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NHL 2016-17 Season Preview

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Pacific Division

 

San Jose Sharks: Coming off an appearance in their first Stanley Cup final last season, the Sharks are poised to stay atop the Pacific division. They have a strong defensive core led by Marc Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns, with a potent offence led by centreman Joe Thornton and winger Joe Pavelski. Add in their rising star netminder, Martin Jones, and their window to compete for the Cup remains wide open.

Anaheim Ducks: After a poor start last season, the Ducks finished strong, but ultimately came up short in the playoffs. This off-season, they rehired Head Coach Randy Carlyle, who led the team to their only Stanley Cup championship in 2007. Once again, they will rely on the old guard of forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler. With a very deep defensive corps and strong goaltending from John Gibson, Anaheim will stay competitive in the West.

Los Angeles Kings: The two-time Stanley Cup champions have lost a number of players over the last couple of years. They rely heavily on their core: Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and goaltender Jonathan Quick. Many of their young players like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are yet to have their breakout years. Combined with a lack of depth on defence, this means the Kings will have a hard time competing for the division crown.

Calgary Flames: The Flames had some of the worst goaltending in the league last year and addressed the issue with the acquisition of Brian Elliott. Along with the hiring of Glen Gulutzan as head coach, the Flames hope to improve their puck possession game. They will hope that young stars Johnny Gadreau and Sean Monahan will be able to compete with the L.A. Kings or Anaheim Ducks for a playoff spot.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes are a youthful team looking to build off a tough 2015-16 season. They have a lineup flush with young forwards: Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak. They have an offensive weapon in Oliver Ekman Larsson on the backend along with new defenceman Alex Goligoski. However, the Coyotes lack experience and proven scoring options. In addition, questions over the play of goalie Mike Smith will fault the Coyotes.

Edmonton Oilers: Led by rising superstar Connor McDavid, the Oilers are finally heading in the right direction. The signing of power forward, Milan Lucic, will add more grit to Edmonton’s top six forward set. They hope that trading proven goal scorer Taylor Hall for top-four defenceman Adam Larsson will stabilize a backend that has struggled for years.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are mired in a transition period where they haven’t fully committed to a rebuild, but still have ambitions of making the playoffs. They will remain competitive with top forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as well as Loui Eriksson, leading the charge. They will look to start to integrate youth into their lineup with players like Ben Hutton, Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen. However, they still lack secondary scoring and steady goaltending.

 

Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals: The Capitals will look to build upon their Presidents’ Trophy winning campaign last season with a ‘cup or bust’ mindset. Although the Caps lost dressing room favourite Jason Chimera and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Richards, the addition of Lars Eller solidifies their depth at centre ice. Look for the Capitals to finish first in the Metropolitan Division and challenge for a second-consecutive Presidents’ Trophy en route to a deep playoff run.

Pittsburgh Penguins: As the defending Stanley Cup champions, Pittsburgh has every right to be mentioned as one of the league’s elite. With no major off-season losses, the Penguins will continue to execute a fast-paced tempo under returning Head Coach Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh will provide the biggest inter-division battle with the Capitals. Expect superstar Sidney Crosby to go head-to-head with the likes of Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn for the Art Ross Trophy, as the league’s leading point scorer.

New York Rangers: Following a disappointing 4-1 series loss at the hands of the Penguins in the 2016 playoffs, the Rangers will enter the 2016-17 season knowing their championship window is closing.  Champion goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is getting older. Although the Rangers will not have the firepower to contend with the Capitals and the Penguins, the addition of sought-after collegiate free agent Jimmy Vesey will add an offensive weapon to New York’s strong blue line. 

New York Islanders: The Islanders will take a step back this season. Newly acquired forward Andrew Ladd will be an offensive downgrade from Kyle Okposo on captain John Tavares’ left side. Ladd, the two-time Stanley Cup champion, will bring leadership and grit to an already heavy-hitting squad; however, the speed of the league, especially in the Metropolitan division, will make it difficult for the Islanders to finish at the top of the standings. 

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers will need a bounce back season from winger Jakub Voracek, who saw his 2015-16 season point totals dip down to 55 from 81 the season before. Philadelphia hopes that Shayne Gostisbehere’s rookie season was not be a fluke, and that 2015 seventh overall pick Ivan Provorov will go straight from training camp to the NHL. The Flyers should not be too worried—look for Gostisbehere to continue his torrid pace and for Provorov to make an immediate impact.

New Jersey Devils: For the Devils to make the playoffs, they will need breakout shooters Kyle Palmieri and Adam Hendrique to continue their excellent 2015-16 form, as well as the same stellar play from netminder Cory Schneider. Fortunately for the Devils, General Manager Ray Shero pulled off the deal of the summer when he swapped defenceman Adam Larsson for the dominant top-line speedster Taylor Hall. Look for rookie centreman, Pavel Zacha to make his mark early and often for the Devils.

Carolina Hurricanes: Carolina enters this season as a young, developing team. Their defensive corps are primed for future success with the likes of 2015 fifth-overall pick Noah Hannifin and defensive stalwart Jacob Slavvin. They will require further priming by defenceman Justin Faulk. Elias Lindholm will need to take on a bigger role to support forwards Jordan Staal and Victor Rask down the middle. However, the dark days in Raleigh are not over yet—the rebuild will extend beyond the 2016-17 season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Although the Blue Jackets drafted QMJHL star Pierre-Luc Dubois, third overall in the 2016 draft, the lineup lacks coherence. In particular, veteran forward David Clarkson is no longer able to keep up with the pace of today’s game. With controversial coach John Tortorella behind the bench there will surely be some fireworks this season in Ohio—and not the good kind. Success is still a distant sight for Columbus.

 

Central Division

Dallas Stars: The Stars will win the central division this year on the backs of forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, two of the league’s best point producers. However, the question remains if their goaltending will be strong enough for an extended playoff run. Look for a defensive corps, which added Dan Hamhuis over the offseason, to be improved from last year

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago’s forward group is one of the most dynamic in the league. With Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin leading the charge offensively, and Jonathan Toews continuing to excel as the best two-way centre in the game, the Blackhawks will feast on the league’s weaker squads. Signing wiley veteran Brian Campbell on defence only boosts this squad’s talent and experience. Once again, expect a long playoff run from Chicago.

Nashville Predators: The addition of P.K. Subban over the summer in exchange for Shea Weber will have a positive effect on the Predators’ squad. Now containing one of the most talented defenceman in the league in Roman Josi, look for Nashville’s backend to produce a fair percentage of their offence. Their biggest question mark, as always, will be whether they can get sufficient production from their top forwards. At 33 years-old goalie Pekka Rinne needs a statement season.

St. Louis Blues: Despite the loss of captain David Backes to the Boston Bruins via free agency, the Blues boast a dynamic and experienced forward corps, led by Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. St. Louis’ defence will be a strength, as dynamic sophomore Colton Parayko will look to take another step forward. With goalie Brian Elliot finally out of the picture, the Blues’ net is all Jake Allen’s. The Blues should make the wildcard spot.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets added potential superstar Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft. Expect a much improved Winnipeg offense, as both forwards Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers look to take the next step in their development. Two questions remain for the Jets: Can they salvage the Jacob Trouba situation, and can Connor Hellebuyck steal the number one goalie position? Nonetheless, the Jets should be the final wild card team in the West.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild's biggest acquisition this summer was not aging centre Eric Staal, but rather Head Coach Bruce Boudreau. Having won a division title eight out of nine seasons with his previous clubs, expect that percentage to drop this year. The Wild lack the depth and star power to compete in the incredibly tougher central division. If Zach Parise can stay healthy that's a huge bonus, but, even then, it seems very unlikely that the Wild will qualify for the postseason.

Colorado Avalanche: Let by offensively skilled centres Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene, the Avalanche will be an entertaining team to watch—even if they don't win many games. Goaltender Seymon Varlamov has been lights out at times, but he still plays behind a very weak defence. With a new coaching staff behind the bench, Colorado figures to finish in the basement of the central, with the possibility of a roster upheaval coming next offseason.

 

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning: Finishing off last year second in their division, the Tampa Bay Lightning surprised hockey pundits  and fans alike. The team that forced the eventual Stanley Cup champions to game 7 in the conference final was able to re-sign this year’s biggest free agent, Steven Stamkos,  and keep their existing core in tact. Expect Steve Yzerman’s boys to make a real push for the Cup this year.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadians had a horrid second half of their season last year. Carey Price will return to rekindle the fire this season, but the team is banking on big years from Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov, and Andrew Shaw. Keep an eye out for 2016 draft pick Mikhail Sergachev who had a great preseason and will stick with the Habs. Montreal went from a rubber dingy to a class A destroyer overnight; they’ll be playing hockey long into spring.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers finished last season atop the Atlantic division, but lost in the first round. Florida had yet another busy off-season as General Manager Dale Tallon continues to keep his locker room in flux. The team added serious firepower on the back end with Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. Another year under the belt for the Panthers’ youth and added veteran presence on the blue line should guarantee the team finish third in their division.

Detroit Red Wings: Like the Panthers, the Red Wings were knocked out early in the playoffs last season. Detroit had a sombre off-season after losing superstar Pavel Datsyuk to retirement. The additions of veterans Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek might be enough to keep this team in playoff contention should their young core take a step forward in their development. They should be able to fend off other mid-division teams and overtake the Bruins for third place.

Boston Bruins: Last season, the Bruins finished third in the Atlantic, but lost their playoff spot to the Red Wings. Loui Eriksson’s departure leaves a gaping hole in Boston’s top six forwards. Centreman David Backes arrived via free agency, but with aging veteran’s gritty style of play it is unlikely he will return to his former levels of production. Unless Backes can reach the 30 goal plateau, it is unlikely the Bruins will make the postseason.
Buffalo Sabres: Last season, Buffalo was stuck in the bottom of the division and they will most likely be there again. With an elite young core, the Sabres can only get better. The team wasn’t overly active in the offseason and will rely on Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart having breakout seasons. Watch for Kyle Okposo to continue his numbers from New York; however, even with his scoring acumen, Buffalo is far from a playoff spot.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Toronto came last in the league last year, finishing twelve points behind Buffalo. Hockey’s Mecca received a blessing in Auston Matthews. The young centre plays a complete game and will slot into Toronto’s top six on a line with blossoming youngster William Nylander. Fellow first-rounder Mitch Marner will stick with the big club as well. This will be a year of growth for the Leafs, but not enough to come near the postseason.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators offseason has many hockey fans scratching their heads. After, a great draft performance, Ottawa went on to trade upcoming star Mika Zibanejad for 29-year-old local in Derick Brassard. Other a few trades, the team remained idle and seems to be putting all their eggs in Bobby Ryan’s basket. Expect the team to finish last in the Atlantic this season.

 

For more information, check out our podcast with Alex Sirois, Wasif Husain and TSN NHL Insider Bob McKenzie:

http://www.mcgilltribune.com/sports/mcgill-tribune-sports-podcast-nhl-season-preview-bob-mckenzie-2265234/

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