Archive for September, 2016

2016-17 Pacific Division Preview

This is the final part of my NHL season preview. Here’s my preview of the Pacific Division:

Anaheim Ducks

Key Additions: Antoine Vermette, Jonathan Bernier, Nate Guenin, Jared Boll, Jeff Schultz

Key Losses: Jamie McGinn, Anton Khudobin, David Perron, Chris Stewart

Out of all the teams in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks have a lot of questions to answer.this season. The biggest one being out of all the prople you could think of to replace Bruce Boudreau as your head coach,you selected…Randy Carlyle? Sure he lead the Ducks to a Stanley Cup 10 years ago, but the last time he coached the Ducks, they had one of the worst seasons ever. Will doing back to the old syle of play lead to a better future and a second chance in Anaheim?

Prediction: Third

Arizona Coyotes

Key Additions: Alex Goligoski, Jamie McGinn, Radim VrBata, Dave Bolland, Luke Schenn

Key Losses: Antoine Vermette

The Arizona Coyotes are celebrating their 20th season in the American Southwest, and believe me, this team should be more improved after last season. First, they signed a top defenseman in Alex Goligoski. Second, the Killer Ds, Anthony Duclair and Max Domi, are building off of breakout first seasons. And third, 2015 first-round draft pick Dylan Strome could have a shot to make the opening night roster. They might not be contending for a playoff spot this season, but the future has never been brighter for the Yotes.

Prediction: Sixth

Calgary Flames

Key Additions: Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott, Alex Chiasson

Key Losses: None

The Calgary Flames just might be the NHL’s dark horse team this season. After a step-back season that resulted in head coach Bob Hartley being fired, a new head coach, Glen Gulutzan, and two former Blues that had a major impact last season, forward Troy Brouwer and goaltender Brian Elliott, could give the boost the Flames needed last season. Add the contract extension of Sean Monahan, and the Flames could potentially be the best non-California team in the Pacific Division.

Prediction: Fourth

Edmonton Oilers

Key Additions: Milan Lucic, Adam Larsson

Key Loss: Taylor Hall

The Edmonton Oilers begin a new era at Rogers Place, and there should be a lot of cause for optimism. Connor McDavid is hoping to play a full season, and his new linemate, Milan Lucic, wants to be a part of it. After all, the biggest reason why Lucic wanted to play in Edmonton was #97 himself. Also, the Oilers also got a big-name defenseman when they traded away Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Dam Larsson. Larsson is a pure defensive defenseman,;a key position that has been filled in.

Prediction: Fifth

Los Angeles Kings

Key Additions: Teddy Purcell, Tom Gilbert

Key Losses: Milan Lucic, Luke Schenn

Not a lot of change happened in L.A. during the offsesaon, but there was change nonetheless. The Kings demoted Dustin Brown and promoted Anze Kopitar to team captain. But beyond that, the major question for the Kings this season is are they truly deep enough to contend in the Pacific Division?

Prediction: Second

San Jose Sharks

Key Additions: Mikkel Boedker, David Schlemko

Key Losses: James Reimer, Roman Polak

With the exception of the ending last season, the 2015-16 San Jose Sharks had the best season ever. They finally got through the playoff hump and advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history. What looked to be the championship window closing is now open for a little while longer. Now, the Sharks have to build upon last season if they want the window to say open for a little more longer. They have all the tools there. It’s up to them to create what the next chapter will look like.

Prediction: Pacific Division Champions

Vancouver Canucks

Key Additions: Erik Gudbranson, Loui Eriksson

Key Losses: Radim Vrbata, Dan Hamhuis

The Vancouver Canucks are in the middle of a transitional phase – the dreaded treadmill effect. The treadmill effect happens when the team isn’t that good, but technically isn’t that bad. If they somehow make the playoffs, they’re not gonna make a deep run. If they miss the playoffs, the probably won’t get a difference-maker. But they did just that in the Draft, when they selected defenseman Olli Juolevi with the fifth-overall pick. Juolevi is one of the building blocks to the Canucks’ future, but as for the present, the only major name that joined the Canucks during the offseason is Loui Eriksson. Eriksson will most likely play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin as the Canucks’ top line this season. But after that, the forecast for the Canucks 2016-17 season looks pretty cloudy.

Prediction: Seventh

And there you have it! Those are my previews for the 2016-17 NHL season. In the words of legendary Chick Hearn, this one’s finally in the fridge; the door is closed, the lights are out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard, and the jello is jiggling. The next time I’ll write will be the day after Opening Night. Stay tuned!


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2016-17 Central Division Preview

Here’s my predictions on the Central Division for this season:

Chicago Blackhawks

Key Additions: Brian Campbell, Michal Kempny

Key Losses: Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, Bryan Bickell

There was a lot of turnover for the Chicago Blackhawks, but they did fix the problem of having a fourth defenseman in the offseasson with a returning familiar face. Brian Campbell returns to Chicago after spending the last five seasons in Florida. The major concern for the Hawks this season is forward depth. Can newcomers step up to the plate and prove they belong in the NHL and play a caliber worthy of not just this team, but this league?

Prediction: Fourth

Colorado Avalanche

Key Additions: Fedor Tyutin, Patrick Wiercioch, Joe Colborne

Key Losses: Mikkel Boedker, Zach Redmond, Shawn Matthias, Nate Guenin

After the disaster that was the Patrick Roy coaching era, the Avalanche start fresh with new head coach Jared Bednar. Bednar led the Cleveland Monsters to a Calder Cup championship last season, and he’s a players’coach. Can a new breath of fresh air bring back life into the Avs? It all depends if Nathan MacKinnon can bounce back after back-to-back sub-par seasons.

Prediction: Seventh

Dallas Stars

Key Additions: Dan Hamhuis, Jiri Hudler

Key Losses: Alex Goligoski, Colton Sceviour, Jason Demers, Vernon Fiddler

Last seasons, the Stars were the highest-scoring team in the NHL, and it propelled them to their first Central Division title since 1998. But what hindered them in the postseason was a questionable defense and even questionable goaltending. There was no clear-cut no. 1 goalie, and neither Antti Niemi nor Kari Lehtonen took full command and carried the team for the majority of the season. Despite resigning team captain Jamie Benn to a max contract (8 years, $76 million), there are still defensive holes that still need to be fixed.

Prediction: Second

Minnesota Wild

Key Additions: Eric Staal, Chris Stewart

Key Loss: Thomas Vanek

After a somewhat tumultuous season, the Minnesota Wild start fresh with a new coach. Bruce Boudreau goes to his third NHL team, and usually wherever he goes, success comes with him – regular-season success, that is. During his time in Anaheim, he led the Ducks to four straight Pacific Division titles. He earned that success because that team was built in the same way the team he coached prior, the Washington Capitals, was buikt. The Wild aren’t built in that same manner, but in a highly-competitive division like the Central, play like that could be encouraged to survive. Also, the Wild got some help on offense with the addition of Eric Staal. The big question is: is this the same Eric Staal that made a name himself in Carolina, or is this the Eric Staal that struggled as a rental player with the New York Rangers?

Prediction: Fifth

Nashville Predators

Key Additions: P.K. Subban, Matt Carle

Key Losses: Carter Hutton

Sometimes, it takes one move to put you over the top. When the Predators traded Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, they got a playmaking defenseman that’s fit for the Western Conference. And after a playoff run in which they beat the Anaheim Ducks in Seven Games, and pushed the San Jose Sharks to the brink, it’s safe to say the Preds have taken a HUGE step in becoming a Central Division top-three team.

Prediction: Third

St. Louis Blues

Key Additions: David Perron, Landon Ferraro

Key Losses: David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott

Last season’s playoff run was the first time the Blues appeared in the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001. However, this season –  their 50th – is a season unlike any other. They are hosting a Winter Classic. It’s head coach Ken Hitchcock’s final season. and they are hoping that last season was absolutely no fluke. Despite the losses of David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliott, the Blues should STILL contend for top spot in the Central. The reasons are simple:

  1. Jake Allen should be ready as the Blues no. 1 goalie.
  2. Second-year players Colton Parayko and Robby Fabbri are gonna build off of their amazing rookie campaigns.
  3. Alex Pietrangelo is the perfect choice to be the Blues’ new captain.
  4. Good luck trying to stop Vladimir Tarasenko.

Prediction:  Central Division Champions

Winnipeg Jets

Key Addition: Shawn Matthias

Key Losses: None

The Jets are in the middle of a transitional phase. Since Andrew Ladd left, the Jets are slowly building themselves back up again, and one of those key cogs is 2016 first-round pick (second overall), Patrik Laine. Laine is a top-six sniper; a surefire top-line player. He could have the same impact that Teemu Selanne had 23 years ago with the original Jets. Also, with three goaltenders (Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson, Connor Hellebuyck), the jets need to find a clear and concise no. 1 goaltender, and that is most likely going to be Hellebuyck.

Prediction: Sixth

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2016-17 Metropolitan Division Preview

Here’s my predictions on the Metropolitan Division this season.

Carolina Hurricanes

Key Additions: Bryan Bickell, Teuvo Teravainen, Viktor Stalberg, Lee Stempniak

Key Loss: Riley Nash

Don’t call the Carolina Hurricanes the Blackhawks Rejects this season. They were the beneficiary of a team that needed to shed cap space. This team is in the middle on not a rebuild, but a retool. Thanks to the emergence of their young defense core, and young stars like Victor Rask and Phil Di Giuseppe, there should be a sense of optimism for Caniacs. Heck, they almost made a playoff push, but they’re still a long ways to go in the second-most competitive division in the NHL.

Prediction: Seventh

Columbus Blue Jackets

Key Additions: Sam Gagner

Key Loss: Fedor Tyutin

Not a lot of turnover happened in Columbus, but the Blue Jackets are gonna have a full season under John Tortorella. Whether this leads to a successful season or not depends on the health of Sergei Bobrovsky. If Bob remains healthy, maybe the Jackets have a shot.

Prediction: Eighth

New Jersey Devils

Key Additions: Taylor Hall, Ben Lovejoy, Vernon Fiddler, Kyle Quincey

Key Loss: Adam Larsson

This, by far, should be the most improved team in the Eastern Conference. The Devils finally have a top-line forward that could play with Kyle Palmieri. Add in a rising star netminder like Cory Schneider, and maybe the Devils will have a chance to contend for a playoff spot this season.

Prediction: Fifth

New York Islanders

Key Additions: Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, P.A. Parenteau, Dennis Seidenberg

Key Losses: Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin

The New York Islanders had an amazing first season at Barclays Center. They won their first playoff series since knocking out the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1993. So how do you top that? You get experience. Andrew Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and former team captain, brings experience to the table. So to does Jason Chimera. But despite the departures of Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin, and Frans Nielsen due to free agency, the Islanders restocked with unknowns who proven themselves in the playoffs last season in Shane Prince and Alan Quine.

Prediction: Third

New York Rangers

Key Additions: Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, Mika Zibanejad

Key Losses: Viktor Stalberg, Dominic Moore

The championship window for the New York Rangers is slowly starting to close. Call it natural regression. After all the success the Rangers had the last few years, eventually, time catches up to you. But despite all of this, the Rangers still are not willing to close that window shut. Especially not on Henrik Lundqvist’s watch. They also added 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey to the roster,  so don’t expect any major regression.

Prediction: Fourth

Philadelphia Flyers

Key Addition: Dale Weise

Key Loss: Sam Gagner

No one thought the Flyers would make it to the playoffs in Dave Hakstol’s first season as head coach. But thanks to the emergence of Calder Trophy finalist Shayne Gostisbehere and play from goalie Michal Neuvirth, the Flyers made it in as a Wild Card..The Flyers have one of the best up-and-coming defensemen in their system in 2015 first-round draft pick Ivan Provorov. If Gostisbehere and Provorov are paired together, this pair could be just as effective as any good defensive pair in the NHL.

Prediction: Sixth

Pittsburgh Penguins

Key Addition: Ben Lovejoy

Key Loss: None

The penguins have a legitimate shot to become the first repeat Stanley Cup champion in 20 years all because of one reason: most of the team that helped win the Stanley Cup in 2016 are still in Pittsburgh. With the exception of the 2014 Chicago Blackhawks, nearly ever Stanley  Cup Champion in the last 8 seasons has had a tough time defending the Cup the following season because of massive turnover occurring during the offseason. When you see the Penguins on the ice this season, what you see is practically the same team that won 16 games when it mattered most en route to their fourth Stanley Cup in 50 years.

Prediction: Second

Washington Capitals

Key Addition: Lars Eller

Key Loss: Jason Chimera

Last season, the Capitals had their best season ever. They had the best goal-scorer (Alex Ovechkin), best coach (Barry Trotz), and the best goalie (Braden Holtby). They had everything you could imagine for, except they were beten by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the second round in six games. but much like their rival, there’s little to no turnover in the offeseason in Washington. So I’d expect nothing less for the Capitals to still be the dominant team in the Metropolitan Division.

Prediction: Metropolitan Division Champions

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2016-17 Atlantic Division Preview

This is the 2016-17 preview of the Atlantic Division. And just like last season, the season preview will be division-by-division, and it will all be covered within the span of 4 days.

Boston Bruins

Key Additions: David Backes, Dominic Moore, Anton Khudobin

Key Losses: Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Zach Trotman

This season seems to be a transitional year for the Bruins. Last year, they had issues on defense and on the road. Their young guns like Frank Vatrano, David Pastrnak, and Torey Krug are all coming into their prime, so there should be some optimism. But despite adding David Backes, is the Bruins offense good enough to compete in the Atlantic?

Prediction: Fifth

Buffalo Sabres

Key Additions: Kyle Okposo, Dmitry Kulikov, Anders Nilsson

Key Loss: Mark Pysyk

The Sabres are building off of a season in which Jack Eichel showed he’s not the future of the team, but the here and now. Now you add Kyle Okposo to the list, and the future of the Sabres look more brighter than ever.They’re still a long ways to go from being a playoff contender, but you can never say never.

Prediction: Sixth

Detroit Red Wings

Key Additions: Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, Steve Ott

Key Loss: Pavel Datsyuk

Despite the additions above, that loss below was major. When Pavel Datsyuk decided he was going back to Russia, the first thought was this was the first sign of the end of an era in Detroit. With this upcoming season being the final season at Joe Louis Arena,the hope is to extend the longest active playoff appearance streak in North American sports to 26 years. That might be in doubt, because you really don’t know if Frans Nielsen (a speedy player), Steve Ott (a physical grinder), and Thomas Vanek (a playmaker), is going to fill the holes that Datsyuk vacated. This team should be good enough to extend the streak, but right now, I have them as a bubble team.

Prediction: Fourth

Florida Panthers

Key Addition: Keith Yandle, James Reimer, Jason Demers, Colton Sceviour, Jonathan Marchessault

Key Losses: Brian Campbell, Al Montoya, Teddy Purcell, Jiri Hudler

The Panthers surprised everyone by winning the Atlantic Division for the first time in franchise history; their first division title in five years. What propelled the Panthers to an amazing season was 43-year old Jaromir Jagr literally turning back the hands of time, and putting the team on his back. During the offseason, they bolstered their defense by signing Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. They also signed James Reimer to help alleviate the workload of Roberto Luongo. Quite frankly, the Panthers are a legitimate top-three team in the Atlantic, because they have the right mix of balanced lines and an even stronger defense corps.

Prediction: Third

Montréal Canadiens

Key Additions: Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw, Al Montoya, Alex Radulov

Key Losses: P.K. Subban, Lars Eller

It was a disastrous year for the Habs. When Carey Price went down, so too did the team. Even a Winter Classic win over the Boston Bruins in Foxborough didn’t help take away the sting of disappointment. But all of that change with one trade. When the Canadiens traded P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber, that trade was the most significant trade since Chris Chelios was traded to Chicago for Denis Savard in 1990.  They traded away a personality for a no-nonsense, business-like defenseman: someone who wouldn’t be a distraction to the team. They also got an offensive boost by signing Andrew Shaw. This team should be better, but it all depends on whether or not Price remains healthy.

Prediction: Second

Ottawa Senators

Key Addition: Chris Kelly

Key Losses: Patrick Wiercioch, Mika Zibanejad, Alex Chiasson

Not a lot has changed with the Senators in the offseason, but when Guy Boucher was hired as their new head coach, the Sens got some structure back. I don’t expect a lot from the Senators this season, but the should be improved from last season.

Prediction: Seventh

Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Addition: Cory Conacher

Key Losses: Jonathan Marchessault

The Lightning didn’t need to do much, except re-sign their core. And they did just that. Steven Stamkos was re-signed to an 8-year max contract worth $66 Million. Victor Hedman was re-signed to an 8-year max contract worth $63 Million. Alex Killorn was re-signed to an 7-year contract worth $31 Million. With the core remaining intact, the Bolts will be the standard for the Atlantic Division for years to come.

Prediction: Atlantic Division Champions

Toronto Maple Leafs

Key Additions: Frederik Andersen, Matt Martin, Roman Polak

Key Loss: Michael Grabner, P.A. Parenteau

The future has arrived in Toronto. A new logo, new uniforms, and the arrival of AM34 aka 2016 number-one overall pick Auston Matthews. Add the acquisition of goalie Freddie Andersen, and you have the building blocks of the rebirth of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but don’t expect a lot from this work in progress this season, despite hosting the NHL Centennial Classic on New Year’s Day.

Prediction: Eighth

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Hockey Is Back, and Liev Schreiber Brings It to Fruition Again

Actor Liev Schreiber has done numerous commercials promoting the NHL, from the commercial promoting the beginning of the 2012-13 season after the Lockout to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The World Cup of Hockey begins this Saturday in Toronto, but once the tournament is concluded, the world’s best hockey players go back to do what they have always been doing: play for club; play for city. Four weeks from tonight, the 2016-17 NHL season commences, and this commercial, entitled “Two Cities” explains how a NHL player might call one place “home”, but the city in which they play for becomes their “adopted hometown.”

Everyone has an origin story:

The place where you’re born that stays in your blood and shapes who you are, until the day comes when you’re culled somewhere new to try and make your mark.

Little by little, the people become your people. Their hopes, your responsibility.

You offer them everything, and in return, that’s what they give you back.

Together, you work to build something as permanent as the city itself — a symbol for all it means to live there, until finally, if you’re lucky, they consider you a native son.

And that’s when you realize a person can be from two places at once.

The 2016-17 NHL season is a historic one. The Pittsburgh Penguins are not only enter the season as defending Stanley Cup Champions, but they, along with fellow 1967-68 Expansion teams, in-state rival Philadelphia Flyers, and Western Conference teams St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings are all celebrating their 50th year of operation. St. Louis is hosting the Winter Classic, Los Angeles is hosting the All-Star Game, The Toronto Maple Leafs are celebrating their centennial, the Ottawa Senators celebrating their 25th year as a modern-day NHL franchise, the Arizona Coyotes celebrating two decades in the Desert, the Edmonton Oilers are celebrating their inaugural season at Rogers Place, the Detroit Red Wings are celebrating their final season at Joe Louis Arena. And this season marks the last time the NHL will be a 30-team league for the foreseeable future.

That’s just the beginning. My annual division-by-division season previews will be published the next four Tuesdays, so stay tuned!


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