As the 2017-2018 season approaches fast, all 31 teams gear up for the long haul to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April.
Some of the more prominent and intriguing stories of this brand new season include everything from the Capitals trying to bounce back after yet another disappointing playoff loss, the Penguins attempting to three-peat, and Columbus trying to actually win a playoff series.
Here are my predictions for how each team in the east will fair this year.
Carolina Hurricanes: 5th in Metro, solidify last playoff spot
With the youngest and most promising defensive core in the Eastern conference that features the unique Justin Faulk, the Hurricanes make a strong bid for a potential playoff birth this year. If the Cane’s receive solid, consisting goal tending from Ward and newcomer Scott Darling, along with sharpshooting forwards Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask, they will solidify a lower-seeded playoff seed this year. Lack of experience could work against the Cane’s, and they do have a history of significant injuries impacting their season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: 1st in Metro, make playoffs
Columbus has a Stanley-cup caliber team, no one should doubt that. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina trophy last year, and should continue to prove he is one of the best goalies in the league. Columbus boasts one of the most high-powered offenses in the league with capable, 20 plus goal scorers such as Cam Atkinson, Nick Folgino, Scott Hartnell, and the newcomers Artemi Panarin, and Brandon Saad. The only thing holding this team back from a deep playoff run is injuries, and their haunting past as a franchise. The Blue Jackets have still never won a playoff series…
New Jersey Devils: 8th in Metro, miss playoffs
This team is often dubbed ‘boring’ for their defensive minded play and lack of goal-scoring in recent years. However, the Devils are showing signs of promise for the upcoming season. The Devils hit the lottery with the number 1 overall draft pick, Nico Hischier. Pair him up with the powerful shot of Taylor hall, and the devils got a solid 1st line. The defense and goal tending, along with Hischier, all need to improve their play if they wish to make any progress. Although this team shows potential, they are still a few years away from a playoff berth…let alone a Stanley Cup contender.
New York Islanders: 6th in Metro, miss playoffs
Since the epic dynasty in the early 80’s, the Islanders have had very little success. Many believe this will be captain John Tavares’s last year as an Islander as he enters free agency in less than 10 months. Tavares wants to win, he has made that clear. The Islanders have the firepower through Tavares, Eberle, and Lee to get the job done, but the defense lacks any consistent play. Between the pipes, there is no clear number one goalie. With a struggling defense, lackluster goal tending, and no depth, I do not see the Islanders going far this season.
New York Rangers: 3rd in Metro, make playoffs
The Rangers are always a contender, and this year should be no different. Even with the departure of Stepan, and Raanta, the Rangers still have several of the right pieces in play to help their bid at a potential cup run. Barring injury, Ryan McDonagh is an absolute powerhouse on the blue line, and now has an all-star caliber defense-man in the form of Kevin Shattenkirk. The Rangers offense this year should be more potent than ever with a young, speedy, group of forwards led by Zibanejad, and Hayes. The major question lies between the pipes, as king Henrik Lundqvist is aging, and showing signs of decline. The Rangers have the depth, the defense, and the experience. If there is any consistent goal tending, expect the Rangers to go deep in the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers: 6th in Metro, miss playoffs
Throughout the Giroux-era, the Flyers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. At certain points, the trio of Simmonds, Grioux, and Voracek are a triple threat like no other. Then, in other games, all three look non-existent…along with the rest of the team. The Flyers are a difficult team to predict every year. With the trio mentioned earlier all in their prime, some young prospects, and mediocre goal tending, it seems as if the Flyers are going to be floating around mediocrity for this season. There is not a proven goalie on this team, the defense needs more experience, and the roller-coaster of uncertainty that is every season for the Flyers leads me to believe that Philadelphia will have to wait yet another season until a playoff berth.
The Pittsburgh Penguins: 2nd in Metro, make playoffs
After back-to-back Stanley cup championships, the Penguins are looking to become the first team to three-peat since the 80-83′ Islanders. On paper, the Penguins look like the most dominant team in the league, with talent and depth at all positions. However, after back-to-back extended seasons, fatigue is going to be a major factor for the Penguins. Injuries have also haunted the penguins in recent years. There are very few concerns for this team. If the Penguins superstars produce as they should, if the young prospects play beyond expectations, and if goal-tender Matt Murray can confidently play in the starting role, the Penguins are early favorites to win the Cup. They have the depth, the experience, the star-power, the goal tending, the most potent offense in the league, and one of the most versatile defensemen in the form of Letang. With all of these factors in play, barring injruy, expect the Penguins to make the cup for a third-straight year.
The Washington Capitals: 4th in Metro, make playoffs
The Capitals posted one of the best regular season’s in NHL history last year with a 55-19-8 record…only to suffer a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the penguins for the second consecutive year. The Capitals lost a lot of fire-power in the offseason through departures by Shattenkirk, Johansson, Williams, etc. However the Capitals still have the best goal-scorer of the modern era, Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin is growing tireless, he has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately for Ovi, I don’t see the Capitals being anywhere near as good as they were last year due to all the empty spots that need to be filled. In order for the Capitals to have significant success, they must rely on Holtby to steal some games for them. The defense, along with Ovi, is aging. The championship window is closing after they went all in last season. I do see the Capitals having a good enough regular season to secure a playoff spot, but expect history to repeat itself as the Caps’ should be an early playoff exit.
Bostin Bruins: 5th in Atlantic, miss playoffs
The Bruins seem to be in a similar situation as the Flyers…stuck between a rock and a hard place. At times, the Bruins could be cup contenders with their top two lines that are comparable with any other team in the league. However, the Bruins are constantly an injury-stricken team, and that never bodes well come playoff time. With Chara nearing the end of his career, very little offensive depth, and a defensive core that has not proven itself yet, I do not see the Bruins making the playoffs this year…unless Tukka Rask steals twenty plus games.
Montreal Canadiens: 4th in Atlantic, make playoffs
Within recent years, the Canadiens have consistently been one of the best teams in the league during the regular season. However, come playoff time, the Canadiens falter into a distracted, disorganized, injury-riddled team. Out of all of the teams in the east, Montreal is quite possibly the hardest to predict. Similarly to the Capitals in recent years, Montreal could win the President’s trophy as the best team in the league throughout the course of the regular season, but playoffs are a different story. Montreal did add some offensive depth in the form of Ales Hemsky and Jonathan Drouin, in an effort to ease their goal-scoring drought in recent playoff series. The defense is solid and Carey Price is arguably the best goalie in the league seemingly every season. I see Montreal winning the Atlantic, and going on a deeper playoff run than previous years.
Buffalo Sabres: 6th in Atlantic, miss playoffs
The Sabres shook things up this off season by replacing both head coach Dan Bylsma, and GM Tim Murray. A change, that should have the Sabres see light at the end of their dark, mediocre tunnel. However, it may take a couple seasons for the Sabres to be a legitimate contender. Buffalo does post a high-powered offense at times with number two overall pick, Jack Eichel. Alongside Eichel is Evander Kane, and Kyle Okposo. Both have proved they are capable 25 goal scorers, and can compete with almost any top line in the league. Ryan O’ Reilly and Sam Reinhart are also capable of reaching the 20 goal plateau. Offense aside, the Sabres have very little to get excited about. The defense is rarely consistent, there is no proven number one Goaltender, and injuries destroy this team. Although the Sabres will make a step in the right direction this year, I don’t see them making the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings: 7th in Atlantic, miss playoffs
Last season, the Red wings missed the playoffs for the first time in almost a quarter century, marking the end of an era. The Red Wings are no longer the team to beat in the west, but rather, the team everyone gets excited to play because it is almost a guaranteed win. With a mix of aging players from the historic playoff runs such as Kronwall and Zetterberg, to newcomers with serious skill such as Dylan Larkin, and Athanasiou, the Red Wings do not seem to know what direction they want to go. To the eye of a normal fan, the Red wings should rebuild by shipping off players such as Kronwall, in order to free up cap space to build for the future. Unfortunately for Red Wings fans, the GM of Detroit refuses to believe his team lost their magical playoff run. The stubborn nature of their GM will run this team to the basement…which is probably a good thing so they can build for the future. The defense is older than dirt, the offense, although boasting some exciting, new players is more stale than ever, and the goal tending situation is a horror movie. Expect the Red Wings to plummet…for the foreseeable future.
Florida Panthers: 8th in Atlantic, miss playoffs
I think the biggest question for the panthers, disregarding their lack of any talent on the offensive side of the ice, is if they can get anyone to actually come to their games. Last season, to nobody’s surprise, the Panthers had the least amount of average attendance per game at just a little over 5000 fans. Their arena holds up to 21,000 people. However, there’s a reason for the Panthers lackluster fan base. Besides the 2015-2016 season where the Panthers actually won their division, there has been relatively nothing to cheer for. This year, 29 percent of the entire Panthers offense left either via trade, or free agent signings. Smith, Marchessault (30 goals last year), Jokinen, and the legend Jagr all parted ways with Florida…and for good reason. Management is an absolute mess as they seem to trade away every valuable piece of their organization for scraps in return. The Panthers have zero offense, and Luongo ain’t getting any younger. The one bright spot on this team is one of the best, young defensemen in the league, Aaron Ekblad. Although, I have a feeling he will be traded for scraps at the end of probably a miserable season. Panthers, enjoy your time in the basement…you’re going to be there for awhile.
Ottawa Senators: 3rd in Atlantic, make playoffs
Wow. Probably the only word that can describe how well this team did last year after being written off constantly. Although the Game 7, double OT loss to Pittsburgh hurt, the Senators gained some valuable experience and only lost Methot to the expansion draft. The Senators play with speed, and feature a rock-solid defensive core led by Erik Karlsson. Goaltender Craig Anderson is set to have a Vezina-caliber year and I expect Ottawa to make noise in the playoffs, however there are some major questions. Ottawa lacks offensive depth behind Stone and Hoffman. The Senators knew they needed to make a move for a proven 25-30 goal scorer but instead, did nothing to bolster their offense. If Anderson falters at all, and if Karlsson gets injured, this team is done. Which is the main reason i do not expect them making a cup run this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning: 1st in Atlantic, win President’s trophy
Tampa Bay had a disappointing season last year after making the Eastern conference finals the year prior. However, Tampa is going to be Pittsburgh’s biggest competition in the east. With Stamkos and Callahan now healthy, Tampa is now stacked both offensively and defensively. Victor Hedman heads the back end after coming off a Norris trophy finalist year. Goaltender Andre Vasilevskiy has now proven to be a true number one net minder. The offense is absoluetly stacked on the depth chart, with at least four proven 20 goal sorcerers in the form of Stamkos, Kucherov, Callahan, and Johnson. With the addition of Chris Kunitz, the offensive depth only gets better. Barring injuries, such as the one that took Stamkos out for the year, Tampa should go back to their 2015-2016 form and be a powerhouse in the east. Expect the Lightning to make a deep playoff run, and possibly a rematch with the Penguins in the ECF.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 2nd in Atlantic, make playoffs
This team is something special. Last year, to everyone’s surprise, Toronto played the Capitals incredibly tough through 6 games with FOUR overtime games. The Maple Leafs play fast, they are the youngest team in the league, and they are on the rise to being an unexpected cup contender. Number one overall pick Auston Matthews is an absolute stud and has a deep offensive core with him led by William Nylander, and Mitch Marner. All three players are under the age of 22, and are already 20 plus goal scorers. During the off season, Toronto signed future hall-of-famer Patrick Marleau to a three year contract. This signing bolsters the offense, and adds a mentor for the young squad. On the back end, the defense added Ron Hainsey at the expense of Matt Hunwick…which really did not change much. The defense is very inexperienced, and is not deep by any means. However, Goaltender Frederick Anderson is a proven number one and was durable throughout the entire season. Toronto is an extremely difficult team to predict. I do believe they will make a splash in the playoffs, however, with the lack of defensive depth, Toronto will need to wait a couple years before they are a legitimate contender…despite how entertaining they are.