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.

With the bulk of the NHL’s best free agents signed, its time to look at who did best.

Metropolitan Division

Winners

Washington Capitals:

They were 21st in goals against last year. What did they do about it? They picked up two 21+ minute a night guys. One who averaged almost 3 minutes a night shorthanded, the other who specializes in lugging the puck out of the defensive zone. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen are at least for the next two to three seasons good gets.

New York Islanders:

Signing up Grabovski long term and sliding him in behind Tavares gives them a smart, two way center who plays with passion. Chad Johnson gives them a pretty solid backup goaltender as well. Are the Islanders suddenly cup favorites? No. Are they are probably eight or ten points better than last season just based on those moves.

Losers

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Greiss is a good pickup, but Ehrhoff is going to cost them one way or another, he’s not good defensively, and if he puts up offensive numbers on his one year contract he’s either bolting for more money elsewhere next year or is going to demand a contract on par with Letang’s. The rest of their pickups were spare change.

Pacific Division

Winners

Dallas Stars:

With the addition of Spezza  (via trade) to the free agent signings the team can look forward to offensive balance for the first time in a decade.

Losers

Arizona Coyotes:

Last year the franchise was on the outside looking in and while Devon Dubnyk is well suited to their needs, I’m not convinced he’s enough to get them into the playoffs.

Central Division

Winners

Chicago Blackhawks:

They found a motivated guy who can play in the 2nd pivot slot and it didn’t cost them much.

Saint Louis Blues:

Taking one of the veteran leaders of a conference rival is always a good get, adding a guy with preexisting good chemistry with some of your top players just makes it even better.

Losers

Vancouver Canucks:

Despite the addition of a good goalie, they are no closer to playoff contention than they were at this time last week.

Atlantic Division

Winners

Tampa Bay Lightning

Adding Anton Stralman to the rest of an underrated cast makes this one of the most credible defensive units in the East heading into the season.

Florida Panthers

They added lots of highly competitive veterans, the skilled Jussi Jokinen, to wrap around their core of young players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. They are a very long shot to make the playoffs, but the pieces they added were priced appropriately (and in Jokinen’s case low) and unlike other teams they haven’t crowded other young talent off the roster allowing for young players to come in and win a roster spot and NHL experience for the future.

Losers

Boston Bruins

A laundry list of miscues means that the players signed by this team since noon on July 1 and the departures of a very solid backup and hall of fame forward leave the team worse off than they have been in years. Realistically, I doubt any Bruins fan had even heard of either guy, and its not a stretch to say their agents probably have trouble picking them out of a crowd.

Detroit Red Wings

What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The Red Wings didn’t add any talent via free agency, and history tells us any of their draft picks this year are four or more years from the NHL.

Ever since the speculation of  Jordan Staal moving to the Carolina Hurricanes came into being, what the lines will look like in Raleigh has been question one. There are half a dozen possibilities worth considering, and immeasurable others.

Both Jordan and Eric Staal have played the wings, Jordan more often given his now former teammates. Skinner, and Ruutu have also played out of position as well. If the Canes decide to go loaded for bear and make their top line a three man threat lines could shake out like this( R-C-L) :

  • E Staal – J Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – T Ruutu – J Skinner
  • J Jokinen – T Brent – C LaRose

If they look to go for something that looks more like a top nine than a top six:

  • J Jokien – E Staal – A Semin
  • J Tlusty – J Staal – J Skinner
  • A Stewart – T Ruutu – C LaRose

Personally speaking, I think the latter set of lines is more sustainable over the course of a season.  If Kirk Muller and company are smart, the they’ll make adjustments as the season goes along, and based on the competition. If they aren’t, well we’ll all get to refresh our lists of available NHL coaches. I suspect that a top criteria for figuring out who makes the cut this year at forward will be how well they play defensively because whatever else happens, even if a significant addition is made to the defense, the forwards will have to contribute to the defense of this team even more than last year.

It’s not a secret I hate the shootout. I’d rather watch the captains arm wrestle for the extra point than watch the shootout. So yes, you’ll not see me talking about this oh so efficient way of appeasing the networks, invalidating the team concept and alienating the fans all at once.

Over the last two or three seasons it has become a predictable waste of postgame shows for certain announcers to go on, and on, and on longer than their coaching or managing careers about a coaches choices in the shootout. Coaches have multiple responsibilities to juggle during each game and post game gimmick. Among those are winning, setting up future success, keeping the team as a whole motivated, and keeping key players on an even keel.

These announcers would have you believe that the best way to achieve this is to always go with your highest paid, highest scoring players. Even if the player is having a bad game. Even if the player is horrible in the shootout. Even if a role player has the hot hand. No matter what throw the top of the salary chart out there. This came up last night in the gongshow as division game between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. The six highest paid skaters were all tragic in their inability to score.  Between them, Ovechkin, St Louis, Stamkos, Green, Semin, Lecavalier were a -6 with 19 total missed or blocked shots. Not a good night for six guys who collectively fall less than six million below the salary cap floor.

The commentators mentioned before would have you believe that not only are these guys the best suited to go out for the shootout, in a division game between two teams likely to be fighting for the division title at the end of the season based purely on their salary. Facts on the other hand will tell you not all of them are good at the shootout. Based on last years shootout percentages, and bearing in mind that Ovechkin had a bad goal scoring year for him, and Green was limited by injuries here are the stats for each in the shootout last season:

  • Alex Ovechkin, 4 for ten, with 3 of his coming at home.
  • Alex Semin 2 for six, and of those 1 for 4 at home.
  • Mike Green o for 1 in an attempt at home.
  • Martin St Louis 1 for 5, 0 for 1 on the road.
  • Vincent Levacalier 0 for 4, 0 for 1 on the road.
  • Steven Stamkos 0 for 4, o for 3 on the road.

So these same leading lights, who have access to at least as many stats as the average fan are certain individually and collectively that were four out of thirty or 13.3% are what the two coaches should collectively wager a point on.Dominic Moore who will make a bit over a million this season had more shootout goals than anyone on the Lightning, and a 50% success rate last year was selected by his coach. Nate Thompson who didn’t have a single one of his five shots miss or get blocked during the game was also selected by the Tampa Bay coach who sent the Capitals home last season. The potty mouthed coach of the Capitals took the top three producers in the shootout last season (yes, Hendricks out produced Semin, Green, Backstrom, Laich…) into the shootout. Hendricks will make under three quarters of a million this year.

So while I, like millions of hockey fans feel it’d be better to see a couple rounds of this:

in some sort of team format than the highly individual shootout, certain hot air fonts can talk about throwing money at the shootout all they want. Sure they’ll have to ignore Joffrey Lupul having a better success rate last year than Corey Perry or Teemu Selanne, or Sergei Samsanov and Jussi Jokinen out performing Eric Staal to make their argument stand up, but hey the shootout it is all about flash over substance, why not prop it up with volume over reality post game diatribes?