This NHL offseason was a bit dull, but a few teams put themselves on the radar for a bounce back 2017 season. Some teams added key pieces, some made drastic changes, some made no moves at all. The West has been heavily run by the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and San Jose Sharks for several years now. The East has been controlled by the Penguins and Capitals. This season we may see some new teams running their respective divisions and causing some havoc in the postseason.
Believe it or not, these three teams will be on the rise, and may be here to stay for quite some time.
The Jets finished fifth in the Central Division with a record of 40-35-7, missing the playoffs by seven points. Winnipeg has been to the playoffs one time in the last six years. To add even more salt to the wound, the Jets Stanley Cup winning odds are 50/1, although I expect that to change.
Believe it or not, when the Jets were known as the Atlanta Thrashers they were in even worse. From 1999-2011 they made the playoffs only one time. This era of poor seasons, failed years, and no post season play is over for Winnipeg. After acquiring Patrik Laine in the 2016 NHL Draft, the emergence of Mark Scheifele, Nikali Ehlers, Kyle Connor and the backbone of the organization Blake Wheeler, the Jets have one of the stronger top six’s. The Jets also have a favorable top six on the backend with Josh Morrissey, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Tobias Enstrom.
The Jets have made the necessary changes in the offseason to be a top team in the Central and punch their ticket to the playoffs next year. A sturdy defense and offense in front of Steve Mason, should improve his performance from what he did in Philadelphia. The Western Conference is the weaker of the two Conferences. Therefore, the Jets are on the rise and keep an eye on them, folks.
Something has been brewing in Calgary for quite some time now. It began with the playoff appearance in 2014-15, beating the Canucks 4-2, the “sea of red” in Calgary erupted. Then again with the appearance last year in the postseason despite a 4-0 sweep. The Flames finished in the first wild card spot with a record of 45-33-4. If I were you, I’d watch out for the Flames this season and seasons to come.
Since the Johnny Gaudreau addition in 2011, the Flames have put much of their success in the hands of the young forward. Plus the additions of a few more pieces like Sean Monahan, Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Ferland. The Flames offense is young, explosive and capable of beating any NHL team. Their defense has faced their fair share of struggles between injuries. With Dennis Weidman up chucking a referee and some disappointing seasons, the Flames went out and improved their top four tremendously. With the addition of Travis Hamonic, the Flames now have Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie on the back end. Anybody in their right mind would not mind a defensive core consisting of those four guys.
To make matters even better, the Flames now added veteran goaltender in Mike Smith. Goaltending was their weakest point for several years. The Flames have not had a solid goaltender since Miikka Kiprusoff, bouncing around between Jonas Hiller, Brian Elliott, and Chad Johnson. Enough of that now because Mike Smith has solidified the starting role for Calgary and will give them the confidence they need to stay consistent.
The Flames have upgraded in some big areas of their game although they really only added two key weapons. Those two pieces make the Flames way more appealing than past seasons. Many fans like Calgary this year to be a top Western Conference team and to make some noise come postseason time. Be on the lookout for this explosive offense and Mike Smith’s turnaround season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have been a middle of the pack/basement team for much of their existence in the league. They have yet to win a postseason series and have made the playoffs just three times in the last seventeen years. After John Tortorella came along and whipped this team into shape, the Blue Jackets went on a franchise best 15-game win streak last season. This catapulted them to finish third in the Metropolitan division for the first time in franchise history. Columbus finished with a 50-24-8 record. The Blue Jackets may not have made a ton of changes in the offseason, but the core they had last year are ready to cause some damage in the Eastern Conference.
After Sergei Bobrovsky’s Vezina season, Cam Atkinson‘s career year, Nick Foligno’s bounce back season and Alexander Wennberg and Zach Werenski stepping up big time, the Blue Jackets have a special group in Columbus, Ohio right now. Add in all the young talent Columbus has brewing, and they are going to be a team to stick around for quite some time. Not to mention they did added one of the best younger players in the game this offseason, Artemi Panarin. The Blue Jackets have one of the best goalies in the league, a top offense, and four solid defensemen. Coming off that season last year, they are going to be a postseason team this year for sure.
It’s not a hoax if Columbus finishes first in the Metropolitan next season and makes a deeper playoff run. With John Tortorella back he has tons of playoff experience. He also coached this team to one of their most successful season in years. To make matter even better, he will have the same group back for another season. Columbus showed they can hang with the best and showed to be a reluctant team last season. Get comfortable seeing this team dominating games and expect to see them in the postseason for the next few years.