For the third time in six years, the Chicago Blackhawks will open their season by raising a Stanley Cup banner to the rafters of the United Center. When the action gets underway, the Hawks will be looking to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Red Wings in 1997-98.
There’s a reason repeating has become such a difficult task in the salary-cap era, and this offseason was an example of the challenge of keeping a winning team together. Chicago had to say goodbye to key contributors like Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, and Johnny Oduya, among others. Throw in the legal issues that will follow Patrick Kane throughout the season, and the Blackhawks will face an uphill battle in their attempt to repeat.
The rest of the NHL’s top contenders took very different approaches; teams like the Lightning and Rangers largely stood pat, while the Ducks, Kings, and Penguins all made moves for some big-named talent to help bolster their chances, acquiring Kevin Bieksa and Carl Hagelin; Milan Lucic; and Phil Kessel, respectively.
Outside that usual crew of contenders sits a second-tier of teams looking to make the leap. The St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, and Washington Capitals have all been playoff mainstays in recent years, but haven’t been able to make it out of the second round, let alone get to a Cup final. Is this the year one of these also-rans charges to the front of the race?
It’s all shaping up to be another fascinating season of hockey: even the bad teams will be more fun to watch thanks to an influx of exciting young talent from this year’s draft, highlighted by Connor McDavid (Edmonton) and Jack Eichel (Buffalo).
With puck-drop a little over a month away, we thought we’d get your minds out of the sun and back into the cold confines of the arena with an early look at the upcoming season.
Here are some odds for how the 2015-16 NHL season will play out.
2015-16 NHL Props:
Odds to win the Atlantic Division:
- Tampa Bay – 7/5
- Montreal – 9/4
- Boston – 7/1
- Detroit – 10/1
- Florida – 16/1
- Ottawa – 16/1
- Buffalo – 30/1
- Toronto – 50/1
Early indications are that this is a two-horse race between Tampa Bay and Montreal. The Lightning have the edge, returning largely the same team that won the Eastern Conference last year. The offensively challenged Canadiens did little to improve that area this offseason. To make matters worse, their best scorer, Max Pacioretty, may not be ready to start the year after injuring his knee this summer.
The Bruins and Red Wings are both veteran-laden teams used to winning. But both are going through major changes with a new GM in Boston and a new head coach in Detroit. Just making the playoffs will be challenge enough.
Ottawa was a surprise team last year, riding an insanely hot goalie (Andrew Hammond) to a playoff spot. You can’t expect the same level of production from “the Hamburglar” in net this season and this young team doesn’t have enough to up front to win the 50 games it took to claim the division last year.
Florida is another young team that could surprise, but not by that much.
Odds to win the Metropolitan Division:
- NY Rangers – 9/5
- Pittsburgh – 9/2
- Washington – 9/2
- NY Islanders – 6/1
- Columbus – 8/1
- Philadelphia – 22/1
- New Jersey – 40/1
- Carolina – 40/1
The idiotically named “Metropolitan Division” will be a fun one to watch this year. The Rangers return the same core that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and led the NHL with a +60 goal differential. But Henrik Lundqvist and co. don’t care about regular season accolades, eyeing the bigger goal of winning a Cup.
Washington and Pittsburgh both added great scorers this offseason: the Capitals brought in T.J. Oshie and the Penguins, as mentioned, picked up Kessel. While they may not provide the “grit” that wins playoff series, they will boost their respective offenses and should help their teams challenge for a top seed.
The young Islanders should continue to improve this season, but without an improvement at the back end or between the pipes, New York’s other team could regress to the middle.
The one to keep an eye on will be the hard-working Blue Jackets. Injuries buried their playoff chances early last year, but nobody was hotter down the stretch, when the team went 16-3-1 in their final 20 games. The addition of Brandon Saad gives Columbus even more youthful firepower.
Odds to win the Central Division:
- St Louis – 13/4
- Minnesota – 4/1
- Chicago – 19/4
- Dallas – 6/1
- Nashville – 6/1
- Colorado – 8/1
- Winnipeg – 8/1
No division in hockey is tougher, top-to-bottom, than the Central. With five playoff teams last year and another two finishing within nine points of qualifying again in 2014-15, it could be a wide-open race this season.
Surprisingly, since the division expanded to seven teams, the Blackhawks have yet to win it. (Colorado won in 2013-14 and St. Louis took it last year.) While seeding isn’t an issue for a battle-tested Chicago side, look for the Blues and Wild to duke it out all season for home-ice advantage.
Nashville and Dallas are polar opposites in terms of how they play, but they’re equal threats in the division race. Nashville has unbelievable goaltending and arguably the best blue line in all of hockey, while Dallas can score with the best of them (261 goals-for last season), but can’t keep the puck out of their net either (260 goals-against).
Finally, Colorado got much bigger this summer and figure to be tough to play against, just like Winnipeg; but neither appears to have the tending required to be favored in the Central.
Odds to win the Pacific Division:
- Anaheim – 1/1
- Los Angeles – 3/1
- Calgary – 7/1
- Edmonton – 10/1
- San Jose – 14/1
- Vancouver – 19/1
- Arizona – 60/1
Anaheim has owned this division in recent years, and they’ve reloaded to take another swing at the Cup. With the teams in the Central all beating each other up, the winner of the Pacific should likely get the number one seed in the West again. Even though the Ducks lost a Game 7 on home ice last year, they’ll be motivated to gain any advantage they can for the playoffs.
Despite whiffing on the postseason entirely, the Kings still have the core that won two Stanley Cups and are a dangerous team if/when they figure it all out. Looking to avoid the same mishap this year, the Kings should come out of the gate hot and challenge for the division crown.
Calgary was the surprise team in the Pacific last season, even making the second round of the playoffs. After acquiring Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik this summer, this young Flames team should be less of a flash in the pan, and more of a slow burn to an eventual Cup contender.
Edmonton’s young, exciting roster could also make the leap in a pretty soft division.
Which non-playoff teams from last season will qualify this year?
- Los Angeles – 5/9
- Columbus – 1/1
- Dallas – 5/3
- Boston – 5/3
- Florida – 3/1
- Colorado – 3/1
- Edmonton – 4/1
- San Jose – 5/1
Los Angeles was, indisputably, the best team to be watching the playoffs from home last season. On top of new additions, the team subtracted some negativity by releasing the troubled Mike Richards. Well-rested after having the spring off, they should come out of the gate ready to reassert themselves as contenders.
Columbus also looks like a solid candidate to steal a playoff spot in the East, but a youth-infused Boston team could begin a new streak after having their run of seven straight postseason appearances snapped. Meanwhile, Dallas, Colorado, Edmonton, and San Jose all have some hope at landing a Wild Card in the West, a spot that required at least 99 points last season.
Over/under on how many Canadian teams will make the playoffs: 3.5
After years of disappointment, Canadian fans rejoiced when a shocking five teams from north of the border made the playoffs last year. None made it past the second round, but it was a step in the right direction. This year, the Leafs should be awful, the Canucks seem poised to take a step backwards, and Ottawa and Winnipeg won’t have an easy road back to the postseason. But the Habs and Flames should be there come spring and a promising young Edmonton team could step up and make a charge, as well.
Odds the Red Wings make the playoffs? 12/11
An organization doesn’t make the postseason 24 straight years without learning to navigate through some changes. But the loss of Mike Babcock is a huge one for this team. Jeff Blashill should be a suitable replacement, having coached many of these players in Grand Rapids. But with an aging roster – including Pavel Datsyuk, who will start the season in the trainer’s room – and some concerns in net, this team is far from a lock to return for a 25th year.
Who will get first overall pick in the 2016 Draft?
- Arizona – 4/1
- Toronto – 5/1
- New Jersey – 9/1
- Carolina – 9/1
- Philadelphia – 11/1
- Buffalo – 11/1
- Vancouver – 14/1
There is no clear-cut number one pick for the big losers of this season as their was with McDavid last year. Even worse, finishing last won’t even guarantee you a top-three pick this season. Still, for the Arizona Coyotes, losing appears to be their only option. They sold off practically every veteran, and most of their prospects aren’t ready to make the jump. They’re the lead candidate for the position of NHL cellar-dwellar.
While the Leafs don’t look too sharp, either, the team has some veteran holdovers (mostly due to their lousy contracts) and a great coach in Babcock who will get the most out of what he has.
Odds to win the Stanley Cup:
- Chicago – 13/2
- Tampa Bay – 8/1
- Los Angeles – 10/1
- Anaheim – 11/1
- NY Rangers – 12/1
- Pittsburgh – 13/1
- Minnesota – 13/1
- St Louis – 13/1
- Nashville – 13/1
- Montreal – 18/1
- Washington – 18/1
- NY Islanders – 22/1
- Winnipeg – 22/1
- Columbus – 25/1
- Calgary – 28/1
- Detroit – 28/1
- Boston – 35/1
- Dallas – 40/1
- Ottawa – 45/1
- Edmonton – 45/1
- San Jose – 45/1
- Florida – 55/1
- Colorado – 55/1
- Vancouver – 85/1
- Buffalo – 85/1
- Philadelphia – 100/1
- New Jersey – 100/1
- Carolina – 100/1
- Toronto – 200/1
- Arizona – 200/1
(Photo Credit: jpellgen (Originally posted to Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/])
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