The 2014-15 season is quickly approaching. With training camps seemingly right around the corner, it’s time to look ahead, check the ol’ crystal ball and predict which teams will take a step forward this season. These teams may not make a deep run in the playoffs, but they’re clubs on the rise who you should keep an eye on this year.
Presented in no particular order…
Most hockey sites are going to pick the Stars as the team to watch in the Western Conference. Rightfully so. The Stars made waves last season with a somewhat unexpected trip to the playoffs and built on that this summer by bringing in both Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. These two join a roster which already features some impressive talent such as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
It might be easier to be a bit more optimistic about Dallas this season if they were competing outside of the Central, but they’ll have their work cut out for them as they are continually facing some of the best in the West. Still, the Stars are clearly a team on the rise and their fans are noticing.
After approximately five years of ugly hockey in Big D, the Stars are once again an extremely formidable opponent.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Like Dallas, Tampa Bay really turned their franchise around last season by climbing into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The abbreviated 2012-13 season was an ugly one for the Lighting as they only won 18 of their 48 games. The tide began to turn in 2013-14 as Ben Bishop stood on his head in an effort deserving of the Vezina. Unfortunately, serious injuries to Steven Stamkos and Bishop put a damper on what was a season in the right direction. Assuming both men are healthy throughout the year, the Lightning could be a contender.
With Steve Yzerman steering the ship, it’s likely the Lightning will continue to build on their momentum.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils probably want to put 2013-14 far out of their mind. They missed the playoffs by just a handful of points, a fact which was made all the more painful due to their inability to pick up a win in the shootout in 13 attempts. Goaltending was always an interesting topic as Martin Brodeur clung to his role and Cory Schneider’s future seemed to be in doubt.
To be clear, the Devils still have plenty of question marks heading into 2014-15. Still, they’ve finally addressed one issue and committed to a long-term deal with Schneider. The additions of Michael Cammalleri and Martin Havlat aren’t going to set the hockey world on fire, but they should improve an offense which desperately needed help last season.
It may surprise you to see the Panthers on this list considering they will once again be against the odds to make the NHL’s second season in 2014-15, but they have a lot of positives to talk about. Honestly, it’d be a successful year if the Panthers even come within reach of a playoff spot, but it’s the fact they may finally be back in that position which earned them a spot on this list.
The Panthers have a nice duo in net with Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya and they’ve added a series of players over the summer such as Dave Bolland, Shawn Thornton, Willie Mitchell and Jussi Jokinen. They won’t be an elite bunch, but they’re an improved squad when compared to 2013-14.
Despite the fact the Wild are coming off of back-to-back playoff appearances, they’ve earned a spot on this list due to the fact they’ve solidified themselves as a team to fear in the West. The Wild are transforming their image from playoff pretender to serious contender.
Thomas Vanek is the big addition this summer and should add another element to the team’s offense. There are still questions surrounding the club’s attack, but the team will still rely heavily on their defense and goaltending. It’s unclear how the Wild will handle their goaltending situation, but all of the obvious options are fairly strong ones.
The Wild may still be a few pieces away from a complete puzzle, but they’re a team the league will be watching in 2014-15 and beyond.