Realignment wasn’t kind to Carolina.
In the South East, they were a club who always had a shot at making the play-offs as the ‘Divisional winner’. A hot streak from Cam Ward, a run of good games or just a bit of consistency could be enough to top a Division composed of a number of faltering franchises.
Now they share space with Pittsburgh, 2014 Stanley Cup finalists New York, a Columbus franchise on the rise and the mercurial Flyers. Only the haphazard Islanders stopped the Canes finishing bottom of the Metropolitan Division last season, and a 10 point gap between Carolina and a post season berth last campaign highlights the task ahead for new coach Bill Peters.
Despite finishing 27th overall last season, Calgary had a surprisingly good season in some respects.
Rookie Sean Monahan scored 22 goals, 25-year old Mikael Backlund had his best season in a Flames jersey and team Captain Mark Giordano also had a career year as he entered the conversation for Team Canada’s Olympic squad as Coach Bob Hartley turned his Flames team in to one of the hardest working outfits in the league.
With a proven #1 between the pipes this season, Calgary will be hoping to take another step back toward contention.
Whilst conventional wisdom suggests Buffalo are front runners in the ‘race’ to land Connor McDavid; a combative Coach, veteran additions during the off season and several youngsters with a point to prove give the Sabres an intriguing edge heading in to the new season.
General Manager Tim Murray did a great job accumulating multiple draft picks whilst clearing the decks last season, shifting the franchise from one in a bizarre spiral of decline to one built on hope.
Can Murray and Head Coach Ted Nolan, able supported by owner Terry Pegula’s eagerness to invest, turn this team around?
The 2014 Presidents Trophy winners remain one of, if not the, strongest teams in the East and will be considered serious contenders heading in to the new season.
But Montreal’s 7 game series win over the Boston last season highlighted not only the Canadian clubs kryptonite-esque effect on the Bruins, but also their frailties.
Will a lack of cap space, difficult free agent decisions and a dearth of offseason additions derail the Bruins season? Or can Claude Julien’s side capture another Stanley Cup?
Will a new name bring a change in fortunes for the Coyotes?
After years of off ice issues over shadowing on ice events, the club seems to have some semblance of stability for the time being and can now focus its efforts on a return to the post season, after missing the cut in each of the past two seasons.
In a Conference swamped with Cup contenders; a lot of people were caught almost ‘off guard’ by the Ducks last year. Bruce Boudreau’s team blazed through the regular season, finishing top of the West and earning Captain Ryan Getzlaf a Hart Trophy nomination.
But a goaltending controversy laden loss to arch rivals Los Angeles in the Conference semi-final meant Anaheim’s quest for a second Stanley Cup would have to wait for at least one more year.
With a marquee addition this summer, and one of the most dynamic pairings in hockey, the California outfit is no underdog this year – they are bona fide contenders, if their gamble between the pipes pays off.