Hockey is back. The 2015-16 season kicks off Wednesday night with four games, including an Original Six matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. Also, the Chicago Blackhawks will raise another Stanley Cup banner when they host the New York Rangers.
With the new season about to begin, it’s time for some predictions. You probably won’t be surprised to hear The Hockey News staff thinks the Maple Leafs and Coyotes are last-place teams. Or that Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will battle it out for the top individual awards. But you may be surprised by some of the other predictions, including our Stanley Cup final pick. Scroll down for all our picks, and individual team previews.
2014-15 Record: 51-24-7 (109 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 1st, Pacific Division
What To Expect: In the past three playoffs, the Ducks have inched progressively closer to their second Stanley Cup, taking 3-2 series leads before falling short. Most recently, they appeared destined for the dance, before the resiliency of the Blackhawks overpowered them. This string of near misses could be spirit crushing, or it could be the perfect motivational elixir. Bet on the latter.
The Ducks are once again all in. General manager Bob Murray made clever off-season tweaks, upgrading his wings with Chris Stewart’s size and Carl Hagelin’s speed while adding veteran bottom-six help in Shawn Horcoff and Mike Santorelli.
Anaheim’s offense dipped from first to 11th and lost 22-goal scorer Matt Beleskey this off-season, along with Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem. The Ducks needs new additions to pitch in and to see progress from youngsters Rickard Rakell and Jiri Sekac. Anaheim relied on a top-heavy structure led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler. Secondary scoring must take the heat off the top guns. Read more
2014-15 Record: 24-50-8 (56 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 7th, Pacific Division
What To Expect: With one of the NHL’s top prospect pools, the Coyotes believe they have a bright future and a chance to bloom into a perennial contender. But, presently, Arizona’s roster is months removed from a demolition that saw core veterans dealt for picks and prospects. The result is a talent-thin lineup with little chance to compete in the ferocious Western Conference.
Off the ice, as usual, there is intrigue. The city tried to renege on its 15-year, $225-million arena management agreement with the team before the two parties agreed to a resolution in late July.
2014-15 Record: 41-27-14 (96 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 6th, Atlantic Division
What To Expect: After seven straight playoff appearances, including a Stanley Cup, ownership swiftly axed GM Peter Chiarelli when Boston missed the dance by two points. It wanted the roster remodelled, and new GM Don Sweeney did just that, moving six regulars, most notably Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton. The core of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask remains, but the 2015-16 Bruins will have a different feel.
Last season, the B’s dropped from third in offense to 22nd, and Sweeney moved four of
the seven players who reached 40 points. Wingers Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey are the major additions up front. They’ll be challenged to replace Lucic, Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. Beleskey and Hayes have each had one productive season, so banking on either is a gamble. A bounce-back year from Brad Marchand and another step for David Pastrnak, the youngest regular in the NHL last season, will help Bergeron and David Krejci carry the offense. Pastrnak led the team with 26 second-half points. Read more
We asked four THN staffers what rule change they’d like to see made in the NHL. Here’s what they came back with:
A couple decades ago, the notion of bigger nets was considered virtual treason. Today, it’s more akin to a parking fine. This idea to help inject more offense isn’t universally loved, but enough minds have been opened that it’s at least not a criminal offense to air it. Which stands to reason.
Everything in the game has changed since the NHL was born a century ago, either via mandate or organically. Sticks are curved and no longer wooden. Goalies wear masks and are allowed to fall to the ice. And they’re mammoth, thanks to genetics and gear. Pick a facet of the game and it’s been altered – except for the 4 x 6 nets. Our shinny forefathers either got it perfect the first time or it’s time to consider expansion of another kind. If Vegas can get a team, why not bigger nets? – JASON KAY, EDITOR IN CHIEF
Is there a fan out there who likes it when a linesman stands up from his faceoff squat to signifying one of the centers is being thrown out of the circle? Here’s a new rule guaranteed to fix that time hog. Give each team one warning (or one center tossed from the faceoff dot) per period. From that point on, have the linesman throw the puck in the direction of the non-offending team. Immediately, you’ll see centers around the league line up straight and battle for the puck drop fairly. Read more
2014-15 Record: 23-51-8 (54 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 7th, Atlantic Division
What To Expect: Between 1979 and 2009, 10 teams drafted in the top two in consecutive years. Five of them reached the Stanley Cup final within eight seasons and three won the Cup. Buffalo, after bottoming out for two straight second-overall picks, hopes to join the list.
The ascent begins in 2015-16 with the seasoning of Jack Eichel. He won’t have to shoulder the offense alone, as GM Tim Murray acquired No. 1 center Ryan O’Reilly minutes before drafting Eichel. Murray also dealt for Evander Kane last season, and Kane will be ready to debut in October after shutting down his year for shoulder surgery. Read more
2014-15 Record: 45-30-7 (97 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 3rd, Pacific Division
What To Expect: Last summer, nearly everyone suspected there would be a buzz around the Flames in the spring, because Connor McDavid was up for grabs, and Calgary looked like a sure lottery contender. But nearly everyone was wrong about the Flames, who overcame the loss of captain Mark Giordano in the final quarter of the season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Despite their success, pitiful possession numbers and 10 comeback wins told the story of a lucky team who arrived ahead of schedule. GM Brad Treliving, aware of the potential for regression, boldly upgraded his roster. He dealt for RFA defenseman Dougie Hamilton, a 22-year-old star in the making, and promptly signed him to a six-year deal. He then lured versatile two-way winger Michael Frolik as a UFA. These additions, along with the natural progression of youngsters Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett, will guard against a slide. Read more
2014-15 Record: 30-41-11 (71 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 8th, Metropolitan Division
What To Expect: As players changed hands in a busy off-season, Carolina GM Ron Francis mostly stood pat, making minimal changes to a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2009. But the decisions he did make were shrewd. The $14-million buyout of underachieving winger Alexander Semin was addition by subtraction. In trading for goaltender Eddie Lack, Francis bolstered the team’s subpar goaltending.
The most important move of the summer, though, was selecting Noah Hanifin fifth overall in the draft. Hanifin, a well-rounded 6-foot-3 defenseman with a silky stride, is a franchise player. Read more