I have cautious optimism that the NHL will start on Nov. 1 after another set of games has been cancelled.
Should the puck be dropped in the 11th month of the Gregorian calendar, it would be about time to look at the NHL landscape and make some predictions about how the season will shake out.
My decisions have been made using my own intuition, but I have taken into consideration what people have said in comments about my various standpoints.
The predictions made here should be consistent with what I’ve been saying in my slideshows all along.
Prediction: 5th in Central, 15th in West
Last season: 5th in Central, 15th in West
It’s yet another rebuilding season in Columbus.
There are pieces there and an optimistic fan can see something coming together in a few years—especially if the Blue Jackets get some Top Three picks.
Another poor year will ensure they get one of those prized selections this season.
Prediction: 5th in Atlantic, 15th in East
Last season: 5th in Atlantic, 14th in East
There’s light at the end of the tunnel: One day Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and Nino Niederreiter may put it all together.
It’s probably not going to be this season, however.
Prediction: 5th in Northwest, 14th in West
Last season: 5th in Northwest, 14th in West
Don’t take the same placement to mean this team isn’t going anywhere.
Edmonton arguably has more young talent at the forward position than anyone else in the league. The problem is that few of them are ready to become big-time scorers.
Even if Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Co. all have breakout seasons, this team still does not have enough along the blue line or in net to allow them to win games consistently.
Prediction: 5th in Northeast, 14th in East
Last season: 5th in Northeast, 15th in East
Marginal improvement is still improvement.
No, this will not satisfy the masses out there in hockey-mad Montreal, but it will at least show that this team is moving in the right direction…even if there was no other way to go but up after last year.
Prediction: 4th in Northwest, 13th in West
Last season: 2nd in Northwest, 9th in West
Recently, Calgary has come close to making the playoffs, only to fall short in the last few weeks of the season.
This team has a fundamentally flawed and aging core, and despite dropping Olli Jokinen and adding guys like Roman Cervenka, they have not improved enough to make the postseason this year.
In fact, while the rest of the West continues to improve, they are moving backwards.
Prediction: 5th in Southeast, 13th in East
Last year: 4th in Southeast, 11th in East
Like turning on the oven light and peering into the inferno, you can tell something good is baking.
Right now the little guys up there in Winnipeg are still a little doughy and need a little time before they become golden superstars.
Prediction: 4th in Northeast, 12th in East
Last season: 4th in Northeast, 13th in East
The Maple Leafs have talent on their roster, they always have, but it appears they don’t have enough to do anything other than spin their tires in the bottom of their conference.
There appears to be some talent in the system, but things are looking bleak in the near future.
Prediction: 5th in Pacific, 12th in West
Last season: 1st in Pacific, 3rd in West
After three years in the playoffs and a division championship, this one is going to be hard to take.
It’s not hard to see coming, however.
The Kings, Sharks, Stars and even the Ducks are more talented than the crafty Coyotes, and Phoenix really benefited from a down year in the Pacific last season.
Now, it appears that their division foes have figured things out—at least more than they did last year—and should relegate the Yotes back to the cellar once again.
Prediction: 4th in Central, 11th in West
Last season: 2nd in Central, 4th in West
At first glance this looks like the loss of one player means way too much in Nashville.
But consider this:
a) That player, Ryan Suter, was an important half of a strong defensive tandem (arguably the best in hockey) on a team that really relies on defense.
b) Earning 100-plus points is no fluke, but Nashville should have been a lot better.
c) This is a team that relies heavily on younger players and production varies wildly from season to season with a team full of players that have yet to hit their prime (ask Colorado about that).
Nashville will be back, there’s no doubt about it, but it might take them a year or two to compete with St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and the rest of the West.
Prediction: 4th in Southeast, 11th in East
Last season: 1st in Southeast, 3rd in East
Last season’s successes got hockey fans in South Florida excited about a once moribund franchise.
While it may have been a glimpse into the future, it’s premature to think the Cats are bound for that kind of success again this year.
They backed into the playoffs although they played in arguably the league’s weakest division and still lack the high-end talent that Washington, Tampa and Carolina have.
Prediction: 4th in Pacific, 10th in West
Last season: 5th in Pacific, 13th in West
In terms of franchise players, the Ducks have as much, if not more, talent than most of the other teams in the league.
It’s depth that is always trouble in Anaheim.
If youngsters like Devante Smith-Pelly and Kyle Palmieri step up, this team could be a surprise playoff team this season.
If not they’ll be one of the bubble teams that doesn’t make it.
Prediction: 3rd in Northeast, 10th in East
Last season: 2nd in Northeast, 8th in East
Everyone had pegged this team as a rebuilding squad last year until the Sens made the playoffs—seemingly out of nowhere.
Success in Canada’s capital probably will come after the Daniel Alfredsson era—not because he’s not a great player (he is), but just because of where this team stands as a whole.
Judging from the general age and number of stars on this team, it looks like it'll be a little while before they consistently make the playoffs.
Prediction: 3rd in Northwest, 9th in West
Last season: 3rd in Northwest, 11th in West
Colorado has enough talent to make the playoffs this year—it’s just a matter of if they live up to expectations.
Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Johnson headline a strong young core that should be great for years to come.
The question is whether or not it's all going to click this season.
Prediction: 4th in Atlantic, 9th in East
Last season: 4th in Atlantic, 6th in East
This is going to be tough to stomach, especially after fans in New Jersey saw their team go to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.
Still, there’s a little phenomenon known as the Stanley Cup Hangover; this team got sloppy drunk on the thrill of winning and had had to make an awkward phone call to their fans in the offseason:
“Ahh…guys, we messed up,” they said. “We lost Zach.”
“What?” the fans responded. “We’re supposed to win the Stanley Cup this year!”
“Yeah…that’s not going to happen.”
Prediction: 3rd in Southeast, 8th in East
Last season: 5th in Southeast, 12th in East
Carolina not only re-signed guys like Jeff Skinner and Tim Gleason, but added Jordan Staal in the offseason in an effort to improve the team.
The core of this team may be a couple years away from being great, but right now they should be good enough to sneak into the postseason.
Prediction: 2nd in Northwest, 8th in West
Last season: 4th in Northwest, 12th in West
Adding Zach Parise and Ryan Suter doesn’t automatically make this team a contender, but it should put them ahead of an aging Calgary squad, an underachieving Colorado team and the diaper dandies out there in Edmonton.
The Wild should sneak into the playoffs this season and give the State of Hockey a taste of what’s to come should those prospects turn out like everyone thinks they will.
Prediction: 3rd in Pacific, 7th in West
Last season: 4th in Pacific, 10th in West
For the last couple of years the Stars have had enough talent to make the playoffs, but ended up on the wrong side of the bubble.
This year they added two veterans—Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney—that should help a strong core not only get to the postseason, but possibly make an unexpected run.
Prediction: 2nd in Southeast, 7th in East
Last season: 3rd in Southeast, 10th in East
After being pantsed in front of their home crowd by those big, mean bullies up in Philadelphia, the Lightning have pulled up, zipped up and probably will enter next season wearing a sturdier belt to defend against even more public humiliation.
This team still has a playoff run left in them during the Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis era, and with Victor Hedman coming into his own and Steven Stamkos on top of his game there’s no reason that they can’t make something happen next season.
Prediction: 3rd in Central, 6th in West
Last season: 3rd in Central, 5th in West
Gone is Nick Lidstrom—and in the next couple of years more and more members of the core that made the Red Wings a dynasty will hang up their skates.
For the time being, this still is a playoff team, but they are not as feared as they once were.
Prediction: 2nd in Northeast, 6th in East
Last season: 3rd in Northeast, 9th in East
After barely missing out on the postseason last year, the Sabres have the wakeup call they need to get into the playoffs this year.
They went out and got Steve Ott knowing that this team needed a little more muscle following the Ryan Miller fiasco, and the new-look roster now has a year under its belt after the addition of Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino last year.
The Sabres are not a better team than the Bruins, but should be good enough to secure a playoff spot this year.
Prediction: 2nd in Pacific, 5th in West
Last season: 2nd in Pacific, 7th in West
The Sharks appear to have relinquished their stranglehold over the Pacific, but let’s not be so hasty about burying the one-time regular-season powerhouse.
Logan Couture is a budding superstar and Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton still know how to find the back of the net.
The real question is on defense. While Brent Burns is a major plus, there is some question as to how much longer Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray can remain top-tier defensemen.
Both players are aging and it’s uncertain how much depth this squad has along the blue line.
Prediction: 1st in Southeast, 3rd in East
Last year: 2nd in Southeast, 7th in East
Like old times the Capitals should win their division, but as their division improves and this team remains relatively similar, the gap between them and the other four teams is closing.
This team is young enough where they don’t have to worry about their “championship window,” but if they’re not careful they may get lost in the mix as Tampa, Carolina, Florida and Winnipeg all are on the upswing.
Prediction: 2nd in Central, 4th in West
Last season: 4th in Central, 6th in West
The Blackhawks have been battling cap casualties since winning it all in 2010, but now have a stable core of young, talented players with adequate depth around them.
With Nashville and Detroit presumably taking a step back, Chicago’s main competition will be Ken Hitchcock and his li’l Blues.
Prediction: 3rd in Atlantic, 5th in East
Last season: 3rd in Atlantic, 5th in East
The Flyers are building a competitive team in the post-Richards/Carter era.
With the Schenn brothers reunited, Claude Giroux in his prime and an answer in goal (right?), this team is shaping together nicely.
To be honest, a late start to the season should help an injury-hampered defensive corps. The Flyers stand to gain the most from the lockout.
Prediction: 2nd in Atlantic, 4th in East
Last season: 2nd in Atlantic, 4th in East
Like last year, the Penguins should give the Rangers a run for their money, but the Blueshirts have improved while Pittsburgh appears to have remained the same.
That’s not a slight to the Pens.
When healthy, this team can compete with anyone in the league. They should finish the season with the second-most points in the East and could do some damage in the playoffs.
Prediction: 1st in Pacific, 3rd in West
Last season: 3rd in Pacific, 8th in West
Although this team did not win the Pacific last year, the fact that they, you know, won the Stanley Cup gives credence to the notion that this is now their division to lose.
The Sharks don’t appear to be the same team they once were and with a young core that has tasted the sweet, sweet joy of victory—this team will be back and firing on all cylinders next year.
Prediction: 1st in Northwest, 2nd in West
Last year: 1st in Northwest, 1st in West
For years, the Canucks have built up a strong point total by beating down on a weak division.
Minnesota, Colorado and Edmonton (kinda) are making strides while the window is slowly closing on the Canucks.
They’ve got a couple more years to put a championship team together. This year they are in position to take advantage of that window of time before it closes.
Prediction: 1st in Northeast, 2nd in East
Last season: 1st in Northeast, 2nd in East
The Bruins have a roster full of players that have proven they can win it all playing in a division with four other teams that are still figuring things out.
Tuukka Rask should step in and make everyone forget about the Tim Thomas tribulation early and, save for any disastrous injuries, everyone else should take care of business and put this team in position to earn its second Stanley Cup in three years.
Prediction: 1st in Central, 1st in West
Last season: 1st in Central, 2nd in West
Make no mistake—David Backes, TJ Oshie and Brian Elliott are all wonderful players, but this team has no bona fide superstars.
That is no slight to the Blues: If you can learn to win as a team rather than as individuals that’s really the magic in hockey.
It appears that Ken Hitchcock, the Rolie Polie Oldie, still has a little magic left in him.
Prediction: 1st in Atlantic, 1st in East
Last season: 1st in Atlantic, 1st in East
On paper the Rangers look like contenders with Rick Nash joining Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and a nucleus of young, talented players.
The Blueshirts should be considered Stanley Cup favorites entering the season.