Teams are listed in order of predicted finish.
*Denotes playoff pick
Now, can they do it again? Whereas the Capitals are waiting for the playoffs to prove that they've improved, the Lightning face the challenge of proving that last season wasn't a fluke...that Teddy Purcell really is a top-6 forward...that Martin St. Louis can still be the catalyst at age 36...that they aren't over-reliant on special teams as one of only three teams -- the Canucks and Canadiens were the others -- ranked in the top 10 in both powerplay and penalty kill...in short, that Tampa Bay's rise is real.
The reality in Raleigh is that this group is still developing and evolving. It might not have quite enough to reach the playoffs, unless everything goes Carolina's way on the injury front and development track.
Well, it has a nice core group that's now been together for at least a couple of seasons. That might not sound like a lot, but given the perpetual shuffling that went on in Atlanta, it is a good start in Winnipeg. Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian are maturing into NHL contributors after cutting their collective teeth -- with some gnashing, I'm sure -- as teenagers. Captain Andrew Ladd, trade deadline acquisition Blake Wheeler and Nik Antropov provide proven production. Is it enough? It might just be if big Dustin Byfuglien provides a positive wild card spin from the blueline.
Certainly, Tallon acted decisively. The question is: did he move prudently or is this just a random roster that needed any kind of shake-up after a decade of malaise and missed playoffs? Change was in order, but to what degree? Time will tell if the GM merely shuffled the deck or actually dealt a winning hand. If nothing else, Tallon's approach makes the Panthers one of the more interesting teams to follow this season and that was at