Read our experts thoughts on each team’s offseason moves and prospects for the 2015-16 NHL season.
Three Stanley Cups in six seasons and we can officially call these Chicago Blackhawks a dynasty. It’s been led by a consistent core, most notably young quartet Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but it has also required some savvy management from Stan Bowman. He’ll be relatively pleased with how he was able to keep this roster together compared with the other two championships. Trevor Daley into a strong looking top four on defense, while Artem Anisimov is a nice piece down the middle. Las Vegas has made them Stanley Cup favourites, but repeat championships haven’t been done in the salary cap era and this roster looks too thin down the middle.
They’ve missed the postseason in four of their last five seasons, though head coach Patrick Roy seems to have a way with this fan-base. Ryan O’Reilly’s departure was eased by the arrival of Carl Soderberg as a potentially very effective third line center. Meanwhile, Matt Duchene, Jarome Iginla, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog lead an offense that should score goals. The concern for Colorado will be at the defensive end of the ice, where Semyon Varlamov will need some help from the blue-line. Erik Johnson staying healthy is a big key, it’s debatable whether the addition of Francois Beauchemin is enough for a roster that conceded the 10th most goals last season.
There are some early season concerns in Dallas about the fitness of Jamie Benn and Ales Hemsky. We think that they might be more concerned about the state of this roster. Yes, Benn and Tyler Seguin are arguably two of the top offensive players in the league, the addition of Patrick Sharp can’t hurt either, but there are question marks about the Stars’ scoring depth. Johnny Oduya is a nice add to the blue-line, but can Alex Goligoski and John Klingberg really play well enough as a top pairing to get this team into the postseason?
The Ryan Suter-Zach Parise era in Minnesota has started with three straight postseason appearances, but the Chicago Blackhawks have been the foil on all three occasions. For the Wild, it’s not so much about what they’ve added, but what they have managed to keep together this season. Parise, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter still head up the offense, while Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle are likely to feature on a third line. Young defenseman Mathew Dumba could be due for a breakout season, while Devan Dubnyk might finally represent a solution for Minnesota between the pipes. The Wild have a chance to be a championship contender in 2015-16.
There’s plenty of optimism around the Nashville Predators after the head coaching and style change, bringing in Peter Laviolette, appeared to work perfectly last season. However, the team did slow up after a torrid first half to the season and obviously didn’t advance in the postseason, returning to the playoffs isn’t guaranteed. The additions of Cody Hodgson and Barret Jackman during the offseason did address a couple of needs though, Jackman could be a perfect partner for the developing Seth Jones, meanwhile Hodgson gives Nashville a nice 1-2-3 punch down the middle with Mike Ribeiro and Mike Fisher.
St Louis Blues
They’ve got skill, they’ve got size, they’ve got depth and they’ve got everything else you can think of. During the last few regular seasons, few teams have impressed or been as dominant as the St Louis Blues. The problem is that they can only be judged by a disappointing postseason record, which has seen them fail to get past the second round in five seasons under Ken Hitchcock. Still, for the regular season, the Blues have a great chance to win this division again. They’ve added a useful two-way center in Kyle Brodziak and also picked up Troy Brouwer, who could feature on almost any line. The defense is anchored by Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, not to mention talented second pairing Kevin Shattenkirk and Carl Gunnarson, meanwhile Vladimir Tarasenko will be looking to prove once again that he’s an elite scorer in the NHL. Jake Allen looks set to get the starting position at goaltender, that could be the one position of concern, Allen hasn’t played more than 37 games in a season previously.
2014-15 was a season to remember for the Winnipeg Jets and their fans. They reached the playoffs for the first time since the franchise returned to Manitoba. Repeating that feat won’t be easy for a team that lost a few key players during the summer and didn’t manage to make major acquisitions. It starts on the blue-line, where the level of play that the Jets get out of a group that now includes Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tobias Enstrom and Tyler Myers will be nothing less than crucial. It then comes down to what sort of offensive production can be provided by the line-up’s young players. Alex Burmistrov returns after two seasons in the KHL, while Mark Scheifele has the difficult task of leading a second line that features Mathieu Perrault and Nikolaj Ehlers.
The Ducks came close last year. They dominated in the regular season before falling just one win short of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Still, close isn’t good enough for a roster that looks like it should be a Stanley Cup contender. GM Bob Murray had to re-tool the roster with Matt Beleskey and Francois Beauchemin being the big name departees. Kevin Bieksa joins the blue-line, which has gradually come together but will lean heavily upon Bieksa and Cam Fowler. Meanwhile, Carl Hagelin looks like a nice gritty, speedy pick-up to play somewhere in this line-up. Coach Bruce Boudreau is a known experimenter and we’ll probably see a number of different combinations featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Chris Stewart, Ryan Kesler and others during the course of the season. However, one glance at the forward lines tells you why this team could afford to let Beleskey walk, there are depth options like perhaps no other time in Boudreau’s coaching career. A playoff place is guaranteed, but the Frederik Andersen-Anton Khudobin tandem will be tested in the postseason.
Arizona are a very likeable roster and the way in which they play hockey is also easy to appreciate. Still, much of their initial success under Dave Tippett came in part because of elite goaltending provided by Mike Smith and near flawless defensive play. Neither of those elements have been in force recently, it’s partly personnel and it’s partly the changing shape of the league. It’s just hard to see Martin Hanzal, Mikkel Boedker, Shane Doan and Antoine Vermette leading an offense that can be good enough. Nicklas Grossman is a nice assuring presence on the blue-line, but it’s difficult to predict anything more than a small improvement in 2015-16 from the Coyotes.
There’ll be no sneaking up on teams this year. The Flames are widely regarded to be a playoff team in 2015-16, especially after adding Dougie Hamilton into the mix. Hamilton strengthens the Mark Giordano blue-line, while T.J. Brodie is another crucial piece currently sidelined by injury. There was life, speed and energy about the attacking play of the Flames last season and they still look like a young and talented team. Still, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will experience a tougher ride this season and we’re not so convinced by the idea that the Flames are locks to reach the postseason again this spring.
Moving to the other side of Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers should finally be out of contention for the first overall pick. There’s been a decisiveness about the way in which new GM Peter Chiarelli has worked and getting to start by selecting Connor McDavid certainly helps! Relying on Cam Talbot as a starting goaltender is a little bit of a gamble, but an educated gamble, while Andrej Sekera and Erik Gryba add size, strength and reach to the defense and penalty kill. Todd McLellan is a proven head coach in the NHL and we’re convinced that the Oilers are returning to the postseason.
Los Angeles Kings
The LA Kings barely missed the playoffs last season, but it was still a disappointment for a team that had won two cups in the previous three seasons. Of course, they barely made it into the postseason in both of those campaigns, there’s a fine line between success and failure. They’ve still got lots of size, they added Milan Lucic to that department, he’s set to line up alongside Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar, which could be an elite combination. Christian Ehrhoff should thrive in this defense as a second pairing guy, while Jhonas Enroth might be good enough to keep Jonathan Quick a little more rested early on in the season. The Kings might have a better team than both of the times they won the Cup, which should be a worry for their Pacific division foe.
San Jose Sharks
Once again, a lot happened without much changing for the San Jose Sharks. Peter De Boer takes over the reigns as head coach and is charged with returning San Jose to the postseason after they missed out for the first time since 2002-03. Still, it’s a very similar roster led in principle by Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Meanwhile, Paul Martin joins the blue-line and he’s likely to fill Dan Boyle’s shoes to some extent. GM Doug Wilson paid heavily for goaltender Martin Jones, believing him to be San Jose’s goaltender of the future, that’s a big gamble on a player who has 34 career starts. The Sharks probably return to the playoffs by virtue of their better players doing better, but we don’t see a serious Cup contender here.
Age is a concern for the Vancouver Canucks. Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are now 35 and goaltender Ryan Miller is entering the last stage of his career as well. There are some signs of decline in the Sedins, but our gut instinct is that they will still be good enough to lead this team into the postseason again. The problem is that the supporting cast in Vancouver is pretty uninspiring. The blue-line is okay, but unspectacular, while scoring depth looks set to be a huge concern. Miller has never been the most predictable goaltender in terms of season-by-season performance, but we’re not convinced by the idea of Vancouver being a playoff team.
Early season injuries to Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have only added to the depth concerns that already surrounded a Bruins roster that lost a number of key players during the summer, notably Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton. Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have been brought in to add size and goals, but any success this team enjoys will surely come down to the play of Chara, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, and the continued improvement of young players like forwards David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner. There’s no guaranteed return to the postseason for Claude Julien and his Bruins.
Unlucky not to get the first overall pick, there’ll be no disappointment with Jack Eichel in Buffalo. He joins a roster that generally projects positively with the likes Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Jamie McGinn, Cody Franson and Zach Bogosian all being added at the trade deadline and during the summer. There are so many ifs with this Sabres’ line-up, but when looking at it line-by-line and pairing-by-pairing, they appear to have a deep and talented roster that could even challenge for a playoff spot. The biggest question relates to starting goaltender Robin Lehner, he’s impressed in limited action over the course of five seasons, but this is a different challenge.
Detroit Red Wings
The Mike Babcock era is over and once again all eyes will be on the Red Wings organisation and whether they can keep their postseason streak alive. Last season’s impressive performance came down to young players like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist stepping up. It looks like that might be needed again with Pavel Datsyuk set to start the season injured. Jeff Blashill has the toughest of acts to follow and he’ll be hoping that veteran additions Brad Richards and Mike Green can perform to a high level to keep this roster together.
Some things are starting to come together for the Panthers. Gerald Gallant might have walked into a pretty good spot as head coach of a team that includes Jonathan Huberdeau, Alexander Barkov, Nick Bjustad, Aaron Ekblad and Dmitry Kulikov. They’ll get good goaltending from Roberto Luongo and there’s some useful lower line and bottom pairing depth here. After a few ugly seasons, the Panthers definitely have the look of a team that could sneak into postseason hockey.
Over the last six or seven seasons, it feels like the Canadiens have been going through a cycle of being a team that either does much better than expected, or under-performs substantially. Last season’s team was supposed to be a serious contender, but they didn’t get very far, one season after a surprise run to the conference finals. Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann should both add a little extra offensive punch, while the top four on defense featuring Andrei Markov, PK Subban, Alexei Emelin and Jeff Petry looks as good as any in the league. Montreal needs Dustin Tokarski to spell and keep Carey Price as fresh as possible. Price is the player that pushes this team over the edge and several are already touting him as a Vezina Trophy front runner.
The Senators are a tricky team to assess. Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad have performed better than most people would have expected with increased responsibility, while there’s speed and players that can score in this forward group, not least of all Bobby Ryan. Throw in Erik Karlsson’s impact on an offense and the seeming chemistry that has been established among Ottawa’s mostly home grown talent and it looks like a team could make it into the playoffs. A lot will again depend on Craig Anderson, who will need to stay healthy.
Tampa Bay Lightning
They were ultimately denied in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have retained their extremely talented young core led by Steve Stamkos and including Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherev and Ondrej Palat. Victor Hedman has gradually improved and officially established himself as one of the NHL’s best during Tampa Bay’s run in 2015-16. Erik Condra is a very handy under the radar addition to the third line and there’s plenty of skating ability on the blue-line with the likes of Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn. In the postseason, they’ll go as far as Ben Bishop can take them, but we think they’ll advance relatively easily into the postseason.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Mike Babcock joins a Maple Leafs roster that has some definite young talent. Phil Kessel was traded away during the summer in the hope that the loss of him will be addition by subtraction. A lot has been made of the lack of big moves, but there are some nice pieces in this group including the additions of Michael Grabner and Shawn Matthias. Young blue liners Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly will improve and they’ve got an excellent goaltending tandem in Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer. Expect the Maple Leafs to push for a playoff place.
Bill Peters enters his second season as Hurricanes head coach needing to solve why this team doesn’t play better. Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Riley Nash, Kris Versteeg and Victor Rask ought to form a good offense, while Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy both seem ready to step up and take on more responsibility. They’re in danger of missing the postseason for a seventh straight season, which would be a waste of some of these talented players’ careers, we expect them to be in the mix in a crowded Eastern Conference, but they need to stay healthy.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets played great hockey in the second half of 2014-15, which should make them a good candidate to carry that form over into this season. We’re less convinced, they’ve put a lot of stock in Brandon Saad, who will need to justify his contract. Saad will get to play with a strong center in Ryan Johansen, but offensive depth is a concern. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky needs to play consistently through the season, he should have a reliable blue in front of him with a top four comprising Jack Johnson, Ryan Murphy, Fedor Tyutin and David Savard.
New Jersey Devils
It’s hard to believe that the Lou Lamoriello era is over in New Jersey. It has been a difficult couple of seasons after coming very close to winning the Stanley Cup in 2012. On the positive front, they have a good goaltender in Cory Schneider and a cluster of good young players with NHL experience including Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, Adam Larsson, Jacob Josefson and Adam Henrique. On the negative front, the defense is thin and a lot of things have to come together for regular scoring to be provided.
New York Rangers
The Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 and took an excellent Tampa Bay Lightning team to Game 7 in May. We think they’ll be a contender again this season. Henrik Lundqvist is still between the pipes, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello should have strong years and the blue-line appears ridiculously deep with Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein currently predicted to line up on the third pairing. The regular season should be nothing more than a primer for the Rangers.
New York Islanders
Marek Zidlicky and Thomas Greiss join as depth signings for an Islanders team that appeared to finally break out for real last season. The NHL’s fourth best offense from one year ago appears to have remained virtually intact, once again led by John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. The defense looks good and this team looks set to return to the postseason assuming that Jaroslav Halak can stay at least relatively healthy. That’s not a guarantee of course…
Bringing in a coach from college hockey is unusual and it remains to be seen whether it will pay off. The Flyers have been stuck trying to balance out a line-up that hasn’t quite worked for several seasons now. Turning around the offense will be Dave Hakstol’s biggest challenge. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek return, but finding depth scoring isn’t an easy task. Meanwhile, it’s hard to love this roster’s goaltending tandem or it’s defensive group.
So, Phil Kessel’s latest stop is in Pittsburgh. It certainly has the look of one of the league’s most dynamic offense with Nick Bonino and David Perron lining up as the third combination. Somehow, they weren’t at their best when it most counted last season and head coach Mike Johnson will hope Kessel’s pace opens up extra room for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Still, this defense looks more than a little questionable. Olli Maatta and Ben Lovejoy isn’t a second pairing that inspires confidence.
They’ve already come up as several people’s preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup, but that happens just about every season. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky will need to prove that they can provide capable back-up down the middle of the ice, but the overall depth and balance of the roster looks good. Braden Holtby has established himself in goal and Barry Trotz worked some of his ‘magic’ on this team last year.
West: St Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks
East: Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs