NHL Season Preview 2016-17: Predictions, Storylines, Stanley Cup Pick And More

After a long summer, the NHL finally is back.

The 2016-17 season kicks off Wednesday with four rivalry games, highlighted by the Chicago Blackhawks playing the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings taking on the San Jose Sharks.

Here are some predictions for the upcoming season.

Team That Will Surprise
The Calgary Flames ranked dead last in goals against and save percentage last season, which resulted in a 26th-place finish overall. The Flames addressed these weaknesses by trading for veteran goalie Brian Elliott, whose .925 save percentage since 2011-12 is the best in the league. The Flames also had a top-10 offense in 2015-16, and that trend should continue as established stars such as Johnny Gaudreau and young players like Sam Bennett and Dougie Hamilton continue to develop. Calgary could contend for a playoff spot from a competitive Pacific Division.

Team That Will Disappoint
The Anaheim Ducks fired a very good coach in Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with a bad coach in Randy Carlyle. Carlyle’s teams typically possess the puck far less than their opponents, and his admiration for tough, physical hockey is not only an outdated style in today’s NHL, it’s also not suited for this Ducks roster based on the skill and speed of its best players. Anaheim is destined for another first-round playoff exit.

Player to Watch
P.K. Subban on the Nashville Predators blue line will be phenomenal to watch. He’s the first offensive superstar the franchise has ever had, and his playmaking, excellent skating and power-play skill should be a massive boost to Nashville’s offense and transition game. Trading Shea Weber for Subban has the potential to make the Predators, who already had tremendous depth and coaching, a top Stanley Cup contender.

Stanley Cup Repeat?
The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season, but their title defense already is off to a tough start with superstar center and captain Sidney Crosby out with a concussion. The last team to repeat as Stanley Cup champs was the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, but the Penguins are one of two teams in the last 15 years to make back-to-back Cup Final appearances (2008 and 2009). They have a veteran roster loaded with playoff experience.

Division Predictions (* Denotes playoff team)
Eastern Conference
1. Tampa Bay Lightning*
2. Florida Panthers*
3. Boston Bruins*
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Montreal Canadiens
6. Ottawa Senators
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan Division
1. Washington Capitals*
2. Pittsburgh Penguins*
3. New York Islanders*
4. Philadelphia Flyers*
5. Carolina Hurricanes*
6. New York Rangers
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Columbus Blue Jackets

Western Conference
1. St. Louis Blues*
2. Chicago Blackhawks*
3. Nashville Predators*
4. Dallas Stars*
5. Colorado Avalanche
6. Minnesota Wild
7. Winnipeg Jets

1. Los Angeles Kings*
2. San Jose Sharks*
3. Anaheim Ducks*
4. Calgary Flames*
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. Arizona Coyotes
7. Edmonton Oilers

Stanley Cup Prediction
The Tampa Bay Lightning will defeat the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in a rematch of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, albeit with a different outcome.

A shortened playoff run for the Blackhawks last season will re-energize and motivate them to reach their four Cup Final since 2010. Adding a top-four defenseman in Brian Campbell was a huge boost to a Chicago blue line that was losing depth and getting older. The ‘Hawks have all the ingredients — scoring depth, multiple top-four defensemen, elite goaltending, great coaching, etc. — for another conference title run.

The Lightning re-signed superstar center and captain Steven Stamkos to an eight-year deal, talented winger and former No. 3 overall draft pick Jonathan Drouin should have a breakout campaign after a rocky 2015-16, and the team’s goalie duo of Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy arguably is the league’s best. Good coaching, excellent puck possession (third-best even-strength Corsi percentage in the East last season) and depth at all positions give Tampa Bay an edge over its conference opponents.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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