NHL Handicapping: Hard Teams to Get Read On
by Trevor Whenham - 10/1/2013
Heading into the NHL season, there are some teams that seem to be easy to predict. We know that Pittsburgh and Chicago are likely to be very good, for example, and that Florida and Calgary really, really aren’t. There are other teams, though, that are much harder to understand. They have the potential to be solid contenders, but they also could really disappoint and flounder their way through the season. These five teams are the hardest to put a finger on and get a real sense of what to expect from them through the first month or so of the regular season:
Tampa Bay Lightning: Last year the Lightning were the team that disappointed me more than any other. I am a big believer in Steven Stamkos — the best pure goal scorer on the planet. I was confident that they had upgraded their goaltending and that they were ready to be a solid mid-level contender that could be dangerous. Instead, they were a disaster. They allowed the third most goals in the East, they never got rolling, and they were the second-worst team in the conference. I want to believe that that was an anomaly and that the changes they made since last season — the addition of Ben Bishop late last year to add depth in net, a much-needed coaching change, and the departure of Vincent Lecavalier — have them back on track. I trust the management, and their core is excellent. There is some concern that the team chose to send third overall draft pick Jonathan Drouin back to juniors for the year instead of keeping him with the team. I actually read that as a positive for the team — Drouin wasn’t ready, and the team had the luxury of, and the confidence to, send him back instead of rushing him along. It’s better for him in the long run and good for the team in general. As you can tell, I think this team can be a good team — a threat to host an opening-round playoff series. They could also prove that last year was no fluke, though, and we won’t know if last year is behind them until we see them play.
Ottawa Senators: Last year the Senators were a surprise — a decent playoff team thanks to outstanding goaltending and good depth. In the offseason, though, they suffered the biggest shock of any team when eternal star and captain Daniel Alfredsson jilted them to sign with the Red WIngs. It was a shocking, controversial move. And the team was understandably shaken. It is tough to know how they are going to respond to a whole new era for the team. It also isn’t certain that they will get the exceptional goaltending — second fewest goals allowed in the league — that they did last year. With those two factors up in the air, it is tough to know what to expect for sure. It doesn’t help that the East is deep and tough as well.
Detroit Red Wings: The Wings added Alfredsson and generally had a strong offseason. Most significantly, though, they have moved to the Eastern Conference. That is generally a positive move for them — especially because they are an older squad. The travel is far less taxing in the conference. In the short term, though, it means a whole new set of frequent opponents, a shift in rivalries, and more unfamiliarity than we normally see in a season. The Red Wings could thrive under the new circumstances, or it could take them a while to adjust. This hasn’t happened with a real contender for a while — Winnipeg faces the same situation, but wouldn’t be good in any league — so it’s hard to know for sure what to expect.
Washington Capitals: In the first half of the season the Capitals were a massive embarrassment — the biggest underachievers in the league. They were a mess, seemed to be on the verge of a rebellion, and head coach Adam Oates looked like he was going to have a short career. In the second half of the season the Caps were arguably the best team in the conference. They bought in to Oates’ system, committed, and met their potential. It was the same team for the most part in both cases. It also wasn’t the first time that the team has had issues with consistent effort and chemistry. This team has the talent to be good, but until the season gets underway we have no real way of knowing whether they care enough to get it done.
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have basically been the definition of underachievement for a decade. They have been talented, and they have had regular season success, but they have failed to really do what they are capable of in the playoffs. They are still talented, but they are an aging squad, and their window is probably closing. At their best I don’t think that they are good enough to win their conference, but they could finish in the top half. The West is deep, though, so they could also easily miss out on the playoffs if they falter. Is the team finally going to put all the pieces together this year? Or will it be more of the same all over again?
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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