You know it’s that time of year again when there is no other juicy hockey news besides off-season player SCANDALS. But there hasn’t been any of that either. Unlike in years past, there have been no Patrick Kane rape allegations, no Dustin Byfuglien driving his boat wasted, no Jarret Stoll snorting coke on the 3rd line, and no Ryan O’Reilly driving his truck through Tim Horton’s desperate for a double-double. It’s so boring this year! And when there are no player scandals, August and September will have very boring T.V. for most hockey fans. At least the World Cup will will keep the off-season interesting right?
Due to off-season inactivity, there is a demanding need for “hockey salvation.” Everything from ball hockey, playing in summer camp, trolling the GGSU Facebook page and even reading little articles on fantasy standings such as this one do offer some sort of satisfaction. The great and terrible aspect about fantasy prediction articles is that it offers bold, fanatical, baseless insight that never pleases anybody and triggers everybody.
As a writer, I don’t aim to win some “best blog post of the year” award and I probably never will. I aim to pioneer conversation and that is why I love the comments section. With the 2016/17 NHL season set to begin very soon, all I want to know is, how crazy am I with my own predictions?
Winner of the Atlantic Division: Tampa Bay Lightning
The only reason why the Lightning didn’t go to the Stanley Cup Finals last season is because they got cocky facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The team acted like they had the series in the bag and that lack of willpower towards the end of the series came back to bite them in the ass. Regardless, this is the most talented team in the East.
The General Manager of the Lightning, Steve Yzerman, has done some amazing work retaining Drouin and Stamkos which is worthy of winning the ‘GM of the year award’ alone. They have a superior offence, dominating defence and great goaltending from big Ben Bishop. Not an overly physical team, The Lightning play a smart and fast brand of hockey that makes it hard for defenders to keep up to. Their Powerplay was weak last season ranking 26th in the league but that won’t be a problem anymore with Stamkos healthy and Drouin playing with a good attitude.
There won’t be any holes in the Lightning’s game as long as they focus and keep their eyes on the prize. A sure-fire Stanley Cup favourite in the Eastern Conference.
Winner of the Metro Division: Washington Capitals
After a very disappointing playoff performance where the Caps got ousted by the Penguins in the second round, the Caps are coming into this season with pretty much the same team. The smartest thing that General Manger, Brian MacLellan did was NOT make any drastic roster moves. Just because you exit the playoffs early doesn’t mean you have to panic and blow up the entire team. The Caps will get their breakthrough but they need to be patient and play it smart. They’re already an offensive powerhouse blessed with a tonne of creativity backed by a very reliable and stable defence. Goaltending is phenomenal too.
Holtby is also one of the top goalies in the league so that doesn’t hurt either as they ranked 2nd in goals-against with only 193 goals allowed. Their special teams are also rock solid as they ranked 2nd in PP% and 3rd PK% last season.
They play a very balanced game under Head Coach Barry Trotz and he has done an excellent job coaching during his 2-year tenure with the team so far. Hell, he even got Ovechkin to play defence! That is a major accomplishment in itself.
As long as this team doesn’t have any locker room distractions, they’ll be sure to keep the mood light as they have fun playing very exciting hockey this season. Playoffs is a 99.99% sure thing for them but the playoffs are the Caps biggest challenge.
3rd in the Eastern Conference: The Pittsburgh Penguins
This team made a compelling statement, shutting the haters up when they won the Stanley Cup on June 12th, 2016. Once again, Sidney Crosby and the gang asserted themselves as true winners as they defeated the San Jose Sharks in 6 games during the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals. After a bad start at the beginning of the season, the Pens fired their coach Mike Johnston and replaced him with Mike Sullivan midway through the season. Boy that was the best move GM Jim Rutherford made all season as the Pens started to work much harder on the ice. That hard work showed as they amassed the best team record since December. They also played a more aggressive style of hockey as they got way more odd-man rushes than before.
Sully couldn’t have gotten any more out of his players as the PP% and PK% ranked 3rd best by the end of the season after posting disastrous numbers in the first half of the year. What vaulted the Pens to Stanley Cups champions was their speed. They were way faster than the Sharks during the Stanley Cup Finals and as a result, won more foot races than the Sharks. Matt Murray was incredibly solid and poised as he won the #1 goaltending job away from Marc-Andre Fleury as a rookie.
Nobody knows if Fleury will be traded but so far nothing has happened yet so stay tuned. The Pens will be making sure there will be no Stanley Cup hangover this season.
4th in the Eastern Conference; Florida Panthers
After surprising hockey fans around the globe (Not me, I predicted them to make it in 2015), The Florida Panthers have made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. The aura in Florida is different this time. They now have a bonafide franchise player in Aaron Ekblad, who just locked up a 8 year, $60 million deal. They have a great mix of veterans and youngsters that have great chemistry together. God Emperor Jagr and Strombone1 (Luongo) have been excellent locker room presences. The God Emperor has taught young studs like Barkov, Huberdeau, Smith and Trochek to be better players and all of whom have scored a minimum 20 goals this past season.
Losing Kulikov, Gudbranson and Campbell is nothing to scoff at; they’re pretty good defensemen, however, GM Dale Tallon has filled the void by acquiring Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and Jakub Kindl. What’s better? The former group of defensemen that they lost (Campbell, Kulikov, Gudbranson) or the latter group of defensemen who they picked up (Yandle, Demers, Kindl)? The latter is more offensive minded than the former which suits Florida’s playing style well. They like to move the puck up quickly plus Florida isn’t a shot-blocking team so that made defensive defensemen like Gudbranson expendable.
The Panthers didn’t have good special teams last season and they still won’t this year but regardless, they’ll still be a good team to watch.
5th in the Eastern Conference; The New York Islanders
For the first time since 1993, the New York Islanders have advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They eventually lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 5 games, however, fortunes are changing on the ice for the Islanders. They’ve had the best roster in many years in 2016 with John Tavares leading the way. He has already proved to be a clutch player scoring overtime and game-tying goals. The Islanders are not an analytics darling but they’re very physical (2nd in team hits), exceptional on special teams (8th in PP% and 4th in PK%) and play a very exciting, run n’ gun brand of hockey.
Losing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielson to free agency is a big blow to the offence. Despite that, they’ve replaced Okposo with Andrew Ladd plus they have guys like Matthew Barzal, Josh Ho Sang and Michael Dal Colle that can make the team as very talented rookies. You also have sleeper picks like Ryan Strome and Josh Bailey who have the ability to surprise as well. Offense shouldn’t be a struggle despite what most pessimists think.
On defence, they’ll improve greatly from within as Ryan Pulock and Calvin de Hahn continue to improve their skillset on the back-end. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are still their go-to-defenders plus they have solid defensive support from Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey. As a whole, this group of defenceman will have a great mix of physicality and puck-moving ability which will serve the forwards well. Goaltending will be very stable as Greiss and Halak man the crease. They’ve posted good numbers last season and will continue to do so this season so expect another playoff berth for the Islanders.
6th in the Eastern Conference; The Montreal Canadiens
Last season for the Canadiens was a complete and utter disaster of biblical proportions. Having the worst team record since Christmas will definitely land you at the bottom of the standings. They’ve had a terrible season in 2012 but the 2015/16 campaign was far worse because of how it happened. The major X-factor for this season is Carey Price by far. The entire collapse of last season started when Carey Price went down with an injury in early December. The Habs boasted a 1st place record at that time but they eventually fell down to 12th by the end of the season. Not only did Price go down, P.K. Subban was having hissy fits and temper tantrums almost every shift he was on the ice plus the atmosphere in the locker room was absolutely depressing.
As long as the Canadiens have a healthy Carey Price, they’ll go places. Trading away P.K. Subban for Shea Weber will prove to be interesting, and the signing of Alex Radulov is also a curious one. The reason why these moves were made is because the Habs have nowhere to go but up and with the type of team they have now, they’re way better off to improve the team on short-term needs instead of long term. Basically what I’m trying to say is YOLO, you got to go for it when you have the chance. I won’t go into the analytics because this team will only go as far as their emotions reveal.
With a steady presence like Weber, he’ll be able to settle the locker room down with his poise and equilibrium. He is the exact opposite of P.K. Subban and that’s why they traded for him.
Radulov has matured since his party days in Nashville and he knows this is his last shot at making a good impression at the NHL level so expect a compelling push in March as they’ll make the playoffs for the first time in two years.
1st Wild Card Seed; The Ottawa Senators
Last season was definitely not like the captivating 2015 campaign which saw Andrew Hammond (The Hamburglar) go on a ridiculous run that vaulted the Senators to the playoffs even after all hope was lost. Last season, we saw an uninspired and lackluster Sens team that has lost its competitive edge against other teams despite remaining physical (3rd in hits).
They still had some offense as they ranked 13th in goal scoring last season but everything else about Ottawa’s game outright sucked. They were near the bottom in goals against, penalty killing and powerplay. Erik Karlsson posted terrific numbers as he acquired 82 points in 82 games. Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman were tearing it up offensively but the bad news is that Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris had disappointing seasons. Curtis Lazar and Cody Ceci have yet to have good seasons but they’re primed for a breakout right now.
With Dion Phaneuf and Derrick Brassard now in the mix for a full year, the defence will improve slightly but they won’t be stalwarts on the back end. Anderson and Hammond will bounce back from mediocre seasons as they look to get back in the playoffs.
Overall this team will improve from within as they have the skill, work ethic, physicality and big-body presence on the wing so expect a wild card seat from the Senators although this choice is a bit of a gamble.
2nd Wild Card Seed; The Columbus Blue Jackets
The choice for the last playoff seed in the Eastern Conference was a hard choice between Carolina and Columbus for me. At the end of the day, I chose Columbus based on defensive improvements from within. It was an absolutely miserable start for the B.J’s last season as they couldn’t recover from their terrible on-ice impression. The defence was non-existent and it was so bad that even mediocre teams like Vancouver and Toronto were having offensive heydeys against them. Last season, Columbus made some changes as they brought in Seth Jones as they shipped Ryan Johansen to Nashville.
Columbus had the 9th best offense, but yet, some of the worst defense last season. That will change this year as Ryan Murray, Seth Jones, Jack Johnson and David Savard have a real chance to gel this season. Columbus won’t miss Ryan Johansen too much as Alex Wennberg has come into his own replacing him. The top six forward group has a good mix of grit and skill as Boone Jenner, Nick Foligno, Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell and Alex Wennberg make up the top forward cast.
With John Tortorella as Head Coach, this team will be gritty and defensively active. They will block a lot of shots and play “in your face” type of hockey. With goaltending, Joonas Korpisalo posted good numbers despite the adversity last season so expect him to be the starting goalie unless Bobrovsky can prove himself otherwise.
Overall the Blue Jackets will be a team you’ll want to keep an eye on because they can make John Tortorella look very good behind the bench. I believe Tortorella, as controversial as he is, can coach a young hockey team as long as the kids have thick skin. Expect a trip to the playoffs as the Jackets will have improved structure and focus this year.
As far as non-playoff teams are concerned, there isn’t much to talk about but I will highlight who will be finishing near the bottom.
Here is the list of the teams who will be golfing early this season:
9th: Carolina Hurricanes
10th: Toronto Maple Leafs
11th: Philadelphia Flyers
12th: Detroit Red Wings
13th: New York Rangers
14th: Boston Bruins
15th: Buffalo Sabres
16th: New Jersey Devils
As far as the Stanley Cup Finals are concerned, we have the Tampa Bay Lightning edging out the San Jose Sharks in 7 games after the Sharks take a 3-0 series lead only to blow it in the end! I would not blame the entire Sharks team if they retire if a scenario like that would happen but history does repeat itself in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? As far as I can recall, the Sharks did flop a 3-0 series lead before, didn’t they?
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