1.Chicago Blackhawks- The defending Stanley Cup champions are a fairly self explanatory choice for the number one slot. The team has lost a boatload of talent but General Manager Stan Bowman has made understated moves that will allow the city of Chicago to remain competitive. The boldest choice of all saw the Blackhawks unload former Saginaw Spirit Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a package that included Artem Anismov, a player for which Bowman has internally coveted for a long time. Do the Blackhawks have the horses to race through another marathon? I would exclaim so but like most defending champions, success breeds new opportunity for players that will get elevated roles due to the inevitable salary cap crunch that a few Hawks fell victim to.
Upfront, this team will forever be dominant when Patrick Kane and "Captain Serious" himself, Jonathan Toews remain at the helm. When analyzing Toews game, with full well knowing that his statistics don't jump out at you, he brings particular intangibles that will never be found on a stat sheet. When Toews hits the ice, what's abundantly clear is that he rarely makes mistakes that lead to goals in the back of his own net. This speaks in spades when throwing out that throughout his entire career, he has never had a worse +/- then 11. For a league that forever has had the goal of being more offensive during the entire tenure of Toews career, the accomplishment of this feat is speaks volumes for why he gets the Mark Messier edit for his prudent leadership skills. In my own opinion, the simple role of "leadership" is over appreciated by the majority of media who cover hockey because if you can't play, you can't play, and I don't care how much of a stand up guy you are, you're not going to have a place on my hockey team. Getting back to Toews, and it's quite possible that my uncontrolled rambling is due to a car crash I was involved in earlier in the afternoon, the St.Vital Victorian, who played for that very team name in his Atom/Pee Wee years can play, and if he could ever break that thirty goal plateau, something the Hawks may require after trading Patrick Sharp to Dallas, Chicago will become an even more dangerous commodity. As mentioned in the opening, Artem Anisimov was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade that also the Hawks receive Marko Dano and saw them re-acquire twenty four year old Auburn, New York native Jeremy Morin. Anisimov is the key that will open the car doors for other Hawks that because all the movement may see minutes that they aren't accustomed to. Anisimov, and don't shoot the messenger as like I mentioned I've already been in a car wreck today has been incredibly underwhelming so far during his stints with New York and Columbus. That consistent lack of effort and willingness to compete night in and night out is the part that turns him away from being the top player Bowman and the two previous General Managers who worked with him believed, and believe he can be. He suffers from an illness that some players over the National Hockey League's existence have suffered through and that's a bout with Alex Kovalev-itis.
This defence core is essentially dependent on whether Brent Seabrook remains a Blackhawk. If management does come to the conclusion that they must move Seabrook for financial reasons, then this defensive tandem is already more of a abomination then it was during their playoff run. Joel Quenneville is a top two coach in this industry but his bench management, particularly with the defenceman was deplorable. I cannot fathom the logic interpreted when at times the now retired Kimmo Timonen and Kyle Cumiskey would glue their arses to the bench and then expect to give Quenneville a serviceable shift. Timonen, who came into the NHL with Nashville for the 1998-1999 season, is/was a player with beaming confidence but I don't know what can be expected when given so little time in the sun. Even the most confident player and become discouraged, and that's exactly what transpired with Timonen. The comparable that comes to mind is for example, if in the National Basketball Association, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr had decided to staple Steph Curry to the bench the entire game and then out of the blue required him to come in for the final minute and make a game tying three. Well, a well adversed sports fan would know, he'd probably make the shot, but then again Kimmo would've given a high quality shift in that circumstance if the year was 2005, not 2015. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are widely recognized as the teams' two best defenceman but I could and will make the argument that indeed their second best defenceman is not Seabrook, but Niklas Hjalmarsson. Because Hjalmarsson possesses that non-chalant personality, a lot of the so called experts haven't quite cuddled up to his game Just a really well balanced d-man as he doesn't put a surplus of points, he lets Duncan Keith take that mantra as his career high happens to be twenty-six but when you combine his discipline and reliability he becomes a very important cog to what they're trying to maintain. Add Trevor Daley to the top four mix, and you're about to bake a pretty darn good cake, perhaps with the engraving of "2016 Stanley Cup Champions"?
Status quo in net with Corey Crawford. Crawford, as The has repeatedly shown will not necessarily steal you a game, but won't lose one either. In the midst of the 2014-2015 regular season and early in the playoffs, his game was filled with some may have perceived as unfixable inconsistencies but when the going got tough, this loud mouthed tender came to play in a big way. After Crawfords first Stanley Cup win as a starter back in 2013, there was some wondering eyes asto whether he would fall into the Anti Niemi trap and become a ECHL caliber goaltender the next season, but perseverance paved the way to posting Goals Against Average numbers of .917 and .924 the last two seasons respectively. If there's any liability that hinders the Blackhawks next season, it won't be between the pipes.
2.Calgary Flames-Prior to the NHL draft, there would be no way I would've even considered ever ranking the flames anywhere close to number two. Trades happen, and the trade involving with the Flames and Bruins, which saw Calgary fleece Boston whilst acquiring Dougie Hamilton was a gargantuan game changer and all of a sudden, the team in which second year General Manager Brad Treliving preached patience, but now the Flames are ready to win much sooner than expected. If the Flames were part of Dragon's den episode back in 2013 under Jay Feaster, it's possible they would've been considered for the blooper reel as we probably would have witnessed the dragons laugh hysterically at the prospect of investing in the lowly Flames. In 2015, and I use the Dragon's Den reference because Treliving's father Jim who founded Boston Pizza is a judge on the den would have all four judges desperately want to pitch fork cash to an enterprise that could very well take home the Stanley Cup.
In a recent survey, the Calgary Flames were voted as the fourth most respected franchise in Canada but when just observing forward groups amongst Canadian franchises, this team is nowhere near falling to the fourth spot. This young(very) forward crop is going to be led by a player who shares a nickname with Johnny Manziel, but unlike Manziel isn't known for substance abuse and partying antics, that being Johnny "Hockey" Gaudreau. This slick diminutive American Anomaly is known for his A + creativity followed by what I could consider a much improved ninety foot game which was restructured under the guidance of Bob Hartley. Due to Hartley's past reputation working with young, smaller players you wouldn't of expected him to mesh so well with Gaudreau as in the past mentoring the likes of Alex Tanguay and Jim Slater has been viewed with slightly below average results. I think what has ultimately changed is that Hartley finally realized that to succeed in the National Hockey League, adaptability is paramount and the minute he came to Calgary, there was a renewed, unforeseen passion of the game that the Hawkesbury, Ontario coach didn't show in his stop with the Atlanta Thrashers playing in front of twenty fans. Another reason why Gaudreau exceled last season was because he who his linemates were. Again, credit to Hartley when putting Johnny Hockey with Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan as they each provide a different skill set which allowed the line to flourish, especially noticeable in their first round win against the Vancouver Canucks. Hudler provides more of a shoot first mentality where as Gaudreau is happy to be the Paul Kariya to his Teemu Selanne.Monahan, on the other hand plays in a similar fashion to how a pre-pylon Joe Thornton displayed as he is sometimes mindlessly patient with the puck and always knows when to get infront of the net to crash home a rebound. One of my favourite forwards in the league is Mason Raymond. The speedster who grew up in Cochrane, Alberta would literally make 90's star Pavel Bure look like a little kid learning to skate just needs to find a way to contribute and be a little more sure handed with the puck on stick. Mason, who inked a three year contract back in 2014 is the kind of player every championship club needs because a)he understands his role and doesn't requires top six minutes to remain happy and b) as much as he lacks puck skills, he more then makes up for by being a terrific penalty killer.
To inference a famous One Direction tune "Best Song Ever", do the Calgary Flames have the "Best Defence Ever"? Treliving caught Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney on a bad day, probably still treading tears with the rest of New England involving the Tom Brady saga and forgot that he in charge of a National Hockey League franchise. Let's hope when making this trade, he didn't sign off on the deal thinking he heard the name Freddie Hamilton and not Dougie. It's as good of an explanation as any because you just don't trade one first and two second round for a budgeoning twenty two year old defenceman. Who does he think he is, Brian Burke?....#leafproblems. Already clamoring to the Italian Stallion himself Mark Giordano, it's hard to assess how high the ceiling is for this group. Giordano who was a very late bloomer because in junior playing for the Owen Sound Attack he put up alright numbers but nothing that would make you say he was the next coming of Flames great Gary Suter. Giordano and Hamilton will receive the most media attention in Calgary but just like Niklas Hjalmarsson, T.J Brodie shouldn't be overlooked. For a player that puts forth the focus of being a prototypical defensive defenceman, accumulating forty one points in this last campaign was for the Flames as winning the lottery for the average civilian would be...a million dollar smile. If Brodie can maintain his sedulous play in the d-zone while putting up a similar point total, that'll be the greatest gift the city of Calgary would've received since the NDP government overruled the political power, apologize for the tongue in cheek comment. This defence will unquestionably lead the Red Mile to the promise land, it just remains to see if it's enough to surpass the Blackhawks dynasty.
Predicting the outcome of the training camp battle involving Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller may be more difficulty then figuring out what the Toronto Maple Leafs ultimate end game is. The two goalies each have their merits for why they should be the exclusive goaltender in town. Ramo provides more of an electrifying presence, will steal the TSN top ten from time to time with some ridiculous saves including the one where he committed highway larceny at J.T Miller's doorstep. Hiller isn't known for the same flash and dash but has much more playoff experience relating back to his time with the Anaheim Ducks but also is known for throwing in a stinker in the middle of say three to four solid outing in a row. It's becoming the new trend in the National Hockey League that a lot of teams, including last year's champion the Chicago Blackhawks will implement a two goaltending system that rides the hot hand as Corey Crawford learned full well through their first round triumph versus the Nashville Predators. Ascertaining which goaltender may get the start on a night to night basis has more twists and turns then an entire season of the FOX classic "24". In 24, Jack Bauer played by talented Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland always triumphs victorious, and if the goaltending battle and Flames season has a similar ending, this could spell the end of their twenty six year drought.
J.T Miller gets robbed by Kari Ramo