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Complete Guide to the 2014-15 NHL Season

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterOctober 7, 2014

Bill Smith/Getty Images

When the puck drops at Air Canada Centre at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday night between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, it will mark the first meaningful NHL contest (no offense, exhibition schedule) since the Los Angeles Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three seasons by beating the New York Rangers in five games. 

A lot has happened in the 118 days since Alec Martinez slammed home the Cup-winning goal in double overtime at Staples Center. New coaches have been hired, trades and free agency have given some big-name players new homes and the location and teams participating in outdoor games were announced.

We’ve got a lot to catch up on and look forward to. Let’s just wade into the 2014-15 NHL season, shall we?

“Sorry, we got a little distracted doing the repeater”

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Right meow, it’s time to look at the chances of the Los Angeles Kings winning a second straight Stanley Cup. Meow. 

The league hasn’t seen a repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998. In an effort to convey just how long ago that happened while at the same time making you feel ancient, not a single member of this year’s Kings team was in the NHL at the time of either of those Cup wins.

Time is stalking us all, hiding in the shadows, until it one day inevitably steals our last drop of life force.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, winning consecutive championships. 

Of all the reasons why it’s so hard to win a second straight championship—keeping a team together in the time of free agency, the grind of consecutive deep runs, maintaining the same hunger to win it again—Marian Gaborik probably made the best, albeit not new, point about why it’s so hard in an interview with L.A. Kings insider Jon Rosen.  

I think everybody that’s going to play against us, they’re going to pick it up a notch and really try to beat us. So we just have to be ready and we have to have a strong start and just go from there.

The same way a persistent ground attack can wear down a defense in football, playing 82 games in which the opposition is always throwing its best, hardest punch can wear down a team over six months. The fact that 50 of those punches will be thrown by teams in the Western Conference, the Coca Cola to the East’s Shasta, will also exact a toll over the course of the season. 

The one thing the Kings have going for themselves that mirrors those Red Wings teams is very little roster turnover. 

Willie Mitchell was the team’s only significant loss this summer, as the second-pairing, penalty-killing menace signed with the Florida Panthers. The Red Wings lost the services of defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov after a tragic limousine accident following the 1997 Cup win ended his career.

It’s actually far more impressive that general manager Dean Lombardi was able to keep this team almost entirely intact in a salary-cap era while the free-spending Red Wings didn’t have those type of worries in the 1990s. 

Since the NHL went to a salary cap in 2005-06, there hasn’t been a team better equipped to repeat than this year’s Kings. 

If we’re going to see a repeat champion in the salary-cap era, it’s meow or never.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

So, you have a first-year head coach 

Chances are, if your team is entering this season with a rookie head coach behind the bench, your previous season did not go the way management had hoped. Whether you missed the playoffs completely (Carolina, Vancouver) or were bounced early again (Pittsburgh), this was not your ideal setup for 2014-15.

What exactly has it meant to NHL teams since 2005-06, having a rookie head coach running the show at the outset of a season? 

It has usually meant bad things.

First-year coaches since 2005-06
SeasonCoachTeamResult
2005-06Randy CarlyleAnaheim Duckslost in conference finals
2005-06Wayne GretzkyPhoenix Coyotesmissed playoffs
2006-07Jim PlayfairCalgary Flamesmissed playoffs
2006-07Trent YawneyChicago Blackhawksmissed playoffs
2006-07Guy CarbonneauMontreal Canadiensmissed playoffs
2008-09Peter DeBoerFlorida Panthersmissed playoffs
2008-09John AndersonAtlanta Thrashersmissed playoffs
2008-09Scott GordonNew York Islandersmissed playoffs
2008-09Todd McLellanSan Jose Sharkslost in first round
2009-10Joe SaccoColorado Avalanchelost in first round
2009-10Todd RichardsMinnesota Wildmissed playoffs
2010-11Scott ArnielColumbus Blue Jacketsmissed playoffs
2010-11John MacLeanNew Jersey Devilsmissed playoffs
2010-11Guy BoucherTampa Bay Lightninglost in conference finals
2011-12Kirk MullerCarolina Hurricanesmissed playoffs
2011-12Glen GulutzanDallas Starsmissed playoffs
2011-12Mike YeoMinnesota Wildmissed playoffs
2011-12Kevin DineenFlorida Pantherslost in first round
2011-12Paul MacLeanOttawa Senatorslost in first round
2013Ralph KruegerEdmonton Oilersmissed playoffs
2013Adam OatesWashington Capitalslost in first round
2013-14Patrick RoyColorado Avalanchelost in first round
2013-14Dallas EakinsEdmonton Oilersmissed playoffs
Hockey-Reference.com

The highlights of that chart: Of the 23 first-year coaches to begin a season with a team, 15 did not qualify for the playoffs, five did not get out of the first round, two reached the conference finals and one (John MacLean) was fired before the maiden voyage reached its conclusion. 

There's not a single, solitary trip to a Stanley Cup Final in that group, never mind a championship.

Now is a good time to introduce ourselves to the latest first-year coaches: Bill Peters in Carolina, Mike Johnston in Pittsburgh and Willie Desjardins in Vancouver.

Sep 26, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins addresses the media after the third period at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Johnston would have to do something unbelievable to transform the Penguins into an also-ran, as he has been handed the reins of a team that won the Metropolitan Division last season with two of the best players in the world. He’s in good shape.

The other two coaches are facing quite the challenge.

Peters has inherited a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2009 and has been ravaged by injuries to star players in the exhibition season (more on that later). If you’re looking for a sliver of hope, it should be pointed out that he spent three seasons as an assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit before taking the Hurricanes job, a similar path to that of Paul MacLean, who guided the Senators to a playoff spot as a first-year coach after years at Babcock’s side.

It’s not that bleak for Desjardins in Vancouver, but it’s not exactly rosy.

Desjardins is probably the most-loved coach in the history of the NHL, at least in his own locker room, as he is replacing the hard-as-nails, downright-ornery John Tortorella. After a season of being fed slop and gruel, Desjardins’ arrival signaled the start of Taco Tuesday every single day, as explained by Canucks forward Chris Higgins.

I think a different, fresh approach is going to be taken. I think a [coaching staff] that’s probably a little more receptive to what we have to say and that’s all a player can ask for — to be able to share your opinions and have it be translated onto the ice as well. I think that was a pretty classy step by him to reach out and even go visit some guys. I think a lot of guys had positive reviews of their conversations with him.

While it’s easy to expect new life being injected into a miserable group of humans by the Tortorella/Desjardins exchange, that may not happen in Vancouver.

Consider the New York Rangers, who spent four years under Tortorella before swapping him with former Canucks front man Alain Vigneault last season. It translated into a run to the Stanley Cup Final, sure, but if you weren’t looking closely, you may not have noticed that nothing much changed on the ice.

In Tortorella’s final season (the shortened 2013 one), the Rangers were playing to a 96-point pace over 48 games and averaged 2.62 goals per game; last season under Vigneault, the Rangers finished with 96 points and averaged 2.61 goals per game.

The Rangers reached the conference finals and second round in Tortorella’s final two seasons, so it’s not as though taking a step to the final was out of nowhere.

Desjardins takes over a team that not only missed the playoffs last season but traded second-line center Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks for spare parts and has a declining Ryan Miller guarding the net.

The Penguins are a unique case in this first-year coach study, but it’s very likely the Canucks and Hurricanes find themselves watching the playoffs from home once again.

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 6:  Assistant Coach Brent Thompson, left, Head Coach Jack Capuano, center and Assistant Coach Doug Weight, right, all of the New York Islanders, watch their team play against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 6, 2014 at Nationwide Ar
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Coaches on the hot seat

Now that we know the virgin coaches, which veteran coaches are under pressure to deliver early in the season?

Since you (I) asked, my five coaches that could be unemployed before the end of the season are Dave Tippett in Arizona, Peter DeBoer in New Jersey, Paul MacLean in Ottawa, Jack Capuano in New York and Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis.

Your immediate reaction is probably something along the lines of “Ken Hitchcock, you dumb idiot? Could you be a dumber idiot moron for saying he could be fired this season?”

That’s fair, measured and thoughtful, but hear me out.

Sometimes it isn’t about overall performance; it’s about performance vs. expectations, and after the signing of Paul Stastny, the expectations are as high as can be in St. Louis. The Blues were an above-average offensive team last season, but their scoring went in the toilet down the stretch and during a first-round loss to the Blackhawks, which marked the third straight year they were banished from the playoffs by either Chicago or Los Angeles.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 27:  A young fan pounds on the glass as head coach Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues watches the finals minutes along with team members on the bench against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanl
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The last two times Hitchcock was asked to clean out his desk, it was in the middle of a fourth season with Columbus in 2010 and Philadelphia in 2006. This will be his fourth season with St. Louis.

If the Blues stumble out of the gate and are starved for goals, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Hitchcock will be on the hot seat. 

As for the other four coaches, that’s a mix of results and expectations.

Tippet’s Team Formerly Known As Phoenix has missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and is again going through ownership drama. The team looks weaker than it did a year ago, and while Tippett has squeezed every point possible out of a mostly mediocre team since 2009, his time may be running out.

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 03: Head coach Peter DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils looks on during a first period timeout against the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center on February 3, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Image
Andy Marlin/Getty Images

DeBoer was playing with 2-7 offsuit throughout 2013-14, having to use washed up goaltender Martin Brodeur in about half the games while seeing the team go 0-13 in shootouts. With the Brodeur distraction gone and the addition of Michael Cammalleri, there will be no excuses for a bad start in New Jersey.

MacLean had the heat turned up on him in Ottawa last year but survived the offseason. Losing Jason Spezza in a trade that returned Alex Chiasson may have lowered expectations a bit, but fair or not, this team is expected to be in the mix for a playoff spot.

As for Capuano, expectations haven’t been this high on Long Island since The Phantom Menace premiered at the AMC Loews on Hempstead Turnpike in 1999. The Islanders added goaltending (Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson), offense (Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin) and defense (Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk), causing many (me included) to feel that this is a playoff team.

If the Islanders stumble to a 5-8-2 start, something that shouldn't be unexpected with so many new faces playing together, it could spell trouble for Capuano.

Nobody on Long Island wants to see this team Jar Jar Binks it up. You’re breaking my heart, Jackakin.

Thus concludes the outdated movie reference portion of this piece.

There will be an All-Star Game in Columbus

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 28:  Last pick Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs for team Lidstrom looks on during the All-Star Fantasy Draft for the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend at the Raleigh Convention Center on January 28, 2011 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (P
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

There will be an All-Star Game in Columbus. Yeah.

For the first time since 2012, there will be an All-Star Game. And it will take place in Columbus. The 2013 game, which was scheduled to take place at Nationwide Arena, was canceled because of a lockout and there wasn't one scheduled in 2014 because of the Sochi Olympics.

That means the return of fantasy player draft, the one created by now-Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, the one that produced an Alex Ovechkin picture of Phil Kessel sitting alone in Ottawa and the one that featured…in Raleigh…when that guy…I honestly don't remember anything about the second fantasy draft, and I was there for it.

But with the All-Star Game back, so is the draft. Well, at least in theory it is. There's no mention of it happening again on the league web site and the wording of the collective bargaining agreement leaves it open for interpretation, reading: "The All-Star Game, including all All-Star weekend-related events and activities in which Players will be asked to participate, will employ a format agreed upon by the NHL and the NHLPA."

In other words, if both sides don't want it, it won't happen.

Either way, there will be the sport's greatest players skating around at half-speed on a Sunday afternoon in Ohio in January.

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

Breaking news: Breaking players

By now, you know which players have new homes (although we’ll touch on that), but maybe you haven’t noticed which players have been injured during preseason because you’ve been rightfully distracted by the NFL season and MLB playoffs.

Well hang on to your crutches, because this was a particularly brutal preseason.

First, the names, in no particular order, of players who won’t be in lineups on opening night: Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Derek Stepan, Dany Heatley, Nathan Horton, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray, Sergei Gonchar, Nikita Nikitin, Josh Harding, Mike Fisher, Marc Methot, Kimmo Timonen, Jonathan Drouin and Cody Franson.

Sometimes season-crippling injuries can be good things.

Look at the Hurricanes. Bad club. First-year coach. Eighty-three points last season. Two way overpriced players (Eric Staal at $8.25 million, Cam Ward at $6.3 million) eating cap space. This team had no chance at a playoff spot before the injuries to Staal and Skinner, which means with Staal out three to four months and Skinner dealing with what is likely the fourth concussion of his career, they can get into the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel mix.

(No one is saying it’s great that Staal’s leg snapped or Skinner is entering dangerous territory with his brain injuries, but being really bad in the NHL is much better in the long term than being only sort of bad.)

On the other side of the coin is the Blue Jackets, who would have been in dire straits if Ryan Johansen and the team didn’t come to terms on a three-year deal Monday.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Horton’s back has him out indefinitely, Murray is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, and Jenner’s broken hand has him watching from the press box until November. None of those injuries is a global killer, but combined, it could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs in what should be a dogfight in the Metropolitan.

That’s also why Stepan’s fractured leg, which should only cost him 10 games, could have a damaging long-term effect on the Rangers’ playoff chances. For essentially one-eighth of the season, New York will have to use Martin St. Louis at center while Stepan is on the mend, which has been a borderline disaster in the preseason.

For the Rangers and Jackets, two teams that qualified for the playoffs by the skin of their teeth last season, it could be enough to flip them to the other side of the dividing line.

10 new faces in new places

In the interest of brevity, seeing as you’ve had all summer to learn this stuff, here are 10 prominent players who are with new teams this season.

1. Paul Stastny: As stated above, he is now the No. 1 center for the St. Louis Blues.

2. Jarome Iginla: The Bruins couldn’t afford him, so the Avs gave him a three-year deal.

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

3. Ryan Miller: After a stopover in St. Louis, he signed for three years with the Canucks.

4, 5. Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik: Both took the money from the Capitals and ran from Pittsburgh.

6. Christian Ehrhoff: After being bought out by the Sabres, he signed with the Penguins.

7. Dan Boyle: The Sharks allowed the 38-year-old to leave as a free agent, and the Rangers promptly scooped him up as a replacement for Anton Stralman, now in Tampa.

8. Jaroslav Halak: He bounced from St. Louis to Buffalo to Washington and finally to the Islanders, where he is now the team’s No. 1 goaltender.

9. Jason Spezza: He has found a new home in Dallas after spending 13 years with the Senators organization.

10. Ryan Kesler: He said farewell to the Canucks when he was traded to Pacific Division power Anaheim.

For a list of every NHL free-agent signing this summer, NHL.com has you covered. They also have a list of every offseason trade.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The NHL goes outside…again

After six outdoor contests last season, no doubt a number chosen to help the NHL recoup some money lost during the 2013 lockout, as these games are gold-filled, diamond-encrusted pinatas, the league will only have two outdoor games this season: one in Washington and one in Santa Clara.

The Washington Capitals will host the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park, home of the (maybe) 2014 MLB regular season champion Washington Nationals. The setting certainly lacks the flair of Michigan Stadium or unique beauty of Fenway Park, but you can’t deny that Nationals Park certainly is a great place for hockey. 

With that game taking place New Year’s Day, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings will square off Feb. 21 at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers.

Two games allows for the Winter Classic to be seen more as a novelty, although the novelty of seeing the same teams play outside is wearing thin. This is will be Chicago’s third outdoor game and the second for both Los Angeles and Washington. San Jose is playing in its first (and maybe last) outdoor game.

It’s the second outdoor game in California in two years, as the Ducks and Kings played at Dodger Stadium last season. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was happy to reward the Sharks' desire to play outside as well. 

As soon as we saw what we had at Dodger Stadium, we knew we were coming up here. to We knew the Sharks wanted it and they kept saying, 'If you can do it there, you can do it here.' As soon as we saw what an incredible success that game was, there was no question we were coming.

Would a game in Minnesota kill the NHL? I hear hockey is big up there. Or how about Dallas? The Stars have a couple budding superstars that could use some exposure.

It will be interesting to see what the dull settings and repeat participants do to ratings this year, especially if a weather delay pushes back the 1 p.m. start time. With college football moving to a playoff system, their semifinals will take place on Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Should there be too much rain or snow to drop the puck in the afternoon, the NHL could be in trouble.

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

The playoffs: Who’s in and who’s out?

This is the time of year when optimism abounds. But in reality, hopes are tempered because there really isn’t ever all that much turnover in postseason participants.

• Of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs in 2011, four failed to get back in 2012.

• Of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs in 2012, five failed to get back in 2013.

• Of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs in 2013, four failed to get back in 2014.

Recent history shows we can likely expect four teams that reached the postseason in 2014 won’t be back there this April. Who will those teams be, you ask?

According to me, the Avalanche, Rangers, Blue Jackets and Flyers have all the characteristics of teams that will regress enough to miss the playoffs.

DENVER, CO - APRIL 30:  P.A. Parenteau #15, Matt Duchene #9 and Ryan O'Reilly #90 of the Colorado Avalanche skate off the ice after loosing to the Minnesota Wild in overtime of Game Seven of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Ce
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Avalanche, like the 2013 Leafs before them, were a team that defied the math to achieve the playoffs in 2014. According to war-on-ice, the Avs were in the bottom five of even-strength shot attempt differential last season and found their way into the playoffs thanks largely to the play of goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting.

The Avs also parted ways with Paul Stastny and dealt positive possession player PA Parenteau to the Canadiens for possession sinkhole Daniel Briere.

If you’re thinking it’s near impossible for the Avs to go from 112 points to out of the playoffs, the Lightning (103), Flyers (103), Devils (102) and Ducks (99) all went from the top 10 in the league standings to out of the playoffs in one season since 2011.

Only two teams since 2005-06 have missed the playoffs following a season of at least 110 points: the 2006-07 Hurricanes failed to qualify after 112 points and a Stanley Cup in 2005-06, and the 2007-08 Sabres fell to 90 points after posting 113 the previous season.

So it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the Avs to spit back 20-22 points and narrowly miss the playoffs.

For the Rangers, Jackets and Flyers, it’s more about those teams having subpar offseasons combined with the fact they barely qualified in 2014. The Rangers (96), Flyers (93) and Jackets (93) squeaked in ahead of ninth-place Washington, which finished with 90 points.

The Rangers lost a slew of players, including Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle, and will be without No. 1 center Derek Stepan for at least the first month of the season.

The Flyers downgraded their offense with a straight-up swap of Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger this summer and received news that top defenseman Kimmo Timonen could miss the entire season due to blood clots. They were in the bottom half of the league possession-wise last season with Timonen, so things figure to worsen without him.

The Blue Jackets are without Nathan Horton, Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray at the outset and will have to wait as Ryan Johansen gets up to speed after finally signing a new contract.

With the Islanders, Devils and Capitals upgrading this summer, there could be a massive shift in power in the Metropolitan this season.

All statistics via NHL.com unless otherwise noted.

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.

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