…apparently there is going to be an NHL Season and soon! I’m sure this is the first time you’ve heard about it.
With the rush between the CBA being officially signed and the puck dropping tomorrow it’s hard to do a full-fledge prediction blog. As such, we here at Bladejobs of Steel going to do a very quick 15-1 Countdown of each Conference. Of course with a variety of changes to big teams, a short schedule, and other mitigating factors like travel and game shape of the players make this season much harder to predict than usual, as such it would not be a huge shock to see every single one of these end up wrong.
Before we start, just a quick general prediction: more than ever strength of the divisions will have an effect on standing. In a normal 82 game schedule teams play their four division rivals six times each for just under 30% of their games against their closest rivals. In this strange 48 game season teams play four games against two division rivals and five against the other two for just under 38% of their total games. While that may seem like a small increase, but when 7 points separated 1st in the East from 6th, this could make a hug difference in standings for teams in tough divisions like the Atlantic.
Today we’ll look at the Eastern Conference where teams like the Hurriances Sabres, and Rangers made huge changes, will they pay off? Will the clock strick 12 for the Cinderella Panthers and Senators? Will a healthy Crosby change anything?
The answers to all of these questions (and more) is…
15. Montreal Canadiens: Let’s see they were 15th last year, made no significant additions last year and their best skater has yet to report to camp. Galynchuk should put up big numbers in his rookie year, but he may end up having Nathan McKinnon on Jonathan Druin as a linemate soon enough.
14. Winnipeg Jets: Last year they had a staggering 23-13-5 record at home, but that really is not sustainable for a team that’s this bad. Pavelec and Kane both tried to play in the KHL during the lockout but could not hack it, Byufglien’s questionable fitness may hurt him in a sprint of a season, and let’s not forget the very long road trips they are forced to go on for still being in the Eastern Conference. Expect Scheifele to be in contention for the Calder as one of the few bright spots on this team. Let’s not forget, they are still very much the Atlanta Thrashers.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs: Yes, three Canadian teams will fight it out for last place in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs have yet to make any noticeable improvement since the last lockout and are the only team to not make the playoffs between Lockouts II and III, don’t expect them to change that just yet. Tyler Bozak is still not a first line centre, no matter how much they try and convince him otherwise.
12. New York Islanders: These guys are probably the hardest team in the East to figure out. Someday the young pieces will fit together and this team will be great. Tavares should build off his point-a-game season and players like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey can’t be waiting to break through forever, can they? Sure Rick DiPietro may be the very definition of a goaltending question but Evgeni Nabokov could return to his San Jose Sharks form. Of course, everything could easily go wrong and they could end up with Seth Jones next year.
11. Florida Panthers: The strange, strange chemistry experiment paid off last year. Last year Kevin Dineen was able to get career years out of so many castaways like Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleishcmann, and Jose Theodore. However it seems unlikely to happen again. Add in the fact that they benefitted greatly from a terrible Southeast Division last year and expect the other teams to be much better this year.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning: Lindback and Carle are interesting additions but they just can’t be the answer. Lindback has never played more than 22 games in a season and let’s not forget the Chris Mason and Dan Ellis lesson: it’s easy for a goalie to look great with Shea Weber in front of you. Sure Guy Boucher is a great coach, but it’s not quite enough to get this team back into the promised land.
9. New Jersey Devils: Wait, weren’t they just playing for the Stanley Cup a few months back? Last years great playoff run will be a distant memory soon enough. The loss of Captain Zach Parise and Assistant Coach Adam Oats will have a huge impact on this team. Add in the fact that Martin Brodeur and Patrick Elias are not getting any younger and we have a team that should certainly regress.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Last year this team was among the best in the league in the second-half of the season after they recovered from a terrible start to the season. The additions of Steve Ott and John Scott will no doubt add to their toughness. Not really sure who will be their first line centre, but expect a good enough year from Ryan Miller to get them to the dance.
7. Ottawa Senators: Sure they may be my personal favourite team, but it’s hard not to be excited for this squad right now. They surpassed everyone’s expectations last year by making the playoffs and taking the vaunted Rangers to 7 games. All of their great young talent is a year older, and the high proportion of games against the Leafs and Canadiens will help them immensely. Lastly, with the high volume of games their goaltending platoon of Anderson, Bishop and maybe even Lehner will help them immensely.
6. Washington Capitals: If this were a full 82 game season this team could certainly win the division, but switching to a new coach in Adam Oates who is going to be the exact opposite of their old coach Dale Hunter may give them a rough start out of the gate. Add in the fact that Braden Holtby is probably less Ken Dryden and more Patrick Lalime. This team should be in the hunt to win the Southeast division down the stretch but will just fall short, which sends them all the way down to 6th.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: This is essentially the same team that finished 5th last year. They looked great in the first round of the playoffs against Pittsburgh but terrible in the second round against New Jersey. The loss of Bobrovsky does hurt them more than one may think, but hopefully Bryzgalov is able to find earth this season.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: Here we go again, another Flyers-Penguins first round war! What more could the NHL want? If Crosby stays healthy and Fleury can rebound from his rough playoffs then this team will be scary and should be in contention for the top spot in the Conference, however playoff seedings being what they are, and they are stuck in the 4th spot.
3. Carolina Hurricanes: On paper they are the most improved team in the East and it should show in reality. Alexander Semin should be motivated with a one year contract on a new team and the Staal brothers should bring out the best in one another. Cam Ward is one of those good year-bad year goalies, and it’s his turn to have a good year. Add in the fact that they did well under Kirk Muller last year and there’s little reason to expect otherwise again.
2. New York Rangers: Here we rant on the schedule again: this team should be the best team in the East and perhaps even contend for the President’s Trophy, yet they are stuck playing a ton of games against the Flyers, Penguins and Devils which should hurt their spot in the standings. Nevertheless, there is no reason to think that they can’t win the division again. Last year they were one of the best teams in the league and then they went out and added Rick Nash while not losing too much in the process. Expectations will be very high on Broadway and for good reasons.
1. Boston Bruins: It’s Tuuka Time! Sure the loss of Tim Thomas hurts, but as long as Chara is still there then there is no need to panic. This team is essentially the same group of guys that won the Cup in 2011 and was running over the league in the first half of the season last year. Add in the fact that they benefit more from the schedule than any other team in the East and there is little reason to think that they aren’t a show-in for their division and a strong contender for top spot in the East.
As for the playoffs: Boston beats Buffalo in an absolute war, the Rangers make shorter work of then Sens than they did last year, the Capitals “upset” the Hurricanes and the Penguins get revenge on the Flyers. This leads us to Boston beating Washington and Pittsburgh beating the Rangers before Pittsburgh beats Boston to make it to the finals to face…
Wait until next post and find out.