The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

2015-16 NHL Projected Standings: Ducks, Lightning, Rangers and Blues should challenge Blackhawks’ reign

2015-16 NHL Preview

Placeholder while article actions load

Calgary Flames: Playoff team. Vancouver Canucks: Playoff team. Los Angeles Kings: Lottery team.

At this time last season, there were few — in any — who would have predicted those results. Sure, the Chicago Blackhawks were a popular pick to win another Stanley Cup. But how many envisioned the Edmonton Oilers, after three No. 1 draft picks from 2010-2012, would against hold the No. 1 overall selection and the rights to phenom forward Connor McDavid?

With Wednesday’s opener, the door opens on a world of possibilities for the 2015-16 NHL season. For better, or for worse.

Through the help of Neil Greenberg’s statistical modeling, we’re moving beyond the possible and honing in on the projected, providing expected point totals for every NHL squad, along with the team’s outlook and a key question as their campaign begins.

The season starts Wednesday. Here’s a first glimpse at how we think it will end.

2015-16 Season Projections

(Projections and Stats by Neil Greenberg, Capsules by Mike Hume)

Atlantic | Metropolitan | Central | Pacific

Projection Methodology

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning (104 points)

The Outlook: After a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the expectation is more of the same for the Bolts. Built strong top to bottom by Tampa GM and former Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman, Tampa flaunts one of the game’s top scorers (Steven Stamkos), an undersized dynamo (Tyler Johnson), an intriguing top prospect (Jonathan Drouin) and one of the game’s best young defensemen (Victor Hedman).

The Question: Is Ben Bishop capable of backstopping a Stanley Cup winner? Bishop’s numbers are fine. Just fine. There have been several ring-bearing netminders who fall in the “he’s okay” realm. (Antti Niemi, anyone?). But Bishop is pretty clearly the weak link in the Lightning lineup. If the 6-foot-7 goalie can measure up, there’s no reason the Bolts can’t raise the Cup.

The Stats: The Lightning had the league’s highest even-strength shooting percentage last season (9.03 percent) but even with regression the team is loaded with firepower.

The Outlook: What will Carey Price do for an encore? After one of the best goaltending seasons in league history, the netminder hauled the Habs to the Atlantic Division title. Aside from explosive defenseman P.K. Subban, there aren’t too many game-changers on this roster. If former No. 3 overall draft pick Alex Galchenyuk can rise into that role (20 goals in 2014-15) and add another consistent scoring option to Max Pacioretty (37 goals), that could be a big improvement on an otherwise sound but unspectacular squad.

The Question: Can Alex Semin recapture his old form? In his prime with the Washington Capitals, Semin was one of the most dangerous snipers in the NHL. Since he departed he’s been a bad parody of himself with the Carolina Hurricanes, with his worst traits (lazy penalties, poor discipline) swallowing up any positives from his play and leading to a buyout. If he can rededicate himself, he could be a huge asset who has 30-goal ability.

The Stats: Price was sensational in goal, but maintaining a career-high .943 save percentage is going to be tough to do.

Detroit Red Wings (95 points)

The Outlook: The ageless Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are back — after a combined 131 points last season — with an able group of complementary players around them. If those complements become capable of carrying the scoring baton – and more is expected from Fs Gustav Nyquist (27 goals) and Tomas Tatar (29 goals) – and the Red Wings can re-ignite offensive-minded D Mike Green (0.63 career points-per-game average), Detroit could outpace this projection and claim the Atlantic Division crown.

The Question:  Who’s the goalie? Jimmy Howard has the long-term contract. Petr Mrazek was last seen posting a .925 save percentage as Detroit’s playoff starter. The season opens with a number of back-to-backs, which could give new coach Jeff Blashill more time to decide.

The Stats: Green scored a point on 53.3 percent of power-play goals for Washington last year, which will only help the league’s second-best power play unit.

Boston Bruins (94 points)

The Outlook: The consensus is that the Bruins’ recent era of Eastern Conference dominance is done. The question now is how far they’ll fall. Trades of top young D Dougie Hamilton and rugged F Milan Lucic radically transformed the roster, and a once-stocked blueline seems relatively barren. They’re still strong down the middle however, with Cs David Krejci (now healthy after missing 35 games last season) and Patrice Bergeron (55 points), not to mention Tuukka Rask and his career .926 save percentage in goal.

The Question: Will big-money free-agent Matt Beleskey be worth the money? The former Anaheim Duck wing scored 22 goals in his walk year (11 more than his next best season) and turned them into a five-year, $19 million contract. After a 2014-15 shooting percentage over five points higher than his career average, he’ll likely be hard pressed to reproduce another season at that level.

The Stats: The health of  Krejci will be crucial. In 2014-15, the team scored 8.13 even-strength goals per 60 minutes with him on the ice and 4.77 when he didn’t skate.

Ottawa Senators (93 points)

The Outlook: On Jan. 17 of last season, the Senators sat at 18-18-8 and appeared dead in the water. They proceeded to lose just 13 games the remainder of the season, five of those after regulation, and tore into the playoffs as one of the NHL’s hottest teams. Fueling that drive: The Hamburglar. Andrew Hammond started 23 games during the Senators’ stretch run and lost exactly one in regulation, posting a .941 save percentage in the process. Meanwhile, rookie Mark Stone notched 11 of his 26 goals in the final two months of the season. The final flourish, plus a young core, has the Senators bullish on the season ahead. And that doesn’t even mention perennial Norris Trophy nominee, Erik Karlsson and his team-high 66 points in 2014-15.

The Question: Can Bobby Ryan play up to his contract? His production wasn’t awful in 2014-15 (18 goals, 54 points) but it was not the production a team needs from a player with a $7.5-million cap hit.

The Stats: Hammond won’t be able to carry a .941 save percentage the entire year, and the Senators will suffer for it.

Florida Panthers (87 points)

The Outlook: It’s time for the Panthers to take a big step forward. Whether they’re capable is another story. Florida had only one player post 50-plus points last season (C Jonathan Huberdeau with 54) and the Cats badly need some increased scoring punch from young forwards like Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. If defenseman Aaron Eklbad can build off a sensational rookie season (12 goals, turned 19 in February) that wouldn’t hurt either. He’s certainly capable of it.

The Question: Can intangibles rub off? Jaromir Jagr is a machine, and his now-legendary work ethic is a great trait the Panthers front office would like to see transfer to its young guns. If they adopt his trademark mullet, that’s an equally big win.

The Stats: I don’t know how many standings points Jagr’s mullet is worth but it’s probably not as many as it should be. At 42 years old, Jagr showed he can still produce as a top-six forward, tallying 1.76 even-strength points per 60 minutes for Florida last season.

Toronto Maple Leafs (79 points)

The Outlook: Cloudy. Very cloudy. Highlighted by the trade of sniper Phil Kessel, the Maple Leafs spent this offseason reworking a (very) flawed franchise blueprint with a brain trust that now includes former Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, former coach Jacques Lemaire, NHLer Mark Hunter and president Brendan Shanahan. But that new vision doesn’t seem likely to be realized this season. Expect experimentation, with more remodeling ahead.

The Question: Is this what Mike Babcock signed up for? The head coach left Detroit for the turmoil of Canada’s top market, where it’s unlikely expectations will be lowered, despite an on-going retooling of the roster.

The Stats: Having Babcock behind the bench will help, but this team traded away its best player after the rosters scored just 2.12 goals per 60 minutes at even strength last year, the 10th lowest in the NHL.

Buffalo Sabres (71 points)

The Outlook: In the wake of an awful campaign that looked a lot like a concerted effort to tank, hope blooms anew. The chief spoils from a spoiled season – No. 2 overall draft pick Jack Eichel – provides much of that optimism. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound center has been regarded as the best American-born prospect since Patrick Kane. Pair him with winger Evander Kane (poached from the Winnipeg Jets last season) and free agent C Ryan O’Reilly and the Sabres should see a big infusion of offensive talent this season.

The Question: Will the new additions be enough? The Sabres need to close a considerable gap with the rest of the division after a season in which they finished 48 points back of the East’s final playoff team. The projections aren’t as optimistic as the Sabres faithful.

The Stats: Kane, O’Reilly and Tyler Ennis on the top line with Eichel as the second-line center will improve this team’s Corsi rating, which was one of the worst in history (37.5 percent of even-strength shots in their favor).

Metropolitan Division

New York Rangers (104 points)

The Outlook: The Rangers have come oh-so-close to lifting the Stanley Cup only to be denied in either the conference or Cup Final three of the past four seasons. A team anchored by all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is always on a shortlist of contenders, but while other Eastern teams appeared to strengthen themselves this offseason, the Blueshirts made few moves banking that young skaters like Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller can step into bigger roles in support of Rick Nash (42 goals), Derick Brassard (team-high 41 assists) and Derek Stepan (55 points). As usual, the Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi-led defense will anchor this team, and Lundqvist will be there to sweep aside any mistakes they make.

The Question: Will the Rick Nash renaissance continue? After earning the ire of the Blueshirt boo-birds with just 26 goals in exchange for $7.6 million in 2013-14, Nash responded with a career high last season, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (53) and Steven Stamkos (43). If Nash can keep scoring, it should be smooth sailing for the Rangers, even in the challenging Metro Division. But who picks up the slack if he falls off last season’s pace?

The Stats: Lundqvist now has six straight seasons with a save percentage over .920 with no signs of slowing down.

Pittsburgh Penguins (99 points)

The Outlook: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will have an elite wingman following the Peguins’ acquisition of Phil Kessel from the Maple Leafs. Stalwart defensemen Kris Letang and Olli Maatta are healthy and should make a world of difference on a blue line that was devoured by injuries heading into the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury’s past playoff shortcomings aside, he has been incredibly steady for the Penguins during the regular season. Add in Nick Bonino (acquired from Vancouver) and depth signings like former Washington Capital Eric Fehr and the Penguins are ready to reclaim their status as the game’s top team.

The Question: Can the Pens stay healthy? From Crosby to Malkin to Letang to … name someone, injuries have ravaged this team in recent seasons and stolen from what could have been a truly rare era under Crosby. Health is probably the only variable separating Pittsburgh from the playoffs this season.

The Stats: Phil Kessel and his linemates converted just 6.8 percent of even-strength shots into goals last year. That will change with Crosby and Malkin passing him the puck.

The Outlook: The Islanders are a hip pick to win the division, though not according to the projections. After taking the Capitals to seven games in last season’s playoffs, the Isles appear primed to continue their upward trend, bolstered by a bevy of young talent. Anders Lee scored 25 goals as a rookie, Brock Nelson tallied 42 points in his second season and Ryan Strome added 50 in his. Oh, and John Tavares — a top-five player by any measure — is only 26 years old. With Jaroslav Halak firmly entrenched in the crease, expect this team to make some new memories in its new home at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

The Question: Can the defense keep the lid on the opposition? Health played a pivotal role in the blue line’s playoff shortcomings (no Travis Hamonic to start and then the Caps’ Tom Wilson crushed the others), but the Isles still allowed 2.73 goals per game last season, the most of any playoff team. And that was with a respectable .914 save percentage from Halak.

The Stats: Last year was no fluke. Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, the Islanders put 52.9 percent of shot attempts in their favor, the eighth highest mark in the NHL.

Washington Capitals (99 points)

The Outlook: Alex Ovechkin emphatically showed he was still elite last season, lighting the lamp 53 times and putting him just 25 away from 500 goals in his stellar career. At age 30, he shouldn’t be slowing down quite yet, but he’ll face some extra adversity with his starting center, 2014-15 NHL assist leader Nicklas Backstrom, sidelined for the start of the season. Braden Holtby is back after a near-Vezina worthy season (41 wins, .923 save percentage) and has a new contract to match. After fortifying a defensive corps a season ago with Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, and with young contributors Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson and Andre Burakovsky ready to step into more regular roles, the Caps could be better positioned for a Cup run than any previous season of the Ovechkin era.

The Question: Washington waved goodbye to Mike Green, but also gritty goal-scorers Joel Ward (19), Eric Fehr (19) and Troy Brouwer (21), who was swapped with a goaltending prospect for St. Louis Blues winger T.J. Oshie. Can Oshie, free agent addition Justin Williams, and the team’s up-and-comers replace both the goals and the grind?

The Stats: Adding Williams and Oshie gives this team something they have lacked for years: a bona-fide set of top-six forwards. Oshie will be the one to watch: last season his line scored 3.2 even-strength goals per 60 minutes but just 2.2 without him.

Columbus Blue Jackets (97 points)

The Outlook: The Blue Jackets have yet to make it beyond the first round of the playoffs as a franchise, but that’s unlikely to last much longer. Columbus added to a talented young core that revolves around 23-year-old C Ryan Johansen and LW Nick Foligno (144 points combined last season) by adding power forward Brandon Saad, a salary cap casualty from the Cup champion Blackhawks. With Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell and Toronto castoff David Clarkson capable of both bruising hits and twinkling twine, there is no shortage of firepower in front of steady goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

The Question: Is there any defense in front of Sergei Bobrovsky? The Blue Jackets’ back line is solid, though far from imposing. Jack Johnson and veteran Fedor Tyutin anchor the unit, but Columbus would love to see Ryan Murray rebound from a 12-game season in 2014-15 and become the top-four defenseman the team thought he could be when it drafted him No. 2 overall in 2012.

The Stats: During his time in Chicago, Saad put over 54 percent of shot attempts in the team’s favor when skating without Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.

Philadelphia Flyers (85 points)

The Outlook: The Flyers are a wild card. If their young forwards — like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier — ever reach the potential scouts saw in them during their draft years, Philly could be a force to be reckoned with. If no one steps up to help Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, and if the defense remains porous and relies on Steve Mason to bail it out, it’s hard to be bullish on the Bullies.

The Question: Is Mason the goalie for the Flyers, or a “Flyers Goalie”? Anyone who has tracked this franchise knows the stigma that’s kept its keepers company. Mason was terrific playing behind a team that allowed over 30 shots a game last season. If he can maintain that level of play, the Flyers could hang around. If he follows in the forgettable footprints of predecessors Ray Emery, Ilya Brzgalov, Brian Boucher, Antero Niittymaki, Robert Esche … you get the point … the season could spiral down rapidly.

The Stats: Mason set a career-high in save percentage last season. That will regress, and when coupled with an aging defense, this will be another year of missed expectations.

Carolina Hurricanes (76 points)

The Outlook: The Hurricanes aren’t in a good spot. Face-of-the-franchise Eric Staal is heading towards free agency and a big-money contract is unlikely to come from a team that needs to invest in the future more than the past, even if that past did include a Stanley Cup. Former rookie sensation Jeff Skinner regressed from a career-high 33 goals in 2013-14 to a mere 18 last season and it’s unclear if there’s much offense beyond those two. Justin Faulk is a cornerstone on the blue line, but there aren’t a lot of reliable producers on this team. Prospects Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm, No. 5 overall draft picks in 2015 and 2013 respectively, will need to provide some hope (and goals) to envision the Canes as anything more than a lottery team.

The Question: What happens with Eric Staal? The franchise is in dire need of young assets and draft picks. A reliable, proven producer — and a winner — like Staal would bring a huge bounty in a trade. But would the Canes ship out a player whose face adorns so many of their marketing materials and whose brother, Jordan, is under contract in Carolina through 2023? And would Eric, the owner of a no-trade clause, ever consent to leaving town?

The Stats: They were the league’s most unlucky team with a 97.1 PDO, so they will improve, but not enough to make a run at the best of the division.

New Jersey Devils (76 points)

The Outlook: They will play 82 hockey games this season. And more than likely, at the end of those 82 games, the Devils will have the best odds at collecting the No. 1 draft pick in the 2016 draft (though the projections favor the Arizona Coyotes for that dubious honor). There’s not a lot to like from a team that finished with the second worst shot-differential in the league last year. New Jersey’s top prospects aren’t head-turners. Its best players (yes, Patrik Elias is still playing) are on the wrong side of their prime. Some of the Devils’ other players never had a prime. It’s going to be a long season for goaltender Cory Schneider.

The Question: Can Schneider score goals? On a team whose top scorer notched just 43 points last season (hi, Adam Henrique), someone will have to.

The Stats: The Devils’ 1.75 even-strength goals per 60 were the third-fewest in the league and they generated the second-fewest shots per 60 (24.3).

Western Conference

Central Division

Chicago Blackhawks (102 points)

The Outlook: The bill finally came due for Chicago’s spending, as a post-Cup cap crunch forced out forwards Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. They successfully brought back a second-line center (Artem Anisimov) in the Saad trade, a longtime need that Brad Richards helped Band-Aid last season. Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith provide big enough cornerstones the team can lean on, even if the blue line lost some of its depth. And Jonathan Toews should continue build on his case to be considered the game’s best player. That just leaves one star unaccounted for …

The Question: Will Patrick Kane’s legal case have any impact on the season? The offseason rape accusations made against the Buffalo native linger even as the season gets under way. Kane is one of the NHL’s top goal-scorers, and the case will continue to generate unwanted attention as long as it remains open.

The Stats: The availability of Kane will influence the projection greatly, but Toews is still the league’s best all-around player. Toews scored 2.15 even-strength points per 60 minutes, added 3.97 per 60 on the power play and won 56.5 percent of his faceoffs.

St. Louis Blues (102 points)

The Outlook: The Blues claimed the Central Division ahead of the Blackhawks last season, but bowed out in the first round of the playoffs … again. The shortcoming led to a shakeup that sent T.J. Oshie to Washington for Troy Brouwer (a former Cup winner with Chicago), but the core remained otherwise unchanged. With young studs Vladimir Tarasenko (37 goals, 73 points) and Jaden Schwartz (28 goals) stepping into the spotlight and a defense that yielded the second-fewest shots per game last season, the Blues should be every bit the Stanley Cup contender they were last year.

The Question: Which are the real Blues: the powerful team that claimed the division crown or the subpar squad that got chased from the first round by the Minnesota Wild? If either Jake Allen or Brian Elliott can lock down the starting job in net with some consistently strong play – avoiding a season-long crease question — that would certainly help the Blues be the best they can be.

The Stats: The Blues don’t allow many even-strength shots on goal (26.5 per 60, third fewest last season) but have a question mark in goal with Allen, who posted a .913 save percentage in 37 games last season.

Minnesota Wild (98 points)

The Outlook: Is this the season GM Chuck Fletcher has been building for? Injuries and illness (they finally got over the Mumps) waylaid a promising team comprised of rising prospects and veteran stars like Fs Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek and D Ryan Suter. With the revelation of Devan Dubnyk in goal, the Wild have all the pieces to make a deep playoff push. But in the ultra-competitive Central Division, will that be enough?

The Question: Is the blue line too green? Beyond Suter, the Wild will rely heavily on a young blue line. Jonas Brodin looks like a fixture, but Minnesota could really use more out of former first-rounder Matt Dumba. College free agent signee Mike Reilly, who put up 39 points skating for the University of Minnesota last season, carries a lot of promise.

The Stats: Suter averaged over 29 minutes of ice time per game, but at 30 years old, fans should want to see that be reduced this season.

Nashville Predators (97 points)

The Outlook: The Predators were a very pleasant surprise in their first year following the firing of longtime bench boss Barry Trotz. Under Peter Laviolette, Nashville could have claimed the West’s top playoff seed if not for a six-game skid to end the regular season. Built from the net out, as ever, Pekka Rinne will anchor one of the NHL’s stingiest teams in terms of goals-allowed, with defensemen Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Seth Jones skating in front of him.

The Question: Is the offense sustainable? Mike Ribeiro returns after a 62-point season (and settling a sexual assault suit with a former nanny) and Filip Forsberg will look to build on a breakout campaign in which he scored 26 goals and 37 assists. If their play continues at that pace, the Preds’ pack of 20-goal scorers (James Neal, Craig Smith, Colin Wilson) could carry Nashville back to the postseason.

The Stats: Shea Weber is showing signs of slowing down, but he still registered an even-strength point on 40.3 percent of the goals he was on the ice for, his highest rate since 2010-11.

Dallas Stars (95 points)

The Outlook: It was a busy offseason in Big D, as the Stars added defenseman Johnny Oduya and two-way forward Patrick Sharp from the cap-strapped Blackhawks and then brought in netminder Antti Niemi to shore up a leaky crease. Starter Kari Lehtonen finished 2014-15 with a .903 save percentage, a big reason the Stars couldn’t capitalize on top-10 puck possession stats.

The Question: Can John Klingberg become an elite two-way defenseman? As a rookie the 23-year-old scored 11 goals to go along with 29 assists and generated buzz that he could approach the same level as star Swedish D-man Erik Karlsson in Ottawa.

The Stats: Oduya is a nice addition to a defensive corps that already has Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers with Julius Honka waiting in the wings. According to War on Ice’s goals above replacement metric, Oduya saved the Blackhawks 2.87 goals just on his shot suppression alone.

Winnipeg Jets (93 points)

The Outlook: It says volumes about the strength of the Central that the Jets could make the playoffs in 2015 and might be considered the weakest link in the division’s lineup of teams (though not by our projections). When the Jets dealt Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres, they parted ways with their most recognizable name. If Winnipeg is to make another postseason appearance and re-ignite a memorable home crowd come playoff time, it will take a true team effort from their top quartet of forwards (Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele) and maintained blue-line production from big Dustin Byfuglien.

The Question: Can Odrej Pavelec repeat his success from last season? The goalie’s save percentages since 2011-12: .906, .905, .901, .920. One of those things is not like the others.

The Stats: They sent sent Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo in exchange for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and prospects. Kane’s absence will especially be felt: he is one of 17 skaters to play at least 300 games and average 3.3 or more shots per game since his rookie year.

Colorado Avalanche (89 points)

The Outlook: The Avs have bobbed between a stellar season in 2013-14 and lottery campaign in 2014-15. Which will we get this season? The ups and downs probably shouldn’t be a surprise for a young team built around stud prospects like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon, but more will be expected under coach Patrick Roy after reworking their blue line by adding Nikita Zadorov in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, Francois Beauchemin in free agency and Brandon Gormley in a deal with Arizona.

The Question: Will the blue-line bandaging be enough to stabilize a unit that helped allow the fifth-most shots per game last season? Not even goalie Semyon Varlamov’s .921 save percentage could staunch the flow enough to keep Colorado in contention.

The Stats: Only Buffalo did a worse job of putting even-strength shot attempts in their favor last season (43.2 percent).

Anaheim Ducks (106 points)

The Outlook: The Ducks enter the season with Stanley Cup expectations and their offseason just seemed to strengthen that standing, particularly the additions of defenseman Kevin Bieksa and second-line scorer Carl Hagelin, upgrades both. With Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler down the middle and perennial top-tier goal-scorer Corey Perry on the wing, Bruce Boudreau’s crew may be the West’s best-suited team to challenge for the Cup.

The Question: Is Boudreau the coach to get the Ducks the Cup? Fair or not, the bench boss has been criticized for playoff shortcomings with stacked rosters. Is it him? Is it bad luck? NHL coaches don’t usually get the benefit of finding out if they’re just the victim of a small sample size. The pressure will be on from Game 1.

The Stats: The Ducks won nine more games than their goal differential suggests they should have, but they were aggressive this offseason, bringing in Bieksa, Hagelin, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Santorelli and Chris Stewart to make another Cup run.

Los Angeles Kings (96 points)

The Outlook: A season removed from claiming the Cup, the Kings missed the postseason altogether and watched as three of their players were arrested for transgressions that ranged from domestic violence to drug smuggling. Safe to say, the Kings are eager to move on. With one of the league’s top goaltenders (Jonathan Quick), centers (Anze Kopitar) and defensemen (Drew Doughty) it would be stunning to see this squad fall short of the playoffs a second straight season.

The Question: What does Milan Lucic have to offer? The power forward comes West after the Bruins dealt him away during Boston’s offseason makeover. At his best, he’s an intimidating presence that can beat you with his goal-scoring or his physicality. It figures he’ll be motivated as well as he plays for a contract next year.

The Stats: Adding power forward Lucic and top-four defenseman Christian Ehrhoff will bolster last year’s best puck possession team (55.4 Corsi percentage).

Vancouver Canucks (96 points)

The Outlook: Pegged for a step back last season, the Canucks instead earned a surprising playoff berth by finishing second in the Pacific. The Sedin twins show no signs of slowing down, with Daniel and Henrik posting 76 and 73 points respectively in 2014-15. Once devoid of young talent, the Canucks are optimistic that Bo Horvat (13 goals as a rookie) can take a big leap forward and bolster a roster with few scoring options.

The Question: Can Radim Vrbata replicate his 31-goal season? The journeyman has topped 30 goals just twice in a career that began in 2001. The last time he did it was 2011-12 when his shooting percentage of 15.1 percent bettered his career average by over five points. He was only 2.1 points over his average last season, does that make it more sustainable?

The Stats: The Sedin twins spent 1,021 of their 1,107 5-on-5 minutes together, scoring over half (52.8 percent) of goals in Vancouver’s favor. Why break up a good thing?

Calgary Flames (95 points)

The Outlook: A year ago at this time the Flames were left for dead with a barren farm system and little optimism for a rapid turnaround. Then they advanced to the second round of the playoffs. The key to sustaining that success will likely be one of the NHL’s top defensive corps, which got even better after they fleeced the Bruins for Dougie Hamilton. Add him to Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman and the rich get richer. Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan rekindled a dormant offense and the latter two are young enough to expect grander returns in the season ahead.

The Question: Who’s the goalie? Jonas Hiller and Kari Ramo split time a season ago, with Hiller earning the lion’s share of the starts. However, Ramo will open as the team’s starter Wednesday night against the Canucks.

The Stats: Gaudreau, Monahan and Sam Bennett could help this team outrun the bugaboo of extremely good puck luck from last season (fifth highest PDO, 101.0).

San Jose Sharks (93 points)

The Outlook: The Sharks sat out the postseason for the first time since 2003, but didn’t blow up the roster in the offseason. A few tweaks – bringing in veteran grinder Joel Ward and blueliner Paul Martin – were really the only redecorating GM Doug Wilson did to a roster now led by Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, as franchise fixtures Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (now both 35) fade into the background a bit.

The Question: Did the Sharks shore up the roster enough to gain any ground in the West? The most notable move was adding 25-year-old goalie Martin Jones to replace the outgoing Antti Niemi. Jones will start for the Sharks, but can he replicate his rookie-season save percentage of .934 as the Kings’ backup in 2013-14 while in a starting role?

The Stats: The Sharks added Ward, who got third-line ice time but produced like a top-six forward for Washington last year.

Edmonton Oilers (79 points)

The Outlook: Connor McDavid. Connor McDavid. Connor McDavid. It’s all about the uber-rookie taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft. He’s been compared to Sidney Crosby and dubbed “Connor McJesus,” and if 18-year-old and fellow No. 1 overall picks Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can finally get the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the hysteria could climb even higher.

The Question: The Oilers selected in the top 10 every season since 2009, including No. 1 overall thrice heading into the 2014-15 season … and still ended up with one of the league’s worst records and another No. 1 pick. The talent simply hasn’t jelled, yet. Can McDavid be the player that brings it all together?

The Stats: Good news: the Connor McDavid era is finally here! Bad news: this team is more than a Connor McDavid away from being a serious playoff contender. After adjusting their margin of victory for strength of schedule, the Oilers were 1.01 goals per game below average, third worst in the league behind the Sabres and Coyotes.

Arizona Coyotes (71 points)

The Outlook: The Coyotes boast one of the NHL’s top defensemen in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. But that’s about all of their easily identifiable stars heading into a season likely spent identifying which players – like prospects Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Dylan Strome – are worthy of joining the Swedish defenseman in the Coyotes’ core.

The Question: Who will be worse, the Coyotes, ‘Canes or Devils? Strictly looking at rosters, those three teams seem destined to battle for the league’s worst record this season. Will their reward be a draft pick as sweet as Connor McDavid?

The Stats: Ekman-Larsson is one of 11 blueliners to skate over 2,000 minutes and average at least three shots per game.

The Method

To arrive at each team’s projected point total we start the team’s true talent level from last year. So much goes into a win-loss record that it is important to regress their performance to the mean in order to get a better sense of just how good they should have been.

Tom Tango posted a method for figuring out how many games it takes before we see luck and talent achieve equal weighting in the standings. Over the past three full, 82-game seasons, I found it to be 46 games for the NHL. So when you want to regress an NHL’s team win percentage to the mean at any point during the season, take 46 games of 0.500 hockey (23 wins) and add them to the actual record. We then re-proportion that number for an 82-game schedule.

Next we need to factor in personnel changes. For these projections I am using War on Ice’s wins above replacement from last year and adding or subtracting them from the win total, making adjustments for ice time when needed. For example, the Pittsburgh Penguins added Phil Kessel, who produced a negative goals above replacement value for the Leafs last year (minus-0.41). So, while he is a big pick up for Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, it likely won’t turn them into a 50-win team. Even Kessel at his best is worth less than three wins. — Neil Greenberg

Loading...