2017-18 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 to watch for in the 2017-18 NHL season and who should make the playoffs.
Will the Pittsburgh Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, again?
Nope. Although they honestly have a much better chance than most teams do. And it really wouldn’t surprise me if they made it to the Conference or Stanley Cup Finals. They didn’t real lose any major pieces, which is surprising since they won back to back Stanley Cups. On paper, the losses of Chris Kunitz and Marc-Andre Fleury look significant but they aren’t. The loss of Nick Bonino will be the one that has the most impact. The Penguins struggle when they don’t have a good third center option, which Bonino was, and I really don’t like the options they have there now. But as long as they keep scoring goals and Matt Murray is making saves, it’s hard to argue with their chances.
How will the Toronto Maple Leafs handle expectations?
It’s hard for a young team to have high expectations. And it’s even worse when it’s in the largest market in Canada. But luckily for the Maple Leafs they have coach Mike Babcock who has been through a lot in his coaching career. It also helps that they have a really deep team so if someone struggles, they have plenty of guys to pick up the slack. The Maple Leafs should win a series or two in the playoffs but don’t expect a Stanley Cup appearance for at least another season. Auston Matthews should continue to develop and a fifty goal season is in the realm of possibility. Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner might all crack a point a game this season.
Speaking of expectations, how will the Edmonton Oilers handle theirs?
For the first time in a long time an Oilers teams will have weighty expectations. Anything less than the Conference Finals will be seen as a disappointment. Luckily for them, getting there is very realistic. Especially since they were only one epic third period collapse from getting their already last season. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the best one two punch outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Now they are each a year wiser and have a playoff feeling they don’t want to repeat. As long as the defense gets better, this will be a really hard team to beat. They also have a bunch of free agents next season so they really need to get it done this season. If the Oilers end up with the best record in the regular season, expect another Hart trophy for McDavid.
Will the Montreal Canadiens finally be able to score in the playoffs now?
Management and their fans sure hope so. But I think the addition of Jonathan Drouin will finally enable them to be able to do so. Now one player isn’t enough but it’s a start. He should also be able to pull more out of Max Pacioretty in the playoffs but giving him more opportunities. They still need to add another playmaker but with Carey Price being Carey Price, they should be able to win a playoff series at the very least.
What will the Washington Capitals do now?
It’s hard to envision the Capitals doing anything after their latest failure. I’ve all but written them off. But sometimes when teams are written off, they end up surprising the most. See the San Jose Sharks from two seasons ago. Nobody would have predicted them finally making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. But I think the Capitals are different. They play in a tough division and Alex Ovechkin never shows up when he needs too. So even if the pressure is off, I doubt it will make much difference. Not to mention they couldn’t win a Game 7 with Justin Williams who has since left. They didn’t really add anyone notable in the off-season either, which is really the more troubling part. Because more of the same just isn’t going to get it done.
Will the Las Vegas Golden Knights be any good?
Probably not but they seem to be selling tickets like gangbusters anyway. I think they might be one of the better expansion teams in their inaugural season though. The Golden Knights started out with a bang already. Scoring nine goals in their first preseason game. Undrafted 5′ 9” Tyler Wong had a hat trick in that game. If he makes the team, he might be someone to watch out for. The goaltending duo of Marc-Andre Fleury and Calvin Pickard is probably the strongest ever for an expansion team and better than a lot of other teams currently. The name of the team and jerseys are pretty cool and the city is unique. It’s also the first pro team in Las Vegas ever. So it should be interesting to say the least. It also gets hotter than Phoenix. So I’m sure the rink crew will have a blast making sure the ice doesn’t melt.
Will the Chicago Blackhawks old is new again makeover work?
It seems unlikely. The key is to get younger and faster not older. Unless you have a core of young players and you want to add some veteran leadership. But the Blackhawks core is not young and they just traded away their most promising young player, Artemi Panarin, for a guy, Brandon Saad, the Blue Jackets didn’t want anyway. A trade they will end up regretting. They also brought back Patrick Sharp, who barely did much of anything with the Stars, because why not. I kind of get a sense the Blackhawks sense their window is closing and they are desperate to get another Stanley Cup. But I really don’t think this is the way to do it. With the Oilers and Predators both young and fast, I don’t see how the Blackhawks can compete. Another issue is Jonathan Toews play has really taken a nosedive. If he can’t improve, that will be a huge problem. They’ll make the playoffs again for sure but I don’t think they’ll go very far in them.
Will either the Dallas Stars or Los Angeles Kings bounce back?
Stars yes, Kings no. The Stars had the unfortunate triple whammy last season with the injury bug, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin having down years and bad goaltending. It’s unlikely they will be hit with the injury bug again, Benn and Seguin should rebound nicely and they finally addressed their goaltending issue by acquiring Ben Bishop. The may even win their division again, as the Predators and Blackhawks aren’t the greatest regular season teams. They are mostly built for the playoffs. Speaking of teams built for the playoffs, the Kings will continue to miss them. The new coach John Stevens and GM Rob Blake have big shoes to fill. And while they still have key pieces left, the team is older now and a lot of the players they leaned on for the Stanley Cup wins can’t produce like they used to anymore. Even worse, they have no young players to look forward to as they traded all their prospects and picks to try and win another Stanley Cup. It’s possible they squeak in as a wild card but they probably wouldn’t win in the first round. The Kings are in a tough spot because don’t really have enough to compete but they don’t have enough promising young players to jettison the older guys and build for the future.
Will the New Jersey Devils one two punch of Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier produce anything?
They won’t produce a playoff berth but they should produce a lot of goals and be entertaining at the very least. Hall hasn’t really lived up to his potential as the overall number one pick. Having only one season where he averaged over a point per game and none where he scored 30 goals. But, for the first time in his career, he will now have a top center to give him the puck. I don’t really count McDavid’s half rookie season. He only played in 45 games then. Hopefully Hischier will help elevate his game and I think he will after they play together for some time.
Can we have multiple 100 point scorers after only one last year?
Let’s hope so. We haven’t had multiple 100 point scorers in the same season since 2009-10, which is sad if you think about it. I really thought we would break it the last two seasons but no dice. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have the best shot to do it this season. Notice how these are all pairs of players on the same team. A potent powerplay will be the easiest way to help a pair of them get there.
I’ll name the eight teams I think will get in and then those teams from the eight that are on the bubble and who may pop it. Then I’ll take a stab at the Stanley Cup finalists.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers
Those eight aren’t much different from last season. The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning are mostly likely to falter. Philadelphia Flyers, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators are the teams that will take advantage if they do. There isn’t much separating a lot of these teams. And yes, I have the Senators more than likely not making the playoffs even though they were in the Conference Finals last season. I think they just got lucky.
San Jose Sharks
The Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames are most likely to falter. The Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets are the teams that will take advantage if they do. It was honestly hard to say who would get the wild card spots between the Flames, Blues and Wild but I put the Blues the odd team out. But two of those teams will definitely be the wild cards.
In the Western Conference I’m taking the Oilers. I really don’t see any team beating them in the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, there’s no clear favorite. I would take the Penguins again but that seems unlikely. The Maple Leafs are close but they aren’t there yet. All other teams have problems. The Capitals could do it but they never do. That really only leaves the Rangers, Lightning (if they stay healthy) and Canadiens. But looking at that list, I guess I’ll just say the Penguins anyway. The Oilers over the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. If the Oilers do it, they will be the first Canadian team to win it all in 25 years.
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.