Predicting the 2016-17 NHL standings

Did you hear that Phil Kessel's a Stanley Cup champion? I know, right! (CHRISTIAN PETERSEN / GETTY IMAGES)

Did you hear that Phil Kessel’s a Stanley Cup champion? I know, right! (CHRISTIAN PETERSEN / GETTY IMAGES)

The NHL is back! Can you believe it? Can you believe the P.K. Subban trade was three and a half months ago? Doesn’t it feel like it was just yesterday you were arguing with someone about the trade on Twitter? What? It was yesterday? Oh.

Well, what should be a very interesting season for your Canadiens is finally about to get underway, and it should be a very fun season around the league, too. Here’s how I view all 30 teams as we head into the season. Please hit me up @Jackweber_ to tell me how dumb me and my predictions are.

*Means I think that team gets a Wild Card

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

ATLANTIC DIVISION:

1.) Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning was one game away from getting back to the Stanley Cup Final without Steven Stamkos. They then kept Stamkos (and Nikita Kucherov) and have fixed a relationship with Jonathan Drouin that seemed to be damaged beyond repair. If his postseason performance was the start of a breakout for Drouin, that’s just another crazy weapon for a team that is looking very scary.

2.) Montreal Canadiens

The best start in franchise history last season was derailed in spectacular fashion, with injuries being the main culprit, none bigger than the knee injury to Carey Price, who didn’t play after November. Instead of the best goalie in the world, the Habs had Ben Scrivens and Mike Condon in net. Scrivens is now playing in the KHL, and Condon just got waived. Bit of a downgrade from Price! If he stays healthy, though, he can singlehandedly drag the Habs to a playoff spot. And I LOVED the Alexander Radulov addition, and can’t wait to see what he does this year. I think he could be a big difference maker for a team that needed more offence. I was fine with essentially swapping out Lars Eller with Andrew Shaw, and while Shea Weber might be an overall downgrade on P.K. Subban, he’s still very good, and I wonder if having his cannon back there can’t help Montreal’s woeful power play.

3.) Florida Panthers

The Panthers showed last year that they’re a team on the rise, and while the Jonathan Huberdeau injury stings, they’ll probably be fine. Swapping Brian Campbell and Erik Gudbranson for Keith Yandle and Jason Demers on their blue line is probably an upgrade, but the Panthers also made some weird decisions in the offseason. The worst decision they made was switching from one of the best logos in the history of sports (right up there with the screaming Raptor dribbling a basketball) to a soccer logo. The new jerseys are fine, but the logo change was very disappointing.

The other weird decision was giving James Reimer a five-year contract worth $3.4 million per. Reimer’s a good backup goalie, but, uh, that’s not a backup goalie contract. Considering Roberto Luongo has been terrific since returning to South Florida, and is signed through forever for all of the money, that was a little weird! If Reimer has a good year, I bet they’ll leave Luongo exposed in the expansion draft to get out from his contract, and Las Vegas will probably take him. Poor Bobby Lu just can’t get away from goalie controversies.

4.) Detroit Red Wings*

Look at all of you fools counting out the Red Wings. Let me explain something. The Red Wings are a zombie team. You can’t kill them, because they’re already dead. Go ahead, chop their Pavel Datsyuk right off. It doesn’t matter what happens to them at this point. They’re dead. Why would they care? They’re still going to methodically march their way to the playoffs. They’re the Yankees of hockey. Even when they’re supposed to finally be bad, they still end up being pretty decent. All you need to be is pretty decent to make the playoffs in the NHL. The playoff streak lives on, as it will for all of eternity, just as the prophecy foretold.

5.) Boston Bruins

This is pretty much the same team that was just not quite good enough to make the playoffs the last two years, just with David Backes instead of Loui Eriksson, which is probably a downgrade. They’re pretty much a coin flip to make the postseason. Maybe you have them in the playoffs instead of the Wings if you don’t believe the hockey gods are willing Detroit into the playoffs every year. The San Francisco Giants just got eliminated in the playoffs in an even year, so apparently anything’s possible.

6.) Buffalo Sabres

I really like what the Sabres are building up front, but I don’t think their defence or goaltending is strong enough yet to be a playoff team. If Robin Lehner could finally stay healthy and live up to the potential Tim Murray believes he has, though, they could definitely be in the mix.

7.) Ottawa Senators

Are the Sens the most boring franchise in the NHL? That should be hard to do with Erik Karlsson, but I feel like it’s the same thing over and over. They’ll finish with somewhere from like 80-90 points, be in the playoff race in March, either get cold and fall out or get hot and surge to grab one of the last spots. Maybe boring’s the wrong word. Maybe they’re just predictable. Did you know that Chris Neil is still on the Senators? Chris Neil is still on the Senators. Which means we’re probably in for another year of predictably Senators-y hockey. The only reason a team would keep Chris Neil around for like 60 years is if they’re absolutely committed to just not being very good at hockey, and I admire their dedication.

8.) Toronto Maple Leafs

They might not be the worst team in the NHL again, but they still look like the worst team in the Atlantic. There will be some interesting things to watch in Toronto this year, though, such as how their trio of super forward prospects – Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander – fare in their rookie seasons, and how Frederik Andersen fares as the clear-cut starter for the first time in the NHL. The Leafs are clearly sold on him, trading a first and second round pick for him, then handing him a five-year contract worth $5 million per year. However, the 27-year-old has just once played more than 43 games in a season, when he played 54 in 2014-15 and posted a middling .914 save percentage. The Ducks never seemed comfortable making him the full-time starter, and quite frankly I won’t be shocked if Jonathan Bernier has a better season in Anaheim.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

1.) Washington Capitals

The Caps are returning basically the same excellent team they had last year, with old friend Lars Eller now aboard too. I don’t see much reason to think they won’t be excellent again. Man, I know they had to face the Penguins, but I can’t believe they lost in the second round again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad for such a good team.

2.) Pittsburgh Penguins

Like the Capitals, the Penguins were already excellent, so they pretty much just chilled all offseason. After about two months, Jim Rutherford was finally sober enough to remember to re-sign Matt Cullen. Why fix what isn’t broken, the Penguins probably thought. Unfortunately, Matt Murray’s hand is broken, so until that gets fixed, Marc-Andre Fleury will have an opportunity to re-establish himself as the guy in Pittsburgh. One of those guys is going to have to go eventually, and with the expansion draft looming, Pittsburgh’s crease will be interesting to keep an eye on. Oh, and Sidney Crosby is concussed again. He’s downplaying it, but it’s hard not to be a bit concerned about him.

3.) New York Rangers

The Rangers got a bit younger in the offseason, coming out of nowhere to win the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes and swapping Derrick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad. It’s hard to know what to expect from Vesey, and though I liked the trade from New York’s point of view in the big picture, I’m not sure Zibanejad is an immediate upgrade over Brassard. They also lost Keith Yandle and didn’t really do anything to replace him. I find it hard to get a read on what to expect from the Rangers this year. I don’t see them being better than the team that got blasted out of the first round last year, but I’m not betting on a team with Henrik Lundqvist in net to miss the playoffs.

4.) Philadelphia Flyers*

The Flyers have become weirdly quiet under Ron Hextall. I miss the chaotic offseasons of Paul Holmgren. Anyways, Philly made a late charge to the postseason last year, and leading the way was one of the best stories of the season, rookie defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere. They might have another rookie D-man taking the league by storm this year, too. Keep an eye on Ivan Provorov, the seventh-overall pick of the 2015 Draft who tore up the WHL the last two years. They could really use a bounce-back year from Jakub Voracek, though, and a little more Michal Neuvirth and a little less Steve Mason would probably help, too. I see them sneaking into the playoffs again.

5.) New York Islanders

Their two leading non-John Tavares scorers left in free agency, with Kyle Okposo heading to Buffalo and Frans Nielsen off to Detroit. They replaced them with Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. Ladd’s nice, but he and Tavares combine to give New York two players that scored more than 40 points last season. The Islanders look worse to me, and I’m gonna go on a bit of a limb here and predict they miss the playoffs, one year after winning their first playoff series in over two decades. Sorry, Isles fans. You should know by now that you can’t have nice things.

6.) New Jersey Devils

The Metropolitan Division kinda sucks, doesn’t it? Everyone said the Devils ripped off the Oilers by trading Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall, but have you looked at their defence now? Goodness. You can see why they needed someone like Hall to be able to part with Larsson. It might be the worst blue line in the NHL. Cory Schneider will help make up for it, and Hall does make their forward group look a lot better, but this defence is too underwhelming for me to put them in the playoffs.

7.) Carolina Hurricanes

Look, I’ve gotta write about 30 teams. You want me to put energy into talking about the Hurricanes? You don’t care about the Hurricanes. No one cares about the Hurricanes. I’m sorry, Carolina fans. Believe me, I don’t hate your team at all, but the ‘Canes are boring, bad and perennially irrelevant. They’re the Senators without the occasional playoff appearance. Nice work getting the Blackhawks to give up Teuvo Teravainen in exchange for taking the Bryan Bickell contract, though.

8.) Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s worth noting that the Blue Jackets have been ravaged by injuries over the last two years, which isn’t a small part of their failures in that span. And if I trusted Sergei Bobrovsky to stay healthy, I probably wouldn’t have them in last place, but I don’t trust him to stay healthy. Remember when Columbus started 0-8 last year? Here’s their first eight games this season: VS BOS, VS SJ, VS CHI, @ DAL, @ LA, @ SJ, @ ANA, VS DAL. They probably won’t go 0-8, but they’ll be in tough just trying to not bury themselves right off the bat again.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

PACIFIC DIVISION:

1.) San Jose Sharks

A healthy Logan Couture all season will help, as will Mikkel Boedker, as will not having Roman Polak. The poor Sharks finally made it all the way up the mountain last year, then when they were just two steps away, the boulder came rolling down again. It had to be demoralizing to finally get to the Stanley Cup Final just to lose, because no one knows better than they do how hard it is to get there. They’ve had a few months to dust themselves off, though, and begin the trek again, and I think they’re in pretty good shape. With Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns all in the final year of their contracts, this might be the last kick at the can for this core. Go get ‘em, Sharkies.

2.) Los Angeles Kings

The Kings didn’t have much money to play with after Anze Kopitar’s extension, so they watched Milan Lucic depart for a division rival in Edmonton, then bought low on one year deals for Teddy Purcell and Tom Gilbert. I liked the Purcell addition in particular. He doesn’t have all of the other stuff (like the nastiness) that made Lucic such a rich man, but from a production standpoint I don’t think the Kings will lose much. He’s a skilled player who can play in the top-six, which the Kings need, especially with Marian Gaborik out until mid-to-late November with a foot injury suffered playing for a fake team at the World Cup. This might not be the strongest Kings team we’ve seen in recent years, but it’s still hard to put them lower than second in this division.

3.) Anaheim Ducks

Randy Carlyle returns to a team that has won four straight Pacific Division titles, looking to prove the disasters he coached in Toronto were because his players stunk, not him. From a roster standpoint, they lost David Perron, who was a great fit after coming over from the Penguins, and rental forward Jamie McGinn. Antoine Vermette might be useful, I guess, even though the Coyotes decided they had no use for him. It will be interesting to see how John Gibson handles a bigger workload with Frederik Andersen gone, and if Jonathan Bernier can revitalize a once-promising career — one that started in Southern California — after a disastrous season and a half spelled the end of his time in Toronto.

4.) Calgary Flames*

I really liked the Flames’ offseason. Their goaltending has been an absolute disaster, and Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson should provide a huge upgrade. I also really liked the Troy Brouwer addition, and snapping a useful middle-six forward in Kris Versteeg away from the Oilers after he spent training camp in Edmonton was weird and funny, and he should also help. I think he’s very underrated. This is finally the year a Wild Card comes from the Pacific.

5.) Arizona Coyotes

Typically quiet in free agency, the Coyotes made a splash by bolstering their blue line with Alex Goligoski, and Jamie McGinn and Radim Vrbata will help provide some scoring depth up front. Also excited to see what Dylan Strome does. Don’t trust their goaltending enough to call them a playoff team, but this could at least be a fun team to watch this year. They’re heading in the right direction.

6.) Vancouver Canucks

Dumping on the Canucks has become a very popular internet hobby, but I think people are overstating how bad they are a bit. With Loui Eriksson on board, he should form a very potent first line with the Sedins, and I’ll predict Ryan Miller has a strong contract year in him. I get why people look at some of the things the Canucks do and think they’re in a bit of a mess, but I don’t think the actual team right now will be THAT bad. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but I don’t think they’ll be that far off. Unfortunately for the long-term outlook of the team, that might be the worst-case scenario, though.

7.) Edmonton Oilers

Sorry, Oilers. I know you had a crazy offseason, and you should have a full year of Connor McDavid, and you could argue there are a lot of good things going for you right now. But I’m predicting you to finish in last place until you stop finishing in last place. These guys are a zombie team like the Red Wings, but for losing.

CENTRAL DIVISION:

1.) Dallas Stars

Jiri Hudler was a nice addition to an already very potent offence, and Dan Hamhuis was a nice addition to the blue line. The Stars finished first in the Central last year, even though Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have nowhere to go but up. Don’t take that as a challenge, guys.

2.) Nashville Predators

P.K. Subban, a full year of Ryan Johansen, a bounce-back year from Pekka Rinne (I’m a bit less confident in this prediction after watching him at the World Cup) and quite frankly what I think is a weakened Central Division will lead to home ice in the first round for Smashville.

3.) St. Louis Blues

The Blues finally broke through with a nice run in the postseason, but lost David Backes and Troy Brouwer in the offseason, and didn’t do much outside of bringing back enigmatic David Perron and taking a chance on Nail Yakupov. They also shipped out Brian Elliott, meaning Jake Allen is another goalie who it will be interesting to see how he handles having the crease all to himself this year. They should still be good, but they’re probably worse.

4.) Chicago Blackhawks*

A third-place finish and rare first-round exit last year for Chicago. Hockey season has been a very fun time for the Blackhawks lately, but the salary cap has made the offseason less fun for them. Instead of beefing up after a disappointing season, the Blackhawks had to let Andrew Ladd walk, trade Andrew Shaw, and throw in Teuvo Teravainen to get someone to take Bryan Bickell’s contract. They did bring back Brian Campbell, who’s old but can still put up some points from the back end. Betting against the Blackhawks hasn’t worked out well for people recently, but I don’t think they’re as strong as they’ve been in the past. Still a playoff team of course, though.

5.) Minnesota Wild

The Wild brought back Chris Stewart and brought in Eric Staal, while buying out Thomas Vanek. None of those moves really moved the needle, so it looks like another year of the Wild being a bubble playoff team. If Bruce Boudreau can win a division title with these guys, he really is an all-time great coach.

6.) Colorado Avalanche

The biggest news out of Colorado in the offseason was Patrick Roy’s stunning resignation in August. Some people thought that was actually for the best for the Avalanche, and the results Jared Bednar can get out of a team that looks pretty talented on paper might tell us a lot of Roy’s ability as a coach. Bednar will be a Jack Adams candidate if the Avs are anymore than a bubble playoff team, though. Just like Roy in his first year!

7.) Winnipeg Jets

Andrew Ladd is gone, and Jacob Trouba is refusing to play until he’s traded, and this was already the worst team in the Central. Patrik Laine, though! He seems fun. Might make Jets games worth tuning into.

Happy hockey, everyone!

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