In just 1 week, the 2014/15 NHL season will be underway and the “experts” are out in full force predicting who will finish where in the standings so I thank you for dropping by to see where teams will actually finish.
Other than the odd waiver wire pickup and surprise demotion to the AHL, NHL rosters are quickly coming into focus so it’s fair to begin sussing out winners and losers.
Without further ado, here is how I see the WC shaping up this winter.
1) The St. Louis Blues.
The Blues finished with 111 points last season…3rd in the WC and 4th overall in the NHL. They did so despite losing their last 6 games in a row. That uncharacteristic swoon likely cost them the President’s Trophy and an easy first round playoff matchup. In the offseason, the Blues added Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera at centre making their centre depth among the best in the league with Statsny, David Backes, Patrick Berglund, Steve Ott, Max Lapierre and Lehtera. Yikes.
Their blue line is among the best in the league as well so the only questions are in goal where Brian Elliot (.922) and Jake Allen (.905) should be able to provide at least league average goaltending which, considering their tremendous depth in every other area of the lineup makes this a team with virtually no holes. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are two young players on the cusp of greatness and draft choice Robby Fabbri has played so well he is still in camp. With Ty Rattie and Dmitri Jaskin also pushing for an NHL spot the Blues are just about as deep as an NHL team can be.
2) The Chicago Blackhawks
Not much needs to be said about the Hawks, except that they addressed their biggest need in the offseason by signing Brad Richards who I expect will have a resurgence in Chicago with the high scoring (1st in the NHL) Hawks. The Blackhawks will likely have to move a defenseman before the season begins to get cap compliant but their depth at D is very strong and moving someone like Nick Leddy shouldn’t cause them much grief.
3) The Anaheim Ducks
Many observers underestimate the Ducks based on a perceived lack of depth on D but, really, they’re just not paying attention.
Cam Fowler has emerged as a true #1D but the Ducks managed to finish last season with 209 GA (5th in the WC) and with the continued development of Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm should easily be able to better than number this season.
But the real news is on the other side of the puck. The Ducks scored 266 goals last season only 1 less than Chicago and 2nd in the NHL and that was before replacing the aged Saku Koivu with Ryan Kesler who will take a big part of the matchup load off the Getzlaf line. Watch for the Ducks’ goal differential to increase from the +57 (best in the WC) this coming season.
4) The Dallas Stars
Every season, there is a team that surprises the pundits, most of whom are too inattentive to see what’s really going on.
Jim Nill has been raping the NHL to improve his team since taking over the GM’s job in Texas a mere 18 months ago. Early on he identified centre as the most critical position in building a winning hockey team and has managed to add Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Shawn Horcoff and Rich Peverley while having Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, Vern Fiddler and Colton Sceviour on the roster with Radek Faksa and Jason Dickinson warming up in the bullpen. That’s depth folks.
The Stars blue line is still a work in progress but the group they have is decent and I expect when Boston or Chicago are forced to move a D to become cap compliant, Nill will be first in line to help them out.
But what really makes the Stars so scary is their top 6 forward group.
Tyler Seguin has emerged as an elite centre and, with Spezza available to take some of the matchup load away, he’ll be free to fly. I expect a Hart Trophy type season from Seguin this season and with the Super Power Play they have to work with, they should easily be able to outscore any defensive deficiencies that may pop up.
5) The Los Angeles Kings
Dean Lombardi did virtually nothing this offseason except sign Marian Gaborik to a very cap friendly deal. The only way to improve last season’s Kings was to add goal scoring which is exactly what he did. But the goal scoring ability doesn’t stop there. The Kings newly formed second line, Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli, may quickly become the best in the WC and I expect you’ll see a huge bounce back season from both Dustin Brown and Mike Richards this season.
If the Kings were motivated to win the WC, I have no doubt they could do it easily but I expect their Stanley Cup hangover and the fact that they are really built to win in the playoffs will keep them from top spot.
6) The Colorado Avalanche
The Avs are predicted by many in the stats community to take a huge tumble this season…I don’t see it.
While I expect they will regress somewhat from their performance a year ago, their young, developing talent is the best in the league.
Nathan MacKinnon is the best young player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby and will take a huge step forward this season, playing his natural centre position. With Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Erik Johnson also developing into superstars at the same time, the young core of this team should make any Oiler fan weep. With added veterans Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere to show the way, the Avs are built for success.
Their D depth is a concern but with elite goaltending and their potential to score, it would take a major calamity for them to miss the post season
7) The Minnesota Wild
The Wild need to score more goals. Thomas Vanek scores goals.
The Wild need an elite top 6 centre to compliment Mikko Koivu. Mikael Granlund should be that centre as early as this season.
Some observers think the Wild defense lacks depth but they’re just not paying attention.
Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon are a very accomplished top 3 and Marco Scandella, Christian Folin, Keith Ballard and Matt Dumba are a very serviceable bottom 4.
Like last season, the Wild have questions in goal but some combination of Backstrom, Harding, Kuemper and Bryzgalov should hold the fort.
The Wild finished 4th best in GA in the WC last season and I expect they’ll be even better this season. Score another 20 goals and they’re easily a playoff team.
8A) The Vancouver Canucks
Many, many observers have been predicting the Canucks are on their way to the basement based on an aging lineup and a malaise that set in after their run to the Stanley Cup finals. But they’re ignoring both the underlying numbers and John Tortorella’s negative impact on the team. Tortorella’s dump and chase and shot blocking strategy could not have been more inappropriate for a lineup built on puck possession and quick transition.
New coach Willie Desjardins is preaching the opposite and, considering the Canucks were actually a very good possession team last season but were snake bit by some awful percentages. Henrik, Daniel and Burrows all shot well below their career averages and they will undoubtedly be much better. The addition of some youth to the lineup is still up in the air but all of Linden Vey, Hunter Shinakurk, Bo Horvat and Nicklas Jensen have had very strong pre-seasons.
8B) The San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are hard to call this season due to all the insane activity there in the offseason (John Scott…seriously?) but they just have too much talent to fall completely out of contention.
The Sharks might coalesce against their team management and lord knows they have a tremendous amount of talent that could propel them up the standings but I believe they will suffer a great deal of angst this season.
10) The Nashville Predators
It’s really hard to know what to expect from the Predators. They have added a lot of potential goal scoring in James Neal and Mike Ribiero as well as a new offensively minded coach.
Their defense and goaltending are stellar and their centre depth is something else so there is potential for them to return to the playoffs.
This likely comes down to whether or not they can adapt to a totally new style of playing so they are a team that could surprise.
11) The Calgary Flames
The Flames, as everyone knows, are rebuilding and they are doing it the right way. They’ve shored up their goaltending with Jonas Hiller, they have a legitimate top pairing on D and they now have tremendous centre depth if their two recent #1 picks develop according to their pedigree.
They lost some goal scoring with the departure of Mike Cammalleri but I expect Johnny Gaudreau, Mason Raymond and Sam Bennett will more than compensate.
12) The Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers seem to have improved somewhat but there are still tremendous holes in the lineup (what else is new?)
Their centre depth remains the worst in the league, they don’t have ONE top pairing defenseman and their goaltending is questionable.
At centre, they are a RNH injury away from disaster, it appears they will play Nikita Nikitin as a top pairing D (yikes) and have decided Ben Scrivens is as least an average NHL goaltender. Scrivens was very good early in his Oiler career but was very pedestrian as the season wore on.
The Oilers don’t score much and they are dreadful defensively (although they should improve somewhat) and the addition of some mid level defensemen, some cast off wingers and a couple of more rookies are NOT the answer.
13) The Winnipeg Jets
It was pretty much a coin toss between Edmonton and Winnipeg for this spot in the standings and it could go either way.
The Jets have as much overall talent as the Oilers but there seems to be a disconnect that keeps them from reaching their potential.
One issue is their sub par goaltending which, given the goaltending market, you would think they could solve.
There’s word that Vancouver may be interested in moving Eddie Lack and a forward so stay tuned since Winnipeg would be a logical trade partner.
14) The Arizona Coyotes
There is word tonight that the NHL is trying to find a new buyer for the Coyotes. Source
The current owners reportedly lost $24 million last season (who could have seen that coming?) and need to bail.
At some point, the off ice activity has to have an effect on the on ice performance and I’d guess that it going to happen this season.
The Coyotes lost their two top scoring forwards in Mike Ribiero and Radim Vrbata and replaced them with Martin Erat and
Kyle Wellwood Sam Gagner.
The previously defensive stalwart Coyotes sprung some leaks last season and unless Mike Smith has a Vezina level performance this season, this team is doomed.