The time of the year where the air gets cool and crisp, means it’s time for the NHL to start up again. Unless you live in the northern part of the US where it’s been 80s and 90s over the past few weeks. However, with the nice weather, it’s hard to believe that the three and a half months have already passed since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year becoming the first team to repeat since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
Below you will find a primer to each division along with predictions for all of the major awards and playoffs.
This is a division that seems to be undergoing a changing of the guard over the next couple of years. The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked everybody last year by coming out of nowhere, led by the first pick of the 2016 draft, Auston Matthews, to grab the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and challenge Washington before losing in 6 games in the Metropolitan Divisional Semifinal. With another year, Toronto looks to build with their promising young core led by Mathews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
However, reigning divisional champs, Montreal will have something to say about that as they have the best goaltender to never win anything in Carey Price leading them again along with Shea Weber quarterbacking the power play.
Meanwhile, Ottawa will try to build off of their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final, but can they survive the loss of Marc Methot? And will Craig Anderson be able to avoid a slump after his phenomenal year?
Tampa Bay looks to be finally healthy with Steven Stamkos returning from injury. If he’s healthy watch out, as Tampa will be contending for the divisional crown assuming that they get good goaltending play from Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Boston could struggle if they don’t get more secondary scoring to support Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, they will need a huge year from Tuukka Rask.
An interesting team to watch is Florida, they have proven that if they can stay healthy they have the talent to make the playoffs. If Aaron Ekblad has a strong year they will be in the mix for sure.
A big question for Buffalo is can Jack Eichel stay healthy and elevate his team? If he can stay healthy he should have a monster season but do they have enough around him?
Sadly the Detroit Red Wings will remain in their rebuild after 25 years of excellence; however, the future is bright for them as they have exciting pieces in Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.
As is always the case with this division, the two biggest intriguing storylines will revolve around the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The biggest storyline in the NHL is can Pittsburgh three peat for the first time since the 1980s New York Islanders? The answer to that will revolve around the healthy of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray.
For the Capitals after losing yet again in a Game 7, this time to Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Divisional Final, will they be able to get over the hump after losing several key defensive pieces in Kevin Shattenkirk and Matt Nikisen? This is not as deep of a team anymore and Alex Ovechkin will need to raise his game to another level to get Washington over the hump.
The New York Rangers bolstered their blue line corps with the addition of hometown boy Shattenkirk, but they lost a lot on offense with the departure of Derek Stepan and do they have enough scoring to get by?
Meanwhile, Columbus continues to add more talent as they got more dangerous offensively with the addition of Artemi Panarin who will have a chance to prove he can be the guy as he plays without Patrick Kane. They’re a nasty, physical young team that hopes with more offense they can take another step forward.
Meanwhile the New York Islanders hope to retain John Tavares and the addition of Jordan Eberle certainly doesn’t hurt but the Islanders didn’t get substantially better in the offseason.
The New Jersey Devils added first overall pick Nico Hirschier but he alone will not fix what is wrong with New Jersey which continues to waste the prime of Corey Schneider’s career.
Philadelphia has Nolan Patrick in the fold now; however, much like New Jersey they haven’t been able to fix their goaltending woes either which prevent them from challenging for a playoff berth.
Finally, Carolina is an intriguing team as they try to become Chicago East with the additions of Marcus Kruger, Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Scott Darling. These additions along with a young core led by Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Sebastian Aho have the potential to surprise some people.
In a division where it seems that it’s never good to be the division winner, that history continued last season. The Dallas Stars who won the division in the 2015-2016 season, didn’t make the playoffs as they were ravaged by injuries. Additions of Ken Hitchcock, Ben Bishop and Marc Methot should make this team more defensively focused and tougher to play.
Chicago surprised everybody by getting swept by Nashville in the Central Divisional semifinal after gaining the number one seed in the Western Conference. A mini retooling of the roster brought Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp back to help Jonathan Toews and Kane which should help the Blackhawks with scoring depth.
The Nashville Predators were the trendy pick at the start of the season but struggled to adapt with the addition of PK Subban but from midseason on they were humming along. Nashville had an amazing run that ended in the Stanley Cup Final.
Minnesota surprised everybody last year with a strong regular season. But again the struggles of Bruce Boudreau teams in the playoffs happened as they lost in the Central Divisional Semifinal. If Eric Staal can have another big year, Minnesota should be right there at the end of the season.
Mike Yeo got his revenge as he took over the St. Louis Blues in the middle of the season to lead them to the playoffs and upset his old team Minnesota. Injuries are a huge concern on the blue line already and they will only go as far as Jake Allen takes them.
Offense isn’t the problem in Winnipeg. They are absolutely loaded with offensive talent. Mark Schiefle and Patrick Laine lead the way and had monster years last season. But can the defense and Steve Mason in goal do enough to get Winnipeg back to the playoffs?
And in Colorado they continue to be a dumpster fire that seems to be directionless. They still haven’t traded Matt Duchene and seemed destined to be the worst team in the league again this season as they struggle on defense and putting the puck in the net.
The other big story in Canada last year was the ascension of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers who burst onto the scene and made the playoffs while McDavid took home the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. However, Edmonton isn’t just McDavid, they have Leon Draisiatl and Cam Talbot as part of a dangerous young core. Talbot was superb in the playoffs after playing 74 games in the regular season.
But before that they will have to go through the bully of the Pacific in the bruising Anaheim Ducks. Ryan Getzlaf had a great second half of the year and then teamed up with Ryan Kesler to shut down McDavid and company in a classic 7 game Pacific Divisional Final. Anaheim is loaded on the blue line and seem poised to make another huge playoff run.
It’s rare to see in this day and age that a team doesn’t make any moves in the offseason to bring back the same team but that’s what the San Jose Sharks did. But San Jose is still talented with Brett Burns bringing a ton of offense from the blue line and Martin Jones in net; however, this feels like the last run with this aging core of players who only lost Patrick Marleau in the offseason. .
The Calgary Flames added several veterans to help the young kids along the way. The additions of Mike Smith and Jaromir Jagr bring veteran leadership to a team looking to recover from a shellacking in the first round of the playoffs. If Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan continue to grow, Calgary will be good for a long time.
Meanwhile the other team in western Canada, the Vancouver Canucks, seems to never want to pick a direction. The Sedin twins are past their prime but the additions of Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto appear to be win now moves when Vancouver should be looking to the future.
Another team that seems to be in between is the Los Angeles Kings who got rid of Darryl Sutter as their coach. But this a team that seems to be slower and not adapting to a faster NHL. If they are to get back to their glory days, they will need Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty rebound and be excellent along with good health for Jonathan Quick.
One team that is going to be at the bottom but actually does have a direction is the Arizona Coyotes who are in a youth movement. There are the pieces for the future with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair leading the way and the addition of Niklas Hjalmarsson will bring veteran leadership to a young locker room.
Finally, the Vegas Golden Knights enter the league with a mish mash of parts. But they have talent in goal with three time Cup winner, Marc Andre Fleury and the presence of him should keep Vegas in a lot of games. With Fleury, Nate Schmidt, James Neal and others, will that be enough to keep them out of the basement?
- Toronto Maple Leafs-They are loaded with Matthews and company and the addition of Marleau brings veteran leadership and scoring to make them even more dangerous and win their first division title.
- Tampa Bay Lightning-One of these years they have to be healthy right? With Hedman and Nikita Kucherov leading the way, this is a team that no longer relies on just Stamkos to thrive.
- Montreal Canadiens- Can Jonathan Drouin elevate his game in Montral with top line minutes? If Price goes down, they are in trouble but his play in net will allow Montreal to secure a guaranteed playoff berth
- Florida Panthers-The Panthers are a team that was ravaged by injuries last season. Luongo has played well and they will get bounce back performances from Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau to sneak in as a wild card team.
- Buffalo Sabres-It will be a positive step forward for Buffalo as Eichel shows he is a star in the making. The goaltending of Robin Lehner will prevent them from making the playoffs
- Boston Bruins-A team in transition, they need Rask to be sensational to get into the playoffs. However, without a true superstar among the forwards or defense, Rask won’t be enough for them to get in the playoffs.
- Ottawa Senators-The darlings of last season fall to earth as the loss of Methot will hurt the team defensively along with the anticipated regression of Craig Anderson.
- Detroit Red Wings-The glory days are over and the long rebuild begins for Detroit but the promise is there with Larkin, Athanansiou and Anthony Mantha, a last place finish is assured.
- Pittsburgh Penguins-The Stanley Cup champs are the class of their division and with Crosby, Malkin and Letang leading the way, they should barely win their division.
- Columbus Blue Jackets-John Tortorella has changed the culture of this team and the addition of Panarin bring more offense to a defensive team that has stellar goaltending in Bobrovsky.
- Washington Capitals-They won’t win the division while they retool. Holtby will need to be great in net with new pieces on the blue line in front of him but again the playoffs will be key for them.
- Carolina Hurricanes-Loaded with young talent such as Jaccob Slavin, Faulk, Hanifin, they have the potential to surprise. Having Justin Williams back as a veteran forward will give Carolina the boost they need to return to the postseason.
- New York Rangers-Lundqvist is still there and they have a good blue line that will provide points. However, the lack of elite offensive talent will cost them this year as they barely miss out on the playoffs.
- New York Islanders-Eberle will be a great running mate for Tavares; however, they struggle in goal and with secondary scoring and defense. They will be in the running for a spot but fall short.
- Philadelphia Flyers-They’re in the middle between being competitive and rebuilding. Nolan Patrick should be fun to watch as swell as their blue line but they don’t have enough pieces.
- New Jersey Devils-Schneider keeps them in games and it should be fun to watch Hischier but they are another team that doesn’t have enough on the blue line to win consistently.
- Nashville Predators-Ryan Johansen is healthy and Pekka Rinne is still in net. They should be more consistent after their incredible run next year and win a tough division with the best blue line in the West.
- Dallas Stars-Hitchcock’s system will bring discipline to a great offensive team. That along with no debate about the number one goalie with Bishop in tow will have Dallas back in the playoffs.
- Chicago Blackhawks-Did the retooling help? Saad back with Toews should make the line dangerous and Nick Schmaltz should have a break out year with Kane. The key will be the blue line where there are unknowns after Keith and Seabrook.
- Minnesota Wild-Minnesota thrived under Boudreau last season and they should make the playoffs again. Parise should stay healthy and help Minnesota which returns every contributor snag a wild card spot.
- St. Louis Blues-After Yeo took over, they were spectacular. Getting Brayden Schenn to play on the first line gives them some serious offensive power. Expect Allen to regress but do just enough to get the second wild card spot.
- Winnipeg Jets-They will be able to outscore teams with their tremendous offensive talent. But the lack of an upgrade in net will cost them a playoff berth as they’ll be just on the outside looking in.
- Colorado Avalanche-They don’t have enough defense and not enough offense. Nathan McKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have regressed and that’s not good for them as they stare at another last place finish.
- Edmonton Oilers-McDavid leads the way again as they take another step forward while Talbot will show that he is the ironman in goal. They will lead the league in goals and get home ice which will be crucial early.
- Anaheim Ducks-The bully of the Pacific, they will jell later in the season and make a late run. Getzlaf and a resurgent Perry will lead the way for Anaheim as they look to make their 3rd conference final in 4 years.
- Calgary Flames-They have a lot of great young talent and that will continue to mature as Jagr shows them how to handle increased expectations. Mike Smith is an upgrade in goal and will solidify their weakest position as they make the playoffs.
- San Jose Sharks-They will fight for a playoff spot to the bitter end but another year for a core that didn’t add anything will cost them. But don’t be surprised if they wind up in the playoffs as their experience counts for something.
- Arizona Coyotes-Arizona will take another step forward and continue to improve and play meaningful games late. Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan show that they’re serous about winning and will help a young core grow.
- Los Angeles Kings-Another team that is long in the tooth, they need Kopitar and Brown to bounce back in order to make the playoffs. Their lack of depth will cost them a playoff spot in a tough division.
- Vegas Golden Knights-The expansion team won’t finish last thanks to the performance of Fleury. A young team that will get better as the year goes along and show the potential to make the playoffs in the next few years.
- Vancouver Canucks-The real question will be if they’re out of it by the middle of December if the Sedins get traded to chase that elusive Stanley Cup. There’s not enough talent for them to compete with everybody else.
1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. W1.) Carolina Hurricanes-Toronto in 6
2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Montreal Canadiens-Tampa Bay in 5
1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. W2.) Florida Panthers-Pittsburgh in 5
2.) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. 3.) Washington Capitals-Columbus in 7
1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 6
1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Columbus Blue Jackets-Pittsburgh in 7
1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 7
Tampa Bay is a team that has been bit by the injury bug the past two seasons but they’ll be healthy this year entering the postseason and will beat a tough Toronto team and also Columbus will put Pittsburgh through a physical series the round before that they won’t be able to recover from. Vasilevskiy will outduel Murray in an incredible series that will see the impact that new addition Chris Kunitz has on both his new team and old team.
1.) Nashville Predators vs. W1.) Minnesota Wild-Nashville in 6
2.) Dallas Stars vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6
1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. W2.) St. Louis Blues-Edmonton in 5
2.) Anaheim Ducks vs. 3.) Calgary Flames-Anaheim in 7
1.) Nashville Predators vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7
1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 2.) Anaheim Ducks-Edmonton in 7
1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6
The Chicago team that you see to start the season will not be the same team at the end of the season as they’ll use the cap space available from the departure of Marian Hossa. Edmonton will get their revenge against Anaheim in another memorable series. Chicago with improved depth will get their revenge on Nashville as they’ll have the speed to skate with them this year. Edmonton is still a year away and will learn another important lesson on their journey to the Cup when Toews and company prevail over them.
Stanley Cup Final
2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7
Never discount what an angry Toews can do. He’s been embarrassed before when the Blackhawks lost in the first round in 2011 and 2012. However. the sweep last year against Nashville embarrassed him again. To add insult to injury Crosby won his third cup and completed something that Toews wasn’t able to by repeating as Stanley Cup Champion. Toews and company want to prove that they should be mentioned among the elite franchises of all time and the last time they were eliminated in the first round twice? They won the Cup the next year. With the radar not on them and a deeper supporting cast, they will sneak up on everybody and win on the road in a Game 7 to win their fourth cup in nine seasons.
Hart: Sidney Crosby
Art Ross: Connor McDavid
Rocket Richard: Patrick Laine
Norris: P.K. Subban
Vezina: Matt Murray
Calder: Nico Hischier
Jack Adams: Bill Peters