The season is just days away, and we’ve reached part three of our series looking previewing each team’s schedules.
Until Prudhoe Bay, Alaska gets an NHL team (sort it out Bettman), the farthest distance between two teams is the trip from the Vancouver Canucks to the Florida Panthers. A journey by air of 2,780 miles. Considering that the Canucks are one of the worst teams in the NHL, they could save a whole of rainforest by just sending the two points by email with the subject title ‘foregone conclusion’.
Geographically speaking, the closest teams in the NHL, perhaps unsurprisingly are the New York Rangers and New York Islanders. As the crow flies, the teams are just five miles apart, although by road it’s 8 miles and takes about 4 hours to drive.
Teams in the Central division have the good fortune being positioned more, well, centrally. So road trips tend to be that little bit shorter and with some teams clustered closer than others. Always always we’ll preview the teams in alphabetical order.
The 2014-15 Stanley Cup champions haven’t failed to qualify for the playoffs since the 2007-08 season, and while a tough schedule might break lesser teams, the Hawks aren’t concerned. Chicago are good at home (.683) and not much worse on the road (.563). That’s not to say the schedule has been kind, mid November takes the team to Canada to take on Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton, then it’s straight down the west coast to battle San Jose, LA and Anaheim. Expect the team to take at least 10 points from a possible 14 on that trip. The end of January takes the Hawks on a six-gamer that has potential to upset; San Jose, Arizona and Dallas could take some points away, while Minnesota, Winnipeg and Edmonton will likely roll over. Chicago’s generous multiple home stands will balance out any lost points, and the team will coast into the playoffs.
Whatever Jared Bednar is selling, the Avalanche are buying. At least in preseason. At the time of writing, the Avs 5-0. That includes a win over the Dallas Stars, which the Avs will hope to repeat on opening night. After that the team has a tough four game road trip during which the team will face the current Stanley Cup champs; the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. The scheduling gods have smiled on Colorado as 2016 looks manageable. 2017 isn’t much worse either, a five gamer to take on the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Sabers and Hurricanes in February will challenge Bednar’s men, but if the team can improve on last season’s .513 road win percentage, then the team will comfortably make it all the way to just missing out on that last playoff spot.
By area, the Central division is huge, and the Stars are perfectly located to be near no other teams. Last season the team managed a .622 road win percentage, the fifth best in the league, although the team’s catalog of injuries might put a bit of strain on retaining or improving that. Road wins at division rivals Colorado and Nashville will jump-start the Stars’ season, and capitalising on favourable homestands will also help. November’s five-gamer to Chicago, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver will give an early impression into what we can expect from Dallas. A March/April five-gamer will be pivotal if the division hasn’t been decided yet, and the Stars will need to seek points at New Jersey, Montreal, Boston, Carolina and Tampa Bay. A challenge by anyone’s standards. The Stars will finish the season with a three game home-stand.
The Wild don’t travel well, last season Mikko Koivu and the Wild crew managed a paltry .474 road win percentage. That was better than all the Canadian teams, and helped the Wild to clinch that last wildcard spot. But the team needs to do better this season if it wants to avoid becoming know for clinching but failing to progress, Detroit, in other words. The schedule this season very much mirrors Colorado’s, with lots of shorter road trips. A five game trip in March to take on Tampa Bay, Florida, Chicago, Washington and Carolina will be a key point in Minnesota’s playoff campaign. Two of the final four games are against division rivals Colorado and that’ll make interesting viewing for neutrals.
Last season the Predators were out on their own small island in the league, a few wins short of an automatic playoff spot, but a few wins better than the Wild who took the second wildcard spot. While the Preds couldn’t make it past the second round of the playoffs, Peter Laviolette‘s men have (arguably) upgraded their blueline by trading Shea Weber for P.K. Subban. Nashville start the season with two games against the division rivals Chicago. October also brings a five game road trip to play the California Three, as well as Arizona and Colorado. After that the scheduling gods have been kind, there’s another five gamer in the new year, but it’s mostly against weaker opposition so the Preds, who are middle of the league when it comes to road wins, should feel confident.
St. Louis Blues
While Nashville had to settle for a wildcard spot, the St. Louis Blues qualified comfortably with 107 points. Now with the added firepower of Nail Yakupov, the team will likely qualify again. Yakupov scored 22 points last season for the Edmonton Oilers, and the Blues didn’t lose any key players in the trade. The Blues’ schedule isn’t likely to hinder the team’s playoff hopes. December offers a four game road trip to play the New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild and the Nashville predators. Last season the Blues had the third best road game win percentage (.654) in the league. The team were better away from the Scottrade Center than in it! If the Blues’ season doesn’t go to plan then March’s five game road trip bring a lot of pressure. The team has to face all three Californian teams, as well as the Arizona Coyotes and division rivals Colorado.
Of the four Canadian teams in the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets were the best, although that’s not a claim that’s worth much. Even with Patrik Laine on the roster, the Jets are unlikely to trouble the playoffs. They may not be bad enough to have made Joel’s bottom five, but the team is still ‘rebuilding’ so schedule challenges are almost irrelevant. January’s trips to Florida and California will be difficult for a team that finished last season with just a .421 road win percentage. The Jets have a couple of four game home stands to look forward to which could feasibly bring some points, but the team are last in the division alphabetically, and will probably finish there too.