Photo: Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Each day for seven days, I will predict the top 3 teams in each division, followed by the wildcard teams, and eventually I will be predicting the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs. Today, I am predicting the wildcard teams in each conference (day 5/7).
If you haven’t read the last two articles, read them now.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning will be a good team. They have Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan returning after they both missed last season. Tampa Bay also have Andrei Vasilevsky ready to play his first full season as a starting goaltender. Nikita Kucherov will look to repeat the highly productive season he had last year. The Lightning had a decent offseason also; they made a big trade acquiring star defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev and a conditional 2nd round pick from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Jonathan Drouin and a 6th round pick. They signed Chris Kunitz, Dan Girardi, Jamie McBain, and Mat Bodie, just to name a few. They lost Jason Garrison in the expansion draft, but didn’t lose an important player in free agency. Tampa also re-signed Petr Budaj, Michael Bournival, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Andrej Sustr, and more.
Why do I not have Tampa Bay as a top 3 Atlantic Division team? I think Steven Stamkos could cause trouble and have a slow start to the season. It’s also Andrei Vasilevsky’s first season as a starting goaltender. If he can have average numbers to above average numbers and Stamkos can return to form closer to the start of the season, Tampa Bay has a strong shot at any playoff position, possibly even 1st in the Atlantic. The Atlantic will be close with 4 teams battling for a division position. Anything can happen, the Bolts could be a Stanley Cup contender once we’ve seen them play, especially with a similar season from Victor Hedman.
— NHL (@NHL) August 26, 2017
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last season, the Blue Jackets surprised everybody, winning 17 straight games and finishing 3rd in the Metropolitan division, before losing to the Penguins in the first round. Cam Atkinson reached his career high in points with 62 and Alex Wennberg had 59 points in his rookie year(He is an RFA this summer). Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy with a 41-17-5 record, with a 2.06GAA and a .931SV%. Columbus lost depth players in free agency but signed Andre Benoit and Cameron Gaunce. They also re-signed Joonas Korpisalo and Jordan Schroeder. Columbus also signed Doyle Somerby to an ELC. They also made a swap that sent Brandon Saad (and more) to the Chicago Blackhawks for Artemi Panarin(and more).
The Blue Jackets are in the race for a top 3 Metropolitan Division spot. Losing their depth players could cost them, as depth is extremely important in an 82 game NHL season. Columbus will now rely more on Seth Jones, Atkinson, Artemi Panarin, Bobrovsky and Nick Foligno, but can they carry the load? They did it last season (minus Panarin), but without the 17 game win streak (that many think was just a fluke) the Jackets would’ve missed the playoffs.There’s no doubt in my mind that Columbus will make the playoffs. They have the team, they just need to make it passed the first round.
If you haven’t the last two articles, read them now:
1. Minnesota Wild
The Wild could’ve won their division last season. Instead, they finished 3 points behind the Blackhawks, but ended up losing in the 1st round. Last season was Bruce Boudreau’s first with the Wild. Minnesota had their win total go up from 38-33-9 in 2015-2016 to 49-25-6 last season. This offseason, the Wild have made some moves. They acquired Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno from Buffalo in exchange for Jason Pominville, Marco Scandella and a 4th. They notably signed Matt Cullen, Kyle Quincey, Landon Ferraro and Cal O’Reilly in free agency. They re-signed many players, including Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter.
I don’t see the Wild doing any better than they did last season. Actually, I see them getting around 95-99 points this upcoming season. Minnesota could surprise us all, and with another stellar season from Devan Dubnyk, they could be a darkhorse contender. If Eric Staal can have a similar season, and if their important players can play their part, the Wild are a playoff team for sure.
— Puck Podcast (@PuckPodcast) June 30, 2017
2. St. Louis Blues
The Blues nearly made the Conference Finals last season, but ended up losing to the Nashville Predators in game 6 of the second round. St. Louis lost many players to free agency, and only managed to sign Chris Thorburn, Beau Bennett and Nate Prosser. They re-signed Colton Parayko, Magnus Paajarvi, Oskar Sundqvist and more along the way. St. Louis also signed Klim Kostin to an ELC. They didn’t improve too much, but didn’t regress too much as well.
As most fans of the NHL have known, the St. Louis Blues have never won a Stanley Cup. This will be their first full season without Kevin Shattenkirk. If Vladimir Tarasenko can be an offensive leader and put up 70+ points for the 4th year in a row, the Blues have a shot at the wildcard or maybe even a division spot. Alex Pietrangelo will need to be a defensive leader, and Jake Allen has to be on his game. The window for the Blues will likely be open for at least few more seasons, as it doesn’t appear to be closing anytime soon.
What do you think of these ratings? Comment below and stay tuned for tomorrow as I will be prediciting the first two rounds of the playoffs. Follow @EndAroundSports on Twitter and Instagram for sports news.