Last Minute Hot Takes and Predictions for the 2015-16 Season

Updated: October 7, 2015 at 8:30 am by Cam Lewis

The NHL season starts today! That means that we can finally stop scrolling through thousands of words of intense speculation per day about what might happen, and we can start watching things actually happen. That being said, I’m going to take this one final opportunity to present my hot takes and predictions in regards to what’s going to transpire over the course of the 2015-16 NHL season — mainly because I want to come back six months from now and laugh at how wrong I was on them. 

Atlantic Division 

1. Tampa Bay Lightning 

2. Detroit Red Wings

3. Montreal Canadiens

4. Boston Bruins

5. Buffalo Sabres

6. Florida Panthers

7. Ottawa Senators 

8. Toronto Maple Leafs 

I’m going to talk about the Oilers being a breakout team later on, and I expect the same from the Buffalo Sabres. They added Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Cody Franson, and Robin Lehner to a horrific roster over the summer, and thanks to playing in a pretty weak division, should be able to take a big step forward. Speaking of teams poised to break out, the Florida Panthers should be an interesting team to follow. They have a nice group of young talent that can take over the prime roles of their mediocre veterans and possibly challenge for a playoff spot. If everything goes right, they could be this year’s version of the Islanders, or they could have another classic Florida Panthers season and they’ll finish at around .500 and most people won’t be able to name half of the players on their roster. 

I’m expecting the Leafs to struggle mightily, even with their Moneyball roster, while the Lightning should take this thing with ease. After Tampa, I see the Red Wings coming in second, largely because there isn’t a team in the division that’s as complete as them. I’m sure the Bruins will rebound after a disappointing 2014-15 season, but not enough so to reclaim their position as one of the dominant teams in the East, while the Canadiens will enjoy riding Carey Price to another solid finish. When it’s all said and done, even though the Sabres and Panthers are fair bets to breakout, they’re going to be hard pressed to overtake Detroit, Boston, or Montreal, and probably won’t make it to the big show until next year. 

Metropolitan Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

2. New York Rangers

3. Washington Capitals

4. New York Islanders

5. Columbus Blue Jackets

6. Philadelphia Flyers

7. Carolina Hurricanes

8. New Jersey Devils 

The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be a really fun team to watch. They boast the two best centres in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they’ve had a hell of a time finding good wingers to play beside them. Earlier this summer, the Pens went and traded a very underwhelming package to the Leafs for Phil Kessel, one of the best pure goal scorers in the league. Now Malkin and Crosby are fighting over who gets to play with him, and people are debating if he can score 50 goals before Crosby puts up 100 assists. 

After the Penguins, who are pretty obviously the favourites to take top spot in the division, we have possibly the most predictable division in the league. The Rangers and Capitals are both locks to make the playoffs, barring injury or Alex Ovechkin returning to Russia, while the Islanders look to build off of last year’s breakout campaign. The Hurricanes and Devils, both rebuilding teams, aren’t going to be anywhere near contention, and the Flyers are going to be to worried about the millions of dollars they have buried in the press box/AHL to focus on winning hockey games. That leaves us with the Blue Jackets, who epitomize a “good bad team.” That means that they’re not that good, but of all the teams in the league that are bad, they’re the cream of the crop. If they’re going to make the playoffs, it’s going to come down to them beating out a team from the Atlantic Division for a Wild Card spot, because they aren’t getting past the wall of New York, other New York, Washington, and Pittsburgh. 

Central Division

1. Chicago Blackhawks

2. St. Louis Blues

3. Nashville Predators

4. Dallas Stars

5. Minnesota Wild

6. Winnipeg Jets

7. Colorado Avalanche

The Central Division is the most difficult one to predict because all of these teams are at least sort of good. There isn’t a clear-cut terrible punching bag that every other team in the division is going to beat the crap out of for the entire season. The closest thing to a freebie, get-drunk-the-night-before-and-still-win team here are the Avs, and they aren’t even that bad. Instead, you have a completely loaded division that will likely result in two good, deserving teams sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in. 

So I’ll start from the bottom with Colorado. Like I said, they aren’t even that bad, but they sure as hell aren’t better than anybody else in this group. The Stars were the other team to beat up on in the Central Last year largely because of their horrific goaltending. This summer, they added Antti Niemi to shore that up, and then traded away Trevor Daley, who had the worst relative Corsi For percentage on the team, filled his spot with rock-solid Johnny Oduya, and then added Patrick Sharp to arguably the most potent offence in the league. In other words, they did their best to become the Chicago Blackhawks. Minnesota and Winnipeg are both good teams, but in this division, it comes down to “are you better than this other good team.” They aren’t better than Nashville, Chicago, or St. Louis, and thanks to Dallas’ moves, I think the Stars will finish higher in the standings. 

Though this division is damn hard to predict, I’m damn near certain that five of the seven teams will make the playoffs, as some combination of Dallas, Winnipeg, or Minnesota fill the Wild Card seeds. 

Pacific Division

1. Anaheim Ducks

2. Los Angeles Kings

3. San Jose Sharks

4. Edmonton Oilers

5. Calgary Flames

6. Vancouver Canucks

7. Arizona Coyotes 

There’s no way the Kings are going to have luck as bad as they did last season. They finished the season with the best even strength Corsi For percentage in the NHL at 55.4, but ended up on the outside looking in thanks to an overachieving Flames team and 2-8 record in the shootout. Speaking of the Flames, even though they made themselves quite a bit better by adding Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be able to maintain the numbers-defying success they had last season. Opposite the Kings, the Flames finished with the third worst Corsi For percentage in the league at 44.5, but snuck into the playoffs are winning game after game via late game comebacks. They aren’t going to be an awful team, but I don’t see them having the same luck that they did last year, and I don’t see San Jose and Los Angeles finishing below them again. 

This is also going to be the year the Oilers finally arrive. Everyone has been saying that for years, but this time, there’s actually reason to believe it’s going to happen. Connor McDavid is Connor McDavid, and unlike every other Oilers top-pick, will be able to ease his way into the lineup behind some good veterans like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They also filled holes on defence, added a couple of interesting goaltending options, and cleaned house, ridding themselves of bad players like Nikita Nikitin. If the Oilers don’t take a step forward this season, I don’t even know. Honestly, even playing meaningful games by the time New Year’s rolls around would be something. 

Playoffs

FIRST ROUND:

Penguins over Bruins. 

Lightning over Islanders. 

Capitals over Rangers.

Red Wings over Canadiens. 

Ducks over Wild.

Hawks over Stars. 

Kings over Sharks.

Predators over Blues. 

SECOND ROUND: 

Capitals over Penguins. 

Lightning over Red Wings. 

Predators over Hawks.

Kings over Ducks. 

CONFERENCE FINALS:

Capitals over Lightning. 

Kings over Predators.

FINALS:

Capitals over Kings.