The Hockey News

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

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Dion Phaneuf and Morgan Rielly. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 38-36-8.

Acquisitions: Daniel Winnik, David Booth, Petri Kontiola, Mike Santorelli, Matt Frattin, Stephane Robidas, Roman Polak, Leo Komarov.

Departures: Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin, Drew MacIntyre, Mason Raymond, Dave Bolland, Jerry D’Amigo, T.J. Brennan, Carl Gunnarsson.

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Maple Leafs’ monumental collapse in the final quarter of last season came in part because coach Randy Carlyle had overworked his best players – barely using a fourth line at all – and Toronto was one of the NHL’s worst puck-possession teams. So when new president Brendan Shanahan took over in mid-April, he and GM Dave Nonis prioritized strengthening the on-ice product from the bottom up, and the Leafs eschewed marquee free agent signings in favor of improving their depth and competitiveness. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Nashville Predators

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Shea Weber (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 38-32-12

Acquisitions: Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Anton Volchenkov, Olli Jokinen, James, Neal

Departures: Michael Del Zotto, Patrick Eaves, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Spaling, Joonas Rask

Top five fantasy players: James Neal, Shea Weber, Craig Smith, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher (injured)

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Nashville Predators know they’re in a dynamite division, so it was refreshing to see them be so proactive in the off-season. They let coach Barry Trotz go and brought in Peter Laviolette, signalling a philosophical shift from defense-first to high-octane offense. They acquired sniper James Neal from Pittsburgh and signed Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and Derek Roy to low-risk, medium-gain contracts. This team is set to score more, especially as young guns Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok improve. That’s great news since Nashville is already stellar on defense, led by Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones, and in net with Pekka Rinne returning to action. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Edmonton Oilers

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The Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 29-44-9

Acquisitions: Mark Fayne, Benoit Pouliot, Keith Aulie, Teddy Purcell, Nikita Nikitin

Departures: Ben Eager, Taylor Fedun, Sam Gagner, Denis Grebeshkov, Anton Belov

Top five fantasy players: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron, Justin Schultz

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: One of these years, it’s all going to come together for Edmonton’s skilled kiddie corps of first-overall picks. For that to happen, the Oilers are going to need warrior-type efforts from the third and fourth lines, as well as more responsible two-way play from the top two lines. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: New Jersey Devils

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The New Jersey Devils, led by Jaromir Jagr. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 35-29-18

Acquisitions: Scott Clemmensen, Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat

Departures: Anton Volchenkov, Mark Fayne

Top five fantasy players: Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: By all accounts, the Devils should have been a playoff team last season. They were one of the NHL’s best puck possession teams but lost all 13 of their shootouts and got sub-par goaltending from Martin Brodeur. By the time Cory Schneider was given full reign of the crease, it was too late. Brodeur is now gone, and it’s virtually impossible for New Jersey to pooch the shootout so badly again. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Ottawa Senators

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Clarke MacArthur and Erik Karlsson. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 37-31-14

Acquisitions: David Legwand, Alex Chiasson, Nicholas Paul, Carter Camper, Aaron Johnson

Departures: Ales Hemsky, Jason Spezza

Top five fantasy players: Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Clarke MacArthur, Milan Michalek

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: There was a time when the Senators had a handful of point-per-game producers and a team goal differential in the triple digits. These are not those Senators. This version of the Sens is a hard-working group that wills and overachieves its way to success. If you’re looking for The Little Engine That Could, these are your guys. With a collection of good-but-not-great forwards, the Sens’ collective firepower will be challenged, but could quietly surprise. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Winnipeg Jets

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Tobias Enstrom, Evander Kane and Bryan Little of the Winnipeg Jets. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 37-35-10

Acquisitions: T.J. Galiardi, Mathieu Perreault

Departures: Devin Setoguchi, Olli Jokinen, Al Montoya, Zach Redmond, Edward Pasquale, Jerome Samson, Andrew Gordon

Top five fantasy options: Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Winnipeg Jets have been competitive every year since arriving from Atlanta, and they can get over the hump if they keep improving from within. Center Mark Scheifele emerged as an everyday NHLer last season and will take another step forward. Blueliner Jacob Trouba made a massive splash as a rookie, establishing himself as an offensive force with snarl. He’s the star Winnipeg can build around. The offense will spike if puck-moving D-man Josh Morrissey and 2014 first-round sniper Nikolaj Ehlers arrive head of schedule.

The Jets have seasoned talent up front (Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Evander Kane) and on defense (Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian). They also have an excellent third line. Michael Frolik was a steady two-way presence last season, and free agent grab Mathieu Perreault is among the league’s most efficient scorers, having tallied 18 goals in 69 games with Anaheim despite playing 13:52 a night. If the young talent catches up with the vets, the Jets will join the playoff hunt.

Bust: Among the veterans, all but Kane have no-movement clauses, despite not guiding the club to the playoffs. It’s odd that the Jets let backup Al Montoya walk in free agency, as Ondrej Pavelec was as weak as any NHL starter last season, tying for 45th in save percentage at .901. It’s a mistake to rely on him, especially when backup Michael Hutchinson is unproven, even if he has excelled in the American League.

Until Ehlers becomes a full-time NHLer, no facelift appears in store for Winnipeg’s woeful power play, as the Jets don’t have an elite playmaker. For all the talk of coach Paul Maurice transforming the team, Winnipeg sagged after a strong start under his guidance. This team lost more than it gained, and that’s terrifying considering how overmatched they are against Central Division opponents, each of whom got better on paper in the off-season. The Jets could find themselves contending for the lottery, especially if Pavelec doesn’t improve.

Bottom Line: The Jets aren’t that bad, but they play in by far the NHL’s deadliest division. They’d be better off in the Eastern Conference, back in the cozy confines of the now-defunct Southeast. Go figure. They’ve putted along between 80 and 87 points for five straight seasons, and the mediocrity will continue. They lost 20 of 29 games against the Central last season, and every team in the division except them made major improvements.

Prospect To Watch: Carl Klingberg’s professional career has been a roller coaster ride so far. The 2009 second round pick has good speed and size, but his production in the American League has come in waves. He scored a promising 37 points three years ago as an AHL rookie, but couldn’t build on it as his production dipped to 23 points in 2012-13. Last season, Klingberg bounced back for a 43-point output. Once considered to have second line potential, if Klingberg becomes an NHL regular it now seems more likely he’ll do it as a third-liner. He’ll be given another shot at cracking the Jets lineup in a depth role, but if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, he should be given the opportunity via call-up. At 23 and on a one-year contract, time is running out for him to find a home with the Jets.

THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Seventh in Central Division


Contributors: Matt Larkin, Rory Boylen

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Calgary Flames

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Johnny Gaudreau and Joe Colborne of the Calgary Flames. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 35-40-7

Acquisitions: Devin Setoguchi, Jonas Hiller, Mason Raymond, Deryk Engelland, Brandon Bollig

Departures: Shane O’Brien, T.J. Galiardi, Chris Butler, Joey MacDonald, Blair Jones, Mike Cammalleri

Top five fantasy options: Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Mason Raymond, Mikael Backlund

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Even though the Flames were fourth worst in the league last season, Calgary fans were patient and rallied behind the rebuild because for the first time in a decade, there’s skillful youth coming through the system.

Sean Monahan made the grade as a 19-year-old, T.J. Brodie emerged as a top-two defender and Mikael Backlund, Joe Colborne and Karri Ramo made positive strides.
Expectations are high for Johnny Gaudreau, who lit up college hockey with 80 points in 40 games to win the Hobey Baker Award, Sam Bennett, who was selected fourth overall (though he’s not guaranteed to make the team as an 18-year-old) and Tyler Wotherspoon, who has a top-seven spot on the blueline. And soon there will be Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund and Emile Poirier.

The Flames are still outmatched by most teams in all areas, but expectations are realistic. The fans know there will be another top-five pick in the pipeline a year from now.

Bust: Most prognosticators have the Flames finishing among the bottom three teams, so there’s not a lot of busting that could happen that would surprise or disappoint fans. Still, question marks remain.

What if Monahan struggles in an increased role in his sophomore season and can’t match the 22 goals he scored in 2013-14? What if the loss of proven scorers Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak dries up the offense and the young forwards spin their wheels? What if small-man Gaudreau just can’t handle the size of the NHL? What if Baertschi is another Swiss miss? What if the career seasons for Mark Giordano and Backlund in 2013-14 were aberrations?

Calgary will need a lot of standout performances if it’s going to avoid finishing in the bottom five again. But if the Flames remain among the cellar dwellers, we can’t really call that a bust. For a team with low expectations, the worst-case scenario is finishing just outside the playoffs and missing out on a prime draft position.

Bottom Line: If things go better than expected in Calgary, the Flames will miss out on one of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin as top prospects in the 2015 draft, but still miss the playoffs. If the Flames predictably struggle, they’ll add another high pick blue-chipper to the prospect stable. Expect Calgary to grind out a lot of close games under well-liked coach Bob Hartley, keeping in mind that most of those matches will be losses.

Prospect to watch: Flames GM Brad Treliving said he’d be “shocked” if No. 4 overall pick Sam Bennett made the team out of camp, so we’ll turn our attention to Gaudreau. A super scorer with Boston College for three years, Gaudreau comes with high expectations. Flames fans would like to see him at least contend for the Calder Trophy this season and provide a glimmer of hope that Sean Monahan did last season. Gaudreau played one game for the Flames at the end of last season and scored a goal.

THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Seventh in Pacific Division

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Contributors: Brian Costello, Rory Boylen

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 36-35-11

Acquisitions: Ben Holmstrom, Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Drew MacIntyre

Departures: Manny Malhotra, Justin Peters, Brett Sutter, Mike Murphy

Top five fantasy options: Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin, Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Bill Peters takes over his first NHL bench after a three-year apprenticeship in Detroit, where Mike Babcock has spawned several other success stories. Peters hopes to increase the work ethic in Carolina, and it’s a noble cause, because he has talent to work with. Read more