Tonight kicks off the start to a new NHL season, which also means my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins look to defend their title as Stanley Cup Champions, although it is not off to a hot start.
Now, I can openly admit that by no means I am a “hockey expert” per se, but I’ve acquired a better understanding of the game over the past few years, so I feel pretty good about these predictions.
Eastern Conference Preview
The Eastern Conference starts with the defending champs, Pittsburgh. Coming off of a championship season, the only significant loss from last year’s team was defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who signed with division rival New Jersey. Although most of last year’s team has returned for another Cup run, the Penguins just lost their captain and best player in the world (Yes, he is, shut up Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane fans) Sidney Crosby to his third concussion. There is no timetable for Crosby’s return, but the Penguins are a deep enough team to stay in contention until he returns, which leaves the door open for a lot of teams in the East. The Washington Capitals look to finish at the top of the conference again, as last year they
The Washington Capitals look to finish at the top of the conference again, as last year they set franchise records in wins and points, and they very well could with the team they have coming back this year. Now as a diehard Penguins fan, I love as much as anyone watching the Capitals choke every year in the playoffs, but I think after another crushing playoff defeat last season, this season could be different for Washington and could be the year that three-time MVP Ovechkin makes that leap to a Conference Finals.
Speaking of teams I hate, the Philadelphia Flyers are unfortunately going to make some noise this year, and I say that because they are a relatively young team that got some much-needed playoff experience last year, and are looking to build off that success, led by captain Claude Giroux.
A team I see regressing this year is the New York Rangers, another team that I don’t care for. Listen, I know they have arguably the best goalie in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist, but other than him there’s nobody on the roster that really wows me, and they just looked slow last year in the playoffs.
When it comes down to it, I think the East will be won by the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. They have two excellent goalies in Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of whom they may look to trade for an asset during the season, they resigned franchise cornerstones Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to long-term deals, and they have young and up and coming players in Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin. They were a game away from making the Stanley Cup last year, and two games away from winning it all the year before; they’re an experienced team who is coming into this year hungry for a championship.
Eastern Conference Playoff Teams:
Tampa Bay Lightning
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
East Winner: Tampa Bay Lightning
Western Conference Preview
To me, there are about six different teams I can see taking the West this year, and it starts with Chicago. I know they had a pretty devastating playoff loss last year to rival St. Louis, who I also think can win the conference by the way, but I just think this team is too deep and has too much playoff experience to not make a deep playoff run this year, led by reigning MVP Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews. That’s not to say I think they will win the conference, it just wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if they did.
Speaking of recent Stanley Cup winners, the Los Angeles Kings are another team not to be taken lightly, as they too have a very talented roster with a ton of playoff experience. Similar to the Blackhawks, the Kings also suffered a first round playoff exit from last season, but are looking to bounce back led by newly appointed captain Anze Kopitar.
The Dallas Stars are another I really like to make some noise in the West this year, as they finished at the top of the conference last season. The problem with Dallas is that they don’t have a reliable goalie on their highly talented roster that’s led by Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. I think that if they can get that figured out, they should be the favorite coming out of the West.
Other teams in the West you have to take seriously are the reigning conference champions San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and the Nashville Predators with newly acquired defenseman PK Subban.
When it comes down to it, though, the team I see representing the conference in the Stanley Cup this year is the Anaheim Ducks, although I’ll never forgive them for changing the best logo in sports. I know that this may be going out on a little bit of a limb seeing how they got bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year, but they finished fourth in the conference last year, and I think that this year the puck is just going to bounce their way. I really like their roster, and I love how they brought back Randy Carlyle, who has gotten the team to a championship ten years ago.
Western Conference Playoff Teams:
St. Louis Blues
Los Angeles Kings
San Jose Sharks