In this article, I will outline which teams I believe will ice the top special team's index's this upcoming season. For those who are unsure what a special team index is; It is a number developed by adding both the PK% and the PP% of a specific team. As a reference point, last season the St. Louis Blues had the best index at 106, while the Sabres posted the worst index at 88.5.
5. Detroit Red Wings:
The Red Wings under Babcock last season were ranked second on the Power-play at 23.8%. Their two young stars: Tatar and Nyquist converted on the majority of the teams' PP goals. The same duo will only look to improve on last season's success. Aided by the return of Datsyuk and Franzen, the team will only improve with regards to PP success. The Red Wing core may be slowing down with age, but I do not anticipate their powerplay success to decrease. The mix of veterans and young talent will only make them that much more dangerous.
On the other hand, the Red Wings finished just 17th in the league last season with regards to PK%. However, this was under the control of Mike Babcock. Not to slight the future hall of fame coach, but I believe that Jeff Blashill will improve the Red Wings penalty kill. He had the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL playing very well on the penalty kill the last two seasons. The Griffins finished in the top 6 ( PK%) in back to back seasons under Blashill. I expect that the new personality behind the bench will only rejuvenate the team. Their PK will have no trouble breaking the top 15.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning:
The Lightning finished last season with decent numbers on special teams. Their PK finished 7th in the league, while the power-play underachieved slightly, finishing 14th. The two most dominant forces with the extra man were Callahan and Stamkos, who combined for 23 goals on the PP. However, players like Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov combined for just 5. These were two of the most dynamic offensive threats for the lightning all season, especially Kucherov who posted 29 goals. Keeping Kucherov off the board is no easy task, and I do not imagine that his power-play slump will continue. Pure goal scorers like this guy thrive on the power-play. I expect Kucherov to post similar numbers to Stamkos on the PP this season. Jon Cooper is a smart coach, and will give his young guns every opportunity to help the team increase special team numbers.
On the penalty kill last season, the Lightning finished much better. They posted a 83.7 success rate, which was only 2.6% worse than the top rated Wild. The core of the team is still in tact, and some of the younger players will only improve in their own end. I do not see the Lightning penalty kill moving up or down significantly from last season. That being said, they should improve on the power-play ever so slightly, which will move their index up a few points. All in all, the Lightning will be do very well in special team categories.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins:
The Penguins rounded out the top ten power-play teams last season at 19.3%. They are an extremely high powered offense, sporting some of the leagues best centerman in Crosby and Malkin. They have a strong supporting cast and have the potential to dethrone the Capitals as the best PP team in the league. They have the players, but consistency and health need to be a priority for the Pens. When the team is healthy and playing well, they are nearly impossible to stop. They should easily finish above 20% this season, slotting in somewhere in the top five.
Their penalty kill was even more impressive, finishing third in the entire league at 84.8%. I credit this number to great coaching, and commitment by role players to buy into the game plan. Even with all the uncertainty during last season, the penalty killers managed to stay strong down the stretch. I find it doubtful that they will keep the PK in the top 3, but the fall off should not be staggering. I expect the penalty kill to drop, and the power play to flourish. Ultimately, they will post solid numbers in both ends.
2. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks had a lot of unexpected success last season. Many critics projected them to finish below teams like the Kings and Sharks in the pacific. Despite the poor expectations, the team managed to do extremely well led by the Sedin twins. The twins and Radim Vrbata were the main contributors on the potent Canuck power-play. They finished the season just under 20%, which was 9th in the NHL. The scoring with the man advantage was very spread out, which is a trend that will need to continue for the Vancouver Canucks. Players like Burrows, Higgins, Edler and Weber all chipped in with a hand full of goals last season. I anticipate a steady decline with the aging forward core of the Canucks, but the powerplay numbers should stay steady. They are creative, veteran players who know exactly what to do on the power-play. Don't expect the Canucks core to dominate the standings again this season, but the power-play shouldn't fall off significantly, if at all.
The penalty kill for the Canucks came as a big surprise to me last season. Coming off a miserable season with John Tortorella, the team was not looking good coming into 2014-15. Despite the change, Willie Desjardins managed to attain some spectacular numbers with the seemingly outdated roster. The team finished second in the league on the penalty kill at 85.7%. They finished second in the league with a special team index of 105 as well, just short of the St. Louis Blues at 106. The addition of Brandon Sutter should do wonders in helping the penalty kill stay atop the league. It will be difficult for the Canucks to have this much success again, but they have the roster to hang with the best; At least when it comes to special teams.
1. St. Louis Blues:
The Blues posted a special teams index of 106 last season, which was the best in the entire league. They have an extremely deep team, and it translates into some very impressive numbers on special teams. On the power-play, they have some serious weapons throughout the lineup. Tarasenko, Steen and Schwartz had 8 goals a piece with the extra man. Stastny potted 7, and Backes led the team with ten power-play goals. Losing Oshie will hurt the team, but I do not believe the power-play will take much of a hit. He had just 3 PP goals, which really is not that impressive for somebody of his talent. The depth of this team will make up for his loss, finishing in the top ten with ease.
Their penalty kill should be above average once again this season. They finished 7th in the league last season while shorthanded, posting a PK% of 83.7. This was largely in part due to the duo of Stastny and Schwartz up front. They played a good chunk of minutes, leading the way for the Blues top PK unit. Unfortunately for the Blues, they lost some key defenders on their bottom pair. Players like Jackman and Michalek logged serious penalty kill minutes. If they expect to continue their success, players like Gunnarson, Bouwmeester and Benoit will need to step up on defense. It is imperative that they get tough minutes from these guys, as to allow Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo to dominate even strength and on the PP. The team lost some pieces this off season, but the core is still in tact and they have the personnel to fill the void.