NHL Divison Preview
With the NHL's regular-season starting soon, it's time to take a peek at the competing, mediocre, and tanking teams this year. We will do this by taking a look at each division and making some predictions on how they will shake out over the course of the campaign.
Atlantic Division (Odds to win division/odds to win Stanley Cup)
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (+130/+650) - The Lightning lost a few depth pieces this offseason, but were able to bring back Brayden Point. The team remains as loaded as ever with Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy on the roster. It is completely possible and maybe even likely that the Lighting will three-peat as Stanley Cup champions this year.
2. Florida Panthers (+425/+2000) - The Panthers burst onto the scene last year with a 79 point season, good for second place in the modified divisions. I think Florida will keep the good times rolling this year, especially given the overall weakness of their division. Goaltending is a bit of a question mark, but this team put up the fifth-most goals in the league last season.
3. Boston Bruins (+350/+1400) - Tuukka Rask remains unsigned. That is Boston's biggest concern at the moment (although Linus Ullmark could suffice for the time being). The non-goalies remain the strength of this team especially since the Bruins went out and added Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek this offseason. Boston is feeling the pressure to make something happen this year, as the Beantown faithful have little patience for championship droughts.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (+210/+1100) - Toronto's playoff futility is well-known by this point and it was on full display last year after the 3-1 series collapse against the Canadiens. However, this team has shown itself to be successful in the regular season. While I don't feel like they can compete with the powerhouses of their division, they should still be able to stay in the top four given their obvious superiority over the teams below them.
5. Montreal Canadiens (+3000/+2500) - The Canadiens Cinderella run through the playoffs last season was perhaps the best moment of the year for the NHL. They dispatched the mighty Golden Knights in six games before being curb-stomped by the Lightning in the finals. Only time will tell if they can maintain the momentum. Carry Price will once again have to put this team on his back if they are to make any run this season.
6. Detroit Red Wings (+7500/+15000) - The rebuild continues in Detroit. The Red Wings are nowhere near competing this season and have a long way to go in order to reach the pedestal of success they had sat atop for many years. However, the Red Wings took a major step in the right direction this offseason when the Hurricanes traded them the potential goaltender of the future, Alex Nedeljkovic, for pennies on the dollar. If you are looking for something to watch on the Red Wings this season, it is Nedeljkovic.
7. Ottawa Senators (+7500/+9000) - The Senators continue their stay in the doldrums of the division. Last season, they gave some fits to the teams in their division but were still all-around a bad team. They allowed the fifth-most goals last year and things look unlikely to change for the better. The offense lacked sufficient punch, although it may be a bit better this campaign if Ottawa's young core can start to figure it out.
8. Buffalo Sabres (+15000/+15000) - The Buffalo Sabres are the worst team in the entire league, there is not much else to say about them. This is the team that managed to18 games in a row last season. Biggest weakness? Hockey.
Metropolitan Divison (Odds to win division/odds to win Stanley Cup)
1. Carolina Hurricanes (+400/+1400) - This is by far the hardest division to predict. There are so many talented teams and only one truly bad team. I will make the case that Carolina is still the best team in the division even though they lost Dougie Hamilton to the Devils this offseason. The core is still very talented and they can compete with any team on a given night.
2. New York Islanders (+450/+1700) - Last postseason's run to the Eastern Conference finals was New York's coming out party. It served as an announcement to the rest of the league that the Islanders were back and they were good. Indeed, the Islanders are a terrific team. It is always nice to see a basement dweller rise from the ashes and return to prominence. Any team that can go toe-to-toe with the Lightning in a series is aces in my book. I expect big things from the Islanders this season.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (+350/+2200) -Another year, another strong season expected in Pittsburgh. The Penguins may not be the cup contenders that they once were, but they are still a solid team. Tristan Jarry will be feeling the pressure to maintain the high standard of goaltending that the Pittsburgh faithful has come to expect over the past. Plus, any team that has Sidney Crosby is going to be fun to watch.
4. Philidelphia Flyers (+700/+2500) - The Flyers allowed the most goals in the league last year. It is very improbable that they are that bad this year. This may be a bit out there, but I believe that the Flyers will make the playoffs this year. Philidelphia will rebound after a poor showing in 2021 and show the world they still have the ability to compete like in 2019-2020 (finished second in division).
5. Washington Capitals (+450/+2500) - It is difficult to pick against the Capitals given their extended run of success over the past years. However, I think Washington will be on the outside looking come April. Ovechkin is not getting any young and I don't have a lot of faith in their goaltending options.
6. New York Rangers (+450/+2000) - Here is another interesting young team that could make some noise this season. The Rangers finished fourth in the division last year and had a +20 goal differential. Igor Shesterkin could be a force between the pipes this season and the offense has shown the potential to be rather potent.
7. New Jersey Devils (+1700/+4500) - The Devils shored up the defense over the offseason when they signed Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves. The defense in front of MacKenzie Blackwood will be much improved and the hope is that his numbers will improve as well. Besides that, don't expect much out of Jersey though.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets (+9000/+10000) - Columbus is the odd man out here. The Blue Jackets are thoroughly outclassed by their division rivals and won't be able to dent the standings this season.
Central Divison (Odds to win division/odds to win Stanley Cup)
1. Colorado Avalanche (-250/+450) - The Avalanche war machine is ready to roll in 2021, the roster is full of studs and stars. The only thing that may stand in the way of a cup run? Goaltending. Over the offseason, Philipp Grubauer (2021 Vezina Trophy finalist) left in free agency for the Seattle Kraken. Colorado was forced to trade for the much inferior, Darcy Kuemper. The Avalanche have the talent to overcome this downgrade at goalie but may find themselves in more high-scoring affairs than one would like.
2. Minnesota Wild (+650/+2200) - Kirill Kaprizov is back with the team and I can finally take a deep sigh of relief. Minnesota has something it has not had for a long time, expectations. Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are gone, but the team is experienced and hungry. With Kaprizov anything can happen, indeed I believe the Wild have the firepower and goaltending talent to challenge a weakened Colorado squad for the division crown.
3. Winnipeg Jets (+1300/+4000) - The Jets have arguably the best goalie in the division with Connor Hellebuyck tending twine on a nightly basis. Winnipeg should easily be able to secure a top-four spot in the division even with a middling offensive attack.
4. Nashville Predators (+3500/+6000) - The Predators are ranked this high because I believe Juuse Saros will be a gamechanger for Nashville this season. He proved his mettle last season with the retirement of Pekka Rinne and helped guide the Predators to a playoff berth. Saros will be an early candidate for the Vezina award and stop enough shots each night to win games, even with a somewhat weak offense in front of him.
5. Saint Louis Blues (+1100/+3500) - The Saint Louis Blues will continue their slide from grace this season. Last year, the team did not look like the Stanley Cup champs from only a few years ago. Jordan Binnington has not regained the form he had in 2019 and if he can't step it up this year, it will be a long campaign for the boys in blue.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (+1700/+4000) - Chicago shocked the world this offseason when they acquired 2021 Vezina Trophy winner, Marc-Andre Fleury. Not only did they acquire Fleury, but they got him at a very cheap price. It will be interesting to see how much the aging goaltender has left in the tank. Other than Patrick Kane, this team does not have much else to offer.
7. Dallas Stars (+800/+2200) - The Stars' goaltending situation is a mess, they have four possible starters and none of them truly stand out. It is unlikely that one goalie will garner a lion's share of starts this season. Dallas just finished last season in front of Chicago, but now that the Blackhawks have the Fleury factor, that seems unrealistic to happen this year.
8. Arizona Coyotes (+9000/+10000) - Here is the Western Conference's version of the Buffalo Sabres. The Coyotes are terrible and now Darcy Kuemper is gone. No one should be watching this team play hockey on a given night.
Pacific Division (Odds to win division/odds to win Stanley Cup)
Vegas Golden Knights (-200/+600) - Much like Colorado and Tampa Bay, the Golden Knights really did not lose much of their roster talent this offseason. Oh but, they did trade the aforementioned Fleury to Chicago. This year the goaltending duties will fall on Robin Lehner, a man who struggled with injuries last season. If he can stay healthy this season then Vegas will likely not miss a step. However, if Lehner can not stay on the ice then games could turn into high-scoring affairs real quick.
Seattle Kraken (+900/+5000) - I like the team that Seattle has built and I believe that they will be quite successful with Philipp Grubauer under center. The Kraken could challenge the Golden Knights for the division crown this year (even given the large talent disparity). Seattle has all the makings of a scrappy team they will secure a playoff berth in their inaugural season.
Edmonton Oilers (+400/+2200) - Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will have monster seasons for the Oilers again this season, but the question is always depth. Have the Oilers done enough to address their deficiencies this season? Any moves they have made will likely not pan out and we will be having the same conversation next year. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Am I right?
Calgary Flames (+900/+4000) - I think I am just biased against Canadian teams. I don't believe that any of the squads up north can compete with the American juggernauts. The Flames are just a "meh" team, there is not much to get excited about. Jacob Markstrom in the net is a bit of a concern especially given his cap hit. The good news is that there is not much competition below Calgary though.
Los Angeles Kings (+2000/+5500) - The Kings were a surprisingly scrappy team last year, many nights they made themselves a tough out. They don't have any superstars that will make a difference this year, but they have a very young squad that could make this a fun team to watch.
Vancouver Canucks (+1600/+5500) - The Canucks had a terrible season last year, although they did have the largest Covid outbreak of all the teams in the league that completely derailed their schedule. That was the highlight of the season for the Canucks. They finished dead last in the Canadian division and there is not a ton to look forward to this season.
San Jose Sharks (+2500/+7000) - Here is a team that is just entering the throws of its rebuild. After finishing second in the division in 2018-2019, the Sharks have finished in the bottom two places of their division over the previous two seasons. The core has been blown up and San Jose will not be competing for a long time.
Anaheim Ducks (+10000/+10000) - John Gibson is a very solid goalie to have in the net, but the team around him is terrible. The Ducks remain as one of the worst teams in the league and can be expected to remain in the basement this season.
This concludes our trip around the NHL. Last year was the first time I invested some time in hockey and I found it to be very enjoyable. Here is how I think the 2022 playoff picture will look.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Islanders
Vegas Golden Knights
Preseason pick to win Stanley Cup: Looking at the field and comparing rosters, I have to go with the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the cup this season. The Lightning will be the first team to win three cups in a row since the New York Islanders won four cups in the early 1980s.