Mar 28, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) blocks a shot during the third period against the Arizona Coyotes at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-361660 ORIG FILE ID: 20180328_gav_cs1_224.jpg

Winnipeg Jets

Embed from Getty Images

This franchise is neither in an alarming or good state.  They lost a few pieces in free agency so they are weakened yes, but they are certainly still a playoff team in the 2019-2020 season.  They lost in the first round this past year to the Blues who ended up winning the Stanley Cup so I don’t see that as a major red flag, either. 

So where are they exactly? Well, it’s interesting, they are really in a kind of limbo.  The franchise has had both success and failure recently so there is a still a lot to be determined.  I would say they are set at the most important position of goalie but are lacking in a couple of spots. If they loaded up a little more I think they have a shot at winning their division. The Predators, in my mind, are out of sorts and the Blues will be on the normal slump after a cup win.  The Stars are the Jets biggest concern within the division and my pick for the division in the early stages.

Winnipeg will be a very interesting team that I will be keeping an eye on next season. Overall, it’s a franchise that still has some things to prove but has proven they are a good team with potential.  The question now is are they a contender? This question can only be answered by this time next year.

 

Dallas Stars

Embed from Getty Images

I knew from the beginning that the Stars were better than people were saying but they haven’t gone to the next level after their double overtime game 7 loss.  The Stars only real weakness last year was their offense.  In free agency, the Stars have patched up most of that problem by adding star forwards Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.  This is a monumental change for them as a team and for their division. Make no mistake, the Stars are now a cup contender. Their Goalie, Ben Bishop is the best goalie in the NHL despite the fact that he didn’t receive the Vezina Trophy.  Frankly, Andrei Vasalevski was the worst of the three possibilities for the Vezina so I don’t know how he was the one chosen. In addition, the Stars have a top-five defense in the NHL, so backing up Ben Bishop will not be a problem. Looking at it now, they have nearly completed the team by fixing most of their offensive problems. 

They added new, experienced players hungry to win a cup and are in a position to come first or second in their division. The Stars have proven the fact that they are clutch too, so the playoffs should be where they will shine. Everything screams Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but the thing to be wondering now is whether the dream can become a reality.  A question we will not have an answer to until sometime in the playoffs next year.

 

Nashville Predators

Embed from Getty Images

The moment this team choked in the Finals a few years back was the moment I knew this team was a joke.  Every playoff since then the Predators have blown it. As I have said before, when I can’t trust a team I pick them to lose almost every time, even if they are the better team on paper.  Look what happened, they lost to the Stars in six, as I thought, and are now losing key pieces to their success in the offseason.

The past few years this team has been a train wreck hidden by individual talent.  Continued playoff loses have led to their demise. This team is on their way down for sure. Few things could save them at this point and if they don’t get their act together soon there is a big chance they will be at a lower level playoff spot, if any at all.  Nashville embodies the saying “They could be something, if only *blank*”, as it would seem the only thing that has kept them from a cup is themselves and it looks like it’s only getting worse for them.

Not all is bad though, they added Atemi Panarin, a star forward from Columbus, which is what they needed.  This will not be enough for two reasons. First, they simply don’t have the strength they used to hold in their division unrivaled. Second, it isn’t enough because it never is. This team, no matter how much the odds are in their favor, find a way to lose. No matter how long their championship window is, unless they change the choking culture they will be useless.  They wasted a lot and that is how they will be remembered for years to come. The only thing left to be done that could change is win a cup and win it soon.

 

Vegas Golden Knights

Embed from Getty Images

You had better hope the choking this team did in the first round of the playoffs doesn’t repeat itself next year, unless you are a rival of course.  The Knights went from a Finals appearance in 2017-18 to a 3-1 series lead the next year, to what the heck was that. They blew it and lost the first round series in the 2018-19 playoffs.  No question the Sharks never gave up and earned it but the Knights definitely should have won the series anyway.

Where does this leave the Knights? It’s quite unpredictable. When considering the Knights there are a lot of factors that come in to play.  Something I do know is they should still be a playoff contender, but whether they end up being a cup contender is all but unknown. If they are going to win a championship, it needs to be now! The majority of their success is because of their future Hall of Fame goalie Marc Andre Fleury.  He has had a long string of injuries so his future is uncertain. It really all rides on if he plays for the long term or short term. From the way it looks Fleury’s career could end tomorrow or in ten years. If he lasts, the team will last; if he doesn’t, the team won’t either. Hockey is a team sport but without a good goalie you could rack up 4-5 goals a game and still have a losing record.

 

San Jose Sharks

Embed from Getty Images

The Sharks are in a dark place.  A championship may just be out of reach.  How did this happen? It started with false trust in their goalie, Martin Jones.  I mean no disrespect to him but he is incredibly overrated and he isn’t consistent either. Those two things combined make it very hard for the team to win a championship with him. 

Another part to it is the team has simply shot itself in the foot a number of times. They have blown a 3-0 series lead and choked in the playoffs so many times you would think they were a Shark out of water.  They would always be on the cusp of victory but it never mattered because when they should win, they don’t. I am surprised the fan base isn’t more irritated with the team at this point. A simple underachiever is all it takes to never go anywhere.  What does the team need to do in their immediate future?

The team is getting pretty old and just lost a veteran in Joe Pavelski. The thing to do as soon as possible would be replacing him. Free agents are flying away faster than the Sharks could imagine so if they don’t get someone soon, there may not be someone to get.  In addition, I would prioritize replacing Martin Jones. This is incredibly unlikely to actually happen but I can dream. If they don’t get someone to replace Martin Jones they may as well forfeit the season from the start. You can’t win with an inconsistent and unpredictable goaltender. One last thing to leave on your brain, when Jumbo Joe Thorton leaves a game the Sharks look terrible.  When he is there they do great. When he is gone any chance of a surprise late championship run even though the window seems shut will be gone. Personally, I would embrace the rebuild early and have a better profit from it but I don’t think the Sharks management is about that. They are trying to keep a franchise afloat when all signs point toward the rebuild. We have seen what happens to teams that do this. 

I see a sad future from here on out. You may be a playoff contender but that is an absolute upside. Even if you do, what’s the point? Walking away without a cup again and delaying the rebuild. Maybe next championship window you can get a cup. Time is up on your window Sharks, pay up.

 

Calgary Flames

Embed from Getty Images

I see a bright future here.  One quick concern to cover before I go into this.  GOALTENDING. I do not trust Smith and this team has picked him to start in the playoffs.  He is inconsistent and with another goalie (David Rittich) competing for the starting job the whole situation is on shaky ground.  There is a need to pick a permanent starter or it will be hard to succeed in the playoffs with all the controversy.

Now on to the good notes.  Calgary has a fantastic top six! Johnny Gaudreau is the future and will lead Calgary’s offense for years to come. Let’s not forget your defensemen Mark Giordano who just won the Norris trophy, he will be a great captain for the team for years.  The core is solid and is looking like a real contender as long as they stay together. The goaltending situation is fine for the regular season as the goalies get more of a break and can count on each other to get the job done. I know I just got done saying that I thought the goaltending situation was bad earlier in the article but that concern is mostly for the playoffs. Again, the regular season shouldn’t be an issue. 

I like the team as a whole. From top to bottom the Flames looks set and as long as they can be clutch. And there is the ultimate caveat. Can they be clutch? This last year they were beaten by far inferior competition in the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs beat the Flames in five games so it’s a concern. I am not terrified that this team is totally screwed but there are some things to work on for playoff success.  This squad is more than likely going to fix those problems and get better. They have a good chance at winning their division again so they will be set up come next playoffs. At the end of the day, this team defines good but not great. I am intrigued by them but never truly amazed. If they can get a couple more pieces and/or fix their goaltending issue I can see them as Stanley Cup contenders in the future. Good luck Flames, see you in the playoffs.

 

Colorado Avalanche

Embed from Getty Images

Wow!  I have total respect for this team’s game!  They are some big overachievers and that is what I love most about any team that does.  Take the St. Louis Blues, for instance. They were dead last and with some changes to the staff and some hard work they overachieved and won the Stanley Cup.  They recently beat the Calgary Flames in the playoffs in five games. They beat the number one seed in the West in five games, let that sink in. They have proven that they are a force to be reckoned with.  They have lost a couple of pieces but as long as they get a real goaltender they will be fine.

They did get Phillip Grubauer to fill the goalie position and he should be good but I don’t know if he will be enough. I am not too concerned about it though, as I said the squad as a whole overachieves like crazy, so Grubauer just might find a way to rise to the occasion. 

Moving on to the offense, the Avs quite possibly have the best top offensive line in the NHL. Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Nathan Mackinnon are nothing short of magical. They feed this team’s passion to win and lead the way to victory every game. Of course, there is the only big problem with this team and why they still aren’t a cup contender. That’s depth.  They basically didn’t have any the past few years but this off-season has started to fill out. If they can stay consistent on the second, third and fourth lines I see no reason why they can’t go far in the 2019-20 playoffs. Be excited Colorado Avalanche fans! You have a lot to look forward to. I wouldn’t be expecting the moon quite yet though, soon maybe.