We are less than two weeks away from the puck dropping on the 2017-2018 NHL Season. With the buzz that was generated during this Summer’s Stanley Cup Playoff still lingering, and Las Vegas now entering the picture, Hockey is in an exciting place in the sports world.
The Eastern Conference easily held the best teams in the NHL all of last season; Washington, Columbus, New York Rangers, and needless to say Pittsburgh, the now two time defending Stanley Cup Champions. However, are the doors closing or opening for deep Stanley Cup runs on these powerhouses? With an aging goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, and not many free agency signings besides Kevin Shattenkirk, the door on the Rangers is closing and closing fast. If they do not make a run at the Cup in the next two seasons they might be fighting for their playoff lives soon.
With Sergei Bobrovsky, and Braden Holtby securely taking their rightful place as top goaltenders in the NHL, and Artemi Panarin joining the Jackets, look for Columbus and Washington to be atop the Eastern Conference for another season. Washington has lost a few defensemen like Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, and Nate Schmidt, but with the offensive firepower on the Caps, the next man up on defense shouldn’t cause a problem.
Up in Canada, fans have not been happy with the moves, or lack of moves in Montreal. Even though the Canadiens have kept Alex Galchenyuk, Signing older players like Ales Hemsky and Mark Streit won’t jump start this team into a Cup contender. Toronto stock on the other hand, is rising and rising fast. Everyone knew Auston Matthews would be a good player, but I don’t believe anyone expected the type of numbers the kid put up last season scoring 40 goals and 29 assists. With the addition of Patrick Marleau in free agency who is off to a fast start in preseason, look for Toronto to be a fast paced, exciting playoff team this season. The Ottawa Senators made a magical run at the Eastern finals last season before getting ousted by eventual Cup Champions Pittsburgh but they have held on to key pieces. Re-signing goalie Mike Condon for instance, who played fantastic while Craig Anderson was on personal leave from the team, keeping them in playoff contention.
Last but not least, the Champion Pittsburgh Penguins have spent a ton of offseason money on young players that NHL experts and myself don’t think are worth the money – in Brian Dumoulin and Conor Sheary. With Fleury off to Las Vegas, the pressure falls squarely on Matt Murray to hold down the fort between the pipes. Antti Niemi was signed as a backup, however he hasn’t proven to be an NHL top starter or even backup goalie on many teams including terrible stints with Dallas and San Jose. This may be a problem as the Pens go for the three peat.
Should be easy money to ride Pittsburgh, Ottawa, and Columbus early in the season. Disappointments will most likely be the Flyers, Devils, Canadiens, and Panthers.
Opening Night – Wednesday October 4th, some fun Eastern picks would be:
Toronto spoiling Winnipeg’s home opener
Pittsburgh dominating the Blues in Pittsburgh’s home opener and banner raising ceremony
The Western Conference favorites in the last few seasons have been the Chicago Blackhawks, and for good reason. The Hawks have won three Cups since 2010 and have kept the same core of players since highlighting Kane and Toews but with the loss of Marian Hossa to illness, and an aging defense, The Nashville Predators may have passed them in the top contenders spot. Nashville swept the Hawks out of the playoffs last year then went all the way to the Cup before losing to Pittsburgh. They have an amazingly solid goaltender in Pekka Rinne, and a younger core than the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago has added Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad along with Lance Bouma, to make up for a lacking forward line depth but will it be enough to get over the Nashville hump?
The big talk is the newest NHL team, The Vegas Golden Knights, who were able to stockpile draft picks and put together a young, exciting team with a star goalie in Marc Andre Fleury. The Knights will be a huge wildcard this season as they have an immense amount of young talent but will probably need time to gel. Fleury will be able to win them games but look for 30 goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault and KHL signing Vadim Shipachyov to be the main young core for the future while vets like James Neal and David Perron hold down the fort for now.
A solid team in the West to watch out for is the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks return two of the best players in the NHL in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and signed one of the top American born goalies in Ryan Miller with Reto Berra as his backup. Many experts are picking the Ducks to go into the playoffs as the number one seed, however I see them as more of a three or four with Nashville and Chicago taking the one and two spots.
A surprise this season in the West I think will be the Calgary Flames, with the goalie combination of Eddie Lack and Mike Smith. Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Bennett, and Mike Monahan up front, and Giordano still anchoring the defense – it may be enough to finally bring this team over the hump and into the playoffs as a lower six or seven seed.
The biggest surprise headed down the standings is going to be the LA Kings. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jonathan Quick are all great NHL players but the depth of talent is not there on the forward lines or the defense. Unless they get lucky and are buyers at deadline, time this team has no chance at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Opening Night – Wednesday October 4th, some fun Western picks would be:
Nashville should ruin the Boston Bruins opener at TD Garden.
And an easy puck line for me is the Ducks starting off red hot against the Coyotes at home.
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