Time for another round of Vegas predictions in the NHL Power Rankings! This time, there is a team from the Sin City, but do not expect them to go all in for the Stanley Cup in year one. Baby steps.
The Pittsburgh Penguins appear to be in great shape to make it three in a row, but there appears to be a barrage of Canadian teams that are thinking playoffs and beyond. In fact, my Stanley Cup prediction involves the end of the 24-year Stanley Cup championship drought for the northern neighbors. Find out which team it is after reading my over/under predictions.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (104.5) OVER: 112
Surprise! The two-time defending champions are not going anywhere near the NHL Power Ranking depths. Despite finishing at 111 points last season, Vegas did not give them much love in their estimated point total. I expect them to finish at a similar mark this season and make another lengthy run at the Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby is not the only weapon in Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray might be in the making of a Vezina run.
2. Edmonton Oilers (103.5) OVER: 108
While signing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could become an issue in the long term, there is no doubt that Edmonton is ready for its close-up at the Stanley Cup. It takes a team effort, however, to reach that pinnacle, and the team has plenty of top picks that could do better. Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins prove that he deserves to be on a top line, and will Jesse Puljujarvi convince the fans that the Oilers did made a solid investment in 2016?
3. Washington Capitals (103.5) OVER: 107
Here we go again. The Caps still do not have much to prove in the regular season. They will make the playoffs, but they must figure things out in the second round. Everything that happens before May is pointless without any form of playoff success that has haunted the Alex Ovechkin era. Speaking of the Great 8, he has conceded to playing in the Olympics, so the dominant top lines in Washington will be a threat, even in February.
4. Anaheim Ducks (106.5) UNDER: 105
They had the best regular season prediction according to Vegas, but it may be time to surrender their division championship streak. The Oilers shot up the system last year, and it is easy to believe they can improve even more. Having said that, the league-wide confidence in John Gibson is way higher now, and he has Ryan Miller backing him up this season. Miller’s struggles in Vancouver had a lot to do with the team’s abysmal offense, so he might become one of the better back-up goalies in the NHL.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (96.5) OVER: 103
No one saw a season above 100 points coming last season, especially me. Sergei Bobrovsky re-introduced himself to the elite goaltender list, but the offense was equally as explosive. Bobrovsky’s success can be further enticed with Zach Werenski becoming one of the top defenders in the NHL, and Alexander Wennburg is quickly becoming the next version of Nicklas Backstrom if he builds on 46 assists from last season.
6. Montreal Canadiens (100.5) OVER: 101
Their preseason was awful, but the team did just fine in their first year without P.K. Subban. Alexander Radulov was a big reason why, but he is gone, too. Carey Price will continue to give the Canadiens hope, but somebody needs to step up besides Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Drouin. Keep a close eye on Artturi Lehkonen and former first-round pick Nikita Scherbak.
7. Chicago Blackhawks (99.5) UNDER: 99
This team is heavily plagued with the Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews contracts. They have struggled to build a dangerous team ever since their last Stanley Cup, and last year’s playoff beatdown may have accelerated the downward trend. They should still make the playoffs this season, but things look bleak in the future. What can Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp provide in their return to Chicago?
8. Nashville Predators (98.5) OVER: 101
They lost captain Mike Fisher, but the rest of the team is about the same. They did add Scott Hartnell and Nick Bonino for added depth/to make up for losing James Neal, but the youngsters run the Music City, now. With Ryan Ellis on the shelf until 2018, the door has opened for a prospect to make a mark in the league, including 2016 third-round pick Frederic Allard.
9. Dallas Stars (98.5) UNDER: 98
After an underwhelming season, Dallas went all out to make a playoff return. They signed Ben Bishop to preserve what finally looks like a representable defense, and they also signed Alexander Radulov to boost the once invincible offense. With #3 overall pick Miro Heiskanen not coming to the NHL this season, expect there to be competitive pool on the blue line, which includes youngsters such as Julius Honka, Esa Lindell, and Stephen Johns.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (102.5) UNDER: 99
I am not expecting the Lightning to make its mark as an immediate Stanley Cup contender again, but they should be at least a wild card this season. A lot will be revealed about the direction of this team if Steven Stamkos continues to have injury problems, but this may be Nikita Kucherov‘s team moving forward regardless of what happens. He has looked just as dangerous as Stamkos was in the beginning of his career, and he already knows a thing or two about coming up big in the playoffs. Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s performance as the new starting goalie may also reveal the status of the Lightning.
11. Calgary Flames (95.5) OVER: 97
Does this team have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup? Debatable. Mike Smith has been known to carry teams far in the playoffs, but he has not had that opportunity since 2012. However, he has still shown glimpses of greatness during Arizona’s rebuilding, so he might do better for a team that is expecting another playoff appearance. Matthew Tkachuk, who exceeded expectations in his 18-year-old rookie season, looks to be one of the best all-around players of the future. Scorers that can also be enforcers are not common in the NHL.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs (94.5) OVER: 97
Vegas and I are on the same page with Toronto. As impressive as Toronto is going to be, it would come as no surprise to see the Leafs has a season similar to last year. One of the million rookies is bound to have a sophomore slump, but Auston Matthews will continues to cement his young legacy on his way toward becoming the captain. Even with Patrick Marleau, Toronto probably will not do a whole lot more than a wild card spot.
13. Ottawa Senators (92.5) OVER: 96
The rising competition in the Atlantic Division and Erik Karlsson‘s injury troubles may prevent the Senators from making a return to the Eastern Conference Finals, but Mike Hoffman boosted his offensive production for a team that nearly knocked off the defending champions in seven games. Craig Anderson will need to have another big year if the Senators want another chance at the Stanley Cup.
14. St. Louis Blues (95.5) UNDER: 94
Brayden Schenn appears to be the biggest name joining the Blues, but few rosters have as many unproven youngsters as the Blues. Both of St. Louis’s first round picks in 2017 (Klim Kostin and Robert Thomas) are likely to see some sort of action this season, and Tage Thompson (first round, 2016), Jordan Kyrou (second round, 2016), Alexey Toropchenko (fourth round, 2017), and Jake Walman (third round, 2014) may follow suit. The Blues may be rebuilding without having to miss the playoffs.
15. Carolina Hurricanes (93.5) OVER: 94
I’m not the only one who thinks the longest active playoff drought could end this season. The Hurricanes have received glowing remarks for their rebuilding process, which included Sebastian Aho‘s breakout last season. Amazingly, it is still not over. Even with Justin Williams and Scott Darling coming to Cheerwine Country, there are more than enough prospects to go around. The Metropolitan Division might not hold the Canes down anymore.
16. New York Rangers (95.5) UNDER: 95
Henrik Lundqvist had a hard time last season, but he managed to recover just in time to give the Rangers an easy playoff appearance. Without Antti Raanta, however, another rough season for the King could actually cost the Rangers dearly. Adding Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil has suddenly turned the Rangers into an extremely younger team, with Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller likely leading the charge on offense.
17. Boston Bruins (92.5) OVER: 93
For a team that is thin on offense following Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Patrice Bergeron appear to be the difference makers. For a blue line that is rather thin beyond aging Zdeno Chara and injured Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy could be in for a extensive rookie season. How the Bruins handle depth will determine what happens to them this season.
18. Winnipeg Jets (92.5) UNDER: 91
The thing is that Winnipeg always seems to be good, but not good enough. That is why they are constantly in the 18th position. Returning to the playoffs with Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele at the helm will give the franchise (includes Atlanta) just its third playoff appearance. Will they finally get over the hump?
19. Minnesota Wild (96.5) UNDER: 90
The Wild could have done way more following a stronger-than-expected year that ended in the “Blues.” Devan Dubnyk is good, but Minnesota is really banking on him to repeat last season with Alex Stalock backing him up. That Jason Pominville trade did not help Dubnyk at all. Ennis has only looked respectable during Buffalo’s really bad years, and Foligno is a poor man’s Antoine Roussel.
20. San Jose Sharks (96.5) UNDER: 89
The Sharks are not getting any younger, although they did get rid of Patrick Marleau. Even Brent Burns is getting up there in age, however, and it seems like the Sharks are putting a lot of pressure on a small sample size of youngsters. Simply put, this transition may require some off years.
21. Los Angeles Kings (89.5) UNDER: 88
The Kings do have some upside for improvement after Jonathan Quick missed a majority of the season, but the team floundered in spite of Peter Budaj‘s emergence from the AHL depths. Unless Darcy Kuemper can duplicate Budaj’s performance, Quick may be the difference between a playoff return and another lost season. The offense is too anemic to make this team a lock.
22. Buffalo Sabres (87.5) UNDER: 85
I was expecting the Sabres to surprise everyone last season, but their closest rival (the Leafs) took that honor. Meanwhile, the Sabres finished last in the Atlantic Division, a tale that has become all too familiar to the team. How much longer can this team go before there are significant changes? Buffalo is hoping the additions of Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella will help a blue line that has been rather thin during the rebuilding process. Jack Eichel signed an eight-year extension just before the start of the season.
23. New York Islanders (88.5) UNDER: 84
This is a judgement year for the Islanders. John Tavares‘s future will be determined following this season, so success is a must. The team tried, trading for Jordan Eberle and getting a boatload of picks for Travis Hamonic, but the true success may fall under the newest skaters, including Joshua Ho-Sang, Mathew Barzal, and Keifer Bellows. Another bad year could be the end of the Tavares era.
24. Florida Panthers (85.5) UNDER: 83
The Panthers are similar to the Montreal Canadiens in that they turned to the KHL to find a player to help them out of a disappointing performance from the year before. Evgeni Dadonov returns to the team that drafted him in the third round in 2007, and he is one of the older players on a team that had some growing pains last season. The Panthers have the skills to make a playoff run, but health will be more important, especially for the front lines.
25. Arizona Coyotes (74.5) OVER: 79
The Yotes have another team to beat up on in the Pacific Division, but it likely will not make this team an immediate playoff threat. They were tired of grabbing more young talent, so they got Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta from New York and gave the Rangers the seventh overall pick. With 10 players 25 or younger on the offensive attack, including rookies Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome, the potential for success is getting bigger, but it needs to actually happen.
26. Philadelphia Flyers (91.5) UNDER: 79
It is not like the Flyers do not have talent. They just have trouble putting the talent together on the ice. Power play master Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for an underwhelming return, and Nolan Patrick is not expected to be as dangerous as second overall counterpart Patrik Laine. With a mediocre defense, the Flyers could sellers in February, which could mean losing Wayne Simmonds and/or Jakub Voracek.
27. New Jersey Devils (74.5) OVER: 77
Meanwhile, Nico Hischier is not expected to be as good as Auston Matthews during his rookie year. However, New Jersey’s offense is so dreadful that Hischier may be valuable sooner rather than later. He is expected to be a part of the top two lines, and a breakout could mean that Taylor Hall can finally win at something. Also expect Pavel Zacha and Stefan Noesen to have big years for the thin offense.
28. Colorado Avalanche (69.5) OVER: 74
The disaster that was the Colorado Avalanche is not expected to duplicate, but the Avalanche is still the laughingstock of the Western Conference. With no sign of a defense, Colorado may be in for another long season, even if Tyson Jost breaks out during his rookie season. The biggest story in Denver might be when Matt Duchene gets traded.
29. Detroit Red Wings (78.5) UNDER: 71
Detroit’s first season in Little Caesar’s Arena will not be a memorable one. After losing their playoff streak, the Red Wings are not going to start a new streak this year because of their transition to a full rebuild. Expect Trevor Daley, Gustav Nyquist, and Frans Nielsen to be traded at the deadline and the team be in the running for the first overall pick, which would certainly give Dylan Larkin some needed help.
30. Vancouver Canucks (72.5) UNDER: 70
Vancouver should be glad there is a new team in the NHL. Otherwise, they would be the worst team. They mysteriously continued to add veterans to the team, including Sam Gagner and Ryan White, to a team that need to focus more and developing young talent. They need to stop delaying the lengthy rebuild and center the team around Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat, who are key pieces toward future success.
31. Vegas Golden Knights (68.5) UNDER: 64
First off, condolences goes to those impacted by the Las Vegas shootings on Monday night.
As amazing as the Twitter handle has been, the Knights are not going to be good immediately. Their purge of draft picks should make for a great show, even if the results are not there. Cody Glass, Tyler Wong (who had a hat trick in the first game in Vegas history), and Nick Suzuki should run the ice and jersey sales in Sin City, and getting 64 points should be a step in the right direction for a franchise that will surely have more superstars on the way in the coming years.
Eastern Conference Playoffs:
Pittsburgh (1Metro) vs. New York Rangers (2WC)
Tampa Bay (2Atlantic) vs. Toronto (3Atlantic)
Washington (2Metro) vs. Columbus (3Metro)
Montreal (1Atlantic) vs. Ottawa (1WC)
Western Conference Playoffs:
Edmonton (1Pacific) vs. Winnipeg (2WC)
Chicago (2Central) vs. Dallas (3Central)
Nashville (1Central) vs. St. Louis (1WC)
Anaheim (2Pacific) vs. Calgary (3Pacific)
Stanley Cup Prediction:
Ottawa defeats Chicago in six games