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?
- Red Wings
- Maple Leafs
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.
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.
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:
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.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
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:
- 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?
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