Outlook on 2016-2017: Calgary Flames

Continuing to attempt to predict outcomes of the 2016-2017 season. Next up: The Calgary Flames

2015-2016 Important Notes:

Finish – 12th place in the Western Conference, 26th overall

Goals for vs. goals against – minus 29 (25th overall)

Picked 6th overall in 2016 NHL Entry Draft – Matthew Tkachuk

Where Will the Flame Finish?

The Flames possess some very young and exciting players in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett. Their biggest obstacle is competing with the likes of San Jose, Anaheim and the Kings in their division. Gaudreau is coming off of a 78pt campaign, and looks every bit like the real deal. He reminds me so much of Patrick Kane when he broke into the league, and has great chemistry with Monahan. These two are the building blocks every team is dying for. Add in a newly drafted Matthew Tkachuk, and this team looks like it’s headed in the right direction.

The biggest struggle last year for the Flames was keeping the puck out of their net. Jonas Hiller looked lost on most nights, and they had 3 other goalies make appearances in a Flames uniform last season. Many thought the Flames would end up with Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes to start the 2016-2017 season, however they went a different route and brought in Brian Elliot. What does this mean to Calgary? They’ve helped stabilize the biggest question mark surrounding their team. Backing up Elliot will be Chad Johnson, who looked great in Buffalo last year, going 22-16-1 with a GAA of 2.36 and a save percentage of 0.920. These are great numbers for what will be your number two goalie. With these additions in net, the Flames should have no problem pushing for a playoff spot this season. If they can stay healthy, and improve defensively (most goals against allowed with 260), they should be a fun team to watch.

Johnny Hockey

One of the smaller guys in the NHL, Gaudreau has not let his size hold him back. He’s improved in each of his first two full seasons, going from 64 to 78 points and finishing in the top 10 in league scoring. How much further can he go? It appears the sky is the limit for the self-named Johnny Hockey. He possesses all of the skill in the world, and is a very competitive player night-in and night-out. He’s had great chemistry with Monahan since they both broke into the NHL, and with the maturation of fellow teammates in Sam Bennett, and adding a skillful prospect in Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames look to be adding more offensive weapons to their roster in the very near future.This will only create more room and opportunity for Gaudreau to score. Gaudreau should continue to be in the top 10 in scoring for many years to come, with the potential to challenge for the Art Ross for many years to come.

Defensive Improvements

When Calgary traded for Dougie Hamilton, many believed they had stolen him from Boston. Did he live up those expectations in his first season in Calgary? Many would argue no, however he still managed to put up 43 pts. Another year playing with a well-respected veteran in Mark Giordano will only help Dougie develop into a better all-around defensemen, as he still requires some improvements in his own end. That being said, replacing the horrendous goaltending in Calgary from last season with Elliot and Johnson will surely help all Flames defenders. Finishing last in goals allowed is never a good indication of your defensive game, however another solid addition by the Flames this past season was replacing Kris Russell with young prospect Jyrki Jokipakka. He should step into the Flames bottom pairing this season and help the Flames in their own end of the ice. Comparing last year to this year, there really is only way one to go, and that is most definitely up.

The future is bright (and now) in Calgary. This is a team to watch in the next few years.

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Outlook on 2016-2017: Columbus Blue Jackets

Continuing to attempt to predict outcomes of the 2016-2017 season. Next up: The Columbus Blue Jackets

2015-2016 Important Notes:

Finish – 15th place in the Eastern Conference, 27th overall

Goals for vs. goals against – minus 33 (26th overall)

Picked 3rd overall in 2016 NHL Entry Draft – Pierre-Luc Dubois

Where will the Jackets finish?

I find Columbus one of the harder teams to predict each season. Their roster on paper looks like it should be a borderline playoff team, but they’ve struggled over the past two seasons to put it all together. One would assume that with a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky that they are immediately a better team than last year. Bobrovsky had his season cut short due to injury, but is currently participating at the World Cup and looks to be in fine form going into this season. It’s imperative that the Jackets have a bounce-back year from their captain Nick Foligno. Coming off the 2014-2015 season in which he scored 31 goals and 73 points, he struggled in 2015-2016 and only managed 12 goals and 37 points. Is he a regular 65-75 point producer? No, but he should be able to provide the Jackets with a 20 goal season.

Seth Jones looks to be rounding into form for the Jackets, and along with other youngsters in Ryan Murray and even David Savard, they look to be built on the back-end for years to come. The Jackets possess enough grit in their lineup to keep teams on their toes night in and night out, and they’ll count on strong seasons from Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, and a solid sophomore season from Alex Wennberg if they hope to push for a playoff spot.

Built For The Future

Columbus possesses a strong prospect pool heading into the 2016-2017 season. Their AHL affiliate Cleveland Monsters (formerly Lake Erie) won the Calder Cup last season, which is always a good thing for NHL teams. Their AHL team contains future bright-spots including Sonny Milano (31 pts in 54 games as a 19 year old), Daniel Zaar (43 pts in 71 games as a 20 year old), along with Oliver Bjorkstrand, TJ Tynan, and others. Add to this, junior defensemen and 2016 1st round draftee Zach Werenski (31 pts in 31 games in the NCAA), and newly drafted Pierre-Luc Dubois (99 points in 62 games in the QMJHL), and this team is full of future NHLers. The next couple of years in Columbus should be exciting for fans, with the future looking as bright as almost any other.

Making Room For The Young Guns

With so many young stars waiting in the wings, and looking to join the big club this season or next, the Jackets will have trouble finding the room to accommodate the influx of young talent that is waiting. I’m sure all Jackets fans would love to see the likes of David Clarkson and Scott Hartnell replaced by the next generation. That being said, is there a market for these players?

Simple answer for David Clarkson is no. When he signed his current deal (4 years remaining at a hit of $5.25) with Toronto I thought they would never be able to get out of it, so I suppose there always is the potential of a team taking on the Clarkson deal, I just can’t imagine who. If anyone offers ANYTHING, the Jackets would be wise to take it. While he’s not unplayable, he’s just simply not worth half of his current cap hit.

Is there a market for Scott Hartnell (3 years at $4.75)? Another tough contract. Hartnell enters the season at 34 years old, and has begun showing signs of slowing down. I can see a team like Arizona searching for a player like Hartnell. They too have a young team on the rise, but they don’t possess many players like Hartnell in their lineup, whereas Columbus has similar players in Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno. I can see Arizona making a push to trade for Scott Hartnell before the end of the season, especially if they’re in the playoff picture come March.

All in All

I envision the Jackets improving enough this season to push for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. Backed by a healthy season of Sergei Bobrovsky, and an added offensive punch from youngsters, this team looks built for the future. If only it could get rid of a few contracts (*cough* David Clarkson *cough*).

(Credit: NHL.com ; www.capfriendly.com; hockeydb.com)

Outlook on 2016-2017: Vancouver Canucks

Continuing to attempt to predict outcomes of the 2016-2017 season. Next up: The Vancouver Canucks

2015-2016 Important Notes:

Finish – 13th place in the Western Conference, 28th overall

Goals for vs. goals against – minus 52 (30th overall)

Picked 5th overall in 2016 NHL Entry Draft – Olli Juolevi

Where will the Canucks finish?

I could simply write “Dead last” and move on. This team will be painful to watch this season. With aging veterans in the Sedin twins, along with Ryan Miller (all 35 and older), this team is in need of a rebuild. They’re far removed from the powerhouse they once were in 2010-2011.They struggled at both ends of the ice last year, and while they’ve started the youth movement, they still have one more season left after this upcoming season on deals to both Sedin brothers. I can’t envision any team willing to take on both contracts – assuming they want to remain together – this season or next. Sure they added an upgrade to their offense this offseason in Loui Eriksson, but he’s always just entered his 30’s and is signed for 6 years at a substantial cap hit of $6 million per year. It will be tough for this team to improve over last year’s performance, especially with the teams below them improving compared to last year. I see this team falling down to the bottom of the basement.

Is there help coming?

Surely finishing last place and having the best odds to win the 2017 Draft Lottery wouldn’t hurt improving their prospect pool. That being said, they do have the likes of Olli Juolevi, Brock Boeser and Thatcher Demko waiting in the wings. Along with current roster players in Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and even Jacob Markstrom (if he ever figures it out), they have a half-decent prospect pool that shows a slight glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Beyond those mentioned above, the majority of their system is a few years away from making an impact – if they ever do. This can all change rather quickly, they have pieces on their team that come Trade Deadline could attract offers from teams in the playoff hunt.

I’m sure most Canuck fans would rather have Jared McCann on their roster than Erik Gudbranson, but let’s hope the trades they make this upcoming season are a little more lopsided in the Canucks favor. Alex Burrows enters this season on the final year of his deal, and could surely attract at least a 2nd round pick, if not a late 1st depending on how desperate teams are come March. Jannik Hansen enters play with 2 more years on his deal, but with a small cap-hit of only $2.5 million, he’s sure to attract offers. The remaining players on the roster will likely be around for the 2017-2018 season, again barring a team calling for either (or both) of the Sedin brothers. The Canucks possess some good young talent that the rebuild wouldn’t take as long as other teams (I’m looking at you Edmonton), they just need to embrace it sooner rather than later.

Outlook on 2016-2017: Edmonton Oilers

Continuing to attempt to predict outcomes of the 2016-2017 season. Next up: The Edmonton Oilers

2015-2016 Important Notes:

Finish – 14th place in the Western Conference, 29th overall

Goals for vs. goals against – minus 42 (28th overall)

Picked 4th overall in 2016 NHL Entry Draft – Jesse Puljujarvi

Where will the Oilers finish?

Everyone has to think that EVENTUALLY the Oilers will not be a lottery team. Will it be this season? With a healthy team, they have the best shot they’ve had in years. For a team that has picked in the top 10 in nine of the last 10 seasons (!!), the fact that they’re still stuck in the basement is an embarrassment. All non-Oiler fans rejoiced when the team fell out of 2nd place in the entry draft down to 4th, only to see Puljujarvi drop right into their laps. Even when the Oilers lose the lottery, they end up on the winning end. Puljujarvi projects to play a key role, riding shotgun on Connor McDavid’s wing for the foreseeable future.

Even with a team that boasts the likes of McDavid, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Leon Draisaitl, the team is filled with holes on defense, and question marks in net. How will Adam Larsson fare? Is Cam Talbot capable of carrying this team into the playoffs? These have been the same questions facing the Oilers for the last few years, and this year is no different. I see the Oilers as a team who is still outside of the playoff picture come April, but further up from the basement. I see them right around 11th place in the west, and 22nd overall.

Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson?!?

Everyone knew the Oilers had to improve their defense this offseason, and that a star player was likely on his way out of Edmonton. That being said, I don’t think anyone expected it to be Taylor Hall, and the return to be ONLY Adam Larsson. This was a nightmare trade for Oilers fans, as they watched both PK Subban and Shea Weber (who are much better options) be traded minutes later. This is no knock on Adam Larsson, he’s an immediate and substantial upgrade to the Oilers defense. But he’s no superstar. Taylor Hall is a top 5 player at his position. He’s been the Oilers best player since he came into the NHL, and while that is surely now McDavid, I can’t think of any Oilers fan who didn’t want to see Hall and McDavid play a full season together, or many seasons together for that matter.

This came down to the Oilers being desperate to acquire something that would improve them defensively, even if it hurts their offensive production. Unfortunately for Larsson, he will have the weight of this trade on his shoulders this season, as fans look for him to replace a fan favorite. Will he live up to the trade? No. Will he be an upgrade in an area that the Oilers needed? Yes. How big of an upgrade is the question many will be looking to answer this year.

What can we expect from Connor McDavid?

Greatness. Magic. Dominance.

McDavid comes into this season healthy, and ready to continue right where he left off last year. Everyone will be watching to see how he does at the World Cup, surely leading the ‘Young Stars’ team in all aspects. He seemed to pick up right where he left off after coming back from injury last season, and barely missed out on winning the Calder.

With a full season, and an improved defensive team behind him, McDavid should have no problem challenging for the scoring crown. He possesses all the tools necessary to carry the Oilers to heights they haven’t seen in quite some time. Losing Hall as a key member of the offense could hurt McDavid slightly, but if can rekindle the magic he had last season, it could be a great year for both Oilers’ and McDavid fans.