Wednesday, October 5, 2016

2016 Season Preview - Part One

The NHL regular season starts a week from today. That means it's preview time, as we run through all 30 teams to figure out who has a shot at the Cup, and who'll be more focused on the draft lottery by mid-season. Close your browser now if you want to be surprised.

As with previous years, we'll skip the usual division-by-division breakdown and make up a few of our own instead. Today, we'll cover the bottom feeders and the middle-of-the-pack teams. Tomorrow, we'll wrap up the league with the true contenders, as well as the teams that defy any attempt at prognostication. We'll also do a full prediction of the final standings and a Cup pick tomorrow, just so we can be extra wrong thorough.

Let's do this. We'll start at the bottom and work our way up.

The Bottom-Feeder Division

These seven teams are going to try their very hardest and everyone will have some fun.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 29-42-11, 69 points, dead last in the NHL.

Offseason report: They flipped Jonathan Bernier for Frederik Andersen, kind of, and that's probably an upgrade. They also confused their more analytically inclined fans by signing guys like Matt Martin and Roman Polak. But none of that was as important as the night that this happened.

Outlook: Long term, it's pretty darn good. ESPN prospect guru Corey Pronman didn't just rank their prospects as the best in the league, he said that "there are zero reasonable arguments for anyone to even be in the same conversation." So the future looks bright. But the future isn't here yet, and this season figures to be one of slow but steady progress at best.

In the spotlight: In 1985, Toronto drafted Wendel Clark with the first pick in the draft. You could make a good argument that the three most promising Maple Leafs rookies in the 31 years since are all going to be on this year's opening night roster. William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews all look like they could be something special, and their progress this year will be far more important than wins and losses.

Bold prediction: For the first time in 50 years, a Maple Leaf captures the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year—but it's Nylander, not Matthews.

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 31-38-13, 75 points, missed playoffs

Offseason report: They signed 31-year-old free agent Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal and traded draft picks and a top prospect for Erik Gudbranson. You know, like rebuilding teams do.

Outlook: The Canucks may very well be the worst possible thing you can be in the NHL: A bad team that doesn't know it's bad. Yes, there's talent here, but most of it is old and declining, and at some point this thing is going to collapse. That point may already be here. And no, it's not completely out of the question that they get one last big year from the Sedins, a nice boost from Eriksson, a make-the-leap season from Bo Horvat, and it all adds up to challenging for the playoffs. It's also not out of the question that they finish dead last.

In the spotlight: GM Jim Benning made the call to keep pushing forward. If it all goes bad, he's going to have some tough questions to answer.

Bold prediction: The enjoyable "Where will Ryan Miller get traded?" blockbuster from 2014 spawns a disappointing sequel.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

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