The 2015-16 NHL season is slated to begin today, and there are a number of teams that are expected to perform well. At the top of that list is the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. After beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in a riveting six-game series, spirits seem to be at an all-time high for the Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cups since 2009.
However, once the offseason began, allegations hit star player Patrick Kane as he was identified as the target of a sexual assault case in early August. Although there is no definitive answer to his case thus far, Kane has been practicing with the Blackhawks and appears poised to start the season with his team. So, for the time being, this powerhouse of a team led by other superstars like Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa ought to tear through the Western Conference just like last year.
On the other side stands the Stanley Cup losers, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The team will be bringing back most of their key players from last year, including top goal-scorer Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson and goaltender Ben Bishop.
Aside from the two Stanley Cup teams, the New York Rangers and Islanders are two other teams poised for success in the 2015-16 campaign.
The Rangers, having advanced to at least the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the past two seasons, has shaken up their team a bit. The team will be without veteran right wing Martin St. Louis who retired at the age of 40. Perennial all-star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will be in goal, and is always a sure bet to hold down the opposition. However, the team will need Rick Nash to revert to his classic, goal-scoring self, and for captain Ryan McDonagh to anchor the defense. If they cannot provide the leadership this team needs, they might risk being an average team with a way above average salary.
On the other end, the newly renovated New York Islanders will play this season in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after leaving their long-time home of Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. Last season, the Islanders cracked into the playoffs behind very strong play from captain and Hart Trophy candidate John Tavares, surprise goaltender Jaroslav Halak and newly acquired defenders Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. And, after signing both of them and center Brock Nelson to extensive deals, the Islanders ought to climb up the ranks of the Eastern Conference for years to come.
On the opposite side of the country, the Anaheim Ducks have prepared for a solid season after finishing tied for the most points in the Western Conference last year. The Ducks do possess some of the best runners on offense, including Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They added to this powerhouse by acquiring former New York Ranger left wing Carl Hagelin. However, if the Ducks cannot contain on defense, scoring goals will become a reliability the team may not be able to afford.
Another team that emerged from the West last season was the St. Louis Blues, the only other team in the Western Conference to record 109 points. This team was paced on offense by Vladimir Tarasenko, T.J. Oshie and David Backes. However, with Oshie leaving for the Washington Capitals, it will be hard for this team to find opportunities to score.
Now, on the Capitals, a team that advanced to the second round in last season’s playoffs, Oshie adds to a winning tradition over in the nation’s capital. He joins perennial elite goal scorer Alex Ovechkin on what will be considered one of the most lethal offenses in the NHL. Other prominent players vital to the Capitals’ success this season include goaltender Braeden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. So long as all these pieces remain, the Capitals should be a serious force to contend with in the East.
A final team that is worth noting as steady competition in the Eastern Conference and shows no slowing down this season is the Montreal Canadiens. The anchor of this team is goaltender Carey Price who won last year’s Hart Trophy for most valuable player. Along with defenseman P.K. Subban, this team’s defense is unparalleled, and Max Pacioretty and Alexander Semin will surely hold down the fort on offense. This all-around talented team is not leaving the top of the Eastern Conference anytime soon.
Regardless of what team ends up on top, this NHL season will surely be one for the books, and it all starts with these four games tonight: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens at 7 p.m., Chicago Blackhawks vs. New York Rangers at 8 p.m., Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks at 10 p.m. and Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks at 10:30 p.m.