Welcome to the NHL season everyone! Today, as I do every year the first day of the hockey season, I’ll make a few predictions and see where the teams in the Eastern Conference will finish 6 months from now. Not an easy task. I usually get 6-7 out of the 8 teams right and every five years I do get all eight, but this is just to give the fans a hint as to where their teams stand beginning today. I will use my yearly categories once again: The Core, Bubble teams, the Sophomores, Lottery teams and then I’ll give a brief analysis of each team. This is a little different from my “By The Numbers” as some teams have added a few players since training camp started and I do look at the overall organization: the players on the team now, the minor league system and the salary cap. So without further stalling here are my predictions:
The Core: (Alphabetical)
1. Montreal: They relied heavily on Carey Price last year and he answered the call. He may have to do that again, but I think because the Atlantic is the weaker division in the conference, Montreal should finish in the top 3, probably top 2.
2. Islanders: The Islanders are probably the most complete team behind Tampa Bay. Their goaltending is in question to start the season, but should be fine in a short time. Even with the goaltending, the Islanders are deep enough that they can weather the storm and make it for a second straight year.
3. Rangers: The Rangers actually did not improve this offseason and are in a somewhat of a transition season. They let a few players go via retirement or trades and are looking for some players to take the next step. With Lundquist in goal and the defense is still the same, the Rangers should be a threat.
4. Pittsburgh: Kessel, Crosby, Malkin. Those three should just dominate and to go along with a healthier defensive, it will relieve some pressure off of Marc-Andre Fleury who has been a terrific regular season goalie. Injuries however may derail a team that is top heavy on the forward side.
5. Tampa Bay: It’s theirs to lose. The only thing that concerns me with Tampa is that there is no cap room to make any moves. Unless someone goes on the IR, Tampa will have to look to their minor league for any kind of help.
6. Washington: The Caps had an interesting summer acquiring T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, but they’re going to have to rely on younger players stepping up and having Holtby steal a few games. The main focus will once again be Alex Ovechkin. With Backstrom and Oshie on one line, they should make the Caps a playoff team. Can the defense stay healthy?
1. Columbus: Why is Columbus a bubble team? Even with the acquisition of Brendon Saad? Here are two things I need to see: First, this team needs to stay healthy. Forget a rash of injuries, they had a plague last year and never made it into the playoffs. Second, I (and everyone else) need to see the Blue Jackets get to 95+ points. We haven’t seen it yet, ever. Big year for Columbus. Can they handle it?
2. Detroit: Again injuries are a concern for me on this team, but they have enough depth where they should make it in, but they have 5 players on the IR to begin the season, so they’re a bubble team to start.
3. Florida: Here’s my dark horse boys and girls. The Florida Panthers don’t necessarily have enough pieces to make it now, but if they can hang in there during the season, I could see the Panthers unitizing their +7 million salary cap room around the trade deadline and they could make a bigger push.
4. Ottawa: One word: Consistency. If there’s consistency throughout the team they should make it, especially if the teams ahead of them suffer a rash of injuries.
Sophomores: (Like high school, they’re just there)
1. Boston: Still scratching my head about what happened at the draft and will continue to scratch my head during the season. They’ll go as far as Rask will take them.
2. Carolina: If Carolina’s veterans play for a full season and not look like a senior medical center, they may be a sneaky surprise. I’m looking to see how much their younger players mature this year.
3. Philadelphia: This is not a knock on the players, but on the cap management. They have no money to make any moves. If you want cap room, put Vinny on a line and if he gets injured and goes on the IR, then the Flyers can do something.
1. Buffalo: I would love to see a +20 point improvement from the Sabres and I think they can do it. Bright future ahead and will be watching the younger players.
2. New Jersey: Who’s scoring for this team? Love the goaltending, love the defense, but the younger players on the forward lines need to show some kind of life. I expect a lot of selling around the trade deadline.
3. Toronto: The front office moves were very good. It’s evaluation time in Toronto.
Now just for fun, here is my personal wish scenario for the first round of the playoffs, as a hockey fan:
Washington vs Pittsburgh: Ovi, Backstrom, Oshie against Kessel, Crosby, Malkin…..enough said
Rangers vs Islanders: Isles will win this but New York and the NHL needs this for the sport.
Tampa vs Columbus: Cup contenders against a true spoiler.
Montreal vs Detroit: Original Six rivalry.