Over the next three weeks, we will be ranking every NHL team based on their chances in the the upcoming 2017-2018 NHL season. Instead of ranking the teams by division, we will create fantasy divisions based on a team’s likelihood of success.
The first preview will explore the bottom dwellers of the league, eventually working our way up to the top contenders.
These teams are all but guaranteed to miss the playoffs in 2017-2018 and should hope for the highest draft pick possible.
The Basement Division
This is where you do not want to find your team. Hopeless, helpless, and in need of a number one overall pick.
The Canucks hit all the checkmarks when thinking about how not to build a team. Old, declining stars as your leading scorers (Sedin twins) check. High priced free agency busts (Loui Ericksson), check. The worst goaltending situation in the league (Markstrom, Nilsson), check. Worst defensive unit in the league, check. Top it all off with a new head coach who has never coached at this level, and... well... you’re looking at the 2017-2018 worst team in the league.
30. Las Vegas Golden Knights
I thought the expansion draft would have allowed Vegas to extract more future assets than it did. They seem to be half way between wanting to tank and wanting to compete. Marc-Andre Fleury in net will steal games, the defense as a whole is solid, but the offense is putrid. Nashville got bit the worst when losing James Neal, but who is going to set him up? Cody Eakin? Vadim Shipachyov? Vegas will score the least amount of goals next year.
I am sure most of us are excited to see the Red Wings fall from grace, even if they reside in the Eastern Conference. A common theme among the basement division is a lack of direction. Detroit has some exciting young players, but no clear path to get out. Zetterberg to Preds at the deadline?
(Editor’s note: helllll no)
From worst to 4th worst is a pretty big improvement. Out of all the bottom dwellers, the Avs have the most star power. Nathan Mackinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Semyon Varlamov will all have better seasons. Mikko Rantanen and Tyson Jost will emerge. The Avs will win more games this season and still finish dead last in the Central.
Peeking Through the Lens Division
These teams have been in the basement for years and are now beginning to climb out.
Since 2000, only two first overall picks have been a bust (Rick Dipietro, Nail Yakupov), and all of them have been at least at All Star caliber, except Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nico Hischier will be the next great talent in the NHL, and I fully expect a boost on offense with a healthy Taylor Hall and ex-Capital forward Marcus Johansson. The defense is the weak link, but Corey Schneider is more than capable of stealing games.
26. Arizona Coyotes
Arizona had a great off-season. The additions of Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Antti Raanta will offer major improvement. The Coyotes boast a plethora of young talent on the verge of creating something special. Christian Dvorak, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, Jakob Chychrun and Clayton Keller are as good as any young core in the league and this team will be exciting to watch next year.
Knocking on the Door Division
These teams are the closest to reaching the playoffs, but major issues loom, likely to derail those plans.
25. Florida Panthers
At one point last season, the Florida Panthers looked unstoppable. Then it all crumbled. This lasted through the off-season where the Panthers have had a strange run of decisions. Aleksander Barkov is a candidate for the next great young center to join elite rank, while Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau are great young players in their own right. But the depth on offense is weak, the defense is nothing special, and Roberto Luongo in net is long in the tooth.
24. Buffalo Sabres
Ex-Predator coach Phil Housely returns to Buffalo to lead the team he once starred for. I think he is going to be an excellent head coach, and he has tons of talent to work with. Ryan O’Rielly is one of the game’s most underrated centers with a remarkable two way game. Jack Eichel, for all his drama, is Mario Lemiux-esque in moments and will only get better. But the defense and goaltending situtaion is a nightmare, and even with Housley leading the charge, the Sabres will be hard pressed to stop an opponents attack.
The Flyers can certainly make the argument for the playoffs next year, but I just do not see how the break through in the loaded Metropolitan Division. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek should see bounce back seasons, and Wayne Simmonds has become one of the top power forwards in the league. Sean Courtier is an underrated two way center, while Ivan Provorov can be a breakout player on defense. But Brian Elliot is manning the goalie situation, and the depth is rather weak at every position. The Flyers have a loaded prospect pool, and their time is close, but not this season.
In the next preview we will explore the middle ground of the league, where we find a majority of the teams in the NHL.