New York Rangers
East Wild Card:
West Wild Card:
Looks very similar to last season’s playoff picture, right? I just don’t see much changing other than realignment in positions. The only change in the Atlantic is a switch between Tampa and Montreal. I think that the spot for first in the Metropolitan Division may be more competitive with a slightly better New York Rangers club and what I think well be a weaker Pittsburgh Penguins team. The difference I have there is Columbus sliding into the third spot and Philadelphia securing a wild card spot. I’m going ahead and picking Washington over Detroit and the rest of the East. In the West, the Central Division’s only difference I predict is St. Louis topping Colorado for first. They screwed up at the end of last season, losing six straight and falling to second place. I think they would’ve defeated Minnesota if they ended up facing them in the first round instead of Chicago. I switched Los Angeles and San Jose in the Pacific Division and Dallas and Minnesota in the wild card.
I decided not to predict the Hurricanes because there are teams I am more sure of how their season will turn out, especially after the Canes lost Jordan Staal for 4 months, but I believe they have a good chance at being a sleeper with the new coaching staff and young guys having a chance to contribute. You can’t judge much from preseason, but there are a couple things I want to point out. First is the play of Victor Rask, who has been very good and will most likely fill in for Jordan Staal. There is also Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry, and maybe Chad LaRose who can fill in depth wise. More importantly is the improved powerplay under Rod Brind’amour, which is the best Hurricane man advantage I’ve seen. There’s movement, net front presence, shots, puck retrievals, and not just one good pass, but two or three.
Also having a chance to be sleepers are Toronto, Arizona, Nashville, and Winnipeg. Toronto was in the race for the playoffs until a losing streak ended their hopes. If those moves and the “cultural change” this offseason work, they might slide into a spot. Arizona was just 3 points out, eliminated in the final days of the season. Their penalty killing needed help being 26th in the league, and if their acquisitions work, that will improve. Like I mentioned way back back when I did my analysis on them, if the penalty kill was a point percentage higher, they would’ve made the postseason. Joe Vitale is strong on the penalty kill, and it doesn’t hurt that he was 62% in face-off winning percentage. Nashville was also close to a spot, and Peter Laviolette and all those great acquisitions offensively, along with Pekka Rinne’s return, could propel them into a spot. I also pick Winnipeg because of their play under Maurice at the end of last season. If they continue that play, they may have a good chance. Still, with Dallas stronger, it will be tough.
My Stanley Cup Champion prediction: the Montreal Canadiens; they can get past Tampa and Boston again, and I believe they can make that leap into the Finals.