Haggerty's 2015-16 predictions: Lightning will strike
1. Tampa Bay Lightning -- A ton of talent with guys like Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman, and a team that should still be hungry after falling short in the Stanley Cup Final.
2. Montreal Canadiens -- The Habs still have P.K. Subban and Carey Price in the prime of their careers, and that’s a good place to start with Max Pacioretty taking over as team captain
3. Detroit Red Wings -- A lot of questions about this team with a new coach (Jeff Blashill), and Pavel Datsyuk again coming off an injury, but it still feels like a playoff team in Motown even without the genius of Mike Babcock.
4. Ottawa Senators -- Nobody could have foreseen the run the Sens went on after installing Andrew Hammond (a.k.a. the Hamburglar) in net, but they also have dangerous players like Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman along with emerging center Kyle Turris. This group could go on a playoff run for a few years, particularly if Bobby Ryan can figure it out there.
5. Boston Bruins -- I just don’t see the Bruins making the playoffs this season, given their defense corps and the fact that they have so many new faces. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will battle to stay healthy all year. But they’ll be around the eighth playoff spot, and could surprise if a lot of things go right for them.
6. Florida Panthers -- The Panthers made a nice step forward with guys like Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and company, and the solid goaltending of Roberto Luongo. Did they do enough to get into the playoffs this season? Maybe, but they’ll do it by relying even more on youth replacing guys like Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall and Brad Boyes. That can be dicey.
7. Buffalo Sabres -- Tim Murray has put together a nucleus that’s going to shock some of their divisional brethren, and certainly steal points this season. Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel is a great core with which to start, and they could be dangerous if Robin Lehner is ready for prime time between the pipes.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs -- Brendan Shanahan and Mike Babcock look like they’re prepared to ride this ship to the bottom this season, and perhaps get rewarded around draft time. It will be another rough year in Toronto, with entertaining yarns from Babcock distracting everybody from how bad the team is going to be.
1. Washington Capitals -- Alexander Ovechkin is in his Russian sniping prime, the Capitals have an excellent coach in Barry Trotz, and they play a physical, punishing style with guys like Brooks Orpik and Tom Wilson. This team will be a handful all season.
2. New York Islanders -- I believe in the power of John Tavares and Johnny Boychuk, provided they get decent goaltending from Jaroslav Halak again this season. We shall see about that one.
3. New York Rangers -- The Rangers have lost a bit due to age and the salary cap, but they still have superior goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist, a big, strong, talented group of defensemen and guys that can fly up and down the ice. They should still be a playoff team, for sure.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins -- The Pens could have one of the all-time great power plays with Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, but they still aren’t exactly gritty, geared toward two-way play or blessed with clutch goaltending. It’s the same old problems in Pitt.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets -- If they can stay healthy -- they couldn’t last season -- the Blue Jackets should be a playoff team that could surprise. The goaltending is good with Sergei Bobrovsky, and they have high end, gritty talent with guys like Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell.
6. Philadelphia Flyers -- Offense shouldn’t be a problem with guys like Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds around, but Steve Mason and their defense corps continue to be very average.
7. New Jersey Devils -- Change has finally started to arrive with Ray Shero taking control from outgoing president Lou Lamoriello, but this old, tired roster is a work in progress given what the new guy inherited. At least they’re building a Martin Brodeur statue, so they’ve got that going for them in Newark.
8. Carolina Hurricanes -- Another team in the middle of a rebuilding phase, and with some perceived ownership issues going on as well. There’s a lot of chatter that Jeff Skinner or Eric Staal could be moving this season. That’s not a great recipe for success.
1. Chicago Blackhawks -- The Blackhawks will have the Patrick Kane thing swirling around all season, but still boast plenty of talent and a winning core group of players. It’s hard to bet against them.
2. Nashville Predators -- The Predators have arguably the best goalie in the NHL in Pekka Rinne, and a guy that’s overdue for a Norris Trophy in Shea Weber. They’ve got depth and firepower up front as well. At this point it’s about getting results in the postseason, because this team should be one of the best during the regular season.
3. St. Louis Blues -- Vladimir Tarasenko leads a talented group that lost T.J. Oshie from its ranks and still can’t seem to settle on a goaltender. Sounds like another good regular season followed by playoff heartbreak in St. Louis.
4. Minnesota Wild -- Is Devan Dubnyk a goalie that got on to the mother of all hot streaks last season, or is he the real deal? That is the eternal question, with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise looking to build a team that can go on a playoff run.
5. Winnipeg Jets -- The Jets are big, fast and talented with the taste of playoffs in their mouths. Can they repeat again this season in a Central Division that’s once again extremely tough? That’s a million-dollar question with talented teams like the Avs and Stars nipping at their heels. They may fall back a bit.
6. Dallas Stars -- This team is the equivalent of a Mountain Dew soda: All fizz, caffeine and sugar rush to create great bursts of offensive energy. But there’s no real hockey nutritional value to this team: it’s all flash and no substance. That means no playoffs.
7. Colorado Avalanche -- The Avs surprised two years ago, and then looked like a disorganized mess last season. There’s too much talent for this team to struggle like that, so you have to wonder if Patrick Roy is the right guy for the job.
1. Los Angeles Kings –- The Kings will be back on top after a one-year hiatus where they took a breath, and battled through off-ice issues with guys like Mike Richards, Slava Voynov and Jarrett Stoll. Milan Lucic will be a beast in Los Angeles.
2. Anaheim Ducks –- Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have this team on the verge of doing some great things, but now they need to push it over the top. Ryan Kesler helped a great deal last season, and I love the addition of a guy like Kevin Bieksa. They just need consistent goaltending.
3. Calgary Flames –- Arguably the best D-corps in the league after their grand-theft larceny of Dougie Hamilton from Boston, but their goaltending could be their undoing if Jonas Hiller can’t handle the gig.
4. Vancouver Canucks –- The Canucks still have some talent here, but they’re in a tough, tough division with extremely top heavy teams. At least they managed to improve their dressing room vibe by trading for a good glue guy in Brandon Prust.
5. Edmonton Oilers –- This is the year the Oilers at least start to make a push toward the playoffs. Peter Chiarelli and Todd MacLellan bring a whole different culture to the organization, and Connor McDavid will be given every chance to turn this into his team.
6. San Jose Sharks –- Picking Joe Pavelski as new team captain was a good start, but this team feels like it’s way onto the back nine of its run with Jumbo Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. I don’t see the playoffs in their future unless Martin Jones is something very, very special.
7. Arizona Coyotes –- If there’s a team that could be accused of tanking for Auston Matthews this season, it would be the Coyotes. Most of their established veterans are gone aside from Mike Smith and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and they will struggle mightily to score goals.