NHL Teams Most Likely to Regress in the 2015-16 Season

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistAugust 26, 2015

NHL Teams Most Likely to Regress in the 2015-16 Season

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Fans and media love to make predictions before the season begins, but most are off the rails by Halloween. It's difficult to project regression season over season because there are so many moving parts in the game of hockey.

    There are a few teams who show real signs of erosion, and they are very likely to fall this year. Others have made risky roster bets and could fall despite being in a window of success. Still others are biting the bullet and looking at a rebuild.

    Fair warning: Predicting regression is a dangerous game. Although many of these teams are going to post poorer records this coming season, this list also contains teams who will surprise in a good way. How do we know this? It happens every year.

Boston Bruins

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    What did they do last season? The Boston Bruins stumbled in 2014-15, winning 41 games and posting 96 points—not good enough to make the playoffs. Injuries and an inconsistent power play were part of the problem for Boston. 

    Did they address the problem over the summer? The Bruins went another direction in the offseason. In dealing Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames and Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings, the team signaled a quick rebuild. They also added veteran winger Matt Beleskey in free agency and began training camp as a lesser group than they were when the year ended. 

    Outlook for 2015-16: There are still options available—Boston could sign Cody Franson as a free agent to help cushion the blow of the Hamilton deal—but at this point it's reasonable to expect a self-inflicted stumble from the Bruins this season. It has been a decidedly curious offseason.

Calgary Flames

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    What did they do last season? The Calgary Flames won 45 games in 2014-15, finishing No. 3 in the Pacific Division. They won a playoff round against the Vancouver Canucks before bowing to the Anaheim Ducks. They did it despite being a poor possession team—Scott Cullen of TSN showed the alarming numbers—and receiving only average goaltending.

    Did they address the problem over the summer? Calgary added a major piece in defender Dougie Hamilton, who should help the team on offense and defense. They also signed center Michael Frolik, a very nice addition to an already emerging forward group.

    Outlook for 2015-16: Calgary will fall out of the playoffs and finish in the range of No. 10 to No. 12 in the Western Conference. It's a bet that could go sideways, but the run of luck last season suggests there's a market correction on the horizon. History teaches us that bad possession teams with good won-loss records are extremely likely to fall flat at some point in the future, but that's not to say it will be this season.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    What did they do last season? The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2015, something that is becoming a regular occurrence. One of the keys came from the defense—they allowed 35 fewer goals than the average team last year—and the Hawks won their third Stanley Cup since 2010. The biggest item on the agenda for summer was getting under the cap, something everyone knew would be difficult. 

    Did they address the problem over the summer? Chicago dealt away Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars and acquired Trevor Daley—who effectively replaces the free-agent loss of Johnny Oduya. They also dealt young winger Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets and finally solved their No. 2 center issue with Artem Anisimov, who was part of the return.

    Outlook for 2015-16: The Hawks will once again be a strong team in 2015-16, but a tumble from 48 wins and 102 points is likely. Chicago is trying to do something very rare in the capped NHL: sustain a dynasty. The large amount of roster upheaval from their first championship through the 2015 edition was incredible, and we saw a lot of turnover again this summer.

Montreal Canadiens

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    What did they do last season? The Montreal Canadiens won 50 games and the Atlantic Division in 2014-15. The defense and goaltending were fabulous—35 goals-against better than the NHL average—but couldn't go deep in the playoffs due to a lack of offense from their forwards. 

    Did they address the problem over the summer? Montreal has been surprisingly quiet since the end of the season, with the only skill forward added being Alexander Semin, who signed a contract in late July.

    Outlook for 2015-16: Last season the Canadiens had a lot of offense tied up in five forwards—Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk. Those five men accounted for 121 of the 177 goals from their forward group last year. Adding Semin is likely not enough, and we may see a fall from last season's 100 total points for Montreal.

New York Rangers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    What did they do last season? The New York Rangers have enjoyed significant success over the last several years, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 and the Conference Finals last year. The club's 53 wins in 2014-15 and 113 points gave them the Metropolitan Division regular-season crown. Their problem with cap issues, including the signing of RFA's Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan, represented the big challenge of the offseason.

    Did they address the problem over the summer? Martin St. Louis retired, Stepan was signed and Carl Hagelin was sent to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem. The Rangers are under the cap but have more question marks among their forwards than they did in the spring. They will need youngsters Etem, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller to be consistent and productive.

    Outlook for 2015-16: New York has enjoyed a nice run and is attempting to add youth on the fly. This remains a playoff team with the ability to go deep into the spring as long as Henrik Lundqvist plays goal. They do appear to have lost some ground to the thundering herd, and we'll probably see a dip in the standings this year.

San Jose Sharks

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What did they do last season? The San Jose Sharks had a weird season in 2014-15, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003. The team was a veteran group, led by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Antti Niemi and coached by Todd McLellan. When a veteran team takes a plunge in the standings, changes need to be made.

    Did they address the problem over the summer? San Jose changed its coach—the new man is Peter DeBoer—and brought in several veterans, including Paul Martin who should help the defense. In one area the Sharks went young—goaltending and Martin Jones—which is a risky move for a veteran team.

    Outlook for 2015-16: The Sharks continue to baffle in some major areas. The club remains a veteran one with exceptional top-end talent. But its bottom-of-the-roster forwards are replacement level, and that's a concern. The addition of Martin Jones as the assumed No. 1 goalie is a dangerous thing for a veteran team, and a more experienced backup may have been a better route.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

    What did they do last season? The Toronto Maple Leafs had a trying season in 2014-15, winning only 30 games and collecting just 68 points. One of their major issues came in allowing goals—262 in all—and much of the issue came from the defensive coverage, which included long periods of chaos. 

    Did they address the problem over the summer? Toronto turned over much of the management group and coaching staff and dealt away impact scorer Phil Kessel. The team will feature a new look under Mike Babcock, and fans are behind what appears to be a full rebuild.

    Outlook for 2015-16: It's a good bet that the Leafs will fall down the standings this year and draft inside the top five overall in 2016. There is one major caveat: Mike Babcock doesn't like to lose. Based on pure talent, this Toronto team isn't close to being competitive. Betting against Babcock finding a way to win more than he loses—even with this group of players—comes with risks.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    What did they do last season? The Vancouver Canucks enjoyed a strong season in 2014-15, winning 48 games under new coach Willie Desjardins. Although they had a disappointing run in the playoffs, it was generally a strong season. One area of concern: The Canucks are an old team, with their top three forwards, one of their best defensemen and their starting goalie all well over 30.

    Did they address the problem over the summer? Vancouver's big move this summer came in the acquisition of Brandon Sutter. The team didn't get any younger, so it remains vulnerable to erosion.

    Outlook for 2015-16: The Western Conference has been very stable over the last several years, but this fall should see some real movement. Among the Western Canadian teams, the Canucks are in a terrible spot: They are not dominant, they are aging and all around them are teams that are young and improving.


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