Well, the 2015-16 NHL season was fun.
But the 2016-17 offseason has been even more fun. A plethora of huge free agent signings took place, and so did numerous trades. When it seemed like Steven Stamkos was on his way out of Tampa Bay, he signed an eight-year pact with them. When Marc Bergevin said the Habs had no plans to trade P.K. Subban, he flipped him for Shea Weber. The offseason has been a lot of fun as well.
And, of course, there was an intriguing NHL Draft. Franchise cornerstones Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine went first and second, respectively, and are hyped as once-in-a-lifetime prospects. There are plenty of questions heading into the 2016-17 season, and many of them stem from what will happen with the rookies, newcomers, and if teams will regret the decisions they made.
Also, how will some veterans impact their new teams? We take a look at 15 of the most interesting questions NHL fans are asking, and give our best to answers.
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14 Can the Pittsburgh Penguins Realistically Win Back-to-Back Stanley Cups?
Of course they can. Any defending champion should always be considered dangerous to repeat. But I'd actually take it a step further and say the Pens are more likely to miss the playoffs than win the Cup again in 2016-17.
The Penguins finished on a hot streak, going 13-2 to close out the regular season. They used that momentum to dispatch the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and San Jose Sharks in the playoffs. Their defence was lights out and goaltender Matt Murray was also a standout.
Up until December, they looked like a sure-bet to miss the playoffs. It wasn't until March where they showed they were bound for the playoffs. They cannot continue that super-hot streak, and Evgeni Malkin (30), Sidney Crosby, and Kris Letang (29) will begin to feel that wear-and-tear on their bodies after a lengthy playoff run.
We won't bet that they will miss the playoffs, but we'll say it's more likely than then repeating!
13 Have the San Jose Sharks Missed Their Stanley Cup Window?
In a word, no.
The Sharks are lucky that 37-year-old veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau keep beating father time and haven't shown any signs of slowing down. Until they start to decline, there's no reason to bet against them.
Aside from that, Logan Couture (29), Brent Burns (31), Martin Jones (26), Joe Pavelski (32), Marc-Edouard (29), and Tomas Hertl (22) are far from finished. They're still in their respective primes and will give the Sharks at least a couple of more years to win a Stanley Cup together.
With the way the playoff format is set up, the Sharks showed they can outlast the Los Angeles Kings in Round One and wouldn't have to face the deathly Central Division powerhouses like Chicago or St. Louis until the Western Conference Final. So even though they lost in heart-breaking fashion during this year's Final, they have at least two more years with this core to get the job done.
12 Is Jack Eichel Ready to Lead Buffalo Back to the Playoffs?
Jack Eichel sure is, but is the rest of the Sabres team?
Adding left winger Alexander Nylander in the 2016 Draft gives them yet another dangerous piece to the puzzle. Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Marcus Foligno, Ryan O'Reilly, and Zemgus Girgensons give this team plenty of young talent, but can they all gel together?
The Sabres were a laughing stock in 2014-15, finishing with a league-low 54 points. But with Eichel helping out big-time, they finished with 81 points last season. That 27-point improvement was one of the most overlooked storylines of 2015-16. So why can't we trust them to do it again?
Well, Buffalo isn't quite there yet. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, and Florida Panthers should be considered the top dogs in the Atlantic Division, while the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins don't plan on going anywhere. Buffalo's rebuilding the right way, but their fans will be disappointed if they're expecting big things in 2016-17.
11 Will Alex Ovechkin Finally Find Success in the Playoffs?
2016-17 is Washington's time. Now or never for Alex Ovechkin in the nation's capital.
The Capitals are my early pick to win the Stanley Cup in 2017 over the Chicago Blackhawks. If they faced anybody but the Penguins in the playoffs, I believe they would have went all the way. Pittsburgh's lights-out defence and Murray's hot glove matched the Capitals, and Washington just happened to lose a close six-game series.
Looking at the rest of the East, nobody has all three components like Washington: A perilous offence, reliable in-your-face blueline, and elite goalie in Braden Holtby. Pittsburgh likely won't be able to sustain the hot streak they rode into the playoffs last year. As long as I'm right, nobody in the East looks well-designed enough to dethrone the Caps.
If the Capitals fail to win the Cup next season, you can expect significant changes. But as of right now, I'm expecting them to finally finish it off.
10 Has the Dynasty Fire in Chicago Burned Out?
My above answer says no, as I expect the 'Hawks to win the Western Conference next season.
Even if they fail to, Jonathan Toews (28), Patrick Kane (27), Brent Seabrook (31), Duncan Keith (33), Corey Crawford (31), Artemi Panarin (24), and Artem Anisimov (28) are still in their primes, and none of them will be going away any time soon.
If you look at recent Cup winners, almost all of the core players are in their early-to-late 20s or early 30s. In three years, when the 'Hawks core ages more and more, the younger and faster teams (Edmonton and Winnipeg, for example) will skate circles around them. It doesn't matter which other good teams there are in the West, the powerhouse Blues barely eliminated them this year despite holding a 3-1 series lead.
Chicago has the championship pedigree and Stan Bowman keeps replacing key players with new guys. I'd give this 'Hawks core three more prime years to add more to their dynasty.
9 Were the Florida Panthers a Fluke Last Season?
You'd be silly to call a team a fluke when they won arguably the NHL's toughest division last season.
Tampa Bay, Boston, and Detroit could not catch Florida, who finally saw their youth and veterans gel together and construct one of the most impressive seasons in franchise history. It's hard to say Roberto Luongo's 35-19-6 season with a 2.35 GAA and .922 save percentage was a fluke.
Jaromir Jagr's 27-goal and 66-point campaign can't be called a fluke, either. He's an ageless wonder at that. Was a 60-point season from Jussi Jokinen a fluke? Possibly. But 59-point seasons from youngsters Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are just signs of what's to come. Vincent Trochek and Reilly Smith also had 25-goal seasons, shall we call those flukes? What about the incredible campaign from 2014 first-rounder Aaron Ekblad?
Though the Panthers definitely surprised a bunch in 2015-16 season, they have a great core on both ends of the ice, so it's silly to think they're bound for a huge regression. If anything, they'll only get better.
8 Can St. Louis Continue Their Success without David Backes?
Not only do I think losing David Backes is a huge blow to the Blues' chances of getting deep into the playoffs again, but losing Troy Brouwer did just as much damage as letting Backes walk.
The Blues lost two studs who can play great two-way hockey and are proven playoff performers. St. Louis benefited from Troy Brouwer's playoff experience, as he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 playoff games.
But they'll surely miss Backes more. His 21 goals and 45 points placed him fourth on the team in scoring. The 6-foot-3 centre had a huge voice in the team's locker room, as he scored 20-plus goals in six different seasons with the Blues. Though they were smart not to overpay him (like Boston did), it doesn't mean they won't miss him.
All of the pressure is on Vladimir Tarasenko, the team's leading scorer, to fill the void left by Backes.
7 Can the Toronto Maple Leafs Actually Contend for the Playoffs?
This is certainly more possible than you may think.
Head coach Mike Babcock actually did a great job in his first year with the Leafs. They got great contributions from their roster which often included plenty of the Marlies AHL team. He has a great foundation going in Toronto, but we won't notice it for a couple of years.
Auston Matthews should be in line for a 25-30 goal season and can hit the 60-point plateau, but that may be asking for too much. Morgan Rielly appeared to be ready for prime time and adding goalie Frederick Andersson may finally give them their first great goalie since Ed Belfour a decade ago.
I wouldn't be shocked if the Leafs finished with around 85 points, but they probably aren't going to make the playoffs. They'll certainly be less terrible in 2016-17, but unless every young player on their team takes the next step right away, the playoffs will have to hold off for another year.
6 Will Taylor Hall Make Any Difference in New Jersey?
To be honest, Edmonton Oilers fans should stop hating on this trade. Taylor Hall had more than enough time (six seasons) to lead the team, but he was often injured and struggled to be consistent.
Hall voiced his disappointment in the trade and it's hard to blame him. Aside from Vezina-calibre goalie Cory Schneider, there really isn't another superstar on New Jersey's roster that can help Hall reach that level everyone expected in 2010.
New Jersey's been stuck in mediocrity since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup. They finished last in goals-per-game with 2.2. Kyle Palmieri led them with 57 points last year, followed by Adam Henrique's 50. After that, the offence really dried up for New Jersey. Hall just doesn't have enough star power accompanying him to make a difference with the team.
He may become a 30-goal and 60-point scorer from here on out, but New Jersey isn't anywhere close to competing for the playoffs right now, so don't expect him to be a difference-maker any time soon.
5 Can Anybody Rejuvenate the Boston Bruins?
My belief is the guy(s) who could have rejuvenated the Bruins was the guy to replace Claude Julien as head coach, as he should not have been given another chance after this team missed out on the playoffs for a second-straight year.
Also, the Bruins know that defence is its main weakness right now. Instead of trading for Kevin Shattenkirk, a player they went after, they decided to sign 32-year-old David Backes to a five-year deal worth $30 million. He's basically replacing the strong two-way game from the departed Loui Eriksson. Zdeno Chara, now 39, is well past his prime. The Bruins bought out Dennis Seidenberg and that severely depleted their once-dominant blueline.
The Bruins can reach the playoffs, but they really needed to address the blueline. Offence can only carry you so far. Patrice Bergeron is 31-years-old and his style of play will take a toll on him soon. The Bruins really didn't get a whole lot better this offseason.
5. Are The Sedin Twins Too Far "Over the Hill" at This Point?
Daniel Sedin had 28 goals and 61 points in 2015-16. Henrik Sedin had 55 points. This came on one of the league's worst teams, where the Canucks didn't have an Anson Carter or Alex Burrows in-his-prime winger.
Now, they'll have fellow slick Swedish sensation Loui Eriksson joining them. He scored 30 goals and 63 points while registering a plus-13 rating. Is it just me or is he going to be the best linemate they've ever had? Even as both men prepare to turn 36 this fall, they haven't shown any signs of decline...yet.
They aren't getting any better, however. None of them have come close to reaching the 100-point seasons they achieved back in 2009-10 and 2010-11, but they're still producing like top-line players. They're far from finished, and until they show their age, there's no reason to think that they're "over the hill."
Don't be surprised if Eriksson helps the both of them reach 70-8o points next season.
4 Will Patrik Laine Make More of an Impact Than Auston Matthews?
I'm expecting it for their rookie seasons.
Auston Matthews is being asked to help the worst team in the NHL right away. Though James van Riemsdyk is a solid winger to work with, the Jets give Patrik Laine much more support. He should be on the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. By the way, Wheeler had 26 goals and 79 points in 2015-16, while Scheifele had goals and 61 points. Isn't that a nice way to start your career?
Laine is being hyped as the best pure-goal scorer since Alex Ovechkin, who was drafted in 2004. That includes being better than Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Patrick Kane, by the way. Laine is going to take full advantage of playing with a star-studded supporting cast.
Again, I expect Matthews to have the better career down the road, but Laine is in better position to succeed right away. He's joining a team armed with proven scorers and he'll enjoy every bit of it.
3 Is Milan Lucic Really the Missing Piece in Edmonton?
The Oilers traded a second-round pick in 2006 to the Boston Bruins that turned into Milan Lucic. How fitting that he joins them 10 years later.
Lucic is exactly what the Oilers have lacked for years: They've drafted all undersized forwards who've been easy to push around, but Lucic gives them exactly what they need. The 6-foot-4 power forward has reached the 20-goal plateau four times, and will surely see those numbers increase with Connor McDavid as his centre.
Those two, coupled with Jordan Eberle, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl give them a lights-out offence. Remember the Oilers dynasty? They had Marty McSorley protect Wayne Gretzky. Any teams that try to pick on the Oilers young forwards will have to encounter Lucic, one of the biggest and most fearless NHL players.
Edmonton definitely paid a hefty price to land him, but remember recent Cup winners having to get veterans to win championships. Chicago added Marian Hossa and won three Cups with him. The Penguins added Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz in 2009 to win the Cup. The Kings added Justin Williams and Dustin Penner to win it all in 2012.
Having a Cup winner to help the young guys will benefit Edmonton greatly.
2 Will the Montreal Canadiens Regret Trading P.K. Subban?
Aside from Shea Webber being four years older and his contract having 10 years left, I don't understand the backlash Marc Bergevin got for this trade. They simply got the better defenceman to help them now.
P.K. Subban's play wasn't great once Carey Price missed the last three quarters of 2015-16. He was careless with the puck and sloppy in his own zone. Further more, the Habs are an undersized and soft team. The 6-foot-4, 234-pound Weber is anything but that. He gives them plenty more size which is lacking all-around in the Atlantic Division.
I think if the Habs don't win a Stanley Cup at all with Weber, then they'll regret the trade. For all we know, they could win three Cups with him. There's 10 years left on his contract, so Bergevin deserves to have the benefit of the doubt. With Carey Price, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Max Pacioretty, and Jeff Petry rounding out the core, the Habs have a decent shot of bringing home Lord Stanley's Mug.
So give it time before thinking Bergevin made a mistake.
1 Will Steven Stamkos Regret Staying in Tampa?
Steven Stamkos took less money than he would have surely gotten from other teams to stay with the team that drafted him. He cares more about winning the Stanley Cup than making extra cash when he's already set for life.
The Lightning are set to compete for a long time. Franchise blueliner Victor Hedman was locked up long-term. Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin give this team an absolutely loaded core. Ben Bishop may leave the team after next season, but Andrei Vasilevskiy is set to man the crease for years.
Tampa Bay got to the Eastern Conference Final with ease and Stamkos only played one playoff game. That goes to show how well built they are to go on a number of deep playoff runs. As long as he can win a Cup with them (he probably will), he has no reason to regret staying with his team.
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