We’re less than a week away from the start of the 2016-2017 NHL season. CAN YOU FEEL THE EXCITEMENT?!?!?! If not, let me tell you how you’re feeling. Sorry, wrong column. Over the next few days, I’ll be rolling out my NHL division previews, and it’ll all culminate on Wednesday when the puck drops and I reveal my Stanley Cup pick.
These previews are just short bursts of information because you don’t want fancy stats and numbers. You want quick talking points so you look less dumb in front of your friends. Fancy stats and numbers just makes you look like an asshole.
Boston Bruins: The Boston Bruins are expecting John-Michael Liles to be a top four defenseman for them. I can promise you, that won’t end well. Zdeno Chara is good, but he’s older and slowing down. Their slow defense is going to cost them more than once throughout the season. Their depth down the middle with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and David Backes is a strong suit that will have to carry them, but I wonder how they’ll hold up given how much responsibility they’ll also carry defensively. Throw in Brad Marchand and the Bruins have a handful of great two-way players. Boston really needs a guy like David Pastrnak, Matt Beleskey, or Jimmy Hayes to step up and take pressure off of those other four, though. In net, Tuukka Rask has slipped in the last couple of seasons, including a career worst performance last year. It’s fair to wonder how much is on the poor defense and how much is on him, but they really need him to have a strong bounce back if they hope to make the playoffs.
Buffalo Sabres: I absolutely love the young offensive talent in Buffalo. Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, and Jack Eichel are star quality players. The problem is keeping everyone healthy and out of trouble off the ice. The problem with the Sabres comes on the back end. They’re young and counting on Dimitri Kulikov, Jake McCabe, and Rasmus Ristolainen to take a big step forward in turning their defense from “dumpster” to “litter.” It’s a lot to ask, and they won’t have much help from their goaltender, Robin Lehner, who isn’t very good. Buffalo will be a fun team to watch because their offense is talented enough to score a lot and their defense and goaltending is bad enough to allow a lot.
Detroit Red Wings: The consistently consistent Detroit Red Wings. The Spurs of the NHL. Every year you want to write them off, but they keep making the playoffs and making you look stupid. NOT THIS YEAR DETROIT! After 25 straight years, this is the year that Detroit misses the playoffs. With Pavel Datysuk leaving and Henrik Zetterberg aging, their offense and defense will suffer. Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar are good offensive players, but they aren’t capable of carrying the defensive load that Datsyuk and Zetterberg carried. This wouldn’t be a problem if their defense was any good, but it’s not. Niklas Kronwall is slowing down, Danny Dekeyser isn’t a #1 guy, and Mike Green doesn’t play defense. Petr Marzek will have to be great in goal, but I’m not sold on Marzek being anything more than good.
Florida Panthers: I love this Panthers team. How can you not love a team with Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo? Aleksander Barkov is an absolute stud and Jonathan Huberdeau is one of my favorite players to watch. Throw in Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck and you have a young and talented group of forwards. Keith Yandle is a big addition to the blueline. He and Jason Demers should easily offset the loss of Brian Campbell and Aaron Ekblad is one of the best young defensemen in the league. Luongo will have to continue to play like he’s 26 and not 36, but no one should doubt the greatest hockey player on twitter.
Montreal Canadiens: Plain and simple; Montreal is going as far as Carey Price can take them. If Price is healthy, he should win 40 games and help Montreal contend for a playoff spot. If Price is hurt, this team is screwed. The addition of Shea Weber should provide locker room stability (although signing Alexander Radulov threatens that stability), but Weber, as good as he is, can’t replace what P.K. Subban gave them on the ice. Montreal added grit and toughness with Weber and Andrew Shaw, but they still lack the speed and skill to compete with the top teams.
Ottawa Senators: I don’t like this team. Outside of Erik Karlsson, the best offensive defenseman in the league, they don’t have much going for them. Dion Phaneuf is a name you know, but he’s not very good anymore. The same goes for Bobby Ryan. Craig Anderson has been more miss than hit lately, and at 35-years old, it’s tough to see him regain a high-level form. Sorry, Ottawa, you guys aren’t very good.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning are a fascinating team. They’re going to be good. This team was beautifully constructed. They have top-end players at every position and are strong on depth as well. They’re so well constructed that they can’t afford to pay everyone. Ben Bishop, the #1 goalie for the past three seasons, will likely be traded at some point. They should be in good hands with Andrei Vasilevskiy, but if Bishop gets dealt early, he’ll have to prove he can carry the load as the #1 guy. Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, and Nikita Kucherov (assuming he gets signed) ensure they’ll score plenty of goals. Then there’s Victor Hedman, one of the top two-way defenders in the league, and always on my shortlist for the Norris trophy. There are no holes in the Lightning lineup. It’s just a matter of health and playing their best hockey at the right time.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The worst team in the league last year should be improved with the addition of #1 overall pick Auston Matthews, but lack the top end talent to be competitive. I love a lot of their young players, especially Mitch Marner, and think he, Matthews, and William Nylander could be a dominant top line for years to come. But their defense is still poor outside of Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, and I don’t trust goaltender Frederik Anderson. I don’t think he’s bad, I just don’t buy him as a #1 guy who can stand on his head every night, which he’ll have to do for the Leafs given how bad they’ll be. Mike Babcock will ensure they’re competitive, but they’re still a couple of years away.