NHL season preview and predictions 2016-17
After an exciting offseason full of twists and turns, the 2016-17 NHL season is finally ready to begin. The reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins will have a long road to repeating, with many teams stacking their teams to copy the Penguins' approach.
Many teams have improved while others have declined. That said, hockey is the most unpredictable of the major professional sports, so anything can happen. Who will win each of the major awards? Will anyone be able to unseat the Penguins from their throne? Which teams will disappoint and which players will surprise?
Here at FanSided, we will answer those questions and more in our NHL preview and predictions. We have assembled a diverse and experienced group of writers who will strive to bring you the best content on a daily basis.
Before we get started with our predictions, here's the list of writers who gave predictions. David Stevenson, Mike Santa Barbara, Allison Scott, Nathaniel Reeves, and David Rouben. Each writer provided answers to a series of questions about the 2016-17 season.
Dave S: Kris Letang, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns
Picking Erik Karlsson to win the Norris Trophy is like saying the house will win in Blackjack. Karlsson is obviously a favorite to win, but Kris Letang is in a great position to win his first Norris. He always seems to be an injury or a terrible coach away from putting together a full season of dominance. Everything is pointing to him finally getting a Norris in 2016-17. Brent Burns will be another strong contender.
David R: Letang, Burns, P.K. Subban
Last year was Letang's healthiest in a long time, and he showed just how dominant he can be.
Nathaniel: Karlsson, Subban, Burns
Allison: John Klingberg, Karlsson, Drew Doughty
Mike: Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Doughty
Karlsson (10 points)
Letang (six points)
Burns (four points)
(tie) Subban, Klingberg, Doughty (three points)
Ekman-Larsson (two points)
Dave S: Jamie Benn, Sidney Crosby, Carey Price
Hard to go against Sidney Crosby, but Jamie Benn has what it takes. The only thing keeping Benn from a Hart Trophy might be his center Tyler Seguin. Carey Price is arguably the most important player to his team and his absence last year confirms it.
David R: Crosby, Price, Connor McDavid
After winning his second Cup last year, nobody's questioning that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. But at just 19 years old, Connor McDavid might already be the second best player in the world.
Nathaniel: Crosby, Patrick Kane, Benn
Allison: Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry, Price
Mike: Crosby, McDavid, Braden Holtby
Consensus: Crosby (11 points)
(tie) Benn and Price (4)
(tie) Ovechkin and McDavid (3)
Dave S: Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist, Braden Holtby
Sure, Holtby won the Vezina last season and he'll be in very good shape to win it again. However, Price used the World Cup to remind everyone he's still the gold standard of goalies. Henrik Lundqvist is much better than his numbers suggest.
David R: Price, Holtby, Cory Schneider
If Price can stay healthy, he will "carey" the Habs back to the playoffs.
Nathaniel: Price, Ben Bishop, Schneider
Allison: Price, Jonathan Quick, Holtby
Mike: Holtby, Schneider, Price
Price (13 points)
(tie) Bishop and Quick (2)
Dave S: Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, Sean Couturier
Just rename the Selke the Bergeron. Anze Kopitar plays a ton of minutes and never seems to show fatigue. He and Bergeron are a joy to watch in their own zone. Sean Couturier is a rarity – a young center who really takes pride in his defense and excels.
David R: Kopitar, Bergeron, Jonathan Toews
These three are up for this award every year, and for good reason. The only question is who will win it, but after a big contract extension and being named Kings captain, I like Kopitar to take it.
Nathaniel: Bergeron, Aleksander Barkov, Kopitar
Allison: Loui Eriksson, Toews, Bergeron
Mike: Toews, Joe Pavelski, Bergeron
Bergeron (10 points)
(tie) Toews and Kopitar (6)
(tie) Pavelski and Barkov (2)
Dave S: Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matt Murray
The Calder is usually hard to predict in October. But this year, there are three really good candidates. Matthews already looks like he belongs, which is remarkable. Laine has the goal scoring potential to make a huge difference. Murray's injury knocks him down a bit, but he'll still get about 30-40 starts. That's enough to warrant Calder consideration. He'd be the first goalie since Ken Dryden to win the Stanley Cup before winning the Calder.
David R: Matthews, Murray, Laine
Yeah I'm biased, but Matthews showed at the World Cup that he's ready to be the next great center. Murray's got a great case, but it's been 7 years since a goalie has won the Calder.
Nathaniel: Matthews, Laine, William Nylander
Allison: Matthews, Laine, Thomas Chabot
Mike: Oliver Bjorkstrand, Matthews, Laine
Consensus: Matthews (14 points)
(tie) Murray and Bjorkstrand (3)
(tie) Chabot and Nylander (1)
Dave S: Right now, people only know Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter either because his name is so hard to spell or because his name is fun to say. Under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, expect Niederreiter to realize his true potential. All Boudreau does is coach up his forwards and use their skills effectively. Niederreiter has incredible speed and is already one of the better defensive wings in the NHL. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does this season.
David R: Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov has got a lot of room to grow at just 20 years old, but managed to put up 59 points in just 66 games last year.
Nathaniel: St. Louis Blues forward Robby Fabbri's solid debut campaign was somewhat overlooked due to the strong rookie class last year, but expect him to take on a bigger role in 2016-17 while becoming more of a national star.
Despite two very productive seasons in the OHL, Fabbri slipped to St. Louis at No. 21 overall in the 2014 draft due to concerns over his 5-10, 165 pound frame. Fabbri quickly erased those concerns by cracking the Blues' rotation in 2015-16 and piling up 37 points in 72 games while only receiving the ninth-most ice time among St. Louis forwards.
The 20-year-old really showed flashes of stardom in the postseason with four goals and 11 assists in 15 games. With David Backes and Troy Brouwer gone, the Blues will be counting on Fabbri this season, and he has the ability to help replace that production. Fabbri's speed and skill with the puck will ensure he keeps racking up the points, and look for him to be a big factor on special teams this year.
Allison: A change of scenery in Nashville is exactly what Ryan Johansen needs. The Predators will allow the young center to flourish in a new role and will make it possible for him to fully execute the offensive side of his game, while improving his defensive zone coverage.
Mike: Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Most Pleasant Surprise (Team)
Dave S: Don't sleep on the Carolina Hurricanes. They finally have a roster with skill and they have a terrific head coach in Bill Peters. Peters has the Hurricanes playing great hockey despite having a disadvantage in the talent department. That disadvantage is much smaller than it has been in recent years. If they can figure out their goaltending situation, they could sneak into the playoffs.
David R: The New Jersey Devils. Corey Schneider has been putting up Vezina-like numbers for them, and they got a big scoring boost by acquiring Taylor Hall. They have a chance to be the most improved team in the league.
Nathaniel: After exceeding expectations a year ago, the Devils are going to take a much bigger step forward in 2016-17 by finishing in the top three of the Metropolitan Division. First year GM Ray Shero and rookie head coach John Hynes did a terrific job with a team that was projected to be among the worst in the NHL. The Devils tallied 84 points and were shockingly in playoff position around the midway point until faltering late.
Hynes' tenacious style turned around the defense instantly, as the Devils allowed just 2.46 goals per game and were one of the best penalty killing teams in the NHL. Cory Schneider was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL with a 2.15 GAA and .924 save percentage, but a late-season knee injury likely kept him from a Vezina nomination.
As long as Schneider is healthy, the Devils are going to be competitive. While New Jersey ranked dead last in the NHL in goals a year ago, it should get enough of a boost offensively to make a postseason run.
Mike Cammalleri was having a strong year before missing the final three months of the season with a wrist injury, and is expected to be back at full health in 2016-17. The Devils also acquired 2010 No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall, who could be a very nice complement to Kyle Palmieri on the top line. Topping the Penguins or Capitals in the division might be too much to ask, but the Devils are poised to make a postseason run in 2016-17. Should New Jersey qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Hynes and Schneider can carry it to a series win or two.
Allison: The Vancouver Canucks have been in a downward spiral since their appearance in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. They fell to the Boston Bruins and have been written off as a team that's "rebuilding" ever since. I anticipate that reputation slowly beginning to fall away this season.
Although Henrik and Daniel Sedin are nearing the end of their respective careers, their almost immediate chemistry with newcomer Loui Eriksson at the World Cup of Hockey will undoubtedly benefit Vancouver offensively. They also have a number of quality young players and a solid goaltender in Ryan Miller, which looks to be the perfect combination for a surprising season.
Mike: Arizona Coyotes
Biggest Disappointment (Team)
Dave S: The Anaheim Ducks are most likely going to take a step backwards this season. After firing a great coach in Bruce Boudreau, they replaced him with Randy Carlyle. Granted, Carlyle took the Ducks to their lone Stanley Cup title. However, he had Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer as his two top defensemen. While the Ducks still have an excellent blue line, it's not Pronger and Niedermayer good. Carlyle must adjust for the Ducks to have success. I don't see that happening.
David R: Picking the Edmonton Oilers would be too easy, and cruel, so I'll go with the Red Wings who will miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. You heard it here first.
Nathaniel: The Los Angeles Kings bounced back to some degree from a rare playoff miss in 2015 with 102 points a year ago, although they were bounced in five games the first round by the San Jose Sharks. Making the playoffs again could be a major challenge, as Los Angeles' strong core may not be enough to hold off some up-and-coming teams in the Western Conference.
Few teams can match the starpower of the Kings, with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter on the top two lines. Jonathan Quick is still among the Vezina favorites, although he had a difficult campaign in the World Cup of Hockey.
The question is where Los Angeles is going to get enough offense after losing Milan Lucic in free agency. Teddy Purcell is a decent value addition, but he can't replace the 20 goals and 35 assists of production from Lucic.
Los Angeles is right up against the salary cap and was unable to add any big names to address its weaknesses. Anaheim and San Jose are going to be tough to beat in the division, and an emerging team like Calgary could easily push the Kings out of the playoffs.
Allison: The Chicago Blackhawks have been the closest thing to a dynasty the NHL has seen in recent years and that is almost undeniable. However, they've set the bar so high that it's nearly impossible to keep up their current place. Chicago was competitive for the Central Division Title up until the last few weeks of the 2015-16 regular season when the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars took the race into their own hands.
Mike: Vancouver Canucks
Who Leads The League In Points?
Dave S: Patrick Kane led the NHL in points last season. This season, it will be Connor McDavid. He averaged over a point per game in his rookie season, finishing third in the NHL in points per game. With his rookie season under his belt, he's ready to take his game to the next level. McDavid will face stiff competition from Kane, Jamie Benn, and of course Sidney Crosby, but McDavid will end the season on top.
David R: Tyler Seguin. He's a player who has spent his time in Benn's shadow, but I like him to surpass him this year.
Nathaniel: While Patrick Kane was untouchable last year, look for Crosby to win his third career scoring title in 2016-17. Crosby turned in yet another terrific season in 2015-16 with 36 goals and 49 assists, beating his point total from the previous year by one. That earned him a second place finish in the Hart Trophy behind Kane, and Crosby eventually took home the Conn Smythe for the Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
The 29-year-old really went off with 44 points in 33 games after the All-Star break, as Pittsburgh's coaching change and lineup shuffling worked perfectly. A full season with Mike Sullivan at helm should only help Crosby enough to overtake Kane in the scoring race.
Allison: Steven Stamkos is a talented scorer and he always seems to impress. However, Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane have recently overshadowed the Tampa Bay forward. This season, however, looks to be No. 91's time to shine. After signing an eight-year, $68 million contract to stay with the Lightning, Stamkos will be eager to perform. That extra motivation will prove to be just what he needs to earn the title of the NHL's best scorer.
Mike: Connor McDavid
Stanley Cup Pick
Dave S: As a Washington Capitals fan, I enjoy getting my hopes up only to see them get crushed. With that said, I'm predicting a Capitals vs. Predators final. There's only one way it can end – with Filip Forsberg scoring the game winning goal in Game Seven.
David R: Blackhawks and Penguins. As you can tell from my award picks, I like the Penguins this year. But you can't keep the Blackhawks down for long, and after a down year, they'll get back to winning the Cup.
Nathaniel: Dallas Stars vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Allison: The Dallas Stars surprised many last season on their way to a Central Division Title. That feat is something to be proud of, but their Game 7 loss in the second round of the playoffs isn't what they wanted. But this season, they'll take their game to the next level and find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2000.
The Washington Capitals will be the last team standing from the Eastern Conference. Their dedication, both in time and money, to players like Alexander Ovechkin will pay off as they earn their way to the Final. Washington has been so close to achieving their playoff goals in the past, but have always fell short. However, this season, they'll be able to capitalize on the talent they have at every position and make a strong statement in the postseason.
Mike: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Chicago Blackhawks
See the best photos of last NHL season: