2015/16 Playoff Predictions
Yesterday, One Puck Short revealed its picks for the individual awards this season, today we turn attention to which teams might emerge from their respective Divisions – and which clubs will contest the Stanley Cup Final this year.
Atlantic Division Qualifiers: Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings
Assuming injuries do not unduly cripple the Red Wings, it’s hard to envision the top of the Atlantic Division changing a great deal this season.
Tampa Bay have all the tools to make another Cup run, Montreal have an elite netminder and a roster that could do well if it clicks and Detroit remain one of the best organised teams in the league.
While Buffalo, Ottawa and Florida have strong youth movements, they are all at different stages and each remains a work in progress despite the Senators late season heroics last term.
It’s hard not to feel like Boston has taken a step back over the summer, potentially pushing them even further out of the race, and Toronto are in the first year of a major rebuild – leaving last years top three sitting pretty.
Metropolitan Division Qualifiers: Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s not unreasonable to suggest Carolina and New Jersey will remain at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division this year, beyond that is something of a toss up.
The Capitals look to have sufficient depth to emerge as one of the East’s top seeds and perhaps finally make a Cup run, while the Rangers remain a quality outfit with reason to be confident in their chances this year.
Adding Phil Kessel to the line up makes Pittsburgh an offensive juggernaut again, and while question marks remain over their depth and particularly their blue line, Marc-Andre Fleury is usually among the regular seasons most consistent netminders.
That combination of steady goaltending and offensive power should be enough to see the Penguins in to the post season.
Wild Cards: New York Islanders & Columbus Blue Jackets
Dropping in to a wild card spot may be seen as something of a step back for the Islanders, but in a competitive Division making the cut is still a tough ask.
The combination of depth, an improving defence and solid goaltending should see playoff hockey come to the Barclay Centre at the first time of asking, while a healthy Blue Jackets line up has the fire power and goaltending required to edge out the Flyers, who will run Columbus close for the second wild card spot.
Central Division Qualifiers: St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars
The Blues are in danger of becoming the new Sharks – dominant in the regular season, unable to convert in the post season. Will this be the year they take that next step? Only time will tell, but One Puck Short fully expects them to top the Central this year.
Chicago’s stars ensure they remain among the best in the West, even if the supporting cast has taken a hit over the summer due to cap issues, while Dallas have added significant pieces and solidified their goaltending during the off season to boost their chances of emerging from a highly competitive Division.
Pacific Division Qualifiers: Anaheim Ducks, LA Kings, San Jose Sharks
Filling out their depth chart again this summer, Anaheim appear to be on course for a fourth consecutive Division title and are many people’s favourites to win the Stanley Cup this year.
Both Los Angeles have questions to answer after missing the cut last year, but each also possesses a lot of talent that should carry them in to the post season if all goes to plan.
Wild Cards: Nashville Predators & Calgary Flames
The Western Conference bubble is pretty full, but the Predators stellar defence an top tier goaltending should see them safely home.
After a superb campaign last year, Calgary are still flying high and the addition of Dougie Hamilton plus Sam Bennett’s presence ensure the Flames roster will only get stronger – which should prove to be enough to hold off a talented Minnesota side.
Stanley Cup Final: Anaheim Ducks vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Some may question the Ducks ability in net, whether Bruce Boudreau is a Cup winning coach or how much scoring the club really has outside of Getzlaf and Perry, but the off season moves Bob Murray has made bolster the clubs offence and defence and have left a healthy amount of cap space for additional moves later in the season.
With their recent record of success, and step by step progression towards the Final in each of the last three campaigns, Anaheim are a lot of people’s pick to come out of the West this year.
Pittsburgh meanwhile are heavily reliant on offence, but improved outings from Fleury suggest the Penguins goaltender may have put his post season hoo doo behind him to give the Pennsylvania outfit a puck stopper they can have real faith in again.
Their cap situation is tough right now, but as the season progresses GM Jim Rutherford may still tinker to bring in some fresh faces capable of boosting the Pens at the business end of the year.
Plus, someone funky always goes on a great run in the post season – despite some defensive questions, that immense top six might just make it the Penguins.
Winner: Anaheim Ducks
Strength in depth, decent (and often underrated) goaltending and one of the games most potent spearheads in Getzlaf and Perry – a second Stanley Cup is bound for Orange County.