Predicting Every NHL Team's Points Total for the 2014-15 Season
During the 2013-14 season, the 30 NHL teams amassed 2,767 points. Boring fact: Because of the NHL's love of three-point games, the maximum number of points that can be earned over a season is 3,690. Assuming no games reach overtime, the minimum is 2,460.
It's comforting to know that as long as you land between those two numbers, your points predictions for every team have a shot at being 100 percent accurate.
That brings us to this slideshow, which predicts each team's points total for the 2014-15 season. Which team is line for the Presidents' Trophy? Will anyone eclipse Boston's league-leading 117 points from a year ago? Will there be more than last season's total of 10 teams to crack 100 points? Will anyone have fewer than 52 points, the league-worst total put up by the Buffalo Sabres last year?
Answering all those questions would prevent you from clicking through this slideshow.
There are no hard and fast playoff predictions in here—check back for those later, although the top 16 teams here are projected to make the playoffs—but here's one person's take on who will and won't be a playoff team in 2015.
30. Buffalo Sabres, 63 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 52
Offseason Changes: For the first time in a decade, the Sabres will start a season without Ryan Miller in net. They will have a tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth replacing Miller, who had a .923 save percentage despite the mess of a team in front of him last year. Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson and Josh Gorges have been brought into the fold to help the NHL's worst team in 2013-14.
Key to Success: Success can be relative, as the Sabres' goal should be an improvement over last year (or perhaps Connor McDavid in next year's draft). The Sabres finished last in goals and had 38 fewer goals than the 29th-ranked Florida Panthers. There's nothing the Sabres did this summer that's going to lead to a miraculous turnaround.
Bottom Line: If you're a Sabres fan, the goal this season should be landing McDavid or Jack Eichel at the 2015 draft. There's really no point in the Sabres finishing 26th or 25th in the standings, as that would doom them worse than finishing 30th or 29th. This team is still a mess and another last-place league finish appears to be in the cards.
29. Carolina Hurricanes, 69 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 83
Offseason Changes: They were minimal. They added defenseman Tim Gleason and center Jay McClement, two players who shouldn't make a difference. The big change was behind the bench, as the Hurricanes hired former Detroit Red Wings assistant Bill Peters to replace Kirk Muller. The real problem is the Hurricanes will be without No. 2 center Jordan Staal for at least three months after he broke his leg during a preseason game.
Key to Success: For the Hurricanes to have any chance at respectability, goaltenders Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward will need to carry the team on their backs. The defense isn't any better and the absence of Staal will hurt an offense that finished 22nd last season, so the goaltenders will have to do some breakdance-level head-standing to keep the Hurricanes in contention.
Bottom Line: While also-rans Washington, New Jersey and the New York Islanders improved over the summer, the Hurricanes stood pat and lost their fifth-leading scorer in the preseason. The Metropolitan Division is shaping up to be a nightmare for the Hurricanes, who can at least hang their hats on the idea of earning a top-two pick in the 2015 draft.
28. Arizona Coyotes, 71 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 89
Offseason Changes: The Coyotes allowed free-agent winger Radim Vrbata to leave and bought out the contract of center Mike Ribeiro. They added Sam Gagner to fill Ribeiro's slot and will likely look within to replace Vrbata's offense. The backup goaltending job held by Thomas Greiss now belongs to Devan Dubnyk, who is looking to prove himself after a catastrophic year with the Edmonton Oilers.
Key to Success: The 20th-ranked offensive team in the league in 2013-14 needs to find a way to improve despite the departures in this offseason. The Coyotes will also need more from goaltender Mike Smith, who has posted .910 and .915 save percentages in the past two seasons after a .930 in 2011-12 helped him become a Vezina Trophy finalist. If the Coyotes are to defy the odds, major contributions from young players like Max Domi, Michael Stone, Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy may be a necessity.
Bottom Line: The Coyotes missed the postseason by two points a year ago, but this year's team doesn't look as though it's upgraded. Throw in the fact that many teams in the West greatly improved their lot this summer, and the outlook isn't a rosy one for the Coyotes.
27. Ottawa Senators , 74 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 88
Offseason Changes: The Senators dealt disgruntled No. 1 center Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars for a package based around Alex Chiasson. David Legwand was signed to replace Spezza, but the void in production could be filled by Mika Zibanejad.
Key to Success: Only three teams allowed more goals than the Senators last season, and there wasn't much done in terms of restructuring the defense or goaltending this summer. Jared Cowen will need to be better, as will Craig Anderson, who had a 3.00 goals-against average and .911 save percentage last season. The loss of Spezza will be the focus, but how this team does defensively will be what determines whether it can get back to the playoffs.
Bottom Line: There's not a lot here that says the Senators will be better than they were last season. Erik Karlsson should be a little better now that he's a full year removed from his Achilles tear, but Anderson and the defense corps likely are what they are. As long as the Senators are allowing 35 shots per game, they won't find many victories.
26. Florida Panthers, 74 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 66
Offseason Changes: The Panthers attempted to improve themselves via free agency and the draft. They grabbed defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the No. 1 overall pick, and he will be thrown into the fire right away. Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen and Shawn Thornton were signed via free agency.
Key to Success: It will come down to Roberto Luongo. The Panthers have been searching for a No. 1 goaltender since Tomas Vokoun left three years ago, and if Luongo can play at an elite level, the team has hope. There's an intriguing mix of young talent and helpful veterans in Sunrise, and how they mesh will also play a big role in the 2014-15 season.
Bottom Line: This is an admittedly pessimistic prediction, but an eight-point improvement over last season is nothing to sneeze at unless you have bad allergies. Despite the guess of 74 points, if things break right, the Panthers could be a playoff club. However, the odds are long.
25. Philadelphia Flyers, 76 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 94
Offseason Changes: The Flyers received bad news when they learned Kimmo Timonen will likely be out for the season due to blood clots, taking one of the league's worst defense corps and making it worse. They replaced Timonen by signing Michael Del Zotto and swapped forward Scott Hartnell with Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger.
Key to Success: The only team outside of the top 17 defensively to make the playoffs last year was the Flyers, as they got by with the league's eighth-best offense. But with the defense heading toward the bottom five, making the postseason will require a Vezina-type season from Steven Mason and a few more goals from an offense that did nothing to improve in the summer.
Bottom Line: The Flyers were a bad puck-possession team that slipped into the playoffs last season, but there's just no way they'll get that lucky again. Unless Vincent Lecavalier is reborn this season and Luke Schenn becomes a Norris Trophy contender, there will be too many pucks in the back of the Flyers' net for them to contend for a playoff spot.
24. Vancouver Canucks, 77 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 83
Offseason Changes: The unhappy Ryan Kesler was dealt along with a third-round draft pick to Anaheim for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, a first-rounder and a third-rounder. Longtime Coyote Radim Vrbata was signed to, in theory, play with the Sedins while Derek Dorsett was acquired from the New York Rangers to make the fourth line a little more useful. After playing the second half of last season with Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom in net, the club signed Ryan Miller to serve as the No. 1 goaltender.
Key to Success: The Canucks were one of two teams to finish in the top 17 in goals allowed and miss the playoffs last season. They figure to find themselves in the top half of the league defensively again, but will they be able to score enough? They averaged 2.33 goals per game and have a somewhat similar roster this year. So was the decline in offense the result of John Tortorella's coaching system or players falling off? If it's the former, the Canucks can contend for the playoffs.
Bottom Line: Life in the Pacific Division will be miserable for Vancouver. For those who believe Tortorella's firing will result in the Canucks becoming a better offensive team, consider this: In Tortorella's final season with the Rangers, the team averaged 2.62 goals per game. Last year under Alain Vigneault, they scored 2.61 per game. It's very likely going to be a rough year for the Canucks.
23. Calgary Flames, 80 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 77
Offseason Changes: They made a bunch of subtle changes that should be effective on the whole. Jonas Hiller will take the reins as the team's No. 1 goaltender while adding Mason Raymond and Devin Setoguchi up front should help offensively. Getting Deryk Engelland and Brandon Bollig were nothing moves, but a full season from reigning Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau will make the Flames better.
Key to Success: Seven teams scored fewer goals than the Flames last season. Only six allowed more goals. The team made enough moves to improve nominally in each area, so it'll need more outstanding play from Mark Giordano on defense and a way to improve a fourth line that's likely to feature Bollig and Brian McGrattan at times.
Bottom Line: The playoffs are a long shot but not an impossibility. The Flames are poised to take a step forward this year, but that step likely won't be into a wild-card spot. They're in the league's toughest division and will have their work cut out for them just to get to .500.
22. Winnipeg Jets, 80 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 84
Offseason Changes: General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff very likely spent every day this summer in his pajamas, only coming into the office to do the paperwork on Mathieu Perreault's contract. The Jets did as little as any team this summer, but Michael Hutchinson will get a shot at playing time after reaching the Calder Cup Final in the AHL last year.
Key to Success: It's simple—have all the players who haven't been good enough to reach the playoffs in the West suddenly become better this season. That's something that happens all the time, right?
Bottom Line: Not only did the Jets miss the playoffs by a wide margin last year, but they didn't do anything to improve while many of the teams around them did. This may be the season during which the honeymoon ends for the Jets in Winnipeg.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs, 80 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 84
Offseason Changes: New team president Brendan Shanahan cleaned house by firing assistant coaches and assistant general managers but gave a stay of execution to Randy Carlyle and Dave Nonis. On the ice, the Leafs picked up Stephane Robidas and traded Carl Gunnarsson for Roman Polak. In an attempt to make the forward group stronger, they signed David Booth, Daniel Winnik, Leo Komarov and Mike Santorelli.
Key to Success: The league's worst possession team in 2013-14 needs to spend a little more time in the opponent's end of the ice in 2014-15. Even with third and fourth lines more capable of playing hockey, it will come down to whether goaltender Jonathan Bernier can carry the team again.
Bottom Line: It's the East, so anything is possible with an elite goaltender and a really good top six like the Leafs have. If things go really well, the Leafs can snag a wild-card spot before being sent home in the first round. If they don't, another playoff miss is inevitable, as is the firing of Carlyle and Nonis at season's end.
20. Edmonton Oilers, 81 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 67
Offseason Changes: The Oilers fortified the league's 30th-ranked defense by bringing aboard defensemen Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne. They also signed Benoit Pouliot to a long-term deal and acquired Teddy Purcell for Sam Gagner (he was then dealt to Arizona). The Oilers' makeover in net during last season left them with Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth between the pipes this season.
Key to Success: They need to be better in all areas. Despite gobs of talent, the Oilers finished tied for 24th in scoring last year. The primary areas of concern were defense and goaltending, and the team addressed them during last season and the offseason. If they can improve defensively, more offense will come out of it.
Bottom Line: The Oilers are at 11 against the dealer's face card—you probably shouldn't double down, but the payoff is so great that you want to keep putting your money in the betting circle. Even with 67 points a year ago, it's very tempting to pick them to be a playoff team. Although they got better over the past 12 months, they still seem to be a little short of the playoffs in the loaded West.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets, 87 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 93
Offseason Changes: The Blue Jackets made one big move, acquiring Scott Hartnell from the Flyers for R. J. Umberger. But the big changes aren't the result of signings or trades, as Nathan Horton is out indefinitely with a back ailment and leading scorer Ryan Johansen remains unsigned. It's doubtful Johansen's contract negotiations will bleed too far into the season, but he's already missed significant training camp time.
Key to Success: The Blue Jackets had a nice 2013-14, but the loss of Horton and a potential slow start looming from Johansen could sink them in 2014-15. The Blue Jackets were 12th in offense and 13th in defense last season, which are numbers that could take a hit without Horton in the lineup. It will be up to young players like Cam Atkinson and Ryan Murray to take a step forward if the Blue Jackets are to make consecutive trips to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Bottom Line: They are part of the Metropolitan Division logjam and could finish anywhere as high as second or as low as sixth. However, their footing seems so fragile right now with Horton and Johansen out. The smallest of dips in the play of Sergei Bobrovsky could be damaging. The Blue Jackets' season could go either way.
18. New York Rangers, 89 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 96
Offseason Changes: The Stanley Cup runners-up are almost unrecognizable compared to the team that lost to the Los Angeles Kings in June. Gone are Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett, replaced with Dan Boyle, Lee Stempniak, Matthew Lombardi and Tanner Glass. It's left a team that finished 18th in scoring last season weaker on offense.
Key to Success: The Rangers will need to get by on defense and goaltending, both of which should be just as good as they were in 2013-14 when they allowed the fourth-fewest goals. An unheralded reason for the team's regular-season success was backup Cam Talbot, who had a .941 save percentage in 21 games. It's a virtual guarantee that he won't come close to that number this season, which means Henrik Lundqvist will need to improve on his .920, his lowest save percentage since 2008-09.
Bottom Line: With Derek Stepan out about a month to start the season, the Rangers are even more of a borderline playoff team. They only finished six points clear of ninth place in the East last season and will be hard-pressed to stave off the likes of New Jersey, Washington and the Islanders. As long as the defense and goaltending hold up, they'll have a shot.
17. Colorado Avalanche, 89 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 112
Offseason Changes: They snagged Jarome Iginla off the free-agent pile but were unable to retain the services of Paul Stastny, who bolted to division rival St. Louis. The Avs also traded PA Parenteau to the Habs for Daniel Briere—a talent downgrade if there ever was one—and replaced Andre Benoit on the blue line with Brad Stuart, another bad trade-off.
Key to Success: Nathan MacKinnon has Hall of Fame talent and will need to be exceptional in his sophomore year for the Avs to offset the loss of Stastny. The biggest reason why the Avs defied their cringeworthy possession numbers was the play of Semyon Varlamov, who deservedly finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting. If he doesn't repeat his .927 save percentage, the Avs will be hurting.
Bottom Line: The Avs have a great group of top-six forwards and an excellent goaltender—that's plenty to have success in the East, but it may not be enough in the West. The Avs will be this year's referendum on fancy stats, but they've changed their roster so much that it wouldn't be entirely fair. Regardless, they are at best a fringe playoff team with this group.
16. New York Islanders, 91 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 79
Offseason Changes: The Islanders solved their goaltending woes by signing Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson and became deeper at forward with the additions of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. The well-traveled Cory Conacher is also in the mix up front.
Key to Success: If the Islanders can keep the puck out of their net, they will be a playoff team. They allowed the third-most goals in the NHL last season but were improved after trading defenseman Andrew MacDonald late in the season. With Halak and Johnson in net, they should be even better. The Islanders were a middle-of-the-pack club offensively with John Tavares missing half the season, so there should be plenty of scoring on Long Island in 2014-15.
Bottom Line: The only reason to not think of the Islanders as a playoff team this year is because, well, they're the Islanders. They usually find a way to "Islanders" up situations. But this is a playoff-caliber roster. If everyone performs up their capabilities, a postseason berth should be the end result.
15. Washington Capitals, 92 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 90
Offseason Changes: Barry Trotz was hired to replace Adam Oates behind the bench and general manager George McPhee was let go in favor of in-house replacement Brian MacLellan. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were signed in an effort to improve a sketchy defense. They allowed center Mikhail Grabovski to leave via free agency and signed Justin Peters to serve as Braden Holtby's backup.
Key to Success: The Capitals must become a better team at five-on-five. Last season, they were minus-16 (139 for, 155 against) in goal differential and survived by having the league's top power play. If Trotz, Niskanen and Orpik can help make up that 16-goal difference, the Caps can be a playoff team once again.
Bottom Line: They are smack-dab on the playoff borderline in the East. If Oates was truly the problem, then Trotz shouldn't have any problem pushing this team over the hump. But if the players are the problem, things aren't likely to change in Washington.
14. Minnesota Wild, 93 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 98
Offseason Changes: Looking to bolster an offense that scored 2.43 goals per game last season, the Wild signed Thomas Vanek to a three-year, $19.5 million contract. He scored 27 goals with the Sabres, Islanders and Canadiens last season and should help the Wild climb to the middle of the pack in goals.
Key to Success: The Wild were a top-10 team defensively a season ago. If they can climb to the middle of the pack offensively in 2014-15, they can be dangerous in the playoffs. Along with Vanek, Mikael Granlund could become a force in his third NHL season. As long as the Wild's goaltending situation sorts itself out, they are a contender.
Bottom Line: There's a lot to like with the Wild. They have a workhorse defenseman in Ryan Suter, elite scorers in Vanek and Zach Parise, and a lot of nice complementary parts. If Darcy Kuemper—or whoever becomes the No. 1 in net—plays way over his head, the Wild could be the team that comes out of the West. Then again, as good as the West is, missing the playoffs isn't out of the question either. Thank you for reading this extremely well-hedged prediction.
13. Dallas Stars, 96 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 91
Offseason Changes: The Stars beefed up their forward group by acquiring Jason Spezza from the Senators and signing Ales Hemsky to theoretically play on Spezza's wing. The defense and goaltending are mostly unchanged, although Stephane Robidas is gone after a trade-deadline deal and Anders Lindback is the new backup behind Kari Lehtonen.
Key to Success: The Stars should have plenty of offense to hang with anyone in the West. The question will be how the defense holds up. Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski are the anchors of a relatively inexperienced group, which could either mean trouble or it has room to get better. If it's the latter, the Stars will be a dangerous team in the West.
Bottom Line: It may be premature to consider the Stars contenders for a title, but they are in the mix to win the Central Division and win at least a round in the playoffs. As long as the injury bug doesn't bite them, they will be one of the funnest teams to watch in the NHL.
12. St. Louis Blues, 96 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 111
Offseason Changes: The Blues signed Paul Stastny to a four-year deal, instantly making their top six much better. They decided they'd rather pay Steve Ott than Vladimir Sobotka, a strange decision if there ever was one. They swapped Roman Polak for Carl Gunnarsson but chose to let Ryan Miller walk in free agency. They will go with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen in net.
Key to Success: How this team performs in the regular season will come down to goaltending and scoring. Elliott hasn't been a full-time starter since 2009-10, while Allen played last season in the AHL. Their lives will be made easy by playing behind one of the best defensive teams in the league, but will the Blues score enough? Their offense went dry toward the end of last season, and it's possible that reflects who they are offensively.
Bottom Line: A regression is possible in Ken Hitchcock's fourth season with the Blues—side note: he was fired from his last two coaching jobs during his fourth season with the club—but they shouldn't fall out of the playoffs if there is one. No matter what happens, the Blues are still an inferior product to the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks and likely won't get past either or both in the postseason.
11. New Jersey Devils, 96 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 88
Offseason Changes: For the first time since the George H. W. Bush administration, Martin Brodeur is not part of the Devils organization. Cory Schneider is the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender, but that was hardly the only big move. The Devils looked to remedy their offensive woes by signing Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat, although they lost defensemen Mark Fayne to the Oilers and Anton Volchenkov to the Predators.
Key to Success: It's all about improved goaltending—which should happen with Brodeur out—more scoring—which should happen to some extent with Cammalleri signed—and winning shootouts—something the Devils failed to do last year.
Bottom Line: The Devils weren't far from a playoff spot last year and seem to have fixed their problems. The Metro is a crowded division, but the Devils have what it takes to crack a top-three spot. The blue line is the big question mark, but as long as it holds steady from last season, the Devils will be much more formidable this year.
10. Detroit Red Wings, 97 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 93
Offseason Changes: There weren't many. Where the Red Wings can get better in 2014-15 after squeaking into the playoffs last season is with a healthy lineup. Stephen Weiss, Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk all missed significant time with injuries.
Key to Success: It's about keeping the veterans healthy and having the younger players continue to improve. Gustav Nyquist garnered Hart Trophy consideration in 2013-14 while Tomas Jurco and Danny DeKeyser can also build on solid seasons. If those two things happen, the Red Wings can be contenders in the East.
Bottom Line: Injuries are always an if for a team, but considering the history of this team's veterans, the Red Wings' success will come down to how many games those veterans play. Even with a rash of injuries, the Red Wings found a way into the postseason. So if the Red Wings can just avoid catastrophe—Datsyuk is already dealing with a shoulder issue—they will be a playoff squad.
9. Nashville Predators, 99 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 88
Offseason Changes: Barry Trotz, the only coach the organization has ever known, was replaced by Peter Laviolette. The roster was also reshaped, with Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling sent to Pittsburgh for 40-goal scorer James Neal. GM David Poile also bolstered the team down the middle by signing Olli Jokinen, Derek Roy and Mike Ribeiro. Anton Volchenkov was also signed and will act as a bottom-pairing blueliner.
Key to Success: Simply put, it's Pekka Rinne. Complications from hip surgery cost him 51 games last seasons and the Predators a shot at the playoffs. It's a testament to the team that it got to 88 points with a pair of rookie netminders holding down the fort. A healthy Rinne and contributions from the new pivots will have them sitting pretty in the Central.
Bottom Line: They certainly don't have enough scoring to be a playoff threat, but they have all the ingredients to be a very good regular-season team. Their ceiling is likely a first-round playoff loss, but that's a nice season after two straight without a postseason trip.
8. San Jose Sharks, 102 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 111
Offseason Changes: This may have been reported once or twice over the summer, but the Sharks wanted to trade Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, failed to do so, then stripped them of their letters. So, really, it was a two-month production that ended with a fashion change. Forward Brent Burns is moving back to the blue line. Also, Dan Boyle was allowed to leave and John Scott was signed. It was a sensational summer in San Jose.
Key to Success: It's as simple as the Sharks not losing sight of what made them a great team just because of a playoff loss to the eventual champions. They were sixth in goals and fifth in goals allowed last season, so as long as they don't start sending Thornton out for shifts with Scott and Mike Brown, the Sharks should still be a regular-season force.
Bottom Line: The Sharks are a potential Cup champion or first-round flameout, so it's business as usual. A lot will depend on how the team comes together in the wake of the leadership transition that's taking place, but no matter who is wearing the "C' or "A," they are still one of the most talented teams in the league.
7. Montreal Canadiens, 104 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 100
Offseason Changes: Captain Brian Gionta departed for Buffalo and Daniel Briere was shipped to Colorado for PA Parenteau. Newly signed players include defenseman Tom Gilbert and forward Manny Malhotra.
Key to Success: A lot of the Canadiens' hopes hinge on how well Alex Galchenyuk adapts to center. He's a special talent, but there are sure to be some growing pains associated with moving to the middle from the wing. The blue line is a little better with the Gilbert signing, and as long as Carey Price plays around 65 games, the Canadiens will be a quality Eastern team.
Bottom Line: To emerge from the East, a team needs to have that top-end goaltender. The Bruins have it with Tuukka Rask, the Rangers have it with Henrik Lundqvist and the Canadiens have it with Price. As they showed last year, as long as they qualify for the playoffs, they can make a run. As long as Price is healthy and Galchenyuk figures out center by April, it could be a magical season in Montreal.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins, 105 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 109
Offseason Changes: The Washington Capitals pilfered the Penguins this summer, signing defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. The Penguins made up for that loss by signing Christian Ehrhoff to a one-year deal. James Neal was sent to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. They also signed Steve Downie in an attempt to bolster the fourth line. Thomas Greiss was signed to back up Marc-Andre Fleury in net.
Key to Success: The Penguins will need two things come playoff time: contributions offensively from someone besides Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and consistent goaltending from Fleury. The regular season will take care of itself, but depth scoring and a Fleury who doesn't trip over himself are what it will take to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Bottom Line: They are still the class of the Metropolitan Division, but that's not the ultimate goal when two of the game's best players are on your roster. At best, they are a team that can reach the Stanley Cup Final before getting waxed by a Western power—something that will never change as long as Fleury is in net.
5. Los Angeles Kings, 106 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 100
Offseason Changes: The biggest loss was defenseman Willie Mitchell to Florida via free agency, while the biggest addition—if you want to call it that—was retaining the services of trade-deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik. For the most part, the defending champs are nearly identical to the team that won the Cup in June.
Key to Success: The regular season is meaningless in Los Angeles. As long as the Kings make the playoffs, they can win the Cup. That means coach Darryl Sutter will have to manage the ice time and even the mental fatigue of his team, as the Kings have played a lot of hockey over the past three years. If the Kings enter the playoffs fresh and healthy, look out.
Bottom Line: The Kings walked a tightrope in the playoffs, winning three Game 7s on the road before dispatching the Rangers in five games (three in overtime) in the SCF. They are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup again this year, although the West—namely the Pacific—has so many quality teams that they could easily get picked off in the first round.
4. Anaheim Ducks, 107 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 116
Offseason Changes: The biggest move was the addition of Ryan Kesler in a trade with the Canucks that sent Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and draft picks in the other direction. The declining Dany Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer, was given a one-year deal in the hopes that he can resurrect his game. The Ducks also parted ways with goaltender Jonas Hiller and will go with Frederik Andersen, John Gibson and Jason LaBarbera in net.
Key to Success: Scoring shouldn't be the issue for the Ducks. Their season will come down to keeping pucks out of their net. Can Cam Fowler back up his outstanding 2013-14 season? Will the new goaltending combination excel? As long as the Ducks are scoring like they did last year, they'll be fine, but a dip on defense could be an issue against top teams.
Bottom Line: The Ducks are good enough to win a Stanley Cup, but they will have their work cut out for them in the brutal Pacific Division. They will be hard-pressed to match last year's point total, but as long as they find themselves in the playoffs, they have a shot at a very deep run.
3. Boston Bruins, 108 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 117
Offseason Changes: There wasn't much in the way of change with the Bruins in the offseason, but one change was significant: Jarome Iginla took his 30 goals to the Colorado Avalanche in free agency. By re-signing restricted free agents Reilly Smith and Torey Krug to shockingly low one-year deals, the Bruins didn't have to part with a defenseman to get under the salary cap.
Key to Success: As long as their key players avoid long-term injury, the Bruins will be a strong contender to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final. Zdeno Chara is 37 years old and 33-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is coming off a knee injury that cost him the second half of last season. Iginla's departure hurts the scoring depth of a team that finished third in goals in 2013-14, so there's some fragility up front as well.
Bottom Line: The Bruins have the best defensemen/goaltender group in the East, so even with the offense likely to slow a bit without Iginla, they're still among the favorites to win the conference. Besides, if the Bruins are looking like Cup contenders, GM Peter Chiarelli can always had that missing component at the trade deadline.
2. Chicago Blackhawks, 116 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 107
Offseason Changes: Out with Michal Handzus, in with Brad Richards. If ain't broke, don't fix it—but feel free to upgrade the second-line center. There's a chance Finnish prospect Teuvo Teravainen arrives on the scene in 2014-15. The defense and goaltending are virtually identical to a year ago and all the big guns are still there up front.
Key to Success: For the Blackhawks to have regular-season success, all they need is to stay healthy. They are too strong at forward and too deep on defense to be anything but a top-five team next season.
Bottom Line: The Blackhawks can win the Stanley Cup as long at they get average—or heck, slightly below-average—goaltending from Corey Crawford. In last season's Western Conference Final, Crawford was absolutely porous and the Blackhawks were still a goal away from the Stanley Cup Final. The team in front of Crawford is so good that mediocrity in net is all it takes for this team to win.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning, 118 Points
2013-14 Points Total: 101
Offseason Changes: Let's take a deep breath...and here we go: They signed Anton Stralman and traded for Jason Garrison to fortify the defense, they signed forwards Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow and will likely have Calder Trophy favorite Jonathan Drouin in the lineup when he's healthy. They also tried to fix their backup goaltender situation by signing Evgeni Nabokov to replace Anders Lindback. A team that cracked 100 points in 2013-14 despite Steven Stamkos missing three months with a broken leg had the best summer of any team.
Key to Success: The only thing that can derail the Lightning is them succumbing to expectations created within the organization and by idiots like me who predict they will come close to 120 points in the regular season. They have four great lines and six great defensemen, so as long as Ben Bishop follows up his breakout 2013-14 season with a similarly solid campaign, the Lightning can storm through the East.
Bottom Line: This team is terrifying on paper and has a roster that can compete with the best in the West should it reach the Stanley Cup Final. It's going to come down to Bishop, who missed last year's playoffs with an injury and lacks postseason experience. But in terms of regular-season success, the Lightning shouldn't have any trouble finding it in the East.