Priming for the puck
It is that time of year again. Hockey is starting up and I couldn’t be any more excited for this season. If I could put the feeling of hockey season into musical form, it would for sure be the John Cena theme song. I went back and found my article from last year at this time predicting the standings and realized I was way off base. For one, I picked Boston and L.A. to make the playoffs, but who wouldn’t have really? Also, I picked the Flames, Senators, Jets and Predators to all finish at, or near, the bottom of their respective divisions, and they all made the playoffs, so for an overall performance, I will give myself a “D.” Because I was so far off last year, I am going to do it a little differently this time and just give who I think will be the top three in each division with one team to look out for. Let’s get to it.
I’ll start with what I think will be the weakest division this year, despite having the Stanley Cup runners up in it, the Atlantic division:
With Tampa Bay’s firepower, strong defense and good goaltending, they’re not much of a reach to pick winning the division. Montreal will finish behind them in second, riding the world’s best goalie, Carey Price, all the way like they have been doing for years. To round out the top three, I’m sticking with the Detroit Red Wings. Sure, their best players are getting up there in age and they lost probably the best coach in hockey, but I think these guys have what it takes for at least one more season.
Team to watch for: Boston Bruins. They made many big changes in the offseason, losing stud defensemen Dougie Hamilton, and power forward Milan Lucic, but like Teemu Selanne said in the Olympics in 2014, with Tuukka Rask in net, no game is un-winnable. Side note: Buffalo is intriguing this season with a lot of new talented young players in Kane, Reinhart, and of course Eichel, they could be a fun team to watch.
Staying in the East, but moving to the Metropolitan division now. This division is very interesting because it has many of the leagues biggest stars going up against each other all the time. These players include Crosby and Malkin, Giroux and Voracek, Ovechkin, and John Tavares. I am going have to go with Pittsburgh to win this division. With the addition of Phil Kessel, the offence will be too much for most teams to handle. This might be going out on a limb slightly, but Washington is my second place pick. They made some good additions last year, and Ovi’s newly found two-way, team game, will vault them right up in the mix with the contenders this year. Third, the New York Islanders. They have been on the upswing over the past few years and are going to be a dangerous team this year.
Team to watch for: Columbus Blue Jackets. An honourable mention to the New York Rangers who are always pretty good, but I had expected big things from the Jackets last year and they didn’t live up to my expectations. I think as a young team, they will turn some heads this year.
The West is going to be an absolute bloodbath this year with what I would call eleven out of fourteen teams that are playoff caliber. I’ll start the West off in the weaker of the two divisions, not by much though, the Pacific Division. First place, no doubt that it is going to be the Anaheim Ducks. They are too big, too strong and too skilled to not be one of the best teams in the entire league, let alone first in their division. L.A. will have a fire under their ass after missing the playoffs last year, and with the addition of Milan Lucic, this team somehow found a way to get even bigger. Third, I have to go with my boys, the Calgary Flames. They were everyone’s guilty pleasure team last year, making the playoffs even though no one thought they would and they did it in exciting fashion, with the second-most come-from-behind wins in the league. This year they added a stud, Dougie Hamilton, to what was already one of the better defenses in the league, which could be enough to keep them in the chase for another year.
Team to watch for: Calgary Flames. This may make me sound like a huge homer, but everyone will be keeping their eyes on McDavid up in Edmonton, but the real team to watch will be the Flames. Can they make it back to the playoffs, despite bad advanced stats last year? Will they continue to be able to comeback in games after they go down early? Stay tuned and find out, I guess.
The Central division is normally dominated by the Blackhawks and Blues, but there are a lot of teams that are improving every year and the those two teams haven’t done much to improve themselves and have actually gotten worse, thus evening the playing field. I still believe that first and second will be Chicago and St. Louis, in either order, but its far from the guarantee it was in past years. Third place in the Central is the toughest question to answer in the league. It could very well be any of Dallas, Nashville, Winnipeg, Colorado or Minnesota, but if I had to pick one, based on the fantastic defence, new scoring threats, and an all-world goalie, I have to go with the Nashville Predators to take third place.
Team to watch for: All of them. Colorado underachieved last year and is looking to get back to the playoffs, Minnesota is always in the battle, and they have a very good chance if Dubnyk can have the same type of season as last year. That top line of Dallas’ is crazy and may be enough for them to fight their way in, and Winnipeg is coming off first round playoff exit and will be looking to improve on that.
Any way the season shapes up this year, it is bound to be a good year for hockey, with lots of exciting new players and storylines to follow. The wait is over. Happy hockey season, everyone.