Every year at this time I am asked to come up with predictions for the coming season. It seems a little ludicrous to be making these before a single meaningful game has been played, but that is the nature of the beast. There are teams that you can count on to be playing well into May and those that will be booking tee times on April 10th.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup winner and have won three of the last six. The Central division had five teams make the playoffs last year. That will not happen again. St. Louis has averaged 109 points the last four regular campaigns, but have not translated that into playoff success. They are a lock to make it again. Nashville got points in 12 of their first 15 games and rode Pekka Rinne’s return to form into a second place finish. They should be there again as long as Rinne stays healthy. Dallas will be better and Colorado should have some bounce back, so Minnesota and Winnipeg should be worried.
I have read all the doom and gloom around the Vancouver Canucks and how they did not do enough to keep pace in the Western Conference. The Calgary Flames added Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik. The Oilers got Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot. The Los Angeles Kings added Milan Lucic. San Jose shook things up by firing Todd McLellan and hiring Peter DeBoer. Dallas got Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Antti Niemi. All these teams will be better, so why am I so bullish on the Canucks? Last year The Hockey News had their six writers predict, as I am doing now, what would happen during the regular season. Four of them picked Vancouver to finish eighth in the West and two of them picked them to finish 13th. This year they have the Canucks finishing no better than 11th. Why? It is basically the same team as last year with the exception of a couple of younger players. I think because the Canucks lost in the first round of the playoffs people forget how well they played during the regular season. They finished eighth overall in the league! They were fifth in the West. Henrik and Daniel Sedin finished in the top 10 in scoring. Their penalty killing was second in the league. Ryan Miller finished with a 29-15 record and had six shutouts in 45 games. Alex Edler went from minus-39 in 2013-14 to plus-13. They had 101 points. They will be in the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference has no real dominant team. The Tampa Bay Lightning had a good playoff run after having a scare in the first round against Detroit. The Rangers look like they will repeat as champs in the Metropolitan division, although the Capitals will be better after a year of Barry Trotz. The Penguins should overtake the Islanders who will scramble to try and stay ahead of Columbus and Ottawa for a wild card spot. The Canadiens are as good as any team in the East with Carey Price in net, but they will have problems scoring goals. The Buffalo Sabres will be better, but the Leafs and Bruins will continue to struggle.
So here you go:Western Conference1. Anaheim 2. St. Louis 3. Chicago 4. Los Angeles 5. Vancouver 6. Nashville 7. Calgary 8. Dallas
1. NYR 2. Tampa Bay 3. Washington 4. Montreal 5. Pittsburgh 6. Detroit 7. Columbus 8. NYI