Detroit Red Wings
Last season’s record: The Detroit Red Wings were 41-30-11 and had 93 points to finish third in the Atlantic Division. They tied with the Boston Bruins but made the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker, with one more win in regulation than the Bruins. They lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
Notable offseason moves: After trading the Pavel Datsyuk contract to create some cap space, the Wings added centers Frans Nielsen and Steve Ott and winger Thomas Vanek through free agency. They also re-signed Darren Helm and Teemu Pulkkinen.
Why they’ll disappoint: This could be the year the long playoff streak, which stands at 25 years, comes to an end. Losing Datsyuk is a crushing blow, and even though the team picked up a top two-way center in Nielsen, there’s no replacing a living legend such as the Magic Man.
The fact the team’s top two remaining players, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, both turn 36 this season doesn’t offer much in the way of hope for the future. Some of the young forwards have yet to carve out their niche and will have to play bigger roles to help this team move forward.
They’ve been bounced in the first round of the playoffs in four of the last five years. At some point, just making the postseason isn’t enough. That time has probably arrived.
New York Rangers
Last season’s record: The New York Rangers went 46-27-9 in the regular season, finishing third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points. They were bounced five games into the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Notable offseason moves: They traded veteran Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators for Mika Zibanejad and added forwards Nathan Gerbe, Michael Grabner and Josh Jooris as free agents. New York also signed UFA defenseman Adam Clendening and re-signed wingers Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and defenseman Dylan McIlrath.
Why they’ll disappoint: As long as Henrik Lundqvist is a New York Ranger, the team will be expected to compete for an Eastern Conference title. The 34-year-old goaltender is coming off a terrible playoff performance, however. He had a .867 save percentage and 4.39 goals-against average in five games, the Rangers winning just once.
With the additions of Grabner, Gerbe and Zibanejad, the Rangers look to be focusing on more speed, but they still have a back end that was slow and inconsistent last season and lost Keith Yandle in the offseason. Yandle’s departure hurts in many ways, not least because he was the team’s top power-play quarterback.
The team improved its depth but still relies heavily on in-house improvement.
Last season’s record: The Minnesota Wild had the lowest point total of any team that qualified for the postseason, finishing with a 38-33-11 record and 87 points as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference standings.
Notable offseason moves: The Wild brought in Eric Staal in the hopes he can rediscover his form and play as a top center again. They also brought back former Wild power forward Chris Stewart and shored up the backup goalie spot with the re-signings of Darcy Kuemper and Alex Stalock.
Why they’ll disappoint: Staal has seen his numbers decline the past couple of years, and he wasn’t the hot commodity on the open market you might have expected when talk of his potential UFA status started a couple of years back. The Wild are depending on him to produce as a top center once again—something he hasn’t done since a 24-goal, 76-point season in 2010-11.
The 31-year-old Staal and the 28-year-old journeyman Stewart are probably not going to help Minnesota bump its goals-per-game up much from the 18th-place finish in the category last year. The team has much higher expectations after adding coach Bruce Boudreau to guide them, but the personnel hasn’t improved enough for Boudreau to make much of a difference during his first year at the helm.
New York Islanders
Last season’s record: With a 45-27-10 record, the New York Islanders finished with 100 points and claimed the first wild-card playoff spot as the fourth-place team in the Metropolitan Division. They won their first-round matchup against the Florida Panthers in six games and lost in five to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
Notable offseason moves: The Isles lost winger Kyle Okposo and center Frans Nielsen in free agency. They also lost fourth-liner Matt Martin. They replaced them with veterans Andrew Ladd, P.A. Parenteau and Jason Chimera.
Why they’ll disappoint: The Islanders are feeling pretty good about themselves after a second-round appearance and an impressive playoff showing from superstar John Tavares. Then came a traumatic offseason that saw key players jumping ship.
Okposo was a valuable offensive weapon who did not depend on Tavares to produce. Parenteau has had success with the Islanders in the past but exclusively with Tavares as his center. Nielsen was an underrated center who deserved some real consideration for more Selke Trophy votes for his abilities at both ends of the ice.
Ladd is a proven winner but is in decline in terms of his skills. Last term, the 30-year-old failed to crack the 50-point mark for the first time in a non-lockout season since 2009-10.
New York is a big market where the teams are expected to win. The success the Isles enjoyed last season only ramped up those expectations. A repeat performance in the playoffs is no guarantee.
Last season’s record: The Anaheim Ducks won the Pacific Division with 103 points and a 46-25-11 record. They were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Nashville Predators.
Notable offseason moves: After firing Boudreau, the Ducks brought in former head coach Randy Carlyle to reprise his Stanley Cup-winning role from 2007. They clarified their goaltending position by trading Frederik Andersen to the Toronto Maple Leafs and later acquiring the Leafs’ Jonathan Bernier to back up John Gibson. They lost forwards Chris Stewart, David Perron and Jamie McGinn in free agency, bringing in depth players Mason Raymond, Jared Boll and Jeff Schultz.
Why they’ll disappoint: Offense is going to be more difficult to come by for the Ducks this year after the loss of Perron, who had chemistry with Ryan Getzlaf and allowed the team to spread the scoring through three lines down the stretch. The best line across all three positions may be the Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg trio—and that doesn’t bode well for the Getzlaf and Corey Perry lines.
The Ducks have a stellar defense and should be looking to trade one of the top three—Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen—for an elite scorer to help solidify the top six.
Nothing less than a Stanley Cup appearance will be considered a step forward for these Ducks, who are quickly seeing their window to win it all close with the advancing ages of their elite forwards Perry (31) and Getzlaf (31).
St. Louis Blues
Last season’s record: The St. Louis Blues finished second in the Central Division and two points out of first in the Western Conference, with a 49-24-9 record and 107 points. They made it to the Western Conference Final, losing out on a shot at the Stanley Cup in a six-game series against the San Jose Sharks.
Notable offseason moves: The Blues have been busy, trading goalie Brian Elliott at the draft and signing Carter Hutton as their new backup after locking up Jake Allen as their starter. They brought back former draft pick David Perron and gave Ty Rattie a one-way deal in the hopes they can provide the scoring and depth lost in the departures of captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer in free agency.
Why they’ll disappoint: The Blues have taken an interesting approach to the impending departure of head coach Ken Hitchcock, who is heading into his final season as bench boss before handing off to Mike Yeo—who joined as an assistant coach/heir to the top job this offseason. Will the players be less inclined to listen to the teachings of a guy on his way out?
Front-office leadership aside, the Blues lost their leader in Backes and an 18-goal scorer in Brouwer, who put up eight more goals in the playoffs in 20 games. That’s a big chunk of the top six. Perron may replace one of them in terms of output, but both men provided a certain physical presence as well, the loss of which may force the team to play a slightly different game.
There is also little certainty behind Allen, who will take on the full-time role as starter in goal. Hutton was a decent backup with the Nashville Predators but not nearly as solid as Elliott was for the Blues in a shared-net situation.
The Blues aren’t going to fall out of playoff contention, but it’s hard to imagine they will match their run from last season this time around with all the change and uncertainty in both style and substance.
Last season’s record: With a 42-31-9 record, the Boston Bruins finished with the same 93-point total as the playoff-bound Detroit Red Wings but lost out on the Eastern Conference wild-card spot in the tiebreaker by one regulation win.
Notable offseason moves: The Bruins made a splash with the free-agent signing of former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes but also lost winger Loui Eriksson to the Vancouver Canucks. For the most part, the Bruins did a lot of re-signing of their own players, including defensemen John-Michael Liles, Colin Miller, and Joe Morrow.
Why they’ll disappoint: The heartbreaking missing out on the playoffs for a second straight year could be seen as another blip on the radar or the start of something disastrous for the Original Six franchise. If they had made some more prudent moves in free agency, perhaps their outlook would be more promising. However, the defense needs some serious strengthening, with Zdeno Chara’s game slowing and the porous defense affecting goalie Tuukka Rask’s numbers (.915 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average) last year.
There’s no disputing Backes is a rugged playoff performer who helped will the St. Louis Blues to a Western Conference Final appearance this past spring. The Bruins need to qualify for the postseason first, though, and it’s the back end in most need of upgrading. Unfortunately, the team has a lot of money invested in bottom-pairing defenders and not enough at the top.
Los Angeles Kings
Last season’s record: The Los Angeles Kings lost the Pacific Division title on the final day of the regular season, state rivals the Anaheim Ducks leapfrogging them. The Kings finished with a 48-28-6 record and 102 points—good for second in the division. They fell to the San Jose Sharks in five games in the first round of the playoffs.
Notable offseason moves: After losing power winger Milan Lucic to the Edmonton Oilers in free agency, the Kings added Teddy Purcell and defensemen Tom Gilbert and Zach Trotman. They also brought in backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Why they’ll disappoint: Since winning the Stanley Cup two years ago, the Kings have failed to make the playoffs and then been bounced in the first round.
Expectations are always high for a team that has Anze Kopitar up front, Drew Doughty on defense, and Jonathan Quick in goal, but the moves the team made this offseason have been extremely minor and haven’t addressed the big loss suffered on offense, with Lucic and his 20 goals departing for Edmonton.
Purcell did score 14 times combined for the Oilers and Florida Panthers last year, but the 30-year-old has hit 20 just once in his career, back in 2011-12.
The salary cap is the Kings’ worst enemy, and they have just under $30,000 breathing room under the cap, according to General Fanager, so help is unlikely to come from the outside.
Last season’s record: The Edmonton Oilers finished 31-43-8 and were dead last in the Western Conference standings with 70 points. With the second-worst record in the NHL, the Oilers ended up with the fourth overall pick in the draft lottery.
Notable offseason moves: Trading away sniper Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson just before free agency, the Oilers landed a big fish in UFA Lucic. They also drafted projected top-three pick Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 4.
Why they’ll disappoint: The team paid a hefty price to acquire the right-handed shot it coveted on the blue line. Larsson has only had one strong NHL season to date, averaging more than 22 minutes for the first time last year. It was only the second time he’d played more than 20 minutes per game and consistently took on top competition on a top pairing.
The 6’4″, 233-pound Lucic adds size and a bit of a new look for the pushover Oilers, but expecting the beefy winger and a rookie such as Puljujarvi to make up what they’ll be missing from Hall offensively is a lot to ask. He led the team in goals, assists, points and shots on goal.
The defensive group remains a big question mark even after the Larsson acquisition. Only Andrej Sekera put up 30 points from the back end. Behind him, no other defenseman had more than 12 points.
A team that has drafted as high as the Oilers for so many years is expected to eventually blossom into a competitor. However, that isn’t going to happen this year.