At first glance, the NHL’s Atlantic Division bears some resemblance to what many thought the NFL’s AFC South would – and, truth be told, still could – be: A division that’s decidedly top-heavy.
*Tampa Bay Lightning:
2014-15 record: 50-24-8.
Coach: Jon Cooper.
Player to Watch: Steven Stamkos.
2015-16 outlook: Essentially the team that came within two wins of winning the franchise’s second Stanley Cup returns intact. The Lightning will come into this season as one of the favorites to win the Cup, and with just cause.
2014-15 record: 50-22-10.
Coach: Michel Therrien.
Player to Watch: Alex Semin.
2015-16 outlook: Has it really been 23 years since Les Habitants last claimed Lord Stanley? Sacre bleu! Montreal has cornerstones in goaltender Carey Price, defenseman P.K. Subban and left wing Max Pacioretty, but questions about overall team goal scoring and a below average power play remain.
*Detroit Red Wings:
2014-15 record: 43-25-14.
Coach: Jeff Blashill.
Player to Watch: Petr Mrazek.
2015-16 outlook: The Red Wings are an intriguing amalgamation of promising youth, experienced veterans and a first-year NHL coach. Still, the franchise’s playoff expectation remains.
2014-15 record: 38-29-15.
Coach: Dale Tallon.
Player to Watch: Aleksander Barkov.
2015-16 outlook: A young, improving team, the Panthers possess future cornerstones in Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Brandon Pirri and Aaron Ekblad. But is there enough for the Panthers to sneak into an Eastern Conference playoff berth?
2014-15 record: 43-26-13.
Coach: Dave Cameron.
Player to Watch: Erik Karlsson.
2015-16 outlook: The Senators’ improbable run to the playoffs was one of the fun stories that came out of the 2014-15 season. But was it a fluke? Management appears to believe it wasn’t as Ottawa returns virtually intact.
2014-15 record: 41-27-14.
Coach: Claude Julien.
Players to Watch: The defense corps as a whole.
2015-16 outlook: What do you do when your team finishes exactly two points out of a playoff spot. If you’re Boston Bruins management, you engage in a complete overhaul. Will it be a case of bold decision making or was it panicking for panicking’s sake?
2014-15 record: 23-51-8.
Coach: Dan Bylsma.
Player to Watch: Jack Eichel.
2015-16 outlook: For two seasons, the Sabres embraced a scorched earth philosophy as part of an organizational-wide rebuild. The goal in 2015-16 will be to take the first steps toward what they hope is a bright future.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
2014-15 record: 30-44-8.
Coach: Mike Babcock.
Players to Watch: Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner.
2015-16 outlook: The Leafs have not won the Cup since 1967. That won’t change in 2015-16 as this season will be about mapping the franchise’s future.
Nothing stays static forever. Just look at the NHL’s Metropolitan Division for proof. The division was roundly mocked for its weakness just two seasons ago. Coming into 2015-16, it might be among the NHL’s best, along with the Central.
2014-15 record: 45-26-11.
Coach: Barry Trotz.
Players to Watch: T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams.
2015-16 outlook: The Capitals have not advanced to the Eastern Conference Final during Alex Ovechkin’s 10 years in Washington. That may change in 2015-16, as a squad that finished with 101 points and reached the second round of the playoffs added top-six right wings T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams.
*New York Rangers:
2014-15 record: 53-22-7.
Coach: Alain Vigneault.
Player To Watch: Chris Kreider.
2015-16 outlook: Immediately after the Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Final, top defenseman Dan Girardi mused that the window may be closing on the Rangers’ Golden Era. Unless things go drastically wrong, New York will be a playoff team. But can this group finally win the franchise’s fifth Cup?
2014-15 record: 43-27-12.
Coach: Mike Johnston.
Player To Watch: Phil Kessel.
2015-16 outlook: In his long-anticipated follow up to 2007’s “There Will Be Blood,” director Paul Thomas Anderson has signed on to direct There Will Be Goals: The Story of the 2015-16 Penguins. It will star Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
*New York Islanders:
2014-15 record: 47-28-7.
Coach: Jack Capuano.
Player To Watch: Barclays Center.
2015-16 outlook: No pressure, Isles. You are moving into New York’s hippest borough following a 101-point season and the franchise’s last playoff berth while playing home games in Nassau County. All that’s being asked of you is to win a round despite not making any additions to the lineup.
*Columbus Blue Jackets:
2014-15 record: 42-35-5.
Coach: Todd Richards.
Player To Watch: Brandon Saad.
2015-16 outlook: By the end of the 2014-15 regular season, the Blue Jackets pointed to an almost unfathomable amount of first half injuries to significant roster contributors as a reason they missed the playoffs. They’re betting on better health this time around.
2014-15 record: 33-31-18.
Coach: Dave Hakstol.
Players To Watch: The defense corps as a whole.
2015-16 outlook: Who would have thought years of wild, uncontrolled, profligate spending would have serious consequences in a hard cap league? The Flyers have eight defensemen on one-way contracts, a rapidly declining Vincent Lecavalier and no buyers for those assets.
New Jersey Devils:
2014-15 record: 32-36-14.
Coach: John Hynes.
Player To Watch: Cory Schneider.
2015-16 outlook: Legendary New Jerseyan Frank Sinatra crooned “The Saddest Thing Of All.” It wasn’t about this edition of the Devils, but it might as well have been.
2014-15 record: 30-41-11.
Coach: Bill Peters.
Players To Watch: Eric Staal and Cam Ward.
2015-16 outlook: Repeat after me: (Likely top pick) Austin Matthews.
The current iteration of the National Hockey League’s Central Division can trace its ancestral roots to the since-reimagined Norris Division. Unlike the Norris, whose games often resembled UFC pay-per-views instead of hockey games, teams in the Central possess size, skill and speed. Oh, did we mention the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks are in the division? Yeah, they are.
*St. Louis Blues:
2014-15 record: 51-24-7.
Coach: Ken Hitchcock.
Player To Watch: Vladimir Tarasenko.
2015-16 outlook: Three 100-point plus seasons three out of the last four years – 2012-13 was a lockout year, remember – haven’t meant anything in terms of playoff success for the Blues. Is this the year they go on a long run?
2014-15 record: 41-31-10.
Coach: Lindy Ruff.
Player To Watch: Johnny Oduya.
2015-16 outlook: The Stars could score in 2014-15. It was just that the Stars couldn’t prevent anyone from scoring. The additions of Patrick Sharp, Stephen Johns and Johnny Oduya should allow the Stars to still be able to score while limiting goals against. In theory.
2014-15 record: 43-26-13.
Coach: Paul Maurice.
Players To Watch: Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.
2015-16 outlook: The Jets took a significant step forward in 2014-15 by qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There should be another white out in Winnipeg this spring, as the Jets play a style of hockey that is equal parts heavy, fast and defensively responsible.
2014-15 record: 48-28-6.
Coach: Joel Quenneville.
Player To Watch: Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Trevor Daley.
2015-16 outlook: The core of the three-time Cup champion Blackhawks is still in place. But the off-season losses of Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards and playoff contributor Antoine Vermette are significant.
2014-15 record: 47-25-10.
Coach: Peter Laviolette.
Player To Watch: Filip Forsberg.
2015-16 outlook: The Predators have strong goaltending, one of the best top-two defense pairs in the NHL and two-thirds of what should be a top scoring line. But without legitimate centers, the Predators aren’t going to make much, if any, noise in the playoffs.
2014-15 record: 46-28-8.
Coach: Mike Yeo.
Player To Watch: Nino Niederreiter.
2015-16 outlook: What is Devan Dubnyk? Is he the goaltender who went 27-9-2 in 39 regular season games, or is he the .908 save percentage in 10 playoff games last spring. GM Chuck Fletcher made a six-year, $26 million bet on the former.
2014-15 record: 39-31-12.
Coach: Patrick Roy.
Players To Watch: The defense corps as a whole.
2015-16 outlook: Prior to the 2014-15 season, analytics suggested the Avalanche would not be a playoff team. And they were not. The analytics suggest the Avalanche won’t be a playoff team in 2015-16.
It’s not that the Pacific is a one-team division, but there is a significant drop off after the Ducks. Looking to the future, the division should be much improved as Edmonton, Calgary and Arizona are engaged in rebuilding projects.
2014-15 record: 51-24-7.
Coach: Bruce Boudreau.
Players To Watch: Frederik Andersen and John Gibson.
2015-16 outlook: It’s not exactly Cup or Bust in Anaheim, but many believe this will be the year the Ducks represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
2014-15 record: 45-30-7.
Coach: Bob Hartley.
Players To Watch: Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo.
2015-16 outlook: The Flames were ahead of schedule in (A) qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and (B) winning a round. Much like Colorado prior to last year, the analytical numbers don’t forecast success this year. Unlike the Avs, the Flames added a significant piece in defenseman Dougie Hamilton to an already strong defense unit.
*Los Angeles Kings:
2014-15 record: 40-27-15.
Coach: Darryl Sutter.
Player To Watch: Christian Ehrhoff.
2015-16 outlook: What to get a two-time Stanley Cup champion that missed qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs by a mere two points? Left wing Milan Lucic, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Good luck with that, Western Conference opponents.
San Jose Sharks:
2014-15 record: 40-33-9.
Coach: Peter DeBoer.
Players To Watch: Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.
2015-16 outlook: Think of the Sharks as an aging, wounded gunfighter trying to make one last stand. But is there enough in the chamber to finally get to a Stanley Cup Final? Or have the Sharks as we know them simply been outmatched by younger, stronger, faster rivals?
2014-15 record: 49-29-5.
Coach: Willie Desjardins.
Players To Watch: Bo Horvat and Linden Vey.
2015-16 outlook: The Canucks may have gotten heavier and meaner with the additions of Brandon Sutter and Brandon Prust. But it’s not likely they will be better than the team that finished fifth in the Western Conference last year before losing to Calgary in the first round.
2014-15 record: 24-44-14.
Coach: Todd McLellan.
Player To Watch: Connor McDavid.
2015-16 outlook: No pressure, Connor. All Oilers fans want from you is to be Gretzky 2.0. Complete with five Cup championships. So, you got this, right?
2014-15 record: 24-50-8.
Coach: Dave Tippett.
Players To Watch: Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.
2015-16 outlook: Like the Hurricanes, the Coyotes enter this season firmly entrenched in the Austin Matthews Sweepstakes. Unlike the Hurricanes, Arizona has ready-made line mates to play with the prospective first overall pick in next June’s draft in Max Domi and Anthony Duclair.
*indicates playoff team.