Editor’s note: Cold As Ice head honcho Jay Kumar previews the new NHL season.
Two weeks ago, Canada won the 2016 World Cup of Hockey by sweeping the two-game final series over Europe in dramatic fashion, with two goals in the last three minutes of game 2. And with that, the Canadians celebrated and then went to join their respective NHL team training camps. The tournament of stars is over. It’s time for the 82-game grind to begin. On to the 2016-17 season!
Four months after the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup, a new season means a clean slate and new opportunities for the NHL’s 30 clubs. There was a lot of player movement in the offseason, some huge trades and plenty of free agent signings. Subban for Weber. Lucic to the Oilers, Okposo to the Sabres, Backes to the Bruins. Some teams made big moves by holding onto their assets; Tampa was able to re-sign Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevsky and just this week, last season’s leading scorer Nikita Kucherov.
There are also injuries to major players to start the season. None more major than Sidney Crosby, who just came off a huge year in which he re-established himself as the league’s premier forward with MVP performances in the playoffs and then the World Cup. This week, it came out that Crosby sustained a concussion in practice last Friday and will be out indefinitely. Definitely a tough blow for a guy who had serious concussion issues several seasons ago. Yesterday, Sabres wunderkind Jack Eichel had to be helped off the ice after he went down in practice with a high ankle sprain. In addition, the Panthers lost key forward Jonathan Huberdeau to a leg laceration and Nick Bjugstad to a broken hand. Kings forward Marian Gaborik suffered a broken foot in the World Cup. Islanders forward Mikhail Grabovski is out with a concussion and Jaden Schwartz of the Blues is out with an elbow injury.
Hope springs eternal, but only 16 teams will make the postseason. Let’s break it down a bit.
For all their postseason failings, the Caps are stacked with talent. Between Ovechkin, Backstrom and Holtby, the feeling has to be the time is now.
The Crosby injury has to hurt, especially given how unpredictable concussions can be. Still, the Pens are loaded with the likes of Kessel, Malkin, Letang, et al. They’ve got more than enough to be a force until Sid the Kid returns.
As mentioned earlier, the Lightning were able to keep a deep, contending and still young team intact. Steve Yzerman has built a club that could be around when all is said and done next spring.
While the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr keeps chugging along, he distracts everyone from the terrific young team in Florida. Tons of talent and yeah, a few major injuries, but a team that has a great future and possibly a great present.
New York Rangers
Time is running out for King Henrik and his quest for the Cup. The Rangers got a little younger by adding former Sens top pick Mika Zibanejad and landing coveted college free agent Jimmy Vesey, but there are still plenty of holes to fill.
The Flyers have some nice pieces in captain Claude Giroux, scorers Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds and sophomore defense sensation Shane Gostisbehere, but GM Ron Hextall still hasn’t addressed the team’s glaring weakness (one that has been the problem in Philly since Hextall was between the pipes): goaltending. There have been flashes over the years, but Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth don’t exactly strike fear in opposing shooters.
New York Islanders
The Isles have one of the league’s great young leaders in John Tavares, but they lost some depth when Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen departed as free agents. P.A. Parenteau was signed as a free agent but surprisingly released on waivers this week and claimed by the Devils; the team is hoping youngsters Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauviller can step in. Netminder Jaroslav Halak had a strong World Cup, but the Isles D is looking a tad thin.
The post-Datsyuk era has begun, as the Wings mainstay decided to go home to Russia. The team still has its usual quota of speedy forwards, but there are concerns about an older D corps and the dependability of keepers Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.
Not this year
Boston, Buffalo, Carolina, Columbus, Montreal, New Jersey, Ottawa, Toronto
The perennially disappointed Preds pulled off a shocking blockbuster trade in the offseason, dealing mainstay d-man Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. The flamboyant Subban gives Nashville a younger, electrifying leader with a more reasonable contract. The Preds are hoping he’s the last piece of the puzzle. The likes of forwards Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and James Neal, stud defenseman Roman Josi and goalie Pekka Rinne should be tough to beat.
The Stars are an exciting team, with offense to spare from guys like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp. If they can play a modicum of defense and get some good goaltending from Antti Niemi, Dallas may just survive the brutal Western Conference playoff gauntlet.
What can you say about the Hawks? Simply the best team in the league over the last seven years, with three Cups in that span, Chicago is looking to rebound after a disappointing first-round loss to St. Louis last spring. Still loaded to the brim with sick talent (Kane, Toews, Panarin, Hossa) and replenished with six rookies on the opening night roster, it’d be foolish to disregard this always-dangerous team.
The Sharks finally broke through to the Cup finals after years of early playoff exits, but it wasn’t enough to beat the speedy Penguins. They’ve got lots of talent, but they’re also a pretty old team. Will Jumbo Joe Thornton and crew have enough to make another Cup run?
Like the Blackhawks, LA has been another consistently excellent team for the last several years. They’ll make the playoffs and make another run, although goalie Jonathan Quick’s recent decline could be of concern.
The Blues are yet another deep West squad that has yet to break through into a true Cup contender. Goaltending has been an annual problem that hasn’t really been addressed, but the club is hoping Jake Allen can take the next step (especially after dealing former #1 Brian Elliott to the Flames).
After some playoff bumps in the road, the Wild are hoping new coach Bruce Boudreau can ignite the team’s offense and do some damage. The team has plenty of quality players—Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Eric Staal, Devan Dubnyk, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Teemu Pulkkinen (just plucked off the waiver wire from the Red Wings)—but the West is full of challenges.
The Ducks are yet another Western club that has felt playoff disappointment regularly in the last several seasons (after winning the Cup in 2007). In the offseason, coach Bruce Boudreau was canned and curiously replaced by former coach Randy Carlyle, most recently experiencing abject failure in Toronto. The team also opted to dish goalie Fredrik Andersen to the Leafs for Jonathan Bernier, who will back up John Gibson. Plenty of weapons in Getzlaf, Perry, Silfverberg et al., but don’t expect Anaheim to get much further than they did last season.
Not this year
Arizona, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg
East: Lightning over Capitals
West: Predators over Stars
Stanley Cup: Tampa Bay
Hart (MVP): Alex Ovechkin
Art Ross (leading scorer): Patrick Kane
Norris (best defenseman): Victor Hedman
Vezina (best goalie): Cory Schneider
Calder (best rookie): Auston Matthews
Selke (best defensive forward): Patrice Bergeron
Adams (best coach): Jon Cooper