The 2013-2014 National Hockey League season brought a Stanley Cup back to California as the Los Angeles Kings outplayed the New York Rangers in five games. The Kings, however, will have to defend the cup against a league that has more teams ready to win than we’ve seen in a while. Many of the 30 NHL clubs turned their 2013-2014 campaigns into a rebuilding year halfway through the season as the disparity between strong and weak teams was too great. Unlike in 2013, it is unclear who could win the cup this year as more teams are loaded up to make deep playoff runs.
The Atlantic Division should be the most exciting division to watch this year. After one of the best seven-game series that hockey has ever had, the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins will once again compete for a top spot in the division. This, however, is the Habs’ year.
Montreal’s fate relies on goaltender and 2014 Winter Olympics gold medal-winner Carey Price. Price sustained an injury against the Rangers in the playoffs, robbing him of a season in which a championship was a legitimate possibility for the Canadiens. They also re-signed superstar defender P.K. Subban to a multi-year extension, solidifying their defense with one of hockey’s most powerful slap shooters. Assuming Price can stay healthy, Montreal may be hoisting Lord Stanley’s trophy in June.
The Central Division may be the most talented, yet predictable division in the league. Although the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues are coming off good seasons, neither could hold their own in the playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks are the team to beat here—the squad has a proven ability to win in the playoffs. The Blackhawks were just a goal away from the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
With the addition of center Brad Richards at the second-line spot, this team is ready to take another swing at the Cup. If things fall into place at the right times, this team could be a legitimate contender in 2015.
The Pacific Division is home to the 2014 Stanley Cup winner—and the Kings are looking to repeat a trip to the finals. They are heavy favorites in the division, as both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks have done nothing but broken their fans’ hearts with their inability to play well in the postseason. Look for the Kings to once again use their defensive pressure to out-body teams through the regular season and the playoffs.
The Metropolitan Division is the most unpredictable division in the league. Watch for the Pittsburgh Penguins to pick up and go for another run in the playoffs. They are stacked with talent and were upset in the second round last year by the Rangers, who went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
New head coach Mike Johnston and new manager Jim Rutherford should hopefully be able to push the team over the top. The Penguins will be aggressive on the offensive end, utilizing their speed and scoring ability against a division of bigger, slower teams. They could easily make a deep run into the playoffs.
The league also has a few sleeper teams this year as well. Watch for the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division to take their young offense and revamped defense to a new level. This is the last year they are playing in the Nassau Coliseum, as they will move to Brooklyn and call the Barclays Center their new home.
New addition goalie Jaroslav Halak will be sure to bring an improvement to the position, as the Islanders have not had a full-time goaltender since Rick DiPietro in the 2007-08 season. The Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic will also look to bounce back after being embarrassed by Montreal in the playoffs last year. The team played nowhere near its potential, getting swept in the first round.
Look for the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division to make a push, as its ownership is willing to do anything to win. The squad’s front office isn’t afraid to make big time moves mid-season to put the team on the right track.