With most of the top free agents in 2017 off the market, we now have a pretty good idea of what every team looks like heading into the 2017-18 season.
Every year, the NHL sees a number of teams surprise while a number of squads with high expectations falter. In 2017, teams like the Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs came out of nowhere to embark on exciting seasons. But teams like the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders went from the playoffs to watching the postseason from their homes.
Taking the draft, free agency and big trades into consideration, we now have an idea as to which teams will surprise us and which teams are unlikely to repeat last season's success. Here is a look at eight NHL teams that'll shock us in 2017-18, and seven that will fail to love up to expectations.
15 Shock: New York Rangers
The Rangers finished fourth in a stacked Metropolitan Division last year. It's easy for pundits to overlook a team that has to deal with the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metro. As such, nobody's going to take them seriously as a championship contender.
But in reality, the Rangers should be considered one of the heavy Stanley Cup favorites to open up 2017-18. This team is loaded with 20-goal scorers in J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Mike Zibanejad, plus guys like Mats Zuccarrello and Kevin Hayes.
Signing Kevin Shattenkirk now gives the Rangers one of the NHL's best defensive units. Throw in future Hall of Famer Henrik Lunqdvist, and the Blueshirts have what it takes to win a title. Don't be surprise if they even win the Metropolitan Division in 2018.
14 Disappoint: Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are undoubtedly a playoff team in 2018 -- they should be considered the favourites to win the Central Division. But if you're expecting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to win a fourth championship in Chicago, then you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
Chicago was exposed as an aging group by the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the playoffs. Because of salary cap constraints, GM Stan Bowman essentially had to give away Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes. Superstar Artemi Panarin was swapped for Brandon Saad in another head-scratching move.
Also, star Marian Hossa is being forced to sit out 2017-18 as he deals with an allergic reaction from his hockey equipment. The Hawks are without their third best defenceman and two of their top five forwards from a year ago. They aren't going to be the Western Conference champions, which essentially means they'll disappoint in 2018.
13 Shock: Los Angeles Kings
The Kings missed the playoffs for the second time in three years, and management had no choice but to let go of head coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi. Because of cap constraints, Los Angeles wasn't able to make a significant move in the offseason -- and their prospect pool is one of the worst in hockey.
But the good news is that new head coach John Stevens has the ability to turn this team around. Defenceman Drew Doughty has praised his new bench boss, suggesting they'll be able to sustain their suffocating defence while adding a lot more offence.
Los Angeles should be able to contend for a playoff spot -- even though this is one of the oldest teams in the NHL. Many believe this team is done as a championship contender, but don't rule out the Kings yet. They're not ready to relinquish that throne at this time.
12 Disappoint: Ottawa Senators
The Senators were one goal away from reaching the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. New head coach guy Boucher implemented a tremendous neutral zone trap system that helped Ottawa shut down the league's best offensive units. Unfortunately, their inability to score goals let the Pittsburgh Penguins barely squeak by them in the Eastern Conference Final.
You'd expect the Senators to have made a move in the offseason to address their scoring, but GM Pierre Dorion stood pat. To make things even more frustrating, Sens fans saw their arch rivals get better this offseason.
The Montreal Canadiens added Jonathan Drouin and Ron Hainsey. The Toronto Maple Leafs added Ron Hainsey, Patrick Marleau and Dominic Moore. The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi.
Ottawa may barely get into the playoffs as a wild card team next year, but don't expect them to get closer to that championship in 2018. The Atlantic Division got way better and way tougher.
11 Shock: Dallas Stars
I don't think any team has had a better offseason over the past five or so years than the Dallas Stars. They missed the postseason in 2017 just a year after winning the Central Division, so GM Jim Nill went to work right away.
He hired future Hall of Famer head coach in Ken Hitchcock to steer the ship in Dallas once again. Nill went out and signed one of the NHL's elite goalies in Ben Bishop on a six-year deal. The Stars then added 6-foot-6 centre Martin Hanzal on a low-risk three-year deal, and traded for stay-at-home defenceman Marc Methot.
Throw in Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza, and you can see why this team is on the verge of being elite. In fact, the Stars should be considered one of the top Stanley Cup contenders entering this season. Not a lot of people are big on the Stars yet, but they'll be surprised just how good this team is in 2018.
10 Disappoint: Boston Bruins
The Bruins made the playoffs by a single point over the Tampa Bay Lightning -- who were without superstar scorer Steven Stamkos for the final three-quarters of the season. And as is the case with Ottawa, Boston saw their divisional rivals get even better while they did virtually nothing to get better.
Boston lost some depth players in Dominic Moore and Drew Stafford in free agency. Keep in mind this is an aging group of players: Patrice Bergeron (32), Tuukka Rask (30), David Backes (33), and Zdeno Chara (40), can only play at high levels for so long.
So the Lightning, Maple Leafs, Senators and Canadiens all figure to be better than Boston. They're all younger, faster and all-around better than this team. Sorry Beantown, but another year of playoff hockey just isn't going to happen.
9 Shock: Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers were a disappointment in 2017 -- missing the playoffs just a year after winning the Atlantic Division title. But this team did get younger after allowing veterans Jussi Jokinen, Thomas Vanek and Jaromir Jagr leave via free agency.
Florida should be better as Aaron Ekblad (who missed 14 games in 2016-17), and Jonathan Huberdeau (limited to 31 games), try to stay healthy. The continued improvements of Vincent Trochek and Aleksander Barkov give the Panthers plenty of reason to be optimistic about 2018.
It remains to be seeen what new head coach Bob Boughner can bring to the table, but he should at least be better than interim than Tom Rowe. The Panthers have all the makings to rebound and push for a playoff spot in 2018, and they should be among the most surprising squads in 2018.
8 Disappoint: St. Louis Blues
While Central Division teams like the Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets get significantly better in the offseason, the Blues only big move was trading for forward Brayden Schenn -- a good but not great impact player.
They played well under new head coach Mike Yeo (who replaced the fired Ken Hitchcock mid-season), but the Blues don't have the firepower to be a championship contender. Losing Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade hurt, and they never found replacements for Troy Brouwer and David Backes -- who both left in 2016.
The Blues will be very lucky if they can find a way to reach the playoffs in 2018. But even if they do, it's very tough to see this team even winning a series. They're no longer a championship contender, so don't expect a big year from the Blues in 2018.
7 Shock: Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers missed the playoffs by seven points in 2017, but they made some marquee additions that should fuel another trip to the postseason. It all started with drafting Nolan Patrick at No. 2 overall -- just imagine how scary this offence will be with him, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier.
Philadelphia also had a problem in goal, but that changed when they signed veteran Brian Elliott to a cheap two-year deal worth $5.5 million. He should be a major upgrade over Steve Mason -- who overstayed his welcome as an inconsistent goalie in Philly.
The Flyers have one of the NHL's best offences, and now they have a true No. 1 goalie to lead the way. Don't be surprised if they're among the top teams in the Eastern Conference in 2018.
6 Disappoint: Minnesota Wild
The Wild had the Central Division crown on cruise control in 2017, until a collapse over the last couple of months allowed Chicago to steal it. The Blues then dominated the Wild in the opening round of the playoffs, taking out Minnesota in five games.
The advanced stats also show that the Wild strongly overachieved in 2016-17, as their Corsi For percentage of 49.34 placed 21st in the NHL (according to NaturalStatTrick.com). That means they were on the right side of plenty of bounces, and it's unlikely they'll be so lucky again.
As is the case with the Blues, Minnesota saw their Central Division foes vastly improve. Well, the Wild lost Erik Haula in the Expansion Draft then had to package away defenceman Marco Scandella and veteran Jason Pominville in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
Minnesota was a championship contender in 2017, but simply making the playoffs should be a more realistic expectation.
5 Shock: Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs shocked everyone by going from 30th in the NHL in 2016 to making the playoffs in 2017. Head coach Mike Babcock got the most out of his young players, as Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews led the way with 40 goals and 69 points.
Many believe the Maple Leafs are still awhile away from being a championship team, but they're actually a legitimate contender now. This team is blessed with plenty of young talent in Matthews, Connor Brown, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly, among others.
The Leafs also added future Hall of Famer Patrick Marleau in free agency, while also adding shutdown defenceman Ron Hainsey and solid checker Dominic Moore. The Maple Leafs should be more responsible in their own end, which means they now have all the pieces to be an Atlantic Division champion. Maybe more.
4 Disappoint: San Jose Sharks
The Sharks were two wins away from capturing their first-ever Stanley Cup in 2016. They were then dominated by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the playoffs -- suggesting this team's Stanley Cup window is now closed.
San Jose was already an aging core, and then they lost franchise icon Patrick Marleau in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Joe Thornton is 38 and coming off an ACL tear, Joe Pavelski is 33 and Brent Burns is 32. The Sharks are one of the oldest teams in the NHL, which isn't good in a league built around speedy youngsters.
Losing Marleau hurts, and the Sharks didn't do anything to replace him. As such, this team should feel lucky if they can nab one of the two wild card spots in the Western Conference. Their time as a Stanley Cup contender are over.
3 Shock: Winnipeg Jets
The Jets were supposed to take major strides in 2016-17, but that didn't happen. Awful defence, miserable goaltending and this team's questionable confidence in head coach Paul Maurice contributed to yet another non-playoff year.
But for once, the Jets should finally break through as a force in the Western Conference. Rookie sensation Patrik Laine will challenge for the 'Rocket Richard' Trophy. Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler are capable of scoring 70-80 points.
And oh, this team upgraded its terrible defence by signing stay-at-home blueliner Dmitry Kulikov. Veteran goalie Steve Mason was signed to challenge Connor Hellebuyck for the starting job. Everything is looking up again for Winnipeg, and they should be among the surprise playoff teams in 2018.
2 Disappoint: Washington Capitals
The Capitals won their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy, only to see Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins eliminate them in the second round once again en route to yet another Stanley Cup championship.
Washington looks significantly worse than a year ago, and there's no question about it. They lost defencemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner in free agency. Nate Schmidt went to Vegas in the expansion draft. The Capitals are without three of their top six defencemen now.
Also, Marcus Johansson had to be traded for salary cap relief while playoff star Justin Williams joined the Carolina Hurricanes on a two-year deal. The Capitals couldn't add much talent with limited cap space, and they're unlikely to challenge for neither the Metropolitan Division nor a championship in 2018.
1 Shock: New York Islanders
The Islanders overcame a disastrous start and finished 24-12-4 under interim head coach Doug Weight. They just narrowly missed out on the postseason, but it's evident that they're due for a huge bounce-back season with the well-respected Weight now behind the bench.
New York didn't add much in free agency, as they try to save up cap space in order to extend captain John Tavares. But they didn't have to add all that much with 'Johnny T', Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Nick Leddy, Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd and Jordan Eberle in the fold.
All the Islanders needed was the right head coach to get this core gelling together. Weight did that. Couple in the fact that Pittsburgh and Washington lost plenty of key players, and the Islanders truly can challenge for a top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division next season.
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