Welcome to part two of our NHL season preview. We've split the league up into four divisions, and yesterday we covered the bottom-feeders and the middle-of-the-pack. If your team hasn't shown up yet, then that's a good sign, because today we'll be hitting on the cream of the crop, that small group of true contenders who have a real shot at the Stanley Cup.
But first, we've got one other division to get to. It's the fun one, made up of teams that are the hardest to figure out.
Sorry if your team wasn't there yesterday and you got your hopes up. Why yes, I'm talking to the Sabres fans.
The Your-Guess-Is-As-Good-As-Mine Division
Is that name too long? It seems long. But if the real NHL can have a Metropolitan Division, I think we'll be OK.
Last season: 46-25-11, 103 points, first in the Pacific, lost in the opening round.
Offseason report: After the Ducks were stunned by the wild-card Predators, GM Bob Murray appeared to call out his core and promise changes. There weren't many on the roster aside from trading Frederik Andersen. But there was a big one behind the bench, where Bruce Boudreau was replaced by the returning Randy Carlyle.
Outlook: After a slow start, the Ducks were one of the best teams in the NHL over the second half of last season, and they're bringing back essentially the same group. The Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry-Ryan Kesler core is getting up there, but they should contend for another Pacific title.
In the spotlight: So you've got a team that has plenty of talent but appears to be underachieving. You need to light a fire and get the best out of everyone. And so you turn it over to... Randy Carlyle? The guy who was last seen coaching a Maple Leafs team that had more fingers jabbing the "I'm a passenger" button than a school bus full of kids playing Pokémon Go?
I mean, it could work. Coaching a contender is different than coaching a tire fire like he had in Toronto. And Carlyle did win a Cup with some of these same guys back in 2007. But there's very strong evidence that at this stage of his career, Carlyle is a coach who makes everyone who plays for him worse. For Murray and the Ducks to go back to him now is, to use one of the coach's favorite phrases, mind-boggling.
Bold prediction: The Ducks aren't anywhere near as good as last year, and everyone ignores the obvious conclusion to make up narratives about compete levels instead.
Last season: 39-39-4, 82 points, missed playoffs.
Offseason report: The Patrick Roy era was fun, wasn't it? He arrived in 2013 and won the Jack Adams by leading the Avs to a 112-point season. The analytics guys screamed about how it was all an illusion, and they turned out to be right, as back-to-back playoff misses followed. This summer, Roy quit and was replaced by Jared Bednar. We'll miss you, Patrick.
Outlook: Everyone seems to be writing off the Avs already, and given the division they're trapped in, you can understand why. But let's remember that even with Roy, this team was almost in the playoffs last year—they had more wins and fewer losses than a team that made it. If Bednar is an upgrade, and he probably will be, they could be back in the race again.
In the spotlight: Matt Duchene led the team in scoring, then got called out by Roy for celebrating too much. He's 25 years old and two seasons removed from cracking 60 points. This feels like it could be the year that we figure out whether he belongs in the elite tier, or merely in the very good one.
Bold prediction: They're out of the playoff race by February. And you know what that means: It's time for another round of "Trade pending UFA Jarome Iginla to a contender." Let's hope it goes a little smoother than last time.