31 teams anxiously awaited the beginning of the 2017 NHL season, and with yesterday’s opening contests, the season is underway. Now as fans we can sit back and find out who will be the first head coach to be fired? How will the Golden Knights perform in their inaugural season? And most importantly, which team will take the Cup away from the Penguins?
Starting in the Metropolitan Division, three teams stand apart from the rest. The battle for the top spot between the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will be something to watch all season long. These teams have top goaltending and are expected to be playoff threats come April. Rounding out the Metro, and likely fighting for playoff spots later in the season, are the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes. Points in the beginning of the season could end up being crucial, like the Islanders learned after last year’s slow start which led to Jack Capuano’s firing. The Flyers and Devils are not likely to be a threat, but you never know. Look for the Penguins to win the Division, followed by the Blue Jackets, Capitals and Islanders.
When talking about the Atlantic Division, you will certainly discuss Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs or Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel. The tide is turning, and the focus is not on the Detroit Red Wings or Montreal Canadiens any longer. Toronto is back in the conversation and is primed for the playoffs this year. The Lightning are hoping for a bounce back year, and added Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi to the roster in the offseason. Ottawa still has Erik Karlsson anchoring the blue line and Craig Anderson minding the net, but the offense needs to produce more than last year if they want success. Montreal should win the division again, followed by Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Ottawa.
Heading west, the Central Division is powerful. Chicago, Minnesota and
Nashville will look to pick up where they left off last season, but the Dallas Stars are eager to climb back to the top of the division. With all-stars Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn expected to produce points, the Stars will hope for other offensive production from Antoine Roussel and Jason Spezza. 30-year-old goaltender Ben Bishop will hope to show his value and former Vezina self on his new team and with his brand new six year contract. I see the Predators winning the division, with Chicago, Dallas and Minnesota behind them.
The Pacific Division welcomes its newest member, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, this season but don’t expect much from them. While it will be fun to see some new jerseys in the NHL, the talent is lacking in the desert. This is the Anaheim Ducks’ division to lose. After reaching the Conference Finals last season, the Ducks are looking to go all the way this year. Connor McDavid is a league-wide favorite, and the Oilers are more than relevant because of him. Trading Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, it will be interesting to see what Ryan Strome can do in Edmonton in his place. Calgary is the next team to watch in the Pacific, and it isn’t just because of Johnny Gaudreau. Mike Giordano is a top defenseman in the league, but goaltender Mike Smith will need to increase last year’s production for this team to go far. Of course, the Kings remain relevant but will likely battle the San Jose Sharks for the last spot in the playoffs. San Jose, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, is not the same powerhouse it was years ago.
The NHL is finally back, and that means so is the legendary voice of Doc Emrick, three-on-three overtimes and world class talent. This should be a great season.
Contact Eric Fishbin at [email protected]