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LBC Roundtable: 2015-16 NHL Season Predictions

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

Will the Bolts be the 2015-2016 champions?
Will the Bolts be the 2015-2016 champions?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Presenting LBC's 2014-15 NHL Season Predictions, brought to you in Roundtable format.  Enjoy!

Atlantic

Consensus

Position

Team
1 Tampa Bay Lightning
2

Montreal Canadiens

3 Detroit Red WIngs
4 Florida Panthers
5 Ottawa Senators
6 Boston Bruins
7 Buffalo Sabres
8 Toronto Maple Leafs

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay Tampa Bay

2

Montreal

Montreal
Montreal Montreal

3

Detroit

Florida
Detroit Detroit

4

Florida

Detroit
Ottawa Florida

5

Boston

Boston
Florida Ottawa

6

Ottawa

Ottawa
Boston Boston

7

Buffalo

Toronto
Buffalo Buffalo

8

Toronto

Buffalo
Toronto Toronto

Shane: The Tampa Bay Lightning will be even more dangerous than they were last season, as their forwards only got better (Jonathan Drouin and Erik Condra will see consistent time, while many others have another year of development under their belt), and their defensemen and netminder are still solid. Carey Price can carry Montreal to second in the division, and even though they no longer have Mike Babcock, the Red Wings are still a solid team. I see the Panthers as being a better overall team than Boston and Ottawa, while Buffalo and Toronto just don't have enough talent on the roster to challenge for one of the top spots in the division.

JC: The Lightning may be the best team in the NHL. I think they are already better than last season, with Drouin up full time and the kids a year experienced. Montreal needs another monster year from Price, as they made no real moves to help a terrible offense. Moving Galchenyuk to the middle may give them the #2 center they desperately need, but will also saddle him with more defensive responsibility than he had at wing. I like the Panthers top to bottom more than Detroit and their injury prone, aging lineup. Forward Dylan Larkin made the Wings out of camp. This is a real change of direction for this franchise if true and shows some level of desperation in the lineup with all its injury holes. I think Boston will outperform Ottawa, and Babcock will get more out of the Leafs while Buffalo's young defense will get carved up.

Donny: This one seemed pretty easy if one goes strictly on appearances, at least through the first three clubs. I may have overvalued the Wings but there remains a solid core in place if healthy; a core which could be rattled if injuries being cropping up. The following five spots are a bit of a wild card. Giving the Sens a lot of credit in what I see as an ability to continue to win more than they lose; certainly not a tear like that of a season ago but still formidable in that the parts really bought into the system. Hard to believe the Broons recover in any season-saving fashion, hence the Cats slipping into number five. Boston may be on the verge of a tear-down; we'll know in April. Toronto is a team built for the trade deadline, and the Sabres aren't. Back to the top of the order: I see the Bolts as unbeatable due to many strengths in every area - from the current roster, to AHL depth, to management/scouting, and on and on. Just not getting the same vibe from Montreal. Yet.

Todd: Tampa Bay will win the division in another absolute dog fight with Carey Price and the Canadiens. The Bolts superior firepower will give them a slight edge. Once again, Detroit will find a way to make the playoffs. The Panthers rebuild will pay off with a Wild Card spot. Ottawa stays in the hunt, but falls short. Boston misses for a second straight season. Buffalo improves to respectability, but isn't a playoff contender yet. Toronto tumbles into the Atlantic cellar.

Metropolitan

Consensus

Position

Team
1 Pittsburgh Penguins
2

Washington Capitals

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

Note:

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Pittsburgh

Washington
Pittsburgh Columbus

2

Washington

Rangers
Rangers Pittsburgh

3

Islanders

Columbus
Washington Washington

4

Rangers

Islanders
Columbus Rangers

5

Columbus

Pittsburgh
Islanders Islanders

6

Carolina

Philadelphia
Philadelphia Philadelphia

7

Philadelphia

Carolina
New Jersey Carolina

8

New Jersey

New Jersey
Carolina New Jersey

Shane: Pittsburgh's offense is unreal, and their defense just has to be league average in order for them to top the Metro. Washington and the Islanders will improve on their 2014-15 seasons, but I just don't see them jumping over Pittsburgh (if the Pens can stay healthy). Both the Rags and the Jackets are nowhere near as good as people think they are, as each team has massive holes in its roster (mainly on defense). The Canes could surprise people, while Philadelphia and New Jersey are just going to be bad.

JC: Washington is for real. That is one hell of a team, able to beat you in any type of game you choose to play, finesse, speed, or heavy. After that there is a real toss up from 2-5. The Rangers may have enough left in the tank, and a very solid defense and goalie to pull another year out, and like Todd, I think Columbus is going to be excellent. I wanted to take the Islanders higher, but I have made that mistake too many times, and Pittsburgh still needs defense to go along with two great offensive lines....but two questionable bottom lines. I think the Flyers will improve greatly and I am rooting for Hakstol- just not in games 1 and 2.

Donny: .Adding Kessel to Pittsburgh's already potent - yet somewhat stumbling in recent years - forward ranks will make the Pens the team to reckon with in 2015-16. The Rangers will continue to pile up points but at a lesser rate; their moment came and went thanks to a burgeoning division with little weakness. Washington will reap the benefits of a rejuvenated T.J. Oshie, and goaltending will continue to be a team mainstay behind Holtby, whose ceiling has not yet been reached. I'm all about the 'Lumbus this year; just look at their roster and tell me they won't be an under-the-radar force in the Metro. The Isles are due for a drop in points simply based upon the divisional improvements but man oh man do I love head coach Jack Capuano. Philly retains some good pieces but refuses to admit to a need for a monster rebuild. Jersey and Carolina are toss-ups, with a few elements but little to build around.

Todd: Washington seems to be the sexy preseason pick in this division, but I'm going to go all in on the now healthy Blue Jackets. Ryan Johansen and Brandon Saad are going to put CBJ over the top. Pittsburgh will gun its way to second place and another fine regular season. Look for the Penguins to continue to be an easy out in the playoffs. The solid Caps will come in third and be a much tougher playoff team than the Pens. The Rangers will edge out the Islanders for fourth place and a playoff berth. Philadelphia will remain the division's fifth-best team, while the goal-challenged Devils will get passed in the standings by the Hurricanes.

Central

Consensus

Position Team
1

Chicago Blackhawks

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

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Chicago

St. Louis
Nashville Minnesota

2

Nashville

Chicago
St. Louis Chicago

3

St. Louis

Nashville
Chicago St. Louis

4

Minnesota

Minnesota
Minnesota Dallas

5

Winnipeg

Dallas
Dallas Nashville

6

Dallas

Winnipeg
Winnipeg Colorado

7

Colorado

Colorado
Colorado Winnipeg

Shane: The Central Division is incredibly hard to predict, so I'll keep this short and sweet; Chicago/Nashville/St.Louis/Minnesota/Winnipeg/Dallas will compete for playoff spots in the division, while Colorado is going to finish at the bottom of the standings.

JC: I am with Todd, what a tough division to call. I have to think this is the desperation year that St. Louis puts it together, there is no reason they should not. Chicago with turnover and a Cup hangover should slip, but not much. Nashville is a great team, likely be a top contender in another division. Chalk me up as one who thinks Minnesota cannot continue at this level with aging players who log big minutes and a goalie they relied on to play every game the second half of the season. Dallas will be a real wild card here, they could move up or down these rankings. Colorado has improved but not enough in that division.

Donny: Here we have the potential for a true cage-match battle in April: four teams who could wind up battling for the division lead with perhaps two points separating them. It's the usual cast, of course, but I really have a good vibe regarding Nashville. Gotta be their year at some point, and this may be that time. Coach Peter Laviolette historically has a rather short shelf life among those in the dressing room, but an effective shelf life; if he's going to pull a rabbit out of his hat, it must happen in 2016.

Todd: This remains the NHL toughest division and predicting it was a headache and a half. I'm going to say Chicago will get off to a slow start due to its salary cap-forced roster turnover. The consistent Wild will hold off the 'Hawks to claim the division crown. The Blues will slip in the standings a bit, but have enough to hold on to third place. The exciting Stars will score themselves a Wild Card slot. The Predators will squeak into the postseason, as the Central will send five teams. Colorado will jump a spot in the standings, while the Jets, a solid enough team, will crash land in the basement and wish they were still back in the Southeast.

Pacific

Consensus

Position

Team

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

How we voted

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Anaheim

Anaheim
Calgary Anaheim

2

Los Angeles

Los Angeles
Anaheim Calgary

3

Calgary

Calgary
Los Angeles Los Angeles

4

San Jose

San Jose
San Jose Vancouver

5

Edmonton

Vancouver
Vancouver Edmonton

6

Vancouver

Edmonton
Edmonton San Jose

7

Arizona

Arizona
Arizona Arizona

Shane: Can we talk about how bad this Pacific is? This division is by far the worst in the NHL. Sure, the Ducks, Kings, and Flames are solid, while San Jose has several strong pieces in place. After that though, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Arizona are all going to be in the bottom portion of the league. It's a big difference from the stacked Central Division.

JC: The Canadian hockey press is feasting on Edmonton articles, about how much improved they are. Cam Talbot played the stretch of a season behind the league's top defense. Where exactly does Edmonton claim to have a #1, 2, or 3 D-man ready for NHL play? Arizona is the worst team in the league right now, I feel for them. I think Vancouver is also not good. Anaheim is the best team in the league, L.A. may have depth issues on defense but I still think they find a way. Calgary could easily pass L.A., I like them that much. San Jose....who ever knows with the Sharks?

Donny: The Pacific is Calgary's for the taking. Nothing magical about it: this is a great squad with a perfect mixture of youth and experience. Love me the underdog. That said, there's an abundance of talent  and coaching perfection within the division. The Ducks should win it, the Kings are due for their annual rebound, San Jose has new life with Pete DeBoer. But really, who cares? All about Connor McDavid in the Pac.

Todd: Anaheim remains the class of the Pacific and is primed to make a deep postseason run. The exciting Flames will continue to defy the analytics crowd and move into second place. The Kings will bounce back to make the postseason after missing last year. The Canucks will go from playoffs to golf course this spring. Connor McDavid and the Oilers will make a major move in the standings. Something is wrong in San Jose and DeBoer is not the answer for whatever ails the Sharks. Arizona will continue to struggle both on, and off the ice, in zany Glendale.


Wild Card

Consensus: East

Position Team
1 Rangers
2 Florida

How we voted: East

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Rangers

Islanders
Ottawa Rangers

2

Florida

Detroit

Florida Florida

Shane: The Rangers are in from the Metro, but I don't see Columbus being able to overcome its defensive issues. The Cats slide in that second spot (barely).

JC: I am really not convinced on Detroit and hesitate to think the Pens miss out but they almost did last year....

Donny: Ottawa and Florida will orbit each other on their collective path to the playoffs.

Todd: The Rangers will take a step back this year, but they still have enough to make it to the dance again. The Panthers will edge out the Isles and Sens for the final spot in the east and get that long-awaited playoff date with the Lightning.

Consensus: West

Position Team
1 Minnesota
2 Dallas

How we voted: West

Position

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

1

Minnesota

Minnesota

Winnipeg

Dallas

2

Winnipeg

Dallas

Dallas

Nashville

Shane: The Central Division takes both spots. Minnesota finishes behind Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis, while Winnipeg is able to beat out Dallas.

JC: Best division in hockey, and so much deeper than the Pacific.

Donny: Had so much more hope for the Stars, though they remain my dark horse - though I don't know why, with gobs of talent up front. Winnipeg will surprise teams and pundits.

Todd: The Stars will shoot and score their way to a postseason berth, while the Predators will hang on by a thread to send Colorado and Vancouver to lengthy summer vacations.


Championship

Consensus

Championship Team
East Tampa Bay
West Anaheim
Stanley Cup Tampa Bay


How we voted

Championship

Shane

JC

Donny

Todd

East

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay

Columbus

West

Anaheim

Anaheim

Nashville

Anaheim

Stanley Cup

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay

Anaheim

Shane: Anaheim is a much better team than they were last year, and should make it past the Blackhawks in the West. The Bolts are just too good though, and they bring the Cup back to Florida.

JC: I like Todd's pick here- bold. But Tampa is the deepest team in the east, and I think their steady goaltending and defense will be more so than Anaheim to take the cup from them.

Donny: We deserve a "Small Market" championship. But there is little reason to believe it won't happen. As I stated earlier, Laviolette works miracles with - for better or worse - underdogs.

Todd: There's going to be a new beast in the east and that's the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets will use a Western Conference-style game to stun the hockey world and advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Waiting for them will be the stacked Ducks, who made some real savvy offseason additions. Anaheim will keep the Cup in the league's best conference for one more year, until perhaps the Panthers lay claim to it in 2017.