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Predictions made by Frank Fleming on October 6, 2015 at 11:45 pm ET.
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2015/16 NHL PREVIEW
Philadelphia Flyers 84 Points
The Philadelphia Flyers do have some young talented scorers led by Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, but their defense is severely lacking. Steve Mason in the net is too inconsistent to be counted on in must win situations, as he has always tended to be streaky. When Steve Mason is on his game the Flyers could be tough, but when he is not Mason will often get a sunburn from the red light being on too often. With so many loaded teams already in the Eastern Conference and so many top scorers playing for other Metropolitan Division teams it is most likely the bad days will outnumber the good ones for Steve Mason and the Flyers will not be a factor in the playoff chase.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Washington Capitals over Ottawa Senators
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS:
Anaheim Ducks over Minnesota Wild
STANLEY CUP FINALS:
Washington Capitals over Anaheim Ducks
Vancouver Cauncks 87 Points
Last year the Vancouver Canucks had a bounce back season, posting 101 points after jettisoning Coach John Tortarella after just one season. Keying the comeback for the Canucks was their goaltending, which was solid all season thanks to the play of Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack. However, they were unable to retain both, meaning Miller who has had trouble staying healthy will need to carry the full burden himself. Another big loss is Kevin Bieksa, who was the Canucks steadiest defenseman last season. In addition at the age of 35 Vancouver must be concerned that the Sedin Twins Henrik and Daniel will begin to decline. The Canucks did not do anything to replace the losses and will have a tough time returning to the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning 116 Points
The Tampa Bay Lightning created all the buzz in the playoffs last season as they made a strong run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Lightning have the youth and talented to be a contender for the next several years. With players like Steven Stamkos and the triplet line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov they have one of the most exciting offenses in the National Hockey League. Their defense is nearly as good thanks to Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, while Ben Bishop is always solid in goal. With dynamic scoring, a strong defense and a solid goalie the Lightning are without a doubt the team to beat heading into the season.
Boston Bruins 88 Points
Two years ago the Boston Bruins were on top of the hockey world, they had won the Stanley Cup in 2011, went to the finals in 2013 and won the President's Trophy in 2014. This Bruins year's team is a mere shadow of that team that electrified TD Garden. Their defense is in decline as Zdeno Chara, who struggled with injuries last year, is clearly in the twilight of his career. Tuukka Rask is a solid goaltender but what made the Bruins great was their smothering defense. In addition the Bruins have nearly no scoring depth as they have grown to deeply regret the deal that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas. In addition Coach Claude Julien enters the season with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head, after nearly being dismissed last season after missing the playoffs.
Ottawa Senators 106 Points
With Andrew Hammond in net, the Ottawa Senators came back from the dead and made the playoffs last season. Hammond posted an incredible 20-1-2 record over the last two months to get the Senators into the playoffs. Hammond will share the duties again with Craig Anderson, who is a solid net minder is own right. The Senators also possess one of the league's top defenses led by two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. Add in several young stars like Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad, and it is clear that Senators are among the top teams in the Atlantic Division. Using their strong finish as a launching point the Senators will be a dangerous team come the postseason and can be the best candidate to end Canada's long Stanley Cup drought.
Florida Panthers* 97 Points
After narrowly missing out on the playoffs last year the Florida Panthers should be regarded as serious playoff contenders. After years of being bottom dwellers in the Eastern Conference the Panthers have stock piled an impressive array of young talent led by players like Aaron Ekblad and forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Ekblad and Huberdeau together have won two of the last three Calder Trophies, as the NHL's top rookie. While young players lead the foundation of the Panthers, two veterans will be their backbone, as the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr who made All-Star teams before the Panthers young stars were even bone, while Roberto Luongo backs them up in goal. Jagr has even stated he plans to grow the mullet he wore when he was the NHL's top scorer with Hubderdea, Ekblad and Barkov still in diapers.
Winnipeg Jets 85 Points
Last year a pesky Winnipeg Jets team made the playoffs, but made a quick exit as were swept by the Ducks. The Jets again will have some talent and will be pesky, but returning to the playoffs will be a very tall order. The players the Jets acquired in the deal that sent Evander Kane to Buffalo, where just the spark the Jets needed last year led by Tyler Myers, the key player in the trade. However, it is difficult to expect a big season from Drew Stafford, while Brendan Lemieux and Joel Armia are at least a year away. In addition the Jets lack the strong consistent goaltending of a team that is bound for the playoffs. Look for the Jets to spend the season grounded in the Central Division basement.
New York Islanders 112 Points
The Islanders have arrived in Brooklyn just as they are set to become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Last season the Isles in their last season at the Nassau Coliseum teased their fans most of the season standing on top of the Atlantic Division. However, a late season slump dropped them to third as they were eliminated in the first round in seven games. The new home I think will only make them stronger, as John Tavares reaches his prime. The Islanders have a solid defense led by Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk both are experienced winner. With Brooklyn having an unusual set up for hockey the Islanders will quickly develop a strong home ice advantage that will carry them far in the playoffs.
Montreal Canadiens 104 Points
Last year the Montreal Canadiens finished on top of the Atlantic Division in the regular season thanks to a great season by Carey Price, who won both the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie and the Hart as the league's MVP. While it's difficult to imagine Price could have the same success this year, he should not be counted out as P.K. Subban remains one of the league's best two way defenders, a pest to opposing teams and brilliant leader who should be the next great Habs captain. With Max Pacioretty being one of the best two way forwards. However, the Canadiens lack of a reliable go to goal scorer is what cost them in the playoffs last year and will be continue their biggest hurdle to winning the Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh Penguins 96 Points
To a team that already boasted one of the best offenses in the NHL lead by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins have added Phil Kessel. It's to imagine any team being able to slow down this dynamic team. However, there is one big missing piece and that is defense. When game get tighter and start meaning more, the lack of a reliable defense will once again be the Penguins undoing. Even more questionable is the inconsistent play of Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury who over the past few seasons has been one of the worst playoff goalies, allowing several soft goals. The Penguins will be the NHL's top scoring team, but they may also be the team that allows the most goals. Winning games 6-5 will only carry you so far.
Washington Capitals 108 Points
Alex Ovechkin remains the NHL's most electric player, but in the playoffs he often misfires as he has yet to even take the Capitals as far as the Eastern Conference Finals. The regular season will not be the test for this team it will come in the playoffs, as they need to overcome the playoff failures of the past that included a second round collapse against the Rangers last spring. To help the Capitals overcome their past postseason failures they add more depth with shootout sniper T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. The biggest of these pick-ups is Justin Williams an experienced winner who has played a key role on three Cup winning teams, winning the Conn Smythe with L.A. in 2014. If Williams can repeat his high scoring postseason output of the past, the Capitals could erase the title of postseason chokers.
Toronto Maple Leafs 60 Points
Both Coach Mike Babcock and General Manager Lou Lamoriello are experienced winners having each having won the Stanley Cup and building teams that have made several long playoff runs. Toronto has been here before and the hope is that Lou can do for Toronto what he did for New Jersey, while Babcock can teach them Detroit's style of winning on the ice. The problem is the Leafs have stripped the team bare to the foundations and Martin Brodeur is not walking through that door and Nicklas Lidstrom is not on the ice. One day Toronto can land these type players, and bring joy back to Toronto but for now it will be lots of pain and losing as the Maple Leafs will only compete for the number one overall pick.
Buffalo Sabres 78 Points
After posting the worst record in the NHL last season at 23-51-8, the Buffalo Sabres have nowhere to go but up. While the playoffs are still likely a few years away, the Sabres certainly will be much better this season thanks in part to Center Jack Eichel, who was selected with the second overall pick in the NHL Draft. The Sabres also added acquired Ryan O'Reilly in a trade to provide some veteran leadership on offense. The Sabres defense and goaltending will remain an issue and they will again need a telescope to see the last spot in the postseason, but at least this year the Sabres won't need the Hubble Telescope to spot a playoff spot as they begin the climb back to respectability.
New Jersey Devils 86 Points
After nearly 30 years at the helm General Manager Lou Lamoriello has left the Garden State for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The job to rebuilding the Devils is now left to Ray Shero. There are some pieces there for Jersey's Team as they have a solid goalie with Corey Schneider, and they have a young budding defense led by Adam Larsson, who finally emerged when given ice time after the Devils were far out of the playoff chase last season. The Devils still lack reliable scoring and Patrik Elias health and age are big concerns as he will miss the start of the season, while Adam Henrique needs to step up and become a leader. The Devils though will not roll over and will be a tough game for anyone, though the playoffs are a longshot at best.
New York Rangers 101 Points
The Rangers will always be the Rangers a strong defensive team backed by Henrik Lundqvist one of the top goalies in the NHL. As long as they healthy and find some scoring they will be among the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. The bad news heading into this season for the Blueshirts is they lost some depth, with the departure of backup Goalie Cam Talbot, and the retirement of Martin St. Louis. Last season Talbot played a key role in the Rangers run to the President's Trophy following the freak chest injury to Lundqvist. If their goalie misses any time this year the Rangers could be in trouble. They will also need Rick Nash to continue to lead the offense, though Chris Kreider is poised to become a star and should take over soon as the team's leading scorer.
Anaheim Ducks 113 Points
If ever there was a team that was Stanley Cup or bust it is the Anaheim Ducks, who have been among the top teams in the NHL the past two seasons, only to lose heartbreaking seven game series to the eventually champions on their own ice. The Ducks are the clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup as the season begins, spurred by the addition of Kevin Bieksa, Carl Hagelin and Shawn Horncoff. What the Ducks need most of all however, is a better year from goalies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, who both at times were ordinary. The Ducks will no doubt be an offensive juggernaut led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, but in the end no matter what happens in the regular season will not matter as the Ducks must at least reach the Finals.
Nashville Predators 108 Points
Pekka Rinne might be the NHL's most lonely goalie this upcoming season as he will see less pucks than any other starting net minder thanks to the stacked defense of the Nashville Predators that will likely be the best in the entire National Hockey League. Joining Shea Weber, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi, will be Barrett Jackman as Seth Jones is due for a breakout season in his third year. The Predators offense has some solid weapons too, led by Mike Fisher, who with wife Country Singer Carrie Underwood are the ultimate Music City Power Play couple. Other stars that will help Nashville rise to the top of the Central Division include Filip Forsberg one of the NHL's bright young stars and veteran Mike Ribeiro, an experienced leader.
Calgary Flames 96 Points
Last year the Calgary Flames were one of the NHL's biggest surprise teams, making the playoffs with one of the most dynamic teams in the league led by Johnny Gaudreau, who earned the moniker "Johnny Hockey" finished tied among all rookies in scoring in the NHL last season and will only get better as one of the league's fastest players. Another key player in the Flames turnaround last season was the play of Goalie Jonas Hiller who had a solid 2.36 Goals Against Average last season. One addition that should help is Dougie Hamilton, who was acquired from the Boston Bruins and helps solidify the blue line in Calgary. The Flames will be good enough to get into the playoffs, but they likely won't go very far as third place in the Pacific may not even be good enough for fifth in the Central.
San Jose Sharks 84 Points
After years of teasing their fans the San Jose Sharks fell off the cliff last year and were never quite in the playoff chase. With new Coach Peter DeBoer behind the bench the Sharks are looking for a comeback. DeBoer did lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, but the rest of his coaching career was a long list of failures. The Sharks like the Devils are an older team that in the next few years will need to get younger and rebuild. Losing Goaling Anti Neimi will not help matters. If the Sharks were really smart they will trade off their stars like Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to stockpile prospects to focus on the future, because the window of opportunity has slammed shut in San Jose.
Edmonton Oilers 91 Points
At some point the Edmonton Oilers are bound to improve and become a contender again, with the addition of number one overall draft pick Conner McDavid that time could be as soon as next year. Of course the Oilers had the top pick three straight years from 2010-2012 and had little to show for it. However, McDavid is expected to be different as he is the best prospect to enter the NHL in a decade and is also the most decorated player in the history of the OHL. Perhaps it is Conner McDavid's arrival that can finally get their previous #1's Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov to reach expectations. If they do the Oilers could even slip into the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings 90 Points
The last time the Detroit Red Wings failed to make the playoffs was the year before Jaromir Jagr's rookie season. There have been nine expansion teams added in the 25 years since, with three established teams relocating and one expansion team even returning to become the second incarnation of the Jets. The Red Wings have been the model of consistency remaining a playoff team even while stars like Steve Yzarman and Niklas Lidstron retired and were enshrined in the Hall of Fame. That all will end this year, as rising teams in the East will make it harder for them to get the extra win or two to get in. However, they do have some young talent to go with aging stars like Pavel Datsyuk and will remain in the picture until the end of the season.
Columbus Blue Jackets* 98 Points
Health will a key factor for the Blue Jackets as they enter their third season playing in the in the Eastern Conference. Sergei Bobrovsky remains one of the NHL's top net minders, as he had a solid 2.69 GAA last season and is past winner of the Vezina Trophy. Injuries was Columbus' undoing as they lost 508 man games last season. The Jackets added some depth by picking Brandon Saad, which will help. However, if they can get Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray and Brandon Dubinsky to play more than 70 games, the Blue Jackets should be able to at least contend for a playoff berth and will be dark horse to make some noise once they get there as they seek to win their first ever series.
Chicago Blackhawks 100* Points
The Chicago Blackhawks had their ups and downs in the regular season last year but were not to be denied in the playoffs, winning the Stanley Cup for the third time in six years. However, coming out of the third place and winning the cup again could be a tall order for Chicago, as they faced salary cap hell and lost several key pieces like Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg. The Blackhawks have recovered from salary cap hell before and returned to the finals, but had a two year gap in between. However, the biggest concern has to be Patrick Kane, who has been accused of sexual assault in Western New York. If Kane ends up being indicted, he will be suspended or take a prolonged absence, in which case the Blackhawks may have trouble even getting into the playoffs.
Minnesota Wild 103 Points
Another team on the rise in the Central Division is the Minnesota Wild, who slipped into the playoffs late and stunned the St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Wild are developing some strong young players, but it is veterans like Ryan Sutter and Zach Parise that are the keys to success in the State of Hockey. Parise the team's leading scorer is the key to the offense and the face of the franchise. In his fourth year in Minnesota he is only getting better, while fellow Minnesota Native Ryan Sutter is the leader on defense. Each unit is solid and with Devan Dubnyk establishing himself in goal the Minnesota Wild have the makings of a team that could have a special year.
Arizona Coyotes 46 Points
You would have a better chance of finding ice in the middle of the desert on Fourth of July than the Arizona Coyotes have of making the playoffs. If possible the Coyotes who were the worst team in the Western Conference are even worse this year and the prospects of improving any time soon are not very good. The city of Glendale wants to void the deal and evict them as they are such a bad draw every game they play costs the city money, who would have guessed people living in the Arizona desert would not care about hockey. The Coyotes are so bad they acquired the dead money contract of Hall of Famer Chris Pronger from the Flyers. Pronger has not played since 2011 but is still under contract, the deal was made for Arizona to have enough payroll to reach the salary floor.
Los Angeles Kings 105 Points
After winning two Stanley Cup Championships in three years, the Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs last season. The Kings have been a better playoff team than a regular season for several years, it was only last year that it haunted them. Led by Jonathan Quick in goal the Kings are too solid of team to have another letdown this year. One thing that will help is the deportation of Slava Voynov who will no longer serve as a distraction as it appeared to hurt the Kings last season. To replace Voynov the Kings acquired Milan Lucic from the Bruins who is a considerable upgrade. With Quick and the rest of the Kings more focused and rested, I see a great season for hockey in Southern California.
Colorado Avalanche* 98 points
Two years ago with one of the youngest rosters in the NHL the Colorado Avalanche were the biggest surprise in the league, winning the Central Division Championship. However, after a first round exit the Avalanche took a step backward in 2015, failing to even reach the postseason. Colorado is still loaded with young talent like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan McKinnon, while the additions of Francois Beauchemin, Blake Correau and Nikita Zadorov giving them much needed depth and experience. However, in perhaps the best division top to bottom in the NHL it may not be enough to get the Avalanche back into the playoffs.
Dallas Stars 102 Points
Last season the Dallas Stars were the highest scoring team in the National Hockey League, with 261 goals. However, they were one of the worst defenses in the league allowing 260 goals. The entire off-season was focused on improving the team's defense and finding a reliable goaltender. They hope they found what they are looking for with the pickup of Goalie Antti Niemi who has won a Cup with the Blackhawks and had some success in San Jose. To improve the defense the Stars raided the champs, signing Johnny Oduya, while also picking up Patrick Sharp a strong two way forward who was a key player for the Blackhawks three cup runs. If the offense is anywhere near what it was last season the Stars could be one of the best teams in the West.
St. Louis Blues 94 Points
St. Louis fans have been given the Blues each of the last two playoff runs, as their favorite hockey team followed up terrific regular season with bitter disappointing first round exits. This year Blues fans may not even have that chance as the rest of the division has improved, while the Blues have lost key players on each end of the ice. The loss of Barrett Jackman hurts the defense with him joining division rival Nashville while T.J. Oshie a fan favorite known for his shootout skills was dealt to Washington. The Blues can only hope for another big season from Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen otherwise it will be a very long season, though Ken Hitchcock will likely be home in time for Christmas as one of the first coaches fired.
Carolina Hurricanes 77 Points
Has there ever been a bigger fluke than the Carolina Hurricanes 2006 Stanley Cup Championship? The first year after the lockout, the Hurricanes who had only had sporadic success before got hot at the right time and went on magical ride to bring the Lord Stanley for a trip down Tobacco Road. A big part of their run was Goalie Cam Ward, who appeared poised to become a star, winning the Conn Smythe in his rookie season. However, since Ward has been more of a con job with a string of mediocre seasons as the Hurricanes have only made the playoffs once since winning the Cup. Ward now has a challenger for his job in Eddie Lack. Meanwhile the Hurricanes also need better seasons from Erica Staal, Jordan Staal and Justin Falk to even have a slight chance.
ART ROSS: Evegni Malkin Penguins
ROCKET RICHARD: Alex Ovechkin Capitals
ADAMS: Mike Yeo Wild
CALDER: Conner McDavid Oilers
SELKE: Jonathan Toews Blackhawks
VEZINA: Carey Price Canadiens
NORRIS: Viktor Hedman Lightning
HART: John Tavares Islanders
SMYTHE: T.J. Oshie Capitals
Coaches Who Will be Fired
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ATLANTIC DIVISION FINALS:
Ottawa Senators over Tampa Bay Lightning
METROPOLITAN DIVISION FINALS:
Washington Capitals over New York Islanders
CENTRAL DIVISION FINALS:
Minnesota Wild over Chicago Blackhawks
PACIFIC DIVISION FINALS:
Anaheim Ducks over Los Angeles Kings