Here we are once again. No NHL hockey to be reported anywhere in sight besides the odd free agent signing after the frenzy has cooled off. Now we can focus on something we can all agree to disagree on; team standing predictions. Without further adieu, here is my projection on who is making the NHL playoffs during 19/20 season.
Atlantic Division Winner: Tampa Bay Lightning
Forget about the sweep that happened with the Blue Jackets last season. This team is still a juggernaut on all positions on the ice. They have everything from star power to bottomless depth (not quite but you get where I am getting at) and this squad will have something to prove in the playoffs next year. Any GM will look like a genius keeping together a core like Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, Point and Vasilievsky but it also helps that Florida has no state tax and is an attractive place to live.
They’re a lock to win the division unless injuries plague them like it did in 2017. The only trait Tampa needs is leadership when the going gets tough. Mindset is sometimes everything in big games and Columbus proved last season that David can take out Goliath because they weren’t intimidated by Tampa’s speed and skill. They knew they had game too.
Metropolitan Division Winner: Washington Capitals
The CAPS possess the most unique top 6 group in the entire league. When you have a pure sniper (Ovechkin), elite playmaker (Backstrom), power forward who can fight (Wilson), dynamic offensive forward (Kuznetsov) and a couple of speedy, skilled guys in Oshie and Vrana, you’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. The only notable loss during the off-season is Brett Connolly and he left because nobody would fist bump him after a celly. Washington is likely to win the division this season because Pittsburgh aren’t the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs like they once were, Columbus took a big step back, Carolina has questionable goaltending and the other front runners for the metro (Philly and NY Isles) are simply not on the CAPS level. Netminding and their D-core is still solid.
Atlantic Division Runner Up: Toronto Maple Leafs
If Tampa were in another division, the Leafs would take top spot in the Atlantic division. If they were in the Metro, they’d beat the CAPS for the division title. The Leafs are that good and now that Tyson Barrie is in the fold, the offense generated from the back end will sky rocket. It wouldn’t even be crazy to see Matthews, Marner and Tavares hit the 100 point plateau. Imagine the wet dream Leafs nation would have if that happened. Regardless, this team will close the gap on Tampa but they’re still a step behind them. That is what will keep them as a runner up for the Atlantic.
Metropolitan Division Runner Up: Philadelphia Flyers
My first surprise for you is the Philadelphia Flyers. Philly is like a Barstool Sports pizza review. You have no idea what you’re going to get until Davey Pageviews opens the box. Granted that they had a disappointing season plus Voracek and Giroux are another year older.
Many people love to hate on Philly but the truth is that they have some excellent young guys who have yet to hit their prime. Carter Hart is the real deal between the pipes. Provorov and Sanheim are still developing nicely as a defensive pair plus Nolan Patrick will do everything he can to earn a big payday as this year is his final year of his entry level contract. Don’t forget that van Riemsdyk, Hayes, Couturier and Patrick round up the rest of the top 6. That’s a pretty decent forward core that can match with most teams in the NHL. Look for the Flyers not only to bounce back, they’ll also have their goaltending problems solved which have always cursed the Flyers for many years.
3rd Seed in the Atlantic Division: Florida Panthers
By far the most important free agent signing that any team could make for a goaltender is the Florida Panthers. Once again, the Bobs signing is another great example how players get drawn towards no state tax and nice weather. With Bobrovsky locked up as their new starter for years, he’ll give the Panthers a solid chance to make the playoffs plus go on a deep playoff run. They also signed Anton Stralman who will provide a solid defensive presence and veteran leadership to a relatively young Panthers squad. His signing is important as well because it’ll allow Yandle and Ekblad to move the puck more to help the forwards out.
The Panthers are filled with talent up front as Barkov, Huberdeau, Trochek, Dadonov, Hoffman and Vatrano round up their top 6. Very underrated. Don’t forget that the Panthers ranked 9th in offense and 2nd on the powerplay last season. The bottom 6 is a bit thin but if Borgstrom and Tippett make progress, the issue will be forgotten about.
3rd Seed in the Metropolitan Division: New York Islanders
YES, YES, YES! The Islanders will not be a one hit wonder and make the playoffs in consecutive seasons. The reason why they will is due to excellent coaching from Barry Trotz. A lot of people are freaked out about the Varlamov signing but with the way they handled Robin Lehner who previously suffered from mental illness and alcohol addiction before joining the Islanders, they’ll be fine. Resigning Anders Lee was huge as it would suck to lose 2 captains in 2 years. No need to remind you who left the year before.
This will be a play-by-committee type of team who will focus on transition plays and a commitment to defense. The Islanders need the structure or else their playoffs hopes will slip away like a Ford transmission. Regardless, they’ll be fine. On a side note, Isles fans are still pissed at Johnny T and will pay 10x the usual ticket price to attend a home game when the Leafs roll into town. Time to cash in.
#1 Wild Card: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens have gone through some notable changes during the off-season. Trading Kessel for Galchenyuk and some minor future assets will be interesting to watch fold out. Signing Tanev for 6 years is a bit excessive for an energy player but he will be a good fit. Many fans have speculated the Pens will miss the playoffs because they’re getting older and they don’t have the depth like they used to. One thing is certain; when you have Crosby, Malkin and Letang healthy, you don’t count out the Penguins. It’s a cardinal rule. This isn’t the same Pens team like they had in previous seasons but the amount of star power they have is still more than most teams. Being in the weak Metro division will give the Pens a 14th consecutive playoff birth. Pierre Maguire will also pleased.
#2 Wild Card: Montreal Canadiens
If you think this was another surprise pick, it shouldn’t. The Habs missed the playoffs by 2 points last season and the wild card is wide open in the East. Goaltending is by far their strongest asset with Carey Price between the pipes. Defence will be average but not spectacular. Same with their offence although it might be enough to barely make the dance next April. Having Weber, Gallagher, Domi, Drouin, Tatar and Danault as your top players doesn’t sound great but it’s not terrible either. Having Kotkaniemi and Poehling emerging as your future stars is a great sign for the future and will improve their play this season. That’ll be enough to fight off wild card candidates like the Rangers, Bruins, Canes and Sabres when game 82 rolls around.
Biggest Disappointment: Boston Bruins
The Bruins had an over-achieving season as their top 6 racked up great point totals that surpassed a lot of everybody’s expectations. The red flag Boston has is with their depth on both forward and defence. Besides Krug and McAvoy, the blueline is thin and Chara is getting up there in age.
The B’s don’t have secondary scoring as Pastranak, Marchand and Bergeron can’t be relied on to pot all of the goals. They each posted career highs in points last season and I don’t think they’ll achieve that again. Another factor that hurts the B’s is Florida and Montreal breathing up their necks as they each got better during the off-season. The good news for Boston haters is that there might be another supply of Marchand’s tears waiting to scooped into your plant-based, reusable water bottle when next season ends.