The four NHL teams to watch in the 2017-18 season

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September 26, 2017 by hochmancarter

(Courtesy of zimbio.com)

Written by Carter Hochman

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins

2016-17 record: 48 W 26 L 8 OTL

There are two current “dynasties” that have formed in the NHL, one on each coast. Chicago in the west, and Pittsburgh in the east. Last season Pittsburgh totaled 111 points, finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division, had 282 goals for (1st of 30) and 234 goals against (17th of 30). Oh, and they won their third Stanley Cup, this last one back-to-back. Pittsburgh has won three Stanley Cups since 2009, along with finishing in the top 4 in the eastern conference each year. That’s a pretty impressive 8 year run. With their core forwards in Crosby, Kunitz, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Sheary and Bonino returning, the Penguins’ offense is well prepared for another explosive offensive season.

Even though Marc Andre Fleury was selected in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, Pittsburgh still has arguably the best goaltending duo in the league with young star Matt Murray and veteran Antti Niemi backing him up. Murray finished this past season with a 2.41 GAA and a .923 SV%. Now, those aren’t all-star numbers, however, for a 23 year-old kid who’s won two back-to-back Stanley Cups in his first two NHL seasons… that’s not too shabby. He’s two-and-a-half-years older than I am, and has already won two Stanley Cups. I just have to say it a few times to let that really sink in.

Getting back to this upcoming season, do I dare say we should be prepared for a three-peat? It’s certainly not out of the question for Mike Sullivan’s squad from Pittsburgh.

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

2016-17 record: 50 W 23 L 9 OTL

Obviously after mentioning Pittsburgh, I can’t not bring up the boys from Chicago. And sweet home Chicago it’s been, winning 3 Stanley Cups since 2010. It’s the ultimate “who’d win in a fight” question, Chicago or Pittsburgh? Kane or Crosby? Toews or Malkin? Hossa or Kessel? (Phil Kessel: Good guy, works hard). Personally, I can’t decide. (despite the fact that I hate both teams as a Bruins fan)

Chicago finished first in the Central Division, totaling 244 goals for (7th of 30) and 213 goals against (10th of 30). Chicago has also finished in the top 3 in the Central Division since 2007. Despite getting swept by Nashville in the first round of the playoffs, Chicago’s season was certainly worthy of more than being eliminated as quickly as they were. Patrick Kane ended the season with 34 goals (10th) and 55 assists (5th), leading the team with 89 points (T-2nd) on the year.

Does Joel Quenneville’s Blackhawks have what it takes to take sole ownership of the rights to the word dynasty?

  1. Detroit Red Wings

2016-17 record: 33 W 36 L 13 OTL

Missing your first playoffs in 22 years can take a detrimental toll on a franchise. I don’t think that will be the case in the motor city. I might trace the rocky 2016-2017 season to a lack of confidence in the goaltending. Jimmy Howard was nearly the face of Detroit hockey for years, and then following an injury in 2015, a young Petr Mrazek stepped in, and had a phenomenal season, ultimately taking the starting job away from Howard. It turned out to be too good to be true with Mrazek, as his play almost immediately dropped off, generating a 3.04 GAA and .901 SV%. That created a dilemma for head coach Jeff Blashill. Does he give his former #1 a second go and mess with the team chemistry a bit? Or does he stick with Mrazek and hope that he manages to climb out of whatever hole he dug himself into. Taking this even further, this creates a sense of uncertainty in the locker room, which translates into non-confident play on the ice.

I believe the starting job should be given back to Howard immediately. In the 26 games Howard appeared in, he generated a .927 SV% and a 2.10 GAA, noticeably well above Mrazek’s level of play.

In Jeff Blashill’s first season behind the bench in Detroit, he left little to be desired. Is another change in management in the stars? Or is a turnaround season in a new arena, and a trip back to the playoffs due for the Red Wings.

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 record: 50 W 24 L 8 OTL

Don’t expect Columbus to win the Stanley Cup, but sure as hell expect them to come close. Sergei Bobrovski lead the entire league in both GAA (2.06) and SV% (.931), was one win shy of tying for the lead in wins (41), and two shutouts shy of tying for the lead in shutouts (7). John Tortorella won Coach Of The Year in his first season behind the bench. The Blue Jackets offense exploded for 249 goals for (6th of 30) and only allowed 195 (2nd of 30).

Granted, they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round 4 games to 1 (to the eventual Cup champion Penguins). I don’t fault the Blue Jackets in that series. It honestly just sucks for Columbus that they had to face Pittsburgh in the first round.

Columbus’ biggest acquisition this offseason is easily Artemi Panarin from Chicago. Panarin completed the ’16-’17 season with 31 goals and 43 assists, totaling 74 points, with a plus-minus of 18. That’s almost identical to his previous season where he totaled 30 goals, and 47 assists. It looks like Panarin ain’t no joke, and it looks to me like the rest of the league should start taking Columbus a lot more seriously.

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