2015-16 NHL Season Preview
Instead of doing unrealistic team by team analysis, let’s take a look at what’s new in the NHL, what stories to watch unfold in 2015-16 NHL season and who should make the playoffs.
Is Connor McDavid a savior?
Connor McDavid in an uneasy situation in his first season. He has to live up to the hype, he has to make other 1st overall picks better and he’s also tasked with trying to get the Oilers back into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Early comparisons and indications are that he is just that good to do all that. Will he do all that though? I think he will do the first two. Getting into the playoffs is a team effort though. And there’s one key part of the team that the Oilers seem to forget about and that’s defense. They’ve upgraded their goaltending with Ben Scrivens. But Ben Scrivens isn’t superman, even though sometimes he appears to be when he gets 60 shot shutouts, and needs the defenseman to play better in front of him. Despite the fact that Scrivens could be their number one goalie, the Oilers acquired Cam Talbot from the Rangers. Talbot is a great goalie but he doesn’t really solve the problem. Even if he’s better than Scrivens, it won’t matter because Scrivens isn’t the problem. The people in front of the goalies are. Talbot won’t be able to replicate his success in New York as is and Edmonton will learn that the hard way. So they’ll be left with two good, but frustrated goalies, that can’t be great. Goalies have shown they can have success when they leave the defensive black hole that is Edmonton. I’m looking at you Devan Dubnyk. Sure they acquired Griffin Reinhart and they have Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse in the wings but 20 and 21 year old defenseman have to slowly mature in the NHL. It’s time the Oilers stopped wasting picks on goalies and use them to acquire some veteran defenseman to teach the youngins. On the positive side almost all the Oilers road games are sold out. McDavid is already having an impact.
Is the Phil Kessel trade too late for the Penguins?
I always said that Penguins needed a winger who could generate his own offense, a la Patrick Kane, because they haven’t really had one the last few years. James Neal was the closest thing they had but he didn’t really pan out. It’s important they have one because when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby get shut down or struggle, the Penguins don’t score at all. The Penguins should have made this move years ago but, since Crosby is still in his prime, better late than never. Defensively, the Penguins are still a question mark but when you lose half you starting defensemen by the time the playoffs start, you are bound to have problems. If Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Pasqual Dupuis stay healthy the Penguins might surprise some people. Provided of course Marc-Andre Fleury can play like he did, surprisingly well, last season.
Dallas is making moves but will it be enough?
A few years after making the biggest lopsided trade ever, when they acquired Tyler Seguin, for literally a bag of pucks, the Stars made some additional moves to try and get back into the playoff picture. The picked up Antti Niemi, Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp. Those are decent pieces to pair along with Seguin, Benn, Jason Spezza and Alex Goligoski. Seguin is just entering his prime and Benn is at the beginning of his. Adding veterans with Stanley Cups is always a great move. Whether or not it translates on the ice is another story. It’ll be interesting to see if Niemi rebounds and supplants Kari Lehtonen as the starting goalie. Lehtonen was only average last season. But the moves should be enough to get the Stars back into a bottom playoff spot.
Has Anaheim learned anything?
The Ducks have been up there with the Kings and Blackhawks in Western Conference dominance the last few seasons but, unlike the Kings and Blackhawks, they have nothing to show for it. They also have lost to those two eventual Stanley Cup Champions in their respective Stanley Cup winning years. Both times were in a Game 7 and both times were in Anaheim. Their coach is still coaching them so one would think they have learned nothing. Then they spent way too much, almost 7 million a year cap hit, on a 2nd line center in his thirties. That would be you Ryan Kesler. In truth, things look bleak. There’s not much that changed in this team from last year’s team. Swapping Francois Beauchemin for Kevin Bieksa is pretty much a wash. I’m pretty confident the Ducks will win their division and then lose to the Kings in the 2nd round…. in a Game 7… in Anaheim. Don’t expect Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry to show up in that game either.
Can we have multiple 100 point scorers after none last year?
We haven’t multiple 100 point scorers in the same season since 2009-10. Which is kind of sad if you think about it. Last season nobody even cracked 90 points which is really sad. This season, though, I think there’s a great chance we have a couple of them. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Tavares and, yes, even Connor McDavid. Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin are always threats but neither has really generated enough assists, lately, to make them credible threats. Vladimir Tarasenko is a dark-horse that I would keep an eye on as well.
How will the Blackhawks fare after their latest gutting?
We’ve seen this before. Blackhawks win Stanley Cup, Blackhawks purge team to beat the salary cap. Each time, though, the purge gets less and less. Only a few key pieces left (Sharp, Oduya, Brandon Saad) and with the young talent that’s ready to break out, with extended playing time, you’ll barely notice much difference. I’m interested in seeing what playoff hero Teuvo Teravainen does with more playing time. It also doesn’t seem like Patrick Kane will miss anytime. They’ll definitely make the playoffs, they probably won’t win the division (because they don’t care) but they should win the division in the playoffs. I can’t see them going all the way again, however, but if anyone could prove me wrong, they could.
What to make of the Cinderella Ottawa Senators?
The Senators will try and prove that last year was no fluke. They have a lot of young talent (Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Bobby Ryan, Erik Karlsson) and two great goalies to go with them. Andrew Hammond will try and prove that last season was no fluke. I think he will and will also supplant Craig Anderson as the number one goalie. Bobby Ryan is key for the Senators. He has to get back to his 30 plus goals a season pace. He had only 18 last season and was pretty bad down the stretch and the 1st round of the playoffs. He had only two goals and one assist in the his last 16 games (10 season, 6 playoffs).
Are Johnny Hockey and the Flames the real deal?
The Flames used an interesting mix of young and old to make the playoffs and surprise everyone by making it to the 2nd round. It’s likely they will go backwards this season but they should still make the playoffs. Johnny Gaudreau was the main catalyst of the Flames at a mere 5′ 9” in his rookie season. Gaudreau was instrumental in the Flames success as he had at least a point in all but one playoff win and didn’t register a point in two of their biggest playoff losses. All in all he only didn’t register a point in four of the eleven playoff games. Gaudreau taking his game up another notch is key for the Flames. Another player that must continue to rise is Sean Monahan. In his second season, Monahan nearly doubled his rookie output (34 to 62 points). I expect bigger things from both this season. Here’s also hoping that Jonas Hiller bounces back. Hiller was part of the reason the Flames succeeded above expectations. But injuries and playoff struggles benched him. He’s already missed some of training camp due to illness so not off to the best start so far.
Can the Kings reclaim their crown?
Last time we saw the Kings, they failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They also were apparently on the outs with Coach Darryl Sutter. Sutter is back and all appears to be well. The biggest reason the Kings failed to make the playoffs was because they were terrible in the shootout and overtime. With the new rules (see below) everyone gets a fresh start. Two of their most important players, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, struggled throughout the season. Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson didn’t break out as expected but both continued their development. The addition of Milan Lucic makes for some interesting line combinations. I expect the Kings to come back with a vengeance.
New Overtime Rules (that no one wanted)
Well we all wanted a change in overtime to avoid going into shutouts. We preferred a 4 on 4 with an extended time of 3 on 3 if the 4 on 4 didn’t result in a winner. Just like the AHL had tested and proved worked. Instead we got no extra time and no 4 on 4. Yup, just five minutes of 3 on 3. Although we’ll have less stars on the ice, less resemblance of an actual game and no more additional time, I’m optimistic this will lead to more goals and less shootouts. I’m also optimistic this will only last a season and then get adjusted or scraped. Here’s hoping anyway.
Tampa Bay Lightning
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Columbus Blue Jackets
In the East, I’m retaining seven of last year’s eight playoff teams and replacing the Detroit Red Wings with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Shocking I know. But the Red Wings weren’t always the most consistent team last season and Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are now one year older. Also coach Mike Babcock has now left and that will be a bigger deal than it might seem. It’s possible Montreal, Pittsburgh or Washington struggle and Boston sneaks in. Philadelphia and Toronto could also make a case to sneak in but, just like Boston, talent on paper doesn’t always translate to wins in reality.
Los Angeles Kings
St. Louis Blues
In the West, it’s generally harder to pick the teams. Those seven teams above should all get in. The last spot could go to a number of teams. Nashville, Vancouver, Winnipeg or San Jose can all state their case. I don’t really have a favorite out of that bunch.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, I’m going with the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. the New York Islanders. They are, from top to bottom, the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference Finals, how about another round of the Los Angeles Kings vs the Chicago Blackhawks? The more things change, the more they stay the same. In the Stanley Cup Finals, I have the Kings over the Lightning.
Author: Alex Mueller
Alex Mueller graduated from Temple University with a minor in journalism over a decade ago. He’s been writing about NHL hockey, on and off, since the Fall of 2009. He’s written for Pucking Awesome, the Checking Line and now Hockey Recaps. He played goalie at San Diego Ice Arena. His first novel, Bobby Sterling vs Truth, is available on Amazon now.