2015-2016 NHL Season Preview
By JOSH ROTHSTEIN
The NHL Season began this month with Stanley Cup Champions the Chicago Blackhawks set to defend their title against the team that accumulated the most points in last year’s regular season, the New York Rangers. Thirty teams have their hopes set on raising the cup in June. Here are my predictions for this year.
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
The defending Eastern Conference champions are primed for another deep playoff run. Star forward Steven Stamkos and rising goaltender Ben Bishop will lead the Lightning to the top of the Eastern Conference.
2) Montreal Canadiens
Last season, the Montreal Canadiens rode on the back of star goaltender Carey Price all the way to the playoffs. Nothing much has changed. They will be in the playoffs comfortably, but will struggle to score enough goals to make serious headway come April and May.
3) Ottawa Senators
Struggling throughout the first half of the season, the Senators charged towards the playoffs behind goaltender Andrew Hammond. However, he struggled in the playoffs and Ottawa lost to Montreal in the first round. The outlook for this season is similar, as Craig Anderson will retain his position as starting goaltender and Ottawa will sneak into the playoffs as a lower seed again.
4) Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for 24 straight seasons. This year the streak will end. Mike Green will help the defense that struggled last season, but Detroit will still let in a too many goals to make the playoffs.
5) Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers were one of the surprise packages in the NHL last year. I project a similar season for Florida this time around, another step in the right direction in this rebuild of the organization.
6) Boston Bruins
After going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final the season before last, Boston missed the playoffs entirely last season. Boston struggled to score last year, and this year will be more of the same. Goaltender Tuukka Rask will keep Boston afloat, but they will miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
7) Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres continue to rebuild as they took Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Buffalo is beginning to take steps in the right direction and in a few years will be able to contend for the playoffs.
8) Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto is also rebuilding. However, Toronto is a few steps behind Buffalo in the rebuilding process. They will struggle a whole lot this season and may end up with the fewest points in the league.
1) New York Rangers
The reigning owner of the President’s Trophy, awarded for the team that accumulates the most points during the regular season, did not do all that much in terms of personnel over the offseason. That may be a good thing for New York, as they still look to be the most complete team in the division.
2) Washington Capitals
Washington ended up taking second place in the division on the final day of last season. With the addition of T.J. Oshie to add to the already potent Capitals attack, I believe they will be closer to taking first place.
3) New York Islanders
The Islanders may have surprised a few people last season, as they were at the top of the division for a few weeks. They ultimately finished third, and I project a similar scenario for New York in their first season at the Barclays Center.
4) Columbus Blue Jackets
Predicted by many to make the playoffs last season, Columbus was absolutely decimated by injuries. In the offseason, they acquired Brandon Saad from Chicago. If they can stay healthy, they can make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
5) Pittsburgh Penguins
We know they have Malkin and Crosby. We have known for years they can score with the best scoring teams in the NHL. The play of Marc Andre-Fluery in goal is a huge question mark for this team. They will score just enough to get into the playoffs.
6) Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers come into the 2015-16 season somewhat stuck between two options. They are not quite bad enough to go into a full blown rebuild, but not good enough to contend for the playoffs. The Flyers’ defense is the one unit that will hold this team back. Middle of the pack in a strong division seems about right.
7) New Jersey Devils
The Devils, unlike the Flyers, are in full blown rebuild mode. However, they still have one of the league’s most underrated goaltenders in Cory Schneider. Schneider will be able to keep New Jersey in a lot of low scoring games, but they will not be able to score enough to stay competitive in a tough Metropolitan Division.
8) Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina is in a similar position to New Jersey. They are looking to contend not now, but in the future. One would expect general manager Ron Francis to deal with his aging players such as Eric Staal. Expect Carolina to remain towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference for at least a few more seasons.
1) St. Louis Blues
In the toughest division in the NHL, St. Louis looks to be the most complete in their division, and maybe the most complete team in the NHL. The only thing that may hold this team back is the goaltender position. If the platoon of Jake Allen and Brian Elliott works, there may be hockey in St. Louis in late June.
2) Chicago Blackhawks
The offseason for Chicago was occupied by the star forward Patrick being accused of rape. He has not been tried in court yet, and has started the season on the Blackhawks’ roster. Amidst all of this offseason turmoil, the defending Stanley Cup Champions will still be a factor in the playoffs.
3) Nashville Predators
One of last season’s surprise packages, Nashville, had a fantastic regular season in which they led the Central Division for a large chunk of the season. They struggled in the playoffs, and I firmly believe Nashville is now the third best team in what might be the best division in the NHL.
4) Dallas Stars
After finishing a disappointing seven points out of the playoff picture, I predict Dallas will be one of the surprise teams in the league this season. They got themselves a new goaltender from the Sharks in Antti Niemi. I believe Dallas can slip into the playoffs and wreak havoc in the Western Conference playoffs.
5) Winnipeg Jets
The Jets were the last seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, and I project a similar season for the Manitobans. They are still lacking a tier one talent, as their leading goal scorer Blake Wheeler only had 26 goals. Nonetheless, the Jets have enough to slide into the playoffs with their depth in all facets of the game.
6) Minnesota Wild
The Wild, similar to the Senators in the Eastern Conference, rode a no-name goaltender all the way to the playoffs. Devan Dubnyk had struggled in his career previously, and I believe his success in Minnesota was an anomaly. In a tough division, Minnesota will struggle to make the playoffs again.
7) Colorado Avalanche
Since selecting Matt Duchene third overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, they have struggled to surround him with the pieces needed to make a long run in the NHL playoffs. Surprisingly, last season, it was their scoring that wasn’t at the level necessary to contend. Players like Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog have tons of potential, but Duchene is not getting any younger.
1) Anaheim Ducks
Holding the best record in the Western Conference last season, the Ducks are primed to finally make it over the hump into the Stanley Cup. They have had no problems accumulating points in the regular season, but the Ducks have to figure out what changes when the playoffs roll around. I predict the Ducks once again will win the Pacific, but will struggle again in the playoffs.
2) Calgary Flames
Last season, the Flames were led by young star Johnny Gaudreau. Last year, he tallied 24 goals along with 40 assists. With a full season of high draft pick Sam Bennett, this year the Flames should fare even better than their third place finish last year.
3) San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are an interesting team this season. The tandem of Alex Stalock and Martin Jones should keep the Sharks in enough games to contend. In addition, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are two top forwards in this league. The Sharks will have just enough to be one of the last teams in the Western Conference playoffs.
4) Los Angeles Kings
One season removed from winning the Stanley Cup, the Kings enter this season after missing the playoffs entirely last season.I believe they will have a similar season this year, even if they play in a lackluster Pacific Division. Jonathan Quick will struggle again and will end up on the outside looking in.
5) Edmonton Oilers
The arrow may finally be pointing up Edmonton. They once again won the draft lottery, selecting one of the most exciting prospects the league has seen in qutie some time, Connor McDavid. They also acquired Cam Talbot who, after being a solid backup in New York, has a chance to shine. This season will be a huge step towards contention for Edmonton. It won’t be this year, but playoff hockey will be back in Edmonton’s near future.
6) Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are aging with their main source of offense, twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin both into their mid-thirties. The goaltending has been a major question ever since the demise of Roberto Luongo and the trade of Cory Schneider to New Jersey.
7) Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes looked to be on the rise after making the playoffs in the 2011-2012 season. In fact, they were just three wins away from making the Stanley Cup finals. However, that season proved to be an anomaly as they have failed to come close to the playoffs since. Expect more struggles in Glendale this season.