Hockey is back! After being stuck watching baseball all summer, it is finally time to devote our attention back to the ice. It was an absolutely crazy offseason that saw numerous big name players switch teams. We saw Phil Kessel, Patrick Sharp, Justin Williams, Carl Hagelin, Johnny Oduya, and T.J. Oshie all switch to new teams. Two of the most hyped NHL prospects in recent memory will make their NHL debuts this year in Connor McDavid of the Oilers (1st pick) and Jack Eichel of the Sabres (2nd pick).
This NHL offseason also saw it’s fair share of issues. Stemming from the arena disaster in Phoenix, to the Patrick Kane sexual assault case, to Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards and Slava Voynov having run-ins with the law. National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman also seems firm in upholding the league’s domestic violence policy, or should I say lack of domestic violence policy. This offseason has not been one to remember if you’re the NHL. If you’re a fan, you feel like me; I cannot wait to watch these guys on the ice again.
The first section will be talking about a couple new playoff teams this year, and then we’ll delve into predictions for the top eight teams in each conference. We’ll also have conference finals predictions and a Stanley Cup Champion named at the end.
Columbus Blue Jackets
They finished the season 15-1-1 last year and ended up missing the playoffs by 10 points. This team is a trendy pick to make some serious noise in the Metropolitan Division this year. After losing the most games to injury last year, the key for many teams, but especially the Blue Jackets, is to stay healthy. They added some young offensive firepower in the offseason with the highly regarded Brandon Saad. But, the real player to watch this year is Ryan Murray. Since being taken in the 2012 draft by Columbus, Murray has suited up for only 78 games, less than one third of the games he was eligible for. If they can stay healthy, watch out for Columbus.
Last year, the Central Division was clearly the best in hockey. The two worst teams in the division were Dallas and Colorado. Both of those teams were coming off of playoff seasons in 2013-14 and finished with 92 and 90 points respectively in 2015. This year, the Dallas Stars are going to have one of the most potent offenses in the NHL. I expect the Stars to run away with the most team goals scored this season. The additions of long time Blackhawks Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya provide valuable experience on a team without tons of playoff acumen. But, the real question for this team is goaltending. While the Stars scored 261 goals last year, good enough for 2nd, they also allowed 260 goals, the fourth most in the league. This team can score a lot of goals very fast, but can they stop anybody?
Los Angeles Kings
I know they are technically not a NEW playoff team, but they missed the playoffs last year so they qualify here. After an offseason filled with scandals and legal issues, the Kings just want to play hockey again. Losing Voynov, Richards, and Stoll is going to hurt this team, but they made some offseason additions in Christian Ehrhoff, Milan Lucic, and Jhonas Enroth. Here is what it boils down to for the LA Kings: Does this team care enough to make it to the playoffs? We have seen this team coast for weeks at a time during the regular season. With all the losses this team has had this offseason, will they have a new attitude on the ice? All-in-all, the stars of this team are locked up for the foreseeable future ,which gives this team a legitimate window to compete for Stanley Cups. And Jonathan Quick is still pretty good too.
Playoff Predictions (seeds are not reflected, just finishes by division)
Anaheim Ducks – 1st in Pacific Division
Los Angeles Kings – 2nd in Pacific Division
Calgary Flames – 3rd in Pacific Division
Nashville Predators – 1st in Central Division
St. Louis Blues – 2nd in Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks – 3rd in Central Division
Dallas Stars – 1st Wild Card
Minnesota Wild – 2nd Wild Card
Tampa Bay Lightning – 1st in Atlantic Division
Montreal Canadians – 2nd in Atlantic Division
Detroit Red Wings – 3rd in Atlantic Division
New York Islanders – 1st in Metropolitan Division
Washington Capitals – 2nd in Metropolitan Division
New York Rangers- 3rd in Metropolitan Division
Pittsburgh Penguins – 1st Wild Card
Columbus Blue Jackets – 2nd Wild Card
Conference Championships and Stanley Cup Finals