The 2014-15 preview will close out the Eastern Conference this week, with the Washington Capitals. We'll also delve into the Pacific Division.
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2013-14 Finish: 38-30-14 record, fifth in Metropolitan Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: The Capitals don't sport much goal-scoring depth beyond Alex Ovechkin. The Great Eight led the team with 51 goals, followed by Troy Brouwer with 25 and Joel Ward with 24. It marked the first time in Ward's career that he's hit the 20-goal mark. He also placed third on the Caps with 49 points in 82 games.
Can he do it again? Unlikely. Ward meshed well with Jason Chimera, who also had a career year, and the duo gave Washington plenty of offense from two unlikely candidates. Both of them should line up on the team's third line this year and it's hard to picture them catching lightning in a bottle twice. The return of Brooks Laich as well as pushes from young forwards, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, should also limit Ward's opportunities.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Braden Holtby was establishing himself as an up-and-coming netminder and he performed very well during the lockout-shortened season when he claimed the team's starting job. He took a step back in 2013-14 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average. The Capitals featured four goaltenders last season and there was plenty of indecision on what to do with Holtby.
Will he bounce back? Yes. Washington has a new coach (Barry Trotz) and a new General Manager (Brian MacLellan), who have both already expressed their faith in Holtby by tabbing him as their starter. He appreciates the vote of confidence and the stability will be good for him. Holtby will also have a new goaltending coach, Mitch Korn, so he'll have a fresh start with a new staff after the old regime tried unsuccessfully to change his style. Holby should get some extra motivation in a contract year as well.
Notable Additions: Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters
Notable Departures: Mikhail Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak
2014-15 Outlook: Former coach Adam Oates was fired after one season, but he did help get Ovechkin back on track. Nicklas Backstrom is an elite playmaker and one of just three players in the league last season to top 60 assists. The Capitals need more offensive support behind their dynamic duo, but they chose to address their defense in the off-season by adding ex-Penguins Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. The back end does look better on paper and it has more experience. Helping in the defensive end will be Holtby, who should be more reliable this season. Washington missed a Wild Card spot by three points last season and a playoff position could be within their reach this campaign.
Player to Watch: Evgeny Kuznetsov is expected to line up on one of Washington's top-two lines. The talented rookie could end up centering the second unit and he'll likely be in the running for the Calder Trophy at the end of the year. He got a taste of the NHL last year, while posting three goals and nine points in 17 games. Kuznetsov could be a 50-60 performer in 2014-15.
2013-14 Finish: 54-20-8 record, first in Pacific Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: John Gibson's time in the NHL was expected to come eventually, as he's an elite goaltending prospect, but he was fast tracked by the Ducks last season. He posted a 3-0-0 record with a .954 save percentage, a 1.33 goals-against average and one shutout during the regular season. Gibson also got an opportunity to start in the playoffs, where he compiled a 2-2-0 mark with a .919 save percentage, a 2.70 GAA and one shutout.
Can he do it again? He did perform very well in a small sample size, so skepticism is bound to occur. Still, it's not far-fetched to believe the hype surrounding this highly-touted prospect. He plays on a very strong team and he's expected to compete for playing time with Frederik Andersen. Jason LaBarbera was added in the off-season, but it would be surprising if he earned a spot over Gibson or Andersen. Gibson is worth gambling on this season and his skills as a starter are for real.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Jacob Silfverberg was acquired as a key part of the deal that sent Bobby Ryan to Ottawa. He was pegged as a potential sleeper candidate going into the 2013-14 campaign, but he registered 10 goals and 23 points in 52 games. He got some opportunities on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but he mostly shuffled between combinations. He missed chunks of the year due to injury as well, including 24 games from Oct. 25-Dec. 17 due to a broken hand.
Will he bounce back? Silfverberg played in his rookie year with Ottawa during the lockout-shortened season. He potted 10 goals and had 19 points in 48 games. It doesn't take a math whiz to see that he added four assists in four more appearances, so "bouncing back" doesn't exactly fit here. Still, he should be better in 2014-15. He's projected to play alongside Ryan Kesler on the second line and if he stays there then his fantasy stock will increase.
Notable Additions: Ryan Kesler, Dany Heatley
Notable Departures: Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perreault, Luca Sbisa
2014-15 Outlook: The Ducks finished with the best record in the Western Conference last season. Getzlaf and Perry form one of the better tandems in the league and the Ducks landed a terrific center to play behind them when they acquired Kesler from Vancouver. Anaheim got much younger in the summer with the departures of Selanne and Koivu, but players like Silfverberg, Devante Smith-Pelly and Kyle Palmieri are ready to step up. Anaheim has a good mix on the back end and a good goalie combination as well. The Ducks should be regarded as a strong bet to win their division again.
Player to Watch: Ryan Kesler was a key acquisition for the Ducks during the off-season. His two-way skills will be put to good use and he could return to the 60-point plateau if he can stay healthy.
2013-14 Finish: 37-30-15 record, fourth in Pacific Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Mikkel Boedker enjoyed a breakout season during a frustrating year for most of the players on the Coyotes. The 24-year-old has dazzled onlookers with his speed, while intriguing with his offensive potential, and he finally used his skills to record a personal best 51 points in 82 games. Boedker tied for second on the team in scoring and he had a career high 19 goals.
Can he do it again? Boedker will be a central part of Arizona's offensive attack in 2014-15. On a team that often struggles to score, that may not mean a great deal, but it will give him plenty of opportunities to reach the 50-point mark again and possibly challenge the 60-point mark.
Last season's biggest disappointment: The Coyotes didn't get the same level of play that they've grown to expect from number one goaltender Mike Smith. He didn't get much support over the course of the season, but he performed erratically at times. Smith also missed the last 10 games of the season due to an MCL sprain to his right knee.
Will he bounce back? Smith appeared to be regaining his form after the Olympic break before his injury struck. He is confident that he'll rebound because he learned from the experience. The typically stingy Coyotes are likely to be better defensively, which will help him out as well. He'll be better than he was a year ago.
Notable Additions: Sam Gagner, Devan Dubnyk, B.J. Crombeen
Notable Departures: Radim Vrbata, Mike Ribeiro, Thomas Greiss
2014-15 Outlook: The Coyotes had their defense, offense and goaltending disappear at inopportune times last season. Arizona also lost starting netminder Mike Smith while they were battling for a playoff spot. As a result of their fumbling and bumbling, they finished two points behind Dallas for the final Wild Card spot. Arizona lost underrated scoring threat Radim Vrbata to free agency in the summer and they bought out Mike Ribeiro because of behavioral issues. Replacing two of their top five point getters will be a difficult task. The Coyotes will be hoping that Sam Gagner or a prospect like Max Domi can help fill the void. Coach Dave Tippett will be tasked with righting the ship defensively and he should be up for the challenge. Still, the playoff picture in the West is tough to crack and Arizona will likely be a bubble team again.
Player to Watch: Max Domi was close to staying in the NHL last season and he'll be watched closely at training camp in the fall. He could be a top-six forward for the Coyotes in 2014-15 and his offensive skills would be beneficial to a team in need of more offensive threats up front.
2013-14 Finish: 35-40-7, sixth in Pacific Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: After some internal debate, the play of defenseman Mark Giordano just edged out rookie Sean Monahan for this honor. The 30-year-old defender has produced impressive seasons before, but he upped the ante in 2013-14. He produced career highs with 14 goals and 47 points despite missing 18 games from Oct. 21-Dec. 4 due to a broken ankle.
Can he do it again? Giordano shined in his first season as the Flames' captain, but as mentioned above he has enjoyed productive seasons before so his breakout didn't completely come out of the blue. If he avoids injury then 40-50 points could easily be attainable for him this year.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Sven Baertschi hasn't been able to make his mark in the NHL yet despite having plenty of upside. During his previous two seasons, he made 25 appearances with Calgary and he generated 13 points. He displayed flashes of his potential during that time, but he was limited to 26 contests in 2013-14 and spent most of the year in the minors.
Will he bounce back? Baertschi hasn't established a very good track record thus far and he's unlikely to do something about it in 2014-15. He'll be in tough to earn a roster spot with fellow top prospects Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett vying for NHL positions. Baertschi also suffered a fractured rib at the World Championship, which will hold back his preparations for the upcoming season. He'll turn just 22 years of age in October so there's still plenty of time for him to make an impact with the Flames, but he'll probably begin the year in the AHL.
Notable Additions: Jonas Hiller, Mason Raymond
Notable Departures: Michael Cammalleri
2014-15 Outlook: The Flames finished 27th overall and they are probably a safe bet to finish at the bottom of the standings this campaign as well. Jonas Hiller has the ability to steal games between the pipes, but it won't be enough. Calgary are still in a rebuilding mode and they are assembling a good core with Gaudreau, Bennett and Monahan at the forefront.
Player to Watch: Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau is projected to make Calgary's opening night roster. He's a top contender for the Calder Trophy heading into training camp after tearing up the college ranks last season. Gaudreau amassed 36 goals and 80 points in 40 games with Boston College. He also scored a goal in Calgary's regular-season finale during his NHL debut. The undersized forward should be watched closely because he could end up skating on one of Calgary's top-two lines.
2013-14 Finish: 29-44-9, seventh in Pacific Division
Last season's breakout performance/pleasant surprise: David Perron broke out with the Oilers in his first year with the team following his acquisition from St. Louis. He reached career highs last season with 28 goals and 57 points in 78 games. He also racked up 90 penalty minutes.
Can he do it again? Don't be surprised if his numbers decline slightly in 2014-15. The Oilers don't have much depth down the middle and Perron's center, Sam Gagner, was traded away during the off-season. His time on the power play could also be reduced by Teddy Purcell or Nail Yakupov. If Perron plays with Ryan-Nugent Hopkins then his statistics will continue to flirt with the 60-point mark, but if he doesn't then a fall back to the 45-50 point range is plausible.
Last season's biggest disappointment: Nail Yakupov struggled in his sophomore season. His goal total decreased from 17 to 11 and his point total dropped from 31 to 24. He dealt with some injuries and missed the last 13 games of the year with an ankle ailment, but he also spent some time in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Will he bounce back? There's still plenty of optimism around Yakupov because he has great offensive potential and he'll be just 21-years-old when the new season begins. Talk of trade rumors as well as a rift between Yakupov and coach Dallas Eakins were part of his troubling second year, but Eakins is a stern believer that the young winger will rebound. Yakupov will have to work his way back up the lineup, but he makes for an interesting gamble going into the 2014-15 season.
Notable Additions: Teddy Purcell, Benoit Pouliot, Nikita Nikitin
Notable Departures: Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth
2014-15 Outlook: Edmonton's collection of top picks haven't been able to dig them out of the basement yet. Taylor Hall was brilliant last season, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins made some progress and Nail Yakupov struggled. Meanwhile, Jordan Eberle and David Perron posted strong performances. Leon Draisaitl, who was the 2014 third overall selection, may insert himself into the fold this year as well. The offense has the pieces to come together nicely, but it needs help at center. At the other end, Edmonton will continue to struggle defensively and another trip to the draft lottery is likely.
Player to Watch: Yakupov is the most intriguing player to keep an eye on, but Edmonton's second-line center spot has me perplexed. So, I'm going to turn this into 'What to Watch' situation. Will it be Boyd Gordon? Anton Lander? Mark Arcobello? Or do they take a chance and use Draisaitl? The Oilers haven't been successful on the free agent or trade fronts during the off-season, but those efforts could ramp up heading into training camp. Edmonton has Yakupov, Perron, Pouliot and Purcell on the wings to help out whoever lines up beside them.