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STONY POINT… As you read this edition of the Worldwide Duluth Reader Weekly the National Hockey League 2015-26 regular season will be kicking off. I have done some digging around the past few weeks taking in some info from various publications, websites and writers as to what they think will happen this year and it has been interesting to say the least. I keep one eye on the league during the off-season but since I do love it and don’t want to burn out on the game, I am not quite into my “on” mode yet. Some of what I read was just about what I was thinking and a couple of sets of predictions actually left me laughing and shaking my head.
But, what the heck, I can’t exactly state that I am hockey Carnac and I am doing this mostly for the fun of it. Since the 2004-05 lockout league parity has been quite strong and it is probably a rarity now for anyone to correctly pick every division. In considering how the year may unfold though I am going on some history recent and past, recent drafting, off-season acquisitions and cuts, buyouts etc, coaching changes and the old “gut feeling”. I will give you each division with some general thoughts. And when I looked back at last years pre-season thoughts, some were in the ballpark and some weren’t. Lets go East;
In the ATLANTIC division I have an order of finish of; 1. DETROIT 2. TAMPA BAY 3. OTTAWA 4. MONTREAL 5. FLORIDA 6. BOSTON 7. BUFFALO 8. TORONTO In this group I feel that Detroit has a good enough mix of vets and up-and-comers to move up, Tampa takes a slight step back, but is still formidable, the Sens are hungry and have an excellent coach in Dave Cameron, I’d like to rate the Habs higher, and certainly anyone with Carey Price in net could go far, but I am not sure of their roster mix. Florida gets close to a playoff spot this year, Boston is a team in flux and thus transition, Buffalo will excite, and welcome back to the league Coach Dan Bylsma, and the Leafs looked pretty rough in the pre-season and will need a lot more changes before Mike Babcock can contend.
In the METROPOLITAN division; 1. WASHINGTON 2. COLUMBUS 3. NEW YORK RANGERS 4. PITTSBURGH 5. NEW YORK ISLANDERS 6. PHILADELPHIA 7. NEW JERSEY 8. CAROLINA The Caps have the roster, coach and experience to win this mess of a division. Columbus may have been the best team down the final stretch last year after injuries ruined their year. The Rangers will be tough but based on the volume of hockey played the past 2 to 3 years I see a bit of a drawback for the regular season. The Pens will be offensive killers after adding Phil Kessel, but when I look at their depth on ‘D’ I am not sure they can score enough goals every night to place higher. Philly will feature former NoDak Coach Dave Hakstol, and I believe he will transition to the pro game well, but won’t have success until they improve their roster. Jersey and Carolina? Years of poor drafts and bad contracts will hold them down for the near future.
In the WEST, and in the PACIFIC; 1. ANAHEIM 2. CALGARY 3. LA KINGS 4. EDMONTON 5. VANCOUVER 6. SAN JOSE 7. ARIZONA Anaheim is still the power here and some pundits think the Duck will win the Cup this year. I’m not one of them. I am not sure of their defensive depth or how far their goalie(s) can take them. They have consistently failed in big games recently as well. The Flames will continue to improve and will move up in this division, they had a decent off-season. The Kings may be slightly better then last season but I see their Cup window now slowly going down and they had an unremarkable off-season. Edmonton, with #1 pick Connor McDavid, Coach Todd McLellan, goalie Cam Talbot, and more coming in will start to ease the pain on the prairie.
Vancouver will continue to pay for years of so-so drafts with no exciting up and comers on the way, and the rest of their roster isn’t epic anymore. San Jose has no defensive or offensive depth which will render any efforts by net minders former UMD star Alex Stalock and newcomer Martin Jones useless. While the club made a great hire in new coach Pete DeBoer, the rest of their off-season was patchwork. And unfortunately for my nephew down in the desert, the Coyotes are a ways off from contention for anything.
And in the toughest division in hockey, the CENTRAL; 1. CHICAGO 2. MINNESOTA 3. NASHVILLE 4. DALLAS 5. ST. LOUIS 6. WINNIPEG 7. COLORADO It is hard not to pick the Hawks until they show they aren’t the gold standard anymore. However, their roster isn’t the same so we’ll see. The Wild had a stable camp and pre-season, are mostly healthy and there are no questions between the pipes. This is a do-it, take no prisoners season for this club. The Preds will be good and in Weber and Jones have two of the best ’D’ men going, if All World goalie Pekka Rinne performs they will be tough. The NorthStars might have one of the best offenses in the entire league, or at least their 1-6 forwards. The ’D’ isn’t deep overall, and the goaltending has a lot to prove. You can’t win in the playoffs with average defense though.
This is the year I think the Blues finally trip up a bit in the regular season. I think they start this year with a roster not as strong as last years and the Wild exposed their goaltending in the playoffs last spring. For the Jets I have questions about their core and while they have some components that make them tough on some nights, can they sustain over the course of 82 games? And what of their netminding? Do the constant rumors of moving Big Dustin Byfuglien keep the club off balance? The biggest mistake the Avalanche made in the recent past was allowing Patrick Roy to force them to draft Nathan McKinnon over ‘D’ man Seth Jones. You would think St. Patty would know that you build a Champion from the net on out. But I don’t care…. It’s the Av’s. Cellar dwellers once again… PEACE