The crisp and cool weather, the leaves changing color, and most importantly, the sound of skates on a fresh sheet of ice in 30 cities around North America.
Last Wednesday night, Oct. 8, the NHL returned, and not a second too soon. Last year’s season ended with a thrilling Cup Final that saw Los Angeles knock off New York in overtime thanks to an Alec Martinez goal, while 2014-15 started off with those same Kings falling at home to their rivals, the Sharks of San Jose.
This season promises to be an interesting one. There are at least ten teams with a real shot at the Cup, and about twenty teams with a real shot at the playoffs.
This year, out east, I think you will see more of the same from last year. I really like Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh to snag the one seeds in their respective divisions.
I think Boston, the Rangers, Montreal, and the Blue Jackets are locks to get in as well. As for the eastern Wild Card teams, you can put me down for both the Islanders and Devils to get in, meaning the Red Wings, for the first time in over 20 years, will miss the dance.
Out west, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose have the top three spots in the Pacific locked up, while Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis have the same spots in the central. Wild card wise? Give me the Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks to sneak into the playoffs this year.
New faces in new places are a theme for this season too. As a hockey fan, I’ll be keeping my eyes on Thomas Vanek in Minnesota, Brad Richards in Chicago, Mike Cammalleri in New Jersey and Ryan Kesler in Anaheim. All of these guys join really solid teams, and they may prove to be the pieces to push these squads over the hump, especially Kesler in Anaheim.
There are a number of teams with a lot to prove as well. Edmonton enters the fifth year of a rebuild, and if the Oilers aren’t at least in the hunt this year, major change could come sweeping through after a ninth straight year out of the playoff picture.
The other team with something to prove? Colorado, who made the playoffs last year but who many, myself included, don’t think are for real. Another solid year this season would go a long way for this team.
As for the local teams, it’s shaping up to be a great year. The Bruins are still one of the top dogs in the NHL, while the Rangers are likely to have another deep run this year thanks to their depth.
Both the Islanders and Devils are ready to take the next step too, and will give those long suffering fans something to truly root for. As for the Flyers? This is a team poised for a bad season. Their possession numbers are bad, and they don’t have the goaltending to make up for it in my mind.
Overall, the 2014-15 slate is wide open, and while almost everyone expects the Kings or Blackhawks to win it all this year, the truth is that there are a handful of teams ready to pounce on the defending champs and steal that Cup. Who am I taking? You can put me down for the Cup to stay in Cali, only this time it’s going to Anaheim, as I predict they will beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.
Enjoy the season everyone, and welcome back NHL, I’ve missed you my old friend.
Alex Thomas can be reached at at firstname.lastname@example.org