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Predictions made by Frank Fleming on October 11, 2016 at 10:45 pm ET.
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2016/17 NHL PREVIEW
Philadelphia Flyers 90 Points
Over the last decade the Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the NHL. Some seasons the Flyers look like they could make a run while others they are out of the playoff chase by Valentine's Day. Last season they made a nice run at the end of the season and slipped into the playoff and through a scare into the Capitals with Michal Neuvirth in goal, this could lead to Neuvirth taking over for Steve Mason full time. The problem with that is like Mason, Michal Neuvirth has never been able to sustain success and if the Flyers are to be a serious contender somebody will need to step up.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Tampa Bay Lightning 4 Washington Capitals 2
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Nashville Predators 4 Los Angeles Kings 2
STANLEY CUP FINALS:
Nashville Predators 4 Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Vancouver Cauncks 76 Points
The Vancouver Canucks are an example of what happens when you try to hold on way too long. At the start of the decade the Canucks were one of the top teams in the NHL tanks to Henrik and Daniel Sedin along with Alexander Edler. However, their skills have greatly diminished since and the Canucks have done nothing to supplement their fading stars. Goalie Ryan Miller who was one of the top goalies in the NHL a decade ago also seen his skills diminished. The Canucks should look to trade some of these assets and get younger because they are going nowhere fast and there are no prospects anywhere in site to make things better.
Tampa Bay Lightning 110 Points
After two straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals the Tampa Bay Lightning might be in line for their best season yet. They secured Steven Stamkos to a long term deal and are loaded and ready to go. The Lightning do have several major contracts expiring at the end of the season and may be entering the season with their best chance to win the Stanley Cup. The only hurdle for the Lightning is staying healthy throughout the season and playoffs. If they can stay healthy the Lightning are one of the most complete teams in the NHL and can be poised to bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa.
Boston Bruins 96 Points
After missing the playoffs, the last two season a lot of necks are on the line for the Boston Bruins as they hope the acquisition of David Backes can take them back to the top in the Eastern Conference. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each played a key role in Team Canada winning the Hockey World Cup, and Tuukka Rask is still a solid goalie, but the strength of the team that tough defense is a year older and not a year better. Zdeno Chara who once was one of the league's most intimidating players for his size now resembles Frankenstien for his speed as well as quicker skaters are able to run rings around him.
Ottawa Senators 92 Points
It's a mystery why the Ottawa Senators can't seem to do more with the talent they have. The Senators have one of the top defenders in Erik Karlsson who every season is a certified contender to win the Norris Trophy, but they just can't seem to build off it. Goalie Andrew Hammond came back to earth last season after his great second half took Ottawa into the playoffs. Still in a loaded Eastern Conference the Senators look to be a team that is stuck somewhere in the middle. If all the pieces come together they could make a run, but a lot will have to right for that to happen.
Florida Panthers 106 Points
Coming off their finest season in franchise history, the Florida Panthers have plenty of room to move up. They have a loaded roster of young talent and the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr. In the offseason the Panthers acquired help along the blue line by signing Keith Yandle who also helps jumpstart the offense with the ability to handle the puck. Things are coming in place for the Panthers as Aleksander Barkov is poised for a breakout season, expect a nice rivalry to develop between them and the Lightning as the two teams from the Sunshine State have never been better.
Winnipeg Jets 70 Points
There is not much reason for hope for the Winnipeg Jets who have not done anything to improve since moving from Atlanta five years ago. The Jets hope they landed a major building block with Patrik Laine who was taken with the second overall pick in the NHL draft. However, Laine is just one man and the Jets are not very deep and not very loaded at any position add the fact they play a tough schedule in the Central Division and the losses could mount this season Winnipeg as the Jets look like the worst team in the NHL.
New York Islanders 106 Points
The New York Islanders won their first playoff series in 22 years last spring and hope new additions like Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd can take them even further this year. John Tavares is the key to the Islanders success as he is clearly the star in Brooklyn and getting set to hit his prime years, Tavares will once again rank among the leading scorers in the NHL but the Islanders will need to give him more help if they are to be serious Stanley Cup contenders. One key for the Islanders will be in goal as Jaroslav Halak must stay healthy if the Islanders are to have a chance for any type of long playoff run.
Montreal Canadiens 101 Points
I am not sure about Denmark, but there is something rotten in Montreal. How on earth do the Montreal Canadiens trade a talent the level of P.K. Subban? Shea Weber is a solid defenseman but he was never going to be the key piece for a championship run. Ultimately the Canadiens season rides on the goalie pads of Carey Price. For the first six weeks, the Habs were the best team in the NHL, then they lost their MVP goalie and hardly won the remainder of the season missing the playoffs. If Carey Price is healthy the Canadiens will be a playoff team, but without any offense and without the play making ability of Subban the Canadiens are not likely to go very far once they get there.
Pittsburgh Penguins 108 Points
The Pittsburgh Penguins last season proved it does not matter how you start but how you finish as they struggled through much of the first half but turned things around in the second half and became the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins would go on to win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time. The difference between last spring and previous years was defense, as the Penguins offense continued to be led by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby but over the season improved their play on the blue line with players like Trevor Daley and Olli Matta leading the way, and taking pressure off Goalie Matt Murray who is entering his rookie season with a Stanley Cup Championship and 15 playoff wins on his resume.
Washington Capitals 113 Points
After winning the President's Trophy last season the Washington Capitals remain one of the best teams in the NHL led by Alex Ovechkin who is a threat to score 50 goals every season, while Braden Holtby has develop into one of the league's strongest net minders. There is no reason the Capitals can't win the Stanley Cup, yet every spring their talent seems to thaw under the hot playoff spotlight. Ovechkin has yet to prove he can win when the money is on the line and despite veteran cup winners like Justin Williams added last season, the Capitals continued to fail in the playoffs. Hard not to see that pattern continuing as their talent is good enough to carry them the first part, but their heart in the second part needs to prove itself.
Toronto Maple Leafs 72 Points
After perhaps the worst team in the 100-year history of the Toronto Maple Leafs there is no place to go but up. Finishing with the worst record in the NHL last season earned the Maple Leafs the number one overall pick, which they used to select Auston Matthews. Matthews should bring some excitement to the Air Canada Centre, as Frederik Andersen will be a stabilizing piece in goal. However, the Leafs need many more pieces to even reach respectability, and again will be buried at the bottom of the Atlantic though at least now they seem to have their first piece of the foundation for the future.
Buffalo Sabres 82 Points
After years at the bottom of the Eastern Conference the Buffalo Sabres look poised to move up. The Sabres have the scoring to be better with Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly each having the potential to have big seasons, and should get a big boost from a healthy Tyler Ennis. The problem for Buffalo lies on the other side of the ice, as their defense will give up a lot of shots, while they don't have a reliable enough goalie to overcome their lack of talent on the blue line. The Sabres will be more competitive but they need another piece or two to become a playoff contender.
New Jersey Devils* 98 Points
Things have clearly changed in Newark, as the New Jersey Devils who won three Stanley Cups with the goaltending of Martin Brodeur and the defense of the neutral zone trap now will try to win with speed and offense. The big move is the trade that saw the Devils land Taylor Hall, add that to the speed of Devante Smith-Pelly who had eight goals in 18 game after being acquired at the deadline last season. The Devils still are strong in goal with Corey Schnedier leading the way, but he will need to be stronger as the Devils blue line depth could turn into the team's Achilles' Heel.
New York Rangers* 99 Points
The noise you hear coming from Madison Square Garden is the New York Rangers window of opportunity slamming shut. Henrik Lundqvist remains the key to their success in goal, but at the age 34 his prime years are reaching an end. The Rangers also have a lot of age elsewhere as Rick Nash and Dan Girardi are both on the wrong side of 30. The Rangers have traded many prospects in recent years, searching for the last key piece, but have come up short. If they don't make a run this year, it may be time for the Rangers to start thinking about breaking things down and starting all over again.
Anaheim Ducks 102 Points
Hoping to regain some glory the Anaheim Ducks named Randy Carlyle as their new coach, replacing Bruce Boudreau. Carlyle is in his second tenure in Anaheim, having led the Ducks to the Stanley Cup in 2007. However, more often than not the second go around is nowhere near as good as the first. The Ducks have pleanty of talent with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading a strong offensive attack, while John Gibson is now given the full time duty in goal with the departure of Frederik Andersen. However, until Getzlaf and Perry prove they can get it done in the postseason it is hard to see the Ducks going far in the playoffs.
Nashville Predators 111 Points
Expect to hear sweet music all season as the Nashville Predators could be poised to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender with the addition of P.K. Subban. The Predators had a nice run in the playoffs last season, upsetting the Ducks and taking the Sharks to a seventh game and that was with goalie Pekka Rinne having an off-season. With Subban a better play making defender now on the team, Rinne should have a nice bounce back season. Meanwhile Filip Forsberg is just entering his prime and could be poised for a big season as Lord Stanley could be signing with a Nashville twang come June.
Calgary Flames 101 Points
After making the playoffs in 2014, the Calgary Flames took a step backward last season. Still they have one of the top young teams in the NHL with players like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. In the off-season the Flames were quite busy, as they picked up Brian Elliott and experience goalie which should give them a big boost. The Flames have stated their goal is to be better as possessing the puck under new Coach Glen Gultutzan. Look for a bounce back in Calgary as the Flames return to the playoffs and become a true dark horse to make some noise in the Western Conference.
San Jose Sharks 110 Points
Last season the San Jose Sharks exercised most of their playoff demons by reaching the Stanley Cup Final. The key this year is to remain hungry and take the next step. A big key to the Sharks success last season was the addition of Goalie Martin Jones, who emerged out of Jonathan Quick's shadow in Los Angeles and proved he is one of the top goalies in the NHL. Helping Jones, is the tough defense of including Brent Burns who is able to get the offense jumped started with his solid passing. The Sharks offense is led by veterans Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski who each know they need to win the cup soon with father time stalking in the shadows.
Edmonton Oilers 88 Points
The Edmonton Oilers are hoping a new arena means new success as they have not made the playoffs in a decade and have stockpiled high picks finishing at or near the bottom of the NHL. The Oilers with the new state of the art Rogers Place appear fully committed to building the team around 2015 number one overall pick Connor McDavid, as they named the 19-year old captain, making him the youngest player to wear the C in the history of the NHL. McDavid will get some help with the veteran presence of Milan Lucic, but lack on depth of the blue line make the playoffs a longshot in Edmonton, but the Oilers hsould make some big strides forward.
Detroit Red Wings 78 Points
As the Detroit Red Wings enter their final season at Joe Louis Arena, the come in with a streak of 25 straight playoff appearances. Let's save the drama now, the Red Wings will not make the playoffs. and it will not even be close. The core group that made the Red Wings cup contenders every season is gone, with Pavel Datsyuk being the latest departure and the players left behind are just not good enough to keep this magic run going. A rebuild is what will be needed and knowing the quality of the Red Wings organization it won't be too many years before they are again one of the NHL's elite teams.
Columbus Blue Jackets 86 Points
The Columbus Blue Jackets seem to be the team that can't shoot straight. As they entered their 17th season the Blue Jackets have made just two playoff appearances and appear to be nowhere close to returning any time soon. The Jackets always are able to get low draft picks, but rarely can seem to do anything with them. They acquire veterans to lead them but none of their signings ever work out, as they rotate through bad coaches. John Tortorella is the man behind the bench who has ruined better teams than Columbus. Look for another long season in Ohio as the Jackets are battling for last place yet again.
Chicago Blackhawks 114 Points
As long as they have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks will be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Last year was a rare early playoff exit for the Blackhawks who in the three previous seasons have at least gone to the Western Conference Finals, winning the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015. The first round exit may only serve to help Chicago as it will help refocus them and give them some much needed rest. Last season Kane became the first American born player to win the scoring title and Hart Trophy given to the NHL MVP, don't be shocked if Kane is in the running for both again this year as the Blackhawks have another great season.
Minnesota Wild 106 Points
The Minnesota Wild have alway had the talent with players like Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter leading the way, but somehow the pieces never seem to fit together as every year they have had to scratch and claw just to sneak into the playoffs. This season the big off-season acquisition is not Erik Staal who was heavily recruited to come play in Minnesota by Parise but the man behind the bench Bruce Boudreau. Bodreau had expertly mixed the talent for the Ducks but it never translated well in the playoffs. How he does in Minnesota remains to be seen, but one thing for sure the Wild will have a solid regular season.
Arizona Coyotes 82 Points
The Arizona Coyotes took strides to improve their defense as they added s Alex Goligoski and Luke Schenn. This should help some of their young forwards like Max Domi and Dylan Strome find more open space on the ice. However, unless Goalie Mike Smith is able to turn back the clock and regain his prime from five years ago the Coyotes are once again going to be a non-factor in the playoff chase. The Coyotes will also need more depth up front as their young stars will not be able to carry the load on their own.
Los Angeles Kings 103 Points
The Los Angeles Kings are a team that needs to almost survive the 82-game regular season as they are more built for success in the playoffs with the goaltending of Jonathan Quick and the defense of Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin. Anze Kopitar is also strong on defense, having won the Selke Trophy last season. Last season was also a big season for Douhty who won the Norris Trophy. The only question with the Kings is whether they can get enough offense. If the Kings can get enough offense they can make another cup run, but if they have too many droughts they could falter again and be back on the golf course before May.
Colorado Avalanche 90 points
Things should start to get better soon for the Colorado Avalanche as they just have too much talent to remain a non-factor in the playoff chase. The Avalanche with a core trio of future stars Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan McKinnon have been held back by the bizarre decision to hire Patrick Roy as the team's coach. Despite success in his first season Roy was ill-suited to be a bench boss in the NHL and his abrupt resignation before training camp shows he had no serious commitment to learning the job. A new coach in Jared Bednar should be able to get Colorado back on track, but the playoffs are likely a year away.
Dallas Stars 100 Points
Last season the Dallas Stars were the best team in the Western Conference during the regular season, as they continued to have the highest scoring team in the league. The defense was slightly better, but when the playoffs arrived they could only make it to the second round. Until the Stars find a way to stop the other teams from scoring they will be no better than a first or second round playoff team no matter how many goals Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are able to score. Additionally the Stars need to find someone to stop the puck in goal, because even at the top of their game Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are mediocre at best.
St. Louis Blues 93 Points
Coach Ken Hitchcock has already announced he is leaving at the end of the season, with Mike Yeo on the bench to take over in 2017/18. Don't be shocked if the change happens a lot sooner as the St. Louis Blues are in for a major disappointment coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals. The Blues were hit hard in the off-season as the lost David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Goalie Brian Elliott all three were key in the Blues success last season. In perhaps the toughest division that will equal disaster for St. Louis who will be singing the blues when the miss the playoffs.
Carolina Hurricanes 74 Points
Loyalty can be a good quality, but it can hurt you too, and that is the lesson the Carolina Hurricanes have been taught since their flukish run to the Stanley Cup in 2006. The cup run was helped by the lost season due to the lockout and explains why the Hurricanes have been a giant mess ever since. Cam Ward the goalie who led that run is mediocre at best and they have taken too long to realize it. The Hurricanes also stood by Eric Staal too long, waiting until his value was down to nothing before trading him last year. What is left in Carolina is a young team with some talent but not enough pieces to even come close to competing.
ART ROSS: Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
ROCKET RICHARD: Alex Ovechkin Capitals
ADAMS: Bruce Boudreau Wild
CALDER: Auston Matthews Maple Leafs
SELKE: Anze Kopitar Kings
VEZINA: Cory Schneider Devils
NORRIS: Brent Burns Sharks
HART: Alex Ovechkin Capitals
SMYTHE: P.K. Subban Predators
Coaches Who Will be Fired
Jeff Blashill-Red Wings
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ATLANTIC DIVISION FINALS:
Tampa Bay Lightning 4 Florida Panthers 1
METROPOLITAN DIVISION FINALS:
Washington Capitals 4 Pittsburgh Penguins 3
CENTRAL DIVISION FINALS:
Nashville Predators 4 Chicago Blackhawks 2
PACIFIC DIVISION FINALS:
Los Angeles Kings 4 Calgary Flames 2
STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS: