Okay– time to shake the dust off this thing and get into some NHL previewing. We’ve got 31 teams in four divisions, so the only way to do this right is to do it as half-assed as ever. If you’ve been following me for the last 17 years of writing– you know it’s the only way to go.
First, the Metropolitan Division; the division with the worst name, but boasting the last three Stanley Cup Champions. The Washington Capitals kept the band together, save for Philipp Grubauer. Other than that– the big concern here is the short off-season (which has been seen with the lack of Devante Smith-Pelly), but the hunger to keep the winning going could fuel this team. Alex Ovechkin is back in the best shape of his life part 2, while the rest of the team– despite a subpar preseason– will be looking to keep the good vibes going into this season.
It won’t be easy– the Penguins will want to get some revenge on the Caps since they won the Cup and rekindled a bit of the rivalry. With a longer time to rest, you can bet Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel will be ready– but will Matt Murray be durable or not?? The Columbus Blue Jackets will want revenge on the Caps, but their house is a mess with both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky really not having a great off-season and signalling their tenure in C-bus may be soon over.
The New York/New Jersey area is full of “The hell??” vibes, especially with the Rangers retooling rather than rebuilding, the Islanders losing John Tavares, but gaining Lou Lamoriello, and the Devils being the best team out of the three since they made the playoffs last year. The Rangers will go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them, the Devils will have to rely heavily on Taylor Hall to keep his MVP form, while the Islanders will be…something. They at least have Barry Trotz and a whole slew of….oh, right they sent a lot of their prospects back to Bridgeport. Oh boy.
That leaves Philadelphia and Carolina. The biggest thing for the Flyers this offseason was the introduction of Gritty the Mascot. While James van Riemsdyk is back, that’s not really getting the juices flowing when you don’t know who will end up as your goalie by the Thanksgiving break. The Hurricanes have a revamped everything– new owner, GM, coaches…it’s a new team….minus the same Scott Darling, the same lack of depth scoring, the lack of stable defense. Maybe Dougie Hamilton can change that, but maybe not. A near-perfect preseason gives them some momentum…as much as you can with preseason results.
When you think of the Atlantic Division, you think of two tire-fires and a team who is planning the parade route thanks to a single signing of a local player. First, the Maple Leafs, who have already been given the Stanley Cup by their fans and some pundits due to the John Tavares signing….totally forgetting their defense is suspect at best and Freddy Andersen can only do so much with that suspect defense in front of him. But– it’s Toronto, so hype is always around.
The other Canadian teams in the division are just plain garbage. Ottawa is just bad news all around thanks to the Erik Karlsson deal– which sealed the summer of drama for the team– on top of Eugene Melnyk not getting out of his own way. Montreal, however, traded their captain and a young forward while also naming a guy who has been more injured than not during his Canadiens tenure the captain of the team. Wonder if Carey Price is regretting signing long-term or if he’s just getting his money and not caring about the outcome.
Looking around, the Buffalo Sabres are poised for either a break out year or another disappointing season looking towards the lottery. Rasmus Dahlin aside, the attitude of Jack Eichel seems to be about winning now, Carter Hutton could be a breakout start in a starters role, the the Sabres could just decided to say the hell with it and go balls to the wall in order to win. That or they’ll have to deal with a lot of injuries and then get frustrated and fold up into a shell again.
While Tampa Bay didn’t lose too many big names, the loss of Steve Yzerman could very well hurt in the long-run. Though, Julien BriseBois has been under Yzerman’s learning tree, the moves that Yzerman were able to get may just be the respect factor of the man who is revered in the hockey world. Yet, a team that was one win away from the Cup Final shouldn’t have to do much more than they did, especially in a weak division.
People sleep on Boston a little too much, especially when you think they have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on their offensive side. Tuukka Rask is due for a bounce-back year, though the defense will rely heavily on Charlie McAvoy, especially with Torey Krug out for the start of the season. It will be scoring by committee after the first line in Boston, but Bruce Cassidy seems like he can holster all the firepower he can in order to get this team back to the playoffs.
Florida and Detroit are also in this division. The Panthers keep getting closer and closer then further away, while the Red Wings could be in the midst of a long playoff drought in their new building. Of the two, MAYBE the Panthers could come close to being in the Wild Card discussion, but it’s a very long-shot at that.