2016-17 National Hockey League Predictions!

Marc Elliott

HIBBING…. The NHL Western Conference promises to provide another season of nail biting regular season action. The Pacific Division will once again be tough, but as in the recent past the Central could provide the most drama and strength. Things are a-changing’ though and some up and comers could give some of the established teams a run for their playoff chances. Lets take a look;
In the PACIFIC, order of finish; 1.San Jose Shark 2.Los Angeles King 3.Vancouver Canucks 4.Edmonton Oilers 5.Anaheim Duck 6.Arizona Coyotes 7.Calgary Flames
The SJ Sharks are still the current gold standard in this group. G-Martin Jones elevated this club into a Cup contender last year and he will do the same again. Vets Thornton, Martin and Marleau are aging but still productive, Joe Pavelski is one of the best scorers in the show and Brent Burns is arguably one of the top 5 defensemen in the league. Wild should have kept him eh? The supporting cast is strong as well. The Kings have a veteran core as well that is pretty good. With G-Quick, D-Doughty, F-Kopitar, F-Carter and former Wild Marian Gaborik this team is formidable. Gaborik got injured at the World Cup but should return by late November. Tough, veteran club to play against.
Some experts see the Canucks in the lower ranks of the NHL. I think there is still too much talent and grit there to count them out. With the Sedins, G-Ryan Miller, newcomer Loui Eriksson, and getting Brandon Sutter back after missing most of last year, with a D-corps bolstered by Alex Edler and Chris Tanev, I believe this club will be better then people think. And where I see a couple of clubs trending downward, and one still developing, that’s why I see the Oilers finally making some upward movement. It is only a matter of time until 2nd year player Connor McDavid will be known as the best player in the world. Now he has tough guy Milan Lucic to protect him and G-Cam Talbot should be more comfortable this year. Taylor Hall was traded for D-Adam Larsson, but the backline needs more. May not matter though as this club will score a lot of goals ala’ the eighties Oilers. They are movin’ on up.
Anaheim is still anchored by Getzlaf and Perry and they can still bring it. Can G-Gibson be their number one? Can returnee Coach Randy Carlisle get anymore out of this group then Bruce Boudreau did? How is their forward and defensive depth? I see this club stepping back. Arizona is still developing young talent but that young talent is exceptional. Forwards Domi, DuClaire and Strome continue to improve, Minnesotan D-Alex Goligoski joins as a UFA, the club has all-world D-Oliver Ekman Larsson and are hoping for a better year from vet G-Mike Smith. Right when it looks like the Flames may have been moving up in the West, suddenly they aren‘t. There is some talent there in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, F-Backlund along with a vet D-corps. Can G-Brian Elliott duplicate his STL Blues success in Cal-town? Not in back of this team. New Coach Glen Gulutzan gets a 2nd shot in the show. Too many variables on this club. In the Central, order of finish;
1.Dallas Stars 2.STL Blues 3.Chicago Blackhawk 4.Nashville Predators 5. Minnesota Wild 6. Winnipeg Jets 7.Colorado Avalanche I see the Stars picking up where they left off last year but I don’t see them improving their playoff fortunes without some sort of mid-season trade for a better net minder. There might be some out there, but with current goalie injuries in the NHL there will be a price to pay. They lost D-Goligoski as a UFA but picked up Dan Hamhuis. Will still be very strong up front with Benn, Seguin, Spezza and Sharp. Blues Coach Ken Hitchcock says this is his last year and the club lost some hardcore vets in Backes, Elliott, Brouwer and Ott. They still feature some of the best and deepest blueline depth in the show though. Will they be ok up front?  With budding superstar Tarasenko, joined by newcomer Yakupov will they get enough punch from the rest of the forwards to stay at the upper level of the Central?  
The Hawks have built up an expensive core group albeit quite talented. In order to preserve their “SC window” they have had to let go or trade away players on the heels of successful seasons to stay within the salary cap. So far they have had good fortune by finding inexpensive talent to fill in via the draft or some keen scouting in Europe. After getting the boot from last years 1st Round is that model starting to fail them in their quest for another Cup?  They return the usual suspects and 7 promising rookies. Nashville made last years playoff exciting by dumping the Ducks in Round 1 and then extending eventual West Champ San Jose to 7 games. It was not a fluke either. Coach Pete Laviolette had the Preds playing their optimum best at the peak times. They exchanged stellar D-Weber for stellar offensive D-Subban. Fans on both sides of that ocean are still reeling a bit. I think the trade lessens the Preds defensively but they continue to move up.  
The Wild? The Parise-Suter impact window for this club to have a significant playoff run is closing. The top 6F, 3D and goalie aren’t amongst the NHL best and the young guys the club has been waiting on are not producing. I see no playoff this year. The Jets have some ample talent in Big Buff, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele etc, they can’t seem to get out of their own way and play disciplined hockey. Just last year; 6th in PIM’s, 25th on the
PK and 2nd in PPGA. Can’t win with those stats. Netminding will continue to be a question mark. Colorado lost more in the off-season then they gained including the sudden exit of Coach Patrick Roy a month before training camp. Roy’s leaving probably helps more then hurts, but this group needs more then a new coach. With MacKinnon, Landeskog and Duchene up front and Barrie and Johnson on the blueline backstopped by Varlomov, they can win on some nights but not enough due to average depth. The Av’s are about to need a restart on their rebuild. Next week; some Stanley Cup thoughts. Whose windows are open at the top of the heap and who has enough juice to hoist the greatest trophy on the planet next June? We shall see…. PEACE