The 2015-16 NHL season is finally here. Plenty has changed in the offseason, players have swapped teams, new head coaches take the helm, and let’s not forget about this whole 3 vs 3 overtime experiment that will greatly impact who makes the postseason and whose wife doesn’t have to deal with a playoff beard. With all this in mind, it is only customary that every sports site make its predictions for the upcoming season, and here is mine. Read it and weep ESPN.
Bold = Division Bid
Italics = Wild Card Bid
- Tampa: Young, fast, big, and skilled, Tampa was viewed as a team on the rise last year that arrived a year earlier than expected by making it all the way to the Cup Finals. They’re the class of the Atlantic and should be for a very long time.
- Montreal: The Habs will enter this season using much the same formula they’ve relied on the last few years: play solid defense and rely on Carey Price to bail you out when the inevitable breakdown comes. It’s good enough to make the playoffs, but in a tougher East, Montreal probably won’t do much more than that.
- Detroit: The reviews on new coach Jeff Blashill have been excellent so far, and with a young (by Detroit’s standards) roster, many of whom played for him at some point in AHL Grand Rapids, the Red Wings streak of 24 consecutive postseason appearances should continue—provided the aging big guns stay reasonably healthy.
- Ottawa: They may be young and fun, but are they good? They became the story of the season last year when Andrew Hammond led them to an unlikely playoff berth. With questions on defense, they’ll need either Craig Anderson or Hammond to again step up and play over their heads to make the playoffs.
- Florida: As if the sight of Jaromir Jagr skating alongside two teenagers wasn’t good enough, egged on by Roberto Luongo, the leagues elder statesmen has pledged to regrow his once-glorious mullet. Playoffs? Probably not. Another year of the Jagr show? Yes please.
- Boston: The San Francisco 49ers of the NHL, in the respect that you look at them and go “what the hell is going on over there?” The Bruins certainly were active in the offseason. Are they better? No way. If they get off to a poor start Claude Julien could quickly find himself out of a job.
- Toronto: There’s talk of the Leafs squeaking into the playoffs, but Mike Babcock, as good as he is, is no miracle worker. This is a team that is rebuilding (retooling if you prefer) and traded their top scorer in the offseason for prospects. They won’t be the dysfunctional joke they morphed into last season, but this team is at least a year away.
- Buffalo: The only reason they’re picked to finish 8th is because they’re goaltending situation doesn’t inspire much faith. Robin Lehner is young and talented, but has had very little success, and Chad Johnson was terrible for the Islanders last year. Oh yeah, they both got shelled in the preseason too. Regardless, this team will be vastly improved from last years tank-tastic 54-point, 1.87 goals per game squad. Jack Eichel is the real deal, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.
- Washington: “If not now, then when?” Should be the mantra for the 2015 Washington Capitals. The Caps had an excellent offseason in adding T.J. Oshie and noted clutch performer Justin Williams, and those additions, plus the continued maturation of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, should be enough for them to emerge at the top of a very deep and difficult Metropolitan.
- Pittsburgh: With the addition of Phil Kessel, it’s not a stretch at all to say Pittsburgh could (should) be the top offensive team in the league, health permitting. Defensively though…that’s another story. There’s very little depth on the back end for this team, and after the world class top two of injury prone Kris Letang and youngster Olli Maatta, the quality takes a nose dive. Regardless, they’ll score a ton, and Marc-Andre Fleury has quietly been solid the last few seasons. If they don’t improve that defense, advancing in the playoffs will be tough sledding though.
- New York Rangers: After winning the Presidents Trophy, the Blueshirts are due to take a bit of a step back in the regular season—if for no other reason than the teams around them all improved. Will they average 3 goals per game again? Probably not. But making the playoffs should be little more than a formality for a roster that returns almost everyone from a team that was a game away from the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago. Beyond that, the Rangers will need youngsters such as Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes to emerge as stars in their own right for this team to take the next step.
- Columbus: They can’t possibly be as snake bitten as last year, right? The Jackets, coming off a surprise playoff berth the year before, had everything go wrong health wise in 2014, leading the league with an absurd 502 man-games lost to injury. But with Brandon Saad coming over from Chicago to form a formidable 1-2 with Ryan Johansen, and Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes, there’s every reason to believe Columbus can grab a Wild Card spot, and be the type of young, energetic team no one wants to see in the playoffs.
- New York Islanders: Few teams did less in the offseason than the Islanders. Garth Snow added nothing of consequence to a team that nearly won a playoff series last season and is moving into a new building this year. A gamble? Yep. But, the advantage of being so young is that the Islanders (can we start calling them the Brooklynites?) won’t take a step back, and could improve anyway. That defense is still shaky, but with the likes of John Tavares, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee all just entering their primes, the Islanders will once again light up the scoreboard. Keep an eye on Jack Capuano’s job security, which could come into question if the Isles falter early.
- Philadelphia: The best thing you can say for new head coach Dave Hakstol—a complete unknown—is that he has the duo of Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux at the top of the lineup. Michal Neuvirth is a much needed improvement at backup for a team that will routinely rely on it’s goalies to bail them out after defensive mistakes, but he and Steve Mason can only do so much. If the Metropolitan division wasn’t so strong, the Flyers could maybe push for a Wild Card spot, but with a rookie coach and questionable depth, it won’t be easy. Don’t be surprised if 33-year-old rookie Evgeny Medvedev—Russia’s best defenseman in the last Olympics—is a top pair D by the end of the year.
- New Jersey: New GM, new coach, and a changing of the guard with the departure of the legendary Lou Lamoriello in the offseason. Problem is, Sweet Lou left the cupboard relatively bare. The strength of this team is their goaltender and a young—but unproven—defense corp, but offense will be tough to come by, even with John Hynes pledging to play a more up-temp, aesthetically pleasing brand of hockey than we’re used to seeing out of the Devils. For all their issues, the presence of Cory Schneider is enough to keep them out of the division cellar.
- Carolina: The Hurricanes roster is one Staal short of a hat trick, but even if they cloned the two that they have it might not be enough to make the playoffs. Just about the only question for this team is if—or when—they start selling off pieces. Cam Ward is likely available if anyone will take his contract. Jeff Skinner has been rumored to be on the move for some time to. As for the Staal’s (Eric and Jordan), is it more important for them to remain a package deal, or is being dealt separately something they’re open to? These are the questions Carolina will have to deal with if another poor start steers them closer towards a full on rebuild.