2016-17 NHL Season Preview
Keeping with the same format as last year, and not doing unrealistic team by team analysis, let’s take a look at what’s new in the NHL, what stories to watch unfold in the 2016-17 NHL season and who should make the playoffs. I’ll also eat crow since in last year’s preview I said the new 3 on 3 overtime was going to be stupid. But it ended up being one of the best things from last season.
How will the San Jose Sharks handle this season after finally getting to where they’ve never been but still came up short as usual?
This will be a really tough season for the Sharks. They weren’t expected to do anything last season but they finally lived up to their ability. Now they will be pressured to take the final step. Which will be a big problem because the Sharks never do well when expectations are high. Plus Stanley Cup losers generally do poorly the next season. So this season will test them more than any one ever has. They played so badly in the Stanley Cup Finals, I feel like they have something to prove. The talent is all there, they just need to act like they want it more than they ever have. I expect a slow start. They might go to the conference finals or they might lose in the 1st round and if they draw the Kings.
Will the Pittsburgh Penguins repeat?
Short answer is no. Long answer is more complicated. We haven’t had a repeat champion since 1998 and that probably won’t change. Although interestingly enough, only four teams have won the last eight Stanley Cups. But I feel like the Penguins got real lucky last season. Every time their goalies would go down to an injury, in would step a goalie just as good or better. In fact, the Penguins may not have even gone on their run if Fleury didn’t get injured. The HBK line struck magic at the right time. Most of the Eastern Conference had a down year and the Lightning got hit with the injury bug at the worst time. So basically everything went their way. I still believe if everyone on the Lightning would have been healthy, they would have won the series. Having said all that, the Penguins do possess the talent necessary to go another run. But I still can’t believe they won a Stanley Cup with their defensive pairings and it seems extremely unlikely they can do it again with the same pairings. It’s also really hard to get lucky two years in a row. Which is why we don’t have repeat champs anymore.
Will the Edmonton Oilers Penguins like makeover work?
Say what you will about GM Peter Chiarelli, and there’s a lot of things we can say about him, but he has a plan in place. He clearly needs a better poker face but he needed a top level defenseman and he got one. Well one that could become one. And while it’s hard to replace a talent like Taylor Hall, it’s harder to get quality centers. Chiarelli knows that and he likes the big three centers he has now. So he used his next biggest asset. Those being newly minted, and youngest ever, captain Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl. Expect big things from Draisaitl this season. The Penguins did very well with having three great centers deep and average wingers. Only once they dealt Jordan Staal and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin started having injuries, did they have offensive problems. The Penguins defensive problems weren’t there fault. But they did finally get a pricey winger in Kessel, when they realized they needed more help and the HBK line helped bring another Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh. But this made them three lines deep again which they lacked with Staal gone. The Oilers have three lines now. Milan Lucic isn’t Hall but he will be fine. Plus he brings playoff experience, something the Oilers sorely need as they have absolutely none. The bigger issue is he ended up costing the same, which he shouldn’t have. I have no idea how they will be able to afford these three young centers and everyone else down the road. In the meantime, if Lucic and Adam Larsson click well this should be a really fun season in Edmonton. So enjoy it while you can.
Are there any favorites coming into this season?
This is the first time in a long time where there are no favorites. Normally you would automatically throw the Blackhawks and Kings in the mix but neither could get out of the 1st round last season. That seems unlikely to repeat itself this year, with all their talent, but you just never know sometimes. They both remain tentative favorites.
If the Dallas Stars can have Tyler Seguin stay healthy and do everything in their power to acquire Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning, I believe you can just give them the Stanley Cup. But those are big ifs. Seguin is due for a healthy season. If he gets injured again, he’ll probably never be healthy for a full season the rest of his career. But the goalies are the Stars weakest link and they won’t win anything with them. The Lightning can’t protect all of their goalies, with the expansion draft coming up, so they would move Bishop for the right price. Time for Dallas to get the money and draft pick trucks ready.
The Sharks, as discussed above, are a possibility. The East still goes through Tamp Bay. You’ll have to include the Penguins, as discussed above. I don’t think Florida is quite there yet but they are close. Washington you’d like to say the are but we’ll discuss them below. That really only leaves the Islanders. But as good as Halak and Tavares are, they really need more pieces before they are truly contenders.
Should the Devils have any expectations after acquiring Taylor Hall?
Hall is a great player but the Devils shouldn’t expect a Stanley Cup parade anytime soon. The Devils weren’t exactly one piece a way last season. Plus as talented as Hall is, there are historically very few wingers that can elevate a team. Really only Patrick Kane and Jaromir Jagr fall into that category. Hall is not at that level, yet. The Devils had the fewest goals last season so he will definitely help get them out of the basement. But I think it’s way too early for the playoffs, especially in a competitive division.
Will the P.K Subban for Shea Weber trade make any difference?
Sports Illustrated sure seems to think so as they predicted the Predators to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Why? I have no idea. The franchise has never been past the 2nd round and last year year they got creamed in the 2nd round by the Sharks. They were only there because they got lucky and drew a Ducks team that can’t close. Rinne seems to be on the downside of his career, although the defense should still be decent. But unless Ryan Johansen finds a groove, it’ll basically be James Neal and Filip Forsberg scoring all the goals. Even if he does find a groove, there are much deeper teams out there in the Western Conference.
Weber was Mr. Everything for the Predators and he’ll need to be the same in Montreal. He will make less turnovers and score more goals than Subban. But the Canadiens don’t have much else going for them besides Carey Price. Since Weber is a more mature, no nonsense guy maybe he can coax more out of the Canadiens. But what the team really needs is a makeover. Weber seems like the start of it, not the end of it.
Is Buffalo the place to be now?
Kyle Okposo sure seems to think so. I wouldn’t have left the Islanders for Buffalo but that’s just me. Okposo gives them more depth to go with Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel, who looks like the real deal. Rasmus Ristolainen is also rising on the backend. The biggest problem Buffalo has though is they still don’t have a goalie. That doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. Until they figure that out, I can’t see them making the playoffs. I’m pretty confident Robin Lehner is not the answer.
Will any Canadian teams bounce back?
Yes, the Flames should almost be a lock to make the playoffs. They had a down year last year after advancing to the 2nd round with their mostly young talent the season before. But their biggest weakness was goaltending. With the addition of Brian Elliott now, they should rebound nicely. But I honestly can’t see any others making it. Edmonton should just miss out on a wild card spot and then make it next season. The Canadiens are the only other team that might make it. But they really need to get their offense, among other things, figured out, unless Carey Price can pull another miracle season out of his ass.
Will Ovechkin ever win anything that matters?
Other than winning gold medals in IIHF World Championships, Alex Ovechkin has never won anything else. No Stanley Cups, no Olympic gold medals, no World Cup of Hockey. After the Capitals best, and most complete season, they came up short in the 2nd round again. It’s really hard to know where they go from here. Braden Holtby is still the man but he can’t do it all by himself. The Capitals have a knack of always hitting a hot goalie at the wrong time. And you hate to harp on a guy who had seven points in a six game series but, still, Ovechkin only had two goals against the Penguins. He needs to produce more in big series. But the talent is mostly there. They just need to have luck go there way for once and then maybe he can finally win something.
Who is Troy Stecher?
Stecher is a 22 year old undrafted free agent that just recently signed with the Vancouver Canucks. And then had three points for them in his first preseason game. He hasn’t had any points since but he’s a +3 in four games. The Canucks aren’t as deep on the blueline like they used to be so he figures to end up logging a lot of minutes. He’s someone to definitely keep an eye on this season. A lot of teams will wonder why they didn’t draft or sign him when the season is done.
Can we have multiple 100 point scorers after none last year, again?
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 year I really thought we would have multiple players reach it but, sadly, only Patrick Kane did. Kane, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Tavares, Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin are all in the running this season to possibly do it. I’m hoping it will finally happen this season.
I’ll name the seven “locks” and then a few teams that will battle for the final spot. Then the Stanley Cup finalists.
Tampa Bay Lightning
New York Islanders
The final spot in the East could be Columbus rebounding, Detroit hanging around like they always do, Montreal finding offense or the Rangers just having better players. Even Ottawa is a possibility, if the Bruins stumble again and leave an extra spot open.
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
I think the Central Division run of getting five teams into the playoffs ends this season. It should be four apiece this time. The last spot will either go to Nashville, Minnesota or Winnipeg. Hard to tell. Unless McDavid just wills the Oilers into the final spot, which is a real possibility.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, I’m going with Tampa Bay vs Dallas Stars. Of course this is assuming the Stars are getting Bishop. If they don’t, then I think we are looking at Los Angeles or Chicago again. Tampa Bay is the most balanced and skilled team in the Eastern Conference so they will be back. But Bishop going against his former team in the Stanley Cup Finals would be a lot of fun and very compelling.
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.