Tuesday, August 29, 2017


By Adam Bernard

With the 2017-18 NHL Pre-Season a little under a month away, it's time to start looking ahead to what to expect for the upcoming campaign. With every team, the obvious best case scenario is hoisting the Stanley Cup in the late Spring. On the flip side, the obvious worst case scenario would be catastrophic injuries and missing the playoffs. I'll be going division by division and giving each team's realistic ceiling (not every team is an actual Cup contender) and floor for the 2017-18 season. Today we take a look at the Central Division in part three of the four part series: 

2016-17 RESULTS





-1st in Central

-Lost in 1st round of playoffs to Nashville

Until Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith aren’t their usual selves, the Blackhawks are always in the conversation to win it all. Yes they were swept out of the playoffs by the lowest seed to make the playoffs, but Nashville was no fluke either. For a team used to making deep playoff runs, last year serves as motivation to run through the league and win their fourth Stanley Cup in nine seasons. The chemistry between Toews and Brandon Saad picks up where it left off when Saad was traded to Columbus, Corey Crawford plays like a Top 10 goalie, the youngsters in the bottom six contribute, and Joel Qunneville becomes only the eight coach in NHL history to have four or more championships.   

The Blackhawks have too much talent to miss the playoffs, and too much pride to be eliminated in the first round again. But with the playoff format the way it is, Chicago could be beaten by any of the Central teams minus Winnipeg and Colorado (yes even Minnesota). The losses of Artemi Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Marian Hossa (injury) are a lot and could be too much to overcome. Patrick Sharp continues his downward production trend, the Hawks get no reliable contributions from the bottom six, and they find themselves eliminated in the 2nd round of the playoffs.




-2nd in Central

-Lost in 1st round to St. Louis

The Wild resembled their coach Bruce Boudreau very well last season. They were downright dominant at times during the regular season, but faded when it mattered at the end. St. Louis was a tough first round opponent for sure, but Minnesota only won one game. Devan Dubnyk has been a top goalie in the league the past two seasons. If he can keep that up another year, Minnesota can go deep. They traded Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to get deeper up front with the additions of Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis. I think the Wild are good enough to get to the Western Conference Finals if everything goes their way (but more realistically 2nd round), but I can’t see them getting past there until Boudreau proves he can coach past that point in the postseason.

Devan Dubnyk plays more like the Dubnyk of the Edmonton/Arizona part of his career, the blueline misses Scandella more than they realize, Eric Staal starts showing his age, and Charlie Coyle doesn’t take another step in his progression. It’s a lot to go wrong, but any one of those things can have an exponential effect in a division as deep as the Central. The Wild could find themselves struggling in the wild card mix, with Dallas expected to be much better, and the fact that there are 4-5 legitimate playoff contending teams in the Pacific Division. I still think they’d get eliminated in the first round even if they qualified, but they could be on the outside looking in come mid-April.




-3rd in Central

-Lost in 2nd round of playoffs to Nashville

I may be one of the only people outside of the St. Louis-metro area that truly thinks this, but I think the Blues are built to win it all. Yes they lost Kevin Shattenkirk from the blueline, but Colton Parayko has been developing nicely and could easily fill the void. Them being a true championship contender is totally reliant on Jake Allen being the goalie he was last season after working with Martin Brodeur, not the Jake Allen from prior. Brayden Schenn is a perfect fit in St. Louis. Vladimir Sobotka picks up where he left off in the playoffs as a  reliable secondary source of offense, Robby Fabbri stays healthy the whole season, and Alex Pietrangelo is invited to hoist the Cup.

As I pointed out earlier, a small misstep in this division could have a large impact. Vladimir Tarasenko has consistently produced around 40 goals (37, 40, 39) the last three seasons. But if his production dips, only Patrik Berglund (who is out until December) and Schenn (w/ PHI) scored more than 20 goals last season. I think Allen has turned a corner, but if he regresses, Carter Hutton isn’t exactly a “1B” option. The Blues won’t miss the playoffs baring a catastrophic collapse, but their floor is a first or second round playoff exit. Chicago is always tough, Nashville beat them last year, and Minnesota and Dallas both have axes to grind after being eliminated by St. Louis the last two seasons.





-4th in Central

-Lost in Stanley Cup Final to Pittsburgh

Despite being the Western Conference Stanley Cup representatives last season, I don’t see them getting back there this season. Last season they had the advantage of being the underdog, this season they will have a target on their backs. I can see them getting as far as the Conference Finals due to their mix of young speed, and their blueline being one of the best defensive groups in the league (especially with Alexei Emelin anchoring the third pairing). Filip Forsberg needs to play more like the Forsberg from the second half of the season and Viktor Arvidsson can’t be a one-season wonder. That will also require Pekka Rinne to play like the Rinne from the first three rounds and not the one from the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite Carrie Underwood’s husband (Mike Fisher) retiring, the country music community continues to come out and publically support the team the way they did during the recent playoff run.

It wouldn’t be the first time a defending Stanley Cup finalist missed the playoffs the following season. But considering the Predators were the last team in the playoffs, and the fact that the Stars will be a much better team, they could be like Minnesota and find themselves in a multi-team race for one playoff spot and fall short. Pekka Rinne is 34, and he showed how bad he can be in Games 2 and 5 against Pittsburgh last year, and if those type of performances become more commonplace, it doesn’t matter what Nashville’s offensive is capable of. If Nick Bonino is only average, and Ryan Johansen can’t chip in more goals to fill the void left by James Neal (23G) being drafted by Vegas, Smashville will find themselves quiet from mid April 2018-early Oct 2018





-5th in Central

-Missed playoffs

The fans of Winnipeg deserve a playoff appearance (and one that lasts longer than a first round sweep), but I don’t see it happening this season. The only way the Jets sneak in to the playoffs is if one of the five teams projected to be in front of them in the division falters badly, and they would still also need help from a TBD underachieving team in the Pacific. Even if Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Mark Schiefele are all better than they were last season (which is saying something), I still don’t think it puts them ahead of any team in the Central except for Colorado. The team is heading in the right direction, even if it’s at a grudgingly slow pace.  

The one thing that can do the Jets in for sure is goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck flashed some strong stretches, but overall was very mediocre. They brought in Steve Mason, who is a capable starting goaltender, but he’s not a difference maker. It’s also very possible that he stinks and the crease becomes the team’s obvious weak link. Paul Maurice is very much on the hot seat, and this could become another lost season in Manitoba. The fact they are in the second toughest division in hockey doesn’t help either. They should be able to get a decent haul for Bryan Little at the trade deadline if they are sellers again.





-6th in Central

-Missed playoffs

The Stars are no doubt a much better team on paper this season. They have an actual #1 goalie now in Ben Bishop, they added Martin Hanzal, Alexander Radulov up front, and Marc Methot on the blueline. Ken Hitchcock is back behind the Dallas bench for a second go-around and will have the team playing better defense. All of these additions were made to a team that already had Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, and some other budding young talent. They have the talent to get to the Stanley Cup Final, but I’m not ready to put them in the elite class yet. This season will be a big step in the right direction to be a true competitor for the Cup in 2018-19.

Not to be a broken record, but it’s tough to move up in the Central Division. They will definitely be better than Colorado and Winnipeg, but they could finish anywhere from first to fifth in the Central. The wrong match-up could lead to a first round exit, but I would be shocked if Dallas didn’t bounce back and at least make the playoffs this season. Half of their blueline is still green (pun only partially intended), so some growing pains from Esa Lindell and Julius Honka could hurt them. If Bishop sustains an injury (he’s been fragile-ish in his career), Kari Lehtonen isn’t bad, but he hasn’t shown the ability to consistently play well beyond short bursts.





-7th in Central

-Missed playoffs

The good news is that when you were as bad (48 points) as the Avs were last season, it’s real easy to be better than that. Anything is possible, but I’d think the odds of getting struck by lightening while be attacked by a shark are better than those of a Colorado playoff appearance this season. A successful season would be breaking 65 points and putting an end to the Matt Duchene-trade saga sooner rather than later. Progression from Miko Rantanen, and better seasons from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog would be a victory for the mile-high hockey team. The other bit of good news is there is only two season left on the injury prone Semyon Varlamov’s (roughly $5.5 million per season) contract.

The worst thing that could happen to Colorado (lets face it, to not be better than 48 points takes a lot of ineptitude) is if Matt Duchene is still with the Avs past this deadline (and he still has one more year left on his deal, so Joe Sakic doesn’t HAVE to trade him). Lack of quality talent on the blueline and in the net are two major contributors to Colorado being terrible, but Duchene constantly being on the trading block is a locker room distraction on some level.  Head Coach Jared Bednar could be gone by the end of the season (some Avs fans might consider that a positive), and Joe Sakic could also be relieved of his GM duties if his insistence of waiting for the perfect offer for Duchene doesn’t pay big dividends.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


By Adam Bernard
With the 2017-18 NHL Pre-Season a little under a month away, it's time to start looking ahead to what to expect for the upcoming campaign. With every team, the obvious best case scenario is hoisting the Stanley Cup in the late Spring. On the flip side, the obvious worst case scenario would be catastrophic injuries and missing the playoffs. I'll be going division by division and giving each team's realistic ceiling (not every team is an actual Cup contender) and floor for the 2017-18 season. Today we take a look at the Atlantic Division in part two of the four part series: 

2016-17 RESULTS




-1st in Atlantic

-Lost in 1st round of playoffs to NY Rangers

They win the Stanley Cup. They won the division last season, but played poorly in crucial moments against the Rangers in the first round and it cost them. Carey Price is capable of carrying them when needed. Alex Galcheynuk should finally be able to play some comfortable hockey with a deal in place. Jonathan Drouin gets the chance to be the top offensive option he thinks he can be. If everything clicks, they can beat anyone in the East to get to the Cup Final.

They lose in the first round of the playoffs again or just miss out on the last spot. Their blueline gets thin once you get past their 2nd pairing. They lost their second best point producer from last season with Alexander Radulov gone, and there’s no guarantee that Drouin fills the void. Their offense was right in the middle of the pack last season. If it’s not better than that, they could be in trouble.




-2nd in Atlantic

-Lost in Eastern Conference Final to Pittsburgh

Second Round of the Playoffs is as far as they can go this season. The division was good, not great last year. Teams like Toronto and Buffalo improved, and Tampa would have been a playoff team if Steve Stamkos remained healthy. Ottawa didn’t do much to improve as a team in the off-season. They won’t be a bad team, but I don’t think they have it in them to win beyond the first round unless Erik Karlsson has a playoffs for the ages (which is possible with him).

I don’t think they are in danger of missing the playoffs, but there are a few other teams in this division that can easily pass them in the standings. They a hard-nosed team, so they’ll be in most games, but they still lack a true top offensive option up front. Mike Hoffman has yet to break the 30 goal barrier, Bobby Ryan is enigmatic, and Kyle Turris produced in his normal range (so don’t expect more out of him). Without a feared goal scorer, Ottawa won’t be able to beat the Pittsburgh’s of the world.




-3rd in Atlantic

-Lost in 1st round of playoffs to Ottawa

Like Ottawa, I think the Bruins ceiling is the 2nd round of the playoffs. Tuukka Rask had to carry them for long stretches last season for them to even be in the playoff mix. That being said, Brad Marchand was a huge producer last season, Patrice Bergeron & David Krejci are still reliable, and David Pastrnak is looking like a legit goal scorer (if only they could get a deal done). They need rookie Charlie McAvoy to pick up where he left off in the playoffs, the same goes for sophomore Brandon Carlo. If not, their blueline is very thin with Zdeno Chara adding another candle to his birthday cake.

They miss the playoffs entirely. Boston is banking on a lot of their younger talent to be ready to shoulder some bottom six responsibilities, as well as the aforementioned guys on the blueline. If they can’t be consistent, the Bruins are a team lacking depth. They can rely on their core to carry them for short stretches, but with most of the division improving, they will need consistency in order to compete. If Tuukka Rask gets hurt, they’re in a lot of trouble unless Anton Khudobin, Zane McIntyre, or Malcom Subban all of a sudden find their respective games.





-4th in Atlantic

-Lost in 1st round of playoffs to Washington

It’s not out of the question to think Toronto could get to the Eastern Conference Finals this season, but I think the 2nd round of the playoffs is a more realistic ceiling. Bringing in Patrick Marleau, Dominic Moore and Ron Hainsey all add a strong veteran presence in a very young locker room (as well as making them a deeper squad). Banking on that amount of very young players can be risky, but Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander all displayed a talent level that could be beyond a sophomore slump. Both of their special teams units were top ten last season (PP-2nd, PK-10th), but they must learn a way to stop blowing leads in the third period to be truly ready for a playoff run. 

First round of the playoffs. With Mike Babcock behind the bench, and the amount of success they had in his first season, I think they are a lock to make the playoffs. However, there are no guarantees they advance. Lou Lamoriello will have to decide what kind of return he wants for James vanRiemsdyk: pieces to help them make a run, or pieces to help for the future. I think he would elect for the latter. I know it’s been a long time Leafs fans, but a little more patience will go a long way. Frederik Andersen rebounded from a terrible start last season, but he also had a habit of going in to extended slumps at times with Anaheim before he arrived in Toronto.





-5th in Atlantic

-Missed playoffs

Tampa narrowly missed the playoffs without having Steven Stamkos for 65 games. A healthy Stamkos should have them towards the top of the division with an easier road in the playoffs. They can win the Stanley Cup if.... Andrei Vasilevskiy blossoms in to the goalie Steve Yzerman hopes he is after hitching his crease to him for the next three years. Mikhail Sergachev has a smooth transition in to the NHL and isn’t a liability. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat produce closer to the rate of linemate Nikita Kucherov. It would be a big help if Ryan Callahan stayed healthy for most of the season, and Brayden Point improves in his second season, too.

Steven Stamkos gets hurt again, which would then put him in the dreaded “fragile” discussion. Tampa has proven they can be a good team without Stamkos, but not a true playoff competitor. Worst case for them is sneaking in to the playoffs and getting eliminated quickly, or just missing out on the playoffs again like they did this past season. Victor Hedman is one of the best in the game and Anton Stralman is very reliable, but if Sergachev isn’t ready this season, and Jake Dotchin’s development stalls, the blueline gets thin quickly. If Vasilevskiy isn’t the goaltender they hoped, it could get ugly.




-6th in Atlantic

-Missed playoffs

A first round playoff appearance isn’t out of the question for the Panthers. Even though Bob Boughner is a new coach, everything about the Panthers should be steadier this season. Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trochek, Radim Vrbata and Evgeny Dadonov all need to produce for Florida to be back in the playoff race (especially since they lost their lone 30 goal scorer in Jonathan Marchessault). There are better creases than the Roberto Luongo/James Reimer duo, but it’s good enough to not lose games. Aaron Ekblad staying healthy also would go a long way towards a playoff appearance.

The wheels completely come off under a new coach, Luongo ages quickly, Reimer falters, and the Panthers find themselves towards the bottom of the Atlantic Division again. The Panthers decided not to resign Jaromir Jagr. While Jagr has never been considered a true leader vocally, he leads by example with his work ethic, and it will be interesting to see who steps up and fills that void. They’re an injury away from their bottom six being very thin. Their blueline is in good shape, but another concussion to Ekblad would be a scary situation for the former 1st overall pick.





-7th in Atlantic

-Missed playoffs

It is possible for the Red Wings to make the playoffs this season, but I wouldn’t count on it. After 26 consecutive playoff appearances, it looks like it will be consecutive seasons without an appearance for the Winged Wheel. If all goes as well as possible (Gustav Nyquist starts scoring again, Tomas Tatar improves), they could be in the mix for a wild card spot late in the season, but there are too many teams better than them in the Eastern Conference. They have some good speed with Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou & Darren Helm, so they should be a fun team to watch even if they lose a lot. At least they’ll be opening a new arena, so that’s always a highlight.

Detroit finds themselves in the draft lottery (which isn’t all that bad). Niklas Kronwall & Mike Green could continue to show their age at a rapid pace, and to expect another 68 point campaign out of Henrik Zetterberg may be asking too much. They also can’t afford their young core of Larkin & Anthony Mantha to stall in their growth this season. Petr Mrazek was bad last season, and while Jimmy Howard was sharp when he returned from injury, it is very possible both netminders stink this season. Jeff Blashill will likely make it to next season, but a really bad season could spell the end for him as head coach in the Motor City.




-8th in Atlantic

-Missed playoffs

They could make the playoffs this season for sure, but I don’t see them advancing very far. They improved their blueline with the acquisitions of Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella, and they’re hopeful Jason can continue to increase the population in Pominville. Jack Eichel showing what he’s capable of over the course of a full season (he led the team with 57 points in just 61 games last season) could ignite the rest of the roster. It would be great if Kyle Okposo can bounce back from his health issues and Sam Reinhart progresses to give them some quality at RW. Their Power Play unit was tops in the league last year, so a repeat of that would go a long way. A little more from Ryan O’Reilly (55 pts in 72 games) would help, too.

They miss the playoffs again, but are much closer to a spot in Phil Housley’s first season as bench boss.  A lot is going to hinge on Robin Lehner’s performance in the crease. He’s on a one-year/$4 million dollar deal, and he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so it’s ‘put up or shut up’ time for him. As great as their power play is, it doesn’t mean much if they’re 25th ranked penalty kill unit doesn’t improve. If Evander Kane gets in to off-ice trouble again, it would damage his trade value down to a late round pick. Another way this season can go terribly is if the Jack Eichel contract extension talks drag on and get ugly, but it seems like both sides are close to getting something done.