We have gotten to the point in the schedule where teams go on a five-day hiatus, mandated by the NHL. Over the next two weeks, every NHL team will have five straight days off, where they will not practice or have any games. This will give the guys time for some rest and relaxation with their families, whether they decide to do that at home or someplace warm.
Last week, as I was going through the site, I came across Alex Thomas’ division notebook where he had some fun with a few bold predictions. With the slow weeks upon us, I thought I would do the same.
Without further ado, here are some bold predictions for each team in the 2018 calendar year.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning have established themselves as the most dangerous team in the NHL. Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the league in shutouts (6), whereas Nikita Kucherov leads league in points (59). They have been the clear winners in the trade that sent Jonathan Drouin north to Montréal, and brought them young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. They have led the league the entire year and there eyes should be set on the Presidents Trophy.
Prediction: The only bold prediction here would be a first round exit come the spring. That’s not going to happen. Listen, it’s never fun to go with the chalk, but I believe Steven Stamkos will be the captain raising the Stanley Cup over his head at the end of the year. And they do so, over the Los Angeles Kings.
Times were tough in Boston over the first month and a half of the season. The injury bug swept through the team like the plague, but they weathered the storm. Over the last 23 games, the Bruins are 17-3-3 and have only lost in regulation once since December 5th. They have a legitimate contender for best line in the league with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. And they now have two rookies who will be in Calder talks with Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen putting together impressive rookie campaigns.
Prediction: Eastern. Conference. Finals. The Bruins won’t catch up to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the division standings during the year, but they will have the opportunity to knock them off on a big stage. After beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, Tuukka Rask and crew will finally do what has recently seemed inevitable and defeat the Washington Capitals in the second round.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have had a solid year led by the great young group they have. Frederik Andersen has been reliable while between the pipes. For the second half of the season, they will be jockeying with Boston in the standings, ultimately deciding who gets home ice in the first round. Unfortunately, that’s where their seasonal end. They have quite a few contracts up at the end of this year, and that’s where I think things begin to get interesting. James van Riemsdyk and William Nylander will be a top priority.
Prediction: The early exit will be disappointing and Brendan Shanahan and Co. will need to get right to work. Now, these are bold predictions, right? Well, what if I told you that William Nylander will be part of a haul of prospects and draft picks that will be shipped out West on draft night, in return for Oliver Ekman Larson, who will then pair with Morgan Rielly for the next decade. Alex Thomas thinks the defenseman could be on his way out of the desert and Toronto could be a landing spot. This will leave space for the contract extension Auston Matthews will sign before the new year, somewhere between McDavid and Eichel type numbers.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have had a roller coaster of a season and inconsistency has been the biggest problem. This season, they have had two different losing streaks of six games and seven games. Even with having all those points of the way, the wings find themselves in fourth place in the division. They are going to miss the playoffs for a consecutive year, and I believe it’s time to jumpstart the rebuild. Start building around the likes of Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, and start grooming some young defenseman. Their five picks in the first three rounds will be very important at this years draft.
Prediction: The captain, Henrik Zetterberg will be on his way out of Hockeytown, whether it be at the deadline or around the draft. His remaining three-year/6+ million dollar contract may be tough to move at 37, but he is still producing with 29 points in 41 games this year. With no no movement clause, the Wings will be able to shop him anywhere.
The Florida Panthers will have one of the quickest turnarounds of teams currently in the bottom half of the league. They have one of the strongest young groups. Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, and Aleksander Barkov have led the offense and they have their franchise defenseman Aaron Ekblad. With a pipeline of prospects and the second round pick of the Arizona coyotes in this upcoming draft, the Panthers have all the tools of a successful rebuild. It’s just time to put the pieces together.
Prediction: With their young core all signed until at least 2020, and nearly $6.8 million in cap space, the Panthers will have the chance to add some key pieces in 2018. Michael Matheson’s extension that kicks in next year locks up their blue line. My bold prediction surrounds the goaltending situation. Roberto Luongo has four years remaining on his contract at $4.5 million per. James Reimer has three years remaining, at $3.4 million per. At 38 and the injury ridden year he has had, Luongo may be tough to move. But with the available room in cap space, the Panthers will swallow some of his contract as they actively shop for a younger goaltender.
The Montréal Canadiens have taken a giant step back this year. The offense has been nowhere to be found, Carey Price has been a shell of himself, and questionable moves by GM Marc Bergevin have this team where they are. After this week’s by week, they play the Boston Bruins three times in seven days. Depending upon what happens in that week, we could see the Canadiens blow everything up sooner than later.
Prediction: The offense for the Montréal Canadiens has been virtually nonexistent. 23 points leads the team in 42 games played this year. With the offense struggling the way it has, all eyes are directly on general manager, Marc Bergevin. After failing to sign offensive threats like Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov in the off-season, Bergevin then traded top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev for Jonathan Drouin. Drouin currently has 5-14-19 tallies with a -17 rating, whereas Sergachev 8-18-26 and a +12 rating in 41 games, as a defenseman.
Marc Bergevin will be fired as general manager of the Montréal Canadiens as the second half of the season continues to be a letdown.
Earlier in the year, the Senators, Nashville Predators, and Colorado Avalanche sent shockwaves through the NHL when Matt Duchene was traded to Ottawa. Bringing in such an offensive threat required parting ways with high draft picks and prospects. However, Duchene has just 10 points in 26 games for the Senators. Sitting seventh in the division already, and with draft picks and prospects gone, the Senators are going to need people to step up next year. Or, trade a star to start the rebuild process.
Prediction: Erik Karlsson has a year and a half left on his seven year/$45 million contract. He has already gone on record with Drew Doughty, saying he is going to get what he is worth, no matter where he goes. There will be no hometown discount to stay with the Senators. Many believe he will be in the area of $11 million per year. Well, what if I told you that the Senators are going to trade their captain at some point before the start of next season?
Yes, if he is not dealt at the deadline and no extension is is signed during the summer, Eric Karlsson will be playing for someone else. The return for him will bring a plethora of draft picks and prospects to kick this rebuild into gear.
There has not been playoff hockey in Buffalo in the last six seasons and that streak is going to continue this year. There offense, with the talent they have, has been a disappointment this year, ranking last in goals for. Now, they have some decisions to make. Next year, Jack Eichel’s eight year/$80 million contract begins. They still have to sign forward, Sam Reinhart. Evander Kane’s impending free agency is also weighing heavily overhead. The Sabres have roughly $5.4 million in cap space.
Prediction: Let’s get nuts on this last one. At the upcoming trade deadline, the Buffalo Sabres and Chicago Blackhawks will agree on a trade that will send a superstar back home. Patrick Kane*, born and raised in Buffalo, will be dealt in return for Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart, and multiple high draft picks. This move will revamp the Buffalo offense and give Chicago the chance add to their pipeline while still remaining competitive.
*Okay this one may be too bold. His no movement clause makes this extremely difficult, but I do believe at some point Patrick Kane does play for his hometown team.