Can you believe it? The 2016-17 NHL season is now roughly a month away. Thank God the NHL offseason is the shortest out of the big four professional sports organizations in North America. The World Cup of Hockey is underway, preseason is looming, and then Wednesday Night Hockey will be coming right up before you know it.
It only seems like yesterday when the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup over the San Jose Sharks. Plenty of draft selections, trades, and free agent signings took place. Maybe for once, Pittsburgh. Chicago or Los Angeles won't win the Stanley Cup. For most NHL fans, change would be nice. So, with all of the big moves that took place, how will the NHL standings play out in 2016-17? Have a look below and enjoy!
Note: Top three teams in each division automatically make the playoffs. "X" indicates a projected wild-card team.
34 Atlantic Division
33 1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning were one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final but fell to a superior Pittsburgh Penguins squad. Steven Stamkos missed all but Game 7 against the Pens in the playoffs. Ben Bishop was injured in Game 1, but the Lightning almost won the East without their two most important players.
With Stamkos returning off a fresh eight-year extension and Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Ryan Callahan due for bounce-back seasons, Tampa Bay will take the division. Bishop's health is key in getting Tampa far into the playoffs. Meanwhile, Victor Hedman will continue to contend for the Norris Trophy. The Lightning are easily the top team in the division and will be the ones that scare the Penguins and the Washington Capitals the most.
32 2. Montreal Canadiens
The Habs were on their way to a second-straight Atlantic Division title if Carey Price did not get hurt. GM Marc Bergevin would not sit tightly after the Habs fell apart when their franchise superstar suffered an MCL sprain and missed the last five months of the season.
Bergevin swapped P.K. Subban for Shea Weber, giving them a tougher and more responsible blueliner. He traded away a pair of second-round draft picks to get gritty, two-time Stanley Cup champion Andrew Shaw. He'll score 20 goals consistently for them. Flashy Russian sniper Alexander Radulov was signed to a one-year deal. Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk finally have some support. The Habs will be back in full force and will take second in the division this upcoming season.
31 3. Florida Panthers
The Panthers were undoubtedly a talented squad last year, but they wouldn't have won the Atlantic Division if Steven Stamkos and Carey Price were healthy all season. Expect a slight regression from Florida, but they'll claim a top-three spot in the Atlantic as this squad remains solid heading into the 2016-17 season.
This team has an excellent mix of young and old.. Ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr probably won't lead the team in scoring again, but he'll keep scoring 20 goals until he's 70-years-old. Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, and Vincent Trocheck will take care of the scoring. If Roberto Luongo can somehow, some way, overcome his playoff woes, then the Panthers can make a run towards the Stanley Cup Final come playoff time next spring.
30 4. Ottawa Senators-X
There are no more excuses for the Senators.
The offence is a machine with five guys scoring 20 goals last season. That doesn't include Erik Karlsson's 19 and team-leading 82 points or J.G. Pageau's 19. Mika Zibanejad was flipped for playmaker Derick Brassard, also a 20-goal scorer. The Senators will score plenty of goals.
Defence was a problem last season, but the improved development of Cody Ceci and a full year with a rejuvenated Dion Phaneuf will lend support to Karlsson and Marc Methot. Craig Anderson has done more than enough to show he's still a reliable number one goaltender. The Sens obviously didn't buy into Dave Cameron's system. Defensive-minded guru Guy Boucher is the new bench boss. He, along with assistant Marc Crawford, promise to restore order in the nation's capital as they return to the playoffs.
29 5. Detroit Red Wings
Notice how there isn't an X? The Detroit Red Wings streak of qualifying for the playoffs for 25-straight years is bound to end now. They've BARELY qualified in the last four seasons, and their luck will run out this season.
Losing Pavel Datsyuk to retirement via heading to Russia, in a word, sucks. Their team leader and slick puck mover and defensive guru left a huge hole in the roster. They overpaid for Frans Nielsen to replace him, but replacing Datsyuk is easier said than done. Detroit would have missed the playoffs if Carey Price was healthy (Yes, it's true). The Atlantic Division got a whole lot better, and the Wings lack of superstardom, consistency, and help on the backend will keep them out of the playoffs in 2017.
28 6. Boston Bruins
It's safe to say years of long playoff runs and questionable moves by the front office have nailed the B's Stanley Cup window shut. Zdeno Chara is 39-years-old and is barely a top-four blueliner anymore. The Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton trades will hurt this team badly for years to come after not getting equal value in return.
Boston scored a lot last year, but Brad Marchand is unlikely to sniff 40 goals again. Patrice Bergeron has several more strong years, but his two-way style will wear him down soon. Buying out Dennis Seidenberg depleted Boston's defence, and replacing Loui Eriksson with David Backes is no certainty to work out. The Bruins defence is a huge weakness and their collapse this past season suggests they don't have the ability to go far. It's a non-playoff year in Beantown.
27 7. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres continue to rebuild the right way, and it won't be long until they're great again. Though I would not be surprised if they made the playoffs in 2017, I'm a little hesitant here. There's a long way to go, and their divisional foes also made the necessary offseason upgrades to stay ahead of them for the immediate future.
Jack Eichel is going to keep growing as the face of the franchise. The addition of Kyle Okposo makes their top-six more dangerous, with Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart also being threats for 20 goals. Buffalo's backend and the goaltending situation is murky right now, but that's not a concern yet. The Sabres will show more signs of improvement, but won't quite jump the standings in 2017.
26 8. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs are no longer trying to make big trades or shell out big bucks to make the necessary moves. The Shanaplan, orchestrated by none other than Brendan Shanahan, has worked to perfection so far. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner give this team three franchise building blocks. Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly form a strong dual on the back end. Trading for proven netminder Frederik Andersen may be the most overlooked move of the offseason.
Toronto has all of the pieces necessary to contend for a Stanley Cup. All they need to do now is watch and wait. Their time is coming, but it's a couple of years away as the process continues along. But hey, another top-five pick in 2017 can't hurt, right?
25 Metropolitan Division
24 1. Washington Capitals
The Capitals were far and away the best team in the regular season last year, but they couldn't get through their Kryptonite of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Time is running low on 31-year-old Alexander Ovechkin to get his team to the Stanley Cup Final. But all of the pieces are there for a big run.
The Caps avoided any major offseason moves, and they had no reason to make a change. Braden Holtby can easily win his second-straight Vezina Trophy, Ovechkin will probably win another Rocket Richard Trophy, and the Capitals defensive core is the best in hockey. They're loaded in all three phases of the game. We all know how much they dominate the regular season, so now it comes down to their play in the postseason.
23 2. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins were virtually unbeatable in the second half of last season, and it guided them all the way to the Stanley Cup. In all honesty, I'm not big on them repeating. Going 26-9-1 over the final three months is a lot to ask for. But hey, they won the Cup and that's all that matters.
With the New York Rangers declining and the Islanders still needing their youth to grow, the Pens are in prime position to claim a top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division. We'll see if Matt Murray can go on that hot streak again (unlikely). Their defence found its groove under Mike Sullivan, but can the HBK line really be dangerous again? 2016-17 will show if last year's Pens were a fluke or if they're still a force to be reckoned with. But given their winning history in the Sidney Crosby Era, it seems foolish to expect a decline.
22 3. New York Islanders
The Islanders upset the Florida Panthers in Round 1 of last season and pushed the Tampa Bay Lightning hard in the second round. This was without Jaroslav Halak for the playoffs, the proven playoff hero. The Islanders let Kyle Okposo walked but signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Andrew Ladd to bring more championship pedigree and experience to this roster.
John Tavares, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee will keep doing their job. The back end is already scary with Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, and Nick Leddy. The Isles success comes down to the health of Halak. All of the pieces are there for New York to go on a long playoff run. But they do have the tough task of getting through the Metro's top dogs.
21 4. New York Rangers-X
The Blueshirts' first-round performance against the Penguins suggest their Stanley Cup window has closed. Well, Henrik Lundqvist is defying age-34 by getting 30 wins a season. So don't expect him to go anywhere yet. He's enough on his own to help the Rangers contend.
Rick Nash is now 32 and had a disastrous 15-goal and 36-point season. His best days appear to be behind him. Mats Zuccarello led the team with 61 points last season, but don't expect a repeat. That was a career year. But Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller all hit 20 goals and these guys are only in their 20s. The blue line remains this team's strength with Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi. The Rangers should compete for a playoff spot next season, but they're unlikely to threaten for the Stanley Cup. That ship has sailed.
20 5. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers rode a red-hot second half to reach the playoffs last season, and they put up a heckuva fight against the Capitals in the first-round. That being said, the Flyers are due for a regression as they played well above their heads last season. Perhaps a little too high above their own heads.
Yes, nine players scored double-digit goals and four guys scored 50-plus points. But the Flyers defense will hold them back. Asking surprise rookie Shayne Gostisbehere to score 17 goals again is too much. The Flyers have invested all their money in scoring. Steve Mason is good, but not great. Philadelphia will make a run at the playoffs, but last season's run was a fluke. They'll show it in 2016-17 as their play begins to slip.
19 6. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets played a lot better under head coach John Tortorella, going 34-33-8 after a miserable start that saw them lose their first seven games. A full year of Torts should help them contend for the playoffs; but having rising defenceman Seth Jones for a full season should also do wonders.
Sergei Bobrovsky will anchor the goal as he continues to put up Vezina-like numbers. Columbus also has a new franchise centre in Pierre-Luc Dubois, the fourth-overall selection of this year's draft. He'll join a top-six that has Cam Atkinson (27 goals, 53 points), Brandon Saad (31 goals, 53 points), and Boone Jenner (30 goals, 49 points) last season.
Columbus has the misfortunes of playing in one excruciatingly tough division. But their young players are maturing faster than expected, and they should get out of the Metro's basement.
18 7. New Jersey Devils
It's been a long time since the Devils were a relevant squad.
Cory Schneider has been the lone bright spot over the team's last three seasons. The Devils haven't made any big trades or free agent signings, and their poor drafting has caught up to them. Though many believe they stole Taylor Hall away from the Edmonton Oilers by surrendering Adam Larsson, Hall isn't going to be enough to justify their scoring problems or help this team contend with their tough competition.
Also, the Devils play a very defensive style of hockey, and they'll miss Larsson in that regard. There really isn't a lot for New Jersey fans to be excited about. It's been mediocrity for four years in a row, and there aren't any signs of that changing in 2016-17.
17 8. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes 2006 Stanley Cup season may not seem like it was that long ago, but we have news for you: It has been a decade.
Heading into this year, it'll have been 11 seasons since Carolina was last a relevant NHL team. They've made the playoffs once since winning the Cup and they've failed miserably at drafting and making big moves to fight for the playoffs. Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, and Jordan Staal all reached 20 goals. The blue line has plenty of promise with Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk, and Ryan Murphy.
But these guys are a few years away from hitting their primes. Cam Ward hasn't been a true number one goalie in a while, and bringing him back left nothing but question marks among NHL pundits. Expect another disappointing year in Carolina.
16 Central Division
15 1. Chicago Blackhawks
Though the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup three times since 2010, they tend to do their damage more in the playoffs and less in the regular season. They have finished third in the Central Division three-straight seasons. For once, a lack of home ice advantage caught up to them and the St. Louis Blues sent them home in Round 1.
The Hawks lack of cap space forced them to trade away Andrew Shaw to the Montreal Canadiens, but they did bring back old friend Brian Campbell. St. Louis took a huge hit with the losses of David Backes and Troy Brouwer in free agency. The Dallas Stars lost some key pieces (we'll get to that later).
Chicago has the best roster in the West. Another Stanley Cup could easily be on the way in 2017.
14 2. St. Louis Blues
The Blues finally went on a deep playoff run after being eliminated in the first round the last three seasons. There was no margin for failure, and they took out the defending Stanley Cup Champions and Central Division winners, before falling to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.
However, the Blues lost two key leaders and playoff performers in the aforementioned Backes and Brouwer, who signed with Boston and Calgary, respectively. Those losses will hurt, but Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, Alex Steen, and Robby Fabbri are too much for them to not be great again.
They took a huge risk trading Brian Elliot to Calgary and allowing Jake Allen to have the crease to himself. But the Blues' track record of dominant regular seasons will continue in 2016-17.
13 3. Nashville Predators
The Preds were one win away from reaching their first-ever Western Conference Final. There was absolutely no shame in losing to the San Jose Sharks, considering they upset the Anaheim Ducks in Round 1 and were poised to FINALLY reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Nashville showed that they're built for the playoffs, and they should once again dominate the regular season. Shea Weber was traded for P.K. Subban, giving Roman Josi a better partner with his slick puck-moving ability and superior speed than Weber. A full season of Ryan Johansen should help Filip Forsberg in the scoring department. Pekka Rinne is still an elite netminder. All of the pieces are there for the Preds to lock down a top-three spot in the Central and pose are a threat come playoff time.
12 4. Winnipeg Jets-X
Well, here's a shock some of you didn't see coming.
We haven't seen as many surprise teams in recent years, but the Jets are going to takE flight (pun intended) in 2016-17. They have the most loaded prospect system in hockey to go along with a nice youth of veterans and youngsters.
Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele look to build off of career seasons, and they'll be joined by flashy Finnish Flash (if you will) Patrik Laine. This is a team that also has veterans Dustin Byfuglien, Drew Stafford, Jacob Trouba, and Bryan Little on its roster. If Nic Petan and Kyle Connor get ice time, the prized prospects could also be huge contributors as well.
Playoff time comes back to the province of Manitoba in 2017.
11 5. Dallas Stars
The Stars did win the Central Division last season, but they overachieved, no matter how great Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were, with 89 and 73 points, respectively. The fact is the Stars netminding tandem is extremely mediocre, with Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen combining for a .904 save percentage and 2.78 GAA.
Dallas was very weak in defending, allowing 28.9 shots per game. Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, and Kris Russell all found new teams, and Dan Hamhuis was the lone blueliner they brought in. A bad defensive core will get much worse. Banking on Jason Spezza (33) and Patrick Sharp (34) to sniff 60 points again may be asking for too much. The Stars will contend this season but will likely see a dip in performance.
10 6. Minnesota Wild
The Wild have barely made the playoffs in the last four seasons, and the time for reality to fall back to earth will be taking place now.
Zach Parise can't shoulder the entire offence, and Ryan Suter's long minutes are bound to catch up to him. Devan Dubnyk fell back to reality after a red-hot second half in 2014-15 with Minny. Truth be told, the Wild really lack starpower outside of Parise and Suter, and they failed to address any weaknesses. Eric Staal was their lone big signing, but he's a shell of his former self. Their Central Division foes have more skill, talent, star power, and speed. The Wild are staring at a non-playoff year in 2016-17.
Such is life when you have to play in one extremely tough division and 2016-17 will prove a difficult task for the Wild.
9 7. Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche really don't seem to know what in the world is going on.
Patrick Roy was an excellent defensive-minded head coach on a very young team. But he resigned from the Avalanche, due to frustration from upper management refusing to trade some of his top players to bring in new ones.
Where have the Avs gone with a loaded core of Matt Duchene. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov? They made the playoffs once in 2013-14 but were sent home in the first round by a mediocre Wild squad. Colorado should be making changes left, right and centre, but they refuse. Roy's going to show he was right over Avs management as the team slumps to a last-place finish in the Central.
8 Pacific Division
7 1. Anaheim Ducks
Winners of the last four Pacific Division titles, there's really no reason to believe the Ducks can't be a dangerous squad again.
Yes, they continue to melt down in the playoffs, but the return of old friend Randy Carlyle behind the bench was one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. Carlyle took over a mediocre team and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2007. He'll get his team to play more defensively responsible.
Anaheim should be motivated to go on a deep run: Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will be 32 next year, and Ryan Kesler recently turned 32. The Ducks don't have a lot of youth coming up to replace those forwards, so the time to win is now or never. They'll at least win their division.
6 2. Los Angeles Kings
It was a weird season for the Kings. It was the first time in five years where they qualified for the playoffs and failed to get to the Western Conference Final. The San Jose Sharks absolutely annihilated them with their speed and skills, taking them out in five games.
The Kings championship window is closing much faster than you think. Dean Lombardi doesn't have any cap space to make big moves and the Kings' prospect pool is one of the NHL's weakest. Anze Kopitar is 29, Jeff Carter almost 32, Jonathan Quick 30, and Marian Gaborik 34. Los Angeles dominated the Pacific Division but a second-half surge by the Ducks helped them steal the division.
L.A. returns with practically the same roster as last year, minus Milan Lucic. They'll take second in the Pacific.
5 3. Calgary Flames
Not gonna lie, I'm real big on the Flames.
Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are two bonafide stars and they're only 22 and 23, respectively. Both guys are going to score 30 goals. Sam Bennett could easily score 25 if he's healthy. Veterans Troy Brouwer and Mikael Backlund should also score close to 20. We all know the Flames offence will take off even more.
Their defensive core underachieved last year, but new head coach Glen Gulutzan should fix up the back end which features Norris contender Mark Giordano, rising star in Dougie Hamilton plus T.J. Brodie and Dennis Wideman. The Flames also fixed their goaltending woes with the addition of Brian Elliot. Calgary should go on another tear and reach the playoffs in 2016-17.
4 4. San Jose Sharks-X
The Sharks made their first-ever Stanley Cup Final, finally erasing the playoff choker status. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins shutdown defence and speed were too much as they ousted the Sharks in six games.
San Jose should expect a minor step back. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are both 37 and should see declines in play. Joe Pavelski is 32, Joel Ward is 35 and Brent Burns is 31, but his career year can't possibly be repeated. That being said, the core remains in tact for another deep run, as Martin Jones established himself as a real number one.
The signing of Mikkel Boedker addressed their speed weakness. San Jose will be a Cup contender, but asking them to put on another clinic in the regular season after a physical march to the Cup may be too much.
3 5. Edmonton Oilers
Okay, this is totally the year.
The year where the Oilers don't pick in the top-five, don't have a bottom-two finish in the Western Conference, and actually show progress. There is simply no way they can possibly be bad again, can they?
Connor McDavid will (hopefully) play his first full season, so that alone will help the Oilers turn it around. But trading for shutdown blueliner Adam Larsson could finally fix their defending woes. Drafting Jesse Puljujarvi gives them another elite forward to build around. Of course, the signing of Milan Lucic was also a huge move. They finally have size up front to help the young guns.
Everything is now in place for the Oilers to get better. Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will also provide more scoring. Once and for all, Edmonton will show promise.
2 6. Arizona Coyotes
It's been a frustrating four years in a row for the Coyotes after reaching their first-ever Western Conference Final in 2012. Though it's going to be several more years until they contend again, there are the right pieces in tact to spearhead a surge.
Obviously, it starts with Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the backend, a bonafide franchise defenceman scoring 20 goals a year. Up front, Dylan Strome, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair give them a trio of elite forwards to build this team around. Shane Doan provides excellent mentoring and leadership to a real young team.
Mike Smith is no longer the stud he once was in the crease, so the Coyotes may not be ready to compete again in 2016-17. But they'll avoid a last-place finish in the division, which is nice. No?
1 7. Vancouver Canucks
For once, the Canucks are actually doing the right thing. But there is long-term pain coming.
This team has stayed away from trading top prospects and draft picks, but they couldn't resist the urge to sign slick Swede Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal, having him play on the Sedin line. But Jim Benning did find two new franchise cornerstone defenceman: 6-feet-5 Erik Gudbranson and puck-moving machine Olli Juolevi. Joining a group that includes Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, and Ben Hutton looks solid.
But like last season, this is a rebuild/experimental year in Vancouver. The young guys will get plenty of minutes to work on chemistry together. Being in a physical division with plenty of size won't help the Canucks, as they stare into a last-place finish in the Pacific.
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