NHL Season Preview
One year after the NHL lockout, the league has a very different look coming into the 2013-14. New conference alignment has brought a new playoff format along with it. Three teams will qualify from each division which now are titled the Atlantic and Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference and the Pacific and Central in the Western Conference. Also newly implemented are wild cards. Two teams from each conference will gain berth to round out the 16-team playoff. Our sportswriters Lenny Rowe, Ricky Morin, Eric Russo, and Ashley Proctor map out all 16 teams, hand out awards and predict who will hoist the hardware in June.
1.) Boston Bruins – How was I not going to put the reigning Eastern Conference Champions in the top spot? Despite the losses of Andrew Ference and Nathan Horton, the core of this team is basically intact. Two Stanley Cup Finals appearances in three years? Plus they have Tuukka Rask. Enough said.
2.) Ottawa Senators – Injuries decimated this team last year, yet they were a major force that was still able to make the playoffs. Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson look to be in top form and ready for a return, a great sign for this team. Young Bobby Ryan will look to fill the void left by Daniel Alfredsson, and he might do just that.
3.) Montreal Canadiens – The Habs were the best team in the Northeast Division last year, yet they lost to Ottawa four games to one in the East Quarterfinals. Montreal picked up veteran winger Danny Briere and to accompany an already deep team. With Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban still on the blue line, things are looking up.
1.) Pittsburgh Penguins – The Pens look to bounce back after getting swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. This team is stacked on paper, but as the Penguins saw last year, all that does not mean a thing if they have shaky net minders. Tomas Vokoun was recently diagnosed with a blood clot in his pelvis, which certainly complicates things. Maybe Bryzgalov could find a new home.
2.) New Jersey Devils – Yikes. Where do I begin with this team? Ryan Clowe, Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, AND Cory Schneider?! Kovalchuck is going to regret ditching New Jersey, as this team is a serious contender.
3.) New York Rangers – John Tortorella was kicked out of town, and ex-Vancouver coach, Alain Vigneault will take over in his place. Per NHL.com, Vigneault’s Canucks won the Northwest Division in six of his seven seasons. Vigneault has potential to spark up a lifeless Ranger team. This will definitely be a team to watch.
1.) Detroit Red Wings – The Wings make their move from the Western Conference to the East. A consistent playoff contender, deep with veteran talent — this team has what it takes to win.
2.) Toronto Maple Leafs – After a heartbreaking loss to the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Leafs made some major acquisitions during the offseason. The Leafs signed David Clarkson, and acquired Jonathan Bernier and Dave Bolland through trades. I feel like the Bernier-Reimer goaltending tandem will be a solid one. Combine that with some guy named Phil Kessel and Joffery Lupul, the Leafs are poised for another playoff run.
1.) Chicago Blackhawks – After the Hawks won the Cup in 2010, Chicago looked dismal in 2011. I seriously doubt the 2013-2014 Hawks will endure the same hangover they did a few years ago. Their team is basically intact, and deep on all fronts. I think you’re looking at the future Presidents’ Trophy winners.
2.) St. Louis Blues – David Perron is certainly a tough loss for this team, but I feel like Derek Roy is a much better welcome, along with the addition of Jay Bouwmeester on defense. I think Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott will be a solid goaltending tandem this season. Certainly a team to watch.
3.) Nashville Predators – Nashville tied Florida for the league-low 2.77 goals per game average last season. (Stats were taken from NHL.com). I feel like the Preds are due for a rebound year, but only time will tell. If only Pekka Rinne could score goals.
1.) Vancouver Canucks – So Roberto Luongo didn’t get traded and Cory Schneider did?! Now John Tortorella is the head coach? All that aside, I really think the Canucks will be highly competitive next year. Luongo was trying to get out of Vancouver, which would explain for the significant drop in his stats. Now with his competition gone and a clear head, I feel that Luongo will be at the peak of his game. The defense-first scheme may benefit the Canucks too. Consider your tires pumped, Vancouver.
2.) San Jose Sharks – I feel that the Sharks are going to be big this year. An all-around deep team, the Sharks did not make many moves in the offseason. I feel that it’s now or never for Joe Thornton and company.
3.) Los Angeles Kings – Blame last season on the hangover. Postseason heroes in 2011-2012, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, were surprisingly quiet in the playoffs last year. Look for them to bounce back and have a solid season.
1.) Dallas Stars – I feel like Kari Lehtonen is due for a big year. The coaching change in Lindy Ruff and additions of Shawn Horcoff, Sergei Gonchar, Rich Peverley, and Tyler Seguin look to certainly boost this team.
2.) Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers received a veteran defenseman and new captain in Andrew Ference. Adding David Perron and maintaining a solid offensive core, the Oilers have a shot at making the playoffs this year. It’s just a question if Devan Dubnyk will be able to withstand the Pacific Division.
1.) Boston Bruins – The B’s core is back on the ice, and hungry for more. Addition of Iginla and the maturation of Tuukka Rask will be key in Boston’s success.
2.) Detroit Red Wings – Always a dangerous team. With Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the front line, the Red Wings should be challenging the Bruins in their new division all season long.
3.) Toronto Maple Leafs – Toronto, a very young and solid team, is thirsty for more success after a postseason run last season.
2.) New York Rangers – Another stacked team in this division. With one of the best goaltenders in the league, this team is also equipped with elite point-machines like Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, among others.
3.) Columbus Blue Jackets – With Vezina goaltender Bobrovsky returning, and a defense anchored by star defenseman Jack Johnson, Columbus should be a tough team to beat as well.
1.) Washington Capitals – Russian sniper Alex Ovechkin will continue his dominance in the NHL.
2.) Ottawa Senators – Should the team stay healthy; the addition of Bobby Ryan will take the Senators to the next level, and earn them a playoff birth.
1.) Chicago Blackhawks – Unless you’re a firm believer in the ‘Cup hangover,’ it is evident that the defending champs will be back this season—and just as dangerous.
2.) Minnesota Wild – A powerful offensive force, with one of the best first lines in the NHL, the wild should be considered sure-fire contenders for the upcoming season.
3) St. Louis Blues – Boring jerseys, but explosive talent.
1.) Los Angeles Kings – With Jonathan Quick in the crease, this team will always remain a contender—especially in the weaker Western Conference.
2.) Vancouver Canucks – With an offense still led by the Sedins, shutting this team down remains a daunting and difficult task.
3.) San Jose Sharks – After the switch from defense to the wing, Brent Burns should continue to shoulder much of the offense.
1) Phoenix Coyotes – A slightly above average team residing in the Western Conference, the Coyotes should be able to snag one of these Wildcards.
2) Nashville Predators – Boasting one of the most feared defenders in the NHL, Shea Webber and the Predators just may sneak into the postseason.
1) Detroit Red Wings – The Wings are an overall strong team. They have a great starting goaltender, a strong core of defensemen, and arguably one of the best two-way centers in the league. It has always been hard to beat them, and that will not change in their new conference.
2) Boston Bruins – Despite a lot of changes this off season, the Bruins have a stronger team because of it. All the players added were upgrades from their previous counterparts. With one of the best and deepest defenses in the league, and a Vezina contending goaltender, it will not be easy to beat this team.
3) Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens may have exited in the first round of the playoffs in the shortened season, but that does not take away the fact that overall they had an impressive run. With a few minor changes to their roster, the Canadiens will look forward to continuing their play from the previous season and prove to be one of the dominant teams in the east.
1) Pittsburgh Penguins – As cliché as it is, there is no way one can count out the Penguins from taking the number one spot in their division. This team is loaded from their forwards to their defense. One problem they might run into is their goaltender, but Marc-Andre Fluery can usually pull himself together in the regular season.
2) New York Rangers – Out with this old coach, and in with the new. This change might be just what the Rangers need or it could be detrimental but only time will tell. With Henrik Lundqvist in net, the team can afford to have a few bad games at the start to adjust because King Henrik can easily steal a win for his team.
3) Washington Capitals – This team has had quite a few bad seasons, but they look stronger every year. The coaching change helped this team tremendously, and the players are starting to get back into their comfort zone. Alexander Ovechkin, as seen from last season, is starting to pick up the pace and become the old talented player the fans know and love. Not to mention they have a good young goaltender between the pipes.
1) Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs pulled out an impressive run last season by almost surpassing the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. This team is quiet, but dangerous. They proved that they are no longer a team to be laughed at, and they will feed off of that this season. With a good core of talented forwards and defensemen, the Leafs will be looking to make another cup run this season.
2) Ottawa Senators – Alfie may be gone, but the Senators will be just fine without him. This team made a great run at the playoffs this past season considering half their team was injured and rookies took their place. With a healthy team, and a great coach behind the bench, the Sens will earn their spot in the playoffs.
1) Chicago Blackhawks – The Stanley Cup champions will not miss a beat this season. Their cup hangovers will quickly disappear, and they will get right back into action. The Hawks have one of the best and most talented teams in the league, it is hard to count them out especially if they continue the same play from last season.
2) St. Louis Blues – The Blues are probably the second most dangerous team in the Central Division (following the Blackhawks). This team was built on defense, add that to their deep goaltending depth, and you have a team that is difficult to beat. One problem the Blues may face is goalscoring, however if they can overcome that they will be right in line with the Blackhawks all season long.
3) Winnipeg Jets – The past two season the Jets have been on the cusp of the playoffs. This year will be the year they will make it if they do everything right. It is all a matter of tightening their play up, especially the forwards. They have good defense, and a decent goaltender, but all can be made better if their forwards can support both.
1) Vancouver Canucks – John Tortorella was named the new coach of the Canucks this past off season. He might just be the kick in the butt this team needs. Roberto Luongo may be upset that he is staying with a team he wanted to leave, but if he can play goalie like he can he will help this team a lot.
2) Los Angeles Kings – It is no secret that the Kings are a powerful team with talented players throughout. Not to mention they have one of the top goaltenders in the league. The Kings will gain a playoff spot easily.
3) San Jose Sharks – If this team fixes their poor 5-on-5 scoring this season, they have a good shot of making a good run come the playoffs. The Sharks are a solid team all the way down mixed with youngsters and veterans who have proven before that they are a Cup contender.
1) Edmonton Oilers – This pick is truly a wild card, but this team has something to prove. Being in a rebuilding process for the past few seasons now, it is time for the Oilers to step up to the plate. The Oilers are not a bad team, in fact they have some talented young players. If these youngsters play to their potential, and the new additions work out, this team could be a difficult one to beat come the season.
2) Minnesota Wild – The Wild made two big signings last season when they signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Suter did his part last season, and now it is time for Parise to do so as well. If Parise plays the way he is suppose to, and the Wild figure out their centers behind Koivu, they have a good chance at making the playoffs.
Hart Memorial (MVP)
Lenny Rowe: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh – Crosby has vision like no other player. Everyone hates him, but the Kid has skill. Crosby is also a solid two-way player, a valuable asset to his team.
Ricky Morin: Zach Parise, Minnesota
Eric Russo: Patrick Kane, Chicago – The kid is good; everybody saw it in the Cup Final. He might score 50.
Ashley Proctor: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington – This guy keeps coming back better and better every season since his slump. As the previous winner of the Hart, Ovie will look to do it two years in a row. He will most likely be up against Crosby, but he has a legitimate chance of beating his opponent due to certain factors such as staying healthy and not playing on a line with players just as good as he is (such as Crosby with Malkin).
Norris Trophy (Defenseman)
LR: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa – An all-around beast, I really can’t wait to see what Karlsson can do in a full season.
RM: Shea Webber, Nashville
ER: Zdeno Chara, Boston – He should win this every year.
AP: P.K. Subban, Montreal – Subban will be looking to win this award back-to-back. He has a lot of competition, but he has a great shot of doing it. Subban is an offensive threat along with his defensive play. With one year left in his contract Subban will be looking to show the Canadiens why he deserves to stick around.
Vezina Trophy (Goalies)
LR: Craig Anderson – Craig Anderson missed a significant part of last season due to injury, which seemed to hamper him in the playoffs. Look for him to bounce back and be a brick wall this season.
RM: Tuukka Rask, Boston
ER: Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers – He’ll be rejuvenated with a new coach behind the bench.
AP: Tuukka Rask, Boston – Arguably, Rask should have been nominated last season for this award. However, he was not, but he still has an incredible chance to make the cut this season. Rask shows no signs of slowing down, or faltering in his play. If he comes out as dominant as last season he will win this award. Not to mention he is looking to gain the number one spot on Team Finland for the Olympics which might just give him the little extra motivation.
LR: Seth Jones, Nashville – Now that Jonathan Drouin was sent back to the Mooseheads, I have defenseman, Seth Jones winning Rookie of the Year. He can move the puck well and will certainly help boost the Preds power play.
RM: Seth Jones, Nashville
ER: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado – He’s only 18, but in Colorado the No. 1 overall pick this year will get a chance to play.
AP: Aleksander Barkov, Florida – If the Panthers can give Barkov the weapons he needs then he will be the dominant rookie of the year. He is an incredible offensive threat who will be looking to prove himself this season.
Jack Adams Trophy (Coach)
LR: Lindy Ruff, Dallas – Lindy Ruff will have an immediate impact on the Dallas Stars, helping to push them to their first postseason appearance since the 2007-2008 season.
RM: Todd Richards, Columbus
ER: Dallas Eakins, Edmonton – If the Oilers make the playoffs, the first-year coach is a no-brainer.
AP: Adam Oates, Washington – The Capitals are slowly crawling their way out of a dark hole thanks to their new coach, Adam Oates. There is no reason why the Capitals should not have a great season. If Oates can put his magic to work again this team just might make a good playoff run.
Western Conference Final
LR: Chicago Blackhawks def. Vancouver Canucks in 7 – I feel that the West will come down to the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks. Both teams are stacked on all fronts, so this will be an absolute war.
RM: Minnesota Wild def. Los Angeles Kings in 7 – Chemistry is a deadly thing in hockey, and with another full year of playing together, this Wild team will be a premier force in the West this year. Quick will lead the Kings to the Conference Final, but it won’t be enough to get past Minnesota.
ER: Chicago Blackhawks def. Edmonton – It’s going to be a familiar Cup Final. The Blackhawks, like the Bruins, don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. And, yes, the Oilers make a memorable run to the West finals.
AP: Vancouver Canucks def. Chicago Blackhawks – It is hard not to pick the current Cup winners to make it far once again. Like the Bruins, their roster changed very little over the off season. How can this team not make it far again? The Canucks will be a new team with their new head coach behind the bench. Knowing Tortorella, the team will be very strong defensively, and very strong in net. The Canucks also will not have a problem with scoring which is why they will beat out the Hawks.
Stanley Cup Final
LR: Boston Bruins def Chicago Blackhawks in 7 – Like Detroit and Pittsburgh in 2008 and 2009, I have Boston and Chicago returning to the Cup Finals. Boston nearly forced a Game Seven last year, look for them to return better for than ever – get the duckboats ready. Boston outlasts Chicago in seven, who else but Tuukka Rask as the Conn Smythe winner.
RM: Boston Bruins def. Minnesota Wild in 5 – I sound like an obnoxious Boston sports fan picking the Bruins to win the cup, but I honestly don’t see a team that’s as well balanced as this Boston squad is. Barring injury, as always, the Bruins will take advantage of lopsided matchups on defense to take the series in five. And I’ll give the Conn Smythe trophy to Bergeron, just because.
ER: Chicago Blackhawks def. Boston Bruins – For the first time since the Penguins and Red Wings in 2008 and 2009, we’ll have a rematch in the Final. They are the two best teams. Period. Chicago will be the first back-to-back champions since the Red Wings in 1997-98. Sorry, B’s fans.
AP: Boston Bruins def. Vancouver Canucks – The Bruins and Canucks will meet again in the Cup finals. Unfortunately for the Canucks, the Bruins beat them once, and they could definitely beat them again. However, it would not be surprising for this series to go another seven games with the Bruins coming out on top.