By: Victor Herrera
Headline Photo Credit: Darrell Owens-LMS Network
Hockey is officially getting underway, and the divisions are back to normal, with a few new changes. These changes include the new Seattle Kraken are joining the West Division and the Arizona Coyotes are playing in the Central Division this year. Many questions about high-caliber players are being asked this year. How will Marc-Andre Fleury do in Chicago? Can the end be near for the Alexander Ovechkin? The answers to these questions will be answered this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning- The back-to-back returning champions are looking just as good as the past two years. Having the best goalie in the league also helps this team with all the offense they can create. Look for the Lighting to ride on the success Andrei Vasilevskiy will have this season as he will be a top contender for the Vezina trophy. The Lighting will win the division this year and be a top contender to three-peat.
Montreal Canadiens- The Montreal Canadiens are the real deal this year. Although they will be without leader and goalie Carey Price to start the year as he is undergoing treatment for mental health. This team has plenty of firepowers to maintain the high level of play that will keep this team winning. Cole Caufield will get his first full year in the league and will make an impact that will not go unnoticed. Montreal will be serious contenders this year for the Stanley Cup again.
Florida Panthers- Panthers made a big surprise in the league last year. They were able to find success and maintained consistency. The big news before this season is the contract extension of their team captain Aleksander Barkov. Having settled this negation before the season will take away from the possible mid-season distraction. I see the Panthers riding on last year’s success and making the playoffs. This is if the team can stay healthy.
Boston Bruins- Things are looking different in Boston this year. This team will be without their long-time goalie Tuukka Rask. They will now turn to rookie Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark who they signed for 4 years during the offseason. The big concern around this Bruins team is not knowing where the offense needed to win in the Atlantic Division will come from. There is no doubt the top line of this team can provide offense, especially from David Pastrnak. Do not worry Bruin fans this team will figure it out and make a run at a playoff spot.
Toronto Maple Leafs- The Leafs have many players returning from last year’s team. This team had great success in the only year of having a North Division. Although they won the division it was another disappointing year for leaf fans, as they were bounced out of the playoffs early. Again. This year the Leafs will rejoin the Atlantic Division. With the Atlantic being very competitive The Leafs will have a tough year. If the Leafsstruggle early looks for a trade talk involving their top players and start the rebuild.
Detroit Red Wings- Although it will be another year of rebuilding the future for this Red Wing team is bright. They are a team that has hit rock bottom, but I believe are truly on the right path to rebuilding and being contenders consistently. This season it will be important to see improvement. I know in sports there are no moral victories. However, if you can compete in most games and see success this will be a moral victory this season.
Ottawa Senators- Ottawa is still going through its transition phase. It will get ugly before it gets betters. There are positives for Senator fans. The future will be extremely bright after this turnaround phase. Ottawa must show improvement this season to sign new deals with the young talents of Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson. Ottawa returning to the Atlantic will make their playoff chances go from little to almost none.
Buffalo Sabres- It will be another long and frustrating year for the Buffalo Sabres. There is much talk about star player Jack Eichel being traded, which adds to pressure to the front office. The biggest objective this year is to have the young players on the teams step up. This will help with identifying the players in which you will build around. Buffalo will have a tough time this season but will make strides in finding a new leader and direction for the team.
New York Islanders- This Islanders team has continued to get better over the past three seasons. Last year they were able to find success in the playoffs and almost make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. As a young team, they will build on that and do it again. Look for Mathew Barzal to take this team by storm and help them in a big way become the Atlantic Champions.
Washington Capitals- The Capitals are taking an approach much like the other veteran teams in the league. They are sticking with their core and believe it will work. The Capitals started last year red hot. They were able to earn a playoff spot in a very competitive division but were eliminated in the first round. Expect this team to rely on their experience and make the playoffs If this team can stay healthy, they can real contenders for the cup finals.
Pittsburgh Penguins- Although last season ended in another early playoff round exit, there is no need to panic if you are a Penguins fan. The core of this team that won cups in 2016 and 2017 is still on the team and capable of producing big numbers. The Brightside is the division will not be as stacked as it was last year. The Penguins will get a healthy Sydney Crosby back 6 weeks into the season as he returns from surgery. Expect the Penguins to not only make the playoffs but go further than the first round.
New York Rangers- Alexis Lafreniere did not have the season much thought and assumed he would. This year will be the difference. With a new coach and a year of experience, I anticipate Lafeniere to produce goals and points at an elite level. The biggest takeaway from this season is if the young core can continue to improve. The Rangers will not be a clear-cut favorite to make the playoffs, but if this core can find themselves early. They are more than capable of making the postseason.
Carolina Hurricanes- The Hurricanes could not duplicate the amount of success they had the year before last. The loss of defensive leader Dougie Hamilton has made this team go out and acquire new players. The terrible goaltending last year has received some change. The goalie duo will consist of Frederick Andersen and Antti Raanta. These two were top of the league and will battle for the starting spot. If the hurricanes can establish the purpose in net to start early and can get productivity from all newly acquired players. They can certainly make the postseason.
Columbus Blue Jackets- The Blue Jackets are still trying to find themselves with second-year coach Brad Larsen. It will be imperative the Blue Jackets find consistency in the net. Columbus has a good defensive core to battle in front of the net. This team must also find a way to produce goals. This also means they must find a center that can lead this team. The lack of physicality from a center will hurt the team in front of the net. The Blue Jackets are in real danger of not making the playoffs this year.
Philadelphia Flyers- For Flyer fans this can be the start of a new era, or this can be another mistake. The Flyers last year tried a tandem goalie situation that led to a league-worst goal save percentage. So, this year the Flyers are taking a new approach and have added Martin Jones to partner with Carter Hart in the net. Keep an eye on the goaltenders this season. If the Flyers can gain consistency in the net, they can hang close and maybe get into the playoffs.
New Jersey Devils- The Devils are a team that has not had much success but is fully capable of causing a stir this season. With the addition of veteran Jonathan Bernier, this takes the workload off Mackenzie Blackwood. Devils addition of DougieHamilton helps this team grow in many ways defensively. The Devils have a lot to overcome this season but if they can create the right goalie tandem and gain offense, they could make it interesting all season long.
Colorado Avalanche- the Avalanche will be the top contenders in the central. This high-powered offense will produce an abundance of goals. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanenwill be the most dominant forces this year. This offense will be tough to stop and not many will be able to. They will win the Central Division and are poised for a deep playoff run.
Minnesota Wild- Coming back into a tightly contested Central Division will benefit this Wild team greatly. After a surprisingly good season in the West Division, this team is ready to go. Kirill Kaprizov shocked the world last year, and I do not think this was a fluke. Having the confidence from last year will help this young player to catapult to a new level. The goaltending was much of a question, but they have found consistency in Cam Talbot. This team is going to make the playoffs and have a good run.
Winnipeg Jets- The Jets surprised many people last year by making the playoffs and being competitive in the playoffs. Many questions were asked about the lack of depth on this roster. The Jets were able to add some depth, but the biggest thing this offseason was the draft of Chaz Lucius. This 18-year-old was considered the steal of the draft. As the divisions return to normal and this team is very capable of making the playoffs again. In the tightly contested Central Division. The jets will be a dark horse this season but have a great chance and making another playoff appearance.
Chicago Blackhawks- Having the core from their golden days has helped this team. Even when they were not expected to compete, they made a name for themselves. The biggest thing to look forward to this year is because of newly acquired goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The goaltending position has not been good for Blackhawks for a while. The Blackhawks have a great opportunity to get another year of good hockey from their older core. I see them being able to compete and fight in the playoffs this year.
Dallas Stars- Last year was a disappointing season for the Dallas Stars, to say the least. This team suffered many injuries and could not find consistency in all phases of the game. This offseason the Stars signed Brayden Holtby which has caused a very crowded goalie situation. Ben Bishop has not played much due to injury. So, keep an eye as the Stars may be looking to trade a goalie a little into the season. A must-have from the Stars is a full healthy season from Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. These are 2 of the 3 that make the top line and have proven when healthy can cause damage. It will be a difficult climb in the Central Division, but they are still capable of making the playoffs.
Nashville Predators- This season the Predators need better special teams play. It has been two years of having one of the worst special teams in the league. Many questions do stand on the defensive side also. The team will need goalie Juuse Saros to step up and get wins. Without Ryan Ellis and veteran PekkaRinne. The success of this team will solely depend on the play of special teams throughout this season.
St. Louis Blues- The Blues were able to add Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich after losing Mike Hoffman and Jaden Schwartz. This will help with the offense in many ways. The concern with the Blues is their goaltenders. Since that magical season, Jordan Binnington has fallen into a slump. This is an area the Blues did not address which means they will continue with their 2 goalies Binnnington and Ville Husso. After having the season last year I do expect better results from Husso. Keep an eye on the Blues as they could be in the mix but can also fall out of contention quickly.
Arizona Coyotes- The Coyotes have two new goalies they will rely on in Carter Hutton and Josef Korenar. Hutton did not have a good season last year while Korenar barely got any looks. This will be interesting to see how long they stay with this duo before changes are made. The Coyotes have a lot of young talent, and they will need them to step up big. No secret this team is rebuilding. If they can get improvement, they will be a challenge in years to come. There will be no playoffs this year for Arizona.
Vegas Golden Knights- The Knights are still one of the best teams. Many of the people who thought they were a good underdog story have gone into hiding. Although the infamous Marc-Andre Fluery is now in Chicago the future is bright in Sin City. Robin Lehner will now be in net, and I predict a good season from the veteran. This fast and established offense will make the job easier for Lehner and because of this I expect them to win the West Division.
Edmonton Oilers- The Oilers continue to make a run at the Stanley Cup. However, like other years they continue to come up short. It seems hard to believe when you have the best player in the league on your team. The Oilers have always had moments where they felt something was missing. This offseason the front office has gone out and added depth to the roster by trading for quality players who can come in and make a difference. This year will be a year where if the Oilers do not make the cup finals there could be big changes in Edmonton.
Seattle Kraken- The ability to get a veteran captain such as Mark Giordano will help this team. It is hard to say how this team will exactly do given these guys have never played together. We have seen this expansion draft did wonders for Vegas. The Kraken took full advantage of their draft and got a good mixture of veteran players and young talent with plenty of opportunities. The Kraken will make playoffs and a big reason is because of how well the draft went for the team.
Vancouver Canucks- Canucks gave Thatcher Demko plenty of time last year to learn from the bench and get starts. He will be in net for a long time with this team. The Canucks are hurting defensively therefore it is important Demko finds success and finds it early in the season. This season will be interesting but unpredictable for Canuck fans. Either this team will start fast and strong or will struggle the whole season in a division with teams who have plenty of talent in the Pacific.
Los Angeles Kings- Kings were able to gain more experience over the offseason. Phillip Danault along with Viktor Arvidsson can help this team produce more offense. The offense will have a better season this year. The biggest question will be who will step up on the defensive side and make a change in this program. Now the playoffs are in no way an easy path for the Kings. However, with the offseason moves, it becomes more of a possibility this season.
Calgary Flames- Flames had a very disappointing year last year. This year the biggest story surrounding the team is what direction are they headed into. They are a team that has went out and spent on players but have not gotten the results they expect. This team will hope things fall into place. If they do not look for Calgary to try to lessen their expenses and start a potential rebuild. In conclusion, this team is a mystery and only time will tell in what direction this team will pursue to take.
San Jose Sharks- San Jose has some big questions about 2 of their top forwards. Tomas Hertl will be a free agent this off-season. The Sharks hope to sign Hertl. If there is no signing expect the Sharks to trade him before the deadline. Evander Kane is also in question as allegations were brought out about him betting on hockey games including San Jose games. He has yet to practice, and his status is still unclear. For the Sharks to be better immediately they will need better goaltending. They can produce offense with the best, but the goaltending is their Achilles heel. I think this season will have too many distractions and they will miss the playoffs once again.
Anaheim Ducks- The Ducks are still trying to figure out their way in this league. A roster filled with young players who have limited experience is not a recipe for success. Fans need to see improvement on the offense side of the puck and the special teams to have anything positive from this season. I hate to say it but the ducks are playing for the lottery this year and hope to gain experience throughout the season.
Here are my predictions for award winner this 2021 season:
Hart Trophy: Nathan MacKinnon
Norris Trophy: Miro Hieskanen
Vezina trophy: Carter Hart
Calder Trophy: Cole Caufield