Hockey Roundup: Opening Night 2016

Welcome back to the Hockey Roundup! We are back for our fourth year (!!!!) of hockey coverage at the THUNDERBLOG! For those who have been here since the beginning, thank you and keep telling your friends! Apologies that I didn’t stay up to date on the World Cup of Hockey. To be honest, the games were on at weird times so it was tough to keep up with. I get that the NHL wanted to keep the tournament concise by having it all in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre (hence the weekday games), but weekday games are tough for a tournament that was barely covered/advertised. The lack of coverage and advertising by ESPN was probably my biggest gripe. Putting the games on ESPN2 is one thing, but you need to actually air spots if expect people to watch or care about it. There were no segments by ESPN shows about and those that touched on it, ripped this new tournament for being new and unwatched. That’s on you, ESPN. You’ll have plenty of time to make this a bigger deal next time, but at least show more highlights; remind people hockey exists. Rant over, we have more exciting things in the world of hockey. In particular, THE NHL SEASON STARTS TONIGHT! Today I’m going to give you my preview and a look at the week ahead and we will return to the weekly format next time. Let’s drop the puck…

Predictions

Eastern Conference:

Atlantic:

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Florida Panthers
  3. Montreal Canadiens
  4. Boston Bruins (WC)
  5. Detroit Red Wings
  6. Ottawa Senators
  7. Buffalo Sabres
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Sabres and Leafs have the potential to flip this division upside-down in a few years but they’ll need a little more development; just like the Lightning and Panthers have been going through the past few seasons. That’s right, the team who won the Eastern Conference two seasons has only gotten better. The Habs shaped the landscape of the summer and the acquisition of Shea Weber should add an solid anchor to the defense to help Carey Price rather than the 2-way defenseman PK Subban has been. The Bruins got extremely close to making the playoffs last year but slowed up right at the end of the season to be skipped over. Boston has the weapons to make the playoffs as a wild card team–they acquired longtime St. Louis Blues’ captain David Backes in free agency which could be a huge pickup. Detroit’s 25-year playoff streak will end this year as more and more teams have continued to load up as Detroit continued to hang on by a thread since moving to the East. Ottawa acquired Derek Brassard who should be a good addition to young starts Curtis Lazar and Cody Ceci.

Metropolitan:

  1. Washington Capitals
  2. New York Rangers
  3. Pittsburgh Penguins
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (WC)
  5. New York Islanders
  6. New Jersey Devils
  7. Columbus Blue Jackets
  8. Carolina Hurricanes

Aside from the Caps, the Metropolitan Division may be a large pile-up. I’m more optimistic on the Rangers than I am the Pens simply because of the Crosby concussion and what that’s done to him before. I don’t wish ill on him for this serious matter, but I’d rather be cautious. Whenever Sid the Kid does return though, he’ll probably still be the hottest player on the planet and boost an already strong Pens lineup. I took the homer route and put the Flyers into the Wild Card over the just as strong Isles and the dark horse Devils. The Flyers are a team who, given that everything clicks, could be fantastic but with young talent–and Jake Voracek’s low-scoring season last year–come a lot of question marks. I’m an optimistic homer though so the Flyers will answer those questions triumphantly. The Islanders also have a solid lineup but come up just short due to the difficulty of the division. The Devils traded a great defender in Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall so their season comes down the hole Larsson left on defense. The Blue Jackets need Sergei Bobrovsky to play as he did when he won the Vezina Trophy otherwise Columbus won’t be seen in the playoffs. Carolina remains a bottom feeder in the league.

Western Conference:

Central:

  1. Chicago Blackhawks
  2. St. Louis Blues
  3. Nashville Predators
  4. Dallas Stars (WC)
  5. Winnipeg Jets (WC)
  6. Minnesota Wild
  7. Colorado Avalanche

The Blackhawks continue to be a force in the Central. Toews, Kane, and company will be blasting “Chelsea Dagger” almost continuously on Madison Avenue. The Blues lost G Brain Elliott, C David Backes, and RW Troy Brouwer in the offseason but signed Nashville backup goalie Carter Hutton and LW David Perron to makeup for it. St. Louis always seems to “bounce back” from the supposed losses in the offseason and this should be no different. The Preds were great last year as a second round playoff team. The trade with Montreal benefits both as the already defensive team adds a two-way defenseman PK Subban as well as Matt Carle who can score from the blue line as well. The Stars may not come out as hot as they were last season but Dallas didn’t lose too much. Similarly to the Metropolitan division, Dallas is on the losing end of a jumbled division–at least only the top half of the Central is jumbled up. I could be dead wrong about Winnipeg. G Connor Hellebuyck is highly touted and 2016 2nd-overall pick Patrik Lane could be something special–I have them just into the playoffs but they could explode. Minnesota and Colorado are both ailing from recent instability. Both have lost coaches and haven’t really improved their lineup tremendously since their playoff runs a few seasons ago.

Pacific:

  1. San Jose Sharks
  2. LA Kings
  3. Edmonton Oilers
  4. Calgary Flames
  5. Anaheim Ducks
  6. Arizona Coyotes
  7. Vancouver Canucks

The Oilers make the playoffs! Edmonton’s constant rebuild will finally break through as Connor McDavid proved in the World Cup that he’s ready to be the next face of the NHL. The Sharks are still clearly the best team in the division and have a great shot at getting back to the Finals. The Kings are still a solid squad but the Sharks should once again edge them for the division crown. LA didn’t gain or lose too many players so much of the same can be expected from their goon squad of a roster. Calgary missed the playoffs after a terrible second half. They’ll get edged by the Jets for the last spot in, but the Flames are a team on the rise and could be the division champions in a few seasons. The Ducks are in a tail-spin after blowing their series with the Predators last year. Anaheim fired its coach and now needs to respond with a strong start. The Ducks came out of the gate slow last season and ramped it up with a great second half to win the division. Anaheim should come out slow again but won’t recover. Arizona and Vancouver are teams in need of a rebuild, it’ll be a long season for both teams.

 

East Finals: Caps over Lightning

West Finals: Sharks over Press

2017 Stanley Cup Champion: San Jose Sharks 

Conn Smythe: Joe Pavelski

I was this close to giving Ovi his first Cup but the Sharks are a team on a mission similarly to the 2014 Spurs. Granted the Sharks weren’t as close to winning last year as those Spurs were but San Jose finally broke through as a solid playoff contender in 2016. I picked Pavelski as the Conn Smythe winner but Brent Burns or Jumbo Joe Thornton could emerge as well. 

Other Predictions:

Hart Trophy (MVP) – Patrick Kane (CHI)
Art Ross (Top Scorer) – Jamie Benn (DAL)
Rocket Richard (Most Goals) – Patrick Kane (CHI)
Calder (Rookie of the Year) – Austin Matthews (TOR)
Norris (Top Defenseman) – PK Subban  (NSH)
Vezina (Top Goalie) – Carey Price (MTL)
Disagree? Who will make the playoffs? Who are you most excited to see this season? Let me know in the comments

 

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