Look for Carolina to improve this year.
Carolina is relying on a mixture of veterans and unproven rookies when they compete this year. Their top line might again feature the two Staal brothers playing with Semin. This line was able to put up a fair number of points considering their poor finish last year. The problem before is that they weren’t always able to keep this line together due to their depth at center. Until 25 years old Tlusty had his second good year in a row and was able to move to the center position when needed.
However by trade and draft the Hurricanes were able to pick up two promising rookies that will try to make their club this year in the second and third line center roles. Allowing Ruutu to take over the second line center role permanently and moving Tlusty to his wing with Skinner on the other side. This allows Carolina to finally have two strong scoring lines that they haven’t had in the past few years.
The two new rookies are the highly ranked and early picked Swedish Phenom Lindholm who reportedly signed an entry level deal at 1.75 mil. Scouts predict that he is one of the few players from this draft that is ready to move into the NHL this year and if so he could easily slip into the 3rd line center position with his puck control skills. The other player making the news was acquired by trade and might be ready, Riley Nash. He had 9 points in 32 games with the Hurricanes last year and looks to be a promising player. However there is an outside chance the Hitman Center Rask might surprise people this preseason and see some ice time in the NHL this year.
The big change at point is the loss of their star defence man Pitkanen, who will be out for the season. Management was quick to replace him with Veteran Hainsey. The trade-off here is a decrease in offensive potential for a better two way player. In my opinion this will make little change for the Hurricanes as Hainsey is a very capable quarterback for their back end. As well the Hurricanes added Sekeras via trade which will also add a veteran presence to their defensive core. They might not be as strong as they would have been with Joni healthy but they are still improved from last year.
Cam Ward will see most starts but the addition of a strong back up in Anton will help to not tire him out down the stretch. The other plus for him is that they have a good schedule and the easier of the two Eastern Conference divisions.
Look for Colorado to improve.
Colorado is a young team with some talented players that have not yet reached their potential. They are slotted in what might be the weakest division in the league with only the Stanley cup champions and maybe the Blues to worry about.
With the first round pick this year, the Avalanche chose what many scouts believed to be the most offensively gifted player in the draft. They signed the Center to an entry level deal for 3.77 million dollars and he is expected to make the roster this year. With this addition, the Avalanche is a little too deep at center. Most likely they will shift someone like Ryan O’Reilly to the wing.
The Aves have Statsney Making 6.6 million and normally their first line center but this year he might be replaced by what some argue is the more talented Duchene. Either way that is a strong top two set of centers. Mackinnon isn’t the type of player you use for your fourth line center and ROR doesn’t fit the third line at 5 million a year. So either Duchene moves to the first line wing of O’Reilly moves. Allowing Mackinnon to take over third line center and leaving the fourth line to the more than capably John Mitchell.
After this is sorted out, the wing combinations don’t really matter as they have quality players and role playing forwards for every line. The addition of Tanquay and the continued improvement of players such as Parenteau, Downie and McGinn have made this possible. Moving a center to wing provides them with 4 strong centers and numerous role players for the bottom 4 wing positions.
Their weakness as always is on their backend. Adding Cory Sarich will put a little bit of veteran grit to their line up but I am not sure he is the answer they were looking for to keep the shots down against Varlamov; a goaltender who has been inconsistent when the team has needed him most. Unless Giguere remembers how to play or they get more from their defensive core, their offensive power is going to have to score lots to keep winning as their GA doesn’t look promising.
Look for them to decline this season.
The Stars made some good off season moves and some bad ones, in the end neither were enough for what they needed. The acquisition of Sequin may put pressure on the young player but I believe he is ready to step out from being a third line center and become that first line pivot man that this team needs. Jamie Benn despite missing a few games at the start of the season put up big numbers for the club. I would expect him to go no place but up from where he is now as the kid has talent to spare. Look for him to make it hard for Yzerman not to put him on Team Canada. On the other side though things get weaker; with Peverley hurt Cole will be the number one man. I think by mid-October we will see that switch. We might also see Russian rookie Nichushkin take over the number two role from cole before the season ends. I like many scouts expect the huge talented Russian to make the transition from the KHL to the NHL with little trouble.
The second line has two solid veterans in Horcoff centering Ray Whitney. Both have shown the ability for 60 point seasons and in theory could do it again given this chance on a new team and a new number two PP unit. However I think both are past their prime and I expect little offense from the second line unless Valerie caries it.
The bottom 6 has a career third and fourth line center and some possible wingers for each line. Unfortunately only the one previously mentioned wing has any talent. The lack of depth is what will hurt them.
Their defense feature the addition of 100 year old Gonchar who I think still has gas in the tank. The problem is that they have 3 offensive defense men of average ability and basically Daley and Rome to balance those two lines out. However Daley is not a 1-2 dman and Rome is better suited as a 5-6 guy. So to make this work they are either going to have to put Gonchar with Goligoski or have 2 defense paired above their ability.
In goal Kari remains the question mark. He is inconsistent and nothing was done to bring in a backup if he gets injured. A lot of their games will be decided if Kari can play the way we know he is capable.
However the big problem, despite being in the weakest division in the league, they made the least improvement to their team in the offseason. It will be an uphill battle every night for the stars.
Look for the Rangers to fall slightly this year.
The Rangers are going to be one of the teams hurt by the 16 teams in their conference. However they also have some trouble behind the scene this year. Management is call for a "change of culture" with the team.
In theory the Rangers have the potential to be a top 6 team again this year. Stepan has proven that he can be a serious 2nd line center and maybe one day a first line for the team. The additions of Brassard and Dorsett last year looked to have helped. I think with time they will gel more with the team and make both of them strong offensive components for the team.
Hagelin, Pyatt, Boyle and Asham have become great role players that can be moved around the second and third lines to allow for more options for the Rangers and provide more offensive threat. However it is their big guns that the teams are having troubles getting motivated nightly. Nash will sometimes come out and skate but never like we know he can. Other nights he is often caught stopped during rushes and back checking making him a pylon during the play. Richards decline has been obvious over the years. It is not just one thing but many things he is doing sloppy that we know he can do better. Without them the Rangers just don't have the depth but not the first line that other teams in the league do.
Their defence is strong for the most part. Marc Staal is a question mark for some but all indication is that he will return this year healthy from his operation. Last year he seemed a little off for the few games he played. McDonagh, Del Zotto and Girardi round out a top 4 that is extremely capable especially with Lundquist in net. They also have a decent backup in Biron.
Defensively they are strong, offensively they have depth but I think their special teams might make them fall from their 6th place finish last year. That and the two extra teams in their conference.
Look for the Canucks to decline.
The canucks have a good roster of defense men. However 4 of them take up well over a third of the teams overall budget. For them to succeed this year they are going to need offensive production from Edler and some of the rest. Tanev showed good promise last year and should make a solid player addition to the team again this year. Don't be surprised if he surpasses Garrison this year in talent. Vancouver will have no problems putting out 7 dmen this season and therefore there is speculation of numerous trades. The most recent ones involve Edler for Vanek or Edler in a package deal for Pleckanec. I wouldn't expect any decision on either until later in the preseason and I don't know if either will take place.
Vancouver's goaltending has definitely declined from last year but only because they had two starters. They still have what some believe to be a top 5 tender in net and although he doesn't want to be there, Loungo is not one to give anything less than 100%. Plus the better he does, the more likely he can be traded later. The problem is that he is only good for about 71 games a year. Eddie Lack, the new back up is Lacking the abilities needed by an NHL goalie. Look for him to start against the weaker teams and still let in a bunch.
The big problem is that almost all of Vancouver's budget was spent on 4 forward, 4 dmen and a goalie. Leaving Vancouver to fill the holes in the other 8 offensive spots with projects and gambles. Booth missing last season might be in full health and could pick up the slack on the second line. With Burrows and on line one that gives them two average wingers to line up with an offense that really consists of Kesler and the Sedins. Rookie Bo Horvat is a long shot to make the team as a third line center but if he does he will be a better option than anything they have as they are left with almost nothing for lines 3 and 4 on the dot. Higgins might be able to provide some offense on the third line as well as Kassian who has been inconsistent but showed potential in some games. However the 4th line makes Calgary's and Edmonton's look like all stars with Sestito with Guance/Schroeder at center and Richardson. A project, mixed with a rookie and a never was. None with any real ability. Sestito could emerge into a player but highly doubtful. Put that together with the fact that almost every other team in their division improved significantly over the off season (except Calgary) and it doesn't look like they are holding on to third place this year.
Look for flames to decrease in the standings as well.
I know this is hard to do when you are 6th last but Feaster is just the guy to do it. The future just might look bright for the team with Burke coming in as President of Hockey Operations. Unfortunately he came in too late to save Feaster from the mess he made of the season starting at last year’s trade deadline.
Simply put Calgary didn't improve in the offseason and they don't have the young prospects that need to develop that they can hope for break out performances with the exception of maybe Brodie and Baertshchi.
Currently Calgary has no goaltender. The coach has made it clear that the preseason will decide who starts and in the end it will probably be a 1A/1B situation in hopes that competing for the role will help bring the best out of both of them. Most likely Berra will get sent to the minors and MacDonald and Ramo will be the two selected. Neither are what Calgary has been use to in the past with kipper. Which brings us to the next big problem, their defense hasn't been this bad in a while either.
With the trading of Iginla, Tanguay and Bouwmeister for rookies and picks, the defensive line is going to rely on Wideman and Giordano. Despite their salaries, don't expect to see either at any Olympic tryouts this fall. Much like Edmonton they are 3-4 players on the verge of being #2 players. After that their defense gets silly. They have Brodie who they hope will have a break out year, O'Brien who is slow but gritty and then filler. Not a lot helping out a tandem of what would be backup goalies on most teams.
Their offense definitely declined with the loss of Tanguay, Iginla, and Cervenka. The only addition was a 4 million dollar Jones who got 9 points last year to add to their first line wing. Their top two centers Stajan who had a decent year last year and Backlund who showed some potential. Still not comparable to any top two centers on any other team in the league. The team is going to rely heavily on veteran wingers Camilleri, Hudler, Glencross and Stempniak to get them points as after that they have no one to fill the rest of their team. Odds are their 7th overall pick, the tall Canadian Center Monahan will play the third line pivot but the problem with that is he doesn't have much weight to him. For a guy use to charging the net, he is going to have to work hard on building some muscle mass to translate his game to the NHL.
The Oilers are going to decline this year.
They are somewhat of a wild card and I did put money on them but truth is management has left them in no position to succeed.
Let’s start with their previous weakness and now their strength. They have tons of 3-4 and 5-6 dmen. No 1-2. Petry and Justin are the closest right now to being 1-2 players and they are probably still a year or two away. Most likely Petry will get the start with Ference and Justin will play second with smid. Then they have a 3.5 million dollar player in N. Schultz playing on the last pairing with someone. That someone right now is either Potter, Larsen, Greb, Belov, Klefbom, Marincin or Fedun (going from most likely to least).
For some reason MacT decided to buy a second set of 5-6 dmen to make up for the 1-2 guy he couldn't get in the offseason. Leaving the oilers 1.5 million from the cap ceiling. Personally I would have signed Hainsey for 2 million rather than Greb for 1.5 but that is just me.
The Oilers goaltending is a question mark as Dubnyk has yet to prove he is a starter. He is the definition of an inconsistent goalie as shown in the first preseason game this year. He can make amazing saves and then let in the easiest shot. The problem is that this year we don't really have anyone to turn to. We signed career backup Labarbera who has a lifetime average of letting in roughly 3 goals a game. Often playing with teams that have a defensive core with 1-2 defensive pairings like PHO. Instead of offering a tryout or contract to Thomas as a gamble or Bryzgalov who has more potential, or numerous other goalies.
The Oilers biggest wild card comes from up front. New GM and New coach are going to try to get NEW output from our NEW players. Moving Hall to center until RNH comes back in November (hopefully healthy, will allow yakupov and eberle to play together. Gagner Perron and what would have been Hemsky if he could have lasted a whole preseason game would make a nice second line in the meantime. Now we will most likely be trying Omark on the second line. Although rumour has it that the wrap around king and slowest skater in the league, Mullet Smyth might get the honour.
Which leaves us really know bottom 6 and no one to fill in if there are injuries. Our best rookie we let break his contract instead of lending him out. Now our only good player in the AHL is Acrobella. Boyd Gordon was brought in at 3 million a year and he is a great 4th line center. However there has never been any indication that he would ever provide any amount of offense. We brought him in because he is a little tough and he wins just over 50% of the face-offs he takes. That is it. Lander is proving to be more like a Pouliot than a potential NHLer. At some point in time management is going to have to make the decision on whether to trade him while he has some value or to keep trying to sink time into his development.
As shown during the preseason game, former Toronto Marlie Hamilton played first line minutes. Apparently the new coach has a soft spot for the kid from his old team. Look for him to have a strong chance at making line 4. At least expect to see him get every chance to prove himself during the preseason. Jones is turning heads and has a good shot of playing line three. At least while RNH is out but probably all season. Eager and brown who were supposed to be locks on the team are not anymore. Challenged by rookies like Hamilton, Joensuu... and a couple other long shots.
Regardless. A terrible GM. A team missing its first line center. A team that traded one of its biggest rookies for a concussion prone player, a top 6 winger injured in the first preseason game, no back up, no sure starter, no muscle anywhere on the team to clear players from in front of the net, weak centers with only one that can win a draw, a new coach for the third year in a row (a rookie one at that) and no top 2 dmen. The Oiler team only got worse in the offseason. The only improvement was the addition of Ference. Gordon was good, if we kept Horcoff at the number 3 center position.
There are trade rumours right now suggesting the oilers are in search of muscle, also that they are in talks with Pittsburgh for Niskachen. I can see the first as a third line addition but the second is not happening.