of the young corps will be better for another season. The additions of Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton will certainly make the top end of the roster better, but what can Karri Ramo or Jonas Hiller be able to take Calgary further into the playoffs if they get there or will they have to get an upgrade in goal?
Is Nashville for real or is this another period where Peter Laviolette’s teams do so well in year one and get worse every year afterwards? The signs are there for that to be true because the Predators were one of the luckiest teams in the league based on PDO. Also, like Gary Bettman and his NHL dunderheads, let’s keep ignoring the legal issues that may or may not distract Mike Ribeiro, who now has a shiny new long term contract despite the fact that he’s no different than Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy. That all said, Filip Forsberg and Seth Jones must lead the way if Nashville can continue to make it into the playoffs in the toughest division in hockey.
14. San Jose
After the Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in decades, long time head coach Todd McLellan was replaced with Peter DeBoer. With that brought a bit of change, but not so much that would cement San Jose into rebuilding mode. If anything, more veterans were added to an already veteran-laden team. Joel Ward and Paul Martin were brought on along with goaltender Martin Jones and Finnish Liiga veteran Joonas Donskoi.
Considering the age of the team as a whole, it will be up to players like Donskoi, Thomas Hertl and Logan Couture to carry the load for the long term and see if Brent Burns is perfect as the team’s long term answert as top puck mover in defense. If Martin can improve the rest of the blue line and Jones becomes an upgrade over Antti Niemi, the Sharks should make it back to the playoffs. Just don’t expect them to be a contender anytime soon.
Of all the teams that were fun to watch last season, only the New York Islanders could match with Dallas in that category. Their high octane offense and lack of talent and awareness on defense brought many neutral fans to see them, but also many critics as well. That is why general manager Jim Nill decided to add goaltender Antti Niemi, forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya to an already talented roster. Having Valeri Nichushkin back healthy will also be an added bonus. All eyes will once again be on Dallas’ blue line as the lack of high end talent is very prevalent. There are a handful of prospects that could be available to fill those spots, but almost all of them are underdeveloped (Julius Honka in particular) and will need another season or two until they are ready for the NHL. The central division was already tough without Dallas as a playoff team. Let’s see how they are with the positive momentum they had with their style of play after the all-star break and with the new additions to the team.
With the added playoff appearance last season, hockey is back to being alive and well in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Katy Perry” chants aside, this team and this fan base should be proud of the potential this team has towards winning a Stanley Cup. With arguably the best crop of NHL ready prospects, the Jets will start using that pool en masse this year with Andrew Copp, Nikolaj Ehlers and Nic Petan. Alexander Burmistrov was also added to the team and the Jets have the ability to role out three scoring lines as a result.
Even if Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie make the future in goal for Winnipeg, it’s present is not so great. Ondrej Pavelec has been among the least trustworthy goaltenders in the league the last three years and Michael Hutchinson is still a bit too raw to be counted upon at the NHL level. If they stumble, so will the Jets because, once again, the Central division is that cutthroat.
11. St. Louis
Speaking of good teams from the central division, St. Louis is back hoping that a summer’s worth of criticism towards their head coach won’t be enough to put pressure on themselves. Vladimir Tarasenko will be a year older and better and stud prospect Robby Fabbri fills the void left by T.J. Oshie. Kyle Brodziak will fill the fourth line center role as Patrick Berglund recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. While Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester continue to be the top pairing in defense, Joel Edmundson and Colton Papayko will now be the team’s third pairing. For a team with Stanley Cup or bust aspirations, such inexperience could be a huge negative towards their goals, especially if an injury crisis happens over there.
That is also not counting the fact that we still don’t know if Jake Allen or Brian Elliott will be the starting goaltender throughout the season. Such questions could lead to big consequences for a team that can’t afford any right now.
10. New York Rangers
After so many conference and Stanley Cup Finals appearances in the last four years, there has to be a point where the Rangers begin terribly. Is this the year? Rick Nash will be over 30 years old and the wear and tear and injury history on Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonaugh and Marc Staal has to be horrific. However, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello will now be counted upon more than ever and Derick Brassard is good enough now to lead a top line at center. Even after major off-ice issues last season, Jared Stoll has to be an upgrade over Tanner Glass last season as fourth line center.
If Henrik Lundquist can continue to be the greatest goaltender of his generation, New York should make another deep run in the playoffs. Otherwise, it could be the beginning of the end of such a successful generation of players.
9. Los Angeles
After two games, the Kings are already off to a bad start to the season and this season could swing in so many directions as a result of the failures of last season. That being said, many of the players on the team have won two Stanley Cups and are among the best possession players in the NHL. If Christian Ehrhoff and Milan Lucic can help out this team, another playoff appearance should be in the making. Stumble one bit, and Darryl Sutter, a great coach with high standards and possibly demanding too high of credibility, could be losing his job this season.
Remember, this is a team who employed a former player charged with sexual assault and two former players with possession of cocaine. This is not a stable group anymore and the ship better straighten up all season long.
Just as soon as you hope a Sidney Crosby-led team would stay healthy all season long, Pascal Dupuis goes down for four to five weeks with a lower body injury. Add the fact that the team has lost Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik in the last two years and that the Ben Lovejoy trade was such a disaster and you have a contending team adding holes to an already thin roster rather than subtracting them. This has always been the issues with Jim Rutherford’s teams as he tries to rid the Penguins from the eternal cap crunches and poor drafting that former GM Ray Shero placed them in. Rutherford has drafted well enough to get trade bait for Phil Kessel and to have this summer’s second round pick Daniel Sprong get a ten-game tryout. Along with that, Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen are great bang for your buck signings for a team that has no choice but to capitalize on them. If not, Pittsburgh will continue to lose first round series after first round series until this team frees up tons of cap space, but that won’t happen unless the salary cap increases dramatically (which it never does) or if Pittsburgh decides to go on a full scale rebuild while Crosby-Malkin-Kessel are past their primes.
Oh boy. Yes, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie have given Washington the best roster they have had in years. But hear me out on this. Barry Trotz has not really been among the best coaches when it comes to puck possession and he also doesn’t trust his young players when it is statistically obvious that they should be well ahead of certain veterans that are getting it. Next, there is a clear gap in talent amongst the top seven forwards and the rest of the group up front and there is no depth outside of the top six in defense. Can this team seriously survive if an injury crisis arises? This team can win a Stanley Cup, but there are still enough questions that might prevent them from hitting their potential again.
If there’s a team that seems to get a little too much of a free pass, it’s the Minnesota Wild. Do people forget how much they have spent on Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek? Also, if it wasn’t for Devan Dubnyk’s heroic’s this team would have been bad goaltending away from being the most underachieving team in the league last season. When the pieces are in place, this is the most complete team in the league with little to no weaknesses within the NHL lineup. It is interesting to see Mike Yeo breakup the Jared Spurgeon-Marco Scandella pair that has worked so well the last two years and have Spurgeon pair up with Suter and Scandella with Christian Folin. If things finally work out for the Wild, they should be able to, at least, make it to the Conference Finals.
Call me crazy, but even with the absence of such a tenured coach in Mike Babcock, I still like Detroit’s chances this year. They returned to their 2008-2009 seasons where they were consistently among the best possession teams in the league and if it wasn’t for a bad matchup against a Stanley Cup finalist, they could have gone further in the playoffs. Not trusting on Jimmy Howard during the playoffs is a big deal and his contract will surely be a waste if he isn’t the starter this season. The addition to Mike Green, however, should give the blue line an offensive element it hasn’t had since Nicklas Lidstrom has retired.
The key to the season will be the health of the Red Wings’ oldest players in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. While Zetterberg is healthy, Datsyuk is recovering from offseason ankle surgery and is starting the season on injured reserve. This has allowed the likes of Riley Sheahan and Dylan Larkin to receive more playing time. Also, it would be good to see what second line center Brad Richards can do for his third team in three years. Once “the magician” comes back, if he were to still produce to his normal levels, this is another deep group of forwards full of well rounded skill and two-way ability. If current head coach and former Grand Rapids Griffiths head coach Jeff Blashill can maintain the systems Babcock had, this will surely be a talented team and with the right matchups, make a deep run towards the Stanley Cup this year.
Let’s ignore the fact that the defending Stanley Cup champions will be worse thanks to another exodus of good players. Let’s forever talk about why Patrick Kane is even playing professional hockey right now. Yes, we can talk about the Patrick Sharp-Johnny Oduya trade that led to the Blackhawks bringing in Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley. We can talk about how Artemi Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov can perform at the NHL level after many years in the KHL. We can talk about how a full season of Teuvo Teravainen in the top line will look like after the loss of Brandon Saad and we can talk about the addition of Artem Anisimov to replace Brad Richards.
But honestly, forget Chicago and forget the NHL because Patrick Kane is receiving a paycheck after being accused of sexual assault in his hometown in Buffalo. It’s another
black eye stab in the back on a league that, because they don’t receive the same media scrutiny as the NBA and NFL, doesn’t get the finger pointing it deserves. Yes, blaming Gary Bettman for everything is an eternal broken record, but he still has his job after 21 years. If Sepp Blatter can be taken down, why not Bettman and his constant ignorance on the real issues that are going on within his league. Shouldn’t he have learned that there is a crisis of professional athletes, let alone NHL players, treating women poorly after what has happened with Semyon Varlamov? Shouldn’t he have learned that women are treated so poorly by a male dominated blogosphere and fan base after the firings of so many prominent writers like Adrian Dater? Until the NHL doesn’t treat what is truly wrong with its sport the NBA treated it’s cocaine epidemic in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it will forever continue to be, by a massive distance, the worst of the four (maybe even five or six depending on how you feel about soccer and/or the UFC) major sports in North America.
3. New York Islanders
Call this a reverse jinx by a Caps fan what you will, but the New York Islanders are also competing for who has the most complete roster in the NHL and this is after having the most explosive offense last season. If it weren’t for losing Travis Hamonic, Calvin De Haan and Lubomir Visnovsky in the first four games of the Capitals playoff series, this team probably should have made it to the Conference Finals. With Visnovsky and Griffin Reinhart no longer on the team, pressure will be on Brian Strait, Ryan Pulock and new acquisition Marek Zidlicky on making sure there is not a step back to the teams talents on the back end.
Until then, the same cast of forwards will be around until a highly touted group of prospects is ready to challenge for places next year. That is not a bad thing because the top nine was that good. If Mikhail Grabovski can ever stay healthy for more than just 60 games, this team should be clicking on all cylinders. If Jaroslav Halak can improve his game, the Islanders will really be going places.
Yes, I have gone conformist and picked everyone’s favorite to win the Western Conference this season. Once we get to the next team, you will see that the transactions this offseason really were not big enough to swing the Stanley Cup one way or the other. So continuity maybe the name of the game in 2016 and the Ducks certainly have that.
If management can just ignore any suggestions of Bruce Boudreau should be fired if they don’t make it to the Cup Finals, this team should be fine. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, as obnoxious as they are, are still one of the best duos in the NHL. Carl Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Santorelli and Chris Stewart should be interesting additions to a forward group that needed some extra depth. Kevin Bieksa will be an interesting addition to the blue line but he could also be a weakness considering how he is starting to get up there in age. Also, Clayton Stoner is not a healthy scratch for no reason whatsoever.
Still, this team should be ok for the long haul and should contend for the Stanley Cup again this season.
1. Tampa Bay
Finally, Jonathan Drouin is playing for the best team in hockey. As long as general manager Steve Yzerman doesn’t unnecessarily burn another bridge with a team’s best player (Steven Stamkos this time around) this team should be okay. I mean, Alex Killorn and Valteri Filppula, two players that have played so well in the last couple of seasons under John Cooper, are playing third line minutes. That is depth and if Ben Bishop can ever return to his 2014 best, these will be your Stanley Cup champions and it may not even be close.