So last season I waited until later in the season to make my predictions. This season though, I will be making one now, and one on December 31st. Now I was full of hope last season that my team would actually show up...Though they tried, injuries would continue and their 2014-15 season would go no where. Regardless, here we are getting ready for the 2015-16 season opener and there are a lot of new faces in a lot of places, so lets talk about the west.
7. Arizona Coyotes - The Coyotes have had it rough for the last several seasons. In 2011-12 the Yotes were kicked out of the Western Conference Final by the Los Angeles Kings, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. Since then, the Coyotes have done nothing but get worse. Last season Arizona finished 7th in the pacific and ended up with the #3 overall pick (Dylan Strome.) Even with the addition of a young and talented Strome, the Coyotes need some serious help. Shane Doan continues to age out of competition but insists on staying with the team, could this be the season he actually leaves at the trade deadline? Even if Mike Smith remembers how to play in goal, Arizona will find themselves in the bottom five of the league once again and 7th again in the Pacific. Could this also possibly see Ekman-Larsson moved for a high price? Or are the Coyotes willing to keep him and pass up on possible prospects, picks or even roster players?
6. San Jose Sharks - Many will wonder why I am putting San Jose so low with young talent like Mueller, Hertl, Couture or the older guys like Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski, Burns, etc. They have Stalock and Jones both promising young goaltenders. Why did I put them so low, they had a winning record and finished 5th last season, yes. However, this season there is no room for the Sharks because of who they will be playing. A Ducks team that I feel will win the cup, a Flames team that shows now sign of regression, a revamped Oiler team that has a goalie and confidence and a Canucks team that might just come together, not to forget an LA Kings team that wants to redeem themselves. I could easily have swapped San Jose and Vancouver if San Jose would have been able to come to terms with and keep Neimi.
5. Vancouver Canucks - The Canucks have a few up and coming kids that could make an impact this season. My biggest question would have to be the Sedin's. They played well last season and were able to stay healthy, but at that age, back to back 82 game seasons will be hard and I question even with Vrbata staying, how much they will click again this season now that their division is a lot tougher. Ryan Miller needs to find his old form to bring Vancouver back to the playoffs.
4. Los Angeles Kings - This one is tough, there are three teams to me that can sit here. Both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers could fall here easy. However, I picked the Kings because I just do not see them flying high even with their new adjustments and attitudes to get back to the cup. Lucic is a power horse and a player that likes to get dirty, and yes he might fit the Kings "style" but does he "FIT" will be the question. Quick will be the reason this team finishes higher, he is a work horse that pulls off some amazing games. Christian Ehrhoff will fill in the on the back end where there is still a hole after Voynov's stunt. He wont be making magic,, but he is a solid addition.
3. Edmonton Oilers - I choose Edmonton for a few reasons, one is their new found spark with Connor McDavid. The kid is lightening, and will win games for this team. McDavid is who Hall, Nug-Hop and Yakupov were supposed to be. 3 strikes youre out right? Not for Edmonton, they found a fourth chance at life and it will pay off. Edmonton went out and got a guy in Cam Talbot that will win them the games that Scrivens and Fasth let sail free. They also got a few new faces on defense like Reinhart and Sekera, who should help build some confidence on the back. Yes, they have a lot to learn this season, but for once, I do not see them finishing under the top 4 in the Pacific.
2. Calgary Flames - Another team that could end up lower, I choose the Flames because of their playoff run. A bunch of kids in Canada tried to be the Avalanche and did better. The difference will be their rebound and learning from Colorado's mistake. The Flames will need to stay healthy and they should find themselves sitting high in the Pacific. The biggest question on this team sits in their goaltending, Hiller seems to only play hockey when he feels like it and Ramo has the consistency of a two years older attention span.... It just isn't there and this far in, I don't know if it ever will be. I love Johnny Gaudreau's leadership, he is a lot like Joe Sakic, he lays it out on the ice and that's that. They added Dougie Hamilton to an already stellar defense, that just got their leader back after losing him in the playoffs. I see amazing things coming out of the Flames, could we see them make a run for the cup in the next few yeas? You Bet.
1. Anaheim Ducks - This is a no brainer! Their young goaltender, Fredrick Andersen, was not totally to blame but a big reason they made the exit home last season. His inexperience with winning in the playoffs, not just playoffs but big games cost him some soft goals in a nervous moment. Anaheim added Kevin Bieksa and Carl Hanglin, those two additions add to their already extensive group of talent and says, "Let's win" all over it. However, many of us have already seen this much talent work the other way, plus, how long will Gibson sit on the bench before he wants out of Anaheim if he cannot win the number spot to start the season. Could this cause controversy to the locker room? We will see!
Now that is my Pacific Division, I am just making predictions, so if you do not agree please share yours!
Central Division - I have my bias!!!!! But this division is tough as hell to break down.
7. Dallas Stars - The reason I pick Dallas is due to the goaltending. Neimi and Lethonen are both great, however, Neimi nor Lethonen are back ups and this could cause a conflict. Yes it could work out, but no goalie wants to be number two... They did add Sharpe and Oduya to the line up, both cup winners with the Hawks which could help. They have a lot of power with Benn, Spezza, Seguin, Nichushkin, but someone has to finish last.
6. Winnipeg Jets - The Jets had a feel good story last season and it was great to see them make the playoffs. Unless they play Hutchinson from the jump, I do not see the Jets following suit. Pavelec is not a number one goalie and should sit the bench to a more talented kid. Also, Dustin Byfuglien is again in trade rumors all over, does he move? If so, for what? The Jets defense is already pretty skim. Basically all mid-age guys and really you do not see their names a lot and they aren't really known for anything "big." Such as when you here Byfuglien, most people say... "I hope hes not playing tonight, the dude is an animal."
5. St. Louis Blues - Their failure in the playoffs is going to begin to get to them at some point and I think this season might just be it. T.J. Oshie is gone, which could be both good and bad. They added Troy Brouwer but they still only have that "one big name" in Tarasanko. Sure, they have Backes and Stastny, but those two cant change a game in a second like Valdimir can, they really lack that second hand in the 1-2-punch. Jake Allen should take over as the number one, if not, Elliott will drive this team into last place in the Central.
4. Chicago Blackhawks - I will take heat for this I am sure. The Hawks shipped off Sharpe, Saad, Oduya and could lose Patrick Kane pending his investigation. Corey Crawford got away with luck in the Stanley Cup Final, that luck was a damn good defense that was ale to stop the triplets of Tampa Bay. He made key saves, but he still was in luck, because he is a terrible goaltender. I think if Kane gets away with what he did, Chicago could be in the 3rd place, but I do not see them 1 or 2.....
3. Colorado Avalanche - this one is hard for me to swallow and to be honest, the Avs can fall anywhere be 1 and 7 honestly and it all depends on, A) can they stay healthy? Colorado lost and average of SIX starting roster players PER game last season, including their number one goaltender that could not stay healthy. Imagine Chicago losing 6 starting players per game... No way they win the cup and they probably miss the playoffs too, that goes for any team. B) How will the new guys fit in? Who makes the roster? Rantanen, Comeau, Beauchemin, Soderberg, Siemens, Bigras and many more. This team looked different last season and it burned them (excluding injuries) it took a long time or things to click, will they click this season? C) Valamov needs to stay healthy, and Berra needs confidence. You fix A and C alone, the Avs will be top 3, fix all three.... Dog fight for #1...
2 - Minnesota Wild - This chaps me, and I cannot deal with the Wild. However, if Dubnyk plays like last season, he wins the Veznia and they take on Anaheim for the Conference Final where they lose. Dubnyk fails like Dubnyk usually does..... Minnesota will be sitting last place... Enough on them, they leave a bad taste in my mouth.
1. Nashville Predators - Not a lot to say, they bring back 99% of what they had last season, better health with more experience. No doubt in my mind Rinne, Weber and Forsberg carry this team to the top of the Central. I still do not think they have the fire power up front that they need to win a cup though, yet a healthy Rinne and defense... who needs more than one or two goals?
Again, all prediction and yes I am bias to the Avalanche, but make a valid argument that last season was just all sorts of tragic. It is a safe bet to say any team in the Central can make the playoffs and make a deep run, probably the toughest through and through division in the NHL and probably any sport to be honest. Please let me know your predictions!