Tuesday, October 3, 2017

2017-18 season preview, part two: Your-Guess-Is-As-Good-As-Mine and the Contenders (plus league-wide predictions)

Yesterday, we covered half the league with a look at the bottom-feeders and the middle-of-the-pack. Today, we wrap up the season preview with a look at the very best teams the league has to offer, plus a full set of predictions and a Cup winner. Spoiler alert: It's a little anti-climactic.

But first, let's work on our exasperated shrugs as we tackle the league's misfits and question marks.

The Your-Guess-Is-As-Good-As-Mine Division

This is always my favorite division, for two reasons. First, by definition I can't actually be wrong about any of the teams here. And second, it's fun to watch fans read through the first half of the preview, not see their team listed, and get all excited about them being considered contenders. Not so fast...

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 33-37-12, 78 points, last in the Atlantic, missed playoffs

Offseason report: They fired the coach and GM. As far as the roster, the emphasis was on the blueline, which looks better with Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu added.

Outlook: This year feels like a crucial one, where you'd want to see big progress to justify all the misery that came before. There's enough young talent here that you could certainly imagine it all coming together. Sounds encouraging, right? The problem is I cut-and-pasted those two sentences from last year's preview, and then the team went backwards. It can't happen again... can it?

In the spotlight: Jack Eichel, and not just because he's the team's best player. Fair or not, Eichel was viewed as having a hand in those firings, and some Sabres fans joke that he's become the team's de facto GM. It's fair to say there's a lot riding on this year.

Oddly specific prediction: I really want to find a way to get them higher than sixth in the Atlantic. I'm not sure I can. I cut-and-pasted that part, too.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 50-24-8, 108 points, third in the Metro, out in the first round

Offseason report: Other than that Brandon Saad/Artemi Panarin deal and dumping David Clarkson's contract on the Knights, nothing big.

Outlook: A year ago, everyone had them pegged for last in the Metro and John Tortorella was going to be the first coach fired. Then they won 50 games. Was it a fluke? Not necessarily, but it's fair to say that the hockey world wants to see it again before they're convinced.

In the spotlight: Zach Werenski. Other than goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, nobody was a bigger piece of last year's rise than the rookie blueliner. He's on track for full-blown stardom, but he also just turned 20 and some guys struggle in their second season. The Jackets may not be able to afford that.

Oddly specific prediction: They break through with the most successful playoff run in franchise history. Which is to say they lose in the first round in seven games.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

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