Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to my guide to the 2014-15 NHL season. I had meant to do this sooner, but there was a lot of self-loathing on my schedule yesterday. Anyway, let’s use what little time we have left before puck drop to identify which teams will (and will not) be competing for the Stanley Cup this season.
All teams will be listed in order of quality.
These are the clubs I believe have a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Because of the chaotic nature of the NHL playoffs, there are 12 teams in this category.
1. Boston Bruins
I understand that I am incredibly biased in this instance, but there are numerous reasons why the Boston Bruins are Stanley Cup favorites. First of all, they have the luxury of the easiest schedule in the league (the pitiful Eastern Conference, without having to face the Boston Bruins). Add in their incredible depth and new found lack of Shawn Thornton, and this is a team that sets itself up well for the playoffs.
2. St. Louis Blues
The Blues came out of last year with the NHL’s third-best defense and a much more competent offense than second-ranked (and eventual champion) Los Angeles. I like the signing of Paul Stastny for their second line. He should help shore up a unit that lacked depth last season.
3. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks leaned heavily on their duo of superstars in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry last season. Look for the addition of Ryan Kesler to give the Ducks much more than just depth. Kesler is a competitor with a knack for finding the net as well as open teammates.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
The addition of second-line centers was a trend among top teams in the Western Conference. Chicago did their part by scooping up Brad Richards. They are a goalie away from being higher on this list, but as it stands now, the Blackhawks are a lock for a playoff run.
5. San Jose Sharks
I really feel for Sharks fans. This team is way too good to flounder the way it does in the playoffs. That being said, nothing is really wrong with San Jose. Patrick Marleau is a magnificently talented player and Joe Thornton is the kind of leader that any team would want. The Sharks just have to keep calm and play their game. I’m sure the playoff success will come eventually.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
For whatever reason, Marc-Andre Fleury is still a starting goalie on the East’s second-best team. Aside from that ticking time bomb, the Penguins traded some of their star power (James Neal) for some depth (players who are not James Neal). Only time will tell who can step up to take Neal’s place, but I don’t sense that they are too worried about that in Pittsburgh.
7. Colorado Avalanche
This team came out of nowhere last season, and are probably the most likely squad to slip back into being mediocre. That being said, Semyon Varlamov was a bright spot last season. If he can have a repeat performance this season, he deserves the Vezina.
8. Los Angeles Kings
The champs look poised to have another good season. They didn’t lose anyone significant and have a healthy Marian Gaborik back. Now all they need to do is work on their shot selection and they can climb a few spots on this list.
9. New York Rangers
This team is only as good as Henrik Lundqvist, and they seem comfortable with that. In the East, Lundqvist is good enough to get you a playoff spot, so look forward to New York trying to avenge last year’s Stanley Cup Final loss.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is a nice dark horse pick to win the East this year. A healthy Stamkos bolsters what was one of the better offenses last season. Lightning fans will be hoping that big Ben Bishop will be able to continue playing as well as he did last season.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are the final playoff lock in the Eastern Conference. Getting Scott Hartnell to replace R.J. Umberger was a good way to get the second line in order. Now all Columbus has to do is wait for their first line to get healthy.
12. Dallas Stars
The final contenders this season will be from Dallas. Tyler Seguin cemented himself as a star last year, and the Stars did nothing but improve in the off season. The addition of Jason Spezza was a big step towards becoming a legitimate Cup threat.
These are the teams that will be fighting for playoff spots. T.I. wants nothing to do with them.
13. Montreal Canadiens
Montreal fans owe last season to the magnificence of Carey Price. Without Price, this team is scouring the depths of the lowly Eastern Conference. As it stands now, Price and Subban are enough to keep them average, and that gets you a playoff spot.
14. Minnesota Wild
Thomas Vanek is as good of an upgrade as anyone else, but I just don’t know what to expect out of their goal tending situation. It will be a complete coin flip to see if they make the playoffs.
15. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are putting quite a strain on their offense with sub par goal tending and horrendous defense. At some point, not even Claude Giroux can save you.
16. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have enough talent to be a decent hockey team. Their problem lies in a management who refuses to dump their goalie for whatever reason. The only thing that comes to mind is that when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying days.
17. Washington Capitals
Washington suffers from a revolving door of coaches all trying to teach Ovechkin how to play defense. This will not be a good hockey team, but even the East needs an eighth seed.
18. Detroit Red Wings
You should feel content with making the playoffs last year, Detroit. It won’t happen again.
19. New Jersey Devils
The devils have been cursed lately with bad luck and bad goal tending. I don’t see this changing until they go out and get more skilled players.
20. Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have nothing to bring to the table except for a name change and a story about how they almost got shipped to Seattle. Moving on.
21. Nashville Predators
Nashville tried addressing their center issue by collecting them in the off season. It won’t matter, however, because their division is too good.
22. Carolina Hurricanes
Jordan Staal has a broken leg. That really sucks, Carolina.
23. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks were an absolute train wreck last season. I can see them getting better, just not “playoffs” better.
24. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are an organization filled with big manly men who don’t care about your stats, nerd. Oh, what’s that? You’ve changed your tune? Too bad that your team still sucks.
25. Calgary Flames
Calgary is one of those teams that I often forget are still in the league. That won’t change after this season.
26. Ottawa Senators
Jeez, the Canadian teams are bad, eh? And we still have one left to go.
27. New York Islanders
The last season on Long Island is sure to be a dismal one. Now all they have to look forward to is Brooklyn hipsters wanting the fish stick jerseys back.
28. Edmonton Oilers
This team is super impressive at tanking. I hope the Boston Celtics are taking notes.
29. Florida Panthers
If a hockey team improves near Miami, will anyone be around to see it?
THE BUFFALO SABRES
30. Buffalo Sabres