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2014 / 2015 Canadian NHL preview

By in Features/Sports & Health

NHL canada

 

Last year was a disappointing season for a majority of Canadian hockey fans as seven of our eight teams failed to make the playoffs. This year promises to be different with a few teams ready to take the next step, as well as a couple teams who made big off-season moves in hopes to be competitive now.

 

Calgary Flames

Key additions: LW Mason Raymond, G Jonah Hiller, LW Brandon Bollig and RW Devin Setoguchi

Key losses: C Mike Cammalleri, D Chris Butler, LW T.J. Galliardi and G Joey MacDonald

It was definitely a long year in Calgary, having to deal with the first full season without longtime captain Jarome Iginla and recently retired goalie and fan favourite Mikka Kiprusoff, not to mention the floods that put the Saddledome under water.

A bright spot for the Flames was the emergence of rookie center Sean Monahan. He scored 22 goals in his inaugural season and the Flames will rely heavily on him to produce on the second line as well as logging some big power play minutes. Looking to crack the opening day lineup, is fourth overall pick Sam Bennett who will look to koin Monahan at the center position.

The off-season acquisitions of forwards Raymond and Bollig will help their depth on the front-end, but the Flames still lack scoring prowess as no one on their projected lineup has ever scored 30 goals in a season. With first line wingers like Curtis Glencross and Jiri Hudler, you just can’t expect to be competitive in the very tight Western Conference.

Young players Johnny Gaudreau, Sven Baertshci and Markus Grandlund all will be good players in the future, but at this point in time aren’t experienced enough to make a big difference.

Defenceman Mark Giordano was named the newest team captain and he anchors a veteran defensive corp. While Ladislav Smid, Dennis Wideman and Deryk Engelland are all proven players, they are all past their primes. Kris Russell and T.J. Brodie are two young and talented players whom the Flames should be grooming.

In net, Hiller was acquired this summer from Anaheim. His play has been in decline the past couple of years but he can still be relied on to make key saves and steal some games. With such a young team around him, the Flames may count too heavily on Hiller to be the backbone of the team.

This is definitely a rebuilding year for Calgary and another top five pick is a likely endpoint. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though as the Flames are in desperate need of scoring abilities up front, preferably a dynamic winger.

The future is bright for the Flames — the outlook on the 2014–2015 squad however, is not.

Winnipeg Jets

Key additions: LW T.J. Galliardi, C Matthieu Perrault and G Peter Budaj

 Key losses: C Olli Jokinen, RW Devin Setoguchi and G Al Montoya

The midseason firing of coach Claude Noël seemed to do wonders for the Jets. After Paul Maurice took over, Winnipeg immediately won eight of their first 10 games under his guidance.

Former first round pick Mark Scheifele will likely center the top line with the speedy Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane on his wings. This line has the right blend of speed, skill and size and could be dangerous for the Jets all season.

Since moving to Winnipeg, the Jets’ main problem has been their lack of secondary scoring, which could once again be an issue this season. The second line of captain Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little won’t score as much as they will need to in order to keep up with the other powerhouses of their division­ — like the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues.

The addition of Galliardi and Perrault will bolster their third unit with the final member being Michael Frolik. These three will be counted on to play solid defence as well as to chip in offensively.

Standout young defenceman Jacob Trouba will head a young defensive group that also features Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom. Trouba was rock solid last year putting up good offensive numbers while still being above average in the defensive end.

Mark Stuart, Grant Clitsome and Paul Postma round out the unit and these veterans will need to step up and play sound defence seeing as Trouba and Enstrom like to jump up in the play.

In net the Jets recently went out and got Peter Budaj who has been a quality backup his whole career. Ondrej Pavelec will again be leaned on to start the majority of games. He has been stellar in the past but if he slips up this year, Budaj will be there to step in.

Being in the extremely tough Central Division the Jets will be hard pressed to make the playoffs this year. They have some quality prospects coming up but now just isn’t quite their time.

Montreal Canadiens

Key additions: RW P.A. Parenteau, D Tom Gilbert and C Manny Malholtra

Key losses: C Daniel Briere, LW Thomas Vanek, D Josh Gorges, RW Brian Gionta and D Douglas Murray

Montreal was the only Canadian team to make the post-season last year and they came within two wins of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

The 2013–14 season was definitely a success, but it will be extremely hard to match with all the pieces that departed this summer.

Newcomer Parenteau will give them a reliable scoring option on the second line, something that neither Briere, Gionta or Vanek could give them in the playoffs. The loss of solid stay-at-home defenceman Gorges will hurt, but he is replaced with a similar player in Gilbert.

In net, Carey Price gives them stability as he is fresh off his gold-medal winning performance at the Sochi Winter Olympics. He is one of the best in the league and should be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy — given out annually to the league’s best goaltender.

After signing an eight-year extension, P.K. Subban will be with Montreal for the long term. This is good news for Canadiens fans as he is an electric player who can take over a game — the playoff series versus Boston is a testament to that. He is one of the best defencemen in the league and he is the centerpiece to a fairly strong defensive unit.

Andrei Markov, Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu, Mike Weaver and Gilbert join the back-end ranks and all are responsible defensively. With some playoff experience under their belt, this group should be very strong moving forward.

The lines of forwards are well balanced but the top unit of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher will need to be good or the Montreal media will be all over them. Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec and Parenteau will be a capable second line and they will even get scoring from the third line of Lars Eller, Rene Bourque and Dale Weise.

Building off last year’s momentum, the Canadiens should make the playoffs once again. With a superb goalie and three good scoring lines, maybe Montreal will return to do some damage.

Ottawa Senators

Key additions: RW Alex Chiasson, C David Legwand

Key losses: RW Ales Hemsky, C Jason Spezza

It was a lackluster season for the Senators last year — they just couldn’t get over the hump. They hovered around .500 all year and even with some trade deadline acquisitions, they couldn’t quite make the push for the playoffs.

The off-season saw longtime Senator Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky dealt away, two of their top six forwards. However, two newcomers — Legwand and Chiasson — will try and replace the two scorers up front.

With Bobby Ryan fresh off a lucrative contract extension, the Senators’ first line will be under a lot of pressure to put pucks in the net. Kyle Turris and Milan Michalek will have to prove themselves as top line quality players and how well they perform will very much determine the outcome of the Sens season.

On defence, former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson returns to be counted on to produce points from the backend. Veterans Marc Methot and Chris Phillips will need to be shutdown defenceman and help nurture their youthful teammates Jared Cowen, Eric Gryba and Patrick Wiercioch.

Both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner proved to be capable starters a year ago and there could be a battle for the number one job in the crease. Anderson has the experience advantage but the Sens may turn the younger option and let him develop for the future.

It will be an interesting year in Ottawa. If their young players step up, the Senators could surprise some people with a strong year. They still lack forward depth and that may be their Achilles’ heel for the upcoming year.

Toronto Mapleleafs

Key additions: LW David Booth, D Roman Polak and C Mike Santorelli

Key losses: C Dave Bolland, D Carl Gunnarsson, LW Mason Raymond and C Jay McClement

An epic collapse that saw the Leafs go 2–12 down the stretch was the only thing that kept them out of the playoffs. With a major shakeup on the roster and in the front office, things are changing in Toronto.

The top line of Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel remains intact for a third straight season. However, they will have to play on a more consistent basis to help the Leafs’ playoff chances.

The newly formed second line of Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul and Brandon Kozun will be interesting to watch as Kadri and Lupul develop more chemistry and rookie Kozun brings new energy each game. The third and fourth lines are made up of mostly newcomers and they will be counted to help the Leafs’ defensive game.

With the departure of Gunnarsson, captain Dion Phaneuf will have a new partner on the top defensive unit. With our sights set on veteran Stephane Robidas, they will likely be the two who are counted on to shut down the opposition’s top threats. The exciting duo of Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner return for another year and with more experience, they should be even better.

In net, it’s Jonathon Bernier’s job to lose as he will probably start 60 or more games this season. James Reimer is a capable backup but he is set on a starting position, so don’t be surprised if he gets dealt this year.

The management made defence a priority as they acquired two veteran, stay-at-home defencemen to hopefully help out Bernier. If the forwards keep scoring goals like they have in the past, the Leafs should be a playoff team.

Edmonton Oilers

Key additions: D Mark Fayne, D Nikita Nikitin, and LW Benoît Pouliot

Key losses: C Sam Gagner, D Mark Fraser and LW Ryan Smyth

After a horrendous season last year saw their head coach have multiple fights with his young stars, the Oilers again found themselves with a top three pick. They simply didn’t generate enough offence and couldn’t keep pucks out of their net.

The latter could be solved this year as the Oil have a terrific tandem in net between Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth. After former netminder Devan Dubnyk was shipped out of town, the team has made strides to improving their league-worst goals against by refining their backend. Fasth and Scrivens are both relatively young and haven’t proven themselves yet as NHL elite goalies, but the friendly competition and the drive to get to that level could be a good thing for Oiler fans.

Captain Andrew Ference was asked to do a little too much in first season in Edmonton, but this time around he’ll have more backup on the defensive end. Nikitin, Fayne and Jeff Petry will all contribute nicely to keeping pucks out of the Oilers net. Starving for a playoff appearance, young guys like Justin Schultz, Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse also will want to add to the team’s potential success. Schultz is the best offensively gifted defenceman the Oilers have, making him a key to their rebuild.

Up front, it’s hard to find any team in the league to match the Oilers’ skill on the first two lines. Taylor Hall had a breakout season and is now poised to build off of a seventh place finish in the NHL scoring race. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins join him on the top line, both of whom are extremely talented players. That being said, Nugent-Hopkins is the only one who is strong defensively which is just one of the reasons for the team’s struggles.

Developing his budding players will be the key for coach Dallas Eakins, as he is armed with the most dangerous group of young stars in the league. If he can get all of his skilled forwards to buy into the defensive system, the Oilers may just make the jump to a playoff caliber team.

Their second line of rookies Leon Draisaitl, Nail Yakupov and David Perron could quietly be one of the better second lines in the league. Perron’s gritty play at both ends of the ice combined with Draisaitl’s size and Yakupov’s sheer talent could be a lethal combination for years to come.

With the additions of Teddy Purcell, Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Pouliot, the Oilers have a nice veteran blend of third and fourth-line talent. All of these players have post-season experience and will greatly support the young players in the 82-game grind.

The Oilers have potential to be a playoff team, but in the tight Western Conference they could be a year or two away from finally getting a taste of playoff hockey.

Vancouver Canucks

Key additions: C Nick Bonino, G Ryan Miller, RW Radim Vrbata and D Luca Sbisa

Key losses: C Ryan Kesler, D Jason Garrison, LW David Booth and C Mike Santorelli

It was a year to forget in Vancouver as former coach John Tortorella’s antics were a definite distraction, ultimately losing him the respect of his players. Both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider ended up dealt and that led to the dismissal of general manager Mike Gillis. All this led to the Canucks missing the post-season for only the third time in 13 years.

The goaltending situation has been a mess in Vancouver in recent years, but the addition of Miller should hopefully finally provide some stability in net.

On defence, the Canucks return their top four Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Tanev. All of them are very defensively capable and this should bode well for the Canucks fortunes, as they won’t allow too many goals this year.

Newcomer Vrbata should help reignite the lack of scoring the Sedin twins encountered last season on the top line. The second combo of Alex Burrows, Bonino and Chris Higgins isn’t the strongest and they will have to play above expectations to help make the Canucks competitive in the West.

Likely to center the third line, rookie Bo Horvat he could be an exciting player to watch this year. His linemates Shawn Matthias and Jannik Hansen will undoubtedly help make the transition easier for the rookie. The projected fourth line of Hunter Shinkaruk, Linden Vey and Zack Kassian will be a youthful and energetic line that could produce some points.

Willie Desjardins will take over behind the bench and that could be the most valuable move the Canucks made this summer. He is a significant upgrade at the coaching position and is definitely a player’s coach.

With Desjardins at the helm, the Canucks will be better than most people expect. If the Sedins can get back into form and stay healthy, and the defence and goaltending remain strong, then the Canucks could be a dark horse to make the playoffs.

Graphic: Stephanie Mah/Graphics Editor

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