Ranking The Top 5 New adidas NHL Jerseys

Tuesday night was a much anticipated night for many NHL fans as the league and adidas unveiled the new adidas sweaters to be worn by all NHL teams beginning next season. The NHL’s contract with Reebok, the previous provider for all official NHL apparel, ended at the conclusion of this past season, giving way to a new era for NHL apparel.

One interesting thing to note about the transition to adidas is that all NHL teams will be limited to only a home and away sweater for the coming 2017-18 season, meaning no third/alternate jerseys this year. Those are likely to return for the 2018-19 season. There was speculation heading into the joint adidas/NHL unveiling that some teams may decide to wear what was their third jersey as their primary home top this season. Some are, in fact, doing so.

With that, let’s rank the top 5 NHL jerseys after Tuesday night’s big unveiling.

*NOTE: Not all teams’ have made photos of their away sweaters available as of this writing.

5. Florida Panthers

The Panthers absolutely nailed it when they decided to switch up their look a year ago, and thankfully adidas didn’t try to mess with it. I love that there are aspects of this sweater meant to represent the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, with the necktie pattern symbolizing the Florida State flag.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

I’m a big fan of the Leafs’ new/old logo that they made their primary logo prior to last season. This is such a simple, classic look that doesn’t need any tinkering other than maybe a shoulder patch. I’d be fine with that addition.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

It saddens me to have to demote my favorite team in a list like this, but adidas forced my hand. I have NO clue what they were doing when designing the new collar on these. I hate that the white gets cut off right at the front of the collar where the NHL emblem rests. Had they not done that, these are likely still No. 1 as they still own the league’s best logo and secondary logo.

2. Edmonton Oilers

There was talk of Edmonton abandoning their blue tops and wearing orange as their primary color at home. They did that, but they also switched up the color shades. The orange doesn’t appear to be quite as bright, and the blue is now a navy blue rather than their typical royal blue. These things are incredible, and if I wasn’t a loyal Hawks fan, I’d buy one.

1. Boston Bruins

These had always been No. 2 behind the Blackhawks, but with Chicago’s demotion, that opened the door for the Bruins to grab ahold of the top spot. Luckily for them, they seem to have escaped adidas’ jersey makeover without any major changes. One big change in the Bruins’ new look is that they’ll now wear black socks at home, whereas before they were wearing yellow.

One thing I’d like to point out is that these new adidas sweaters now have a metallic NHL logo at the neckline. The Reebok sweaters had the logo there as well, but not in this metallic form:

 

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Hawks beat Penguins in a shootout; NHL trade deadline

15-_DSC2491-toresizeWe’re already 4 games into the Blackhawks’ 8-game homestand, and with today’s shootout win over Pittsburgh they have taken 6 of the possible 8 points so far. It may not feel like they have earned 6 points in the last 4 games, but they have, and every point is a big point at this time of year. So we’ll take it.

Today’s game really wasn’t much of an entertaining one, despite two of the league’s most exciting teams playing in it. Both teams did a really nice job of clogging up the neutral zone, forcing the other to chip-and-chase and then try and set up the offense. You might say that Pittsburgh was more successful at it than the Hawks, but they still couldn’t generate a ton of real good chances. They had a few, and Corey Crawford answered all but one of them with a save. He seems to have really found his stride again, but more on that in a bit.

Niklas Hjalmarsson was the Blackhawks’ lone goal scorer on the afternoon. A faceoff scrum in which Saad out-muscled his counterpart to get the puck back to Hjalmarsson before he bombed it at the net is what led to the goal. For Pittsburgh, it was Nick Spaling that knocked home a rebound given up by Crawford after a bad angle shot from Beau Bennett.

Each team traded powerplays, but no one could score with the man advantage. In overtime, the Blackhawks were the better team, but again, no goals were scored.

Then came the shootout. Now, I’ve always been a big critic of the “talent show” and have wanted the NHL to develop a new format for ending games. Whether it’s 3-on-3 hockey, a 10-minute overtime, etc., I don’t like shootouts. However, today’s shootout was one of the best I’ve seen. The first 4 shooters all scored, with Toews and Kane making Fleury look like a clown. Then Kris Letang went for Pittsburgh, and his bid was stopped by Crawford. It was Patrick Sharp who then had his name called to shoot for the Hawks, and he beat Fleury with a glove-side wrist shot. Game over.

Here’s a few things I took away from today’s contest:

  • The Blackhawks are still trying to find their way back to playing the way they were earlier in the season when they went on their annual Circus Trip out west. Today’s game was a better 60 (or 65) minutes than we saw against both Arizona and Vancouver, but it still wasn’t a pretty win to say the least.
  • Kyle Cumiskey logged 10:25 of ice time today, while Keith had over 28 minutes of playing time. Oduya, Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook were all over 20 minutes as well (Rozsival had 16:42 for what it’s worth). Duncan Keith, while he’s one guy who can handle loads of ice time, shouldn’t be on the ice that much. Come playoff time, you want to see your top defensemen logging minutes somewhere in the low to mid 20’s. You do that by getting quality minutes from all six d-men and by distributing somewhat equal playing time. Right now the Hawks’ fifth and sixth defensemen are generally not giving the Hawks quality minutes, thus lowering their TOI, and raising the other guys’ minutes. This needs to change for them to be successful in the postseason.
  • Corey Crawford appears to be back to his “per-concert incident” self. He made 37 saves on 38 shots today. A few of those saves were great ones that kept the game close. The Hawks will need him to stay on top of his game. You can’t win anything in the NHL without good goaltending.
  • The third and fourth lines of the Blackhawks have featured all kinds of names the last couple games now. We’ve seen line combos from Sharp, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo, to Versteeg, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo, and Bickell, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo. Shaw and Hartman are the only two from the bottom two lines that have consistently played together the last two games. Quenneville is trying to generate more offense from those lines, and until he sees something he likes, they’ll keep changing. They need to figure it out sometime soon though, or at least by April.
  • Ryan Hartman, who had a really good debut against the Devils, wasn’t too noticeable today. He had a team low 7:35 of ice time. Despite not being noticeable and not playing much, he didn’t do anything to warrant him getting scratched next game either. He seems to be really composed while on the ice and doesn’t try to force much. He just takes what he’s given and seems to have good hockey smarts. I’d like to see him continue to play while Carcillo sits in the press box.
  • Lastly, Brad Richards has kind of disappeared lately. Ever since Versteeg went down with his injury on New Year’s Day, Brad Richards has seen his game decline back to the way it was at the beginning of the season. I know he’s getting old and isn’t what he used to be, but the Hawks will need more from him come playoff time.

Today’s game resulted in 2 points for the Hawks, which ultimately is all that matters right now as they chase down the Blues for second in the division. Right now, they trail St. Louis by 2 points, but the Blues have 2 games in hand. Assuming the Hawks don’t bomb between now and April (same with the Blues), they should finish no worse than third in the Central Division, which means we’re looking at another Chicago-St. Louis first round series. While having home ice didn’t help the Blues last year in that matchup, it’s still something that both sides will want for that series. It’s not going to be easy, but if the Hawks can keep winning, they might just catch the Blues this time around.

NHL Trade Deadline

Cody FransonEarlier this morning, the Predators acquired defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli from the Maple Leafs in exchange for Olli Jokinen, a prospect, and a 2015 first round draft pick. Franson was arguably the best defensemen on the trade block, and now he’ll be joining what was already one of the league’s best d-corps on the Predators. He’s a big, right handed shot who likes to be involved offensively. This was a guy that the Blackhawks could have desperately used, but that’s off the table now. The move definitely makes the Predators a better team, and one that we can officially consider a Cup contender.

Because Franson was the best d-man available, teams will now use this trade as a bargaining point while trading for defensemen heading into the trade deadline. The price Nashville paid for Franson and Santorelli, who is a nice player in his own right, wasn’t all that high. This is a good thing for the rest of the league, as almost all contenders seem to be interested in upgrading their blue line. In terms of the Blackhawks, they would be smart to look for a reliable, puck-moving defenseman who can be paired up on the Hawks third d-pairing, or with Hjalmarsson. A combo of Rozsival and Rundblad/Cumiskey/Erixon won’t cut it, and who knows what TVR will be like when he returns…

Now that Franson is off the board, look for more trades to start taking place between now and March 2nd.

Atlantic Division preview

Last season, the Atlantic Division was home to the President’s Trophy-winning team as well as the team with the fewest points in the NHL. In other words, there was quite a gap between the top and bottom of this division in terms of talent. This year, things should be slightly more even.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

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Boston: The Bruins will enter this season after winning last year’s President’s Trophy as the team to finish the regular season with the most points (117). Despite being the best team in the regular season, Boston couldn’t make it past the second round of the playoffs where they lost in seven games to a determined Montreal team. This year, I’m thinking the Bruins will take a step backwards. They were so good during the regular season last year that it will be extremely difficult to put the same numbers this year. Offensively, the Bruins were the highest scoring team in the East last season even though they didn’t have any real superstar scorers on their roster. Most of that roster will be back again this year, minus Jarome Iginla. I think the Bruins will still have one of the better offenses in the league this year, but they won’t duplicate last year’s numbers. As for their defense, the Bruins will once again be one of the deepest defensive team in the league. Led by Zdeno Chara, Boston’s defensive unit is composed of a number of solid, hard-nosed defensemen like Dennis Seidenberg (who will be returning from a season-ending injury from last year), Johnny Boychuck, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid. When you take into account that Boston has one of the best groups of defensive forwards in the league, led by Selke Trophy-winner Patrice Bergeron, it becomes clear that these guys will be tough to score on. That’s not even to mention the fact that they’ll have the reigning Vezina Trophy-winner starting in goal. While the Bruins won’t have the same numbers as last year, I still think they have the best shot at winning this division.

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Buffalo: Last season ended as another last place finish for the Sabres. They finished the year with the lowest point total in the NHL (52), and didn’t really seem to make any strides towards getting better. This offseason, Buffalo signed Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson to try and add some offense to the lineup. Moulson played 44 games with the Sabres last season before being dealt to the Wild at the trade deadline, and his presence back in the Buffalo lineup will be noticed. The Sabres will also have Chris Stewart for the whole season this year. While he’s not an offensive juggernaut or anything remotely close to one, he is a big, physical forward who isn’t afraid to play in the corners or in front of the net on offense. Defensivley, the Sabres signed Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros this summer. These two are not all stars by any means, but they are an upgrade from what the Sabres were working with last season. It will be interesting to see if Tyler Myers finally takes his game to the next level this season after putting together multiple disappointing seasons since his rookie campaign. The defensive unit as a whole for Buffalo is not great by any means. In goal, they will have Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. Neither one of them is a true number one goalie in the NHL, so the combination of them plus a weak defense should lead to another long season for the Sabres.

DRW Logo

Detroit: Well I messed up pretty bad on my prediction for the Red Wings last season. In my season preview, I had this team finishing near the top of the conference, only to see them grab the last wild card spot. This year, I think it’ll be a similar outcome. The Wings have a number of good, young players on their roster who should only be getting better this year. Gustav Nyquist finished last year’s regular season on an absolute tear, and the Red Wings will be looking for him to produce again this year. Whether or not he can regain his form from the end of last year or not should be interesting to keep an eye on. Still, the two offensive leaders of this team are Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. If these guys don’t shoulder the majority of the load for Detroit, the Red Wings will have problems. On defense, we’ll be looking at much of the same names that we saw last year. Niklas Kronwall will be Detroit’s number one d-man again this year, which is not necessarily a good thing. While the Wings have a number of quality players on their back end, they lack the high-end talent in their top two that the good teams all have. As for the goaltending situation, Jimmy Howard has be better this year than he was last season. Without good goaltending, no team in the league has a legitimate shot at winning anything. We’ve seen Howard play at elite levels before, so hopefully for the Wings he can get back to doing so. Whether or not Detroit makes the playoffs again may lie on the shoulders of Howard.

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Florida: You want to talk about a team with a lot of young and potential talent, let’s talk about the Panthers. This team is stacked with youngsters that they’ve either brought up through their system or acquired from other teams. Players such as Brandon Pirri, Aleksander Barkov (this year’s number one pick), Nick Bjugstad, Jimmy Hayes, and Jonathan Huberdeau are all young guys with a lot of potential upside to their game. Then you’ve got guys like Tomas Fleischmann, Dave Bolland (Florida greatly overpaid for him), Tomas Kopecky, and Scottie Upshall who are all proven veterans with good play-making and scoring abilities. If the young forwards on this team can improve their own individual games this season, good things could happen in Sunrise this year. Defensively, Brian Campbell is still Florida’s top defenseman, but the Panthers did add Willie Mitchell who will provide a lot of experience and leadership along their blueline. Still, Florida is one of the weaker defensive teams in the East which will inevitably hurt them again. However, now that they’ll have Roberto Luongo in goal from day one of the regular season, their defense can afford to make a mistake here and there without getting scored on. Luongo should single-handedly lead the Panthers to a few more wins than they had last season. All in all, this is still not a playoff team.

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Montreal: These guys are coming into this season after putting together a rather successful playoff run this past spring. After finishing the regular season with 100 points, the Canadiens took their game to another level in the playoffs and managed to defeat the Bruins in seven games to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, where they eventually were eliminated by the Rangers. This offseason, they lost Thomas Vanek to Minnesota and Brian Gionta to Buffalo. Both losses will hurt the Canadiens as they really did nothing to replace either player. They also traded Danny Briere to the Avalanche in exchange for P.A. Parenteau; a move that I don’t believe will help or hurt Montreal. The biggest news for the Canadiens this offseason was their agreement with P.K. Subban on a big contract extension. No upgrades were made to their defense, and no changes were needed with their goalies. So essentially, Montreal should be similar to what they were last year, only without Vanek and Gionta, which will no doubt lead to less offensive production. Depending on the play of Carey Price in goal this year, I do believe Montreal should make the postseason again, but I wouldn’t bet much money on it. 

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Ottawa: The major news out of Ottawa this summer was the departure of Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars via a trade. Spezza made it clear that he wanted out, and the Senators granted his wish. In return, Ottawa received one NHLer in Alex Chiasson. Aside from his addition, the Sens also acquired David Legwand through free agency. On the offensive side of things, the Senators do have some scoring ability in players such as Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Clarke MaCarthur, and Kyle Turris. After them however, there’s not much left to the forward group on this team. Defensively, they’re even weaker. Erik Karlsson is obviously a great offensive-defenseman, but he’s really not that great defensively. After him, they’ve got Chris Phillips, Marc Methot, Jared Cowen, etc. Bottom line: nothing great on the back end. This was a big problem for Ottawa last season, and it looks like it will be again this year. Craig Anderson will have his hands full in net, as will Robin Lehner who may overtake Anderson as the number one goalie by season’s end. I’m expecting another playoff miss for the Senators.

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Tampa Bay: Now here’s a team that people should take note of immediately. After finishing second in this division last year with 101 points, the Lightning improved their roster this offseason by signing Brian Boyle (center), Brendan Morrow (wing), Jason Garrison (defense), and Anton Stralman (defense). They’ll have a healthy Steven Stamkos to begin the season after he missed much of last year due to injury. The fact that this team still managed to earn over 100 points last year while Stamkos only played in 37 games is pretty impressive to me. That’s a big testamate to the rest of their forwards. They did trade Nate Thompson to Anaheim this summer, which will hurt, but it’s not a loss that can’t be overcome. On defense, the Lighting really added quality depth by signing Garrison and Stralman. Stralman had a fantastic postseason with the Rangers this past spring, which led to him receiving a nice contract from Tampa Bay. Defense was a big reason for this team’s first round exit to the Canadiens last year, and I think they did a nice job of improving in that area this summer. In goal, Ben Bishop had a crazy good season last year by going 37-14-7 while posting a .924 save percentage and a 2.23 goals-against average. If he hadn’t gotten hurt at the end of the regular season last year, who know where this team may have gone in the playoffs. I’m expecting another big year from Bishop this season. If that happens, there’s no way these guys don’t make the playoffs again. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if they win the division assuming everyone stays relatively healthy.

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Toronto: There’s really no other way to describe Toronto’s season last year than “disappointing.” Most people thought they’d be back in the postseason last year after a successful 2012-13 season, but they choked down the stretch and landed on the outside looking in. This offseason saw the Leafs acquire forwards David Booth, Matt Fratin, and Mike Santorelli. None of those three will make a huge difference to this team on their own, but the three combined add some depth to this Toronto lineup. The forward group that the Maple Leafs have is not bad by any means, but they could really use another good goal scorer other than Kessel and Van Riemsdyk. The defensive group in Toronto is not bad either. Dion Phaneuf, who many thought would be traded this summer, is the anchor on the Leafs’ back end. He is joined by Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner, Roman Polak, Morgan Reilly, and Stephane Robidas, who when healthy can be a difference maker. The goalie tandem in Toronto of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer did not live up to expectations last year, and they’ll have to be better this season if the Leafs want a chance at the playoffs. I honestly think the offense and defense are, for the most part, in place for the Leafs to make the postseason, but they can’t afford their top players or goalies to under-perform.

PREDICTED STANDINGS:

1. Boston 2. Tampa Bay 3. Toronto 4. Montreal 5. Detroit 6. Ottawa 7. Florida 8. Buffalo

(Toronto is my “big prediction” for this division. I think both Florida and Buffalo will improve this year as well.)

PREDICTED EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF TEAMS:

1. Boston 2. Pittsburgh 3. Tampa Bay 4. NYR 5. Columbus 6. Toronto 7. New Jersey 8. Montreal

(I have much more faith in my Western Conference playoff prediction than I do in this one. I feel like there are no obvious playoff teams in the East outside of Boston, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay.)

NHL playoff race begins

nhl-playoffs-logo-600x398Now that the Olympics are over, with Canada bringing home the hockey gold, Sweden the silver, Finland the bronze, and the USA dogs (David Backes is literally bringing home two stray dogs he found in Sochi), the NHL season is set to resume itself. Many teams find themselves in the middle of a heated battle just to get into the playoffs, while other teams are fighting for top spots in each conference and division. As has been the case in recent years, it appears we are in for yet another incredible finish to the NHL regular season.

First, here’s a look at the current standings by division:

Atlantic                                   Metropolitan

Boston – 78 pts                        Pittsburgh – 83 pts

Tampa Bay – 71 pts                 N.Y. Rangers – 67 pts

Montreal – 70 pts                      Philadelphia – 66 pts

Toronto – 70 pts                       Columbus – 63 pts

Detroit – 64 pts                         Washington – 63 pts

Ottawa – 63 pts                        Carolina – 61 pts

Florida – 51 pts                         New Jersey – 61 pts

Buffalo – 40 pts                         N.Y. Islanders – 52 pts

Central                                    Pacific

St. Louis – 84 pts                      Anaheim – 87 pts

Chicago – 84pts                        San Jose – 80 pts

Colorado – 79 pts                      Los Angeles – 68 pts

Minnesota – 69 pts                    Phoenix – 64 pts

Dallas – 64 pts                          Vancouver – 63 pts

Winnipeg – 62 pts                     Calgary – 51 pts

Nashville – 60 pts                      Edmonton – 47 pts

159898991_stdIt would appear that the race atop the Central Division could be the most fun to keep an eye on. St. Louis and Chicago are bitter rivals, and getting first place in the Central Division could very well be more important than winning first place in any other division. With the new playoff format, the winner of the Central will play one of the two wild card teams in the West. The team to finish second in the Central will most likely get a first round matchup with Colorado. They are a first round opponent that I would want no part of. Of all teams currently in third place in their respective division, Colorado has the most points (79) by quite a bit (9). They would be leading the Atlantic division by one point.

nhl-playoffs-logo-600x398Pittsburgh seems to have a stranglehold on the Metropolitan division (I hate that name), but the second and third place spots are up for grabs. With eight teams in the Metropolitan division, just 6 points seperates the second place team (the Rangers) from the seventh place team (the Devils). This will be fun to watch. I think the Rangers will get one of the two remaining top spots in that division, but the other spot is wide open in my opinion. Watch out for Columbus and Washington.

The Atlantic division is shaping up to be a close race as well. Boston seems to be a sure lock for the playoffs assuming they don’t suffer an epic collapse, but after them, everyone else in that divison (aside from Florida and Buffalo) has a shot at making the playoffs. The dt.common.streams.StreamServerRed Wings, currently with 64 points and 6 points behind the third place spot in the division, are trying to make the playoffs for the twenty-third consecutive season. Mike Babcock was recently quoted as saying they “will be in the playoffs.” Knowing Detroit, they will either make the postseason, or fall just a couple points shy. Eight points seperate the number two spot from the six spot in the Atlantic. Notice that Tampa Bay is currently in second place despite being without Steven Stamkos for the past few months.

nhl-playoffs-logo-600x398Out west in the Pacific division, things seem to be a bit more spaced out. There isn’t quite the log-jam that we see in the other divisions. Anaheim, the league’s leading team in points (87), should win that division if they can avoid any key injuries or a major meltdown, which has happened to them in recent years. San Jose sits seven points behind Anaheim, but they have a comfortable twelve-point lead over the third place Kings. Once again, the Kings are putting together a disappointing regular season. They are a team that should theoretically finish in one of the top two spot in their division every year. But, every year they underperform until the playoffs. That is when they step up their game. L.A. has a four-point lead over Phoenix and a five-point lead on Vancouver for the third spot in the division. Calgary and Edmonton are hopeless. If I had to bet, I’d say the top three spots in the Pacific don’t change the rest of the season.

So who ends up with the wild card spots? Well, Toronto and Montreal (each with 70 points) appear to be in good position to get one of the East’s two wild cards. Whichever of those two teams doesn’t get a wild card will probably get the third spot in their division. After that, pretty much any team besides the Islanders, Sabres, and Panthers could be the second wild card team at this point. It’s too hard to predict right now who will win that race.

In the Western Conference, Minnesota currently holds the first wild card spot with 69 points. Dallas and Phoenix, each with 64 points, are tied for the second wild card position. However, Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Nashville are all still very much in contention to become the second wild card team in the West.

This is going to be another great finish to the NHL regular season. There are a number of teams seperated by just a couple of points who are all capable of making the playoffs. Injuries could be a factor in determining who comes out on top, and fatigue could be a factor as well. Every team in the league had at least two players take part in the Olympics, with Chicago and Detroit each sending ten. Will those who did play in the Olympics be worn out by season’s end? Only time will tell. If history proves anything, however, teams with large numbers of Olympians can still win the Stanley Cup without being too fatigued. Look no further than the 2010 Blackhawks who won the Cup after six of their top players played in the Olympics.

NHL Eastern Conference predictions

Here’s how I think the Eastern Conference will play out this season:

Metropolitan 

1. 2518158277_cf0b185de3

The Penguins are consistently one of the best teams in hockey during the regular season with all of that talent. I see no reason as to why that will change this year. The playoffs, however, are a different story with this team.

2. llrs2zxi127vkqgcsvfb

After a couple of down years, I expect Washington to be back near the top of the league this season. Ovechkin found his form over the course of last season, and I think he’ll stay hot heading into this season. However, this team seems to always have the potential to disappoint.

3. 144

This will be their first season under new head coach Alain Vigneault, and I think it could go one of two ways; good, or really bad. I don’t see an in-between with the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is always a key factor in this team’s success, and while I expect him to be an elite goalie again this year, I am not as sure about the rest of the team. For now, I’m saying they take third in this division.

4. 161

Last year was a season to forget for the Flyers. They greatly under-performed. Now that Bryzgalov is gone and Ray Emery has taken his place, there should be less off-ice distractions, which will help, but I don’t think last year was a fluke. Teams don’t just go from the top of the conference to the bottom in one year without there being more than a few problems. Having said that, I think Philadelphia has the potential to finish in the top 3 in this division.

5. Carolina-Hurricanes-Logo

The Hurricanes somewhat remind me of the Oilers in terms of their potential. Edmonton has more talent, but both teams are better than what they showed us last season. Like the Oilers, I think Carolina has the potential to make the postseason as a wild card team, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t.

6. 138

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should have the Islanders ahead of the Hurricanes or not. They could go either way. Last year was a major surprise for the Islanders as they made the playoffs for the first time in a number of years. John Tavares is becoming one of the best centers in the game, and he’ll probably be named team captain sometime this month. Still, I don’t think this team will replicate what they accomplished last year.

7. bluejackets07-rgbjpg-8678ad1b3fbe2735

For the first time in a long time, the Blue Jackets are not projected to be the worst team in the league. If they were still in the Central Division, I might have them placed higher in the standings. Unfortunately for the Jackets, this division may be the toughest in hockey. While they will be a solid, possibly above .500 team, I don’t see them making the playoffs in this conference.

8. 127

There isn’t a whole lot to look forward to with the Devils. Kovalchuk is gone, Clarkson is gone, and Brodeur is slowly on his way out. They did acquire Corey Schneider, Jaromir Jagr, Ryan Clowe, and Michael Ryder, among others, but there are still a ton of question marks with this team, especially on defense.

Atlantic

1. Detroit-Red-Wings-Logo

This is my big prediction for this upcoming season. While I’m sure others have the Wings finishing first in this division, I don’t think I’m in the majority. Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss were big acquisitions for the Wings that will greatly help. I feel that a line with Datsyuk/Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson could be a major threat to opposing teams. Aside from their big name players, the Wings also have a lot of young talent that really looked good in last year’s playoffs. The big question mark here is their defense. I’d expect the Wings to upgrade on the blue line via trade at some point this season.

2. Boston_Bruins_logo

They lost Horton, Seguin, Peverley, and Jagr, but acquired Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla. Their offense should be pretty comparable to what it was last year, and their defense remains arguably the best in the NHL. The Bruins will contend for the top spot in the East again this season, but for now I have them finishing second in their own division.

3. Toronto-Maple-Leafs-Logo

This is where the Atlantic Division kind of falls to a lower level. The Wings and Bruins, in my opinion, will be elite teams in the NHL. After them, however, I don’t see another solid lock for the postseason in this division. The Maple Leafs have the best shot of the remaining teams, and rightfully so. They made some big moves this off season by signing David Clarkson and trading for Jonathan Bernier and Dave Bolland. If James Reimer begins to show some weaknesses, expect Bernier to be named their new starting goalie. My fear with Toronto is that they are expecting too much out of Dave Bolland. They have really hyped him up since they traded for him, but he’s not the offensive player that they’re making him out to be. The Leafs will be good, but not great.

4. 2bkf2l3xyxi5p0cavbj8

They made a big move by acquiring Bobby Ryan from the Ducks, but they also lost their captain via free agency. Last year the Senators surprised a lot of people by not only making the playoffs, but by advancing to the second round. In all honesty, I think Ottawa is going to be pretty similar to what they were last season. I think we’re probably looking at a wild card spot for the Sens, but they have the ability to miss the postseason as well.

5. 97hhvk8e5if0riesnex30etgz

This is kind of a “wild card” pick for me. The Lightning were not good last season, but I think they have the talent and potential to be better. Stamkos will continue to be one of the best players in hockey, St. Louis will stay productive, and the signing of Valtteri Filppula will prove to be bigger than people think. They have a decent offensive team, but their defense is still suspect. Matt Carle needs to bounce back after a couple of down seasons since signing in Tampa, and Viktor Hedman needs to play up to his potential for this team to be decent again. Along with their defense, goaltending is another foggy area with the Lightning. I’m not totally sold on Ben Bishop, but only time will tell with him.

6.  canadiens

I felt all of last season that this team was overachieving. I thought for sure that they would choke near the end of the year and either fall to a bottom seed in the East playoffs, or miss the postseason all together. They did neither. This year, I think their record will be a bit more indicative as to how good the Canadiens really are. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, and I think they could end up even lower in the standings than I have them here.

7. 230

While they’re not as bad as the Flames, this team is in a rebuilding phase just like Calgary. They’ve had some good talent over the past few years, but nothing ever panned out the way that they wanted it to. Tyler Myers has regressed a bit since his rookie campaign, and guys like Drew Stafford haven’t really improved much over the past couple seasons. Ryan Miller is coming off of one of his worst seasons in the NHL, but I think he’ll be better this year.

8. 94

The Panthers shocked everyone two years ago when they made the playoffs, and there’s a reason for that. They weren’t/aren’t that good. They have a ton of young guys who could turn out to be good hockey players, and they have Jonathan Huberdeau who seems to have a promising future. Still, there are way too many unknowns with this team. Defensively, they have a bit more veteran depth, but they’re not great in that area. Expect another last place finish for Florida.

Playoffs

Metropolitan Division:

1. Penguins 2. Capitals 3. Rangers

Atlantic Division:

1. Red Wings 2. Bruins 3. Maple Leafs

Wild Card teams:

1. Flyers 2. Senators

Blackhawks trade Bolland, Frolik; Sign Bickell

1297434232923_ORIGINALJust 6 days after the Blackhawks fourth line scored the game-winning goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, two of the three players on that line have been traded. Today, Stan Bowman sent Dave Bolland to the Maple Leafs in exchange for the 51st and 117th picks in today’s draft, as well as a 4th round pick in next year’s draft. He also traded Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets for the 74th and 134th picks in today’s draft. While these moves are definitely disappointing for Hawks fans, they are smart moves. On the bright side, it was just announced that Bryan Bickell signed a 4-year, $16 million contract with the Blackhawks.

Okay, so a lot to digest here. Let’s start with the trades.

By moving Bolland and Frolik, the Blackhawks gained about $5 million in cap space for next season, increasing their total cap space to over $13 million according to nhl_blackhawks_23CapGeek.com. With the signing of Bickell for a reported $4 million per year, that cap space now drops to around $9 million for next season. Obviously, people are going to be upset seeing the names Bolland and Frolik being traded. However, you need to look at the numbers in this trade.

Bolland and Frolik were a combined $5 million cap hit next season, which is an awful lot of money to be spending on 2 fourth line players. The Hawks knew that in order to sign someone like Bryan Bickell, they needed to free up some cap space. Trading Bolland did just that, and the Hawks wasted no time in extending Bickell. By trading Frolik, the Blackhawks have gained even more cap space to re-sign a guy like Nick Leddy. There have been talks of the Hawks trading Leddy, but I now doubt that will happen. Leddy is due to become a RFA this summer if the Hawks do not extend his contract.

So, now what do the Blackhawks do with their remaining $9 million?

They could do a number of things. My best guess is that they are going to re-sign Nick Leddy, and maybe even Ray Emery. They will also do what they did last year and sign some role players and depth players. I am not so sure that they will make a big splash by signing someone like Briere or any other big name, although that is not out of the question. It is no secret that they need a true number 2 center, and with their now high cap space, they could acquire a decent center.

Brandon-Pirri

Brandon Pirri

One thing is for sure, however. Guys like Ben Smith and Brandon Pirri are going to get their fair shot at becoming impact players on the Blackhawks next season. Ben Smith will most likely be on one of the Hawks’ bottom 2 lines to start the season, and Pirri could even find himself as the second line center. Personally, I don’t think it is a good idea to put a rookie into that much important number 2 center position. I believe that going out and acquiring a good, veteran second line center would be the better option.

A lot can happen now with the Blackhawks. They have a ton of money to spend, even after signing Bickell. The question now is whether or not they will spend all of that money, and if they do, how will it be spent? On role players, or on a big name or two? Either way, Stan Bowman has really been working hard here the last 24 hours, and I am confident he’ll make the right decisions moving forward.

NHL Eastern Conference playoff predictions

Who would have thought that the Eastern Conference playoff teams would not consist of the Philadelphia Flyers? I didn’t predict that, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, it is nice to see some new faces in the playoffs this year, like the Islanders and Maple Leafs. And how about the Senators? After all the adversity that this team has faced this season, it is pretty remarkable that they’re in the postseason again. So having said that, let’s get to the predictions.

1-8 Matchup:

2518158277_cf0b185de3 vs. 138

Season series: Penguins 4-1-0 against Islanders.

Well it’s no surprise to see Pittsburgh as the number 1 seed in the East, but it is a surprise to see the Islanders as the number 8 seed. I am confident in saying that I don’t believe many people projected the Islanders to be a playoff team this year. John Tavares, on the other hand, had different thoughts about his team and willed them to the postseason. Him and Matt Moulson recorded 47 and 44 points respectively this year, and they are going to need to continue to produce against the Penguins. Evgeni Nabakov had a major bounce back season this year by going 23-11-7, and his playoff experience is huge for the Islanders. Not many guys on that team have ever played in the postseason before, so it’s nice for them to have a goalie with experience. He’s going to need to be great for the Islanders to advance.

The Penguins have shown all year long that they are a force in the Eastern Conference, and they are going to be the toughest out in the East. They went out and really upgraded their team at the trade deadline by acquiring Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, and both of those guys have fit pretty well into the lineup since. The biggest concern for Pittsburgh right now is the health of Sidney Crosby. He recently started practicing again after sitting out for a month with a broken jaw, but it is unclear as to when he may return to game action. Although I feel that the Penguins should still take down the Islanders without much of a problem even without Crosby, I wouldn’t ink them in as the Eastern Conference champs like many people are. Marc Andre Fleury worries me about the Penguins chances with his sub-par play in recent postseasons.

-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-1.

2-7 Matchup:

124 vs. 2bkf2l3xyxi5p0cavbj8

Season series: Senators 2-1-1 against Canadiens.

After a couple years of missing the playoffs, Montreal is back as the number 2 seed in the East after barely edging out the Bruins for the division championship. Ottawa, meanwhile, is back in the playoffs yet again even after all the injuries they suffered this season. Daniel Alfredsson (their captain) missed the entire season, and Jason Spezza (their best goal scorer) played in just 5 games. Neither will play in the postseason. Erik Karlsson only played in 17 games because of a severed achilles, but made a remarkable return to the lineup for the last game of the regular season. His presence in the lineup will be HUGE for the Senators in the playoffs. Craig Anderson had his best season as a goalie, posting 1.69 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage. He should be a Vezina finalist, and rightfully so. Ottawa will need Anderson to continue his strong play into the postseason. If he does, this is a team that could do some damage.

Montreal had a great start to the season, but saw their play slip a little in April (a 7-7-0 record). They had 5 players record at least 30 points this year, including 2 defensemen. One of which, P.K. Subban, should be a Norris Trophy finalist. But to me, the biggest story-line surrounding this team will be the play of Carey Price. He went 21-13-4 this season with a 2.59 GAA and a .905 save percentage. Over the last month or so, however, Price has really started to fade. Fans in Montreal have become extremely critical of Price, and I am sure that if he slips up early in this series that Peter Budaj will take over in net. To me, the Canadiens go as Carey Price goes.

-Ottawa wins series, 4-2.

3-6 Matchup:

llrs2zxi127vkqgcsvfb vs. 144

Season series: Rangers 2-0-1 against Capitals.

Thanks to the unbelievable play of Alex Ovechkin down the home stretch of the season, the Capitals find themselves as division champions and the 3 seed in the East. The Rangers, however, cannot be happy with their 6th place finish in the conference. This was a team that almost everyone had winning the conference and advancing to the Finals prior to the season after their acquisition of Rick Nash. Unexpectedly, the Rangers just couldn’t get things rolling until April where they went 10-3-1. At the trade deadline, they parted ways with Marian Gaborik and received Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard, and John Moore in return. This was apparently the spark that the Rangers needed to get going, because they have been a much better team since. Henrik Lundqvist is still one of the top goalies in hockey, and he has the ability to single-handedly win a series for New York. If he plays well and Derek Stepan keeps up his torrid pace, this team will get by the first round.

-New York wins series, 4-3.

4-5 Matchup:

Boston-Bruins-Logo vs. Toronto-Maple-Leafs-Logo

 

Season series: Boston 3-1-0 against Maple Leafs.

Talk about a classic rivalry series… I think I speak on behalf of most NHL fans when I say that I am excited to watch these two teams go at it. Finally, the Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs, and their fans are going to be going nuts at the Air Canada Centre for Game 3. After all that talk of Toronto possibly trading for either Roberto Luongo or Mikka Kiprusoff, their goaltending really hasn’t been bad. James Reimer went 19-8-5 this year with a 2.46 GAA and a .924 save percentage. He doesn’t have playoff experience, which could hurt, but the Leafs have to have some confidence in this guy after the season he had. Phil Kessel, who led the Leafs with 52 points, will get a chance to eliminate his former team, and the Maple Leafs are going to need him to give everything he’s got.

After a great start to the season, Boston was eventually caught and overrun by the Canadiens in the division. But don’t let that fool you. The Bruins are still one of the best teams in hockey, and one of the toughest teams to play against. Tuukka Rask was one of the better goalies in hockey this season with a 2.00 GAA and a .929 save percentage. His play, plus the team defense of the Bruins resulted in Boston finishing third in the league in GA/G. Teams with a good GA/G always tend to fare well in the postseason. The addition of Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline could pay off now more than it has up to this point in the season, as Jagr is a very experienced postseason player and knows how to win big games. Also, the Bruins are just 2 years removed from winning the Cup and know what it takes to get back there. Don’t let their finish in the conference fool you. This is a dangerous team.

-Boston wins series, 4-1.

Look for my second round predictions for both conferences once the first round ends.

Thanks for reading.