Normally the Avs would be higher up on the list, but they’ve got a huge problem for next season – one of their core players, Gabriel Landeskog, is out for the season this year. Think about how much it would crater the Oilers if McDavid or Draisaitl were gone for the season – same thing.
To fill in for him they signed……Jonathan Drouin. I get that he was cheap, but he’s a reclamation project and a poor substitute at best. I expect because of this the Avs will have trouble scoring goals this season which will push them down the standings and maybe even out of a playoff spot.
Without Landeskog, IMO the Avs are just short of having all the horses to compete next season. Look for them to move back into the contender’s list when Landeskog comes back.
Carolina has a great team on paper. They’ve made some great moves in the last couple of years, especially on defence. Dmitry Orlov, Brent Burns, and Tony Deangelo will all have upped the ante on puck moving.
They also have some great firepower up front with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Taravainen, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. They even have a three-headed monster at goalie right now which hopefully training camp resolves for them. But they just can’t seem to get over the hump and make it to the Finals. Including last season, Carolina will have made it to the third round many a time over the past few seasons. But they can never get past the Conference Finals. I just don’t know what it is with this team, but the third round seems to be their ceiling.
Until they prove otherwise. Will this be the year they get over the hump? Maybe, maybe not. If I were a betting man I’d say probably not.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils within the last couple of seasons have emerged from a rebuild and some are whispering that they’re already at the Cup contender phase. I tend to think it might be a little premature, but on paper, they definitely look like a deadly team. Rescuing Timo Meier from San Jose and Tyler Toffoli from Calgary IMO was a stroke of genius for GM Tom Fitzgerald. They drafted both of their top six centermen Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier and both are looking pretty good right about now.
Erik Haula and Ondrej Palat are definitely going to anchor the bottom six for them. Dougie Hamilton and John Marino are the cornerstones of their blueline.
Plucking Vitek Vanacek from Washington was a great move as all of his stats got better after the move. Akira Schmid had a rough start to his career as he put up terrible numbers in his first six NHL games in his rookie season but performed much better in his second call-up last season, to the point where it looks like now they’re ready to keep him in the NHL full time.
They upset the Rangers in the first round last season, which was a good first step. But IMO this team still has more losing to do for the learning experience. I would put them right around the 2020 Oilers period – playoff contenders but not cup contenders yet. However, could they get to that point next season? Perhaps.