2015-2016 NHL Eastern Conference Predictions
Training camp for the NHL is just around the corner which means the season is not too far off, either. The East has significantly improved this year, and it’ll be a horserace up until the end just like last season. 2015-2016 predictions:
1. New York Rangers (X)
Analysis: Although the Rangers lost significant pieces to their core this offseason, including Martin St. Louis, they are still one of the beasts of the East. Henrik Lundqvist will look ahead to playing a full season, which he was unable to do last year after suffering a neck injury.
2. Washington Capitals (X)
Analysis: The Capitals made some big splashes this offseason, such as acquiring TJ Oshie and signing Justin Williams. The Capitals will look to make a big jump this year behind Braden Holtby and look to make it into the third round.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (X)
Analysis: The Penguins have one of the most talented offenses in the league, headlined by Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The turning point for them will be their inexperienced defense, especially with health concerns from Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. Marc Andre Fleury will have to be on his A game again this year, because there will be a lot of high scoring affairs in Pittsburgh.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets (X)
The Blue Jackets showed the league what they are capable of at the end of last season with a fully healthy roster and should continue on that pace, barring any setbacks, this season. They lost the most man games in the NHL last year, and although their defense core isn’t the strongest, they’ll have Ryan Murray returning healthy which is a huge addition.
5. New York Islanders (X)
Analysis: The Islanders stayed quiet this offseason but will rely on progression from Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee to help them take the next step. Thomas Greiss will have to play a big role because as evident last year, Jaroslav Halak plays miles better when rested.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Analysis: The Flyers will be a cusp team this year, but have a good set up moving forward. Both Voracek and Giroux are locked up long term, and they have one of the best defensive prospect pools in the league.
7. New Jersey Devils
Analysis: The Devils really have nothing going for them this year, beside Cory Schneider which is why they’re not listed as last in the division. It’ll be a long road of rebuilding for them but it’ll be worth it.
8. Carolina Hurricanes
Analysis: The Hurricanes made some solid moves this offseason, such as acquiring Eddie Lack for peanuts from Vancouver. Ron Francis’ biggest concern moving into this season will have to be on what to do with Eric Staal and Cam Ward.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (X)
Analysis: The Lighting made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year and they’ll look it build on that success and win it all this year. The ‘Triplets Line’ of Kucherov, Johnson, and Palat will make another appearance and add onto their chemistry, all while being situated behind Steven Stamkos.
2. Montreal Canadiens (X)
Analysis: The Canadiens aren’t the most dominant team, but they have Carey Price. Price took a good chunk of the NHL’s awards this past season, and he’ll look to truly establish himself as the best goalie in the league this season.
3. Detroit Red Wings (X)
Analysis: Although they lost Mike Babcock to Toronto, the Red Wings are still in great shape. The health of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen will be a major factor into how this season plays out for Detroit. They also have the advantage of having a goalie battle between Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.
4. Boston Bruins
Analysis: The Bruins made a few questionable moves this offseason but will still be a good team this upcoming season. Tuukka Rask should have a bounce back year, and some of their health concerns should be gone. They could possibly slip into a wild card spot above the Islanders or Blue Jackets, or even beat out Detroit for the final division spot.
5. Florida Panthers
Analysis: Much like the Flyers, the Panthers will be a cusp team. They had a relatively quiet summer, but they will have Jaromir Jagr for a full season (or until the trade deadline at least) which is a large boost. Young talent up front in Huberdeau, Barkov, Pirri and others will set the Panthers on a good track for the future.
6. Buffalo Sabres
Analysis: The Sabres added Robin Lehner in net this offseason, which will assist them in jumping up from the basement of the league. Jack Eichel is also on board, and Sam Reinhart will likely play the full year in the NHL. They also added Evander Kane last season, but he hasn’t played a game yet for them. The Sabres will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, but not quite yet.
7. Ottawa Senators
Analysis: The Senators didn’t make a big splash this offseason either, although they did acquire another first round pick for goaltender Robin Lehner. If Craig Anderson considers to have injury issues, the Senators better hope Andrew Hammond will be able to continue his remarkable play, which is unlikely. It’ll be an interesting season in Ottawa.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
Analysis: The Leafs are commencing their rebuild, evident in their trade of Phil Kessel. Toronto is in a good position to flip players on one year deals like PA Parenteau and Shawn Matthias at the deadline for prospects or picks. Toronto is expected to be at the bottom of the league for the whole year.
With these predictions, the playoffs would shake out like this:
(M1) Rangers VS (WC2) Islanders
(A1) Tampa Bay VS (WC1) Columbus
(A2) Montreal VS (A3) Detroit
(M2) Washington VS (M3) Pittsburgh
This is Part I. Stay tuned for the Western Conference predictions in the near future