Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
This is the second of two installments previewing the NHL season. The previous installment can be found in the Sept. 28 edition.
Metropolitan Division —
- Columbus Blue Jackets — The addition of a proven scorer like Artemi Panarin is huge for Columbus, a team that improved a lot last season behind the strong play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. If Goalie Bob can regain midseason form early on and sustain a high level of play throughout the year, expect for the young Jackets to continue to climb the Metro’s ranks as numerous top teams find their rosters depreciating.
- Pittsburgh Penguins — In 2016, on the heels of a Stanley Cup victory over the San Jose Sharks, the Penguins returned with a nearly identical roster to that of their previous season’s championship team. This year, following another Stanley Cup title for Sidney Crosby & Co., the team’s mounting fatigue and the repercussions of much higher offseason roster turnover may begin to resonate. Some wonder whether or not Matt Murray can sustain a high level of play throughout the course of a full season without Marc-Andre Fleury backing him up, and if and when Jim Rutherford will acquire a center to man the third-line.
- Washington Capitals — Many believed last year to be Washington’s time to finally break through its proverbial playoff struggles and, at the very least, reach the Eastern Conference Finals. While Alex Ovechkin still hasn’t reached the pinnacle of the NHL’s postseason (or really even gotten near it), watch out for a sneaky, veteran Capitals squad this year to potentially make some noise in the playoffs. Losing Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, among others, will severely damage Washington’s depth, but Braden Holtby is a fine goalie, and the Caps still have numerous top-level scorers on their team in Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Don’t count them out just yet, as Ovechkin’s motivation this year will be augmented by the NHL’s absence from the Olympics and by the idea of a closing championship window in D.C.
- New York Rangers — As the end of 35-year-old Henrik Lundqvist’s reign in the Big Apple draws nearer, Rangers fans should rejoice in Kevin Shattenkirk’s arrival, as the former Capital blueliner will bolster New York’s defensive corps and power play. This past offseason, the Rangers made a concerted effort to deal several seasoned veterans in the interest of allowing younger players with more opportunities on the ice, dealing center Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta to Arizona and defenseman Dan Girardi to Tampa Bay. While Shattenkirk’s arrival comes at a peculiar time as most of the Rangers’ other major offseason moves included key departures, New York will again play a major role in the Eastern Conference this year.
- Carolina Hurricanes — Overshadowed in last year’s stacked Metropolitan Division, the Hurricanes quietly remained in the playoff hunt toward the end of the season. Having acquired longtime Blackhawks’ No. 2 man Scott Darling to man the net over the summer, expect the Hurricanes’ upward trajectory to continue as the vast majority of a young roster returns this season. Adding veteran Justin Williams, a former fan favorite from the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2006, will be beneficial, as he can mentor players half his age as well as help to garner local intrigue for the Hurricanes. Watch for Sebastian Aho to eclipse the 30-goal mark this season.
- Philadelphia Flyers — The Flyers landed Nolan Patrick with the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft, who will have a good opportunity to contribute in his first year in the NHL with a competitive team. A pedestrian collection of goalies will impede the Flyers’ playoff quest this year, as they’ll likely miss the postseason for a second consecutive year. Star center Claude Giroux, who only tallied 14 goals last season, may continue to regress.
- New York Islanders — The Islanders will likely remain in the headlines throughout this coming season due to John Tavares’ impending free agency. With one of the worst defensive units in the NHL, a lot of pressure will be placed on the shoulders of goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, and the Islanders will likely struggle to keep the puck out of their own net in what could be the end of Tavares’ tenure in New York.
- New Jersey Devils — New Jersey’s future looks bright as the team made 18-year-old Nico Hischier the first Swiss-born player to be selected first overall in the NHL Entry Draft, who’s said to have locked down a spot among the Devils’ top-six forwards as the new season opens. Adding forward Marcus Johansson, who is fresh off of a 24-goal season with Washington, will help the Devils’ scoring offense, but New Jersey’s abysmal blueline will lead to another losing season in Newark.
Central Division —
- Nashville Predators — Coming off of a Stanley Cup Final loss to the Penguins, the upstart Predators should begin this season with plenty of swagger, as the excitement generated in Nashville during last year’s Cup run should have some positive carry-over effects. Nashville lost James Neal to the expansion draft but signed former Penguin Nick Bonino, a strong two-way center who figures to fit right in with Nashville’s puck-moving philosophy. Alexei Emelin’s addition helps to make up for the hole that Ryan Ellis, who is out until January due to a knee injury, will leave on the Preds blueline.
- Chicago Blackhawks — Nashville dumbfounded the hockey world last spring, sweeping Chicago in the first round of the playoffs on their way to a Stanley Cup Final. Chicago now returns a bulk of last season’s squad that’s now looking to salvage what’s left of this iteration of the Blackhawks. Losing scorer Artemi Panarin really hurts Chicago, whose offense will also suffer from the absence of Marian Hossa, who is sidelined for a year as he deals with a progressive skin disorder. The ‘Hawks will welcome back former players Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, who will look to recapture the magic of the early-2010’s alongside staples Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford.
- Dallas Stars — After missing the postseason last year, the Stars made plenty of moves in the offseason that improved their roster dramatically; namely, the addition of Ben Bishop in net mercifully ends the Kari Lehtonen-Antti Niemi era in Dallas. Ken Hitchcock, longtime St. Louis coach who led the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup, takes the Dallas job over from Lindy Ruff, and Alexander Radulov, following a 54-point effort in Montreal last season, will join a top forward line also featuring Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Marc Methot will add experience and talent atop Dallas’ back end, and Martin Hanzal’s arrival will inspire increased production from the third line.
- Minnesota Wild — The Wild return largely the same cast that earned a 49-25-8 record last season, only to choke in the playoffs against the Blues, losing in five games. Their lack of performance in the playoffs should motivate the team this year, as the acquisition of Matt Cullen from Pittsburgh will help on the ice and in the locker room. Devan Dubnyk must have another outstanding year if the Wild are to advance beyond last year’s pinnacle.
- Winnipeg Jets — Last year, Patrik Laine and the Jets had no problem scoring, but allowed the fourth-most goals in the league last season. Winnipeg faithful hope that this year will be different, as Steve Mason signed a two-year, $8.2 million deal with the Jets over the summer. Dmitry Kulikov solidifies Winnipeg’s defense, one that needs to improve and stay healthy if the team as a whole hopes to make the playoffs this year.
- St. Louis Blues — St. Louis sacrificed a large amount of their future in acquiring Brayden Schenn from Philadelphia over the summer as the franchise forfeited two first-round picks (one in 2017 and a conditional one in 2018) to the Flyers. Beyond that, the Blues return a similar roster to the one that bowed out in second round of the playoffs last season, but coach Ken Hitchcock was replaced with former Wild assistant Mike Yeo, who is a defensive guru. St. Louis has a standout core, but if their veterans struggle to remain healthy and produce, the Blues could fall in the Central this year.
- Colorado Avalanche — There’s not much to say here, other than Colorado’s front office refrained from making many moves during the offseason following a 22-56-4 showing last season. Matt Duchene remains in Colorado for the time being, but trade talks could reignite as the season kicks back into full gear this week.
Pacific Division —
- Edmonton Oilers — Coming off of his first full NHL season, Connor McDavid hopes to supplement last year’s successes with a deeper run into the postseason this year. Last season’s Edmonton team finished 47-26-9 before faltering against Anaheim in the second round last year, and after a summer of rest, reflection and maturation, expect for the Oilers to look even scarier in the West this season. The addition of veteran Jussi Jokinen could turn out to benefit the Oilers once the playoffs come around once again this coming spring.
- Anaheim Ducks — While Anaheim is likely the deepest team in the Pacific, an aging roster like Anaheim’s in a fast, young league may have difficulty competing with some of the West’s best teams come postseason time. Health may be an issue, as Ryan Kesler will be sidelined until Christmas, and two of the Ducks’ top defensemen are recovering from offseason shoulder work in Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen. Ryan Miller signed in the offseason, and will backup John Gibson this year for Anaheim. Patrick Eaves’ return is huge for the Ducks.
- Calgary Flames — Mike Smith’s arrival is a ginormous relief for Calgary, who has not had a pronounced presence in net since the days of Miikka Kiprusoff. Eddie Lack, who played in Carolina last season, arrives, as well, fortifying the Flames’ situation between the pipes. It doesn’t hurt that Smith and Lack will play behind a blueline supplemented by the arrival of former Islander Travis Hamonic, who joins a defensive staff already considered among the best in the league. While it’s unfortunate timing for Flames fans being that their provincial rival Edmonton sports Connor McDavid & Co. on its roster, Calgary could be a major darkhouse this spring if they can translate regular season success into the playoffs.
- San Jose Sharks — For the first time since many Duquesne students have even been alive, Patrick Marleau will not be a member of the San Jose Sharks this season, as the 19-year veteran forward signed with Toronto in the offseason. Otherwise, the Sharks are largely the same team that reached the Stanley Cup Final just two seasons ago, as Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns are all still intact out west. One of the more accomplished groups in the whole league, the Sharks have a closing window, and will need younger players like Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi to contribute greatly if San Jose is to return for the postseason once again.
- Los Angeles Kings — Following major changes in the front office and behind the bench, the Kings’ roster remains similar to last year’s team, save for the addition of Mike Cammalleri, who arrives back in Los Angeles fresh off of a career-worst 10-goal season in New Jersey. With the return of a healthy Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles should be able to return to form if other key cogs, like Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, can return to form.
- Arizona Coyotes — The Coyotes saw a large amount of roster turnover this past summer, with longtime captain Shane Doan among the most notable departures. Former Ranger Derek Stepan will now center the top forward line for Arizona, a team that’s under new leadership in coach Rick Tocchet, a former assistant coach with the Penguins. Former Rangers backup goaltender Antti Raanta will man the pipes for Tocchet’s new team, a job made easier by the addition of the tandem of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers to the Coyotes’ backline. Arizona’s young roster should benefit from the infusion of experienced talent that joins their lineup.
Vegas Golden Knights — In Vegas’ first season in the league, backstopper Marc-Andre Fleury will see his fair share of action, as the Golden Knights’ roster is comprised of players who were only familiar to each other as opponents six months ago. Thus, Vegas’ mission this year is simple: Win enough to preserve the excitement that’s sure to abound within T-Mobile Arena this year, and to familiarize itself with it’s new surroundings and the league. For an expansion roster, this team could look much worse, but don’t expect too much out of the newly-formed Knights this season. Two players to pay attention to are Marc-Andre Fleury, the Stanley Cup champion goaltender, and 30-year-old Vadim Shipachyov, who makes his NHL debut this year with the Knights after nine seasons in the KHL, where he recorded 412 points in 445 games played with Severstal and SKA Saint Petersburg.
- Vancouver Canucks — The Canucks finished 29th in the league in scoring last season, with much of that output coming from the Sedin twins, who both have just turned 37. Additionally, the goalie situation is murky, with Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson responsible for keeping pucks out of the net for Vancouver. The additions of veterans Sam Gagner, Thomas Vanek and Michael Del Zotto will help out, even if their contributions may be minimal.
The Duke’s Staff Cup Predictions:
Adam Lindner — Sports Editor: EDM 4 — TBL 2
Bryanna McDermott — Asst. Photo Editor: ANA 4 — WSH 2
Raymond Arke — News Editor: MIN 4 — CBJ 3
Leah Devorak — Editor-in-Chief: CBJ 4 — EDM 1