Monday, October 17, 2016

NHL 2016-17: Preseason Picks

Metro Division

1.) Washington Capitals

The Capitals remain an incredibly deep, talented and balanced team. The balance is important, and is something driven in large part by Barry Trotz. We know the big names, like Ovechkin, Kucherov, Backstrom, Holtby, but those secondary players like Burakovsky or Tom Wilson really make the team tick. It will come down to what they do in the playoffs, and with the current playoff system that will likely mean beating the Penguins, but the Capitals should remain the regular season juggernaut they have been for the past few years.

2.) Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins will start the season without Crosby, but all reports are that he will return fairly soon. Really grateful for that, because watching him dominate the playoffs and be the best player in the league again was just a joy to watch. The team itself still has major issues on the blue line, and I don't know if their depth lines will be as effective over an 82-game season. They are too talented to fall off too far. It will be also interesting to watch the dnyamic between Murray and MAF play out over a full season as well.

3.) Philadelphia Flyers

There is potential for a lot of upheaval in the Metro division, and I think it starts with the Flyers who are seemingly well ahead of their rebuild. The young defense led by Shayne Gostisbehere and 19-year old Ivan Provorov lead one of the best young defenses in the East. They still have premier talent up front with Giroux, Voracek and Couturier (who is somehow still just 23) to supplement a lineup that has enough depth to hang on. I don't fully trust Steve Mason in goal, but for what has suddenly become a very mediocre division, the Flyers are good enough to retain their playoff spot.

4.) Carolina Hurricanes (WC2)

A lot of 'advancted stats' Hockey guys really like the Hurricanes - and who am I to argue with them. The Hurricanes dominated possession and zone starts with another incredibly young, talented defense led by Noah Hanifan, Brett Pesce, Justin Falk and others. The offense is a little more unsettled, where really interesting young talents (Elias Lindholm, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask) are joined by a man who had to leave Chicago way too soon. Tuevo Teravainen is incredibly talented but was lost in Chicago. He won't be lost here.

5.) New York Rangers
6.) New York Islanders

Grouping these two together as I see hard times for two playoff stalwarts. I can see the Rangers potentially making it through just because Henrik Lundqvist is just that good, but their aging core is now an aging core without as much depth. They have some interesting youngsters in Mika Zibanejad and Joey Vesey, but neither are premier enough to make up for the losses on that side. For the Islanders, I just have no idea what their plan is, consistently unable to surround John Tavares with good enough young talent and instead opting for older retreads like Andrew Ladd. Just not a fan, and for their sake I hope it doesn't cost them Tavares.

7.) Columbus Blue Jackets
8.) New Jersey Devils

Both of these teams are at the bottom, and while either has a shot to finish out of the bottom-2, the optimism is almost squarely placed on their goalies. Both Sergey Bobrovsky and Corey Schnieder have done great work backstopping awful teams. Both teams have young talent, but all of the young talent is a few years away from really making an impact.

Atlantic Division

1.) Tampa Bay Lightning (HFA)

The Lightning will have some tough decisions to make this upcoming offseason, with tons of guys up for raises, but until then they have the most loaded team in the NHL. They also have some obvious trade chips (Ben Bishop) or guys they can let go without losing too much (Tyler Johnson), but for now the Lightning have no weaknesses. With Stamkos back, and Drouin out of the doghouse, the offense has two 1st-line capable centers around a whole host of talent. And of course there is Hedman. Everything is set up for this team to be a monster.

2.) Montreal Canadiens

I can basically write my reasoning in one sentence: Carey Price is back, and when he played last year they were the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens were on a 115-point pace when Price went down. He is that good. The team around him is definitely worse with Shea Weber replacing PK Subban (which is absolutely a downgrade), but if they get a step-up from Galchenyuk, who has star potential, or anything from Radulov, they can make up for that loss rather easily.

3.) Boston Bruins

The Bruins have an interesting team. The strength has really quickly moved from their defense-first leaning in their peak (this extended to guys like Bergeron or Krejci who were Selke-level forwards) to an offense first group that can make up for glaring deficiencies on their blue-line. Those deficiencies are still there (watching Chara is just sad now), but suddenly these defense-first gnats have an offensive punch. Bergeron and Marchand were revelations as offensive players last year, but they can add to that youngster David Pasternak, or David Backes (who first in really well). And they still have Tuuka Rask. It is a different model than Peak Bruins, but it still is effective.

4.) Florida Panthers (WC1)

The Panthers should be better, but I think this is the natural slight step back after their surprising division win last year. Obviously, losing Huberdeau for an extended period hurts, and you have to imagine Jagr is slightly worse. The young talent is still really startling, with Aleksander Barkov still just 21, and Aaron Ekblad even more scarily just 20, but without Huberdeau there is a hole there. Trusting Luongo in his late 30's is also a risk, and I have to think James Reimer takes over next year.

5.) Ottawa Senators
6.) Detroit Red Wings

I wouldn't be shocked if either of these teams make it. The Senators are extremely top-heavy, but the top of that top-heaviness is the best (at least on offense) defenseman in the NFL in Karlsson who is still just 26. But beyond the young Swede what is this team exactly? So little premier young talent, so many late-20's and early-30's players who at their best were just above average? The Red Wings are a little different, with very few of those players but a lot at both ends of the spectrum. Henrik Zetterberg is markedly slower now, but young players like Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou have more than enough speed to make up for it. In the end, I think neither of these teams is strong enough or deep enough in a tough division, but there is enough talent to squeak in if one of my Top-4 falls.

7.) Buffalo Sabres
8.) Toronto Maple Leafs

Both of these teams are a few years away, and are right there to pick up from Detroit, or Montreal (if Price stops being superhuman), or Boston as the next great thing. The Sabres are in a really tough spot without Eichel, but the talent around him is there with Okposo and O'Reilly up front, and Ristalaenen coming up on the blue line. They could be a dominant force in another 2-3 years. Same with Toronto and the next great hope of Auston Matthews. Beyond him though is Mitch Marner, another rookie who may, at least for 2016, be even better. There's lights at the end of these tunnels, and they could be faster approaching than many realize.

Pacific Division

1.) San Jose Sharks

I'm slightly nervous that they just brought all the boys back for another go, as at some point Thornton will get worse (Marleau was already a fringe 2nd/3rd line player at this point), but the new core of Pavelski, Couture, Hertl are in their primes. I like Doonskoi who was a revelation last year, and I really like the low-key pick-up of Mikkel Boedker. The defense is a concern given its age, but the combination of the offense, the superior power-play (just pure ecstasy to watch when they are on) and Martin Jones, who proved himself very capably as a starting goalie, should make them good enough to win what is probably the least top-heavy division.

2.) Los Angeles Kings

People seemed to have really turned on the Kings, the advanced stats old darling, of late and it seems to come down to the idea that Jonathan Quick should only live off of his magical 2012 Stanley Cup Playoff run for so long. To some degree that is true. He's never reached those heights and the team isn't really any better around him now than it was then. In Doughty and Kopitar, they have a bonafide #1 D-Man and #1 Center, but the surrounding parts aren't as good at all.

//I wrote this before the Quick injury. If I were to do this now, I would have them out of the playoffs and either the Oilers or Flames in. Despite what I wrote about Quick, I have less faith in Jeff Zatkoff.

3.) Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are a trendy pick to fall out of the playoffs with the change from Bruce Boudreau to Randy Carlyle, but I think there is just too much talent. The fall off the cliff is certainly coming. Getzlaf, Perry and Kesler are all on the wrong side of 30. The rest of the offense is filled with 15 different 2nd/3rd liners and there is little consistency in their lines. That all said, their collection of blue-liners, with Lindholm, Fowler, Vatanen and Despres leading the bunch are too good to fall off that much in a very light division.

4.) Edmonton Oilers
5.) Calgary Flames

I'm putting these two together as they both have really bright futures. I can see a version of the season where two of the three California teams really fall off and both of these two make it. For the Oilers, it comes down to McDavid being a generational talent, which he is, coupling with steps-up from other players on the line-up like Draisatl, Nurse, Eberle, RGH. The defense is still middling, as is the bottom-six, but the Oilers have peak talent. The Flames are similar, with Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett at the top, and a dependable goalie in Elliott. I'm less trusting of their defense, but the Flames definitely have the upside based on their offensive top-line talent and goalie alone.

6.) Arizona Coyotes
7.) Vancouver Canucks

The Coyotes and Canucks are both bad, but their future outlooks couldn't be more different. The Coyotes have patiently stockpiled talent and while I think they are still a couple years away (and a goalie away - let's end Mike Smith, right?) the young talent is startling. There are only a handful of young cores better than Max Domi (21), Lawson Crouse (19), Dylan Strome (19), Anthony Duclair (21) and Jakob Chycrun (18). And add to that Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who is still brilliant. In a couple years this team could be a monster. The Canucks? Not so much. Years of going for it while the Sedins are still there have come home to roost for a team devoid of talent, depth or youth. Not a good look.

Central Division

1.) Nashville Predators (HFA)

The Nashville Predators are the league's darling right now, a truly trendy pick. So much so that is my only hesitation. That and a potential dropoff from Pekka Rinne. Outside of those two possibilities, this team is loaded, and PK Subban is the perfect player to add into that mix. The Blue-line is four deep of 1st line defenseman in Subban, Josi, Ekholm and Ellis. The offense, years devoid of premier talent, has loads of it with Neal, Forsberg, Johansen with great depth. There is no weakness to this team, as with Subban they have a PP point guard as well now.

2.) St. Louis Blues

The Blues seem to be on the outside a team in transition, but I think there is a real future for them this year itself. It starts with the beginning of the transformation of the core from the old group (Backes, Steen, Pietrangelo, et. al.) to the next group led by Tarasenko, but supplemented beautifully by Robby Fabbri, Jayden Schwartz, Colton Parayko and whatever they can salvage from Niall Yakupov - a great low-risk signing. A lot of their success will be built on whether Jake Allen can finally take over the reigns as a premier goalie. There's no fall-back option now. It is his team, and like the rest of the young roster, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

3.) Dallas Stars 

For a team that went wire-to-wire as the best team in the division last year, and may have made a serious push for a Conference Title had Tyler Seguin not gotten hurt, a lot of people seem to be sleeping on Dallas. It is easy to deride them for their free-wheeling, offense heavy style as something that won't work in the playoffs, but it works brilliantly in the regular season. Losses on defense and still uncertainty in goal make me knock them back a bit (plus, this is easily the league's best division) but the center of this team is awesome. Benn and Seguin are premier talents. Jason Spezza was freed up as a 2nd-line player last year. Their depth is great with guys like Radek Faksa, Cody Eakin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, and Patrick Sharp are the perfect complement. Yes, their defense is a mess, but it likely won't really matter until the playoffs.

4.) Chicago Blackhawks (WC1)

At the end of the day, it is just impossible to see the Blackhawks missing the playoffs. The warning signs are there, like the continued hemorrhaging of talent, this time with Teravainen and Shaw being added to the list. Their depth is weaker on the surface now than it has ever been. I don't recognize 50% of the names. The top-level players are still there (Toews, Kane, Panarin, Keith, Seabrook), but even the ones who usually were counted on like Marian Hossa may be past their prime. Depth will be a challenge, but with the top-end guys they have and Corey Crawford, no one will want to play them in the playoffs if they can make it in.

5.) Colorado Avalanche (WC2)

It was a tough decision between the Avalanche and the team to come, but I just think the Avs are too talented, and too excited to not be playing for Patrick Roy, to not have a really nice bump this season. The top-end talent of Landeskog, MacKinnon, Barrie are too good, and add to them true youngsters like Mikael Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov and you have the makings of a great core. Understandably, I have questions on Semyon Varlamov, but the talent is here and hopefully the coaching matches up to them.

6.) Minnesota Wild
7.) Winnipeg Jets

The Wild have one thing going for them: Bruce Boudreau. He has never missed the playoffs in his coaching career. Apart from him, there is little else to think they are good enough to make it. They bet big on Parise and Suter and it hasn't truly worked. The Jets have bet big on their youth and they got their generational talent in Patrick Laine. We can't expect him to do too much in year 1 but his future is as bright as Winnipeg is cold.

Eastern Conference Playoffs

Metro Division

(M1) Washington over (WC1) Florida in 5
(M3) Philadelphia over (M2) Pittsburgh in 7

(M1) Washington over (M3) Philadelphia in 6

Atlantic Division

(A1) Tampa Bay over (WC2) Carolina in 5
(A2) Montreal over (A3) Boston in 7

(A1) Tampa Bay over (A2) Montreal in 6

Eastern Conference Final; (A1) Tampa Bay over (M1) Washington in 7

Western Conference Playoffs

Pacific Division

(WC1) Chicago Blackhawks over (P1) San Jose Sharks in 6

(P2) Los Angeles Kings over (P3) Anaheim Ducks in 6

(WC1) Chicago Blackhawks over (P2) Los Angeles Kings in 6

Central Division

(C1) Nashville Predators over (WC2) Colorado Avalanche in 5
(C3) Dallas Stars over (C2) St. Louis Blues in 6

(C1) Nashville Predators over (C3) Dallas Stars in 7

Western Conference FInal: (C1) Nashville Predators over (WC1) Chicago Blackhawks in 6

Stanley Cup Finals: (A1) Tampa Bay over (C1) Nashville in 7

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.