This has to be the most underwhelming start to an NHL season in my lifetime. Its one of those years where its not as easy to get excited for the season. I have a couple theories.
- These MLB playoffs have been amazing through the first week.
- Minnesota people are too caught up in the Vikings to care about hockey right now
Its some combination of both.
One of my friends actually confirmed the 2nd theory to me. I asked him if he was excited for the season and he said that him and other hockey fans are too into the Vikings right now to care. Who would have ever thought that, people from Minnesota, the State of Hockey, let alone high school hockey players in Minnesota, would not be excited for hockey season? What a time to be alive.
But no one has seemed to feel how I feel. Typical, right?
My reason for not being super stoked for this NHL season? I just don’t think a lot has changed.
There were big moves this Summer, sure, but they only occurred between two or three teams. Besides that, every team is practically the same. We know exactly how good most of these teams are gonna be.
There’s a lack of good conversations about teams or players. “How are the Sharks gonna be?” “How are the Stars gonna be?” “Is Connor McDavid gonna get better this year?”
WE KNOW THESE ANSWERS PEOPLE!
So, instead of doing a massive preview, repeating half of the same things I said about most of the teams last year, I’m just gonna try and figure out what we don’t know, and cover what has and will change this season.
The Predators, Panthers, and Sabres, and Coyotes got better
The four teams we can definitely say got better this offseason were Florida, Nashville, and Buffalo, and Arizona. The Panthers know they have a good talent core, but the addition of Keith Yandle adds another defensive presence to an already solid group. We’re heading into Aaron Ekblad’s third year, which should be productive once again, unless you believe in guys getting paid and then falling off.
Besides that, this is the same Florida team. Which is fine, they won’t get worse, and probably won’t get better because the Lightning are the biggest threat in the division.
Nashville could very well be the team to beat in the Central Division. The addition of P.K. Subban is huge. Nashville was in the middle of the pack when it came to defense last season. Subban boasts a massive upgrade. And who gets a guy as good on both sides of the ice as Subban for Shea Weber?
I honestly think getting rid of Weber is being totally underrated. There seemed to be a struggle over who’s team it was when Weber was there, granted his massive salary that he didn’t really deserve. Weber being shipped out opens up the leadership to Subban, and gets rid of an underperformer.
Buffalo is one of those dark-horse teams this year. They’re extremely talented on the offensive front, and I loved the addition of Kyle Okposo to an already fast and crafty team. Defensively Cody Franson leads the charge.
Their goalie situation is a little unnerving. Robin Lehner didn’t play a ton last season, and Anders Nilsson is a career backup. That, in combination with the defense being the least talented part of this team, could be an element of concern throughout the year.
Arizona is a team that I really like, and I think they could make a run at a playoff spot. They’re still so young. Look at these names and birthdates:
- Max Domi-1995
- Anthony Duclair-1995
- Dylan Strome-1997
- Jakob Chychrun-1998
This is where the talent is. But its a lot of raw talent at this point.
The Coyotes are gonna be really fun, but they have a lot of inexperience. Thats the difference between them and say, Minnesota. But watch out for these Coyotes.
I don’t see Colorado as huge threat. They’re stacked at one position (Center) and thats it.
The Rangers and Canadiens (Maybe?) got worse
Not gonna lie, this Rangers roster feels very much like another underachieving year, where they get the 5th or 6th overall seed in the playoffs, and exit early. That doesn’t mean its not talented. Its just what Rangers fans expect.
New York still has plenty of good players. They didn’t break up the core. Derrick Brassard is now in Ottawa (more on them later), but besides that its basically the same team.
Uh oh. Thats the problem. Its the same team. Yeah, they’re good. But we know how this goes. Anyone who knows hockey knows how this is gonna go.
This is why I think New York got worse over the Summer. Nothing was done to make this team any better. Jimmy Vesey is nice, sure, but I don’t know if he fits on New York’s top two lines. And I’m not expecting him to largely contribute this year. Its a long term move for a win-now team.
As for Montreal, they were one of the top two stories of the Summer. The P.K. Subban trade still remains terrible, but again, P.K. for Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw makes it sound better.
Thats why I left the maybe in the headline. Montreal lost their best player but they have plenty of other talent. I think last year was a little flukey, and Carey Price’s injury really hurt the team’s confidence. But Michel Therrien is gone now and…
Michel Therrien is still the Habs’ coach.
Thats kinda an issue.
Look, the time to can Therrien was last year. Things were that bad.
Now, the Canadiens enter a situation where, if they’re good, they think Therrien is fine. Then you’re dealing with a bad coach helped out by a good team (Like Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City).
With that and the loss of Subban, its fair to say Montreal got worse. But I also expect this year to be a rebound-one for them.
This year is about the sleepers
With so much already known, we need to dive into some teams that people may not know a ton about or have a feel for. These are the sleepers who might catch some people off guard.
The “Don’t forget about us!” Category
- Ottawa Senators
- Philadelphia Flyers
Ottawa is a surprise here for many people. I high on this team and think they could even make a playoff push. Let me make my case.
First, the Senators are very good defensively. Dion Phaneuf, Chris Wideman and Erik Karlsson are three quality defenseman to put in front of Andrew Hammond. Karlsson is a star, and Phaneuf just never got adjusted in time to help Ottawa make a late-season push last year.
Offensively they’re also talented. Mark Stone-Derick Brassard-Mike Hoffman is a pretty good first line, with Bobby Ryan probably being their 4th best player. But they lack depth with their attackers, and thats where most of the concern is.
Look at last year though. Pittsburgh won games by being physical and playing good defense. I’m not comparing Ottawa and Pittsburgh; they’re clearly on different levels. But Ottawa is doing the right things to eventually get to Pittsburgh’s level, and the fact that they’re already doing these things can help them out greatly this season.
The Flyers aren’t really an unknown to hockey people, but they’re still going to be underrated early in the year.
Okay, prediction time!
Expect a lot of similar teams to make it this year. But we know there will always be surprises.
Atlantic Top 3
- Tampa Bay
Metropolitan Top 3
East Wild Cards
No surprises here besides Buffalo making an appearance. I think the Flyers’ run last year was extremely flukey due to the fact that no one was really better than them in the East, and Detroit’s struggles helped them majorly. Also, I didn’t have the balls to put Ottawa in. Replacing the Islanders with Ottawa was a little too unnerving for me.
Central Top 3
- St. Louis
Pacific Top 3
- San Jose
- Los Angeles
West Wild Cards
Nothing real interesting here, but the decisions I had to make for the 2nd wild card spot were tough. I was about to go all-in on Arizona until I realized the Wild were a franchise. A franchise that plays 20 minutes from my house.
Anyways, I wound up settling on the Wild because they have a ton of talent and experience. Plus, a new coach in Bruce Boudreau. The case for Minnesota is that they can only get better after last year. They got rid of some guys who weren’t producing or weren’t needed, and now just need to focus on being consistent.
I so badly wanted to give Arizona the 2nd Wild Card until some of my Wild friends talked me out of it. I will not be surprised though if Arizona sneaks in, especially if Anaheim starts out at a pace similar pace to last year.