The NHL season is here, and its time to take a quick look at all 30 teams and how they will start the season.

Anaheim Ducks: On paper, if their goaltending can be sorted out they might just be the best regular season team in the NHL. That said, the regular season is nearly meaningless when you start off this damn good.

Arizona Coyotes: Maybe the return of the distractions that hung over this team for half a decade will push it back into playoff position. Ekman-Larsson may be getting better every year, but Shane Doan isn’t getting any younger.

Boston Bruins: This is a solid team but the entire right side of the team is questionable, and with the trade of Boychuk the defense becomes much less steady.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are working very hard at getting better while getting worse, the addition of Josh Georges makes the defense better, the loss of Ryan Miller leaves two goalies shaped question marks in the crease. Almost certainly a lottery team.

Calgary Flames: This team could have two legitimate All-Star’s this year and still be 10+ points out of the playoffs, no matter how good Giordano and Monahan are the rest are not.

Carolina Hurricanes: With Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner down and out, things look grim for this season’s point total. Last year they hit 34 ROW’s, the same as the Detroit Red Wings, might not be achievable. Noah Hanflin or Oliver Kylington might not be the distant dream they seemed just a few weeks ago.

Chicago Blackhawks: Take a good long look at the core opening night, unless the cap goes up about ten million, they are really likely to be broken up, Hossa is almost 36, and Seabrook only has this and one more year left on his contract.

Colorado Avalanche: Regression to the mean is what all the advanced stats folks are expecting this season. I’ll just say that the new additions to the team, are going to slow it down…

Columbus Blue Jackets: With Johansen starting late, Horton’s career is in doubt, and Dubinsky is on the injured reserve, that said they still have a solid shot at the playoffs.

Dallas Stars: The off season fairy was kind to the Dallas Stars forward depth but their defense and goaltending could still use a gift or two.

Detroit Red Wings: Injuries, aging players, and a coach who might not return next season, what a recipe for success.

Edmonton Oilers: The Nikitin injury should accelerate the development of Darnell Nurse, add in the other injuries and it makes starting the season off on a good note difficult, on the plus side they only play three road games in October.

Florida Panthers: Willie Mitchell,, Roberto Luongo, and Jussi Jokinen are nice adds, I’m not sure the team escapes the bottom five but games will be closer.

Los Angeles Kings: Like the Blackhawks, this team is likely to be very different at the start of next season, is that enough to push them over the top into being the first team to repeat in the salary cap era? They didn’t add anyone, but this year, they also didn’t lose any of the core.

Minnesota Wild: Only four of the nine October games are at home including an opening night rematch with the Avalanche, and a visit to the defending Kings early on will tell people more about the healthy version of this team than anything else.

Montreal Canadiens: No captain, contract years for two key, young forwards, a reliable member of the defense gone, the much relied upon backup gone, this year could indeed be interesting times for the men in the CH.

Nashville Predators: For the first time in team history the Predators will have a new head coach and a new playing style, to compliment that James Neal, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy were added up front. General Manager David Polie has to hope he’s found the right way to make sure he’s not the next out the door.

New Jersey Devils: The End of The Brodeur Era is what is being talked about, some interesting additions have helped mask the other question; How much longer will the Lamoriello era last? On October 21st he’ll be 72 years old.

New York Islanders: The additions of Boychuk and Leddy at the end of training camp are the single most disruptive preseason moves in recent history. Fans, players, and executives have to hope upsetting balance in the standing follows.

New York Rangers: Depth and balance helped the blue shirts make the finals last year, this year they start off without Stepan, Pouliot, Richards, Dorsett, and Stralman are gone. An argument can be made that those voids are all filled, but that doesn’t mean the team is as good.

Nashville Predators: Rinne is healthy, Weber is ready, Neal and Roy are part of the squad, a better year is  ahead.

Ottawa Senators: If this team gets great goaltending they likely finish eight to ten points outside the playoffs, if they get average or bad goaltending they are in for a very long season. There just is much depth here to work with.

Philadelphia Flyers: This is a team with a lot of opportunity to change peoples minds. Mason, Simmonds, Giroux, Voracek all had solid seasons last year, but the rest of the squad is more question marks than answers.

Pittsburgh Penguins: In the off season they lost a third of their defense, a top six winger, and will enter the season with at least one of their best players below 100%.

Saint Louis Blues: The Blues have a really interesting team, and have a really good good shot at playing in the second half of April and beyond, the big question about this team is goaltending as it has been for years.

San Jose Sharks: This team is imperfectly mixed concrete. With all the outside pressure, maybe, just maybe the team will come together and like that imperfect concrete hold for just long enough.

Toronto Maple Leafs: In the first 10 games we’ll see if the team has fixed their penalty kill, if they have they are a notably better team they were last year on that alone.

Vancouver Canucks: More stability in net is great, but up front this team is clearly not as good as last year, GM Benning still has a long road ahead.

Washington Capitals: Picking up a solid pair of defensemen is good, taking them off the hands of a division rival is better. Wrapped up in that is the addition of someone who can arguably improve their mushy penalty kill.

Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane is the only player on the team making over four million a year without a no trade clause, if he’s there at the end of the season is anyone’s guess.

The Montreal Canadiens are only lacking one thing to keep them from being a top team in the NHL.

They have a goaltender in Carey Price who is more than doing his part. A .929 sv% is more than many teams can hope for from their starter. Doing it in 15 of 18 games, which is on pace for a 69 game season, is a level of play well above satisfactory. The fifth overall pick int he 2005 draft class is playing like you would expect such a high pick.

The vastly under-appreciated Josh Gorges and Rapheal Diaz are the top rearguards for a penalty kill that is near the top of the NHL. Up front are Brandon Prust who while he has a very lengthy fight history is more than just a puncher, and Tom Plekanec should be on everyone’s Selke short list. The four are key portions of one of the better short handed units in the NHL.

Did you know the Montreal Canadiens have the 2nd ranked power-play in the NHL? Well, they do. Who leads them in goals on the man advantage? Some guy named Tom Plekanec, three goals, seven points. Norris winner P.K. Subban leads the team with nine total points.

With a team that has a top penalty kill, a killer powerplay, and a goalie playing stellar hockey you have to look closer to find the problems. They are getting scoring from a number of sources, even if more than one of their top players is not at the top of their game. If the issue isn’t the on ice talent, and the team categories seem to say they are not, one must look further.

The team’s leadership is not openly incompetent, but that doesn’t mean they are the right mix to produce top results. When you look at the fact that the Canadiens are a top five team in fighting majors, and built around a stout, (mostly) mobile defense, and playing with a touch of snarl you have to wonder what Michel Therrien is doing behind the bench of this roster configuration. A certain vocal, and perhaps belligerent segment of the fan-base believes the team should have a Francophone as its head coach, winning cures all ills.

As a coach Therrian could have a higher ceiling than many believe. The Pittsburgh Penguins for example exiled him before pulling things together and charging full tilt towards the promised land. He was also fired by the Canadiens in the past. Despite trips to the finals in both the AHL and NHL he’s never won. This might have something to do with the way he deploys top assets, like P.K. Subban. It almost certainly has something to do with a lack of follow through, this is after all the coach who promised savage retribution after the famous Kyle MacLaren hit on Richard Zednik, and then produced nothing.


While coaches aren’t the only ones who can inject consistency into a team, they have the most sway. And consistency is that one thing the Canadiens need to be a successful team both before and after the middle of April this year.

The Canadiens:

Are clearly trying to get Carey Price into a rhythm early. In the last month of last season he edged away from the solid pace he’d set the first two thirds of the season. Douglas Murray, Jarred Tinordi, and Darren Dietz are all auditioning for defensive partners and call up priority. The forward group stretches the definition of NHL veteran just a tiny bit by including “puncher” Nick Tarnasky who last set foot in the NHL in the 2009-10 season and Ryan White has a similar PIMs to Points ratio. Max Pacioretty who led the team in scoring in the regular season and was badly battered in the playoffs is back on the ice. Most of the rest are late round picks, and undrafted players.

Goalies:

  • 31- Carey Price
    65- Robert Mayer

Defensemen:

  • 6- Douglas Murray
    24- Jarred Tinordi
    26- Josh Gorges
    55- Francis Bouillon
    76- P.K. Subban
    84- Darren Dietz

Forwards:

  • 32- Travis Moen
  • 37- Gabriel Dumont
  • 45- Michael Blunden
  • 48- Daniel Brière
  • 51- David Desharnais
  • 53- Ryan White
  • 60- Christian Thomas
  • 67- Max Pacioretty
  • 71- Louis Leblanc
  • 72- Nick Tarnasky
  • 75- Charles Hudon
  • 86- Stefan Fournier

Boston Bruins:

While most observers expect Johnson to be the backup to starter Tuukka Rask in Boston at least to start the season, the job won’t be handed to him if he isn’t at least adequate. Adam McQuaid will be in the novel position of the most veteran defenseman on the Bruins roster, in fact he’ll have more NHL experience than all of the other blueliners combined. Ben Youds is an undrafted, right shooting Minnesota born college alumni. The forward group is very interesting. New to the team are Jarome Iginla and Matt Fraser, Rob Flick and Carl Soderberg both joined the roster late last season. Craig Cunningham, Alex Fallstrom, Ryan Spooner, and Anthony Camara are all prospects that will be looking to make the team

Goalies:

  • Chad Johnson
  • Malcolm Subban

Defensemen:

  • Matt Bartkowski
  • Tommy Cross
  • Torey Krug
  • Adam McQuaid
  • Kevan Miller
  • Zach Trotman
  • Ben Youds

Forwards:

  • Anthony Camara
  • Craig Cunningham
  • Alex Fallstrom
  • Rob Flick
  • Matt Fraser
  • Jarome Iginla
  • Nick Johnson
  • David Krejci
  • Milan Lucic
  • Daniel Paille
  • Carl Soderberg
  • Ryan Spooner
  • Shawn Thornton

Anyone expecting much out of this game is delusional. At best you can expect a few mights, the Habs fighters are answered by Shawn Thornton, and Milan Lucic, Anthony Camara while not large has dropped the gloves a few times, and even Ryan Spooner warned New England Hockey Journal’s Kirk Luedeke not to leave him off the list:

Ryan Spooner chastises Kirk Luedeke for leaving him off the fighters list. from twitter

Ryan Spooner chastises Kirk Luedeke for leaving him off the fighters list.

There’s more than one team in the NHL that needs a good defensemen (or in some cases five or six). The after looking like baby seals being clubbed by hunters today many are adding the Philadelphia Flyers to the list. The Washington Capitals could also use a defensive minded defenseman.  Shocking as it is to know a team who counts both Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell among its core. Here’s a look at some of the UFA’s to be that might be rentable.

Josh Gorges may have become the odd man out with the Habs picking up Kaberle. Yes they only have two defensemen signed for next season, but Subban, Price, Kostitsyn, and others due new deals and concerns the salary cap will go down, something has to give.  Good penalty killer, blocks a lot of shots.

Hal Gill possibly the standard bearer for stay at home defensemen. Was an integral part of the Penguins rise to the Stanley Cup a few years back, and won’t get many more chances to get the Cup. Quiet, not especially physical but good in the locker room too. With the blueline getting healthier (sorta) he’s probably the safest bet not to be extended on a blueline with lots of older players.

Francois Beauchemin the Ducks need some sort of shakeup, while this would be a huge piece of their defense to move, and they’d probably want a very nice return, he’s averaged over five minutes of short handed time on ice this season.

Ryan Suter I honestly don’t expect him to be moved, even if it means the Predators lose him for nothing to free agency, but he has to be considered the best of the pending UFA defensemen, and possibly the best pending UFA overall.

Bryan Allen is playing important minutes for the Carolina Hurricanes, the big  defensemen play hard, kills penalties, hits and blocks shots. Carolina is in need of a lot so an appealing package might be easier to put together than some think.

Scott Hannan waited a bit to long to sign a new contract and got stuck at just above league minimum. This hasn’t stopped him from being 2nd on the Flames in SHTOI or leading them in blocked shots.

 

The Bruins have half a lot of choices to make between now and July first. They are on a pure rampaged through the league with a roster very little changed from the one that one them the Stanley Cup. Most of the team is fairly young, and it’s hard to argue that any of the unsigned players are having a negative effect on the team. Of players currently on the roster, there are two RFA, and six UFA’s.

The restricted free agents are Tuukka Rask and Benoit Pouliot. If you stretch the list to Zach Hamill who has done well in his call up games this year, and would likely be less expensive than most players that could be signed from outside. Rask has the most variables attached to his potential deal, he’s got great numbers and is arguably the best backup or 1b option in the NHL. On the other hand he’s yet to have a solid pro playoff season, has never started more than 39 games in a season. Additionally he’s had knee surgery before his 25th birthday.  Given the lack of depth in the system, unless he starts looking for over 3.5 million, I suspect he’s resigned. Realistically, a two year deal at 2.25 a year is desirable from both ends.

Pouliot is in an odd position, if he does well, even if he doesn’t live up to the hype of a fourth overall pick, he can probably get signed just about anywhere for an increase over this years contact. He’s currently on pace for his best pro goals performance, but that’s not exactly world beating. From his point of view, if he does well this season, there’s a lot of incentive to stick around given Julien’s known preference for older players over rookies, he’s likely to improve more in a second year in the system. Hamill, who has been a top scorer in the rather disorganized Providence system for the last two season. Either one could sign for as much as $1.75 depending on the role envisioned.

The unrestricted free agents are where the likeliest roster changes will be made. Chris Kelly is the UFA to be making the most noise at this point, and is one of four UFA forwards including entire fourth line. Campbell and Paille will both be 28 when next season opens, and have been important parts of the penalty kill, with limited offense. Campbell is more gritty, and can usually be counted on for solid faceoff numbers, Paille is much faster and can nearly kill a penalty himself if the other team makes one misstep. Shawn Thornton will turn 35 after his contract will go into effect. His offense isn’t what has Thornton in the NHL, but in that category he dwarfs most similar players. I honestly have no idea what the three could be signed to, but if anyone of the freeMerlot Line signs for as much as two million I’ll be surprised. Kelly, was discussed recently at length.

The defensemen due new contracts monetarily might do best to let the market set their value. With Suter, Brad Stuart, Josh Gorges, Chris Campoli, the resurgent Sheldon Souray and other leading the pack if they sign close on the heels of those players, they might do well for themselves, wherever they sign. Johnny Boychuk is 27, and a former AHL defensemen of the year, last season he didn’t have the offense expected of him, but has bounced back pretty well so far this season. Joe Corvo will be thirty five when his next contract starts and has been very uneven in games this year, he was picked up for a for 4th round pick. Depending on where Boychuk finishes the season points in points and minutes and length of deal, his contract will probably be in the three million neighborhood. With zero goals, and the implications of a 35+ contract, I’m expecting to see Corvo in another uniform next season.