Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Main Reason To Be Excited For Each Team In The Upcoming Season

Okay, so this post is going to be a little different than before, as I won't get into too many numbers and will remain somewhat brief as I go through each team. I can't really string together too many coherent thoughts right now because of a new member in the house. Say hello to Bill. But here is my list of the biggest reason for each team to be excited for in the upcoming season:

Let's break it down by division.

Pacific Division:
   Anaheim Ducks - While it may not come as a surprise, the biggest thing Ducks fans have to look forward to is the addition of Ryan Kesler in the lineup.
(I do not own the rights to this image)

  He will most likely fill in as second-line center. So why is this exciting news? Kesler brings a physical presence to the ice that will fit in perfectly with Anaheim's grinding, possession system of play.

Los Angeles Kings - The Kings made the move they had to make, which was re-signing Gaborik to a multi-year deal. However, the most exciting thing for Kings fans this coming season is defending the crown. There really isn't much else that needs to be said about this. It's going to be awfully exciting seeing an entire season of Kopitar with Gaborik.

Edmonton Oilers - The Oilers made some interesting moves in the offseason, including signing Mark Fayne and Benoit Pouliot to long-term deals. They also have solid defensive prospects, like Darnell Nurse. The thing that Oilers fans have to look forward to most, for the 2014-2015 season, is stable goaltending from the very beginning of the season. Last season, they started with Devin Dubnyk and Jason Labarbera in net, which is not exactly signing yourself up for success in today's NHL. The Oilers will have Ben Scrivens between the pipes for next season. He's already proven himself by setting the NHL record for saves in a shutout, with 59 against the Sharks, in January earlier this year.

San Jose Sharks -  I will admit, the Sharks didn't make a big splash in this year's offseason (pun intended). While fans might be unsure about the window of opportunity for winning a Stanley Cup, the most important element to a successful future is healthy youth, which is why Sharks fans should really be excited about (hopefully) a full and productive season from Tomas Hertl. We saw a glipse into Hertl's playing ability last season, before it was cut short by a knee injury. The good news is that he made it back in time for the playoffs, where he scored 5 points in 7 games.This is going to be a great year for him.

Calgary Flames - I think the Flames will definitely surprise people this season, especially with Jonas Hiller in net. The most exciting thing for Flames fans this upcoming season is that the re-build process is going incredibly fast (much faster than their neighbors in Edmonton). With the draft pick of Sam Bennett signed to an Entry-Level Contract, and rookie Sean Monahan coming off a solid rookie season, the future is bright for Calgary. It's unfortunate though that the ownership wasn't able to trade Mike Cammalleri for any additional draft picks before he walked in free agency (signed 5 year contract with the New Jersey Devils).

Arizona Coyotes - With a new name comes a new start for the Coyotes. The most exciting thing is the addition of Sam Gagner. He may not be a possession monster (48% CF last season with a +3% Corsi Relative), and may not be the best defensively in his own end, but Gagner has been a consistent mid-40 point scorer for the past several seasons (excluding a slight stepback last season). Gagner will be a much greater improvement than Ribeiro down the middle for the Yotes.

Vancouver Canucks - While things have gotten a little screwy in Vancouver over the past season, there is plenty to be excited about (Ryan Miller in net, no more Tortorella behind the bench, etc.), but the biggest thing to look forward to is the rookie season of Bo Horvat. Horvat was the draft pick involved in the "questionable" trade in the 2013 NHL draft where the New Jersey Devils traded the 9th overall pick to Vancouver in exchange for goaltender Cory Schneider. The 9th overall pick ended up being Horvat, and because of the circumstances of the trade, Horvat's development has been much more scrutinized by non-Canucks fans. Canucks fans have a lot to be excited for about him though. The TSN prospect report from his initial draft report said Horvat was "London's most complete player" with "decent size with good hockey skills in all areas...unselfish with the puck...and plays physically...[and] has clear leadership qualities. (TSN)" To be quite honest, as early as it is, I could potentially see him as a long-term replacement for the loss of Ryan Kesler.

Central Division:
Dallas Stars - It's an exciting time to be a Stars fan: the team made it into the playoffs last season, but faltered at the last moment, the AHL team (Texas Stars) won the AHL championship, and the GM has made some fantastic moves so far this offseason. The biggest reason to be excited for the Stars is their deadly Top-6 forward line-up. The Stars traded for Jason Spezza, and signed Ales Hemsky so far in the offseason, that's two thirds of Ottawa's top line. That would make their projected Top-6 to be:
  Benn - Seguin - Nichushkin
  Scevior - Spezza - Hemsky.
It's going to be a great season for Dallas next year.

Chicago Blackhawks - Nowadays, what isn't exciting about the Blackhawks? They just signed their biggest two stars, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, to long-term contracts, and have won the Stanley Cup 2 times in the past 4 seasons.  It looks like Hawks fans will have to wait another year for their top prospect, Teuvo Teravainen, to join the lineup. While the Hawks are working on getting back under the salary cap (they are 2 million over), the most exciting thing for the Hawks is the addition of Brad Richards in the lineup. Richards brings significant experience and talent to Chicago as a 2nd line Center. The sole reason he is no longer with the Rangers is because of how high is yearly cap hit was, so the team used a compliance buyout on him in June. With the possibility of having Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane as linemates, Richards will be a fantastic fit for the Hawks...also a much better 2C option than Handzus.

St. Louis Blues - Without a doubt, the addition of arguably the top free agent this offseason, Paul Statsny, to the lineup is the most exciting news for next season. Statsny will likely find himself centering the second line for the Blues. Statsny brings a style of physical, two-way play that will be a perfect fit in the St. Louis Blues system. The Blues find themselves in the toughest division in the league, but, in recent years, have made the push to be potential Stanley Cup contenders.

Nashville Predators -  The Preds made some interesting moves this offseason, they traded for James Neal, made some depth signings, but, ultimately, brought in a brand new coach. Peter Laviolette brings a strong offensive game to him with an emphasis on a strong defenseman stepping into the slot to provide an additional scoring chance. Why is this an exciting notion? Because the Predators have, arguably, the best defenseman in the entire league, Shea Weber. The Predators have been mostly known as a defense-first team, so this will be exciting to see the change. And while the Predators find themselves in the most difficult division, they only find themselves going up, especially with the drafting of Kevin Fiala.

Minnesota Wild -  Reunification of childhood friends. Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Thomas Vanek finally find themselves in the same jersey. The addition of Vanek adds a strong punch to Minnesota's Top-6 forward lineup. Vanek brings top offensive talent and significant chemistry to the Wild, who look to be another contender for top playoff spot in the tough Central Division. I think Vanek had a bit of a tough season last year because he played on three different teams. Given the amount of time in the offseason as well as playing in the pre-season, Vanek will get accustomed to the Wild's system of play. Next year will be fun to watch for Wild fans.

Colorado Avalanche - While the initial loss of center Paul Statsny will hurt, this opens up the possibility of the most exciting aspect of the Avalanche's upcoming season: the continuing development of last year's Calder Trophy winner (best rookie in the league), Nathan MacKinnon. Conveniently enough, MacKinnon is a natural center who played winger last season. His speed is once-in-a-generation talent-wise, and he broke Wayne Gretzky's record for most consecutive games with a point, for an 18-year old. The Avalanche will be in a tough spot fighting for playoff contention in the tough division.

Winnipeg Jets - Let's face it, Winnipeg is in a tough rut right now. After moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011, the team has yet to make the playoffs. That being said, the team could go 0-82-0 next season and still sellout every home game...the fans are just that loyal. So what do Jets fans have to be excited about for next season? Firstoff, having Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler (who was a US Olympian) on the same line is certainly a good start. It will be great to see how Jacob Trouba will continue his development as defenseman. The past two drafts have left Winnipeg with a very strong pool of prospects, including some fantastic goaltending prospects. The most exciting part for next season, though, is having Paul Maurice as a head coach for the entire season. Remember last season when Maurice took over for the Jets, and they promptly won 6 out of 7 games? Maurice may not be the best coach in the league, but he is a strong option to help the Jets develop an identity, and will give them a chance to compete within the next few seasons.

Atlantic Division:

Boston Bruins - The Bruins are coming off a fantastic season where they won the President's Trophy. The unfortunate news is that the team was just barely below the salary cap, which prevented them from re-signing power forward Jarome Iginla. That being said, the Bruins were hit hard with injuries at times last season. The most exciting aspect for the Bruins is the continual development of the young defensemen for the team, like Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug. The Bruins may have lost Iginla, but it is going to be great to see the development of young players like Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson. The Bruins will make it to the playoffs again, and are ready to make a deep playoff run.

Tampa Bay Lightning - Steve Yzerman (the GM of the Lightning) has done a great job molding this team into a potential contender. While there is still a good amount of young, potentially unproven, talent at this point, it will be interesting to see the development of the two Calder Trophy finalists, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, as they go into their sophomore season. The addition of Anton Stralman is also a huge bonus, plus the signing of Ryan Callahan to a multi-year deal will help bring leadership onto the ice...not to mention a full season from Steven Stamkos. The most exciting element for the upcoming season is the graduation of top prospect, Jonathan Drouin. Drouin was a 3rd overall pick in the 2013 draft and has been playing in the QJMHL since. In two full (40 + games) seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads, Drouin has scored 105 points and 108 points for a total of 213 points in 95 games. Drouin reported to the Lightning prospect development camp, and is thought to be ready to compete for a spot on the team. While the jump from the QJMHL to the NHL is big, Drouin will be in good company to help him find his place.

Toronto Maple Leafs - This might be a bit odd, but the most exciting thing for the Leafs this upcoming season is that they haven't made any bad offseason moves yet. This is a team that, just a year ago, signed David Clarkson to an absolutely ridiculous contract (7 years, $36.7 million). This summer, the story is a bit different though. The Leafs avoided overpaying Dave Bolland, as he signed for $5.5 million a year in Florida. They also brought in a number of solid depth players including Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak. There is a running joke about the Maple Leafs collapsing at the last moment of the season, but this is a much better team going into the season. The Leafs will be better because of this.

Detroit Red Wings - The Red Wings have been a model of consistency for hockey excellence for quite some time now. They have now made the playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons. They also have one of the best developmental ("farm") systems in the entire league. The possibility of top prospect, Anthony Mantha, making the jump to the NHL will have to wait for, at least, another season. Mantha will take the step to play for the AHL-affiliate of the Red Wings, the Grand Rapids Griffins, to further hone his skills and progress. The most exciting thing for the Red Wings, though, is having a full, healthy lineup for the start of the season. The Red Wings had many of their cornerstone players injured last season with, mainly, groin injuries. This included captain, Henrik Zetterberg and alternate captain, Pavel Datsyuk out of the lineup for long periods of time. Having them back full-time for the season will significantly help push the team towards a further playoff push. Another important note is that the Red Wings have the best coach in the league, Mike Babcock. The Wings will be a force next season.

Ottawa Senators - The Senators had a rough season last year, no doubt. Trading away Spezza at the end really seemed like the punchline for the ultimate joke of a season...okay that was really harsh, the Senators didn't have that bad of a season. It was just disappointing, considering the previous season they had made the playoffs and beat the Canadiens in a first-round series. There is a lot of pessimism surrounding how the Senators will perform next year, but I think the Sens have a lot to look forward to. The signing of David Legwand will help deepen the forward lineup, and all Sens fans' eyes are on top prospect, Curtis Lazar, who looks to be playing 2nd line center for the Canadian WJHC (World Junior Hockey Championship) team. The most exciting thing, though, is the bounce-back season for Bobby Ryan. His performance last season was hindered by injury, but still managed to score 48 points in 70 games. Given that it is also the season where his contract is up, I think Ryan will have a strong season. Another point is the difference in offseasons for defenseman Erik Karlsson. Last offseason, Karlsson spent his time recovering from injury. This offseason, however, Karlsson has been spending his time training, which will be significant in the offensive production for the team. Last season was a hiccup for the Sens. They will be much better this year.

Florida Panthers - The Panthers have had a rough couple of seasons since making the playoffs in 2011-2012. That being said, the team has accumulated some top prospective talent and made some significant signings in the recent offseason. Arguably, the most significant signing was Shawn Thornton, who will bring grit and leadership to the team. He knows his role well, and will most likely play on the 4th line with Derek Mackenzie and play as a checking line. Additionally, top overall pick, Aaron Ekblad, will most likely see some ice this season, if not consistently. The most exciting aspect for the Panthers is the addition of a new head coach, Gerard Gallant. The Panthers have some top-end talent, yet had no direction. Hopefully the new coach will point the youth in the right direction, and the future will be red. We've seen in the last season how a new head coach can push a bottom-dwelling team into the playoff discussion (The Avalanche, for those unaware).

Montreal Canadiens - This will be an interesting season for the Canadiens. They are coming off a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals round of the playoffs, and have just re-signed PK Subban to a long-term deal of 8 years. While goaltender Carey Price will not be skating until mid-August (Price was injured in the ECF's), he should be back to healthy form by the time the season starts. They also made some intriguing moves during the post-season. Among the major moves include a trade for Defenseman Josh Gorges to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a second round pick in the 2016 draft. Also, the Habs traded Forward Danny Briere to the Avalanche in exchange for Forward PA Parenteau. They did, however lose captain Brian Gionta to free agency. However, the most exciting thing for the Canadiens is the addition of Czech forward Jiri Sekac. Sekac is a 22 year-old Czech forward who had a breakout season last year for the Czech team in the KHL, Lev Prague. Sekac has shown promising signs during the Canadiens' development camp, and is looking to start out as a 2nd or 3rd line role player.

Buffalo Sabres - The Sabres have been going through some rough times, but the light at the end of the tunnel is finally within reaching distance. The Sabres have one of the best prospect pools in the entire league, and will only improve that. In the next NHL draft (2015), the Sabres have 3 first round picks. The other 2 are from the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blues. The most exciting thing about Sabres hockey this next season is that, despite the team may not perform well, the future is very bright. Although the Sabres did add some interesting pieces in free agency: forwards Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta will help mentor the younger players find their roles on the team. We may even get a chance to see 2nd overall pick, Sam Rinehart, see some ice during the season. The Sabres also have the development of Zemgus Girgensons to stay excited about.

Metropolitan Division:

Pittsburgh Penguins - The Penguins added a new coach to the team, so they will probably have a slow start to the season as they get accustomed to the new system. However, they still have arguably two of the best players in the world on the team, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. The Penguins didn't need to do too much this past offseason, but were able to add defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. This is the most exciting news for the upcoming Penguins season. Ehrhoff will add significant defensive depth to a team that lost Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen. The Penguins will also have a (hopefully) healthy Kris Letang for next season, but I'm not looking to rush his return to the game. The Penguins traded away one of their top-line talent, James Neal, but were able to secure more offensive depth through the trade. The Penguins will take some time to adjust to the new coaching system, but will be dominant again next season.

New York Rangers - The Rangers may have taken a slight step back this offseason, losing forward depth in Pouliot and Boyle, as well as losing Stralman on the blue line, however they are still in very good shape. There will be a lot to look forward to for the next season: a full season of St. Louis, young talent like McDonagh , Kreider, and Zuccarello improving, however the most exciting thing will be the addition of defenseman Dan Boyle. Boyle brings with him a significant veteran experience and a good strong shot which will really help out the team's powerplay, which at one point in last season's playoffs went 0 for 33. As a side note, for any Rangers fans that had a Brian Boyle jersey, don't get rid of it because Dan Boyle will wear the same number: 22.

New York Islanders - The Islanders have had an extremely successful offseason. They added tremendous forward depth in Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, as well as solidifying their goaltending tandem by bringing in Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson. Add that to some great prospects and draft picks, like Griffin Rinehart, Ryan Strome, Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang, the Islanders will turn some heads this season. The most exciting thing for the Islanders this next season, though, is the return of a healthy John Tavares. When he's on his game, he's one of the best in the league, and will provide great mentoring for the youth on the team.

Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers haven't made too many off-season moves, but that's not a bad thing, as they had a very strong season this past year. The only two main issues that I could see were a slow start for Claude Giroux's season (which quickly went away as he finished the season with 86 points), and the fact that they ran into a red-hot Henrik Lundqvist in the first round of the playoffs. So what do the Flyers have to look forward to for the next season? I believe this is the year where Jakub Voracek will step up as a legitimate top-line winger who is capable of scoring 70 or more points. We saw Wayne Simmonds have a break out season last year, as he scored 60 points, and with a better start from Giroux, Voracek, who ended up with 62 points last year, can certainly score 70+ points. I am also saying this because watching Voracek play in the first round of the playoffs last year, he had a completely different look to him; almost as if he had a new life to his play. I think the subtraction of Scott Hartnell (and addition of RJ Umberger) will slightly hurt the Flyers' playoff chances, but they look like they can make a solid push if they make it into the post-season.

New Jersey Devils - This is the first full off-season for the Devils under the new ownership, and it has been one of the most successful offseasons in recent memory. They re-signed leading scorer Jaromir Jagr to another year, re-signed potential next captain, defenseman Andy Greene and top goaltender Corey Schneider to multiple-year contracts. Among other smaller Restricted Free Agent signings, the Devils made a splash and signed forward Mike Cammalleri in free agency in June. While the young defense stepping up will be fun to watch, the most exciting thing for the Devils is that they finally have a top-line again. Following the loss of franchise forwards Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk had left gaping holes on the top line for the Devils. However, recent free agency signings, and 20th overall draft pick from the 2004 draft, Travis Zajac, will finally form together and make a solid first line. I would expect it to be a line of Cammalleri - Zajac - Jagr. Why is this good news? Well besides the fact that Cammalleri is a sniper from the top circle with quick hands, Jaromir Jagr was able to score 67 points last season despite having multiple different linemates on the top line. With Cammalleri on the top line, Jagr has the potential to score over 70 points this coming season, and the Devils, who were 27th in the league in even strength goals last season, will add significant forward depth.

Columbus Blue Jackets - The Blue Jackets are only getting better. They made it to the playoffs last year and won their first franchise playoff game(s). They didn't make too many moves in the offseason, but were able to bring in forward Scott Hartnell via trade. They were also able to re-sign one of their top-scoring forwards, Brandon Dubinsky, to a multi-year contract. So what's the most exciting thing for the Blue Jackets for the upcoming season? It's hard to say, because there are so many things that are going well for the organization. I guess if it had to be a single aspect, it would be the fact that they are a young team that is developing very strongly and will be a strong contender to make it into the post-season. Other than that, they have a Vezina-winning goaltender (best goaltender in the league), Sergei Bobrovsky, and one of the best prospect pools in the league. A player to keep an eye out for, in particular, is Boone Jenner, who scored 16 goals in his first year for the team, and also playing on the third line. The Metropolitan Division is very up in the air right now, but the Blue Jackets have a lot going for them to make another playoff push.

Carolina Hurricanes - The Hurricanes had a tough season, let's face it. The Powerplay was a mess and there ended up being a good amount of front office changes. But there is still reason to have hope, Canes fans. They only missed the playoffs by 10 points; that's 5 games won, and with a fully healthy Cam Ward, that is certainly a possibility. The biggest beacon of hope for Carolina in the upcoming season, though, is the progression of Jeff Skinner. The 22 year old forward scored 33 goals for the team last season in 71 games, and is only getting better with time. Next season will be his 5th NHL season, and while there will be a lot of pressure on him, if captain Eric Staal and linemate Alexander Semin have bounce-back seasons, that could be a very formidible line. It will be interesting to see what the new head coach, Bill Peters, brings to the team. Sometimes, teams just need a personnel shake-up. The Canes showed flashes of brilliance last season, but, ultimately, succumbed to inconsistency. If the pieces all fall into place, Carolina will be a tough contender for a playoff spot this next season.

Washington Capitals - The Capitals were a team that first-handedly experienced the inflation of prices for free agent players. They signed defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to multi-year contracts. After missing the playoffs for the first time in, I believe, 7 seasons, the Caps cleaned out a good amount of the front office of the team. This included firing General Manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates. As much as I liked Adam Oates as an assistant coach for the Devils, he just couldn't make it as head coach, right away. This allowed the Caps to make the move for their most exciting aspect of the upcoming season: hiring Barry Trotz as the head coach. The hockey knowledge and attention to detail he brings will no doubtedly be a tremendous asset to the team. He has said that he hopes to "take the scoring pressure off Ovechkin" by having the defensemen play a bigger role in the offense. With the addition of offensive defenseman, Niskanen, and already having offensive defenseman Mike Greene, the Caps will have a great season.

All in all, I just can't wait for the season to start!
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