Eastern Conference, Juniors, NHL, Western Conference

A Way-Too-Early Set of Predictions for 2014-15

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Posted: July 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm   /   by   /   comments (1)

Zach Gold

 
We’re still miles away from puck drop on the 98th NHL season, but with the draft complete and free agency beginning to settle down, the teams we see now will be the ones we see in October for the most part. With that in mind, here are some things I think will happen during the 2014-15 season given the rosters each team currently boasts:

 

1. There will be no team like last year’s Colorado Avalanche
Going worst-to-first requires a team that already has solid pieces in place, but likely needs a change in focus in order to turn around their fortunes. Such was the case with the Avs, who had a reliable forward corps led by Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and now ex-Av Paul Stastny. Their drastic improvement came thanks to a brilliant season by goalie Semyon Varlamov along with a magnificent head coaching job from Patrick Roy. Neither the Panthers, Sabres, Oilers nor Flames currently have enough pieces in place compared to that Colorado team and for that reason shouldn’t be expected to make a surprise run.

 

2. Bobby Ryan will make a contender very happy at the trade deadline
Frankly, the Ottawa Senators do not look like they will be in the playoff race next year. There are many Eastern Conference teams that were already better than them and some worse ones that look like they’ve improved, while all the Sens have done is trade away their captain for peanuts and bring in a 45-50 point character guy in David Legwand as his replacement. Ryan is the type of explosive player that deadline buyers salivate over, while tight-spending Ottawa will likely commit to a rebuild and get assets for the future rather than give Ryan $6 to $7 million a year.

 

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3. The Detroit Red Wings will win the Atlantic Division
Many expected that after moving to the East as part of realignment, Detroit would exert its dominance on the NHL’s lesser conference. Unfortunately for them, injuries got in the way, claiming Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss and even Jimmy Howard for extended periods of time. Combined with the emergence of young stars Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser, a healthier Red Wings team should make it back to the top after squeaking into the playoffs in the past couple seasons. Any team coached by Mike Babcock is a dangerous one, and the veteran savvy of a battle-tested Hockeytown group will return it to expected success if injuries don’t get in the way for a third straight campaign.

 

4. Detroit’s improvement will come at Tampa Bay’s expense
Now that we’ve established the Wings will win the division, the remainder of the Atlantic is populated by a Bruins team that won the President’s Trophy and is still very strong along with a pesky Canadiens squad that was two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final. Ultimately, there won’t be any room for Tampa Bay in the division’s top three and they’ll have to fight for a wild card spot. While they spent big early on in free agency, they have significant scoring issues behind Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. I’m not wild about their defensemen not named Victor Hedman or Radko Gudas and Ben Bishop, their MVP last season, seems to have durability issues that can’t be neglected at this point.

 

5. It will require at least 97 points to make the playoffs in the Western Conference
It’s no secret that the majority of the league’s best teams play west of the Mississippi (Chicago notwithstanding), and considering that a since much-improved Dallas team was the last one in with 91 points, we could see a record high point total for the 8th seed. The West’s rich have only gotten richer during free agency, so when all is said and done this number could very well be close to 100 due to the sheer strength of the conference’s top half.

 

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6. John Gibson will win the Calder Trophy
The 20 year old broke into the NHL in a big way last spring, shutting out the Canucks in his NHL debut on April 7th and eventually becoming Anaheim’s starter during their second round series with the eventual champion Kings. Though the Ducks could not claim the series, Gibson looked very composed in nets and has earned the trust of management to the point that they elected not to re-sign former starter Jonas Hiller. To boot, he will take the ice next season wearing the incredibly sweet Pac-Man themed mask you see to your right, likely to be one of the best in the entire league as he begins his quest to be its best rookie.

 

7. Anthony Duclair will break training camp on the New York Rangers’ roster
Currently, the Rangers have a gap on their third line left wing and only enough cap space to sign back their restricted free agents, which means they will need to use a player on an entry level contract in order to remain cap compliant. After a year in Quebec (QMJHL) that saw him rack up 50 goals and 49 assists, “Tony D” has as good a shot as anybody to emerge from the pile. The other options would be Danny Kristo, JT Miller and Jesper Fast, but the former has disappointed in the minors while the latter two never fully earned the trust of Alain Vigneault last season. Management may reassess and want to keep him from burning a year of his entry level deal after nine games, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him suit up for the Blueshirts in October 2014.

 

8. “Stanley Cup Hangover” won’t be in the Kings’ vocabulary this time around
After their first Stanley Cup championship in 2012, the 2013 Kings came out of the gate in the shortened season very flat, starting off 5-6-2 before ripping off a five game winning streak that turned around their campaign. As part of a ferociously strong Pacific Division, this veteran group now knows that they will need to bring their best for the entire 82+ games during their second title defense. At this point, I wouldn’t bet against the Kings to know what they have to do in this situation, which means trouble for rest of the West.

 

9. After a thrilling group stage game, top prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will square off for the gold medal at the World Junior Championships
Canada’s McDavid and the USA’s Eichel are primed to meet during the group stage of the WJC tournament on December 31 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, but another matchup with glory on the line would only add to the growing battle between the two best players in the 2015 draft class. This will be the only chance we get to see the two against each other, as McDavid plays for the OHL’s Erie Otters while Eichel has committed to play college hockey at Boston University. Given that this will be the only time they play on the same ice before reaching the NHL, their performance against each other may give GMs an indication as to which player steps up more on the big stage.

 

And last but most certainly not least…

 

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10. Bryan Murray will kick cancer’s butt
The Senators announced in a press release yesterday that their head coach of three seasons (2005-08) and general manager since 2007 has been diagnosed with cancer. No matter what team you root for, it goes without saying that everyone has to be a Murray fan right now. Bryan, the entire hockey community is on your side and we wish you only the best as you begin your battle.

 

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  • July 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm Jake Ayney

    so wrong. the calder is drouins. hes a shoe in

    Reply