Also trending up after an impressive offseason to date that saw the Flames shore up their goaltending — with Mike Smith and Eddie Lack, an improvement on Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson from last season — while bolstering their already stacked blue line with the trade acquisition of Travis Hamonic. That provincial rivalry promises to be fierce, and the Flames should be able to hold their own with anybody in the West, but they will be in tough come the playoffs again.
Jannik Hansen should be a good fit in his first full season with San Jose too, so the Sharks stand a very good chance of making the playoffs again. The order of the top four in the Pacific could certainly be shuffled, but those would appear to be the playoff-bound teams again.
Yes, the same four as last season — the only difference is that the Alberta teams leapfrog the California teams, Edmonton over Anaheim and Calgary over San Jose. Another year on the outside looking in and probably the last year that the Kings finish ahead of the Coyotes, with Los Angeles eventually trending down due to an aging core and depleted prospect pool. Those three, in addition to Kopitar and defenceman Jake Muzzin, will ultimately determine L.
So, another year older and another year closer to a full-on rebuild. Baby steps, if you will, with the following season shaping up to be a potential breakout. Derek Stepan will help show those kids the way and Niklas Hjalmarsson will be the perfect defence partner for new captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but the key here will be how much better, if any, Antti Raanta performs than Mike Smith the last couple seasons. Part of me wanted to rank the Canucks a spot or two higher.
Neither have been a starter before, so that position has to be considered a weakness compared to the competition. I also liked the promotion of Travis Green as coach and I could see him getting more out of this group, especially the forwards.
The defence is decent too, with the Canucks appearing fairly deep up front and on the back end. Call me crazy, but the more I look at their projected lineup, the more I think Vancouver is underrated right now, possibly even a playoff sleeper. This is something of a default ranking for the expansion club, but much like Vancouver, I could see Vegas exceeding all expectations.
Unlike Vancouver and Arizona, goaltending should be a strength for Vegas with Marc-Andre Fleury an above-average starter and Calvin Pickard a promising backup. Scoring will probably be hard to come by for the Golden Knights and who knows what to expect from Vadim Shipachyov in his North American debut, but some of the offence could come from the defence with Nate Schmidt, Colin Miller, Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb all possessing upside as puck-movers.
There will be growing pains as Gerard Gallant tries to get all these strangers on the same page, but if Fleury can steal some games early on, the Golden Knights might gain enough momentum to stay out of the basement — both in the division and the overall standings.
George McPhee will be well aware of that and will likely look to maximize his assets as a seller at the trade deadline — moving pending free agents James Neal and David Perron, among others, for futures picks and prospects that will result in folding on their inaugural season.
OK, enough playing it safe. Remember, Dallas won this division and topped the Western Conference standings two seasons ago before being derailed by injuries and inconsistent goaltending last season — shockingly missing the playoffs. The Stars solved the latter problem by landing Ben Bishop and upgraded an already potent offence by signing Alex Radulov.
Ken Hitchcock will instill more defensive structure in general and providing the team buys in, those adjustments should have the Stars shooting up the standings. With no obvious weaknesses or glaring holes in this lineup, the sky could be the limit for Dallas. The Preds also underachieved, to some extent, this past regular season by squeaking into the playoffs before showing their true potential. Nashville would seem to have more staying power than San Jose — a finalist the previous year, then bounced in the first round this spring — but nothing comes easy in the ultra-competitive Central.
Depth up front is still a bit of a concern, but several young lesser-knowns stepped up in the playoffs to provide optimism for the future.
As mentioned in the trending down article, this near dynasty is likely done. Stan Bowman is trying to turn back time by bringing back Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, but Saad came at the expense of a superior talent in Artemi Panarin and Sharp will struggle to fill the void left by Marian Hossa.
Add it all up and the Blackhawks appear awfully vulnerable this season. This is bold, one of my bolder predictions this year. I originally had Winnipeg staying the course, making progress but missing the playoffs again. However, if the goaltending improves from last season, there is nothing else holding the Jets back. Their defence, one through six, is arguably top 10 in the league, and Winnipeg will have the ability to roll four scoring lines if Paul Maurice so desires. This is still a young team on the upswing, but Maurice and Kevin Cheveldayoff might need to make the postseason to stay in charge.
I like their chances. This team overachieved last season, by my estimation — thanks to the Bruce Boudreau factor. He needs to regain his Vezina-type form for Minnesota to repeat its success. The Wild are still comparable to the Jets in terms of forward and defence depth, but Winnipeg has more star power up front and a better third pairing on the blue line. If Hellebuyck and Mason can combine to match or outperform Dubnyk, that would definitely put the Jets over the top.
But Boudreau is still the ace in the hole for Minnesota and his results speak for themselves in comparison to Maurice. Unlike Dubnyk, Jake Allen turned it on in the second half and backstopped the Blues to a playoff berth before singlehandedly stealing that series against Minnesota by outduelling Dubnyk.
Without Allen, that is a different outcome, but can he sustain that momentum for an entire game season? Detroit Red Wings The Atlantic Division champion in each of the last two seasons missed the playoffs entirely the year prior to their title.
That trend bodes well for the Lightning, undeniably one of the NHL's most gifted teams fresh off finishing a single point shy of the postseason last spring in spite of months of misfortune. Tampa Bay, fully healthy, is a favorite to take the crown in for the that reason, but it won't be without competition. The wizened Maple Leafs decided to invest in the now as well as the future after tasting the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The Canadiens and Panthers, representing the last three division titles, opted for more sweeping changes, hoping to recalibrate on the fly. And the Bruins are always a factor to the end. Complete Atlantic Division predictions. Philadelphia Flyers 85 points 7. A meaningless honor, outside ensuring home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, the regular season champion is historically almost equally likely to exit in the first round as they are to win the Stanley Cup.
So the Penguins likely are reluctant recipients of this award, keeping it in the Metro for a fourth consecutive season. Simply, though, the Penguins are the best team in hockey until someone else proves otherwise, which hasn't been the case in the days since they unseated the Blackhawks in This year, the Metro looks as competitive as ever, so there may be a surprise or two when it comes time to sorting out playoff contenders.
Complete Metro Division predictions. Of the nine NHL teams with active playoffs streaks two or more consecutive seasons , four reside in the Central Division. Each of the last three postseasons have included Chicago 10 straight , St. Louis six , Minnesota five and Nashville three. That's impressive continuity within a division known as the toughest in the NHL for the better part of the last decade. And though there are signs if slippage, it doesn't look like this trend will change in , with the aforementioned teams all well positioned once again to make noise in the springtime.
The Stars and Jets are openly threatening the order, though. If there's one thing for certain, the Central no longer features a clear-cut favorite, meaning every team outside the Avalanche has a shot at the division crown. Complete Central Division predictions. San Jose Sharks Calgary Flames 92 points 5. Arizona Coyotes 82 points 6. Los Angeles Kings 80 points 7.
This is probably the only placement we can all agree on, with the Coyotes positioning themselves for the best chance at projected first overall pick Auston Matthews. The Arizona native is just what this franchise needs, somebody to take the torch from Shane Doan, who is on his last legs and likely to be moved to a contender at the trade deadline.
Their coming-out party is just beginning. They are essentially returning their entire team and Jonathan Drouin is likely going to take a big leap in production. We almost saw a Ducks-Lightning final this year and it is definitely a possibility again going forward. Another team that will be buoyed by young talent, with Evgeny Kuznetsov getting better by the day. The Capitals need to get a deal done with Braden Holtby, preferably avoiding arbitration with a long-term pact.
The Capitals are sort of the Blues of the East, strong on paper but struggling to get over the hump come playoffs. Garth Snow was wheeling and dealing at the draft but has been mostly a bystander in free agency thus far.
It is a youthful group with significant upside and the potential to be Cup contenders before long. At worst, the Islanders are a playoff fixture for the foreseeable future. Rick Nash might not repeat his goal season, but guys like Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes should be able to make up the difference. This roster is still top-heavy, but if those key players can stay healthy, the Penguins can stay in contention in the East.
I do expect the Penguins to prevail more often than not in the new 3-on-3 overtime format, so those bonus points should keep them in the middle of the playoff pack. This is the Metro team to really watch out for.
The Blue Jackets were ravaged by injuries this past season but showed a sign of things to come once they got healthy. Staying healthy, or healthier, will be of the utmost importance, especially for goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and young defenceman Ryan Murray. The offence is going to be even more dangerous with Saad coming over from Chicago. If there were a surprise team to miss the playoffs, I might look to the Canadiens and all it would take is for Carey Price to play like a regular human.
They came awfully close to squeaking into the post-season this spring, and I see no reason to keep the Panthers out next time around. Defence and goaltending are a bit more concerning, at least in the present, which prevented me from proclaiming the Flyers a playoff team.
Brad Richards and Mike Green should be quality veteran additions, but the loss of Mike Babcock will prove too much to overcome.
A phase that will come with some growing pains and potentially a goaltending controversy too. Starting from scratch with virtually the same roster, Ottawa is facing an uphill battle and needs the stars to align again. There are still plenty of question marks as well.