2014-15 NHL Season Preview
It’s NHL season preview time. Season previews are the only thing I write without a format. So I’m just going to try a few things and see what works. I’m not going to to give you a team by team analysis, as those things are ridiculous. While you can come close, there’s no way to predict what’s going to happen.
Well the first thing you’ll notice is Martin Brodeur isn’t playing for the Devils or any team for that matter. Brodeur is waiting for the right opportunity to join a team. Personally, I don’t expect many offers to come. The only fit would be a playoff team that loses it’s starting goalie to injury, down the stretch, and doesn’t have a veteran backup. But this will be the first time, since his first full season in 1993, that the NHL has started a season without Brodeur anywhere.
Speaking of goalies, Ryan Miller went from being on one team his whole career, the Buffalo Sabres, to his third in two seasons. After last year’s playoff debacle in St Louis, it’s unlikely Miller will hold up well in a Canadian market, especially one who has been used to winning lately but hasn’t been. I’m actually surprised the Vancouver Canucks went and got him. Don’t be surprised if Eddie Lack becomes the starter, especially with how Lack has played this preseason. It’s sad to see the downfall of Ryan Miller after he almost single-handedly won the Gold medal for Team USA.
The New York Islanders, had a disappointing season last year, but with the additions of Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy they aren’t fooling around. The Islanders should be one of the most improved teams this season. It will be interesting to see how log it takes for everyone to gel. Halak is the biggest wild card, as his departure from the Blues was pretty emotional and he has only started over 50 games once in his entire career. But Halak traditionally plays well in the playoffs and the last time the Islanders made the playoffs they were knocked out by the Penguins because of poor goaltending. So history should not repeat itself or at least the Islanders hope not.
The Anaheim Ducks made a huge deal to get Ryan Kesler, the 2nd line center they thought they were missing to get them over the hump. The problem is, that’s now what they needed, although it doesn’t hurt, and they gave up to much to get him. I illustrated most of their problems in the season recap last year but let’s do it again. The Ducks had one of their best seasons last year and also one of the deepest teams in the league. The reason they lost to the Kings was because of that horrible Game 7 due to inexperienced defense and bad coaching. What they need was to add a veteran defenseman and get a new coach. They of course did neither. The Kesler trade looks good on paper but on the ice I don’t think he will elevate the team much. Plus they gave up Nick Bonino, who was developing into a nice 2nd line center himself, Luca Sbisa, while developing slowly is still young and gets better every year and a 3rd round pick. Yikes, way too much for one 30 year old. The Kings never would have given up that much.
The Pittsburgh Penguins cleaned house up top in something that was long overdue. The problem is the Penguins will still be pressured to win it all now. Even though they aren’t there yet. It’s true that they still have two of the best players in the world, when healthy, on their team but in this day on age of the NHL you need more than that to win. Their defense and goaltending is still suspect at best and they don’t have an offensive players, besides Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, that can generate their own offense. On the plus side they did jettison Brooks Orpik who has been beyond worthless since the Penguins last won they Stanley Cup. Which should help give way to the year of Olli Maatta, after he gets healthy again. The Penguins still have the talent to be a playoff team but I see a 1st or 2nd round exit.
The Western Conference is still the beast of the NHL. It’s safe to say the top six teams from last year are a lock to make the playoffs again this season. Minnesota and Dallas should grab the last two spots again this season. Which pretty much means the rest of the conference will finish outside the postseason again and more importantly really have no shot. None of those other teams made any significant improvements to leapfrog the best in the West.
What it takes to win the Stanley Cup hasn’t changed. Lately, the last few teams to win it all have all had the same winning formula. Good goaltending, particularly in the playoffs, good defense and four lines that are rolled often and can each score. This pretty much means the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins are your favorites, again. Not surprisingly they’ve each won the last few Stanley Cups.
Don’t expect a Canadian team to win it all this year, again. The odds are obviously stacked against them, with only seven teams, but their odds this year look just as good as their odds last year did. On the plus side, the Maple Leafs should join the Canadiens in the playoffs this time and that’s about it.
The Washington Capitals will, more than likely, not make the playoffs again. Alex Ovechkin will still score lots of goals that don’t really benefit the team and he still won’t play defense. Their defense might actually be worse with the addition of Brooks Orpik and I feel for Braden Holtby. I think Holtby will bounce back and play better but it won’t be enough.
What to Watch Out For
The Tampa Bay Lightning were the only team to be slept last postseason but don’t expect that to happen again. The biggest positive is Ben Bishop is back and healthy. If he can stay that way, the Lightning will definitely make some noise this postseason. Nikita Kucherov, 21 years old, is being paired with Steven Stamkos to form a formidable duo on the top line. Vladislav Namestnikov, also 21 years old, is looking to make a name for himself. It’s possible he might anchor the Stamkos line. Both Russians have impressed so far in the preseason.
Tyler Seguin is ready to take his game to the next level. Last year, in his third full season, Seguin set career highs in everything. Expect him to raise his game to the superstar level this year by hitting the 100 point level and picking up multiple points in most games. A possible Hart nomination or an Art Ross win could also be in the works.
If you think you’ve seen it all from Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli last postseason, you haven’t. Both will be playing in their first full season, with linemate Jeff Carter, and that won’t be good for the rest of the NHL. Both are only 22 and had great preseasons. It’s scary to think how good the Kings will be this seasons with all their top lines playing a full season together. Don’t forget Marian Gaborik will also be playing his first full season with the Kings.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had an interesting season last year between the ups and downs and goaltending issues. The Maple Leafs definitely have the talent and they have the lines, defense and goalies to get them to where they need to be. It’s common, sometimes, for young teams to have growing pains as they step backwards after moving forward. The Leafs should be able to move forward again and remake the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Islanders
New Jersey Devils
Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers
In the East I know I listed nine teams. I’m cheating. I’m thinking either Columbus or the Rangers will take a step back and won’t make the playoffs. It’s also possible New Jersey or the Islanders could also stumble. I really have no idea who will win the Metropolitan. Pittsburgh is probably still the favorite but don’t be surprised if they don’t win it.
San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings
St. Louis Blues
In the West, one of the trio of good teams in the Pacific will go home in the 1st round. An unfortunate byproduct of the new playoff format. But as noted above, expect the same eight as last year. I’d be shocked if anyone else got in. Colorado might end up with the top seed again but don’t expect them to lose in the 1st round this time.
So where does that leave us? In the East, Boston over Tampa Bay would be your conference final but since that can’t happen, thanks new playoff format, unless one of them is the wild card, which won’t happen, Boston will end up playing uhhh I really don’t know. The Metropolitan division is a crapshoot. I’m actually leaning towards the New York Islanders, strangely. And I’m aware I said they might not make the postseason. Out West, I think it will end up being Los Angeles and Chicago again. I think Colorado will be there with another year of experience but I don’t have that much confidence in the goaltending. Despite their chokery, the Sharks have too much talent to just keep doing it over and over again. I would pick them but unless they end up the top seed in the division or the Pacific gets a wild card and it’s the Sharks, I don’t like their chances of beating Los Angeles and Anaheim consecutively.
That would leave us with Boston of the Islanders, did I just type that, and Los Angeles over Chicago. At this point I would probably pick Los Angeles over Boston but the reality is, the playoffs come down to whose healthy. So if one of these teams aren’t healthy, they might not even get this far. No way to know at this point so why bother trying to guess.