In the Corners with Brandon Felder
In the Corners with Brandon Felder @brandon_felder
A chill is in the air and the calendar finally agrees with my heart… It’s October and hockey season is upon us. Before I get too far into my season preview I first want to express my sincere excitement in joining the PredNeck Nation team. They are already doing great things to keep the Nashville fan base up to date with all Preds news and opinion, but what I appreciate most about them is they want to give you honest and knowledgeable opinions. That aligns very well with my columns and so to be asked to join them is an honor. It’s very exciting to see just how much farther this site can grow.
To kick things off I wanted to give a look around the NHL at the different Divisions and do some quick (hot?) takes on what you might see. I’m not one that loves predictions, but they can be fun to go back to halfway thru a season just to see what perceptions were out there. So let’s dive right in and take a look at what the NHL may (or may not) look like this upcoming year.
Tampa Bay Lightning: My expectation is they will build off of a fantastic season last year. The storyline to watch is not only the status of pending UFA Steven Stamkos contract, but also how Head Coach Jon Cooper decides to utilize him throughout the season. Playoff team: Yes. Predicted Finish: 1st in Atlantic & 3rd in the East.
Montreal Canadiens: A.K.A. the Carey Price and P.K. Subban Show. Is there anyway that Price can have a better season than his 14-15 campaign? I don’t think it will reach that level but I still expect him to be a top 3 goaltender in the NHL. The concern for this team is the depth. The scoring isn’t always consistent and should Price have injuries…. well let’s not think of that for now. Playoff team: Yes Predicted Finish: 2nd in Atlantic
Ottawa Senators: They rely on goaltending and young scorers. That has been a recipe for success in the NHL lately. A full season with Head Coach Dave Cameron could be even better than the amazing half season preview we had last year. Playoffs: Probably Predicted Finish: 3rd in Division
Detroit Red Wings: The new era begins as Mike Babcock stays in Division but coaches the Leafs now. There will be familiarity with the Wings and new Head Coach Jeff Blashill as he had been the Head Coach of the Red Wings AHL team the Grand Rapids Griffins for the past 3 seasons. The evergreen concern with the Wings is when will age catch up to them. It feels like we say this every year, but this could (should?) be the year. Playoffs: Near miss Predicted Finish: 4th in Division and just outside the East Playoffs.
Florida Panthers: Jagr returns as do many of the Panthers talented kids, headlined by Calder Memorial Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad. They narrowly missed playoffs last year, and while I like what the Cats are building I worry depth will be an issue this season. Playoffs: Not yet. Predicted Finish: 5th in Atlantic.
Boston Bruins: Perhaps the winner of the most revamped team in the NHL. Problem being that revamping doesn’t always equal success. The offseason moves by new GM Don Sweeney baffled many and were criticized by near as many. The team wants to reclaim the physical identity the Bruins used to have. I foresee a season of bumps and bruises for Boston and not just the opponents they are trying to hit. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 6th in the Atlantic.
Buffalo Sabres: They may have tanked for Connor McDavid, but losing the lottery came with a pretty decent consolation prize in Jack Eichel. The additions in the offseason are many, plus some forget the mid-season trade for Evander Kane. This team I think will sneak up on some teams early in the year but by the end the growing pains will be evident and lack of depth exposed. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 7th in the Atlantic.
Toronto Maple Leafs: One word: PAIN. New Head Coach Mike Babcock tempered expectations on this club with that phrase at his announcement presser. He should. The reclamation project of getting respect back for the Leafs franchise has begun but there are going to be plenty of growing pains along the way this year. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 8th in the Atlantic, but not bottom of the East (14th)
Washington Capitals: Barry Trotz will be getting plenty of early Jack Adams talk as we head into the season. I loved the Caps trade to get TJ Oshie. I do think Joel Ward will be missed more than most seem to. I’m not as sold on the Justin Williams signing as the rest of the NHL media. I think it’s going to be an incredible regular season for the Caps, but can they get past the 2nd Round? (I seriously doubt it) Playoffs: Yes Predicted Finish: 1st in Metropolitan and 1st in East.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The amount of scoring that should emanate from the Pens will be something to see. Phil Kessel will no longer shoulder the responsibility of being THE guy to score the goals. That could mean he reaches 40 goals instead. Where I’m not sold is on the Pens coaching and defense. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 2nd in Metro.
New York Rangers: Can the Rangers get back to a 3rd Eastern Conference Final? History suggests no. That said they still have a high quality team in net and along the blueline. The concern is the depth at forward. Take away Rick Nash and you have much less elite scoring than you might imagine. Still, expect this team to do well although I don’t see them repeating as Presidents Trophy winners. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 3rd in Metro.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The most injured team in the NHL last year quietly was one of the best teams in the NHL the last 2 months of the regular season. I feel that continues plus by adding Brandon Saad the top line of the Jackets has become quite fearsome. I’m not exactly sold on the D which is why I don’t have them ahead of the Rangers, but that could happen. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 4th in Metro and 1st East Wild Card
New York Islanders: There are so many things to like about the Islanders and I may be undervaluing them but that just goes to show how much deeper the Metro Division is in the East as compared to the Atlantic. John Tavares is poised to have another stellar season. The one distraction could be what the Isles plan to do with pending UFA Kyle Okposo. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 5th in Metro and 2nd East Wild Card.
Philadelphia Flyers: They have some high end talent but I feel they lack the depth to get back into the East Playoff picture. Steve Mason is an X-Factor and if he can carry this team they could surprise some. Playoffs: Unlikely Predicted Finish: 6th in Metro.
Carolina Hurricanes: Now we drop to the bottom of the East. Carolina is still in a rebuilding mode and will have to decide if pending UFA Eric Staal is apart of their future picture. Much of the season will come down to 31-year old Cam Ward and 27-year old Eddie Lack. Both goaltenders will be relied upon and they must be stellar for Carolina to do well this year. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 7th in Metro and 15th in East.
New Jersey Devils: Not a lot to like here. The turn around is on the horizon with new GM Ray Shero in place. It is likely a very very long year for his fan base. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 8th in Metro, 16th in East, and 30th in the NHL.
Anaheim Ducks: There is a lot to like about what the Ducks have built. I see no reason to feel they will be worse than last season in terms of regular season success. Much like St. Louis the post-season success will be their measuring stick. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 1st in Pacific, 1st in West, and 1st in NHL Regular Season.
Calgary Flames: The analytics people out there are going to expect a regression from the Flames. I see no reason as to why they will let up. The biggest concern is goaltending, but the D is so good that in the end I see them winning plenty of games. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 2nd in Pacific
L.A. Kings: Talk about an offseason focused on off-ice issues. With those cleaned up (sort of) the Kings will use the extra rest to return to the winning ways of old. I will be very curious to see how well this team rebounds from the past year. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 3rd in Pacific.
San Jose Sharks: A new head coach is unlikely to solve the problems of aging players. I think the Sharks will eventually get back on track but with how deep the Central is my expectation is that you need to finish top 3 in the Pacific to get to the post-season dance. Playoffs: Unlikely. Predicted Finish: 4th in Pacific.
Edmonton Oilers: All they do is win… lotteries. Connor McDavid may prove to be the best golden ticket ever for Edmonton since the 04′ Lockout. The one area I still am not convinced of is goaltending. I hope Cam Talbot (former UAH Chargers goalie) can have great success. With that said it’s going to be a fun year yet not enough to get over the hump just yet. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 5th in Pacific.
Vancouver Canucks: This is the one prediction that may come back to haunt me the most. I just was not a fan of the offseason moves made and feel they are ripe for a drop. I could be totally wrong here but the offense is aging and I don’t see growth from this team just yet. Playoffs: Unlikely. Predicted Finish: 6th in Pacific.
Arizona Coyotes: They will be bad. Again. I don’t think they will be New Jersey bad, but who knows, they may still win a lottery and get Auston Matthews at the top of the 2016 NHL Draft. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 7th in the Pacific , 14th in the West, and 29th in the NHL.
Nashville Predators: More to come on this one as I will have a Predator specific column in the days ahead. Simply put are they a Playoff team? Yes. Division Title? I think this is the year to grab it. That should be the expectation going in so why not hold them to said expectation. That should also place them 2nd in the West.
Chicago Blackhawks: A Cup in hand and a fresh roster around the core. The Blackhawks are likely to play quite well again this year…. unless the Patrick Kane stuff takes an unexpected turn (although that’s happened a couple times already). The Hawks continue to lock up their core and get well priced pieces around them. Could be a slow start to the season that costs them a Division crown. Stanley Cup hangovers and all…. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 2nd in the Central.
St. Louis Blues: Hitch is back and has one last shot. The regular season they can conquer. The post-season will be where all eyes are on St. Louis. I didn’t feel they did as well this offseason so I see a little regression, but still a very solid and deep club. Playoffs: Yes. Predicted Finish: 3rd in the Central.
Minnesota Wild: The window for the Wild is closing and this could be the last year or two in which they have a real chance at things. Suter and Parise are not going to get much better than they have been. Plus there is the whole question of Devan Dubnyk and whether or not last year was a fluke. I don’t expect him to be as bad as he was 2 years ago, nor do I see him being as good as he was last season. Somewhere in between which makes the Wild one of the hardest teams to predict for me. Playoffs: Likely. Predicted Finish: 4th in the Central and 1st West Wild Card.
Dallas Stars: Another team that made plenty of offseason moves. Some I really liked, other were a bit suspect. They are the hot pick to rise high into the Central rankings. I don’t think that’s a thing that happens overnight without having a stellar goaltender and D. So with those both being a bit of a question I have the Stars at an in-between spot. The offense will be fantastic though. Playoffs: Likely Predicted Finish: 5th in the Central and 2nd West Wild Card.
Winnipeg Jets: This team could be the one that sees the most regression from last season. They still have some very solid pieces at the blueline, but the goaltending doesn’t convince me at all. The Jets were a great story last year and have a fantastic home ice advantage with their fans. Still, my gut says to sell on them returning to the West post-season. Playoffs: Unlikely Predicted Finish: 6th in the Central and just missing the playoffs.
Colorado Avalanche: Did they have an offseason? Who knows, maybe the fax machine was broken. Count me as a person who does not see Patrick Roy as a great coach. Don’t see them being much different than last year. Playoffs: No. Predicted Finish: 7th in Central.
Thanks for reading my NHL quick shot preview. I will return with a bit more in-depth look at your Nashville Predators and what to expect from them. It’s going to be a fun year on the ice and here at PredNeck Nation. Stay tuned and take care….