2014-15 nhl season preview

This is now the third season preview I’ve done for this blog, and I seriously considered just copying last year’s intro verbatim. But I can’t because this year I’ve decided to change up the format. In previous years I made 20 BOLD predictions for the year (2013, 2014) that were seemingly random. This year I’m going to do one for each team and combine that with what I did for my Leafs season preview last year, where I take a look at each team from an both an optimistic and pessimistic view.

But before I get to this year, let’s talk about the dumb things I said last year.

“Mikhail Grabovski unchained. He outscores Tyler Bozak. And Dave Bolland. Combined.”

The corsi hero and pineapple evangelist started red hot, but couldn’t match the monster Phil Kessel created.

“”Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins all break-out with above point-per-game seasons and carry Edmonton to a [fourth]* seed where they do some damage as a Cinderella team in the playoffs upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champions.” Okay, this time it will actually happen, guys.”

0/2 on this one… but seriously, this time it will actually happen, guys.

“Based on the magical chemistry between Jason Spezza and Bobby Ryan, Ottawa wins their conference and makes it to the third round of the playoffs. People in Ottawa finally realize who Bobby Ryan is after he has a 40 goal year.”

40 goals for Bobby Ryan who had 48 points and didn’t even play with Spezza. Good try, past me.

“The Devils surprise everybody by almost making the playoffs despite losing Kovalchuk, Clarkson, and Parise in the last two years. Brodeur still has gas in the tank, and he and Schneider form the best goaltending duo in the league.”

Little did I know that the latter would be the demise of the former.

And then there’s the standings where I predicted the following things would happen: Ottawa in 1st, Columbus and Tampa Bay in 7th, Oilers in the playoffs, Ducks not in the playoffs. Super close calls there.

But now that we’re done talking about how dumb I was last year, let’s talk about how smart I am this year. Here’s what I think will happen in 2014-15, this time I’ll be right, trust me.

*In brackets beside every team I’ve put their POP from last year to give you a sense of how they compared to the rest of the league (80 is average).

Patrick Plus

Pittsburgh1. Pittsburgh Penguins – 86.4

They imploded in the second round against the eventual Cup finalists, so the obvious thing to do was fire the coach and GM. Imagine that. Accountability for failure. Except imagine failure is not making the Final. Tough crowd.

The Optimist: 111 points

The Penguins get more help from the bottom of their line-up and Fleury doesn’t completely let the team down in the playoffs on the way to the Penguins first final since their Cup win in 2009. Ehrhoff is a revelation.

The Pessimist: 99 points

The Neal trade is a disaster and the Pens rely on Sid and Geno way too much. They bow out in the first round in typical embarrassing fashion.

The Realist: 107 points

With how weak the East, it’s not far-fetched to see the Pens go deep in the playoffs. The real question is how deep can they go.

Bold Prediction:

Crosby sets lockout era scoring record. I’m talking 140 points (if he stays healthy).

 

NJ2. New Jersey Devils – 87.4

As unlucky as it gets for a team, but the Devils shot themselves in their own foot by starting Brodeur for half a season.

The Optimist: 105 points

The Devils actually win a shootout game or two. Schneider breaks through with a stellar campaign and the corsi juggernauts march their way to the top of the East.

The Pessimist: 90 points

The team is so old they literally turn to ash and dust mid-game.

The Realist: 97 points

The Devils are good at almost everything but lack elite finishing ability. With Schneider taking a bulk of the starts, look for a big improvement for the very underrated team.

Bold Prediction:

Mike Cammalleri plays more than 70 games for the first time in the last six years.

 

NYI3. New York Islanders – 75.7

A goalie who couldn’t bother saving more than 90 percent of the shots he faced is bad you say? No way.

The Optimist: 99 points

Halak shows the team what good goaltending is worth and Tavares takes the next step to super-stardom.

The Pessimist: 89 points

The laughable d-corps makes life tough on Halak who falters leaving the Isles out of the playoff picture again. The Isles win the draft lottery on the slimmest odds to add to the misery.

The Realist: 94 points

With the signings of Grabovski and Kulemin, the Isles forward depth got a huge boost and look among the best in the East. It’s the defense that’s a concern. But with the upgrade in net, this looks like a playoff team.

Bold Prediction:

Tavares breaks the 100 point barrier for the first time and pots 50.

 

NYR4. New York Rangers – 87.4

They lost a huge part of their depth in the off-season and didn’t do that well replacing it. Last years Stanley Cup finalists are in tough to repeat.

The Optimist: 99 points

Lundqvist looks like a great goalie and the team triumphs as a result.

The Pessimist: 87 points

Lundqvist looks like a normal goalie and the team struggles as a result.

The Realist: 92 points

The top of the lineup isn’t strong enough to make up for the bottom. They’ll go as far as Lundqvist takes them, as the Rangers look more like a bubble team than a contender.

Bold Prediction:

Rick Nash bounces back big after a much maligned playoff run.

 

Washington5. Washington Capitals – 79.8

Another new coach for Ovie and the boys. It’ll be nice to see what Trotz can do with a team that features actual NHL-caliber forwards.

The Optimist: 99 points

New coach breaths life into the struggling Caps who cement themselves back into the East’s elite.

The Pessimist: 89 points

We have to hear about how you “can’t win” with Ovechkin is for another season.

The Realist: 92 points

On the playoff bubble with the Rangers. If they do manage to make it, their high-end talent can make for some serious upset potential.

Bold Prediction:

Braden Holtby is this year’s “goalie out of nowhere who is somehow in the Vezina conversation.”

 

Columbus6. Columbus Blue Jackets – 83.8

Has Johansen signed yet?

The Optimist: 94 points

Johansen signs. Repeats last season’s magic.

The Pessimist: 84 points

Johansen signs. Can’t repeat last season’s magic.

The Realist: 89 points

I’m just not sold on the Blue Jackets yet, especially if they have to play any games without Ryan Johansen. Speaking of which, has he signed yet?

Bold Prediction:

Johansen signs soon.

 

Philadelphia7. Philadelphia Flyers – 78.8

They’re built sort of like the Islanders, except they have slower defensemen and a worse goalie. So last year’s Islanders.

The Optimist: 87 points

Claude Giroux, No. 1 centre.

The Pessimist: 73 points

Andrew MacDonald, No. 1 defenseman.

The Realist: 81 points

With Timonen out for a long time, there’s just no feasible way I see this team competing, especially with Steve Mason in net.

Bold Prediction:

Claude Giroux does carry a team to victory thanks to a 95 point campaign. But it’s my fantasy team and not the Flyers. Couturier is this year’s Johansen.

 

Carolina8. Carolina Hurricanes – 74.7

Investing that much money into a core that continues to finish way out a playoff spot is always a smart idea.

The Optimist: 78 points

Anton Khudobin steals the starters job and shows his numbers are the real deal.

The Pessimist: 67 points

Cam Ward is given a $6.3 million leash and the Hurricanes never recover.

The Realist: 71 points

Boy does this team look bad. A near-lock for a lottery pick.

Bold Prediction:

Alexander Semin leads the team in scoring forming a potent duo with Eric Staal.

 

FlorthEast

Boston1. Boston Bruins – 97.5

May finally start icing a capable fourth line, which means last years best regular season could get better.

The Optimist: 120 points

The holy trifecta of Bergeron-Chara-Rask continues it’s unstoppable domination of other hockey teams

The Pessimist: 104 points

Chara begins showing his age, and without him the Bruins struggle to win their division.

The Realist: 112 points

They’re the best team in the East, and it’s not much of a contest. Might even be the best team in the league.

Bold Prediction:

Bergeron is finally acknowledged by local media in Boston as the Bruins first line center.

 

Tampa Bay2. Tampa Bay Lightning – 84.8

This year’s Dark Horse, the Lightning have stock piled an abundance of talent becoming a sexy Stanley Cup pick for most pundits in the process.

The Optimist: 107 points

Stamkos lights up the league and creates the nastiest tandem in the league with rookie sensation Jonathan Drouin. Babies are born and named Droukos without hesitation.

The Pessimist: 96 points

Drouin ain’t St. Louis and the young group can’t take the next step into the East’s elite.

The Realist: 101 points

This team is one year away from being at the top of the food chain. They’ll show glimpses of it this year, but 2015-16 will be even bigger.

Bold Prediction:

Tampa Bay upsets the Big Bad Bruins in Round 2

 

Montreal3. Montreal Canadiens – 82.5

For the millionth time in their history, Montreal rode an average team deep in the playoffs on the shoulders of other-worldly goaltending.

The Optimist: 104 points

Montreal figures out their possession woes, and with solid goaltending and great special teams become a force in the league.

The Pessimist: 91 points

Therrein does what he does best: take a good team and make them mediocre.

The Realist: 96 points

Subban dazzles the league, but Montreal fails to solve their underlying issues. Goaltending takes them to the playoffs, but they don’t do much damage against a vengeful Tampa side.

Bold Prediction:

Galchenyuk breaks out big, putting up 70 points. Pacioretty is finally acknowledged as an elite winger after outscoring Corey Perry.

 

Detroit4. Detroit Red Wings – 83.9

This isn’t the puck possession monster of the post lockout II years. They’re still good, but age is catching up to them and that d-core is a problem.

The Optimist: 97 points

Howard regains his form and the youngsters take a big step. Datsyuk and Zetterberg stay relatively healthy.

The Pessimist: 87 points

The entire city of Detroit goes bankrupt. Wait…

The Realist: 91 points

A great effort, but not enough to squeak past some of the teams in the Patrick Plus division.

Bold Prediction:

Stephen Weiss plays a game.

 

Ottawa5. Ottawa Senators – 80.3

My pick for last year’s FlorthEast champions. Since I’ve downgraded my belief in them, naturally they will finish much higher this season.

The Optimist: 92 points

Zibanejad proves an adequate replacement for Spezza on the second line. Bobby Ryan finally scores 40.

The Pessimist: 77 points

Ryan continues disappointing everyone with his lacklustre production and the Sens flounder against better teams.

The Realist: 82 points

Who even knows. This team looks pretty pitiful, but they may be able to surprise like they always do. Whatever you expect from Ottawa, they usually do the opposite.

Bold Prediction:

Erik Karlsson cuts off his sweet flow and terrible Twitter account “WheelingProblems” is forced to shut down forever. Thousands rejoice.

 

Toronto6. Toronto Maple Leafs – 66.3

They signed a bunch of players to fill out their bottom line, only to continue to trot out Colton Orr.

The Optimist: 65 points

Leafs are absolutely putrid and everything goes wrong. Carlyle and Nonis get the axe, and the Leafs finally get a franchise center as well as hope for the future.

The Pessimist: 89 points

Leafs are absolutely putrid, but everything goes right… until the very end of the season where once again they collapse to miss the playoffs. Everyone loves sequels right?

The Realist: 80 points

Not good enough to be in the playoffs, not bad enough to be in the lottery –  the Toronto Maple Leafs story.

Bold Prediction:

Morgan Rielly blossoms into a top point producing defenseman, finishing in the top 10.

 

Florida7. Florida Panthers – 61.6

How Florida’s special teams were that bad (worst in the league at both, by a lot) is something I will never underst… *glances at roster* Nevermind.

The Optimist: 82 points

Luongo returns to form and sparks a passion inside the core of every Floridian that literally saves the Panthers from relocation.

The Pessimist: 68 points

Panthers set a league record for lowest attendance when literally no one shows up for a late January game against New Jersey.

The Realist: 75 points

The perpetual rebuild continues in Florida. They show improvement from last year, but not enough to attract any fans.

Bold Prediction:

Huberdeau continues to prove he’s nothing special, while Barkov becomes the focal point of the Panthers offense putting up 60 points.

 

Buffalo8. Buffalo Sabres – 58.2

The worst team since lockout II isn’t even trying to be subtle about its quest for Connor McDavid.

The Optimist: 0 points

Buffalo loses every game, but wins where it counts: the lottery.

The Pessimist: 80 points

Buffalo wins just enough games to finish outside the bottom five.

The Realist: 62 points

I gouge my eyes out trying to watch Buffalo play hockey this year.

Bold Prediction:

Christian Ehrhoff outscores every Buffalo player.

 

Conference III

Chicago1. Chicago Blackhawks – 88.9

The cream of the crop traded in Michael Handzus for Brad Richards. Somewhere Patrick Kane is smiling.

The Optimist: 115 points

President’s Trophy. Stanley Cup. Yawn.

The Pessimist: 105 points

Be an elite team all year and only make it to the third round which I imagine is an awful feeling.

The Realist: 111 points

They’ll be at the top of the league for now and the foreseeable future.

Bold Prediction:

Brendan Saad doesn’t get 60+ points like everyone else is “boldly” predicting.

 

St. Louis2. St. Louis Blues – 88.4

Made arguably the best addition in the Western Conference arms race for centers in Paul Stastny.

The Optimist: 115

The sketchy goaltending proves formidable and the St. Louis Blues finally, finally get past the first round. Maybe even the second round!

The Pessimist: 105 points

The Blues take a 2-0 lead at home in the first round, only to get bounced by a better team in four straight. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

The Realist: 109 points

I really like the Blues chances this year. They’ve got depth up the wazoo and I think this is the year they go deep in the playoffs.

Bold Prediction:

Pietrangelo wins the Norris Trophy after topping 60 points for the first time in his career.

 

Dallas3. Dallas Stars – 80.2

Adding Spezza and Hemsky gives Dallas some of the best offensive depth in the West. If only they realized that defense was a position.

The Optimist: 101 points

Benn + Seguin > Getzlaf + Perry. This is the year they show it.

The Pessimist: 90 points

Seriously have you looked at their defense?

The Realist: 96 points

The most exciting team in the West looks like they’ll take a big step this year before inevitably losing in the first round to one of the two powerhouses in Conference III.

Bold Prediction:

Kari Lethonen finishes the season top five in almost every statistical category.

 

Minnesota4. Minnesota Wild – 74.3

The Wild somehow always play way above what’s expected, and are the only team to consistently outperform their POP every year. Last year’s mark of 74.3 is probably deceiving.

The Optimist: 97 points

That top six though. Koivu-Parise could be one of the leagues most underrated duos. Their youth looks promising.

The Pessimist: 87 points

The Wild were one of the league’s elite possession teams last October, but were absolutely awful afterwards. Some bad luck and they’ll fall quickly in the West.

The Realist: 92 points

The Wild squeak in to the playoffs on their store-bought team and get pummelled by an actual contender. Again.

Bold Prediction:

Bryzgalov becomes the starter and posts some humongous-big numbers.

 

Colorado5. Colorado Avalanche – 77.8

One of the worst possession teams last year finished at the top of their division thanks to a godly performance from good-goalie/ scumbag-person Semyon Varlamov

The Optimist: 92 points

The kids naturally improve to offset Colorado’s inevitable fall. It’s enough to make the playoffs.

The Pessimist: 82 points

R-E-G-R-E-S-S-I-O-N!

The Realist: 87 points

R-E-G-R-E-S-S-I-O-N!

Bold Prediction:

I regret my entire existence when MacKinnon puts up 90 points this season after I traded him last year in a keeper league.

 

Winnipeg6. Winnipeg Jets – 78.8

The core of the team is fine, but there’s this weird feeling that they deserve better for some reason.

The Optimist: 91 points

Any other goalie plays.

The Pessimist: 81 points

Pavelec plays.

The Realist: 86 points

A good team is sunk again by bad goaltending. Also known as the Brian Burke model.

Bold Prediction:

Evander Kane puts his money where his mouth is and hits 35 goals.

 

Nashville7. Nashville Predators – 80.7

One of those teams where I’m always puzzled at how they do well. That changes this year with the departure of their only coach ever, Barry Trotz.

The Optimist: 90 points

Neal proves he isn’t just a product of great linemates and meshes well with Nashville’s cavalcade of mediocre centers.

The Pessimist: 78 points

A change into a more wide-open offensive style leaves Nashville vulnerable as they crumble to the depths of the West.

The Realist: 83 points

As always, the Preds don’t look good on paper and usually that didn’t matter because they got results anyways. I don’t think that happens with Peter Laviolette.

Bold Prediction:

Ryan Ellis has a breakout season, showing some of the magic that he had back in junior when he lead the league in points as a defenseman. (No, I’m not just predicting that all the guys on my fantasy team will light it up… what are you talking about?)

 

The Other One

LA1. Los Angeles Kings – 89.8

The champs were a puck possession powerhouse that found some scoring prowess and a balanced lineup with the addition of Marian Gaborik.

The Optimist: 112 points

With Gaborik, the Kings will finally get some regular season success to go with their recent Cup wins.

The Pessimist: 101 points

Or maybe they don’t find success and continue underachieving until they snag a random Blue Jacket at the deadline.

The Realist: 107 points

Considering what I think of Anaheim, and the nuttiness that followed San Jose this year, LA seems prime to take the division crown.

Bold Prediction:

Anze Kopitar goes back to his point-per-game days with the addition of Gaborik.

 

San Jose2. San Jose Sharks – 88.8

I’m actually still stunned that their answer to their problems was seemingly “sign more guys who can’t play hockey.”

The Optimist: 111 points

The Sharks win the Cup and I never have to hear another choker narrative again.

The Pessimist: 90 points

They literally play Joe Thornton on the fourth line

The Realist: 106 points

The Sharks are still a great team with great players, but they’re not the best team and it’s likely they’ll lose again this year to a team that’s just better.

Bold Prediction:

Switching patches on jerseys doesn’t make the Sharks win more surprisingly.

 

Anaheim3. Anaheim Ducks – 82.6

I’m not sure how you can look at this roster and see an elite team, I just can’t.

The Optimist: 108 points

For the third year straight, the Ducks continue to score at will leading everyone to believe that they’re actually a good team.

The Pessimist: 94 points

The goalies are a downgrade from Hiller and the Ducks struggle to keep pace with the elite teams in the West.

The Realist: 99 points

We see a slight market correction and the Ducks start playing closer to their true ability.

Bold Prediction:

Andersen starts more than Gibson, who struggles in his first full year.

 

Vancouver4. Vancouver Canucks – 80.4

The Canucks were flying high around Christmas. After that they were an absolute trainwreck

The Optimist: 96 points

The Sedins bounce back into 70 point form and take Vrbata along for the the ride. Miller looks solid.

The Pessimist: 87 points

Last year wasn’t a mirage for the Sedins and they’re just in decline. Those contracts turn into albatrosses quickly.

The Realist: 91 points

Playoffs. But just barely.

Bold Prediction:

No one will shut up about Vancouver’s predictable bounce back to contention.

 

Edmonton5. Edmonton Oilers – 68.2

Is this the year the Oilers finally stop sucking? No, probably not.

The Optimist: 93 points

Taylor Hall shows he can be one of the best players in the league and literally drags the team to the playoffs.

The Pessimist: 79 points

Year 28 of the rebuild continues.

The Realist: 86 points

The Oilers are much improved, likely thanks to math, but it’s not enough in a very tough West.

Bold Prediction:

“Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins all break-out with above point-per-game seasons and carry Edmonton to a wildcard spot where they do some damage as a Cinderella team in the playoffs upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champions.” Okay, but THIS time it will actually happen, guys.

 

Phoenix6. Arizona Coyotes – 80.0

A new name won’t mask how awful this team is.

The Optimist: 85 points

Sam Gagner immediately shows the Oilers up and excels on his new team leading them to a finish ahead of the Oilers.

The Pessimist: 75 points

Someone has to suck. Why not Arizona?

The Realist: 80 points

Like Nashville, I don’t understand how Arizona always seems to find success. There’s no way this team can compete for a playoff spot, right?

Bold Prediction:

This team, somehow, competes for a playoff spot until the very end leaving me more confounded than a Carlyle encounter with a small appliance.

 

Calgary7. Calgary Flames – 74.3

There’s some good pieces for the future, but the present is a tire fire.

The Optimist: 83 points

Backlund-Giordano-Brodie continue their stellar play for the Flames and carry the rest of the team to a respectable finish.

The Pessimist: 68 points

The depth on the Flames proves to be not enough to win many games and they languish near the bottom of the standings.

The Realist: 74 points

Another high-end pick for Calgary to add to the pipeline. Pittsburgh model my ass, right Burkie?

Bold Prediction:

Backlund continues his ascension and gets 55 points.

 

Playoffs

Round 1

Chicago – Vancouver

St. Louis – Dallas

Los Angeles – Minnesota

San Jose – Anaheim

 

Boston – Washington

Tampa Bay – Montreal

Pittsburgh – Rangers

New Jersey – Islanders

 

Round 2

Chicago – St. Louis

Los Angeles – San Jose

 

Boston – Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh – Islanders

 

Round 3

St. Louis – Los Angeles

Pittsburgh – Tampa Bay

 

Stanley Cup Final

St. Louis – Pittsburgh

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