By Chris Nosek
After the season was cut short last year, it was decided that the first place Bruins should be awarded the Presidents’ Trophy for having the most accumulated points over the season. This was the third straight season Boston hit at least 100 points for the season. So, having finished in the top 5 in points for each of the past 5 seasons, will the Bruins be able to take the regular season title again? With the realigned divisions, there is no one division that has a clear cut winner and with all the games being played inside your division, the question for every team about the Presidents’ Trophy may not so much be about yourself, but how will the teams you share your division with do against each other.
Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, and Tampa Bay Lightning would lead the favorites if Vegas had them listed. Unanimously three of the top teams selected for success around the league, each would definitely be favored for the most points if you are able to find the odds (since I haven’t been able to find them). Colorado and Vegas being in the same division as each other certainly would make the race interesting, if it were to come down to the two of them for the title. Three of the most complete teams, they will also be favorites for deep playoff runs as they should be. Stacked with talent, both veterans and youth, all of three will be fun and exciting to watch.
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Some would say that the Hurricanes have the most loaded defense in the league from top to bottom, being led by Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton, they are stacked with scoring talent with Svechnikov, Aho, Teravainen, Niederreiter, Staal, Trocheck and others the biggest question facing Carolina is their goaltending. Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are better than average netminders, however facing Tampa Bay 8 times this season will be a really tough task for them. If they both are able to play to the peak of their talent, they get shutdown defense from their core, and their scoring shows up over the course of the season, then they could surprise everyone and walk away not only with the title of the Discovery Central division, but also the Presidents’ Trophy.
Toronto Maple Leafs
One of the most talented teams, the Maple Leafs will get plenty of scoring from Austin Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. New additions like Jimmy Vesey and Joe Thornton will also be able to contribute on the score sheet. Like the Hurricanes, the Maple Leafs face questions between the pipes. While his career SV% is .916, Frederik Andersen also posts a career GAA of 2.63. Facing off against the rest of Canada’s best, including Conor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Elias Pettersson will really make it tough for the Maple Leafs. If everyone on the team plays to the best of their abilities and some of their competitors run into a couple rough breaks, then no one would be surprised if the Maple Leafs won at least one trophy this season.
Stuck in what some have deemed “the division of death” in the MassMutual East, the Flyers have one of the best upcoming goaltenders across the league in Carter Hart. Youthful enough to start most of the 56 games this season, and with veteran Brian Elliott behind him to provide stability in goal, this team has solid all the necessary tools to be successful in the division. Once in the Toronto playoff bubble last season, the Flyers took their game up a notch and landed themselves the refreshed number one seed and the young players on the team got much needed experience in their series against both Montreal and New York. Given how the divisions line up this season, questions for all the other top teams in the East, and high end talent from top of the roster to the bottom, Philadelphia will be able to make some noise during this year’s regular season just like they did in the playoffs.
Admittedly, Montreal surprised a lot of people last year as they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round. The 1.78 GAA and .936 SV% posted by 33-year-old Carey Price was a huge reason why they were able to advance. The number 5 overall pick from the 2005 draft, while on the decline of his career, has proven to have a really high ceiling for his level of play (back in 2014-15 he had a .933SV% and a GAA of 1.96) and is finally paired with the best backup netminder he’s ever played with (except for maybe Jaroslav Halak….but that’s a conversation for a different time). If Price can find his elite game again, and the team reaches its offensive potential, their biggest challenges in their division will be the Oilers and Maple Leafs – both of whom the Canadiens have are now capable of beating with some of the new talent they’ve brought in over the offseason, like Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli.
This season for the Wild has the potential to be surprising for a lot of people with the start of the Jared Spurgeon era beginning. There are a lot of “ifs” that would need to fall the right way for the Wild, but then again – that’s why they are longshots. Cam Talbot was signed by new general manager Bill Guerin to take over in net for Devan Dubnyk, however rookie Kaapo Kahkonen could really push Talbot to a higher level of play. Solid defensive play from their core of Spurgeon, Suter, Dumba, and Brodin will be complimented very well by the offense of Kevin Fiala, Nick Bonino, Marcus Johansson, and Zach Parise. The offense should also see a nice spark from rookie Kirill Kaprizov, who has finally joined the team from Russia where he dominated since the Wild selected him 135th overall in the 2015 draft. In a division with all the other teams could beat up on each other, it wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility to see the Wild sitting at the top when it is all said and done.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Solid defense and high-end goaltending will always give a team a chance to compete not only in the playoffs, but also for the Presidents’ trophy. Columbus also has physical forwards who can score mixed with young, skilled guys who can also find the back of the net. The Blue Jackets should be able to do plenty of that going against the rebuilding Red Wings, the injury-riddled Blackhawks and Stars, and the Florida Panthers, who aren’t sure what they get out of the highly paid Sergei Bobrovsky in goal. All of the teams in the Discover Central will play the Blue Jackets rough, and the Lightning, Hurricanes, and Predators will give them the most struggles, but with two young goaltenders in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, head coach John Tortorella will be able to confidently play either netminder on any night and the team will have a chance to win.