Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno was kind enough to sit down with PHR and touched on a number of hockey issues. Whyno is based out of Washington, so we also touched on the Capitals and how Washington will fare this year. You can find Stephen’s work here at the AP (he does a great job with other sports as well), and give him a follow at Twitter @SWhyno.
PHR: Barring any significant injuries in the World Cup of Hockey, or in training camp, who do you have as an early favorite this season? What about sleepers?
Whyno: It’s hard not to love the Tampa Bay Lightning, especially in an era in which no NHL team ever repeats. Sorry, Penguins. If Pittsburgh bucks the trend, there’s plenty of talent there to make it happen, but a long way into June makes it tough on Pittsburgh and the San Jose Sharks. A return to the top for the Chicago Blackhawks would also not be all that surprising. Let me throw out the New Jersey Devils as an Eastern Conference sleeper because Cory Schneider is capable of carrying a team to plenty of points and there will be better all-around play with the additions of Taylor Hall and Ben Lovejoy. In the West: How about the Roy-less Avalanche? Give this bunch the right up-tempo system and let the talent of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Co. take over.
PHR: The Capitals had a great season but ran into the Pittsburgh buzzsaw. What do you see out of them in 2016-17?
Whyno: I see a Capitals team that will be far less interested in the odd Tuesday game in November or even the Saturday night in January after losing in the second round with the Presidents’ Trophy. Washington would love to be like the 2014-15 Blackhawks, cruising and then turning it on to win it all. The team is almost the same as last season so there’s no doubt it’s a contender, so as always the proving ground comes in April and May.
PHR: A Canadian team has to make the playoffs…right?
Whyno: Yes. I mean–probably. Assuming Carey Price is healthy for most of the–if not the entire season, the Montreal Canadiens will make it back – P.K. or no P.K. Beyond that, it’s a crapshoot.
PHR: How is Las Vegas doing with their front office work? And who do you think they tap to be the bench boss?
Whyno: George McPhee is turning Las Vegas into Captials West. There is plenty of Washington influence there with the exception of assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon, who had significant NHL interest and is very well-respected in hockey circles. Looks like it’s going well so far but a long time until Las Vegas has even one player. I’d expect someone with a connection to McPhee (Ron Wilson? Dean Evason of the Milwaukee Admirals?) to be among the top candidates as coach. But it will also be a long time until that hire is made.