NHL Season Preview

Written by Square in the Air

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In the early hours of Thursday morning BST, 23-time Stanley Cup winners the Montreal Canadiens travel to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first game of another gruelling yet compelling NHL campaign. Each team in the National Hockey League will play a minimum of 82 regular season games, with the potential for upwards of 30 more in the playoffs. Ice hockey is probably the least heralded of the big North American sports here in Britain, but it is fanatically popular the world over and those who haven’t yet caught the bug should think again. Speed, skill, passion and goals is what the NHL is all about – what’s not to like! As with many sports from across the pond, the league is divided into conferences, Western and Eastern – although casual fans may want to remember that the teams aren’t split directly on geographical terms! The teams are then put in one of two divisions within each conference.  As the new season approaches, we look at the runners and riders from each of the divisions.  

Atlantic Division

In the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s high regular season wins buy price of 49.5 reflects their reputation as an offensive juggernaut. After falling at the final hurdle last season, many are tipping them to go all the way this time. Whilst there’s no doubting their class – 50 regular season wins in 2014/15 – they might be distracted by the ongoing contract saga of captain, Steven Stamkos. Elsewhere, the Montreal Canadiens will be relying heavily on star goalie Carey Price. He picked up the Vezina Trophy, the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award for his magnificent campaign last season, in which he saved 93% of shots faced. A second season of such high quality and consistency from the goaltender is somewhat unlikely, and the Habs have significant deficiencies elsewhere. The Boston Bruins also look a team in decline, especially without Milan Lucic and Carl Soderberg.

The Metropolitan Division 

The other Eastern Conference division includes two very promising New York teams that are worth keeping an eye on.   The New York Rangers remain the team to beat in this division. They are as solid as ever defensively and ‘keeper Henrik Ludqvist is one of the best in the business. Whilst Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis have been traded to Anaheim and retired respectively, Rick Nash and Co. should get them enough goals to win tight games. After years of mediocrity, the New York Islanders surprised many with a third place finish in the division last season and they could be even better this time out. A renewed feeling of confidence is palpable amongst the franchise’s fans. Sidney Crosby will lead the Pittsburgh Penguins once again and his status as a future NHL ‘Hall of Famer’ is without questions. His heroics are not just displayed for his club, but four country as well. In the 2010 Olympic gold-medal match, the Canadian superstar scored the winning goal against arch-rivals USA seven minutes and forty seconds into overtime in perhaps the most dramatic finish in Olympic ice hockey history. He will be joined in Pittsburgh this season by ex-Toronto Maple Leafs right-winger Phil Kessler. The Washington Capitals are certainly contenders for the play-offs and many have an early season hunch that the title isn’t out of the questions.

The Central Division

With the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators all boasting very strong looking rosters, the Central Division of the Western Conference is arguably the strongest.   The Blackhawks, one of the original members of the NHL and the pride of Chicago, won the Stanley Cup back in June, and are looking to become the first team to record back-to-back Stanley Cup titles since the Detroit Red Wings back in 1998.   The one cloud hanging over their famous franchise and a push towards another title is that star right-winger Patrick Kane is facing off-field legal issues. Coach Joel Quenneville will be keen for his main man to be back on the ice as quickly as possible.   Defensively, Nashville are one of the best in the league with Pekka Rinne in goal and Seth jones, who looked excellent at the back end of last season, just in front of him. Minnesota looked outstanding in the second half of last season with Devan Dubnyk exceptional between the posts.

The Pacific Division

The well fancied Anaheim Ducks in the Pacific Division might well disappoint in 2015/16.   The Ducks won 51 games last season, second only to the Rangers with 53. However, many have questioned their offseason acquisitions and there is a doubt as to whether Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry can maintain their impressive level last season. The San Jose Sharks, meanwhile, constantly flatter to deceive. They have plenty of talent in Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture but can they make a sustained push for the Stanley Cup over the whole season? The LA Kings were winners in 2012 and 2014 but missed out on the play-offs completely last season. They’ll be rested and hungry for a big effort this campaign. If they can ease fans angst by securing their Slovenian star on a long-term deal then they could be a good outside bet for the whole competition. Elsewhere in the Pacific Division, watch out for 18-year-old Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid – Steven Stamkos has hailed him as the new Sidney Crosby.

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