Other League’s NHL Season Preview

It might be impossible for me to describe just how excited I am for the return of the NHL this week. While every new season offers its own unique set of story lines that generate intrigue for fans and players alike, this season will be particularly interesting for a number of reasons. The league is in the midst of a period of nearly unrivaled parity where as many as 20 teams will enter the year with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. This makes predicting the final standings difficult, but I have attempted to do so below. Along with my projected conference standings, I have included several players and story lines to track throughout the season. Here it is, my NHL season preview.

Standings

Atlantic

1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Montreal Canadiens
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Ottawa Senators
5. Florida Panthers
6. Boston Bruins
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New York Islanders
3. New York Rangers
4. Washington Capitals
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
6. Philadelphia Flyers
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. New Jersey Devils

Wild Card1

1. Washington Capitals
2. Ottawa Senators
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Florida Panthers
5. Boston Bruins
6. Philadelphia Flyers
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
9. Carolina Hurricans
10. New Jersey Devils

Central

1. Nashville Predators
2. St. Louis Blues
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. Dallas Stars
5. Winnipeg Jets
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. Minnesota Wild

Pacific

1. Anaheim Ducks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Calgary Flames
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. Edmonton Oilers
7. Arizona Coyotes

Wild Card

1. Dallas Stars
2. Winnipeg Jets
3. San Jose Sharks
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Colorado Avalanche
6. Minnesota Wild
7. Edmonton Oilers
8. Arizona Coyotes

Stanley Cup

Anaheim Ducks over Tampa Bay Lightning

Analysis
The Ducks barely lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals last season and still found ways to improve their roster this summer. Anaheim’s offensive attack is a dangerous mix of power and skill, and their defense is equally deep behind Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and budding star Hampus Lindholm. The Lightning return a very similar roster from a year ago but the continued improvement of Jonathan Drouin will put this team over the top. Their defense and goaltending is just as deep as Anaheim’s, but I’m counting on the Ducks’ physical game overwhelming Tampa in a closely contested finals series.

Awards

Hart: John Tavares
Art Ross: Sidney Crosby
Rocket Richard: Alex Ovechkin
Norris: P.K. Subban
Selke: Joe Pavelski
Vezina: Carey Price

Benn

Players to watch

Jamie Benn

Benn enters the 2015-16 season as the reigning Art Ross trophy winner and a frontrunner for the Hart trophy given to the league’s MVP. Since Dallas traded for Tyler Seguin during the summer of 2013, Benn has scored 69 goals in 163 games and has become a true superstar. What makes Benn such a strong candidate for league MVP will be the improved play of Dallas over the course of an 82 game season. Adding Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Antti Niemi – along with the return of Valeri Nichushkin – will help the Stars score plenty of goals this season, and improve in the standings. A better performance there will help Benn gain the recognition he deserves, and might help him take home some hardware in the process.

Mark Giordano

Calgary’s captain was an electric player for much of last season before a torn bicep knocked him out for the team’s playoff run. The Flames are looking to contend in a tight Western Conference this season, and they will need Giordano to return to form if they hope to win on a regular basis. Giordano’s health is especially significant when his new 6-year, $40.5 million contract is taken into consideration. Advanced stats suggest a regression could be coming for the Flames, but it will be tough to count them out if Giordano stay in the lineup.

Jacob Trouba

Trouba is expected to take a huge step forward and become the leader of a burgeoning Jets’ defensive group this season after playing some exceptional hockey for a young player in his first two seasons. Winnipeg is hungry for a repeat playoff appearance after losing in four games to Anaheim this past spring, and the play of Trouba will be a big factor in their ability to reach that stage. The young defender will also see increased ice time if Dustin Byfuglien is traded before the expiration of his contract following this season.

Cam Talbot

The Oilers and Sharks gave up a total of four draft picks to acquire two goalies with 91 total games of NHL experience between them at the draft this summer in an attempt to improve their weak situations in goal. San Jose gave up their first round pick for Martin Jones, while Talbot will take over the crease in Edmonton despite playing sparingly in his two NHL seasons. With such a small sample size to judge their performances to date, both will be huge question marks as they assume full time roles. The addition of Connor McDavid in Edmonton only increases the pressure on Talbot to succeed as the Oilers look to push themselves forward as an organization.

Phil Kessel

I was fortunate enough to see a game in Toronto last season and have a firsthand look into just how frustrating Kessel was for Maple Leaf fans. Everyone in the building held their breath when he had the puck in the offensive zone, but were also quick to boo him and complain about his lack of hustle defensively. He enters Pittsburgh with Stanley Cup hopes and the chance to play alongside two generational players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but is followed by many of the same questions. Never short on speed or skill, Kessel’s questionable work ethic has infuriated coaches and fans alike, while his teams in Toronto reached the postseason just once. The potential has always been there, but this may be Kessel’s last chance to shine in a legitimate hockey city before his reputation becomes unsalvageable.

Babcock

Story Lines

Tracking Toronto

The Maple Leafs are always one of the most high-profile teams in the NHL thanks to their huge fan base and impressive history, but they have struggled to live up to expectations in recent years. After an impressive and somewhat surprising playoff berth in 2012-13, the Leafs bottomed out in each of the past two seasons and a full rebuilding process has begun. Their biggest move this summer was signing Mike Babcock as their next head coach, but even he may not be able to lift the team from the bottom of the standings. With another long season on its way, don’t be surprised if talented players like James Van Riemsdyk and Jonathan Bernier find themselves in different uniforms by the end of the year.

Rookie Stars

Few draft classes have experienced the hype that surrounded 2015’s group of rookies thanks to the presence of prodigies Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. 1A and 1B on draft boards everywhere, McDavid and Eichel have the kind of franchise changing ability seen in Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. No one knows how long it will take for these young players to reach their full potential in the league, but most expect them to contribute from day one. The scariest part for teams across the league is that both Eichel and McDavid could end up with at least 25 goals and 60 points as rookies. The pressure is on, and it will be exciting to watch each player live up to the hype.

Blackhawks Repeat?

No team has been more dominant over the past eight years than the Chicago Blackhawks. Speed, skill, discipline, and leadership have characterized the team since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane came together to form one of the most talented duos in the NHL. However, this team is one that has seen a tremendous amount of turnover this offseason due to salary cap constraints and many of Chicago’s best players were forced out. Brandon Saad, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya, and Patrick Sharp will all don different uniforms in 2015-16 and Kane’s recent legal situation hasn’t helped the organization either. GM Stan Bowman did his best to replace the talent they lost, but this is a different Blackhawks team and only time will tell if they can maintain their status as perennial contenders.

Lighting Lamps in Dallas

Jamie Benn received his share of attention earlier in this article when I declared him a potential Hart Trophy candidate, but the rest of Dallas’s offense deserves some credit as well. Usually when a team’s top six includes Benn, Tyler Seguin, Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, Valeri Nichuskin, and Ales Hemsky you would expect that team to be playing once a year on All-Star weekend. Instead, those six compromise the Stars’ top two lines, and they shouldn’t have a hard time scoring goals as a result. Their offense could easily lead the league in goals and they’ll have to if they want to make up for their weak defense and streaky goaltending. No matter who does the scoring, there are sure to be plenty of wild and high-scoring hockey games in Dallas this season.

Los Angeles Recovery

Remember when L.A. was still being mentioned in the same breath as Chicago in terms of modern-day NHL dynasties? Well those days are over thanks to their shocking inability to qualify for the playoffs in 2014-15. Plagued by inconsistent play and surrounded by distractions in the form of Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, and Slava Voynov, the 2014-15 Kings were not the team everyone expected them to be. Things will be different this season after those three players were shown the door while power forward Milan Lucic and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff were welcomed in. Expect the Kings to return to their form of old and finish near the top of the Pacific Division.

Stars on Expiring Deals

Another interesting story line to watch that concerns the Kings and several other teams across the league is the contract status of a few of the world’s best players for the summer of 2016. Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal, Anze Kopitar, and Kyle Okposo are all entering the last year of their contracts, and all have the potential to change teams before season’s end. Acquiring any one of the players mentioned above could change the outlook for a team overnight, and several franchises on the cusp of contending could be very interested in their services. Particularly interesting in this situation is Stamkos’s rumored desire to return home and play in Toronto. If those rumors are true – I am not suggesting they are – would Tampa trade their best player in order to avoid losing him for nothing over the summer? I’m not sure they would, but I do know that I’m looking forward to seeing how the contract situations play out for all of these players.


  1. top three teams in each division qualify for the playoffs, the last two spots are determined independently of division status 

About the author /


David is a sport management student at UMass Amherst who one day hopes to work in athlete representation. Keep up to date with his writing and other interesting sports news by following him on Twitter via @DavidTews13.