2015-16 season expectations: Who wins it all

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It is opening night of the 2015-16 National Hockey League season, and the defending champion, Chicago Blackhawks, will look to defend its title and continue its dynasty run.

After offseason highlighted with the NHL Draft, trades, some interesting signings, and now an eventful preseason, it is time to get this show started!

The season begins Wednesday with four games on the docket, including the Blackhawks raising their Stanley Cup banner at the United Center against the New York Rangers. The other games include the Montréal Canadiens in Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs, the Calgary Flames hosting the Vancouver Canucks, and the Los Angeles Kings playing host to the San J0se Sharks.

The rest of the NHL gets underway Thursday or Friday night.

As for the Buffalo Sabres, they open the season Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators at the First Niagara Center.

But where will the Sabres compare to the rest of the teams in the Atlantic Division? Eastern Conference? The entire league?

Atlantic Division

Last season, the Canadiens came away on top of the Atlantic with a 50-22-10 record with 110 points. The team’s success was mainly in part due to the play of the Vezina and Hart Trophy winner, Carey Price.

17655328-mmmainThe Tampa Bay Lightning finished second in the division with 108 points, and the Detroit Red Wings rounded out the top three with 100 points.

The Ottawa Senators finished as the only Wild Card team from the division after riding the hot hand of Andrew Hammond, and getting some quality play out of rookies Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman.

The Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Toronto, and Buffalo rounded out the Atlantic Division as they teams that missed out on the postseason.
This season, the division could look a bit different with some teams making some major changes, while other teams are poised to be just as good as last season. So who will finish where?

Atlantic Division Standings:

  1. Y – Tampa Bay Lightning – 49-23-10 (108 points)
  2. X – Montréal Canadiens – 47-25-10 (104 points)
  3. X – Florida Panthers – 42-29-11 (95 points)
  4. Detroit Red Wings – 41-31-10 (92 points)
  5. Ottawa Senators – 40-31-11 (91 points)
  6. Buffalo Sabres – 38-32-12 (88 points)
  7. Boston Bruins – 35-37-10 (80 points)
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs – 28-45-9 (65 points)

Tampa Bay is returning with almost the exact same team that got the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Finals last season. The Lightning are young, but are now well experienced with going to the Finals this past June. They will be one of the best teams in the entire league this season.

Montréal is still right up with the Lightning, as long as they play better in front of Carey Price. If Price’s game is off a bit this season, or he gets injured, the Canadiens could be in trouble of dropping back in the standings a bit.

PanthersThe surprise team of the postseason will be the Panthers, who have a nice even blend of young players ready to breakout with veteran leadership to guide the younger players throughout the year. Jaromir Jagr will certainly help young players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov grow into top talent forwards for the Panthers. Other players like Brandon Pirri, Nick Bjugstad, and Reilly Smith could also have breakout years in the Sunrise, Florida. Last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Aaron Ekblad will continue to work on building off of his incredible rookie season and establish himself as one of the best defensemen in the NHL.

Detroit and Ottawa will be on the fringe of the Atlantic Division standings, but they will just miss the playoffs. It would be the first time since the 1989-90 season where the Red Wings would miss the playoffs, breaking an incredible 24-year streak. As for Ottawa, the team would not have been a playoff team without Hammond, Stone and company playing hot down the stretch. Ottawa is bound for regression, but it may only take a year until the Senators are back in the postseason.

As for Buffalo, they will have a 34 point improvement from last season, thanks in part to the play of the offseason acquisitions, and rookie phenom, Jack Eichel. They miss this year, but next year the Sabres will push hard to return to the postseason.

BruinsBoston will suffer after their confusing offseason with the firing of Peter Chiarelli, trading of Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic, and their bizarre Draft day and free agency period. Next offseason could be an interesting one for the Bruins as the team has two first round picks who could result in two top three picks in the draft.

Finally at the bottom of the Atlantic is not the Titanic, but Toronto. Even after the hiring of Mike Babcock as head coach, the team will have a long road ahead of them before they will be close to contending for a playoff spot. Until then, team President Brendan Shanahan, general manager Lou Lamoriello, and Babcock have a lot of work to do to rebuild the Leafs.

Metropolitan Division

The New York Rangers were the top of the Metropolitan Division last year, and the top of the league by winning the Presdient’s Trophy with 113 points in the standings. The Rangers finished the 2014-15 campaign with 53 wins and the best goal-differential in the NHL.

From left, Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen, James Wisniewski and Boone Jenner celebrate Johansen's game-winning goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during the overtime period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)Right behind the Rangers were the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders with 101 points. Washington held the advantage over the Islanders with a higher goal-differential, but the Capitals would have the upper-hand during the playoffs.

The final Wild Card spot in the East belonged to the Pittsburgh Penguins, after a string of injuries dismantled the Penguins and nearly forced them to miss the postseason all together.

If the Columbus Blue Jackets did not suffer over 500 man-games lost due to injuries, the Jackets would have made the playoffs. However, a late win streak was not enough to get them into the postseason. The Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, and Carolina Hurricanes joined the Jackets as teams who missed the playoffs in the Metro.

This season, the division only got better and more tough to win. Columbus and Pittsburgh made some big moves to improve their hockey team, and teams like the Rangers, Islanders, and Capitals could be just as good as last season. But who will come out on top this season?

Metropolitan Division Standings:

  1. Y – Washington Capitals – 46-24-12 (104 points)
  2. X – New York Rangers – 47-26-9 (103 points)
  3. X – Columbus Blue Jackets – 44-25-13 (101 points)
  4. W – Pittsburgh Penguins – 44-28-10 (98 points)
  5. W – New York Islanders – 41-30-11 (93 points)
  6. Philadelphia Flyers – 38-32-12 (88 points)
  7. New Jersey Devils – 33-37-12 (78 points)
  8. Carolina Hurricanes – 29-41-12 (70 points)

It may be the tightest race for a division in the league this season.  With all five teams that will make the postseason this year capable of winning the Metro, it will come down to the final few games of the season before one team will clinch the division.

CapsThe Capitals made some upgrades this offseason by signing free agent winger, and playoff hero Justin Williams. The team also traded for perennial winger, T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues. The Capitals could be dangerous with their top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (when he returns from injury), and Oshie, and their second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, and Williams. Washington also has the depth on both ends of the ice in order to put up a deep run in the postseason.

Right behind the Capitals is the Rangers this year in second place in the division. The Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist in net, an elite level of defense, and have top talent players like Rick Nash and Derek Stepan. The Rangers could still win the division, but they will be alright come the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets just need to remain healthy this season, and they should have no problem getting into the playoffs. With a goaltender like Sergei Bobrovsky, a defense with a lot to prove, and a well-rounded offense (especially with the addition of Brandon Saad), the Blue Jackets could be dangerous come the postseason.

As for the Wild Card teams, both will come from the Metropolitan Division with the Penguins and Islanders getting in to the postseason.

PensEven with the Penguins acquiring Phil Kessel from the Leafs, after the top two lines on offense, Pittsburgh has questions marks with their forward depth and defense.

As for the Islanders, John Tavares has been picked by many to have a Hart Trophy season. The questions this season surround whether or not the team can have repeated success like last season, especially since the Islanders are moving to Brooklyn.

The Flyers should be better this season in the Metro, but are still another year away from being in contention for the playoffs. Dave Hakstol is a respected coach, and he can do some great things with the talents of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and company, but the team is still a goaltender and some consistent defenders away from contending.

As for the Devils and Hurricanes, they will have some growing pains this season and spend the season towards the basement of the NHL standings. New Jersey has Cory Schneider to keep them afloat, however the Hurricanes are in trouble for the 2015-16 season.

Central Division

While the top teams in the Metro could make the division a tight race, all seven teams in the Central Division could be up for a playoff spot.

Last season it was the Blues who took the division with 109 points, while the Nashville Predators (104 points) and Blackhawks (102 points) rounded out the top three in the Central.

Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn (14) celebrate after their 5-3 win over the Boston Bruins in an NHL hockey game in Boston Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)Both the Minnesota Wild (100 points) and Winnipeg Jets (99 points) finished as the Wild Card teams in the Western Conference.

On the outside looking in, the Dallas Stars could have made the playoffs if they did not suffer from losing Tyler Seguin in February, and inconsistencies on defense and in the crease. Instead, they finished with 92 points and missed by more points than they should have.

As for the Colorado Avalanche, similar issues on defense and injuries all over the ice led them to a 90 point season, and a last place finish in the Central.

With the fire-power each team has, who will fight it out to get into the postseason this year?

Central Division Standings:

  1. Y – Minnesota Wild – 48-27-7 (103 points) – 44 ROW
  2. X – Dallas Stars – 45-24-13 (103 points) – 37 ROW
  3. X – St. Louis Blues – 45-26-11 (101 points)
  4. W – Chicago Blackhawks – 44-27-11 (99 points)
  5. W – Nashville Predators – 45-29-8 (98 points)
  6. Winnipeg Jets – 42-28-12 (96 points)
  7. Colorado Avalanche – 42-31-9 (93 points)

It is very difficult to say who will win the Central Division, but Wildbased on the projections, Minnesota will win the division based on regulation-overtime wins. The Wild will look to build on last year’s second-half success after acquiring goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk is arguably the biggest question mark this season with his play, but if he plays well and the Wild do win the division, Minnesota has the depth and talent to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Right behind the Wild are the Dallas Stars, who are expected to have a bounce back season with the additions made in the offseason. The additions of Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Antti Niemi, and the hopes that Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and Jamie Benn stay healthy will help the Stars get back to the postseason.

Last season’s Central Division champions round out the top three, with a lot on the line for the Blues. In the past three years, the Blues have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. This has put head coach Ken Hitchcock on the hot seat, and the rest of the Blues on watch. If the Blues do not win this year, it could be an active offseason in St. Louis.

For the defending champions, Chicago will step back in the standings, but will still make the playoffs as a Wild Card team. The Blackhawks still have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and a great crop of talent on the roster, but losing Saad, Sharp, and Oduya will hurt the team just a bit. But once it comes to the offseason, the Blackhawks are dangerous and they will not stop for no one.

PredsThe other Wild Card team that will make the playoffs out of the Central will be the Nashville Predators. The “X-Factor” for the Predators is goaltender Pekka Rinne. We have seen how this team is when he is playing well, and we have seen this team when he is injured or not playing well. If Rinne can put up the numbers and be one of the best teams, the Predators will return to the postseason in 2016.

On the outside looking in, Winnipeg will not get back to the postseason next season, even with the team they have. Also, the Avalanche will have an improvement from last season, however they will not make it to the playoffs for the second straight year.

One thing that is for certain is that all seven teams in the Central will win more than 40 games this season. Any of these seven teams can make the playoffs, and it should be a fun season to watch how this division unfolds.

Pacific Division

The Pacific Division, quite possibly, is the weakest division in the NHL, however there is some highly skilled players that are playing in this division.

Right at the top last season was the Anaheim Ducks, who have been the top team in the Pacific Division for the past two seasons since realignment. Led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks were a big, bruising team that plays a great physical game, and were one game away from going to the Stanley Cup Finals last season.

Apr 21, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Jiri Hudler (24) center Sean Monahan (23) and left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) celebrate Gaudreau's first period goal against the Vancouver Canucks in game four of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY SportsThe Vancouver Canucks finished second in the division, and surprised many with their success in their first season under head coach Willie Desjardins. The one thing the Canucks did well last season was score goals, and it helped them finish second in the Pacific.

Last year’s surprise team that made a surprise run was the Calgary Flames. No one expected the Flames to make the playoffs, but they got some timely offense from the young guns and earned their place in the postseason.

As for the rest of the Pacific, the Los Angeles Kings surprisingly missed out on the postseason after winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. The San Jose Sharks had a step back year, and paid the price for it. While the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes were cellar dwellers all season.

However, a lot has changed this offseason. So where will everyone finish?

Pacific Division Standings:

  1. Z – Anaheim Ducks – 51-23-8 (110 points)
  2. X – Los Angeles Kings – 45-26-11 (101 points)
  3. X – Calgary Flames – 44-29-9 (97 points)
  4. Vancouver Canucks – 41-30-11 (93 points)
  5. Edmonton Oilers – 38-33-11 (87 points)
  6. San Jose Sharks – 36-32-14 (86 points)
  7. Arizona Coyotes – 24-47-11 (59 points)

DucksOnce again, the Anaheim Ducks will reign the division, and even claim the President’s Trophy in the process. The additions of Kevin Bieksa and Carl Hagelin will certainly help the Ducks be more of a more rounded team. If the Ducks can have Frederik Andersen establish himself as the permanent starting goaltender, and if he can carry the load, the Ducks could very well contend for the Stanley Cup once again.

After missing the playoffs last year, the Kings will get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs as healthy and physically ready as they can be. The addition of Milan Lucic will certainly make the Kings a tougher opponent to play against. Another player to watch make an impact in Los Angeles is defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who will be an important defensive factor on the ice for the Kings. This postseason, we could see the Kings make another deep run if the team catches fire and stays consistent on both sides of the ice.

Last year’s surprise team in the Calgary Flames will return to the postseason with even more weapons to make them an even more dangerous threat than last year. With the additions of Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik, and with Sam Bennett ready to take the stage, Calgary should get some more goal scoring and electrifying offense on the ice than last year. As long as the defense can stay healthy, and Jonas Hiller can stay strong in net, maybe the Flames can make an even deeper run than last year.

With the Canucks, they seem to be getting older and will not be able to keep up with the rest of the division or the Western Conference. The Canucks still may play well, however they will not be able to top their other divisional opponents.

OilersAs for the Oilers, similar to the Sabres, they will make the biggest jump in the NHL standings this season. Certainly, drafting Connor McDavid will help the Oilers’ turnaround much faster, but also the addition of Peter Chiarelli as President of Hockey Operations and general manager, and head coach Todd McLellan will help. The Oilers have made a plethora of offseason moves, and the team hopes to have players like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle play at the top of their game. Maybe next year is the year the Oilers will get back to the postseason, and begin making runs at the Stanley Cup once again.

Perhaps the biggest question mark of a team this season in the NHL is the San Jose Sharks. Why? Which team will show up? A team that plays dominant on the ice, or a team plagued with internal issues? The Sharks did acquires Martin Jones to be the starting goaltender, and also other moves to improve the depth on both sides of the ice. If the Sharks can stay focused on the ice, and not get distracted with internal issues, the Sharks could get back to the playoffs.

Finally, the Coyotes are going to finish last in the Pacific, and last in the entire NHL. Let’s face it: Arizona is young, raw, and are in full-on rebuild mode. The Coyotes will have the best odds at taking home-grown talent, Auston Matthews with the first overall pick at the NHL Draft this upcoming season. However, the Coyotes will be entertaining to watch with the young group of talent they have.

With the regular season projections over, we look at the projected drafting position for the teams that will not make the playoffs this season:

PLEASE REMEMBER: We do not know where each team will select until the NHL Draft Lottery takes place in April.

2016 NHL Draft Selections:

  1. Arizona Coyotes – 59 points
  2. Toronto Maple Leafs – 65 points
  3. Carolina Hurricanes – 70 points
  4. New Jersey Devils – 78 points
  5. Boston Bruins – 80 points
  6. Boston Bruins (from the San Jose Sharks – 86 points)
  7. Edmonton Oilers – 87 points
  8. Philadelphia Flyers – 88 points – 33 ROW
  9. Buffalo Sabres – 88 points – 34 ROW
  10. Ottawa Senators – 91 points
  11. Detroit Red Wings – 92 points
  12. Vancouver Canucks – 93 points – 36 ROW
  13. Colorado Avalanche – 93 points – 38 ROW
  14. Winnipeg Jets – 96 points

We know what teams are not making the playoffs, now we take a look at what happens with the 2016 NHL Playoffs, and who will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals:

Eastern Conference Wild Card Round:

  • Atlantic #1 – Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Wild Card #2 – New York Islanders
    • Lightning win series 4-1
  • Atlantic #2 – Montréal Canadiens vs. Atlantic #3 – Florida Panthers
    • Canadiens win series 4-1
  • Metropolitan #1 – Washington Capitals vs. Wild Card #1 – Pittsburgh Penguins
    • Capitals win series 4-2
  • Metropolitan #2 – New York Rangers vs. Metropolitan #3 – Columbus Blue Jackets
    • Blue Jackets win series 4-3

Western Conference Wild Card Round:

  • Pacific #1 – Anaheim Ducks vs. Wild Card #2 – Nashville Predators
    • Ducks win series 4-1
  • Pacific #2 – Los Angeles Kings vs. Pacific #3 – Calgary Flames
    • Kings win series 4-2
  • Central #1 – Minnesota Wild vs. Wild Card #1 – Chicago Blackhawks
    • Wild win series 4-3
  • Central #2 – Dallas Stars vs. Central #3 – St. Louis Blues
    • Stars win series 4-2

Mostly the top seeds in each conference will advance to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The exception is the Blue Jackets in the East, as they will defeat the Rangers in seven games.

As for the Wild, Minnesota will finally get over the hump that is the Blackhawks. The Wild will advance past the Blackhawks for the first time in four years, and will move on to the Conference Semifinals for the third straight season.

With the Wild Card Round finished, now let us take a look at who will win the Conference Semifinal Round:

Eastern Conference Semifinals:

  • Atlantic #1 – Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Atlantic #2 – Montréal Canadiens
    • Lightning win series 4-2
  • Metropolitan #1 – Washington Capitals vs. Metropolitan #3 – Columbus Blue Jackets
    • Capitals win series 4-3

Western Conference Semifinals:

  • Pacific #1 – Anaheim Ducks vs. Pacific #2 – Los Angeles Kings
    • Kings win series 4-3
  • Central #1 – Minnesota Wild vs. Central #2 – Dallas Stars
    • Wild win series 4-2

We see a rematch of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season with the Lightning and Canadiens, with a similar outcome as last year. The Lightning are just too good, especially after last season’s regular season against Montréal, and then their continued success in the playoffs.

As for the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin will finally get his hockey club to the Eastern Conference Finals as the Capitals will have a close series with Columbus. Ovechkin will be a factor in the series, with Braden Holtby continuing his playoff success in his career.

Out West, the Kings will get back to the Western Conference Finals by upsetting the NHL’s best team in the Ducks. Jonathan Quick will have to be good, and he will be with some help from the Kings’ offensive weapons.

The Wild will ride the hot-hand of Devan Dubnyk, and will get help from its top players on offense to get past a high-octane offense in the Dallas Stars. Seguin, Benn, and company will not make anything easy for the Wild, but Minnesota will prevail.

Before we reveal the picks for the Stanley Cup Finalists, last year we predicted that the Lightning and Blackhawks would make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015. What do you know, both teams ended up in the Finals and, as we predicted, the Blackhawks would win the Stanley Cup in six games. Can we do it again? Here is who will battle for the Stanley Cup:

Eastern Conference Finals:

  • Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
    • Lightning win series 4-3

Western Conference Finals:

  • Minnesota Wild vs. Los Angeles Kings
    • Kings win series 4-2

Tampa Bay’s roster could be better than what they had going into the Stanley Cup Finals last year. This year, the team is more experienced, and will be hungry to get back to the Finals. It will be a hard-fought series, but the Capitals will not be able to keep up to Stamkos and the Lightning.

In the West, the Kings will show their dominance again and will get back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in five seasons. Minnesota’s group of players will be a test for Quick, Kopitar, and company, but the Kings are so well coached by Darryl Sutter, that Los Angeles will move on once again.

Who will be the Stanley Cup Champions in 2016?

Stanley Cup Finals:

  • Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Los Angeles Kings
    • Lightning win series 4-3.

The Lightning will come in hungry, and looking for revenge for last season. If the Lightning can stay healthy this time around, they should be the favorites to win it all. The Kings will put up a great fight against the defending Eastern Conference Champions, but Stamkos will play like the most valuable player in the Finals, and will help the Lightning win its first championship since 2004.

But the Stanley Cup will not be the only piece of hardware handed out at the end of the season. Here is the list of players who will win some of the league’s top honors for their play throughout the season:

Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoffs MVP) – Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning

Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) – Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres

Norris Trophy (Defenseman of the Year) – Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Vezina Trophy (Goaltender of the Year) – Carey Price, Montréal Canadiens

Jack Adams Trophy (Coach of the Year) – Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

Art Ross Trophy (Leading Scorer in NHL) – Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars

Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (Leading Goal Scorer in NHL) – Alexander Ovechkin, RW, Washington Capitals

Hart Trophy (NHL’s Most Valuable Players) – Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars

The 2015-16 season is expected to be one of the most exciting seasons to date. The expectations for teams and players are high, and the absolute goal of winning the Stanley Cup has never been higher. My advice to everyone is to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Keep it locked to Better Live Than Dead Sports throughout the NHL season for all the latest news and stories!

Written by Brayton Wilson

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