25. Chicago Blackhawks: 33 wins, 73 points
After missing the playoffs for the first time in what has felt like forever the Blackhawks really opened the eyes of NHL fans not in a good way though. Could the end of era be coming to an end? With Duncan Keith aging, Jonathan Toews not having that same jump to his game and Patrick Kane not having his counter part Artem Panarin, what is going on in Chicago? The Blackhawks struggled immensely on the backend, especially with Corey Crawford sidelined for a majority of the season, there was not much traction in Chicago. Brandon Saad is looking to be a terrible trade, Patrick Sharp is on his way out and it just seems the Blackhawks are too thin at the defensive position and lacking solid forward depth. They will be relying on Saad and Toews to climb out of their slumps, Alex Debrincat and Nick Schmaltz to be the two gunslingers along with the Patty Kane and rookie Dylan Sikura will get his shot at the professional level. I think the Blackhawks again finish outside the playoff race, a few games under .500 and with some major changes coming.
Key transactions: Brandon Manning, Chris Kunitz…
24. Carolina Hurricanes: 33 wins, 75 points
If anything the Hurricanes took a big step back this offseason, they took two step forwards to take a big step back. While the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton is great, the departure of Jeff Skinner hurts them a ton. They now have Martin Necas as their number two center, two rookies along side Sebastian Aho and not a ton of bottom six depth. They did add Calvin De Haan but he is not a deal break by any means. They will be asking Haydn Fleury and Brett Pesce to play a few more minutes and ultimately their goaltending is still a question mark. If anything the Hurricanes finish worse next season not better. A lot of pressure will sit on the shoulders of rookies Andrei Svechnikov and Valentin Zykov, and now third-year forward Aho. They Hurricanes may have a similar skill set compared to last year but it will be a different outlook for these Carolina players. I would guess a last place or 7th place Metropolitan finish, possibly a game under .500 or five games under .500.
Key transactions: Calvin De Haan, Michael Ferland, Andrei Svechnikov, Petr Mrazek…
23. New York Rangers: 37 wins, 77 points
The Rangers may not be expecting a better year than last year, and not many will be surprised by another missed playoff chance for the Rangers. But the Rangers are in a little bit of rebuild, they had some terrible offensive production last season and their blueline was very thin, as they had 3 rookies or defenseman with 50 games fewer NHL experience playing a lot of minutes. The Rangers did not add anything this offseason but with this will come more time for Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil the Rangers first round selections in 2017 to see more ice time. We will see a lot of young prospects making their appearances this season as the Rangers have a magnitude of youth waiting for their shot. The upside to the Rangers poor placing is a solid first round pick again and a new coach. As the Rangers will be running with Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Lias Andersson, Mats Zuccarello and Vladislav Namestikov as their top six, there could be bright spots but in the end this top six does not rank up too well against other teams top six’s. I’d say a 6th place Metropolitan division finish is realistic for the Rangers.
Key transactions: K’Andre Miller, Vitali Kravstov, Nils Lundkvist
22. Edmonton Oilers: 37 wins, 79 points
The Oilers have come out and said that they are going to be better than last year but what has shown that to be true thus far? They added, Tobias Rieder, besides that their team is the same exact team as last year. Is Ryan Strome magically going to come out of his shell? Is Milan Lucic going to come back to his old form? Is Connor McDavid going to put up 120 points to make this a playoff team. Is their defense going to stay healthy and actually be a productive, reliable back end? Is Cam Talbot ready for another 60 plus starts, fatiguing the goalie more than he already is? A lot of what if’s and question marks in Edmonton. Too many to consider them to be a playoff team or even better than last year, they got the hot hand in 2016-17 and ran with it, came back down to earth and are right where they belong. Until they add some more forward depth, and someone besides Strome and Ty Rattie to play alongside Connor McDavid it will be a long year for Edmonton. Another missed playoff year and basement finish in the Pacific division for Edmonton. Sorry Edmonton but McDavid is not literally McJesus and rising this team to the top all on his own.
21. Buffalo Sabres: 39 wins, 83 points
The Sabres are moving up a lot here, yes hear me out though. Very short and simple. Jack Eichel has years under his belt now, Rasmus Dahlin is projected to be an Erik Karlsson esq defenseman, Rasmus Ristolanen is already a top-30 defenseman, they added a 30-goal scorer in Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart is coming off a year, Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart are going to be a thing to watch, a very underrated line one. Casey Mittlestadt is making his transition into the NHL, after a strong World Juniors showing this kid looks ready. They added a ton of depth and veteran leadership in Patrik Berglund, and Matt Hunwick. Vladimir Sobotka and Conor Sheary will be solid bottom six players as well they have another top projected prospect in Tage Thompson. Carter Hutton has a chance to steal the show and prove his #1 goaltending worth, he showed it in St. Louis for flashes he can do it but consistency will be key. If Hutton pans out and the Sabres keep a healthy blue line, they should be a much better team. I’d say a 5th place Atlantic division finish is my guess.
Key transactions: Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwich, Patrik Berglund, Rasmus Dahlin, Tage Thompson, Carter Hutton, Vladimir Sobotka, Jeff Skinner