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LBC Roundtable: 2014-15 NHL Season Predictions

The Litter Box crew shares how we see the upcoming NHL season shaking out.

I've penciled in the Blackhawks as my pick for 2014-15 Stanley Cup Champion.
I've penciled in the Blackhawks as my pick for 2014-15 Stanley Cup Champion.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

It's certainly been a long off season this year, and with the Cats spending closer to the salary cap for the first time in pretty much ever, we down here in SoFlo are hoping that dollars equals success.  In this era of the NHL, free agency usually does not buy a winner, but there's certainly hope for this year's edition of the Florida Panthers.

With that in mind, here are LBC's 2014-15 NHL Season Predictions, brought to you in Roundtable format.  Enjoy!

Atlantic

Consensus

Position

Team
1 Boston Bruins
2

Tampa Bay Lightning

3 Montreal Canadiens
4 Detroit Red Wings
5 Florida Panthers
6 Toronto Maple Leafs
7 Ottawa Senators
8 Buffalo Sabres

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Boston

Tampa Bay

Boston

Tampa Bay

2

Tampa Bay

Boston

Montreal

Boston

3

Montreal

Montreal

Tampa Bay

Montreal

4

Florida

Florida

Detroit

Detroit

5

Detroit

Detroit

Toronto

Toronto

6

Toronto

Toronto

Florida

Ottawa

7

Ottawa

Ottawa

Ottawa

Buffalo

8

Buffalo

Buffalo

Buffalo

Florida

Shane: Boston wins the division again, though Tampa Bay really challenges them.  I don't quite see any of Detroit, Toronto, Ottawa, Buffalo, or even Florida challenging for the top 3 spots in the division.  After that, however, it's a huge toss up as to who takes home the fourth position, though I give the Cats the edge simply because they don't have as many glaring concerns as the other rosters (Detroit - Health, etc; Toronto - Defense and secondary scoring; Ottawa - scoring, goaltending, etc.; Buffalo - ha ha)

JC: Not so fast my friend! Boston has aged and developed problems via the salary cap. Still enough goaltending and high end talent to come in second, but their star power was shut down in the playoffs, I sense that may be a trend. How will they replace Iginla and his goals? The Atlantic is weak enough to let them stay near the top, but they know their time in on the wane. Tampa Bay is solid throughout the roster, great goaltending, much improved defense, deep team. The Lightning's special teams are going to be flat out scary. Montreal has Price in net, and that's a lot. The Cats just miss the playoffs, Detroit continues a downward trend. The Leafs and Sens are a mess and Buffalo is just in trouble, and the lottery got less certain- not a good time to be a Sabres fan.

Donny: I see this as Boston's last gasp at the top, with the Lightning and Habs ready to battle it out for ownership of the Atlantic in coming seasons. Though clearly not what they were only a few years ago the Red Wings retain their identity with Mike Babcock on the bench. Toronto begins to shed ghosts from the past though cohesiveness won't be evident for another season. The Cats will be vastly improved in all areas over 2013-14 but that's not saying much; moves remain to be made on several questionable veterans while Gerard Gallant must show who's boss in short order. The Bobby Ryan signing is a bright spot for the Sens, and an epic bounce-back from Craig Anderson is necessary for any sort of competitiveness from what should be a rebuilding Ottawa club, but isn't. A lot of young talent resides in Buffalo, and they'll catch a few clubs asleep at the wheel.

Todd: I'm really high on the Lightning this year, especially if Bishop stays healthy all season. Adding old-timer Nabokov in case he doesn't was a good move too. Boston is still a good team and Montreal is pretty solid but the rest of the division didn't seem to do much to improve during the offseason, although I think Buffalo will take a step forward this year, but they've still got a long way to go. Going to go out on a limb and pick the Cats to finish last and get McDavid or Eichel in the draft. I've been overly optimistic the last couple seasons, so this year I'm going the other direction and hoping to get proved wrong big time.

Metropolitan

Consensus

Position

Team
1 Pittsburgh Penguins
2

Washington Capitals

3 New York Islanders
4 New York Rangers
5 Columbus Blue Jackets
6 Philadelphia Flyers
7 New Jersey Devils
8 Carolina Hurricanes

Note: The consensus here was impossible to figure out, especially for 3-8.  We were a little all over the place.

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh

Washington

2

Rangers

Islanders

Washington

Columbus

3

islanders

Washington

Islanders

Pittsburgh

4

New Jersey

New Jersey

Rangers

Islanders

5

Columbus

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

6

Philadelphia

Columbus

Columbus

Rangers

7

Washington

Rangers

New Jersey

New Jersey

8

Carolina

Carolina

Carolina

Carolina

Shane: The obvious choices for the top two are Pittsburgh and the Rangers.  I didn't have the Islanders in the top 4, but after they acquired Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, they are a much improved team.  I hold Columbus out due to the fact that Ryan Johansen missed all of training camp, and that they really haven't improved a ton from last year, and still have possession black hole Jack Johnson on their blue line.  Philadelphia will score tons of goals but has no defense whatsoever, and the Capitals added nice pieces, but I don't see them making a turn around under new head coach Barry Trotz.  Carolina lost Jordan Staal in the preseason and look to be awful again (sorry Hurricanes fans).

JC: Rangers, eh? Go east young Shane! go east! Go under MSG and get on board the LIRR! But first, Pittsburgh got improved 3rd and 4th lines this offseason but is the same in net and weak again on defense, but that's enough to stay on top of a wide-open Metro. But out on the Island- the Isles are so vastly improved with Halak in net, and now on defense I expect a massive rise. Leddy moving the puck to Okposo and Tavares? Lovely. I sense that Trotz will get a lot from this Washington team, and that New Jersey and its strong defensive systems and discipline will eke out wins. Philly just seems to get the job done and their young players are ready to start exploding (looking at you Wayne!). Columbus looks like an all new mess with the Jenner and Horton injuries, and the late Johansen signing, but I do love the Skille pickup. Carolina will be awful, especially when Ward is playing. As for the Rangers, they did nothing to get better in the off-season. They lost very important pieces in Pouliot, Boyle, Richards and Stralman and the injury to Stepan, and lack of critical production from Nash just spell real trouble. They got the job done last season with work through 4-lines and good goaltending. Some of those lines are suspect at this time, but Henrik still will be great.

Donny: Todd nailed it below - this is a difficult group to predict beyond the very top. Perhaps in the Big Picture the entire division will be defined by the health of its teams. Beyond that it's a crapshoot as none really stand tall over the others. The Isles are this year's "sexy" pick, and they do have a formidable roster if injuries remain of the minor variety. Absolutely nothing is going the Hurricanes' way.

Todd: This was a tough division to pick as I feel like a lot of the teams in it are pretty even. Going to go out on a limb and pick the Caps in a shocker. Maybe Trotz can finally get that bunch sorted out. I think Columbus is still an up-and-comer and Johansen's absence in camp will be a minor blip. Horton is out again but he wasn't a big contributor last season either. The Penguins are still a good regular season team but are in decline imho. The Rangers aren't as good as last year so I think the Flyers and Islanders will pass them by.  The Devils will be solid but miss the postseason dance, Carolina? Going to be a long season.

Central

Consensus

Position Team
1

Chicago Blackhawks/St. Louis Blues

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

Note: They're tied up at the top in our vote.  No use trying to split the two up, because it's impossible without weighing everyone's votes, which would be unfair.

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Chicago

St. Louis

Chicago

St. Louis

2

St. Louis

Chicago

Dallas

Dallas

3

Dallas

Dallas

St. Louis

Chicago

4

Minnesota

Minnesota

Colorado

Minnesota

5

Colorado

Nashville

Minnesota

Colorado

6

Nashville

Colorado

Nashville

Nashville

7

Winnipeg

Winnipeg

Winnipeg

Winnipeg

Shane: The usual.  Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas are the big three.  Minnesota and Colorado will be fighting for the wild card spot (Colorado has no defense and poor possession numbers. They're not repeating last season). Nashville and Winnipeg haven't improved enough to really make any leaps over any of the other five teams.

JC: Good lord what a division. Poor Nashville. The Colorado regression has been much talked about, nothing to add there, and Winnipeg really needs a goalie. I get the impression that St. Louis and Hitch learned important lessons last season and will have the answers this season to overtake a Chicago squad that suddenly may have some vulnerabilities: I have a hard time buying Shaw as a second line center. Why the Carcillo signing? What does Richards add? Is Crawford great or suspect as some watchers claim. The Hawks top end is still world class, but like Boston, some question marks are creeping into the picture. I really like Lehtonen in Dallas and he can make up for some defensive question marks on a team loaded at forward.

Donny: What a glorious battle ahead in the Central! Like the Norris Division of decades past, this season should produce some terrific boxscores and sidebar dramas of the must-see variety. Any combination of the Blues, Hawks & Stars should be swapping spots at the top with regularity but in the end Chicago will again reign supreme. I like the sub-radar moves Minnesota managed over the summer, while the Avs are thoroughly unpredictable. Nashville's best pickup was Peter Laviolette, good for a bump in what otherwise should have been an underwhelming year. The Jets need a lot of luck in this theatre of pain.

Todd: Have to agree with Jan here. This division is absolutely  loaded. I think this is the year St. Louis overtakes Chicago as the top dog in the Central. I love what they are putting together in Dallas, but unlike JC, I'm not sold on the goaltending, it's going to burn them in the postseason. The Blackhawks will take a step back during the regular season but will still be a tough out come spring. Minnesota and Colorado will battle for fourth place with the Wild coming out on top. Nashville and Winnipeg have no chance in this division. The Jets are well on the way towards alienating their fan base and are probably sorry they needed to be moved west..

Pacific

Consensus

Position

Team

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

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Anaheim

2

Anaheim

Anaheim

Vancouver

Los Angeles

3

San Jose

San Jose

Anaheim

San Jose

4

Vancouver

Vancouver

San Jose

Arizona

5

Arizona

Arizona

Arizona

Edmonton

6

Edmonton

Edmonton

Calgary

Vancouver

7

Calgary

Calgary

Edmonton

Calgary

Shane: After the big three of Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose, this division is a total toss up.

JC: Just what is going to become of San Jose? They are so talented and now the stories of a dysfunctional locker room and a GM and Coach battling with Big Joe? How can you battle with a guy who butters his toast just like us? They could be better than LA and the Ducks but it could also all come apart from the start. The rest do not impress, but Vancouver may have enough to squeak into the playoffs in a 14-team West.

Donny: Predicting a complete turnaround in Vancouver's fortunes as wholesale changes actually benefit the club very quickly, but it's going to take more than fresh air and a No-Torts Zone to topple the Kings. San Jose continues to age before our eyes, while Dave Tippett keeps squeezing the most from his 'Yotes. Anyone else on Anaheim's roster agree with recent, um, "negative" comments from now-retired Teemu Selanne regarding Bruce Boudreau? They remain a rock-solid bunch but any potential dressing room controversy threatens to ruin a good thing. Flipped a coin for the Oilers and Flames.

Todd: I think Anaheim will take the division, the Kings save their best for the playoffs. San Jose will take a step back, but they are still superior to the other teams in the division. Arizona's work ethic makes them the best of the rest of this division. The Oilers will finally start moving up the standings. Vancouver and Calgary... maybe next year.


Wild Card

Consensus: East

Position Team
1 New Jersey
2 Philadelphia

How we voted: East

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Florida

New Jersey

Rangers

Islanders

2

New Jersey

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Detroit

Shane: I see Florida and New Jersey taking it.  I think each division in the East is even, so I don't see one division taking both wild card spots.

JC: I don't trust the Panthers or Detroit enough, but I believe in New Jersey and its goaltending and defensive system, and think the Flyers just find a way- with a lot of big, young talent- to get in.

Donny: Not expecting the Atlantic with representation here, as the Metro still sports the "better" mix, at least in early October (the ATL will, however, make the Cup Final). Rangers remain in conversation long enough to be included, while Philly slides in after dramatic push down the stretch.

Todd: I'll go with the now trendy Islanders for one spot and some how, some way the Red Wings will find a way to get in again.

Consensus: West

Position Team
1 Minnesota
2 Colorado

How we voted: West

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Minnesota

Minnesota

Colorado

Minnesota

2

Vancouver

Vancouver

Minnesota

Colorado

Shane: It's unfair, but the West is stacked this year and Colorado is the odd man out when it comes down to it.

JC: I don't believe in Vancouver, but they may just luck their way in and that actually bores me, its such a lackluster state of affairs. Minnesota is just that "next best team:" not good enough to compete for the division, but good enough to separate from the lower half of the west. These wildcards do not inspire any playoff passion outside of their zip codes.

Donny: Avalanche make it. Because Roy and threats of bodily harm. The Wild will get little respect while slaying giants through the regular season.

Todd: The Central is so good I have to give them both spots. The Desert Dogs will stay on the heels of the Wild and Avs but their lack of offense will do them in late in the season.


Championship

Consensus

Championship Team
East Montreal/Tampa Bay
West Chicago
Cup Chicago/Tampa Bay/Montreal/Anaheim

Note: Again, not enough of us to split it without weighing votes. Interestingly enough, we all picked different Cup champions.

How we voted

Championship

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

East

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay

Montreal

Montreal

West

Chicago

St. Louis

Chicago

Anaheim

Cup

Chicago

Tampa Bay

Montreal

Anaheim

Shane: Tampa Bay comes out of the East, Chicago comes out of the West, and the dominance of Chicago and Los Angeles continues, as the Chicago Blackhawks take home their third salary cap era Stanley Cup.

JC: I really like the goaltending situation in St. Louis and the Stastny pickup. The lessons learned in the loss to Chicago last season will guide them and I think they will end up in the finals. (putting on Lightning Bolt hat) Tampa is the class of the east. Stralman and Garrison added on Defense, a full season of Bishop in net, and a healthy Stamkos. Cooper is a great coach, I see them raising the Cup. Their power play looks awesome. Pick your poison, prevent the Stamkos one-timer or the Garri-bomb? Stralman moving the puck? Boyle on the PK with Callahan? Yikes. The Cup returns to the East!

Donny: I have no love whatsoever for the Canadiens but I really have a (non-emotional) feeling about their chances this year. They'll be aggressive at the trade deadline to plug whatever holes may open up, and better the Bolts in the "win now" department. A bruised, battered Blackhawks roster will win the West but it's going to be a downright hair-pulling, eyeball-gougingly violent opening three rounds. Habs coast to Cup in 5.

Todd: The Lightning will win their opening series but they will get upset by the Habs in the second. Montreal will use this as a springboard to advance through the weak east and into the finals. Anaheim will survive a perilous journey through the west and hammer the Canadians to claim the Cup.

What say you?

(Note: Francisco was unavailable to participate in this roundtable.)

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