THN’s pre-season prediction debates underscores how parity has made the NHL unpredictable

Adam Proteau
Roberto Luongo (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Every year around this time, THN’s editorial staff convenes in a boardroom to hash out our pre-season NHL predictions. The predictions meeting is a raucous couple of hours in which, after consulting with coaches, scouts, and our larger network of contacts, we debate the merits and flaws of every team before we slot them into divisional finishes. And by its conclusion, we’ve established some semblance of probability for each franchise’s fortunes.

But this year’s meeting had some particularly interesting aspects. For one thing, a majority of staffers liked one team in particular to win the Stanley Cup – yes, you’ll have to wait until our annual Yearbook is released in mid-August to find out which team that is – but the more intriguing development was the astonishing range of opinion on the grand majority of teams.

Now, there wasn’t much differentiation in what we thought of the league’s very best and worst franchises (nobody was willing to argue the Ducks would miss the playoffs, nor that the Sabres would win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season squad), but once we stopped talking about a handful of teams destined for the penthouse or outhouse, our expectations varied drastically.

Take the New Jersey Devils, for instance. Read more

Three playoff teams who could miss in 2014-15, and three non-playoff teams who could get in

Datsyuk nailed

If only the puck bounced this way or that way. If only Wade Dubielewicz hadn’t stood on his head in a random shootout performance on the last day of the season. Making or missing the playoffs often comes down to a few chance occurrences. It’s thus reasonable to forecast a few teams falling on the reverse side of the coin a year later. Toronto, Ottawa, Washington, Vancouver and the Islanders swapped spots with Philadelphia, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Colorado this past season.

Here are three 2014-15 candidates to slide from in the big dance to out – and three to slide from out to in.

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Who will sign where? Eight predictions for the opening of free agency

Rory Boylen
Paul Stastny

Where will the biggest free agent fish land? Teams have been negotiating with free agents since late-June, but the market open Tuesday at noon. Here are some predictions on where these eight players will sign.

Paul Stastny – St. Louis
I previously thought Stastny would stay in Colorado, but now that he’s made it to market, perhaps a team closer to the Stanley Cup will be more appealing to him. The Blues didn’t get Kesler, but they’re still after a center. And if it’s not going to be Jason Spezza via trade, odds are it’s going to be Stastny via free agency. Read more

Ryan Kennedy’s sleeper picks for the 2014 draft

Ryan Kennedy
Brendan-vanRiemsdyk

Other than being very good players, Joe Pavelski, Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Moulson all have something in common: They were selected after the 200th pick in the 2003 draft. One year later, the same could be said for Pekka Rinne, Mark Streit and Troy Brouwer.

Every draft class has “sleepers,” also known as players with potential that teams may have to wait longer on to develop, or simply take a leap of faith on. This year is no different, but who will those kids be? If we knew for sure, they wouldn’t be sleepers, would they? In any event, here are some players I see as potential draftees this weekend who may go late, but have the potential to beat the odds and become NHLers one day. Keep in mind there are no guarantees these players will be drafted – even when a team tells a prospect they will pick him, things often change on draft day. But these kids have something to them.

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The top 100: Ryan Kennedy’s 2014 draft rankings

Ryan Kennedy
Aaron-Ekblad

The draft is officially one week away and things are beginning to become a little more clear. Still muddy, mind you, but with a tiny bit of transparency. The following represents my opinion on how the draft will shake out in Philadelphia based on countless interviews with NHL scouts, GMs and execs, plus my own viewings and research into how past drafts have tended to shake out in terms of positional distribution. Goalies tend to go later than their potential worth, for example, because it’s so hard to predict which ones will turn out. And size tends to bump a player up, whether or not there is an actual correlation between bulk and talent – it’s just how teams have drafted in the past.

This is not a straight-up mock draft, though some consideration was given towards past drafting tendencies – plus trades always muck that up in the end. So without further ado, here are my top 100 draft rankings for 2014:

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Bruce Boudreau sees a crucial similarity between his Ducks and recent Cup champs. What is it?

Matt Larkin
Bruce Boudreau

Apologies if the horse is long dead and mercilessly beaten, but THN sees good things ahead for the Anaheim Ducks.

It’s fair to assume any team with a fantastic crop of 21-and-younger talent dwells near the bottom of the NHL standings. Endure horrible season, get high draft pick, hoard high-end talent, rinse, repeat. That’s why teams like the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres rank so highly in our Future Watch edition. But what about spoiled Anaheim, a.k.a. the Lucky Ducks? Our scouting panel rates their farm system as the best in the business and they finished with the Western Conference’s top record this season.

The Ducks had their hearts broken in round 2 at home to the Kings in Game 7, but, sheesh, things are looking up for this squad. It advanced a round further than last year and its new guard of prospects will get to spread its wings even more going forward.

“One of the things we needed as a group was just more experience in those playoff games,” says coach Bruce Boudreau. “We were throwing a lot of – I don’t want to make any excuses, but there were a lot of young guys playing in their first Game 7.”

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Five sneaky X-factor players to watch in the Stanley Cup final

Brian Boyle

The fun part about waiting three days for the Stanley Cup final to start: it gives us tale-of-the-tape time. We can break down the series from every possible angle, deconstructing it like it’s The Bachelorette the Super Bowl and working ourselves into a frenzy of hype.

Delving deep into the matchup means looking beyond the obvious stars. Who are some lesser-known or underperforming commodities who could quietly shift the balance of the Stanley Cup final? Here are five to watch.

TANNER PEARSON, KINGS

A pattern of underestimation follows Pearson through his career. He was passed over in the 2011 draft, upped his game and became a first-rounder a year later. The Kings didn’t use him in their first two playoff contests this spring, both losses to the Sharks, but added him for Game 3. Pearson has been in the lineup for all 12 L.A. wins and the rookie was huge against Chicago in the Conference final, picking up six points. Not bad for the “other guy” on the dynamite line featuring Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. Pearson is fresh and playing with more confidence than ever.

BRIAN BOYLE, RANGERS

In my opinion, Drew Doughty is the best player on either team in the Stanley Cup final. He dominates the play at both ends of the ice and controls the flow of a game. The Rangers have to soften Doughty up with brute force if they want to level the playing field and contend in this series, and Brian Boyle is the blunt tool they should use to do so. He’s a 6-foot-7, 244-pound monster who bludgeons on the forecheck and pisses opponents off. That latter point is relevant considering Doughty’s emotions can get the better of him at times.

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Ryan Kennedy’s top 30 prospects for the 2014 draft

Ryan Kennedy
Leon-Draisaitl-2

The basis of my draft rankings has always been weighed heavily by the interviews I conduct with scouts and executives that work for NHL teams. My logic being that they’re the ones making the picks, they’re the ones with skin in the game. So this year has been difficult, since a real plurality is forming around the No. 1 pick overall. Two players are getting nearly all the votes, but will they end up being the first two taken? That’s the fun and mystery of the draft in a non-Steven Stamkos, non-Sidney Crosby year. But it also makes rankings a lot more chaotic…

1. Leon Draisaitl, C – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

He’s the big center every team craves. Draisaitl didn’t have a lot of elite talent to play with, other than defenseman and Winnipeg prospect Josh Morrissey, yet the German still rang up 105 points. Scouts have compared him to Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton; he plays a complete game and has excellent awareness and anticipation.

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