The 2016-17 season is underway and there's nothing you, I, or anyone else can do about it.
The mighty New York Islanders are back to playing hockey games worth two points and in case you've forgotten, those two points will make or break the next six months of your life. Go a few days without getting those two points, and long winter nights will feel relentless. But should those two points end up in your wanting pockets -- sleep will be easy.
Once again the Islanders are expected to fight for a spot in the postseason tournament, and, given all they've put us through everyday of our lives, they better.
To make the tournament, the Islanders are going to need to succeed in a division that features the defending champs, the reigning President's Trophy winner, and perhaps the three best goaltenders in the league, oh joy.
Notable 2015-16 accomplishment: Even though they have the best player in the world, they still found a way to sneak up on everyone to win the whole goddamn thing.
Should I be afraid of Pittsburgh?
Yes. This team is very, very scary. Not only do they have Sidney Crosby (who's dealing with another concussion) they also have a very deep roster that includes the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang. The top of the Penguins roster is so good that their bottom-six was made up of a bunch dudes that none of us have ever heard of and they still steamrolled.
They were so blasted fast last year that you'd be hard-pressed to recall a game in the last three months of the season that didn't end with you cowering in the corner of a dark room asking yourself, holy s--t, how do you stop this team?
Stopping the Penguins hasn't been easy for a decade and it won't be any easier this season. It's at the point where I can't imagine a world where the Pens aren't good. I really hate them.
Notable 2015-16 accomplishment: Pretty sure they won the President's Trophy back in November.
Should I be afraid of Washington?
Hell yes, you should. The general feel around the hockeysphere is that this organization and the one we just covered will compete for the top spot in the division. According to Pinnacle Sports, the Capitals are +180 to win the division, with Pittsburgh just behind them at +217. Vegas views the division as a two-horse race and Vegas is usually always right.
Not only do the Capitals have one of the scariest offensive weapons in the league, they also have a goaltender who's game is just as good as his pre-game ritual is sociopathic. Even with a defense that won't win any beauty pageants (which isn't really a big deal because they have the reigning Vezina winner behind them) one could argue that no other team in this whole god forsaken league can match the Capitals weapon-for-weapon.
Aside from Alex Ovechkin, we're all downright mortified of his friends T.J. Oshie, Nick Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuzsnetsov. They also have more guys who are good, but what's the point. in going over them. They're going to bludgeon us, be prepared.
Notable 2015-16 accomplishment: Dressed Tanner Glass 57 times.
Should I be afraid of these f*%#@$g guys?
If the thought of Henrik Lundqvist skating around Madison Square Garden with the Stanley Cup over his head doesn't paralyze you with fear -- then you should probably get to a doctor immediately.
As long as the Rangers exist and have Lundqvist in goal they are the scariest team imaginable. I treat every puck that goes by Lundqvist is a minor miracle. Just like every season, New York will depend on Lundqvist and a few high-end players up front.
This year the Rangers shouldn't be the type of team that can roll four with deeper teams and they had a very tough time driving possession last year because their defense isn't all that good. On paper this should be the year we've all been waiting for, the season in which these stupid [redacted] stumble out of the gate and don't press for a playoff spot. But they won't. They'll find a way to ruin everything.
Notable 2015-16 achievement: For a few moments there they had everyone thinking they may just come back from a 3-0 series deficit against Washington in the first round.
Should I be afraid of Philadelphia?
Yeah, these guys are pretty darn frightening.
Usually the Flyers aren't a below the radar-type-of-team, but they've assembled a pretty decent squad on the down low. Every few weeks the Flyers come into the picture and guys like Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds come into town and make you think "Why don't I hate these guys more?"
They've also got a slew of annoying, non-descript forwards with boring names like Read, Cousins, or Laughton who I always get mixed up with one another.
Defensively, the Flyers, like every team in the NHL, have one dude who's really good followed by a handful of other guys. They seem open to the idea of letting their highly touted young defenseman play for them this year, imagine that. They also have Radko Gudas, which means at any moment's time you could lose your best player to a wayward elbow.
In goal who knows what the hell to make of Steve Mason, who's numbers have been solid since he's come to Philly. But then again, he's still Steve Mason. I could sit on a psychiatrist's chair for hours and try to figure out Steve Mason.
Notable 2015-16 achievement: Improved by 15 points from 2014-15.
Should I be afraid of Carolina?
Yes. Every team in the league wants to be the young upstart, and this year Carolina has a chance to wear that crown.
For the second straight season, Carolina carried a possession number of over 50%, which is a bit of a rarity for a team that misses the playoffs. Consider that even with their porous goalkeeping last year, the Hurricanes improved by 15 points from the year before. It's alarming.
It feels like Ron Francis has some sort of hockey lab with a bunch of hockey scientists in Raleigh. Like HBO's new show Westworld. They put a bunch of skills in a computer and use a 3-D printer to create players with code names like Sebastian Aho, Sergey Tolchinsky, and Jaccob Slavin.
If Carolina finds a way to finagle a goalie out of their lab at some point, they'll be the type of team that steals a playoff spot from under our noses.
Notable 2015-16 achievement: Pissed off Taylor Hall by trading for Taylor Hall.
Should I be afraid of New Jersey?
Frankly, the New York Islanders, being the juggernaut that they are, should be expected to take points every time they play the Devils. Which is a bone-shaking proposition if I've ever heard one.
Especially because, in a division that features Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, and Jean-Francois Berube, the Devils may have the circuit's best goalie.
Cory Schneider will keep New Jersey in a high percentage of games and will probably single-handedly be the reason we miss the playoffs. Get ready to hear the following credo for the entire season -- 'if the Devils were any good, Schneider would be in the Vezina race.'
Already equipped with a puck-stopping maniac, the Devils decided to forego full-rebuild mode and added Hall to the league's worst offense last year. And hey, look -- they've just compounded your misery by completing an actually decent top-six by adding twice-former Islander P.A. Parenteau. PAP joins Hall, thirty-goal scorer Kyle Palmieri, and perennial goal-scoring-phenom Mike Cammalleri up front.
If Hall stays healthy and the Devils get some contributions from guys none of us have ever heard of in their bottom six, they have the potential to be that type of annoying team that beat the Islanders every time they play.
Notable 2015-16 achievement: Lost their first eight games of the season.
Should I be afraid of Columbus?
Sure, why not? The Blue Jackets came into last season as the sexy pick to gate-crash the division, so naturally they completely imploded and were eliminated from postseason contention before Halloween.
This year, the Jackets come into the season as the sort of forgotten team in the division, which is just as petrifying as it sounds. The whole hockey world has spent years piling on John Tortorella, basically writing him off as a psychopath. However, he's got a young defense that features Seth Jones (who is one of those 'he's not on my team but I totally would buy his jersey' type of guys), Ryan Murray (the player that Garth Snow allegedly wanted to trade all seven of his draft picks for), and up-and-comer Zach Werenski. All three rearguards were Top 10 picks in their respective drafts and will play in front of a decent goaltending tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and a big Finnish dude who's name I will not even attempt to spell.
Up front, I'm pretty sure the Jackets still have a bunch of former Rangers and a few young guys that will find themselves benched once they cough up a puck or take a penalty.
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So there you have it, but please remember as scary as these teams are, none of them are scarier than our beloved New York Islanders.