Because of my work schedule this upcoming week, I won’t have time to post the Metropolitan Division preview on Saturday. So here’s my predictions on the Metropolitan Division for this upcoming season.
Key Additions: Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Scott Darling
Key Losses: None
The Hurricanes just might be the most improved team in the Metropolitan Division, for the fact that they have one of the most up-and-coming defense cores in the NHL. Add that Scott Darling will have his chance of being the #1 goaltender, and the Canes just might be knocking on the doorstep of the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Key Addition: Artemi Panarin
Key Losses: Brandon Saad, Sam Gagner
The Blue Jackets had the best season ever for a franchise. They capped the 2016 calendar year by winning 16 in a row. The only thing that stopped them was a first-round matchup against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Now, the Jackets need to build off of last season, and they did it with a blockbuster trade, sending Brandon Saad back to Chicago in exchange for Artemi Panarin. Panarin will be that first-line playmaker the Jackets need to get through the likes of the Penguins and the Capitals in the first round the playoffs. Either way, expectations will be elevated in the Buckeye State this season.
New Jersey Devils
Key Additions: Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle
Key Losses: None
Thanks to a couple of bouncing balls, the New Jersey Devils ended up picking #1 overall at the NHL Draft last June, and selected Nico Hischier. Hischier, who models his game after Pavel Datsyuk, gives the Devils a top center they’ve been looking for for a while. It may not lead to a playoff spot this season, but the Devils will be vastly improved from last season.
New York Islanders
Key Additions: Jordan Eberle, Kristers Gudlevskis
Key Losses: Mikhail Grabovski, Ryan Strome, Travis Hamonic
Let’s face the facts: the New York Islanders are officially a team in limbo. It all depends whether or not John Tavares wants to stay with the Islanders for the rest of his career. If the Isles say no, they can begin the painful process of rebuilding. If the Isles can get Tavares to re-sign, they can continue to contend, but the Islanders need to build around Tavares, starting with rebuilding the defense. Either way, this season doesn’t look good for the Isles.
New York Rangers
Key Additions: Kevin Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo, David Desharnais, Ondrej Pavelec
Key Losses: Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta
The Rangers started to retool by signing the biggest name in free agency in the offseason. Kevin Shattenkirk, who began last season in St. Louis, then traded to Washington as a rental player, now calls his hometown team as his own. Along with captain Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers still look to keep the championship window open with a more skilled defense.
Key Additions: Brian Elliott, Jori Lehtera
Key Losses: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brayden Schenn
One of the most obvious problems last year for the Flyers was having a #1 goaltender. That problem should be fixed after the Flyers signed veteran goaltender Brian Elliott from free agency. Even with the addition of #2 pick Nolan Patrick, I don’t see the Flyers improving nor regressing this season. Still, the Flyers are a work in progress.
Key Addition: Matt Hunwick, Antti Niemi, Ryan Reaves
Key Losses: Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daley, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit
The Penguins did what no team has done in the last 20 years last year: repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Now they are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cup Championships since the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s. And this team is primed to do so, even without Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Matt Murray will officially take helm as the Penguins #1 goalie, and when you have Sidney Crosby, the best player of this generation, as a Penguins fan you’ve got to like your chances of pulling off a threepeat and cementing themselves as the Dynasty of the 2010s.
Prediction: Metropolitan Division Champions
Key Addition: Devante Smith-Pelly
Key Losses: Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner
The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy for the second straight season last season. They were ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round for the second straight season. After a Cup-or-bust season, the Caps look to this season once again facing the reality that their championship window might be closed after this season. Alex Ovechkin scored a measly 33 goals last season, which wasn’t up to “Ovi standards”. The Caps are still good, but this is a contract year for head coach Barry Trotz. Is he willing to lead the course for the Capitals moving forward, or do they need a new leader that can get them over the hump that is the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
For the next four Saturdays, I will preview what each division will stand during the 2017-18 NHL season. This week’s preview focuses on the Atlantic Division.
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Dominic Moore, Drew Stafford
Not a lot has changed with the Bruins during the offseason, but as Bruce Cassidy enters his first full season as Bruins head coach, expect the Bruins to stay the course and improve over last season.
Key Additions: Nathan Beaulieu, Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville
Key Loss: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Dmitry Kulikov
The Sabres recently cleaned house, firing Head Coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Tim Murray and replacing them with new Head Coach Phil Housley and new General Manager Jason Botterill. As for the on ice product, expect the Sabres to be more structured defensively.
Detroit Red Wings
Key Addition: Trevor Daley
Key Losses: None
Hockeytown has a new home, and a new breath of life it will be for the Detroit Red Wings. Expect this team to somewhat be vastly improved with the addition of two-time Stanley Cup Champion defense Trevor Daley to stabilize the back end. But the Red Wings might be in trouble if Andreas Athanasiou decides to jump ship and play in the KHL.
Key Addition: Evgeny Dadonov, Micheal Haley, Radim Vrbata
Key Losses: Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen, Thomas Vanek
The Panthers are retooling. Plain and simple. After a tumultuous offseason in which one of their best young players was selected in the Expansion Draft, the Panthers need Jonathan Huberdeau to stay healthy if they want to contend in the Atlantic Division.
Key Additions: Karl Alzner, Ales Hemsky, Mark Streit
Key Losses: Andrei Markov, Alex Radulov
The Habs got better defensively in the offseason, when they signed Karl Alzner from free agency. With the departure of Andrei Markov to the KHL, the Habs got younger and faster on the back end. Add to the fact that you’ve got one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and this team is as strong as they come defensively.
Key Additions: Nate Thompson, Johnny Oduya
Key Losses: Tommy Wingels, Viktor Stalberg
The Senators surprised everyone in the Eastern Conference by making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final and push the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Game 7. Well, it’s going to be even tougher for the Sens to get back here, even though they have one of the best defenses in the NHL.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Key Additions: Chris Kunitz, Dan Girardi
Key Loss: Jonathan Drouin
The Lightning didn’t factor that much after losing Steven Stamkos for a majority of the season. But this team should bounce back. Out of all the teams in the Atlantic Division, this, by far, is the most complete from front to back.
Prediction: Atlantic Division Champions
Toronto Maple Leafs
Key Additions: Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey, Dominic Moore
Key Loss: Brian Boyle
The Maple Leafs had the biggest turnaround in the NHL last season. Propelled by Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews, the Leafs made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013. Out of all the teams in the Atlantic, the Leafs might be able to give the Lightning a run for their money in the Atlantic. This team looks similar to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009-10 season when the only moves made in the offseason was to sign veteran players with playoff experience. That’s what Patrick Marleau brings. So to is Ron Hainsey who prior to last season, never played in a playoff game! This is a team everyone should look out for this season.
When I started this blog before the 2011-12 NHL season, the one question that hadn’t been answered was can an NHL team repeat as Stanley Cup champions? Here’s the results of defending Stanley Cup Champions the year after they won in the post-lockout era:
- 2006: Tampa Bay Lightning — finished 8th in the Eastern Conference; lost to the Ottawa Senators in five games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
- 2007: Carolina Hurricanes — finished 11th in the Eastern Conference; failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- 2008: Anaheim Ducks — finished 4th in the Western Conference; lost to the Dallas Stars in six games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
- 2009: Detroit Red Wings — finished 2nd in the Western Conference; lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final.
- 2010: Pittsburgh Penguins — finished 4th in the Eastern Conference; lost to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
- 2011: Chicago Blackhawks — finished 8th in the Western Conference; lost to the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
- 2012: Boston Bruins — finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference; lost to the Washington Capitals in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
- 2013: Los Angeles Kings — finished 5th in the Western Conference; lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in five games in the Western Conference Final.
- 2014: Chicago Blackhawks — finished 3rd in the Central Division; lost to the Los Angeles Kings in seven games in the Western Conference Final.
- 2015: Los Angeles Kings— finished 4th in the Pacific Division; failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- 2016: Chicago Blackhawks — finished 3rd in the Central Division; lost to the St. Louis Blues in seven games in the First Round.
In the last four years, both the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks both had multiple chances to repeat, but didn’t. The Detroit Red Wings came the closest to repeating, but lost in seven games to the Penguins. So what made the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins the first repeat Stanley Cup champions in nineteen seasons, and the first to do so in the salary cap era? Despite being riddled with injuries all season long, players stepped up, whether it be from Wilkes-Barre (Jake Guentzel), or from somewhere else (Ron Hainsey), and battled their way through the NHL’s toughest division, the Metropolitan Division — where all four playoff-qualified teams had a 100+ point season. They began the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a tough First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They went past the Jackets, who were led by the best regular-season goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky) and best regular-season head coach (John Tortorella), in six games. In the Second Round, they once again faced the Presidents’ Trophy winners — the team with the best regular-season record, the Washington Capitals. It was a very difficult Second Round series that went the distance, but once again, the Penguins prevailed. In the Eastern Conference Final, they faced the Ottawa Senators — a defensive-minded team that dispatched the Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens in the First Round six games, and then went on to beat the New York Rangers in the Second Round in six games. The Penguins looked to be in trouble when Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled in Game 3. But Matt Murray, the goaltender who led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup last year, took the reins behind the pipes, and helped the Penguins in this back-and-forth series that went the distance. That series ended in epic fashion when Chris Kunitz buried the winning goal in the second overtime of Game 7. In the Stanley Cup Final, they took on the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators, who made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history by upsetting the Central Division champion Chicago Blackhawks in the First Round in four straight games, then dispatched the St. Louis Blues in six games the Second Round, and then dispatched the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference in six games. Both teams held serve throughout the first five games, the last one was a 6-0 thrashing that saw Pekka Rinne being pulled from the net for the second straight game in Pittsburgh. And just like in 1991 in Bloomington, Minnesota, 1992 in Chicago,, 2009 in Detroit, and last year in San Jose, the Penguins became the first team in the salary-cap era to repeat as Stanley Cup champions when former Predator Patric Hornqvist buried the game-winning goal past Rinne with 1:35 left in regulation time. Carl Hagelin’s empty-net goal sealed the deal for the Pens. With seven points (one goal and six assists) in the Stanley Cup Final, Sidney Crosby joined Bobby Orr, Bernie Parent, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Patrick Roy to win the Conn Smythe Trophy multiple times, with Parent, Lemieux, and himself winning it in consecutive years.
Two years ago, I wrote why the Chicago Blackhawks could be a modern-day dynasty. After what happened last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins just supplanted the Blackhawks as the standard in the NHL. They did something what the Hawks, the Kings, Red Wings, and to a further extent, the 2001 New Jersey Devils, and the 2000 Stars didn’t do: successfully repeat as Stanley Cup champions, and to do it where a budget is enforced is a rare feat. Not to take away what the Blackhawks have done by winning three Stanley Cup championships in a six-year span, but repeating as champions always — ALWAYS — trumps winning a x-amount of championships in a specific time-span. And they’re not going to be done in the future. Las Vegas sports books have the Penguins as a early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018, and hopefully become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cup Championships since the New York Islanders of the early 1980s. You might love them, or you may hate them, but you better give the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins the respect it deserves after what they’ve done to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Repeating as champions is a very rare feat in sports, so I want you to soak it all in really good, because this is a feat that might never, ever happen again.
Without further ado, here’s the final installment of Coach’s Corner for the 2016-17 season.
Congratulations to the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The next blog entry is the annual “Final Take” about the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Last night on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy presented some Stanley Cup Superlatives featuring some players who are participating in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. ICYMI, here’s the video:
If you missed CBC’s coverage of Game 5 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, here’s what happened during the first intermission on Coach’s Corner.
Since 1993, it’s been an annual tradition that during the Stanley Cup Final, the top prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft are interviewed by Don Cherry. But since the NHL Scouting Combine was held over the weekend in Buffalo, the prospects interview had to be scheduled for Game 4 instead of the traditional Game 3 for the second straight year. So without any further ado, here’s the latest Coach’s Corner featuring 2017 NHL Draft prospects Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, Casey Mittlestadt, and Gabriel Vilardi.