2016-17 NHL season preview
Spoiler alert, this rookie Auston Matthews is pretty good. The regular season started officially last night and all Matthews did was score four goals becoming the first player in NHL history to score four goals in his NHL debut. This kid is going to be sensational. Know who else is young and is phenomenal? Connor McDavid is 19 years old and he is already the captain on the Edmonton Oilers. Jack Eichel is impressive in Buffalo. The NHL is in very good hands with these youngsters becoming stars in a hurry.
There were some big trades in the offseason most notably the defenseman swap between the Montreal Canadiens and the Nashville Predators. P.K. Subban is a Predator now and Shea Weber is a Canaiden. I think the Predators got the better of this trade. The Oilers traded Taylor Hall, one of their many former first round picks to the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson. Brian Elliott is now the goalie in Calgary. Troy Brouwer is also a Flame. Eric Staal is a member of the Minnesota Wild. A whole lot of movement in the offseason. We’ll see how it translates it on the ice.
Last year no Canadian teams made the postseason. I don’t see that changing at least in the eastern conference. Ottawa has flaws. Montreal is weaker even if they have Carey Price in net. He’ll keep them in games. Losing a guy like P.K. Subban hurts. Andrew Shaw will help and Max Pacioretty is a good player, but Montreal is not making it this year and we have already seen what Auston Matthews can do for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they still have plenty of holes and will just have to wait another year as the young guys continue to grow.
As for the rest of the division, Detroit will make the playoffs, because they always do. They’re not the most talented team in the conference, but they’ll find a way. Boston hasn’t made it to the playoffs the past couple of years, but the addition of David Backes is a big addition. There is a good corp group with Bradd Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. They’ll make it back to the postseason. Buffalo is going to make a push at the playoffs this year thanks to the addition of Kyle Okposo, but they need Jack Eichel to stay healthy and he is going to miss some time at the start of the season with a high ankle sprain. They will make a run, but come up short.
That leaves the two Florida teams, the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Panthers were a bit of a surprise last year and they won’t be sneaking up on teams this year. The Lightning though had a tremendous offseason. They re-signed Steven Stamkos which was their number one priority plus they have a lot of other really great players. The talent on this team is tremendous and their goalie situation is among the best with Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Watch out for the Lightning.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins reside in this division and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Sidney Crosby and his concussion issue he currently has. Overall he should be fine, but this bears watching. The Penguins used speed to win the Stanley Cup last year. They will need to do it again this year. They won’t have any trouble making it back to the playoffs barring injury. Is this the year for the Washington Capitals? Head coach Barry Trotz has them headed in the right direction. They’re great in the regular season, but this whole playoffs thing is just really difficult. No issues with them making it back to the playoffs with Alex Ovechkin.
New Jersey will be better especially with the addition of Taylor Hall. They, like Buffalo, will I think fall just short of the playoffs. Columbus won’t get off to a slow start like they did last year, not with John Torterella manning the bench, but I don’t see them going to the playoffs. Carolina is a ways away and may very well be the worst team in the NHL this season or at the very least the eastern conference.
Given all that the New York Islanders lost Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin in the offseason. All were contributors to their team. They still have John Tavares, but I need to see more than just Tavares for me to believe this team can make it back to the playoffs. The Rangers will be back in it thanks in large part to the man in between the pipes in Henrik Lundqvist. Philadelphia can likely make it back to the playoffs. Then again, they may not.
Eastern Conference playoff teams (* = Atlantic ** = Metropolitan *** = wild card)
Tampa Bay Lightning*
Detroit Red Wings*
New York Rangers**
Eastern Conference Finals
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
The Central division remains the deepest division in the NHL. You can make an argument for every team to make the playoffs. You can also make an argument against almost all of them. In Colorado, losing Patrick Roy as head coach so close to the regular season may have a negative impact. They do have Nathan McKinnon which helps as well as some other young talent, but I think they miss out just like the Winnipeg Jets. At some point the Blackhawks will be negatively impacted by their salary cap woes, but they still have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and that always helps.
This is Ken Hitchcock’s last year coaching for the Blues. Mike Yeo is in waiting. The Blues lost a few guys this offseason. Will it come back to bite them and cause them to miss the playoffs? I feel like it is either the Blues or the Blackhawks that miss out.
The Minnesota Wild will be interesting with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench. He is a great coach in the regular season, but his postseason record hasn’t been wonderful (38-35). Given that the Wild the last few years have gone into a swoon during the regular season, Boudreau seems like just the man for the job. They have a lot of really good players on this team and a mix of veterans and youth.
The two teams that are the most interesting in this division and seemingly will be the favorites in the division are the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. The Stars were an offensive juggernaut last year. Tyler Seguin is one of the best young stars in the game. Unfortunately injuries plagued him the last part of the regular season and into the postseason. Jordie Benn tied for the scoring title if I remember correctly. Patrick Sharp was a great addition. The one weakness the Stars had last year though was goaltending and they did nothing to improve on that in the offseason. That could come back to bite them. The Nashville Predators are going to give them a run the division. Pekka Rinne is one of the best goalies in the game. Filip Forsberg is going to continue to ascend to stardom. Mike Fisher is good. Again I will mention they did acquire Subban. That can help lead the Predators over the top and to a division title.
The Pacific Division is far behind the other divisions. They just send their three guaranteed spots in the playoffs and go about their business. Granted though the three teams are really good like San Jose (defending western conference champions) and Los Angeles Kings (who have two Stanley Cup since 2012). Both of those teams will be back in the postseason this year. Are the Kings going to rise up and be the team to beat in the western conference this year? Anaheim is an intriguing team. They have lots of really good players in Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. I see a slight dip for the Ducks, but they will still earn one of the three guaranteed spots in the playoffs.
The team I really like to ascend this year is the Edmonton Oilers, but there is one caveat. Connor McDavid must stay healthy. We haven’t seen a talent like him in the league since Sidney Crosby came in. They signed Milan Lucic in the lffseason. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is tremendous. They will need to score a lot since their defenseman and goalies aren’t particular strengths, but the Oilers are a team that against my better judgement since they have been acquiring all of this talent in years and haven’t done squat with it (see Taylor Hall trade), will factor into the playoff discussion. If they miss the playoffs, it will just be by a couple of points. Vancouver and Calgary are still building, but the Flames appear to be closer than the Canucks. Still, no playoffs for either of them. Same goes for Arizona. They are probably the worst team in the western conference.
Western Conference playoff teams (* = Central, ** = Pacific, *** = wild card)
Los Angeles Kings**
San Jose Sharks**
I don’t like keeping St. Louis out of the postseason and they would be my one team that I think would take the place of Edmonton, but we’ll run with it. The western conference finals will be Los Angeles versus Dallas.
Stanley Cup Final:
Dallas Stars vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
**Editor's note: Previous post had Los Angeles coming out of the west before as the post was published without hearing the news of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick getting injured which factored into the decision to put the Kings in the Final.**
Stanley Cup champions:
Tampa Bay Lightning
I won’t go into all of the awards and all of the trophies, but I am very much looking forward to this season. It is going to be great and in the end, the Lightning will be the team thanks to their goalies and Stevne Stamkos that skate around with Lord Stanley’s Cup. Enjoy the NHL season everyone.
Coming up Friday: Week 6 NFL previews and predictions