After reading the USA Today’s article predicting the standings of the upcoming season, I figured it was a good time to make some final predictions of my own (mostly because I disagree with some of their choices). I’m not going to predict exact point totals for each team, only the order of the standings as I see them today:
- Washington Capitals – This team remains fairly intact from last year, I see them again dominating on a nightly basis just like last year.
- Pittsburgh Penguins – Little bit of a Stanley Cup hangover in Pittsburgh. Finishing just behind the Capitals, just like last year.
- Philadelphia Flyers – Flyers get good seasons from both Mason and Neuvirth as they continue to battle for starts. Youngster Ivan Provorov has an impressive season, helping carry the Flyers up the standings
- New York Rangers – The decline continues for the Rangers. King Hank isn’t getting any younger, it looks as if this team’s chance for a Cup may have come and gone for the near future.
- New Jersey Devils – Newcomer Taylor Hall clicks with junior teammate Adam Henrique, and backstopped by one of the most consistent netminders in Cory Scneider. This is a team to watch if they can start scoring goals.
- New York Islanders – It looks as though this team will take a minor step back, while I believe it will only last one year. Tavares loses long-time linemate Kyle Okposo, and it will be hard to fill his void – I don’t think Ladd provides what they need.
- Columbus Blue Jackets – I do see Columbus taking strides and getting better, however they’re unfortunate to be in this division. I think overly they improve their wins/loss ratio from last year, just not enough to climb into the playoffs.
- Caroline Hurricanes – this team is built on the backend for years to come, the only questions remains is who will score for them? They’ve got a couple young prospects they can slot into their lineup, but not enough to compete in this division.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – With the majority of their stars now locked up for the future (other than Kucherov), this team can get back to focusing on winning hockey games. A full year of Jonathan Drouin will only help one of the NHL’s most potent offensive teams.
- Florida Panthers – Aleksander Barkov continues to grow under veteran leader Jaromir Jagr, and takes the next step into the elite player category. Adding James Reimer to back up Bobby Lu should keep the Panthers near the top of their division.
- Montreal Canadiens – There will be a point this season where the Habs struggle, and the media and fans will freak out. That being said, this team is too good to fall too far down the standings. A healthy Carey Price and this team is again a favorite to win it all.
- Buffalo Sabres – The biggest question mark coming into this season is one that was being asked last year, is Robin Lehner an NHL starter? Injury prohibited us from getting an answer on that, but Buffalo also added more firepower in Kyle Okposo. If the blueline and Lehner can perform, Buffalo could be a fun team to watch this year.
- Boston Bruins – Many question marks on Boston’s blueline coming into this season, as their Captain has looked as though he’s been increasingly slowing down as of late. Can Rask regain form? Can the Bruins score enough to outweigh their defensive weakness? My gut says no.
- Detroit Red Wings – Losing Datsyuk hurts, big time. But the real weakness for Detroit is on the blueline (a recurring theme in this division). I see Detroit taking a major step back this season. The playoff streak comes to an end.
- Toronto Maple Leafs – Will the Leafs be much better than last year? By a small amount yes. They will definitely be more fun to watch. The youth-movement is in full force in Toronto, as fans get to see Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner (hopefully) on a nightly basis. Frederik Andersen should provide more stable goaltending, and an improved blueline all point to signs of good things to come.
- Ottawa Senators – While I do believe bringing in Brassard makes the Senators a better team, I don’t believe they have the goaltending to compete this coming season. The Hamburgler took a major step back last season, and Craig Anderson is due to begin declining. I see this team as a whole taking a step back.
- St. Louis Blues – Even with a couple notable subtractions this offseaon in David Backes and Brian Elliot, the core of the Blues remains intact and as strong as ever. They will require Jake Allen to stay healthy all season, but with that, they look like the can roll through MOST other teams in their division. Vlad Tarasenko could potentially challenge Ovechkin for the Rocket Richard trophy with another great season.
- Dallas Stars – Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and now add in Jiri Hudler. That’s an impressive group of players. Question marks? Two very shaky goalies. We’ll see if they can improve over their performances last season, that will make or break this team.
- Nashville Predators – I’m a firm believe that the Predators severly won the Subban for Weber trade. Pekka Rinne stays healthy and this team could win the Cup. They have the best defense corps overall in the NHL. Add in a full season of Ryan Johansen creating chemistry with Filip Forsberg, and potentially youngster Kevin Fiala? If Pekka Rinne stays healthy and returns to form, look-out.
- Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks are overly due for a season of regression. How much more often can they continue this trend of being at the top of the NHL standings year in and year out? This was the hardest team to place for me. They could win the conference, or they could fall off to 4th in their division. I believe they will regress slightly in the goal scoring department, which will ultimately push them back in the standings.
- Winnipeg Jets – I really like where this team is headed. Can they bump up against a playoff spot? Yes. Adding a young gun in Puljujärvi only increases the firepower the Jets began to show at the end of last season. I expect big things from Mark Scheifele this year and Connoy Hellebuyck. I would love to see playoff games again in the Peg.
- Minnesota Wild – I don’t believe the Wild have the offensive power to compete in the Central Division. They have a great goaltender in Devan Dubnyk, and a young blueline in Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, and seasoned vet Ryan Suter. They’re hoping this is the season that Nino Niederreiter hits his potential, but if he doesn’t and no one else has a breakout season, they won’t even sniff at the playoffs.
- Colorado Avalanche – While I consider losing Patrick Roy as a coach a positive, this team is too weak outside of the top 2 lines to push their way into a playoff spot. Only thing that can change this is a huge season from Semyon Varlamov, and they’ll need Nathan MacKinnon to finally breakout. Having one of these things happen is likely, having both would be lucky. And Colorado will need all the luck they can get.
- San Jose Sharks – This has to be the year the Sharks win a Cup. If not, they could be waiting a few years before being back at the big dance. Patrick Marleau was showing his age last season, and Joe Thornton can only put off the age factor for so much longer. They are built deep, and strong. This is the team to watch this year.
- Anaheim Ducks – John Gibson is now the man in Anaheim. Is he ready to shoulder the heavy workload that comes with being a full-time starter? Time will tell. This is another team, like the Sharks, that is slowly ageing, and counting down the years it has left to be in the Cup conversation.
- Arizona Coyotes – The future is now in Arizona. This team is built DEEP in the prospect pool. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair looked great last season, and the Coyotes are likely to add a couple more high-potential prospects to their NHL roster including Dylan Strome and potentially (likely) Christian Dvorak. Add this to their already talented group and it smells of success. Will it be instant? Most would guess no, but there’s plenty of opportunity in this division for Arizona to win games.
- Edmonton Oilers – Is Connor McDavid enough to push these guys out of the basement? Short answer is yes. But they’ve also improved on defense in adding Adam Larsson (sorry Oilers fans), and adding some grit and size up front in Milan Lucic. It’s only a matter of time before Edmonton FINALLY puts it all together.
- Los Angeles Kings – Sure they still have the best defensemen (overall) in the NHL in Drew Doughty, and boast the likes of Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, but their bottom six forwards are… yikes. They’re no longer the powerhouse they once were. They need to add a few key pieces in order to even have a chance to squeak into the playoffs.
- Calgary Flames – The problem in Calgary is their bottom six group of forwards. They posses some good young talent in Johnny Hockey, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett. However, beyond that, it begins to stretch thin. They’ve addressed their biggest flaw from last season in bringing in a proven start in Brian Elliot. While this team has taken strides forward, they still need to improve their bottom six before they can be looked upon as a Cup contender.
- Vancouver Canucks – Hands down, the Canucks are the worst team heading into the 2016-2017 season. They are aging on forward and in net, and do not boast the prospect pools such as Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary. Vancouver is due for a dead-last, draft lottery winning rebuild. The time is now.
- Washington Capitals
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Florida Panthers
- Montreal Canadiens
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Buffalo Sabres
- New York Rangers
- St. Louis Blues
- San Jose Sharks
- Dallas Stars
- Nashville Predators
- Anaheim Ducks
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Edmonton Oilers
- Winnipeg Jets