In case none of the teams in the Atlantic Division appealed to you, we’re back for the second installment of Icebreakers.
In the second part of our four-part series, we provide reasons why and why not to support each NHL franchise. And for additional perspective, we’ll provide a comparison to another North American sports franchise.
Programming Note: The two Western Conference divisions will be posted Oct. 2 and Oct. 3.
Last year’s record: 36-35-11 (7th in division)
Coach: Bill Peters | GM: Ron Francis
Core players: Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, Justin Faulk
Why this team? This is a similar scenario as the Sabres’. It’s a way to get ahead of the curve for hyped draft prospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Outside of that, there’s good weather, good golf, and lots of Ric Flair. Wooo!
Why not? Eric Staal isn’t what he used to be, Jordan Staal is already hurt, and there’s just not much talent here. Also, what’s with the fascination of ex-Leafs? Right now, they have Jiri Tlusty, Jay McClement, John-Michael Liles, Tim Gleason (again) and Jay Harrison. If you’re going to mimic someone, isn’t there a better option?
Other sport comparison: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Like the Bucs, Carolina is a mostly irrelevant franchise that has been mediocre for the better part of a decade. Both won championships in the 2000s that most people have tried to forget or have already forgotten.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Last year’s record: 43-32-7 (4th in division)
Coach: Todd Richards | GM: Jarmo Kekalainen
Core players: Ryan Johansen, Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson
Why this team? The Blue Jackets don’t have a true star, but that’s what makes them so likable. They get contributions from everywhere. They work hard. They’re tough. And they have great goaltending. It’s a fun brand of hockey that fits in well with their surprisingly good fan base.
Why not? At some point, the Blue Jackets will no longer be an underdog story. As hype and expectations build, can they meet them? And in the short term, they’re without their best forward. Ryan Johansen is in the midst of an ugly contract dispute, and without his scoring, they could quickly regress.
Other sport comparison: Toronto Raptors — The Raptors and Blue Jackets have a ton in common. Both teams, despite a lousy history, feature young and balanced rosters with upside. You could even parallel how the trading of star players such as Rick Nash and Rudy Gay have had largely positive impacts on the franchise. Even Sportsnet’s Arash Madani agrees:
New Jersey Devils
Last year’s record: 35-29-18 (6th in division)
Coach: Peter DeBoer | GM: Lou Lamoriello
Core players: Cory Schneider, Adam Henrique, Mike Cammalleri, Patrik Elias
Why this team? Even at his age, Jaromir Jagr is still awesome. We do miss the mullet, though. They also have a great goaltender. With Martin Brodeur gone, Cory Schneider won’t have to share the crease anymore. The Devils support him with a great penalty kill and an unheralded defence corps that saw New Jersey give up the fewest shots on goal per game last season.
Why not? You’re too late to the party. The Devils are in no man’s land. Their forward group is full of players on the wrong side of 30, and the team as a whole has lacked star power since Zach Parise left as a free agent and Ilya Kovalchuk went back to Russia.
Other sport comparison: New York Giants – A once proud franchise that has lost its personality. The Devils used to have a dominant core of defenders but now rely on a team full of over-the-hill veterans. After a strong run that included multiple championships, they’re no longer a contender.
New York Islanders
Last year’s record: 35-29-18 (6th in division)
Coach: Jack Capuano | GM: Garth Snow
Core players: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Travis Hamonic, Mikhail Grabovski
Why this team? Hold your laughter. There’s a lot to like here. Not only do they have superstar John Tavares locked up for way under market value for the next four seasons, they’ve quietly stockpiled an intriguing core of young talent. And you’ll get all kinds of love from the Leafs blogging community – because they’re huge on Mikhail Grabovski.
Why not? Well, the guy who signed the Rick DiPietro contract is still the GM of the Islanders. Garth Snow earned some street cred when he swore on live TV during the 2014 NHL Draft, but he still has a shaky history of transactions. Case in point: They don’t have a first-rounder in 2015 (a half-decent draft year, if you haven’t heard) after dealing for 47 games of Thomas Vanek.
Other sport comparison: Washington Redskins – Two of the most prominent franchises in their respective sports during the 1980s have now become laughingstocks due to an ugly recent history of bad trades and free-agent flops. Both stem from inept leadership at the ownership level and in the front office.
New York Rangers
Last year’s record: 45-31-6 (2nd in division)
Coach: Alain Vigneault | GM: Glen Sather
Core players: Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan
Why this team? They’re an Original Six team in an historic arena that would make for one heck of a road trip. The Rangers are coming off a Stanley Cup appearance – so this fits for you, bandwagon hoppers — and have a roster loaded with talent and depth. And there isn’t a goalie with better hair than King Henrik.
Why not? This is front-running at its finest. Expecting them to repeat after a surprising playoff run may be a long shot, especially considering the personnel losses in free agency. Anton Stralman and Benoit Pouliot – advanced metrics darlings – both left as UFAs and were replaced by veterans whose best days are behind them (Dan Boyle, for instance).
Other sport comparison: Detroit Tigers – A historic franchise with big-money players that has been in contention for the last half-decade. Also, both teams really sucked at the beginning of the 2000s.
Last year’s record: 42-30-10 (3rd in division)
Coach: Craig Berube | GM: Ron Hextall
Core players: Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Andrew MacDonald
Why this team? Claude Giroux is a star. The Flyers were 21-2-1 when Giroux registered a goal last year. They have surrounded him with a bevy of offensive threats, which makes for a fun, fast-paced team. And maybe the brightest spot — Paul Holmgren is no longer the GM. Yes, the same guy who traded away James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn.
Why not? It’s an angry fan base. Philly pretty much hates everything – even Santa Claus. But there are plenty of issues on the ice. Can they replace heart-and-soul forward Scott Hartnell? Will Steve Mason be able to sustain his success? The history of Philadelphia goaltenders makes you think twice.
Other sport comparison: Houston Rockets – An offensively sound team with star players (Giroux, James Harden) that lacks any sort of defensive presence. It’s the clear weakness for both clubs. They are consistent playoff teams.
Last year’s record: 51-24-7 (1st in division)
Coach: Mike Johnston | GM: Jim Rutherford
Core players: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury
Why this team? It’s a fresh start for the Penguins after another early playoff exit. They have a new GM and a new head coach but retained their offensive powerhouse core, which features two of the league’s elite scorers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Why not? From the constant playoff disappointments to the erratic play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins are incredibly stressful to watch. Many fans believed they’d become hockey’s next dynasty, but they’ve been constantly pushed around in the playoffs.
Other sport comparison: Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts — Like Manning’s Colts, an annual Super Bowl contender, the Penguins are known for their playoff failures rather than their one championship. The composition of the rosters is similar, too. Finesse teams that lacked toughness and a high-quality defence.
Last year’s record: 38-30-14 (5th in division)
Coach: Barry Trotz | GM: Brian MacLellan
Core players: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Braden Holtby
Why this team? This is ideal for those who love a comeback story. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals have gone from perennial playoff contenders to a fringe playoff team. Now they’re looking to rebuild their image under longtime Nashville Predators bench boss Barry Trotz, a noted defensive whiz.
Why not? There’s no Shea Weber or Ryan Suter for Trotz to work with here. The Capitals still have questions on their back-end – especially after overpaying for two ex-Penguins in free agency. They weren’t exactly the soundest defensive unit. And, can Trotz get Ovechkin to play defence?
Other sport comparison: San Diego Chargers – A team loaded with offensive firepower that was never able to get over the proverbial hump. Both were always better in the regular season. Like the Chargers did before last season, the Caps brought in a new coach to fix their defensive woes.