With the regular season officially over it is time to take a look back at some of the winners and losers of the regular season. Ottawa is the clear choice as the NHL’s Cinderella team tore through the league in the second half of the season to clinch a berth in the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Not to mention, the upstart Flames rode the tailcoats of rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau who led all rookies in scoring and will provide an exciting spark to the Flames first round matchup versus the wily Vancouver Canucks squad.
As for the losers, the Los Angeles Kings have to be disappointed by their inability to earn a chance to defend their title as Calgary and Winnipeg held off a late season surge from the Kings to send the defending Stanley Cup Champions home early. The Bruins were another team who used skill and leadership to mask glaring issues as long as they could; however, it would be futile in the end as a three-dame losing streak would derail their playoff dreams.
This week marks the beginning of what should be a thrilling Stanley Cup Playoffs in which one team will be rewarded with the ultimate prize any young hockey player dreams of since day 1: the chance to kiss Lord Stanley in front of thousands of fans. As an Orange County native this may be biased, but I see the Ducks overcoming the odds this year and winning their second Stanley Cup and first since 2007. As for the Eastern Conference, I think Ovechkin will lead the Capitals to the finals but lose to the Ducks in 6 games.
1. New York Rangers- New York won their first Presidents Trophy since the 1993-94 season and looks to have a completely healthy group headed into the postseason. Look out though because Alain Vignault has not had much success the last two times he won the Presidents Trophy and Pittsburg will not go down easily in the first round.
2. Anaheim Ducks- Anaheim has a minor health concern in John Gibson; however, goaltender Frederik Andersen finished the season strong with a 2-1 victory over Arizona on Saturday. The Ducks led the Western Conference with 109 points and will have immense pressure on them to make it past the second round.
3. St. Louis Blues- The Central division has been tough all year and the Blues earned this spot in the rankings by winning the division. The health of All-Star forward Vladimir Tarasenko could directly coincide with this teams postseason success, if he plays well then St. Louis can thrive.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning- Tampa Bay may not have won the Atlantic but their offense makes them a dangerous postseason pick, especially with Detroit scrambling to find a consistent goaltender to play. Only four players on this team currently boast a negative +/- rating which shows the Lightning’s ability to score on any shift.
5. Montreal Canadiens- Carey Price will take this team as far as he can; however, if the defense does not help him out then Montreal could fall prey to red-hot Ottawa in the first round. P.K. Subban will have to provide a spark as the Canadiens leading offensive-defenseman.
6. Nashville Predators- Rookie forward FilipForsberg has been phenomenal all season and may even be turned to in order to snap Nashville’s slump heading into the postseason. A few months ago the Predators seemed to be on a guaranteed path to the Presidents trophy. What happened?
7. Chicago Blackhawks- Chicago finds themselves in the top seven not only for their impressive resilience on the rink, but also because of the news that Patrick Kane has been cleared to play in their opening series. Remember that this is a guy that was leading the league in points before his injury.
8. Washington Capitals- The clear X-factor for a successful postseason is the play of Washington’s first line. If Ovechkin continues to score at his current pace then the Islanders will have their hands full over in the coming week.
9. Minnesota Wild- The Wild currently have all of the ingredients for a successful postseason run. Strong goaltending, veteran leadership, and a hot streak that has lasted for months could carry this team farther then many might predict.
10. New York Islanders- The Islanders have reached the 101 points plateau for the first time since the 1983-84 season and will look to make some noise in their final season at Nassau Memorial Colliseum. This team has battled through injury all season and their ability to stay afloat in the Metropolitan is more then admirable.
11. Winnipeg Jets- How about Ondrej Pavelec? The often-criticized goalie carried this team on his back when they needed him most, allowing only 1 regulation goal over the Jets final four regular season games. If he continues this play then Winnipeg will be a popular sleeper pick to upset the Ducks in round one.
12. Vancouver Canucks- Vancouver is in an unfamiliar role of being the playoff underdog and whether or not that benefits this team will be revealed in the coming weeks. Eddie Lack may have to step up and be the man in between the pipes if Ryan Miller is holding the Canucks back.
13. Pittsburg Penguins- Pittsburg is in a similarly unfamiliar position as they had to earn a playoff berth on the last day of the season with a 2-0 win over last-place Buffalo. Nonetheless, this is a roster loaded with talent and if they can win a game in New York over the next few days then this series will get very interesting very quickly.
14. Ottawa Senators- Wow. Just wow. Ottawa was able to cap off the most improbable postseason run in recent memory and have now found themselves in a favorable matchup against Montreal. Give huge credit to Mark Stone who has been on fire over the last month and was rewarded as one of the NHL’s three stars of the week over the weekend.
15. Detroit Red Wings- Detroit fans have to be worried about the goaltending, especially now that Petr Mrazek has been named the Game 1 started by head coach Mike Babcock. Has this organization lost faith in Jimmy Howard?
16. Calgary Flames- Calgary is the lowest rank playoff team on my list, simply because of their inexperience and the brutal Western Conference that they will have to make it through. Don’t be fooled though because Calgary has some serious young talent and looks as if they will be a postseason mainstay for years to come.
17. Boston Bruins- Boston would definitely win the award for streakiest team in the NHL and just after a five game winning streak made the postseason look like a lock, the Bruins lost three straight games to miss the postseason altogether. This offseason will be especially long and challenging for the Bruins.
18. Los Angeles Kings- A year removed from winning the Stanley Cup the Kings failed to make the postseason at all. Now with reports surfacing about the team locking coach Darryl Sutter out of their locker room it will be interesting to see what Los Angeles does about their coaching situation.
19. Dallas Stars- It is hard not to wonder what this Dallas team could have been with better goaltending play. Jamie Benn won the Art Ross trophy for most points in the league and Tyler Seguin finished seventh place despite only playing 71 games.
20. Florida Panthers- Florida fans should look at this season as huge success and besides from the late season slide, they hung right with Boston and Ottawa all season. If Jaromir Jagr returns next year he could have a big season with DemitriBarkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets- Columbus has to take pride in how they finished this season and three more wins over Toronto, Buffalo, and the Islanders this week showed just how special 2016 could be for the Jackets.
22. Colorado Avalanche- Colorado is another team who has plenty to be excited for the upcoming year; however, after an upstart season last year Patrick Roy has to be concerned about the regression this season. 2016 must be successful or he could be axed.
23. Philadelphia Flyers- Losses to Carolina and Ottawa to end the season were not the way that this team wanted to go out; however, a core of Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Jacob Voracek will undoubtedly provide hope for a rebound in 2016.
24. San Jose Sharks- San Jose limped into the offseason with a 3-1 loss to the Kings on Saturday, although they still have an impressive nucleus of players who could lead the Sharks back to the postseason next season with the right guidance.
25. New Jersey Devils- Finding a coach will be the first step for a New Jersey team that struggled to find an identity all season long. Corey Schneider remains as a strong centerpiece for a team that needs to build around their star goaltender.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs- General Manager fired, head coach gone, assistants fired and a team captain that says he was “disappointed” when he was not traded away. How many days ago did the season end?
27. Carolina Hurricanes- Eric Staal said he was willing to play somewhere other then Carolina; however, there is no doubt that Hurricanes fans will be hoping that their captain and leading scorer returns as this franchise looks to make a step in the right direction in 2016.
28. Edmonton Oilers- Edmonton is in the unique position of potentially drafting third but not receiving the two hot commodities in Jack Eicheland Connor McDavid. Also, will Laurent Broissoit be the future in net for the Oilers. His 51 save performance against the Sharks provided a major ray of hope.
29. Arizona Coyotes- Arizona General Manager Don Maloney said today that he wants Shane Doan back as a Coyote and that the longtime captain has plenty of good years left. The question is: does Doan want to be back in Arizona?
30. Buffalo Sabres- Head Coach Ted Nolan has already received the ax and more changes look likely in Buffalo. Connor McDavid would be a huge boost to a city that needs a face to their franchise.