By: Mike Basile & Nolan Sendel
As the 2017-2018 NHL season nears, 31 teams believe they have a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup this June. While October brings hope to everyone in the NHL, not all “contenders” are created equal. We here at Fact Fiction Fantasy have come up with our predictions for this season, looking at how each franchise will fare in their respective divisions.
(1) Toronto Maple Leafs (46-23-13) 105 Points – After a season in which the Leafs shocked the league, taking the Washington Capitals to 7 games in the first round of the playoffs, this stacked young team is poised to take a big step forward. Led by future Hall-of-Famer Mike Babcock, expect Austin Matthews to improve on a Calder Trophy-worthy rookie campaign that saw him score 40 goals (69 points total). Additionally, prized free agent acquisition, Patrick Marleau, who is leaving San Jose after 19 seasons, should add a much-needed veteran presence. Throw in a steady presence in nets from Frederik Andersen and the Leafs have a chance to make a real statement come playoff time.
(2) Tampa Bay Lightning (45-27-10) 100 Points- After missing most of last season to injury, expect Steven Stamkos to resume his place among the league’s elite goal scorers. Even with the loss of Jonathan Drouin to trade, the Lightning should be an offensive force with the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and new addition, Chris Kunitz flanking the captain. The acquisition of Mikhail Sergachev from Montreal will bolster a D-line that already includes perennial Norris contender, Victor Hedman. The only real question mark comes in nets, where Andrej Vasilevskiy will go into his first season as a number one goalie. That considered, we expect Tampa to fall short of the division title.
(3) Montreal Canadiens (44-27-11) 99 Points- As long as the Habs have superstar goaltender Carey Price, they will always have a chance. Montreal is hoping to make his job gets a bit easier this season, having added free agent defensemen Karl Alzner to an D-core led by Shea Weber. Unfortunately, defense and goaltending have never really been Montreal’s issues. As always, the big question for the Habs this season will be whether they can ease the pressure on Price by putting pucks in the net. The team attempted to solve this issue with the addition of Jonathan Drouin, who they hope can reach his full potential playing for his hometown team. Perhaps his presence will light a fire under Alex Galchenyuk, a player the team once hoped would grow into their number one center. Even with these changes, the Habs just won’t be able to keep up with the offensive power at the top of the Atlantic division, causing them to fall to third.
(4) Boston Bruins (41-32-9) 91 Points- Expect the Bruins to take a step back this season. Zdeno Chara is one year older, and is looking slower each game. The addition of David Backes may have brought a great source of leadership to the locker room, but he seems to have left his game back in St. Louis, offering little on the offensive side last season. Needless to say, this is not the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011. While the team is experiencing somewhat of a youth-movement at the moment, the presence of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron means that the Bruins can always expect to put up a fight. That veteran presence, coupled with solid play from goaltender Tuukka Rask should be could enough for a fourth place finish in the division.
(5) Ottawa Senators (38-32-12) 88 Points- When you think of the Senators, you immediately think of Erik Karlsson, superstar captain and one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL. His effectiveness coming back from a foot-injury last season will be a major determining factor in how the Sens fare this season. If he can stay on the ice, and the team can get the kind of steady goaltending from Craig Anderson and Mike Condon that it saw last season, the Sens could be a real spoiler if they manage to sneak into the playoffs as a low seed. But, don’t expect that to happen. The Sens will run out of gas by February and fall out of a playoff spot.
(6) Buffalo Sabres (37-34-11) 85 Points- Coming off a sophomore season that saw him increase his point total despite playing in 20 fewer games than his rookie season, Jack Eichel will be the offensive heart of this team. Along with Forwards Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo, Buffalo should have no problem putting the puck in the net. Further, the return of Jason Pominville, who spent his first 9 seasons in Buffalo, adds a feel good storyline and much-needed energy injection to the Keybank Center. The questions for the Sabres are on the back end. While Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella are clear upgrades over last season, they won’t be enough to cover for goaltender Robin Lehner, whose talent is obvious, but inconsistent. Without a steady net-presence, the Sabres miss the playoffs once again.
(7) Florida Panthers (34-38-10) 78 Points- The goaltending-duo of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer will be enough to keep the Panthers competitive in many games. Unfortunately, it won’t always be enough to win them. Either way, with a young, electrifying core looking to take a step forward this season, the Panthers will be fun to watch. Despite missing 21 games last season, Alexander Barkov still notched 52 points and has become one of the most exciting young forwards in the game. Further, with forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trochek, the Panthers future at forward is definitely bright. Their problems are on defense, where after Aaron Ekblad, they look extremely thin. This deficiency will land them near the basement of the division.
(8) Detroit Red Wings (31-40-11) 73 Points- Where to begin? After making the playoffs for 25 straight seasons, the Red Wings are lock to miss the postseason for the second time in a row. In order for Detroit to be competitive, many things have to go right. Dylan Larkin, the presumed best offensive player on the team now that captain Henrik Zetterberg is older, must improve on his game to correct the 13-point drop-off he suffered last season. Fellow scorers, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, must also remember how to put the puck in the net. On defense, the Wings have a lot of well-known names that make up a formidable unit…in 2013. Stalwart Nick Kronwall is older now, and cannot throw his body around like he used to. Mike Green looks like a shell of the offensive-defensemen who scored 31 times in 2008-2009. The questions do not stop there as the annual battle for the number one goaltender spot is underway. Neither Petr Mrazek nor Jimmy Howard can hold onto the job and the two spend most of the season trading spots on the ice and bench. The Red Wings used to be the toast of Detroit. Now they are just toast.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins (53-21-8) 114 Points– The Stanley Cup Champs battled through a ton of adversity to win it all last season. Despite some key losses highlighted by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and forward Nick Bonino, the Pens still seem poised to do some damage this season. Led by Sidney Crosby and a dangerous group of forwards, this team will have no problem scoring goals. On the back-end, they are very skilled with players like Kris Letang and Justin Schultz. In goal, they have a talented Matt Murray who at 23 already has 2 Cups to his name. The big bad Pens are poised to have another big season.
(2) Columbus Blue Jackets (50-26-6) 106 Points– The Blue Jackets had an incredible season last year finishing 3rd in the Metro with 108 points. I think this season they will be right around that mark again which would be very impressive in a tough division. They had some serious losses like Brandon Saad and the young William Karlsson, but they also added a huge piece in Artemi Panarin. Ultimately, this team is extremely deep all around and has a top 5 goalie in Bobrovsky. They will make a deep playoff run.
(3) New York Rangers (47-26-9) 103 Points– The Rangers have the potential to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Led by Henrik Lundqvist and a stellar group of defensemen, the Rangers added Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason who will help with their powerplay, which struggled last season. They are also hoping young defenseman Anthony DeAngelo will prove to be an integral part of this team. If forwards like Kevin Hayes, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jimmy Vesey all take the next step, the Rangers may be playing into June.
(4) Washington Capitals (45-27-10) 100 Points– Much like the Penguins, the Caps lost some talent this offseason as well. Their defense took a huge hit, losing Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt. They also lost forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson who were a beneficial last season. Braden Holtby and a top tier group of forwards will still push this team to the playoffs, but losing in round 1 or 2 won’t be a shock this season.
(5) New York Islanders (43-30-9) 95 Points– The Islanders have a great group of forwards including John Tavares and Jordan Eberle who can make them tough to play against on any given night. The issue is they have too many questions on the blue line. Without a number one defenseman, it’ll be a tough road when playing against teams with a superstar. They have a lot of back-end defensemen, which also makes it difficult for playing teams with depth. Manning the net will either be Greiss or Halak, but neither should be starting on a playoff team. The Islanders will probably end up on the outside looking in, but could just sneak in.
(6) Philadelphia Flyers (41-33-8) 90 Points – The Flyers will be one of the best teams in the NHL in the next 2-3 years with all their young talent, but this year they just aren’t ready yet. This team does have the perfect mix of youth to veterans, especially up front. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jakub Voracek will be able to guide the young forwards like Konecny and Patrick. Their problem is defense. Other than Gostisbehere and Provorov, they are either terrible or unproven. Watch out for the Flyers moving forward.
(7) Carolina Hurricanes ( 38-35-9) 85 Points– The Hurricanes aren’t going to turn any heads this season, but do possess some ringers. The Hurricanes had some trouble keeping the puck out of their net last season as every goalie on the roster had over a 2.60 goals against average. They added goalie Scott Darling and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk to try and help that. The Hurricanes have a handful of solid forwards like Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho, but when it comes down to it, they just aren’t that deep or impressive in net.
(8) New Jersey Devils (31- 42-9) 71 Points– The best part of the Devils season last year, aside from it ending, was winning the lottery and drafting Nico Hischier. They also added Marcus Johansson who will serve to help with the scoring deficits they found themselves last season. Looking back at their defensive unit, it is just a mess and quite frankly, they don’t have a high-octane offense to make up for it. Cory Schneider had a down year last season, and if he doesn’t play better, they will find themselves with a top pick yet again.
(1) Nashville Predators (51-24-7) 109 Points– The Central is an unreal division and I wouldn’t be surprised if any of my top 5 teams win it. After an injury plagued season last year, the Preds finished in the 2nd wild card spot with 94 points. The Predators lost in The Stanley Cup Finals last season after a wild playoff run. Their defense, backed by P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, was crucial to their success. Goaltender Pekka Rinne also played out of his mind, especially in the quarterfinals against the Blackhawks. With a reliable bunch of core forwards, the Preds are going to be a powerhouse in the West.
(2) Chicago Blackhawks (49-25-8) 106 Points– The Blackhawks made a plethora of moves this offseason, some beneficial and some not. They re-acquired Brandon Saad who makes Jonathan Toews an even better player then he already is. They also brought back Patrick Sharp who may not be in his prime but will flourish around all their talent. Losing Hjalmarsson and Panarin will hurt, but Patrick Kane and company will be right behind the Preds.
(3) Minnesota Wild (47-25-10) 104 Points– The Wild fell to the Blues last season in the first round of the playoffs after an impressive regular season. The Wild are a team that will roll all four lines against you and have no problem doing so. They also have 4 top tier defensemen including Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin. In net, they have Devan Dubnyk who is coming off a 40 win season and looks to build off that. This team has potential to wreak havoc this season, the only thing that can stop them is the injury bug.
(4) Dallas Stars (45-26-11) 101 Points– Last year was a disappointing season for the Stars, as they finished 6th in the division with only 79 points. The offseason was beneficial to them, adding goaltender Ben Bishop who is coming off some of his best seasons. They also brought in forwards Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal to an already impressive group. Bolstering up the back-end was key and they did so, acquiring Marc Methot and drafting Miro Heiskanen. I really like this Stars team. Keep an eye out for them.
(5) St. Louis Blues (45-30-7) 97 Points– The Blues, led by their strong defense, will definitely be in the playoffs, but they will have to take a wild card spot. Their leading goal scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko, will need some help up front because after him, no teammate eclipsed 60 points. Jake Allen will be between the pipes most games, where last season he posted 2.42 GAA. Much like the Predators, the Blues backbone is their defense led by Alex Pietrangelo. The Blues will look be looking for a vacant wild card spot.
(6) Winnipeg Jets (41-35-6) 88 Points– The Jets don’t get much credit around the league and you can thank this stacked division for that. The Jets do have some potential moving forward. Names like Mark Scheifele and Patrick Laine are no joke. They added pivotal defenseman Dimitry Kulikov and Steve Mason in goal. They had the 4th most goals against in the league, and that will need to change that if they want to bump up in the standings.
(7) Colorado Avalanche (25-51-6) 56 Points– The Avalanche were the worst team in the NHL last season, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they didn’t even win the draft lottery. They do have some talent, including Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, and Nathan Mackinnon. Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good. They only averaged 2.01 goals per game last season, and they will probably be around there again this year. Not much to say about them except they have a good shot to hopefully win the draft lottery this year.
(1) Edmonton Oilers (50-24-8) 108 Points- The Oilers are back! After almost 11 years, playoff hockey returned to Edmonton last spring. And, if last year was any indication, the Oilers are not going anywhere. Superstar captain Connor McDavid, coming off a 100-point season, just became the NHL’s highest paid player. McDavid has earned every penny and has become a household name with his dazzling speed and creativity. By his side are Leon Draisaitl, an explosive center who notched 29 goals last season. The Oilers have also added Ryan Strome from the Islanders, giving away Jordan Eberle in the trade. Strome should fit in nicely and will have no problem following McDavid’s leadership. Adam Larsson has shored up the Oilers’ defense and Cam Talbot looked better with each passing game last season. The Pacific division is now oil country.
(2) Anaheim Ducks (44-27-11) 99 Points- In recent years, the Ducks have become the Western Conference’s version of the Capitals. A great regular season team that cannot get it done in the playoffs. This season the Ducks are bringing back a similar squad to the one that lost to the Predators in the Conference Finals last season. Captain Ryan Getzlaf continues to produce at a steady level. Corey Perry, the team’s other star, will look to bounce back after a dismal season that saw him only rack up 53 points despite playing in all 82 games. He knows he must be better. John Gibson must improve his game for the Ducks to have a chance in the postseason, but even with average goalie play you can expect the Ducks to be around come springtime. For how long is a tougher question.
(3) Calgary Flames (42-35-5) 89 Points- Quietly, in the shadow of Edmonton, Calgary has been building a contender of their own, which should make the ‘Battle of Alberta’ a must-watch for years. With forwards Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett, the Flames will have no trouble scoring goals. Further, with a solid D-core led by Mark Giordano, the Flames should give opposing offenses a tough time as well. Their biggest addition to the team came from Arizona, in the form of goaltender Mike Smith. After Brian Elliot struggled mightily last season, Smith’s steadiness is a welcomed presence between the pipes and should allow them to improve on their 4th place division finish last year The Flames should make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.
(4) Los Angeles Kings (31-34-7) 89 Points- The Kings look fantastic on paper, but they will need to play a lot better than last season if they want to compete in an increasingly talented division. The onus is on captain Anze Kopitar, who’s 52 points in 76 games are his lowest ever in a season where he played more than 50 games. This stat line feels like an aberration, so fans can expect Kopitar to come out hungry this season. The Kings hope that this year’s biggest difference will be Jonathan Quick. The Kings lost Quick to injury for most of last season, forcing them to drastically change their game plan. A healthy Quick is one of the league’s best puck-handling goalies, which should spark more offense. At the very least, the Kings can count on Drew Doughty, who has become a model of consistency, playing in all 82 games over the last three seasons and amassing over 40 points each year. The Kings will be better this year and make a return to the postseason, but with such a stacked division, they will have trouble cracking the top of the standings.
(5) San Jose Sharks (40-35-7) 87 Points- This season, the Sharks will take a step backwards. It will not be because they are a bad team. Rather, they have just remained stagnant in a division that has gotten a whole lot tougher. Logan Couture and captain Joe Pavelski are two premier offensive weapons, Brent Burns just won the Norris Trophy, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is one of the most fundamental defensemen in the league. But, after that, a lack of depth will hurt the Sharks. Joe Thornton is one year older and slower, Patrick Marleau is gone, and Tomas Hertl has not developed as much as they had hoped for since his breakout a few years ago. Having Martin Jones in nets will keep the Sharks in most games, but it won’t be enough to take them to the postseason.
(6) Arizona Coyotes (27-44-11) 65 Points- The biggest concern for new head coach, Rick Tocchet, will be scoring goals. The returning player with the most points last season is defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson with a whopping 39. Max Domi’s meager 38 points were the most by a returning forward. Further, the Coyotes lost captain Shane Doan to retirement. The Coyotes have a solid defensive core, which should help their new goaltender, Antti Raanta, who just moved out west after playing backup to Henrik Lundqvist in New York for the last two seasons. Unfortunately, Coyotes fans can look forward to another rebuilding season. Tocchet earned this opportunity in large part due to his effectiveness in coaching Pittsburgh’s power play. In Arizona he will find the cupboard a lot emptier.
(7) Vancouver Canucks (26-46-10) 62 Points- If the Canucks were a house, it would need to be completely gutted. For 16 seasons, the Sedins have been integral to the Canucks. But with the twins looking older with each passing game, it is time for the Canucks to look to the future and move them for prospects and draft picks. After the Sedins, there really is no one on the Canucks’ roster that opposing teams need to plan for. Further, the loss of Ryan Miller makes the Canucks more susceptible to additional blowouts this season which will be a long one for Canucks fans everywhere.
(8) Las Vegas Golden Knights (25-45-12) 62 Points- As the NHL braces itself for the bright lights of Vegas, the Golden Knights have been working relentlessly in order to get ready for their inaugural season. While they aren’t going to compete for Pacific division supremacy, they should nonetheless be very fun to watch. In the 2017 Expansion Draft, they plucked Jonathan Marchessault from the Florida Panthers, who netted 30 goals last season. Further, they scooped sniper James Neal from Nashville. The selection of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from the Penguins provides them with a veteran in the locker room who can help guide the organization and steady the ship as the Golden Knights begin life in Las Vegas. Hopefully all the excitement can alleviate my frustration over the team choosing ‘Golden Knights’ over the obviously better ‘Neon Knights.’ C’mon man!
Cover photo courtesy of: Sportsnet.ca
All logos courtesy of: NHL.com