2017-18 Bench Life Sports NHL Previews

After over a month of cranking out hockey analysis and searching for compelling storylines on some really vanilla hockey teams (here’s looking at you Detroit), we have finally wrapped up our NHL team previews. Here is a quick Cliff Notes version of all of our our rankings and analysis, each with links to the full articles. Take a shot anytime Burgess names a specific goalie by name as their team’s “strength” and anytime Ballantyne or I mention the Leafs and you might only make it to the fifth preview. With the hockey season well under way some of our takes haven’t aged well. That being said I honestly believe that we did nail some of them. Enjoy!

31. Colorado Avalanche

Our Rankings
Waind: 30th   Burgess: 31st   Ballantyne: 31st

MVP: Nathan MacKinnon
Key Player: Mikko Rantanen
Strength: High-end, game-breaking talent
Weakness: Severe and crippling lack of depth

Waind: “They are a young team that can certainly improve through the internal growth of their roster and some bounce back seasons from their veteran supporting cast. A respectable season calls for significant improvements across the board, but given the inherent potential of their personnel, the Avalanche could be better than you’d think. They certainly won’t be worse.

30. Vegas Golden Knights

Our Rankings
Burgess: 29th   Waind: 31st   Ballantyne: 29th

Team MVP: Marc-Andre Fleury
Key Player: Vadim Shipachyov (This was posted in September give us a break)
Team’s Strength: Goaltending
Team’s Weakness: High-end talent

Burgess: “If Vegas is able to find their scoring touch, they could get a few wins this year. I still wouldn’t expect a playoff appearance, but it’s entirely possible that the Golden Knights are a competitive team this year.”

29. Vancouver Canucks

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 30th   Burgess: 30th   Waind: 29th

Team MVP: Bo Horvat
Key Player: 
Brock Boeser
Team’s Strength: 
These kids are alright
Team’s Weakness: 
Goaltending

Ballantyne: “Listen, I had this team ranked behind the Vegas Golden Knights… that’s how bad this year could be. Worse than an expansion team. I know I may sound dramatic, but the Canucks are in full bottom-out mode and it looks like they’ve finally accepted that fate.”

28. Detroit Red Wings

Our Rankings
Waind: 27th   Burgess: 28th   Ballantyne: 26th

Team MVP: Henrik Zetterberg
Key Player: 
Jimmy Howard
Team’s Strength: 
A nice collection of playmakers upfront
Team’s Weakness: 
Shaky defense core

Waind: “I’m not as pessimistic on Detroit as some. I actually like this team as a frisky middle-of-the-pack team with the potential to squeak into the playoffs if everything breaks right.”

27. New Jersey Devils

Our Rankings
Burgess: 26th   Waind: 26th   Ballantyne: 28th

Team MVP: Taylor Hall
Key Player: Marcus Johansson
Strength: 
Cory Schneider
Weakness: The entire blueline

Burgess: “The Devils seem to be stuck between trying to add to the core that they’ve already established, or blowing it up and going for a total rebuild. With a group of talented players who are still in their prime, it’s tough to give up and dedicate to a rebuild.”

26. Arizona Coyotes

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 27th   Burgess: 27th   Waind: 24th

Team MVP: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Key Player: 
Max Domi
Strength: 
Young, Talented Forwards
Weakness: 
Experience

Ballantyne: “The Coyotes are simply in transition in the development developmental stage at this point in time and are lacking veteran presence on the roster.”

25. Buffalo Sabres

Our Rankings
Waind: 23rd   Burgess: 25th   Ballantyne: 24th

Team MVP: Jack Eichel
Key Player: 
Rasmus Ristolainen
Strength: 
The Powerplay
Weakness: 
Leadership

Waind: “They have the bones of a good hockey team but need to round out the roster and tighten up their systems before they can make any noise. I’m still a bit more pessimistic on them than some of the other Atlantic division teams because of their weak blueline and goaltending.”

24. Winnipeg Jets

Our Rankings
Burgess: 24th   Waind: 28th   Ballantyne: 19th

Team MVP: Mark Scheifele
Key Player: 
Patrick Laine
Strength: 
Scoring Goals
Weakness: 
Goaltending

Burgess: “The foundation for a team is there, but the addition of a real starting goalie and a few depth forwards can turn this team from pretender into contender very soon.”

23. New York Islanders

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 25th   Burgess: 20th   Waind: 25th

Team MVP: John Tavares
Key Player:
Nick Leddy
Strength: 
The Blueline
Weakness: 
Goaltending

Ballantyne: ” I apologize for the harsh words, but hey’d better hope the breaks go their way, because if not, it may turn out to be their last season with John Tavares on their side.”

22. Florida Panthers

Our Rankings
Waind: 18th   Burgess: 23rd   Ballantyne: 23rd

Team MVP: Alex Barkov
Key Player:
James Reimer
Strength: 
High upside roster
Weakness: 
Timing

Waind: “They are a far better team than their record showed last season. That being said I don’t think that they have the jam to leapfrog Tampa Bay, Toronto, Boston, Ottawa AND Montreal to contend for the Atlantic division title. They are prime suspects to be in the Wild Card hunt late into this season.”

21. Los Angeles Kings

Our Rankings
Burgess: 19th   Waind: 21st   Ballantyne: 22nd

Team MVP: Drew Doughty
Key Player:
Anze Kopitar
Strength: 
Jonathan Quick
Weakness:
Bad Contracts

Burgess: “If the guys they pay to be their top players perform like top players, and Quick stays healthy for full year, the Kings should find themselves in a playoff spot come April.”

20. Carolina Hurrincanes

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 18th   Burgess: 22nd   Waind: 20th

Team MVP: Jaccob Slavin
Key Player:
Scott Darling
Strength: 
Young, Talented Defensemen
Weakness: 
Goaltending

Ballantyne: “I believe this team can actually be one that can push up against the final playoff spot. That being said, I can’t stress enough how much of that rides on Scott Darling living up to the starters billing he’s been pegged with.”

19. Philadelphia Flyers

Our Rankings
Waind: 21st   Burgess: 17th   Ballantyne: 17th

Team MVP: Claude Giroux
Key Player:
Ivan Provorov
Strength: 
Depth down the middle
Weakness: 
The crease

Waind: “I’m actually a big believer in this team’s talent. They just have so many blue chip guys on the backend and more than enough playmakers at the top of their lineup that they shoud be knocking on the door of contention.”

18. New York Rangers

Our Rankings
Burgess: 13th   Waind: 19th   Ballantyne: 20th

Team MVP: Mats Zuccarello
Key Player:
Chris Kreider
Strength: 
Top Defensive Pairing
Weakness: 
Not replacing Stepan

Burgess: “Pittsburgh, Washington and Columbus will likely get the three playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division, leaving New York fighting for a wild card spot again. Despite how tough this division is, I’m still finding it hard to bet against the Rangers. The addition of Shattenkirk could be the most important move the Rangers have made in a while.”

17. Calgary Flames

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 14th   Burgess: 21st   Waind: 17th

Team MVP: Johnny Gaudreau
Key Player:
Sean Monahan
Strength: 
Right Wing
Weakness:
Defense

Ballantyne: “I just can’t wrap my head around putting a team any lower on this list than 14 when they will always have one or more reliable, battle tested defensemen like Giordano, Brodie, Hamilton and Hamonic on the ice. As long Johnny Hockey, Monahan and the boys up front pot their fair share of goals, we’ll see these Flames burning teams come spring.”

16. Boston Bruins

Our Rankings
Waind: 14th   Burgess: 15th   Ballantyne: 22nd

Team MVP: Patrice Bergeron
Key Player:
Charlie McAvoy
Strength: 
Tonnes of depth down the middle
Weakness: 
Reliance on 40 year-old Zdeno Chara

Waind: “They’ve got an elite goalie, crazy depth down the middle, and two of the league’s best goal-scorers in Pastrnak and Marchand. At what point will these guys just crap out? They aren’t going to win a Cup so long as Chara is still their minute-eating blueliner, yet they continue to hang around the playoff picture like a cockroach.”

15. Ottawa Senators

Our Rankings
Burgess: 18th   Waind: 16th   Ballantyne: 16th

Team MVP: Erik Karlsson
Key Player:
Bobby Ryan
Strength: 
Craig Anderson
Weakness:
Special Teams

Burgess: “This team will go as far as a one-legged Erik Karlsson can carry it, which although doesn’t sound too promising, is actually a lot farther than you might think.”

14. San Jose Sharks

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 15th   Burgess: 16th   Waind: 15th

Team MVP: Brent Burns
Key Player:
Logan Couture
Strength: 
Seasoned Veterans
Weakness:
Goal-Scoring

Ballantyne: “Burns and Pavelski are incredible talents, and Jones, Vlasic and Couture are solid too, but if this group misses the playoffs…have we seen the end of these Sharks as we know them?”

13. Toronto Maple Leafs

Our Rankings
Waind: 13th   Burgess: 14th   Ballantyne: 12th

Team MVP: Auston Matthews
Key Player:
Nazem Kadri
Strength: 
Talent and depth on the wings
Weakness: 
Play in the defensive end

Waind: “After decades of watching losing Leafs hockey–if the losses weren’t enough they typically happened in the most embarrassing and ugly fashion–I am all in on this next generation of Maple Leafs.”

12. St. Louis Blues

Our Rankings
Burgess: 11th   Waind: 8th   Ballantyne: 13th

Team MVP: Vladimir Tarasenko
Key Player:
Jake Allen
Strength: 
Special Teams
Weakness: 
Injury Problems

Burgess: “The Blues have been a strong team for the last few years, and with that group still there it’s likely that the Blues are set for another strong season this year. It seems like as long as Tarasenko and Pietrangelo are there that the Blues are a pretty safe be to find themselves in a playoff spot come April.”

11. Montreal Canadiens

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 10th   Burgess: 12th   Waind: 10th

Team MVP: Carey Price
Key Player:
Jonathan Drouin
Strength:
Goaltending
Weakness:
Scoring

Ballantyne: “I wanted to rank this team lower, but I couldn’t justify dropping the Atlantic Division champs of a year ago much further. They’ve had a brutal start to 2017-18 so maybe we were too generous with our original rankings. ”

10. Edmonton Oilers

Our Rankings
Waind: 12th   Burgess: 5th   Ballantyne: 7th

Team MVP: Connor McDavid
Key Player:
Ryan Nugent Hopkins
Strength:
Depth at center
Weakness: 
An underwhelming blueline

Waind: “The Oilers should be a playoff team this year and they will be exciting. I just don’t think they’re quite Cup contenders yet. Based on the timing of their young players’ development as well as when the extensions start to hit, I feel like this teams window is still at least a year away.”

9. Columbus Blue Jackets

Our Rankings
Burgess: 6th   Waind: 11th   Ballantyne: 4th

Team MVP: Artemi Panarin
Key Player:
Seth Jones
Strength:
Goaltending
Weakness:
Inconsistency

Burgess: “While topping last year could be tough, and they have the disadvantage of playing in the same division as Washington and Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets are right and the edge of being a legit contender.”

8. Anaheim Ducks

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 3rd   Burgess: 9th   Waind: 9th

Team MVP: Ryan Getzlaf
Key Player:
Rickard Rackell
Strength:
Defense
Weakness:
Health

Ballantyne:  “I’m a believer in this Ducks group; with reliable goal scorers and a tight defensive system already in place, this Anaheim team can be one of the best in the league this season… and Randy doesn’t give sh*t what you think.”

7. Dallas Stars

Our Rankings
Waind: 7th   Burgess: 8th   Ballantyne: 5th

Team MVP: Tyler Seguin
Key Player:
Ben Bishop
Strength:
Talent, talent and more talent
Weakness: 
Keeping the puck out of the net

Waind: “This is a tough team to read. We’ve seen this same core of players dominate  and fail over the last couple of seasons. A conservative look would say that maybe this team is middle of the pack. But, after their huge offseason spending spree, it’s tough not to drink the Kool Aid.”

6. Chicago Blackhawks

Our Rankings
Burgess: 3rd   Waind: 6th   Ballantyne: 9th

Team MVP: Patrick Kane
Key Player:
Patrick Sharp
Strength:
Strong Core
Weakness: 
Cap Space

Burgess: “The end of this dynasty may be in sight, but for right now they’re still too good to not be able to compete. They might not be the best in their division this year, but they’re still making the playoffs and we’ve seen that come April anything can happen. ”

5. Minnesota Wild

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 11th   Burgess: 2nd   Waind: 4th

Team MVP: Devan Dubnyk
Key Player:
Mikael Granlund 
Strength: 
Health
Weakness: 
Scoring Depth

Ballantyne: “The playoffs were a failure for them last year, and I doubt we’ll see another 12-game win streak from them once again. They have the pieces up front, a solid enough defense corps, and a high-end goaltender; so they’re a playoff team in my mind. But anything more than that?”

4. Tampa Bay Lightning

Our Rankings
Waind: 1st   Burgess: 10th   Ballantyne: 6th

Team MVP: Nikita Kucherov
Key Player:
Steven Stamkos
Strength:
They’re one of the most talented teams on paper
Weakness: Trusting a young, unproven goalie

Waind: “This team has it all.”

3. Washington Capitals

Our Rankings
Burgess: 4th   Waind: 5th   Ballantyne: 8th

Team MVP: Alex Ovechkin
Key Player:
John Carlson
Strength:
Goaltending
Weakness: Depth

Burgess: “Are they set to finally make a Stanley Cup Final appearance? Not likely. But as far as the regular season goes, the Capitals are still good enough to keep pace with the top teams in the league.”

2. Nashville Predators

Our Rankings
Ballantyne: 2nd   Burgess: 7th   Waind: 2nd

Team MVP: Roman Josi
Key Player:
Filip Forsberg
Strength:
Offense generated from the blueline
Weakness: Goaltending?

Ballantyne: “There’s no reason to believe we won’t see Smashville and an excessive amount of Catfish for an extended period come playoff time.”

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Our Rankings
Waind: 3rd   Burgess: 1st   Ballantyne: 1st

Team MVP: Sidney Crosby
Key Player:
Kris Letang
Strength:
Impact/game-breaking players
Weakness: Stanley Cup Hangover

Waind: “This team still remains one of the most talented rosters in the NHL and are poised to make history and have a legitimate shot at winning back-to-back-to-back Stanley Cups. It would be pretty cool to see and would cement their status as a ‘modern day dynasty’.”

 

 

 

 

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