We are right around the half-way mark of the 2015-16 NHL season. And yes, this has been the same ol' NHL we all expected.
There have been major disappointments and major surprises so far, but there have also been the teams that are right where we expected them to be. Will we finally get a different playoff season?
Sadly for NHL fans, since 2010-11, we've seen just nine teams in the Stanley Cup Final, so we haven't been accustomed to anything more than a Chicago Blackhawks dynasty with the Los Angeles Kings winning in between, with the Boston Bruins making multiple appearances.
Remember from 2003 to 2010? We featured surprise teams in almost every year: The 2003 Anaheim Ducks, 2004 Calgary Flames, 2006 Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers.
I'm sure 'Hawks and Kings fans may be cringing at what I'm saying, but a casual NHL fan wants to see the Cinderella teams again, not the favorites winning it every year, but that's what's happened.
Of course, anything can happen at any time. In fact, it's impossible to rule out any team from the playoff race , even though there are a handful of them around this point every year.
It's setting up to be an interesting trade deadline which always sets up how the playoffs go, so we can only hope that there are blockbuster trades, after fans have been fairly disappointed over the last couple of seasons.
Shall we get to it, now? Here are 15 early predictions for how the NHL playoffs will go down in 2016.
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15 Anaheim Ducks Miss Out
The Ducks, who have made the playoffs in the last three years as a top-two seed in the Western Conference are in trouble.
Their scoring is down drastically from last season, far and away the worst in the NHL, despite having superstars Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Andrew Cogliano.
The Ducks were the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, so this play is unacceptable. They need a turnaround but I doubt they'll be able to magically get out of this long scoring slump.
14 Tampa Bay Lightning Miss Out
The Lightning won the Eastern Conference in convincing fashion, and with practically the same roster returning from last year, everyone thought they were one of the favorites to win their second Cup.
Of course, this team hasn't been able to score at all. Steven Stamkos might be traded at the deadline if the Lightning can't re-sign him (he's a free agent in July), and Tyler Johnson has struggled as well.
The Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, and Ottawa Senators have played much better hockey in the Atlantic. My guess is the Lightning will trade Stamkos, and just prepare for the playoffs next season.
Because they won't make it in 2016.
13 Two Central Teams Furiously Miss Out
Okay, so that headline is a bit obvious; because no one likes missing the playoffs at all. So what am I talking about?
I'm strongly guessing the second and third-place teams in the Pacific will have less points than the two Central teams who miss the playoffs, as it looks more clear than daylight that the Western Conference will feature five Central playoff teams.
It's just a guess, but Colorado and Winnipeg have looked better than the Canucks and Arizona Coyotes all season.
12 Carey Price's Return Propels Habs to Atlantic Division
The Montreal Canadiens have been absolutely awful without Carey Price this season, but they were the league's best and highest-scoring team with him in the lineup.
Price has been out of action for over a while, sustaining a knee injury. He's gone 10-2 so far with a .934 save percentage and 2.06 goals against average.
The Habs, meanwhile, have severely struggled without their superstar goaltender, forgetting how to stop a puck, score, and play hockey all together. Seriously, I'm not joking. They'd probably have five wins if Carey Price didn't play a game all season.
However, sometimes a talented team just needs a spark. With Price set to return after the All-Star break, the Habs will regain their October form and go on a hot tear, and reclaim the Atlantic title.
11 Detroit Red Wings Keep the Streak Alive
The Detroit Red Wings have barely, and I mean barely, made the playoffs in the last three seasons. They relied on a season-saving hot streak to close out the final few games to keep their playoff streak intact.
Well, they haven't been great by any means, but they are one of the few consistent teams in a mess of an Eastern Conference. Plus, this team just has that swagger, where they won't ever miss the playoffs, it seems.
They haven't missed the playoffs since 1990. Don't count on it this year. They'll make it 25 straight years this season.
10 Dallas Stars Relinquish Central Division
The Stars were the league's best team for, oh, say the first three months until the year flipped to 2016.
Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have masked a team with otherwise average defense and goaltending, and that can't go on for 82 games, especially in a loaded division. It's just not going to happen.
The Stars will make the playoffs, but count on the St. Louis Blues or Chicago Blackhawks to catch the Stars and win the division.
9 Los Angeles Kings Can Take Last Two Weeks Off
The Kings are playing in what may end up being the worst showing from a single division in NHL history. And they've taken every advantage possible.
They have a commanding lead of the division and after an 0-3 start would go on a tear. This by a team whose best player, Anze Kopitar, is having one of his worst seasons statistically.
Look for the Kings to clinch the Pacific Divsion with two weeks to go before the season ends, giving players plenty of time to relax and wait for the playoffs.
8 Calgary Flames Will be the Ottawa Senators of 2015
The Ottawa Senators, 14 points out of a playoff spot in February of last season, used little-known goalie Andrew Hammond to embark on a ridiculous 21-3-3 run to close out the season and capture the second Wild-Card spot in the East.
So, the Calgary Flames won't go on a run like that, because very few teams will ever go on a run that impressive again. But, the Flames will emerge as the team we saw for most of last season and get a playoff spot.
They're behind in the Pacific and chasing the Wild-Card. With Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Jiri Hudler, this team is too loaded to play near the bottom of the standings.
Come February, the Flames will pick up steam, and capture one of the final playoff spots in the West by finishing the regular season in 2015 Sens-like fashion.
7 Pittsburgh Penguins Miss Playoffs
The Penguins have made the playoffs in nine-consecutive seasons, only the Red Wings have a longer active playoff streak.
With Sidney Crosby enduring one of the worst seasons of his career, and supporting players like Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury suffering injuries, the Pens' have been absolutely derailed from being an elite team.
With so much inconsistency and frustration, Pittsburgh will miss the playoffs by a rather wide margin, sparking major changes in the offseason.
6 Canadian NHL Fans Cringe
Canadian NHL teams gave their fans plenty of treatment in recent years as many of the Northern squads have qualified for the playoffs.
The belief heading into this campaign was that the Canadiens, Flames, Senators, and Jets would build off incredible seasons and make a run at the Stanley Cup.
It hasn't been that way. The Senators have played awful defense and can't get any momentum together, the Jets are the worst team in a stacked division, while the Canucks were a fluke team last year.
Though we could definitely have five teams, pure logic would say that we'll be lucky if two of them get in.
Look for only Calgary and Montreal to represent Canada in the playoffs.
5 Your 2015 Playoff Teams
Here is how I think the playoff picture will unfold; with each of the first-round matchups in 2016:
Atlantic Division: 1. Montreal Canadiens 2. Detroit Red Wings 3. Boston Bruins 4.Florida Panthers
Metropolitan Division: 1. Washington Capitals 2. New York Rangers 3. New York Islanders 4. New Jersey Devils
So in the East, you'll have Montreal draw Florida, Washington face New Jersey, Detroit and Boston, and an all New York matchup.
Central: 1. St. Louis Blues 2. Chicago Blackhawks 3. Dallas Stars 4. Minnesota Wild 5. Nashville Predators
Pacific: 1. Los Angeles Kings 2. Calgary Flames 3. Arizona Coyotes
Los Angeles gets Nashville, St. Louis gets Minnesota, Chicago gets Dallas, and Calgary gets Arizona.
Now, as for the first round.
4 Kings and Blues go Home Early
I'm 99 percent sure that the Kings will be the trendy pick to win the Western Conference, based on how dominant they are, and how they've won two Stanley Cups since 2012.
As for the Blues, they're great every year except the playoffs, so no one will be surprised if the Wild manages to shut them down in every aspect, and take them out of the playoffs early.
The Kings will draw a bad matchup in the Nashville Predators, who are just as dangerous in goal with Pekka Rinne, and on defense with Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen will also carry the Preds past the Kings, shocking them in the first round.
3 Surprising Final Four
The final four will feature teams that fans didn't expect to win. No Kings, Blackhawks, or Capitals here.
Your Western Conference Final will consist of Minnesota and Nashville, who fight their ways through second-round upsets, including Minny finally getting past the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
In the East, the Montreal Canadiens will get none other than...the New York Rangers.
Your Stanley Cup Final:
The Montreal Canadiens will exact revenge from 2014 and send the Rangers packing with Carey Price having a postseason for the ages.
Meanwhile, the Wild makes their first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup by taking out the Predators in the West Final. Yes, this is as bold as ever, but the Wild have the talent on defense and in goal to go all the way.
2 Habs/Wild Cup Final
You'll be surprised with one of the most unexpected Stanley Cup Finals ever, when the second-half surging Canadiens take on the Minnesota Wild, who will try to win their first Cup championship in the state's history.
It's just a prediction that we'll get two red-hot teams that come out of nowhere to capture the East. Both teams have elite goalies who can carry their teams, they have great shutdown defensemen and guys who are speedy and can score (kind of like the Kings.)
You may not know it, but both Minnesota and Montreal have a lot of talent and potential to go all the way to the Cup. These two will meet in the final.
1 First Stanley Cup in Canada in 23 Years
It has been a long time coming. Oh, and it's coming.
The Montreal Canadiens, despite a brutal stretch, will bring the Stanley Cup back to Canada (in a non-literal sense), for the first time since THEY won it in 1993.
Price wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Habs finish off Minny in the Stanley Cup Finals, and Canada will rejoice at having the Cup back home where hockey fans of the Great White North feel it rightfully belongs.
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