Just in time for the opening faceoff of the season, the OTF Crew is weighing in with their picks for the various division winners, the 2014 Stanley Cup champion, some of the major award winners, and the ultimate question here in Nashville - whether the Predators will return to the playoffs...
Atlantic Division Champion
|Dirk||Boston - I love the addition of Loui Eriksson to the lineup, even if the Bruins foolishly gave up on Tyler Seguin. It will be especially interesting to see how Jarome Iginla fares playing a full season with a team that should contend for the Stanley Cup.|
|Jonathan||Ottawa - Look at what they did as an injured team last year. If they can stay healthy, and Ryan, Spezza and Michalek have any semblance of chemistry together, they will do great things. Plus, I hear that those Karlsson and Anderson guys are pretty good.|
|George||Toronto -- This organization has jumped by leaps and bounds in recent years. Signing Cody Franson to a bridge contract was smart, but the real prize for the Leafs was locking up Nazem Kadri for a few years to come. They'll miss having Mikhail Grabovski in the lineup, but they still have the best, pure American scorer in Phil Kessel. Expect Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk, too, to make an impact up front. The glaring question mark for the Leafs, who no doubt still smart from blowing their Eastern Conference quarterfinal in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins last year: can James Reimer become a consistent #1 goaltender?|
|Caroline||Boston, I think. They lost some strength in Ference, Seguin, and Horton, but they signed Jarome Iginla and Louie Erikkson, and I think they will more than compensate for the loss of the forwards. They also have a strong defensive prospect in Torey Krug. Bias from the boyfriend aside (he actually told me not to pick them haha), I do think they can win it.|
Metropolitan Division Champion
|Dirk||Washington - the addition of Mikhail Grabovski could help the Capitals contend with Pittsburgh for the league lead in team scoring, and Washington has the added advantage of not having Marc-Andre Fleury in goal.|
|Jonathan||Pittsburgh - It's going to be an intense fight between Pittsburgh and Washington, but the Penguins are going to squeak by. Just barely. Even with some goaltending concerns, there is nothing to suggest they won't be an offensive juggernaut again this year. However, look for them to flame out in the first round of the playoffs this year.|
|George||Washington -- The Capitals are far and away the most complete team in the Eastern Conference. From the 1/1A situation between the pipes with Braden Holtby and Michael Neuvirth, to Karl Alzner's maturation at defense, to signing Mikhail Grabovski to play with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, this team, on paper, will be very difficult to beat. Adam Oates has buy-in from his players, most importantly from his captain Alex Ovechkin, and his creativity as a coach has already paid dividends in his time beind the bench.|
|Caroline||Pittsburgh. Even with their goaltending issue, they have some serious power on their team, both on forward and D (although Letang just got injured...). They'll be fine. Also, Fleury seems to struggle the most during the playoffs, not the regular reason, which is what this pick is all about.|
Pacific Division Champion
|Dirk||Los Angeles - the Kings have top-end talent and impressive depth in pretty much all areas of the team, and I can't help but think Anaheim has taken a step back in the short term due to the Bobby Ryan trade.|
|Jonathan||Anaheim - I really want to pick LA, but they save all their greatness for the playoffs. Boudreau can coach and he's got plenty of talented players at his disposal. Despite some evidence that their success last season was a fluke, they'll walk away with the Pacific crown.|
|George||Vancouver -- With Cory Schneider out of the way, Roberto Luongo finally steps into the #1 role with a clear head. John Tortorella becomes the coach that doesn't take any guff from anyone, and whips this talented Canucks squad with an embarrassment of riches deep into the playoffs.|
|Caroline||Vancouver, I guess? I just don't feel like anyone else is quite complete enough to challenge them for it (though that's not to say all the other teams are BAD). For what it's worth, I'd like to see Phoenix give them a run for their money because I have a soft spot for the Yotes, but I don't think it'll happen.|
Central Division Champion
|Dirk||Chicago - Unlike the summer of 2010, when the Blackhawks ran into a salary cap train wreck after winning the Cup, Chicago hasn't lost much this summer, and they boast some exciting young talent which appears ready to step into larger roles, such as forward Brandon Saad.|
|Jonathan||Chicago - The core that won them the Cup twice in the last four years is still largely there. They aren't going to be the steamroller they were last year, but their biggest competition in the division is St. Louis. The Blues are good, but they aren't beating the Blackhawks for the Central good.|
|George||Dallas -- The Blackhawks are the easy pick here. But Dallas improved many areas they really needed to improve, starting with hiring Lindy Ruff as head coach. Tyler Seguin will be a younger, more talented version of Mike Ribeiro during his time at pivot in Dallas. Valeri Nichushkin, while drafted only this past summer, should see some time in Dallas, and the kid is better than many expected.|
|Caroline||If Chicago wins it I'm going to cut someone. But they'll probably win. Goddamnit.|
Stanley Cup Champion
|Dirk||Los Angeles Kings|
|Jonathan||Los Angeles Kings|
|George||New Jersey Devils|
|Caroline||Chicago Blackhawks. Ugh.|
Major NHL Awards
|Writer||Hart Trophy (MVP)||Norris Trophy||Vezina Trophy||Calder Trophy|
|Dirk||Alex Ovechkin||Zdeno Chara||Tuukka Rask||Mattias Ekholm|
|Jonathan||John Tavares||P.K. Subban||Braden Holtby||Seth Jones|
|George||Evgeni Malkin||Kris Letang (assuming he stays healthy)||Corey Schneider||Nathan MacKinnon|
|Caroline||Steven Stamkos||Shea Weber||Sergei Bobrovsky||Seth Jones|
Will the Nashville Predators Make the Playoffs?
|Dirk||No. For my money there are just too many questions surrounding this team which need to turn out well for them to make it. Perhaps David Poile can pull off an early season to address some roster imbalances (too many centers, not enough proven stoppers on D), but based on what I see now this team will come up short. On the bright side, I do look forward to seeing how Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm fare in their rookie campaigns. There is a lot of young talent to get excited about over the next several years, but I look at this season as more of a development period.|
|Jonathan||With how mediocre the division is after Chicago and St. Louis, the opportunity is certainly there for the Predators to make the playoffs. Whether they will or not is a different story. Not only will it depend on how much better they are on offense this year, but also how well/poor other teams do. Dallas and Winnepeg could theoretically be surprise spoilers, (or total flops). In the end, I like Nashville's chances better than most, but don't be surprised if it takes another year to get back to the postseason.|
|George||The company line seems to be that Cullen, Stalberg, Hendricks, and Nystrom are all fitting in nicely, and that a return to "Predator hockey," an amorphous concept that makes us feel good when we hear it, and makes team spokespeople sound like they know what they're talking about, will help the boys back to the playoffs. But at the end of the day, defense and grit -- even taken together -- don't win championships by themselves. You still have to manage to score more goals than the other team. So I don't see it happening, not with these pieces. Not this year. I'd love to be proven wrong, though!|
|Caroline||God I hope so. I'm sorta concerned that we won't, but the Preds are always underestimated... so maybe we'll prove everyone wrong! We have so many new pieces up front that I haven't seen play together, so I have no idea what their chemistry is like or what they're remotely capable of doing, but I really hope it includes scoring goals. I say we teeter on the edge of making and missing the playoffs, but I'm not sure which way we'll fall when we teeter off the ledge.|
What say you, Dear Reader? Share your picks for these questions in the following form, and let's compare notes at the end of the year!
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