2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Written by :
Published on : October 8, 2015

 

 

ScoreBoredSports brings you its final 2015-16 NHL Season Preview: the Atlantic Division. Thanks so much for reading, and we hope you’ll keep your brain-port hooked to our internet tube for more hockey coverage throughout the year!

 

A collection of teams moving in very different directions, the Atlantic Division reads fairly clearly, even through the Red-Wing-tinted glasses I can’t help but to wear. Stanley Cup aspirations persist in hockey notbed Tampa Bay, while rare talent Jack Eichel instantly elevates the expectations in Buffalo. Between Boston’s deceptive re-tool, Toronto’s complete upheaval, and Ottawa’s likely fall to earth, there’s plenty of room for stink potential, too. Oh, and I guess there’s another team in Florida for some reason. I think Jaromir Jagr, inventor of the printing press, plays there?

 

Pacific Div preview banner
Image by Roger Pretzel

Atlantic Division:

  • Bruins 
  • Sabres
  • Red Wings 
  • Panthers
  • Canadiens
  • Senators                            
  • Maple Leafs

 

 

Falling

Ottawa Senators:

The Sens might need big things from Anderson this year.

 

Some food for thought regarding Ottawa’s blazing-hot finish to the regular season: they tied for 5th-highest PDO in the league, a big albatross to wear for such an under-skilled team. Of the team’s 5 players to reach the 20-goal mark, 3 of them shot an unsustainably high percentage last season compared to the league average of about 9%: Mike Hoffman (27g, 13.4%), Mark Stone (26g, 16.6%) and Mika Zibanejad (20g, 13.3%). They also received the miraculous surprise of a bouncing baby goal keeper, sizzling hot out of the randomness oven. Unfortunately, Andrew Hammond hit his terrible twos pretty quickly and flickered out of the playoffs, and some keepers never survive past that stage. Luckily, the Senators still have dumpy old Craig Anderson, who has a great year every other year, though he sometimes loses track of which year is supposed to be which. They still have all the aforementioned young talent, which is significant, and that’s not even mentioning perennial All-Star Erik Karlsson. They carried some younger players that now face the ever-looming sophomore slump, which is always written off as a myth until it hits home. Curtis Lazar, Mark Stone, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau will all technically be entering their second full seasons, and there’s plenty of youth all over the roster that needs time to develop. The defense is shaky beyond Karlsson and Cody Ceci, who plays 20 minutes a game and looks to be the team’s hopeful replacement for Chris Phillips. The admixture of Anderson’s bobbing reliability, and the team’s unlikeliness to repeat their outstanding shooting percentages, leads me to believe that the Sens will fall out of the playoff picture altogether this year.

 

Rising

Boston Bruins:

Chara is a monster, and will need to play like it this season.

 

After a tough year in which some important players either stalled in their development (Reilly Smith), underperformed (Loui Eriksson), or became injured (Zdeno Chara), Boston is hoping a significant roster turnover can bring in some new blood; the future-forward acquisition of valuable draft picks has been balanced with incoming players like Matt Beleskey, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Miller, and Jimmy Hayes. This mild bunch comes at the cost of several key players such as the potential future anchor of their defense, Dougie Hamilton, and fan-favorite Power Forward, Milan Lucic. The hope is that one of Beleskey or Hayes can oaf it up in front of the net to sufficiently replace Dr. Lucic’s cerebral style of smashy-smashy. They’ve retained Claude Julien, one of the most accomplished coaches in the NHL; they’ve also still got Patrice Bergeron, one of the most complete players you’ll ever see. Bergeron is an absolute joy to watch, from the way he commands the face-off circle, to the way he always, head up, makes a patient play. I also see this as a potential rebound year for All-Star keeper Tukka Rask, who struggled at times with the defensive turmoil in front of him. The big, and I mean big, question is that of Zdeno Chara’s health. He’s currently listed as day-to-day, though that is obviously subject to change rapidly as the team will be cautious going into the season. Without big Z, Boston lacks the defensive depth to launch a meaningful challenge in the East. Contrary to most people’s projections, I believe the Bruins, with solid leadership and the luck of a little good health, will return to the playoffs this year — but it’ll be a thin line to tread unless more changes come.

 

Buffalo Sabres:

Jack Eichel looks like he could be one of the Sabres’ children.

 

The overhaul that Buffalo underwent in the off-season was transformative, no other way to say it. When I was watching action from the most recent World Junior Championships, it was actually Jack Eichel who stood out more than Connor McDavid at first, even when the U.S. team didn’t go as far as McDavid’s Canadian champs; then I saw some insane footage of McDavid showing otherworldly control and power in skating drills during the Oilers’ training camp, and I felt light-headed, so now I’m not so sure.  Regardless, Eichel is a major talent who is highly likely to be one of the best players in the NHL within five years.  They also have, by the way, last year’s second-overall pick Sam Reinhart, who led Canada to the WJC crown by tying McDavid and Max Domi for the lead in scoring.  That’s no joke. Add to that a ridiculous infusion of talent including versatile but troubled Center/Forward Ryan O’Reilly, promising winger Evander Kane, and potential star goaltender Robin Lehner, and you just have a different team from last year’s onslaught of awful.  Did I mention that all of these players are under 25?  The Sabres upgraded in other areas, too, adding Cup-winning coach Dan Bylsma, and taking a flyer on talented two-way defenseman Cody Franson.  The team also added the veteran David Legwand, who won’t break games but is a great role-model for young players andaslaslsgggggggg… shit, sorry… almost fell asleep there.  You get the idea.  Apart from David Blandwand, I am quite excited for this Buffalo team, as this is a good hockey community that has been thirsty for greatness since the day the Dominator left town.  The playoffs are not at all out of the question for this squad, though a lot of that will hinge upon the formation of a coherent defense, especially with the Grand Canyon-sized crater left behind by Tyler Myers. Luckily he wasn’t all that great, and Bylsma has the energy and credential to whip this inexperienced Sabres D into competence.  It looks like it will come down to a competition between the Bruins, Penguins, Sabres, and Blue Jackets for those final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

 

Detroit Red Wings:

19 year old Dylan Larkin could be the future in Hockeytown.

 

A new era begins in Detroit, with first-year coach Jeff Blashill looking to bring some energy and fresh looks to an always-good Red Wings team.  The problem in recent years is that that “always good” has come at the expense of “ever great,” as injuries (see: every Red Wing), odd contracts (Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard, “Diamond” Dan Cleary) and failed signings (RIP Stephen Weiss) have stunted opportunities for the Wings to break through.  As an aside, Wing-haters can delight in reading this article from the invaluable Winging It In Motown blog about the truly horrific contract situation of Captain Hank and Franzen, should either retire before fulfilling their contract.  And don’t even get me started on Dan Cleary, whose inconceivable presence on the Wings’ roster is only explicable through a tangle of Newfoundland mafia connections. Nonetheless, this year hope abounds, as Wings fans can finally admit to themselves that there’s always been some weirdness with the way departed, beloved, Cup-winning and hair-ever-swooping coach Mike Babcock used players.  Prime example: Jakub Kindl has actually always been very good, and his essential deletion from the Red Wings universe last year truly puzzled me, especially when he was being leap-frogged by guys like Brian Lashoff and Alexei Marchenko (who are fine in their own right, just not as groomed or effective).  So I’m looking forward to seeing Blashill’s take on the talent available.  That talent was significantly increased when GM Ken Holland signed Mike Green, a right-handed defenseman with blistering offensive skill, and Brad Richards, a two-time Cup winner, former Conn Smythe trophy winner, and one of my all-time favorite slowpoke badasses.  This team will continue to dominate possession numbers and show high shooting percentages with ridiculous talent like my best friend, father, and life coach, Pavel Datsyuk, as well as outstanding younger talent like Gus Nyquist and Tomas Tatar.  The Wings also have a potential rookie starlet in Dylan Larkin making the opening-night roster; the Wings haven’t had a teenager on their opening-night roster since Jiri Fischer in 1999.  His talent has been dynamic and impactful in training camp and the pre-season, so don’t count out that new blood making an impact. Larkin dominated for the US in those World Juniors, by the by, outclassing both Eichel and McDavid before the States petered out and McDavid had more games to rack up points.  Peter Mrazek represents a solid hope for the Wings future in net, but the real hope is that Jimmy Howard can live up to his weighty contract.  My prediction: Playoffs x 25.  Beyond that, I see a competitive second-round exit.  Or ten Stanley Cups — that’s what I meant.  Ten Cups, this year.

 

Contenders

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Ben Bishop and the Lightning look to be poised for greatness again this year.

 

It doesn’t take a lot to figure out why I’m predicting the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup. With everything in place for another deep run, and the bitter taste of coming oh-so-close last year as a particularly powerful motivator, the Bolts look to be hockey’s most complete team. Starting with Steve Stamkos, the NHL’s archetypal sniper, the Lightning have elite talent at every position, and lots of it.  Victor Hedman has finally matured into a Norris-Trophy candidate, and is supported by a deep defense with the likes of Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison, and Matt Carle all capable of contributing in meaningful ways.  Ben Bishop proved himself to be a fine backstop, and only looks to get better.  It’ll be interesting to see what kind of season Tyler Johnson has, who came from nowhere to become one of the NHL’s elite offensive players, this generation of Martin St. Louis for Lightning fans.  Jon Cooper has also acquitted himself nicely as a tactically astute coach that can find productive player combinations, evinced by the chemistry discovered between Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat. This team has no significant weakness, and if anything, is looking at rebound seasons from the likes of Stamkos and Valteri Filppula, who mysteriously was minus-17 in spite of the Lightning being the NHL’s highest-scoring outfit last year. Let’s also remember that the 3rd overall pick from two years ago, Jonathan Drouin, may be ready to burst out in a big way. Things look to finally be lining up for Tampa’s second Stanley Cup run.

Look, sometimes these picks are fairly anticlimactic because the writing’s on the wall. As such, here’s an inappropriate GIF of Jaromir Jagr that I found on Reddit:

 

A Satisfied Legend

 

 

Other:

  • I kid about Florida, but I still don’t see them going anywhere after a stagnant off-season. The ageless Jagr will, of course, be good for 40-60 points, and 20-30 European models bedded; Roberto Luongo will likely be a consistent net presence as long as there are no serious stakes. The rest of the team’s outlook seems to hinge on player development, as their core of Alex Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and, most importantly, Aaron Ekblad, will have to carry a larger load if this team wants to go forward. It’s clear that Ekblad is a star, but elevation is needed out of the other two as well as players like Nicklas Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck, and Boston castoff Reilly Smith. Remember when Florida fans threw rats on the ice after a hat trick for some reason (because cats)?  Do they still do that?  Are there still Florida Panther fans even? Ah, stupid times.

 

  • Sorry to say it, but Montreal’s season really depends on Carey Price, who we know will be very good, but may have trouble replicating his MVP season from last year. His level of excellence will drive their team, though a very minor influx of speed and creative potential in players like Zack Kassian and Alex Semin, as well as the retention of Jeff Petry, offer potential relief for their offensive woes. More importantly, they have the game’s most exciting defenseman, P.K. Subban, who also became one of hockey’s foremost philanthropists after pledging to donate $10 million to a Montreal Children’s Hospital. I’m an unabashed fan of everything P.K.  He does things on the ice nobody else can, makes the game fun and thrilling, expresses himself in an interesting way (as opposed to most NHL players and their monotone cliché-bot routine), kisses Pierre Mcguire on live TV, I mean what more could you possibly want? I’m hoping Subban does something unthinkable like celebrate after a goal so the anything-but-level-headed Montreal media run him out of town, straight into the arms of the Red Wings. Yes, I may be having an Ambien hallucination right now, but this is why we all gathered at the Eiffel Tower today, isn’t it? N’est-ce pas, Henri?

 

Thanks again for reading, and come back to ScoreBoredSports for more of the internet’s most supple NHL coverage! 

 


2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division

Written by :
Published on : October 6, 2015

 

 

Hot damn, thanks for reading ScoreBoredSports 2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division edition. What a nice ride it’s been, but things are bound to get shakier. The Pacific division is one of the NHL’s strongest, or maybe, one of the weakest. It might be sending six teams to the playoffs, or two. Very hard to tell with so much movement going on in San Jose and Calgary, a new era in Edmonton, and the ever-burning question of why in the name of great Satan there is a hockey team in Arizona. But luckily, you have good old Antoine to guide you. Sure, I may be a handsome genius who has a great record making NFL picks, but hockey will set us all free. Let’s get started with the Pacific.

 

Pacific NHL
Image by Roger Pretzel

 

Pacific Division:

  • Ducks 
  • Coyotes
  • Flames 
  • Oilers 
  • Kings
  • Sharks 
  • Canucks

 

Falling

Vancouver Canucks:

Twinsies!

 

Another year goes by in the prime of the Sedin twins’ career, and they continue to produce at high levels.  Last year, Henrik set them up, and Daniel knocked them down, with the help of high-efficiency winger Radim Vrbata.  The Canucks will have to rely on an aging leadership core of the Sedins, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler (Edler is, in fact, only 29 but his output has diminished quite a bit since his heyday), and goaltender Ryan Miller.   There’s some good depth with forwards like Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, as well as offseason acquisitions Brandon Sutter and Brandon Prust.  It’s all a bit underwhelming, though, and the Canucks will have to rely on the ongoing development of Bo Horvat for that extra spark.  Yet there’s enough chemistry between the Sedin twins and Vrbata, a traditionally excellent player in possession, that they have a realistic shot of putting together solid offensive numbers with that supporting cast.  I see them coming into the playoffs at a lower seed than last year.  I remain cautious, however, about any team that pins its hopes on Ryan Miller to make a playoff run, when he’s really never been effective in the playoffs.  After the debacle with the Blues two seasons ago, and last season’s surprising upset at the hands of the Flames, I’m not any more confident in Miller’s resumé.

 

Falling OR RISING

Calgary Flames:

Flame on!

 

I want to feel really confident that this is a team destined for regression, that their run to the second round of the playoffs was a sign of things to come rather than a result of statistically anomalous excellence. They had the third-highest PDO number in the NHL last season, which is a red flag; they were poor in possession, with the fifth-worst team Corsi For percentage, and had the second-highest Team Shooting Percentage in the league. Jonas Hiller has had an up-and-down career, and the flames goaltending situation is tenuous past him, with Karri Ramo never really stepping out and distinguishing himself. All that said, I can’t help but take notice that they sustained much of their winning play last year without their best player and one of the best defenseman in the NHL, Mark Giordano. They have a deep defensive corps with the newly-signed Dougie Hamilton boosting their potential for developing into the NHL’s most elite defensive unit.  The flames relied heavily on their defense for offensive production, with players like TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, and Kris Russell each scoring on a regular basis, and Hamilton should comfortably join those ranks. I recognize that Johnny Gadreau may be in for a sophomore slump;  is it possible Johnny Hockey takes a leap instead of step backward? If his shooting percentage is any hint, the answer to that question will be “probably not”; at 14.4%, his shooting percentage was about 5% above the league average.  Here’s the thing: that slump just didn’t happen to Sean Monahan, the Flames’ top center, who nearly doubled the output from his rookie campaign with a strong, 31-goal season.  Perhaps they’ve found the right recipe for development in Calgary.  Or perhaps they found some good luck and took it to the second round of the playoffs. Or, moments before suiting up on opening night, the Flames players might all decide to abandon the game of hockey, and instead explore their masculinity together in a remote cabin in Manitoba for the next two years. Only the snow knows the answers.

 

Rising OR FALLING

San Jose Sharks:

Jawsome!

 

The second of two inscrutable teams in this division, the San Jose Sharks, are just as replete with uncertainty. Most pressing question: is new hire Peter Deboer even a good coach? He’s 217-200 in his career, and missed the playoffs in 6 out of 7 of his seasons at the helm of an NHL team in Florida, then New Jersey. The only time he made the playoffs, he took New Jersey on an improbable run to the finals, and lost. The second giant question mark is in net: is newcomer Martin Jones a starting NHL goalie? Some might become alarmed at the fact that Martin Jones’ career numbers may be buoyed by some artificial inflation, as he faced the fewest shots per 60 minutes in the league last year. Then again, the Sharks have a veteran defense with Brent Burns and Paul Martin, a shrewd summer signing, that may be able to aptly shield Jones and keep those shots on goal around 25 a game.

 

The third and final question is, perhaps, the funniest one: who is the Sharks’ captain? For those who don’t know, there’s been a years-long, buffoonish shadow-war being fought “behind the scenes” (yet, somehow, quite publicly) in San Jose between General Manager Doug Wilson and former Captain and All-Star, Joe Thornton. Essentially, Wilson implied (to the media) that Thornton couldn’t handle being in a leadership role, then went a whole year without naming a captain after demoting Thornton; old Joe finally told him (through the media) to shut his mouth and that he didn’t know what he was talking about. They still don’t have a captain.  In and of itself, that’s not so uncommon, but the way this has unfolded has just had a touch of Théâtre de l’Absurde.  It’s like if you had one of those scenes in a crime drama where the police captain tells the rogue detective, “turn in your badge and gun. You’re done in this department.” Then the detective complies, only he remains seated in the captain’s office for the next year, just staring, and that’s the rest of the movie.  At least the Sharks also picked up Joel Ward over the summer, who is a canny playoff scorer that can provide some physicality and timely finishing. Who knows with this team. 82-0.

 

Rising

Edmonton Oilers:

Cam Talbot doing work.

 

Easy enough, but drafting a generational talent like Connor McDavid with a first-overall pick will usually cause a team to rise. Combine that with new front-office blood in former Cup-winning architect of the Bruins, Peter Chiarelli, and new coach Todd Mclellan, and I see this team coalescing into a much more competent unit. On offense, it’s pretty straight-forward. They have tons of marquee talent after spending the last decade taking lottery picks in the draft, including last year’s 3rd overall pick, Center Leo Draisaitl. Now is the time for some of the stragglers among those picks to truly step up and become relevant players. This means Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have to find that next level of consistency, and Nail Yakupov will have to take advantage of having the coolest first name in hockey. Question marks are, of course, all over this team, which has had one of the shakiest defenses in the NHL over the past few seasons. Edmonton’s faithful are hoping that Cam Talbot is the new answer in net after acquitting himself with high efficacy during his run filling in for Henrik Lundqvist in New York last year. If highly-touted pick Darnell Nurse can slot into the lineup as a reliable top-six defender, and summer signee Andrej Sekera provides consistency, their defense will hopefully take a step up. They have solid veterans in Mark Fayne and Andrew Ference, but have lacked defensemen with two-way effectiveness. With so many questions to ask, the key one remains: will the Oilers somehow find another way to screw this up? I don’t think that’s in this team’s future.  I see them contending for a playoff spot but coming up short in a respectable season that may just be a precursor to much bigger things.

 

Los Angeles Kings:

Hail to the king.

 

It’s hard to imagine a squad this laden with Stanley Cup-winning talent will remain outside of the playoff picture another year.  Belying their narrow miss, the Kings boasted the second-best Corsi For percentage in the NHL last year, but suffered from pretty bad puck luck with a PDO in the bottom 10 in the league.  The Kings used the off-season to jettison controversy in the form of Slava Voynov and Mike Richards, and hopefully the cloud won’t be hanging over that team’s head for much longer.  Questions remain on the contract of Anze Kopitar, but I’m not especially worried about that.  I bet they just want to see him work hard in a contract year after an uneven campaign last year, with his production taking a dip, scoring only 16 goals and 64 points, his fewest in a non-injured season since he was a rookie.  The Kings re-loaded with some interesting pieces in Milan Lucic, a cup winner himself in Boston, and Christian Erhoff.  Erhoff didn’t have a particularly productive campaign last year with the Penguins, but he’s looked sharp in the pre-season and seems to be able to fill a need for a second power-play unit anchor and a skilled third-pairing defender.  I’d also look for increased production from Tyler Toffoli, who looked commanding and lost at different times last year.  But with their top lines looking to be set, there’s some scary potential if Anze Kopitar can get back on track, and Marian Gaborik can stay healthy.  If it breaks right, they are a true dark-horse contender for a run to the Cup; until we see how the new pieces jell, it’s safe to say the Kings will be dangerous foes in the playoff race.

 

Contenders

Anaheim Ducks:

Quack, quack, quack!

 

Loaded roster.  High-caliber leaders that are willing to go the extra mile (and by “the extra mile,” obviously, we’re referring to heinous acts of goonery).  Middle-of-the-road team possession and PDO numbers, indicating there will be no obviously-indicated regression.  New assistant coaches with experience and talent.  That’s just a recipe for success.  However, there was also a lot of turnover, losing key players like François Beauchemin and Matt Beleskey.  Luckily key replacements are there to slot into the lineup, like Kevin Bieksa, who offers the same kind of stalwart leadership, grit, and timely offensive play as Beauchemin. Newcomers like former Michigan Wolverine Carl Hagelin and former Northern Michigan Wildcat Mike Santorelli offer potentially new and exciting looks as the team made a point to incorporate a ton of speed in the off-season.  Even in spite of such a roster shakeup, the core remains intact in proven Cup-winners Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.  The goaltending situation seems to have settled with Fredrik Andersen taking the reigns and performing with enough confidence that young John Gibson will have time to develop his craft before taking over permanently.  Anton Khudobin provides an interesting safety net in the meantime should Fredrik Andersen falter, though Andersen was a steady performer last year.  They’ll need to figure out who will play on Perry’s opposite wing, but there are lots of options.  My bet is that Hagelin stands out and benefits from a supply of well-timed breakout passes from Getzlaf, streaking his way to a 30-goal year.  Theoretically, the last major hurdle was Chicago, a team significantly weakened by controversy and attrition, who would now have a tough time competing over 7 games with this Ducks team.  Pit them against any other team in the West, and I see them breaking through.  Without obvious weaknesses, and power and speed aplenty, I believe this Ducks team will get to the Stanley Cup Final, but ultimately won’t hoist the hardware after a competitive series.

 

Other Thoughts: 

  • Arizona Coyotes… give me a break.   Instead, here’s a snapshot of my screenplay “the Redemption of Quack City,” a sort of NHL fan-fic if you will.  Notes are welcome but PLEASE BE GENTLE.

INT. Day: Rinkside, Anaheim Ducks Practice Facility.

A hulking RYAN GETZLAF waddles on his skates, trying to get to the ice (Think: Taylor Kitsch / Josh Hartnett / an Unknown could work).  He looks up and sees that COREY PERRY (think JASON STATHAM) is in his way, but not wearing his PENDANT.  GETZLAF shoots  him a strong glance, but PERRY is focused on trying to get the door to the rink open with his gloves on.  GETZLAF approaches PERRY and confronts him by GRABBING HIS ARM.

Perry: 
Bro, Wha Fuck?

Getzlaf:
WHY YOU NO WEAR SHITHEAD PENDANT.  SHITHEAD PENDANT MAKE STRONG AND MAKE ENEMY WEAK.

Perry: 
OH I NO… I … fuck, I can’t do this, Ryan.  I’m a peaceful man. I can’t be taking cheap shots and making all these opportunistic, borderline hits.  I’m not that guy.

Getzlaf: 
BUT… NO… NO SHITHEAD?

Perry: 
No… let’s just try to win by playing hockey.

GETZLAF falls to knees and weeps. 

Getzlaf (screaming to heavens):
LAST SHITHEAD! NOOOOOOO!!!!!

[cut to black].

 

Stay tuned for the conclusion of ScoreBoredSports.com’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview, coming soon on this very tube!  

 

 


2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Central Division

Written by :
Published on : October 3, 2015

 

Welcome to ScoreBoredSports.com’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview for the Central Division. Early last year, people wondered whether or not the Central was a division that featured seven playoff-caliber teams. The defensive profligacy of the Stars, continued stagnation in Winnipeg, and a dismal Wild season only saved by the heroics of a castaway goaltender, destabilized that dream. This year, the division’s outlook is not as rosy, with the customary dismantling of the Championship Blackhawks underway, questions surrounding uneven rosters in Colorado, Winnipeg, and Dallas, and the all-important question of when Patrick Roy will finally kill a man on the ice by the sheer venom of his hubris.

 

 

central division
Image by Roger Pretzel

 

Central Division:

  • Blackhawks
  • Avalanche
  • Stars
  • Wild
  • Predators 
  • Blues 
  • Jets

 

Falling

 

Chicago Blackhawks:

Quenneville and Toews will need to do a lot to keep the Blackhawks contending this year.

 

Well, might as well get this out of the way: the Blackhawks will not be as good this year. As salary cap issues forced Stan Bowman and co. to dismantle this fantastic roster, so, too, did their Stanley Cup aspirations crumble. They’ve shed key championship pieces like Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya, Antoine Vermette, and Brandon Saad. Gone, too, are Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp, each of whom played valuable minutes in a spectrum of roles. More pressing is the cloud that looms over the season in the form of a sexual assault allegation against Patrick Kane. No matter the outcome, nor the increasingly troublesome nature of the case, this inexorably will affect the team’s ability to concentrate and focus on the games at hand, whether Kane is present or not. But if any team has the structure to withstand such turmoil, the stalwart Hawks are the squad to do it.  When a team is a dynasty on the level of these Hawks, every player tends to ooze leadership.  The overall fall from surefire contender to a low playoff seed is an easy fall to predict, but make no mistake: this team still features the game’s best defenseman in Duncan Keith, the game’s best leader in Jonathan Toews, and the game’s best coach in Joel Quenneville. They added players on the cheap that have good potential to be productive, such as Ryan Garbutt and Artem Anisimov, and Trevor Daley might slot into a second-pair defensive role quite nicely.   They are likely to make the playoffs, but fight for every inch along the way.  It’s an ever-crowding West, but the Hawks still have too much on their roster to be silent come playoff time.

 

Winnipeg Jets:

There’ll be a lot more of this from Pavelec and the Jets this year.

 

I’m mainly concerned that this team is what it is, which is not a contender — and stagnation kills in the NHL. Trading Evander Kane for Tyler Myers may have shielded the tender fans in Winnipeg from whatever hangups they had about Kane, but Myers looked uneven in the playoffs. I’m just not convinced he’s Chara 2.0, or ever will be. I can see the appeal of a towering defense featuring Dustin Byfuglien and Myers, with massive slap shots and punishing hits aplenty; but I can also see, just beyond the hulking giants, a terrible goalie in net. Ondrej Pavelec is not an NHL starter, but boy has he started a lot of NHL games. I know you might be thinking “but look at his numbers last year, they’re quite good!” Maybe, but he’s not. He will be bad this year, don’t trust this false hope of a 50-game blip. Pavelec will be bad again; Michael Hutchinson has offered tepid promise, but remains far from a proven commodity.  The team’s above-average PDO (tied for 8th in the league) also suggests that the returns their forward crop offer may too be diminishing. This is a team that performed above average and is unlikely to shoot or stop the puck that well again, plain and simple. Their off-season of doing essentially nothing but reintegrating 23 year-old KHL refugee, Alex Burmistrov and re-signing the aging but adequate, Drew Stafford is a paltry re-load for a team that didn’t look like much in the playoffs. They’ll need continued development from young Mark Scheifele after a promising first full NHL season last year, but even so, I don’t see it this year in Winnipeg.

 

Rising

 

Nashville Predators:

Colin Wilson and the team celebrate the fact that I know who he is now.

 

Here’s an interesting fact: Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher, and Craig Smith are different people. Who knew? In researching the Nashville Predators roster, I must have done at least three major spit-takes, ruining my wife’s computer (twice). Contrary to my initial impression, those aren’t randomly-generated white guy names; they are, apparently, all unique individuals that each score between 30-50 points a year, are usually good for around 20 goals, and can play multiple positions. That’s so incredibly useful now that Nashville has a first line of players to reliably score in Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, and breakout All-Star candidate, Filip Forsberg. This marks a potentially powerful triumvirate if Ribeiro can continue to provide steady distribution, Neal re-ignites his potent shot, and Forsberg continues to develop on his current track. Throw in useful players like Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom to provide spine and leadership, and a reclamation project in Cody Hodgson, and this team is balanced and versatile. Most importantly, take a look at that loaded defense. Remember top draft pick Seth Jones? Yeah, he’s still that good. Shea Weber trudges along mercilessly firing 20 goals in a year while bludgeoning everyone in his path. There’s all kinds of depth and skill in Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, and newly-inbound veteran Barret Jackman, siphoned from a division rival, no less. Most importantly, Pekka Rinne is back and, barring another serious health condition like the one that robbed him of his 2014 season, should continue to be one of the game’s elite keepers. It says a lot that he was able to bounce back from that scary bacterial infection following hip surgery, and put up one of the best seasons of his career. Watch out for Stanley Cup-winning coach Peter Laviolette to harangue his way to some serious contention for home ice in the West.

 

Contender

 

St. Louis Blues:

Tarasenko re-signed to win some Stanley Cups and drink some beers…. And he’s all out of beer.

 

Will this be the year that Ken Hitchcock finally finds the right X’s and the perfect O’s for the perennially-underachieving Blues? Since he assumed the head coaching position in St. Louis, they have been consistently excellent in the regular season, finding enough firepower to accent a stalwart defense. Yet they’ve never been past the first round, and have foolishly ridden an ever-rotating goalie carousel toward soft playoff exits. Last year, they looked to be a powerful force against an inexperienced Wild team, yet squandered home ice in game five against a still-scorching Devan Dubnyk. Vladimir Tarasenko was about the only player who came out of the series looking good for the Blues.  This past summer didn’t spell doom, but rather, an ultimatum: last chance.

Looking at this year’s squad, there’s some potential for addition by subtraction in losing Barrett Jackman, as his off-season departure opens up space for younger players like Petteri Lindbohm and Robert Bortuzzo to step in and add a bit of pace in the back end. Other than that, they mainly added depth in Kyle Brodziak, and secured Vladimir Tarasenko for eight years.

This is a team that tended heavily toward defensive play last year, with a 49.5% ratio of offensive to defensive zone starts (essentially a composite of how and where each player on the team is deployed and used). This indicates that King Kenny’s attention to defense hasn’t fallen away like his career as a world-renowned breeder of exotic birds. And though it may not be true that Ken Hitchcock was ever a decorated breeder of tropical birds, doesn’t it feel like he should develop a passion outside of hockey? I just worry.

Anyway, in spite of the Blues’ craven history of disintegrating at crucial moments, the future looks just as bright as last year’s Division-winning team’s could have been. The aforementioned Tarasenko is the crown jewel in an offense laden with high-level two-way players like David Backes, and the newly-acquired Troy Brouwer, but it seems like they’ll need more pure offensive value out of Paul Stastny, who, on balance, had the worst season of his career in 2015. The Blues continue to have questions in their goalie rotation, with Brian Elliott losing favor to Jake Allen in the last third of the year and into the playoffs (until Allen turned in some poor performances of his own). Yet the answer doesn’t appear to be on the horizon, so the hope is that Elliott can regain his peak form and Allen can use his time as a backup to learn what it means to be a true NHL starter. With a loaded roster and a championship-winning coach, the sky isn’t even the limit; only the Blues can hold themselves back at this point.

 

Other Thoughts:

  • As much as I’d like to offer some insight into the Wild’s season, I feel like Devan Dubnyk’s incredible run in net last year disrupts my ability to really figure out what kind of team this is. Unfortunately, my highly sophisticated intuition tells me that it will be nearly impossible for Dubnyk to reproduce such a run.  However, late-career goaltending surges are not out of the question.  Dwayne Roloson, somehow, took a 2011 Lightning team to within a game of the Cup final at age 41; this came after an up-and-down career in which, excepting another strange run to the Cup final with Edmonton five years earlier, he never really established himself as a top-tier keeper.  Probable Ted Nugent disciple, Tim Thomas, burst out at age 33 from being a spotty starter to a four-time all-star, Stanley Cup, Vezina, and Conn Smythe winner.  So there’s some hope that Dubnyk, now 29, will take that seemingly random leap into excellence.  Smart money says that won’t be the case, and the Wild might re-discover some of their early-season malaise from 2014-15.  One thing I do know: Jason Zucker needs to pass the fucking rock.  Dude had 21 goals and 5 assists last year.  That’s like, Rick Nash-level selfish, bro.  I’M OPEN ON THE POINT, ASSHOLE.

 

  • Once again, Colorado boasted high puck luck with one of the NHL’s best PDO numbers, yet still managed to be a big mess.  A clue: the Avalanche had the league’s second-worst Corsi percentage, also known as Shot Attempts on NHL.com (the stat combines shots, shot attempts, and blocked shots, the idea is to measure how a player impacts the team’s ability to direct the puck at the other net).  But beyond any of the numbers, the Avs just sucked last year, so we can’t really say they’re falling.   Picking up veteran blueliner Francois Beauchemin should strengthen the hapless defense, and the addition of Blake Comeau, who had excellent possession numbers last year with a high personal Corsi percentage, should hopefully help in that department.  Ultimately, Patrick Roy is a an inflamed gonad and he will always be lesser than a Red Wing;  never forget 12/02/95, you Stanley Cup-winning chump!

 

  • Did you know that, according to the Weather Channel, it will be 86 degrees and partly cloudy in Dallas, Texas, on the opening night of hockey season??  I’m deeply tempted to leave my comments at that for the Stars, but they’ve done enough to at least intrigue me over the summer.  I don’t think they’re due for a significant push forward, nor a slump, but there’s potential for some impact with the summer acquisitions of skilled Cup-winners Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, and former Cup-winner Antii Niemi in goal.  But each of those players is on the wrong side of thirty, and who knows how much is left in the tank.  The Stars again play it cavalier with a thin defense, especially after losing one of their few NHL-ready defenders in Trevor Daley in the trade for Patrick Sharp.  Under the guidance of their General Manager, former Detroit Red Wing head of scouting and all-around hockey savant, Jim Nill, the Stars strengthened their team through the middle last off-season, acquiring Jason Spezza as a formidable second-line pillar.  The problem is that they neglected to carry six viable NHL defenders, and the team looked ghastly out of the back last year, allowing 257 goals, good for 4th-worst in the NHL.  I don’t really see enough movement on this front to shift the terrain in any significant direction; the goaltending situation continues to compound the team’s defensive woes, now with two potentially over-the-hill Finnish keepers bringing great experience, but diminishing skills.  Even the strong development of promising rookie D-man John Klingberg would be insufficient cover for such a porous defense.  Yet, with the likes of Tyler Seguin and unlikely Art-Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn, the team have an elite duo of firebrand offensive talent atop solid cast of top-six forwards.  The questions persist: can this Dallas team mature and take care of the puck in their own end? Does the combination of Kari Lehtonen and Niemi have enough in the tank to turn out wins with a shaky defense in front? Does the influx of former Chicago Blackhawk championship teammates create some sort of old-man spark?  Can you see the ice around my enormous cowboy hat made of beef jerky?

 

Stay tuned to your favorite internet tube for part 3, coming soon! 

 


2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Metropolitan Division

Written by :
Published on : September 27, 2015

 

 

Greetings, and welcome to ScoreBoredSports’ first annual NHL Season Preview. It’s an honor to be tapping out a few words on the state of mankind’s greatest game: hockey.

 

I wasn’t born on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, as the game itself was, but I am originally from the suburbs of Detroit (which is kind of close). I’m from a wintery land that sprawled across great distances of strip-mall flatness, but united under the banner of Hockeytown. So there is no need to mask this great love I have for the Detroit Red Wings, the most consistently excellent sports franchise of the last quarter-century.

That being said, I will either lay aside or lay bare my biases; it’s the game itself we love in the end anyway, dammit. So let’s break down this upcoming season, division-by-division. There will be a vague method to the madness. Important factors to consider will include roster movement, player development, goaltending, a glance at the advanced stats, and other observations.

 

*A quick note about those advanced metrics: I’m not an expert. I can barely count.  Yet I find many advanced metrics are useful, and quite reliable in predicting trends such as “regression towards the mean,” otherwise known as “not getting lucky all the time.” But context is vital. For example, some statistics, such as War-On-Ice’s Goalkeeper Adjusted Save Percentage, might suggest that Jonas Gustavsson (92.52) is a better goalie than two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick (92.50).

 

GustavsonFail

 

Jonas Gustavsson is not a better goalie than Jonathan Quick. We know this because we have eyes (see above).  And brains, which we will never forget to use. Just look at how out of position he is on this play.

We’ll begin by discussing the Metropolitan Division, mainly so I get writing about Crosby out of the way as soon as possible, that knave.

 

NHLMetroPretzel
Image By Roger Pretzel

 

  • Hurricanes
  • Blue Jackets
  • Devils
  • Islanders
  • Rangers
  • Flyers
  • Penguins
  • Capitals

 

Rising

 

Blue Jackets:

Can Foligno repeat his all-star worthy 2014-15 campaign?

 

Interesting situation in Columbus, and no, I’m not talking about Ohio State graduates’ curious behavior of eating paste — Columbus is a team with some indicators for serious progress. Yet, as with anything that happens in Ohio, the franchise has a cyclical history of failure.  I’m always curious about players that possess the puck as well as Brandon Saad, a recent outcast of Joel Quenneville’s Blackhawk dynasty that emphasizes speed and puck control (I liked Coach Q better when he was choking against Scotty Bowman every year, for the record). Their overall team PDO — combination of shooting percentage and save percentage, and frequently-reliable indicator of luck — was below average last year. With the inclusion of a player like Saad, perhaps the team will find a more potent and fluid offensive game, and maybe more puck luck.

The major question is whether Nick Foligno can sustain the kind of offensive production we saw last year in his breakout campaign, and what kind of progress is made in the defensive corps. Jack Johnson never turned out to be a world-beater, but he’s a competent first-pairing defenseman, and David Savard looked to be able to put up numbers, scoring 11 goals and racking up 105 hits on the year. Beyond those two, Fedor Tyutin hasn’t played a full season since 2011, and there’s not much else to speak of in terms of talent. The cupboard is fairly barren in the organization’s depth, too. There may be some room to sneak into the playoffs in the Eastern conference, as Ottawa is unlikely to repeat their miracle run another year, Boston has molted, and questions abound in Pittsburgh.  Yet another riser in the Buffalo Sabres may present new challenges.  I see this team rising, but only enough to squeak into the playoffs and likely lose to whoever they face in the first round.

 

Islanders:

The Islanders have a stable of young talent, including the electrifying, Jonathan Tavares

 

Speaking of underlying advanced metrics, it surprised me greatly to discover that the Islanders, a playoff team that narrowly missed a second-round berth, tied for the sixth-worst PDO number in the NHL last season. The logic follows in some senses, as many of the Isles key skill players were injured for stretches, and a lot of highly-skilled but inexperienced youth, such as Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, played heavy minutes. But there’s no real evidence that shooting percentage increases with age, and those kids made the playoffs! Look at Halak’s save percentage, too: it checks in at a reasonable .914 in a highly successful, 38-win campaign. This tells me that with a healthier stable of elite skill players (Okposo, Leddy, Boychuk), this is a team poised for continued excellence.

Looking at the roster, nearly every important player on the team is around 25 years old, including perennial Hart Trophy candidate Jonathan Tavares. Add the recently signed, offensively-gifted octogenarian Marek Zidlicky, and you have an experienced and versatile defensive corps.  Depending on their progress, the inclusion of high-level talent from the team’s development system may provide that extra spark in a tight playoff series.  First-round draft prospects such as Josh Ho-Sang, Michael Dal Colle, and goal-scoring D-man Ryan Pulock (who led the Isles AHL affiliate defenders in scoring despite missing a quarter of the season) have all sorts of talent, but may have trouble breaking into a deep lineup.   I’d dare even call them… Contenders?

 

Contenders

 

Rangers:

Rick Nash. Talk about punchable faces.

 

Until the day he’s not, Henrik Lundqvist is the handsomest most charmingly reminiscent of a younger Bradley Cooper is a reliably brilliant net minder. Only recently has the question of his health, with a scary throat injury, come to the fore. But if he’s healthy, this team looks like it could return to the top echelon of the Eastern conference yet again. There’s room to grow in their possession numbers; I wonder what sort of effect the transition from former coach John Tortorella’s block-everything mentality to Alain Vigneault speed-oriented breakout game has had on the team’s mediocre team Corsi figure. The most interesting layer may be if Keith “the Candle” Yandle will start to affect what was a surprisingly lackluster power-play last year, which connected on only 16.8% of its opportunities (good for 21st in the NHL). The team will conversely have to cope with the loss of tiny legend Martin St. Louis, whose salt & pepper wisdom was surely a locker-room boon. Yet there’s enough young or emerging talent across the team boasting speed and skill, like Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and the surging Derrick Brassard, that the loss may prove to be addition by subtraction. Otherwise, this is a team with an elite defensive corps and my least favorite NHL player, Rick Nash.

 

Capitals:

I see more celebrations in Ovechkin’s future.

 

They continue to add talent to a roster that was already full of high-level talent. Losing Mike Green won’t hurt so much in a Barry Trotz system that emphasizes responsibility, defense, studious back checking, and fiscal planning. Bringing on Justin Williams to replace their own playoff producer, Joel Ward, is a smart move at a relatively low cost, even though we all know Williams won’t be scoring 30 goals during the regular season. This is still a team with Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and a top-flight defensive crew, with tremendous younger talent in players like Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Burakowsky. My one sticking point with this team’s summer is the trading of Troy Brouwer for TJ Oshie, which I found to be un-needed as Brouwer seems as likely to plop in 20 goals as Oshie, only he brings hits and plays more games. Nonetheless, Trotz is a good coach and I could see this being the year he sneaks into the finals.

 

Other Thoughts:

  • Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world, I understand. But is there any more sniveling, dirty, hot-headed star in recent memory? Sure, he’s the best player, but how can you root for Crosby? He routinely slashes his opponents on weak spots like ankles, wrists, and crotches. He loves to face-wash opposing players, even tough guys, as if anyone in the NHL wants to be the guy that turned the Face Of The League into a pile of quivering viscera, snot, and tears. Crosby knows this, yet he dangles his untouchability in front of everyone, flaunting the fact that his brain is probably one jolt away from retirement in front of dudes who would relish the chance to pummel him. So, you can’t touch the league’s proverbial money-maker, even as it shakes in your personal space. It makes me hugely hopeful for the success of Connor McDavid; that, Lord Stanley willing, he turns out to be less of an arrogant penis.
  • I do wonder what will happen with the pairing of Crosby and Kessel in terms of interviews and TV presence. It already sounds like the most unwatchable buddy sitcom pairing, but I just feel for the people of Pittsburgh’s overall entertainment quotient. My advice? Just mute the games and watch the hockey, because it may be very fast and full of a lot of goals, but not charisma.  I’m sure they’ll survive.
  • The growth of Philly’s first line over the last few years would be more pleasurable to watch if the Flyers weren’t an evil organization of haggard witch-trolls. But I can’t help but glance at the foundation of Giroux and Voracek as championship-caliber. Giroux is easily one of the five best all-around players in the league, and Voracek has improved every single year, and is young enough to continue that pattern.  Wayne Simmonds is a wrecking ball that just happens to wreck up the other team’s plans for a shutout about thirty times every year.  Can anyone else step up to fill in the secondary scoring roles on a consistent basis?  The defense, while brimming with burly players, seems to have an odd fulcrum in Michael Del Zotto.  He had a decent year in 2015, and is still only 25 despite being in the league for a while.  Might he be an unlikely candidate to rise?
  • The New Jersey Devils and The Carolina Hurricanes are NHL hockey teams featuring some players. Corey Schneider is a very good goalie.  They are neither rising nor falling, because they were and are bad.  That’s about it.

 

Stay Tuned for Part 2, Coming Soon! 

 

Stats and info courtesy of NHL.com, hockeysfuture.com, rotoworld.com, and war-on-ice.com.

 

 


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