Welcome back for another season with Isles Talk everyone! As customary I always begin the year with a different look than other traditional predictions. I will include what I think the teams potential could be, but I also try to give an idea as to where the teams are as organizations on a whole. I do believe that you could see five teams from the Central Divsion make the playoffs this year, but I’ll be surprised if any of them can beat the best team in the west, and they’re in the Pacific Division. As I have done in years past I don’t go 1-15, but I’ll classify each team into four different categories: Lottery, Sophomores, Bubble and Core teams. So without further delay let’s get started!!
LOTTERY TEAM: Not a guarantee that this team will be last in the NHL, but they’re the least likeliest team to make the playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings (70-75 points): The rebuild continues this year and it’ll be decision time for a few players including Jonathan Quick, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. Will Jack Campbell become the new number one goalie? Will the Kings make trades during the season to speed up the rebuild or will they remain patient? I do like their young group developing in the minors so my hope is that this will be the only year I put the Kings this low.
SOPHOMORE TEAMS: Just like in high school, they’re just here and I have no idea where to put them because no one knows what they are just yet. I would like to note that usually there’s around one team in this group that does make the playoffs.
Anaheim Ducks (72-77 points): The Ducks are younger, faster and could be a very good team this year. However I don’t think they’re good enough to beat out the top 5 teams in the Central nor the top 3 teams in the Pacific. They could also land as the lottery team if injuries occur. Lot’s of kids coming up from the minors, so enjoy the scouting season Ducks fans. No expectations.
Minnesota Wild (72-77 points): I think we’re going to witness an epic collapse of this older than dirt hockey team. Father time has more than caught up with them and the Wild just reminds me of a retirement home. I said this about the Kings and Ducks a few years back and the Wild are entering their twilight years with some of their veteran players who will be there far too long at a far too old age in the toughest division in hockey. Could also see them last in the conference.
Vancouver Canucks (77-82 points): I hate putting them down this low, but other teams made a few stronger moves and the Canucks have been sticking to their plan, which is what they should be doing. I could see them move up if another team gets plagued with injuries or stumble out of the gate so they’ll need some help moving up. Canucks fans won’t have to wait much longer for another return to the playoffs. Stay the course.
Edmonton Oilers (80-85 points): Here is my dark horse team from the sophomore group that could make it to the playoffs. To be honest, they don’t have much choice but to go all in and make McDavid happy. There should be enough offense from everyone this year, but I like the other teams defenses and goaltending. Can the Oilers defense stay healthy? Can the goalie tandems compete with the top 3 in the Pacific divsion? Can the offense will themselves into mid April?
BUBBLE TEAMS: These teams should be good to make the playoffs but are on the fringe. Could definitely see some of these teams active in the trade front and can also be major factors or favorites to go deep in the playoffs.
Winnipeg Jets (87-92 points): See the Oilers above, but I like the goaltending more than the Oilers tandem. Don’t really know how the defense is going to play for a full season and the team is going to rely on it’s offense to get in. Reminds me of a Toronto Maple Leafs version for the Central Division.
Chicago Blackhawks (90-95 points): I would love to see a continuation of last years success move right into this year. Younger, more talent, the goaltending should be solid and with a steady defense I really want the Hawks to “surprise” everyone and sneak in. If they do make it, they’ll give that top team on Hell of a run for their money. I’m genuinely excited to watch the Hawks this year.
Arizona Coyotes (87-92 points): This is the team that I’m really rooting for. I’ll take the Yotes defense over the Jets and maybe the Hawks and their improved offense should be able to come close to the others. If the goalies can stay healthy, they’re in.
St. Louis Blues (92-97 points): Why do I have the defending Stanley Cup champs as a possible 7th or 8th seed? Because of the goaltending. In my research, the Blues were the 2nd best team in the conference. However I had to take into account Jordan Binnington’s insane 1.91 goals against average over 31 games as a major factor. Is he Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins? If the answer is yes, then it’s another run at the cup. Is he a Cam Ward? If that answer is a yes, then the Blues could miss the playoffs. Can Jake Allen bounce back and help stop the bleeding if Binnington can’t get back to elite form?
THE CORE TEAMS: These are the teams that even with injuries, there’s enough talent/depth that these six teams should make the playoffs in some capacity.
San Jose Sharks (95-100 points): Even without former captain Joe Pavelski, the Sharks are still better than the Coyotes and Oilers. If they can stay healthy and avoid suspensions, the Sharks can go as high as second in the divsion.
Nashville Predators (97-102 points): Another year older and the Avs and Stars improved offensively. What will have a bigger impact: the loss of P.K Subban or the addition of Matt Duchene? Can the powerplay improve to get them higher in the standings? If they can they could finish first in the Central.
Calgary Flames (100-105 points): Same team, and in my opinion better goaltending should keep the Flames right where they were last year, I think the Flames should let Rittich play up to 60 games and let Talbot play if he’s on a hot streak. With everyone in camp on time, the Flames should not miss a beat and the only thing stopping them would be a full season of healthy Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights.
Colorado Avalanche (102-107 points): The best first line in hockey picked up more offense from Toronto and with steady goaltending should have the Avs compete for the Central Division all season long. Defense is the only minor concern I have for this team, but the Avs can make changes during the season if they need to.
Dallas Stars (105-110 points): Dallas getting Pavelski was a season changer for the Stars. Offense should not be a problem and the Bishop/Khudobin combo should be able to handle the load once again behind that Dallas defense.
Vegas Golden Knights (107-112 points): Stone for a full season and as long as Fleury can remain on top of his game, the Golden Knights will be on top of their game all season long and they are my pick to win the Western Conference.
Please leave your thoughts in the comment section. You can follow me on twitter @P_Kreischer.