New NHL season brings excitement for contenders and challengers


Tim Moran, Staff Writer

Autumn is always exciting for sports fans, as the NHL, NBA, and NFL all begin their seasons. As the trees change colors and the leaves begin to fall, many fans instead turn their attention to the ice – that is, the National Hockey League.  As its 32 teams begin their long journeys, let’s take a look at what to expect this year.

Conference Overviews

Western Conference

Another year, another championship for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Western Conference. Chicago hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup for the third time in six years. With last years win, the trophy belonged to a Western Conference team seven out of the last nine years, and four in row. Those last four cups have been won alternately by the Hawks and Kings, although the Kings faded out of the playoff picture last year due to their lack of depth. This gave way to the feisty Anaheim Ducks, who narrowly missed the Stanley Cup after taking the Blackhawks to seven games in the Conference Championship. Led by its strong offensive attack, Anaheim is poised to be contenders again. In addition to the Ducks, the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues have been consistent playoff teams and could break out this year. The Sharks and Wild also should not be ruled out, as their experienced offenses could lead to a playoff run.

Eastern Conference

With the Tampa Bay Lightning’s explosive offense coming back this year, it’s hard not to see them having another great season. However, division rival Montreal Canadiens, led by outstanding goaltending, look to overtake the Lightning and win the Atlantic Division. In addition, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Red Wings or the Bruins have success as they look to capitalize on their experience and veteran talent. Over in the Metropolitan Division, it figures to be a close battle between four teams: the Rangers, Islanders, Penguins and Capitals. While the latter two feature attacks spearheaded by superstars, the Rangers rely on goaltending and the Islanders utilize their depth and speed. However it goes down, the Metropolitan Division figures to hold much of the strength in the East.

New Rules and New Faces

The 2015 NHL Draft featured top pick Connor McDavid, who is easily the most highly touted prospect since Sidney Crosby, even drawing comparisons from Crosby himself. With McDavid going first to Edmonton, the Oilers are expected to improve this year and in the coming years build a playoff core around the young center. In addition, the Buffalo Sabres drafted another stellar center, Jack Eichel, who also figures to develop along with the Sabres team.

While new players are certainly exciting, the NHL also introduced different overtime rules and a new, limited coaches’ challenge. Instead of the former 4-on-4 format, games this year that go to overtime will be played as a 3-on-3. It figures to make the overtimes much faster-paced and allow for more goals, which in turn greatly reduces the amount of shootouts fans will witness this year. Also, coaches can now challenge potential goals decided because of goalie interference or offsides violations. Although these types of plays don’t happen frequently, it will help get a few more calls right, which is all fans and coaches can ask for.

In-Depth Predictions

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan- As mentioned before, it figures to be a four-way race. However, the Pittsburgh Penguins added Phil Kessel to complement their superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which should vault the Pens into the top spot. However, if any one of the aforementioned players go down with injuries, as is the usual unfortunate case for the Penguins, it will be tough for them to remain on top. After that, it’s a toss-up between the Rangers, Capitals, and Islanders.

Atlantic Division– Similar to last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning should be able to dominate with their dynamic offense, who scored a league-high 259 goals last year. Steven Stamkos is predicted to be a frontrunner for many offensive awards, and Ben Bishop should continue to progress as a goalie. If Jack Eichel blossoms into a superstar early, it’s also possible the Buffalo Sabres could make an impact.  

Western Conference

Central Division– With the experienced core of Toews, Kane, Crawford, Keith, Hossa, and Seabrook, the Chicago Blackhawks figure to win the division in 2015. Although two of their Cup wins have come after not winning the division, no other Central team has gotten substantially better, so the Hawks have a great shot this year. However, the Blues, Wild, and Predators all have the experience and power to possibly overtake the Hawks.

Pacific Division– With their narrow defeat in the conference championships last year, the Ducks figure to have success again this year. Led by stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim has the firepower to dominate again. Although their mediocre defense could pose a problem, coach Bruce Boudreau has the playing and coaching experience to weather any storm that comes the Ducks’ way. Similar to Buffalo, Edmonton’s stud rookie Connor McDavid could bring big success to the Oilers, although it probably won’t happen for a year or more.

Final Thoughts

With established contenders and players ready to go, and new rules and players set to bring a fresh look to the ice, a great mix of the old and the new is expected this year. However it plays out, the next seven months figure to bring lots of excitement to hockey fans around North America.