October is almost here, and that can only mean one thing – HOCKEY SEASON!
With preseason action set to get underway, teams will now be looking to finalize their rosters, familiarize themselves with any new schemes, and build some positive momentum heading into the regular season.
Below is a division-by-division look at how the final-season standings will play out this year, complete with analysis to support each selection.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Boston Bruins
- Montreal Canadiens
- Buffalo Sabres
- Ottawa Senators
- Florida Panthers
- Detroit Red Wings
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This time last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, Steven Stamkos suffered a severe knee injury that forced him to miss the final 65 games of the regular season. Provided the superstar center remains healthy this season, the Lightning will be amongst the NHL’s elite teams.
In addition to Steven Stamkos – Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman are also elite-level players. 23-year-old goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is entering his first full season as the Lightning’s starter, and if he can live up to his all-star potential, the Atlantic Division will be Tampa Bay’s to lose.
Outside of the Edmonton Oilers, no team in the NHL possesses the kind of young, superstar talent that the Toronto Maple Leafs possess. After maturing quickly last season and getting into the playoffs ahead of schedule, this team is primed to take another step forward behind its dynamic trio of Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, and William Nylander.
With David Pastrnak locked up for the next six years, The Boston Bruins will once again finish 3rd in the Atlantic Division. This is an experienced team that features a strong core of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak (as mentioned), David Krejci, David Backes, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. When Boston make it into the postseason, they will be a dangerous team.
The Montreal Canadiens are still a very formidable lineup, as Shea Weber and Carey Price ensure that this team has a chance to win every night. Jonathan Drouin was an excellent addition, however, due to some key losses and concerns regarding depth, this is no longer the best team in the division.
There is a lot to like about the Buffalo Sabres this upcoming season, as Jack Eichel is a big-time talent. Kyle Okposo is also an all-star, Evander Kane is a 30-goal sniper, Ryan O’Reilly is a 60-point scorer, Sam Reinhart is a former 2nd overall pick, and goaltender Robin Lehner is coming off a decent performance last year. Also, amazingly, the Buffalo Sabres were the NHL’s number 1 team on the power-play last season.
While there are certainly some promising pieces in place, the main question surrounding the Sabres is whether or not the defense and penalty-kill can improve enough to move them up in the standings.
After losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Ottawa Senators are poised to take a dramatic slide down the Atlantic Division standings. Erik Karlsson may be the best defenseman in the NHL; however, he is not enough to cover up this team’s issues. 22nd in scoring, 23rd on the power-play and 22nd on the penalty-kill last season is hardly a recipe for success.
The Florida Panthers were a powerful team two seasons ago; however, last season didn’t go according to plan. The Panthers feature a brilliant young core that consists of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad, however, the teams ahead of them are simply more talented from top to bottom.
Last season the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time since 1990. The Red Wings feel as though they can still be competitive, but as of right now this is shaping up to be the worst team in the Atlantic Division. Henrik Zetterberg is aging, Jimmy Howard has been up and down, and the young pieces are being asked to do too much.
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Washington Capitals
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- New York Rangers
- New York Islanders
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Philadelphia Flyers
- New Jersey Devils
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There is minimal controversy regarding 1st and 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division. Although the Penguins have lost key players such as Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, and Chris Kunitz, according to sportsbet.com, they are still the early favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
The Washington Capitals are another formidable team that also lost some key contributors this past offseason. Karl Alzner, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Williams are out the door, however, they still possess the dynamic trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and goaltender Braden Holtby.
After finishing 6th in scoring last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets made a massive move by acquiring 70-point scorer Artemi Panarin in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. Panarin will now join Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg to form what could be a very potent attack up in Ohio.
Defensively, the Blue Jackets are still only scratching the surface of their potential after also finishing 2nd in goals allowed last season. Seth Jones, Zach Warenski, and Ryan Murray average just 21 years of age between the three of them, and with the help of 2x Vezina-winner Sergei Bobrovsky, this young defense was spectacular.
Centre depth could be a genuine issue for the New York Rangers this upcoming season, as Derek Stepan and his 55 points are now in Arizona. While Mika Zibanejad projects to be a worthy number 1 center, the question as to whether or not the players behind him can fill the void deserves to be asked.
In other areas, the signing of Kevin Shattenkirk will be huge for both the Rangers defense and their power-play, and Henrik Lundqvist remains an excellent goaltender.
John Tavares will be playing with something to prove this season in the hope of landing a new contract. The New York Islanders also played very well last season once Doug Weight took over as the head coach, finishing with a record of 24-12-4 over the final 40 games. Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee are quality pieces for this team, but the Islanders just don’t have as much talent as the four teams outlined above.
The Carolina Hurricanes are viewed by many to be a team on the rise this season. In saying this, however, the Hurricanes will need a lot to go right if they are to have any chance of making the playoffs. Can Scott Darling be the number 1 goaltender after having never been “the guy” at any point in his NHL career? Can Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm all become difference makers? There are just too many questions surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes at this point in time.
The Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils were both very bad last season. The Flyers feature talented veterans such as Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek, however, their goaltending was a huge issue in 2016/17. It is unclear as to whether Brian Elliot presents any upgrade in this department.
The Devils have made some solid moves this offseason after drafting Nico Hischier with the 1st overall selection back in June. Hischier will slide in very nicely next to Taylor Hall, and Cory Schneider is also looking to regain his Vezina form. At the end of the day, however, Travis Zajac is set to miss 4-6 months due to an injury, and the Devils remain a year or two away from making any noise.
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Nashville Predators
- Winnipeg Jets
- Dallas Stars
- St. Louis Blues
- Minnesota Wild
- Colorado Avalanche
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The Chicago Blackhawks finished 1st in the Central Division last season and this year will be no different. Issues regarding the team’s overall depth could hurt them in the playoffs, however, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will ensure that Chicago wins plenty of games in the meantime.
After barely sneaking into the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Western Conference last season, the Nashville Predators went on a fairy-tale run to the Stanley Cup Finals – eventually losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With a talented core consisting of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Pekka Rinne, the Predators are ready to pick up right where they left off.
The Winnipeg Jets were a team that had their fair share of issues last season. Defense, goaltending and special teams were all key areas of concern; however, these can be rectified this season.
On paper, Winnipeg has a defensive group that should be a tough unit to play against. Dustin Byfuglien is amongst the NHL’s elite, and Jacob Trouba is coming off an excellent season. Dmitry Kulikov, Tyler Myers, and Toby Enstrom are all established NHL defenseman as well.
Offensively for the Jets, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers averaged 71 points each between the four of them last season. Blake Wheeler is the only player of this core above the age of 25, and it is hard to believe that Winnipeg’s power-play will continue to struggle with Dustin Byfuglien accompanying this level of offensive talent. Killing penalties could still be a concern, although the Blackhawks, Senators, and Penguins all found success last season with bottom-third penalty-killing.
In order to stabilize the goaltending situation, Steve Mason was signed by the Jets as a free agent this offseason. Mason has had some lackluster seasons in the past, but he has also shown the ability to provide solid goaltending at different times throughout his career. The offense will be explosive so “solid” goaltending might be all that is needed if the defense can hold up.
Last season, the Dallas Stars ranked last on the penalty-kill and 29th in goals allowed. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin were brilliant; however, they were not good enough to mask the issues regarding defense, penalty-killing, and goaltending.
To rally in these areas, the Stars signed Martin Hanzal in free agency and acquired defenseman Marc Methot and goalie Ben Bishop in separate deals. 55-point scorer Alexander Radulov was also signed to bring an added dose of scoring to the lineup, and these moves will ensure that Dallas is much-improved this coming season.
The St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild are two teams that still have plenty of talent. Where they rank here is not necessarily their fault, but if the Jets and Stars are to improve, two teams will obviously need to slide down.
With Patrik Berglund set to miss the first two months of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, the center depth of the St. Louis Blues just doesn’t look good enough to start the season. The Central Division is loaded, and this team cannot afford a slow start.
For the Wild, Zach Parise is now 33 years old and is currently suffering from a lingering back issue. Eric Staal is almost 32 and has looked well past his prime in four of the previous five seasons, and Mikko Koivu is also now 34 years of age. If these three players struggle, Minnesota could be in serious trouble.
The Colorado Avalanche are still the Colorado Avalanche. They will finish last in this division.
- Edmonton Oilers
- Anaheim Ducks
- San Jose Sharks
- Los Angeles Kings
- Calgary Flames
- Vancouver Canucks
- Arizona Coyotes
- Vegas Golden Knights
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What a fantastic time it is to be an Oilers fan. After making the playoffs for the first time in 11 years last season, the front office quickly signed Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to long-term extensions. These two superstars are the next Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Edmonton will be the best team in this division for the next 8-10 years.
The Anaheim Ducks came within two wins of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last season. They are returning the same group from a year ago, but have also brought in former all-star Ryan Miller to provide some added depth in net. The Ducks will be extremely competitive once again this coming season.
UPDATE: Ducks center Ryan Kesler is out indefinitely after offseason hip surgery.
Out in San Jose, the Sharks are now another year older and Patrick Marleau is gone. There were no significant additions this offseason, however, this is still a solid team. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are a veteran core that knows what it takes to win, and Martin Jones is a future star between the pipes.
Much like the Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings are a veteran team with a core that has been very accustomed to winning in the past. Last season was a down year for this team; however, Jonathan Quick was injured and Anze Kopitar went through an uncharacteristic slump. Assuming these two players are both healthy and motivated, the Kings will bounce back this coming season.
Fresh off a playoff appearance in 2016/17, the Calgary Flames will be forced to make it in as a wild card team if they plan on qualifying once again this season. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk form a solid foundation in Calgary, and the defense got bolstered with the acquisition of Travis Hamonic.
The Flames’ season will ultimately depend on the performance of newly-acquired goaltender Mike Smith. Can Smith once again perform like an all-star now that he has a strong defense in front of him? Or was last season with the Arizona Coyotes a sign of things to come?
The Vancouver Canucks struggled to do a whole lot right last season – ranking 29th in scoring, 25th in goals allowed, 29th on the power-play and 28th on the penalty-kill. The core in Vancouver is aging, and no goalie on this roster has shown that they are a starting-caliber netminder in the NHL. Look for Vancouver to struggle this season and commit to a full-blown rebuild within the next 12 months.
It was a very active offseason for the Arizona Coyotes. Derek Stepan, Nikolas Hjalmarsson, and goaltender Antti Raanta are sturdy additions, but despite a valiant effort to improve, the young players on this team are still a couple of years away from becoming actual difference makers. There just isn’t enough talent right now out in Coyote-territory.
Lastly, the Vegas Golden Knights should look to enter this season with realistic expectations. The front office did a solid job of putting a decent first-year team together, but the Golden Knights just aren’t talented enough to compete right out of the gate. For 2017/18, a year in which this team can successfully establish some chemistry and finish the season on a high would be considered a success.
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