It’s that time again folks, it is hockey season! Today I’ll be making my NHL league wide predictions, starting with division winners and playoff teams before shifting to award winners.
So, without further ado, let’s get started, shall we?
The Division Winners:
Atlantic – Tampa Bay Lightning: After missing the playoffs last season, I have Tampa Bay storming back into the dance as division winners. Nikita Kucherov emerged as an elite talent last season and will finally have Steven Stamkos by his side once again. On top of that, I suspect the Bolts get better goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy than Ben Bishop provided a year ago.
I’m very high on Mikhail Sergachev, who I believe could be a legit top-four defender for the club by season’s end. This team is absolutely loaded.
Metropolitan – Pittsburgh Penguins: It seems like a cop out to pick the defending champs but I truly believe the Penguins got better on the whole this off-season. People forget that Kris Letang was out for the playoffs last spring, but he’s back and makes this team even more dangerous.
With the Caps, Rangers and Jackets all getting worse or staying the same, I think Pittsburgh is the odds on favorite to win the division.
Central – Minnesota Wild: The Wild largely escaped this off-season without any major loss. While they traded Marco Scandella to Buffalo, Minnesota still has Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Suter to lead the defense. On top of that, I think Tyler Ennis is poised to regain his scoring touch on a deeper Wild team.
With Chicago losing a lot of fire power and Nashville having questions in net, I think Minnesota is poised for another big season and, finally, a division title.
Pacific – Anaheim Ducks: Anahiem will again have one of the best defensive groups in the NHL and should have enough scoring to hold off the Oilers and Flames at the top of the Pacific Division. Ryan Miller should be a nice addition to a goaltending tandem that could also be one of the NHL’s best with John Gibson.
Atlantic Division – Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers: The Bolts barely top the Leafs, who will again be a powerhouse this season. I have Florida as the third seed in the Atlantic as this club is healthy, has enough scoring and a veteran goaltender to get them back into the dance. Health is the major key here.
Metropolitan Division – Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals: The Jackets are an odd team because while I don’t think they got better, I think they are more dangerous than a season ago. The Capitals lost a lot but still have enough high end talent to make it into the playoffs comfortably.
East Wild Cards – Carolina Hurricanes (1st WC) and Buffalo Sabres (2nd WC): Call me crazy, but I think two of the east’s young teams make it into the dance this year. Carolina is solid just about everywhere and if Scott Darling gives them good goaltending, they should get in. Buffalo, if healthy, is one of the most dangerous teams in hockey. They upgraded their defense this season and I believe got better behind the bench as well.
Central Division – Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets: The Wild and Hawks are still the best two teams in this division, even though I believe Chicago took a big step back this off-season. Surprised to see Winnipeg here? Don’t be, they were a playoff team last year with even average goaltending, which I believe Stave Mason will give them.
Pacific Division – Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers: Anaheim and Calgary are both top-five teams in the NHL defensively, while Edmonton has the most dynamic offense in the division, a decent defense and a very strong goalie. The Battle of Alberta will be in full force this season folks.
West Wild Cards – Nashville Predators (1st WC) and Los Angeles Kings (2nd WC): Even after their run to the Cup Final last spring, I’m not confident in Nashville’s goaltending ability or goal scoring and I think they will be in a dog fight all season long. As for LA, they return to the playoffs with a healthy Jonathan Quick and re-energized Anze Kopitar.
West – Edmonton over Minnesota: Peter Chiarelli always goes for it when his team has a chance and I believe we will see him add in a big way come the deadline. With a year of playoff experience under their belt, the Oilers defeat Calgary in seven games in round one and then avenge their loss to Anaheim last year in five games. A long seven game series ensues with the Wild, but Edmonton edges them out on the road.
East – Tampa Bay over Washington: With Pittsburgh upset in round one by an upstart Carolina group, Washington finally makes it to the Conference Final only to fall in six to Tampa Bay, who knocks off Buffalo and then Toronto en route to their third Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Stanley Cup Champion:
Tampa Bay Lightning: In what should be a terrific Final, the Bolts edge Edmonton out in seven games to win their second championship in franchise history. Nikita Kucherov outshines Connor McDavid to win Conn Smythe, while the series winning goal belongs to Steven Stamkos.
Connor McDavid: For the second year in a row, McDavid wins the award after one of the best seasons in modern NHL history. While it doesn’t count in the voting, people are even more convinced of this after Connor leads the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final. The other two finalists for the award will be Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews.
Jonathan Quick: I, like many, have counted Quick out but I’m going to get bold here and say he takes the award home. Why? Quick looked solid last season after injury and is entering this season fully healthy. The Kings will once again be stingy defensively and that will result in stellar numbers for the American netminder. Quick will beat out Matt Murray and John Gibson.
Victor Hedman: Another tremendous season for Hedman will finally earn him the award for the league’s best defender. He’ll help back stop a dominate Tampa Bay team all year long, and his offensive output will help ensure that this is a run away victory for the Swede. Erik Karlsson and PK Subban are your other finalists.
Mikhail Sergachev: It’s the year of the defender for rookies, as the former Habs’ draft choice takes home the honor for Top Rookie. Sergachev will emerge as a legit top-four option on Tampa and provide excellent offense on the team’s second powerplay unit, making a nightmare season even worse for Montreal fans. Just behind him is another defender, Charlie McAvoy, and Flyer rookie Nolan Patrick.
Rocket Richard Trophy:
Auston Matthews: It’s going to be a 50 goal year in Toronto for Matthews, who finishes with 54 and takes home the honor as the league’s top goal scorer. He’ll also be the only 50 goal scorer in the NHL, edging Alex Ovechkin (46), Connor McDavid (44) and Evgeni Malkin (42) for the award.
Lady Byng Trophy:
Johnny Gaudreau: Gaudreau should post another excellent offensive season and do so without going to the box too many times. The Calgary superstar is going to make a habit of winning this award throughout his career. Oscar Klefbom and John Tavares will also be in the final three when it comes to voting.
Jack Adams Award:
Bill Peters: After getting Carolina back into the playoffs without a true offensive difference maker, Peters will finally get the credit that he deserves. This Hurricanes team is going to be a thorn in the side of everyone all year-long. Paul Maurice and Jon Cooper will be the other two finalists.
Photo Credit: Connor Mah/Flickr C.C 2.0