Let me preface this: I am not a knowledgeable hockey fan. When my dad, a former college hockey player, screams at the TV screen at players, two-thirds of the time I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. But I know enough about hockey to know what a good team looks like and what a bad team looks like, which players are on the verge of superstardom and which players are over the hill. So, without further adieu, here are my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season:
1. Neither the Blackhawks nor the Lightning will make this year’s finals
Saying that the Lightning won’t make the Cup this year is a fairly easy proposition for me. Jon Cooper’s squad will certainly make the playoffs, and I think that Steven Stamkos will have a much better year in the playoffs than he did this past season. However, I think that the more involved the captain becomes in the Lightning offense, the more off-balanced it will become, taking away valuable ice time for “The Triplets,” Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, who carried throughout last year’s run. But being a Chicago boy, saying that the ‘Hawks won’t be able to reach the final, much less retain the Cup, is very hard for me to think about. However, I think that the loss of Patrick Sharp, the dependence on new (and somewhat unproven) role players to fill the second line, and a lack of defensive depth will destabilize the team enough to allow one of their challengers topple them.
2. The Minnesota Wild will win the Stanley Cup
The challenger that will do so will be the team from the north, the Wild. I realize that Mike Yeo’s squad have been battered by my ‘Hawks in the past two postseasons, and that the Anaheim Ducks, led by Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, are probably the prohibitive favorites to lift the Cup this season. However, I think that there are a couple of points in the Wild’s favor for this upcoming season. Chicago purged some good players after Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s extensions kicked in, and they will have a weakened roster compared to last year’s, so the Wild’s nemesis is weakened. The Wild also developed some valuable playoff experience last season, with tough series against the ‘Hawks and the St. Louis Blues. These two factors, and their talented roster, will lead to the first Cup in team history.
3. Tyler Seguin will win NHL MVP
In 2013, after the Boston Bruins lost the Stanley Cup to the Blackhawks, moves had to be made to cut salary. One of the moves GM Peter Chiarelli made was to trade youngster Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. Since then, Seguin has become a bona fide goal scorer, but the Stars weren’t built to be a top team primed for a playoff run. Now, with the acquisitions of Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Antti Niemi, they are. While Jaime Benn is the best all-around player on the Stars, and his new teammates are very good players, Seguin is the highest scorer and the face of the franchise, so his production will not diminish. That new supporting cast will allow his team to make the playoffs, which will give a big boost to Seguin’s MVP candidacy. A candidacy that I think will see him lifting the Hart Trophy next summer.
4. Michael Therrien will win Coach of the Year
Montreal’s lack of success in the playoffs has brought a lot of heat down on Therrien, and many fans have urged Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin to fire the coach. Some of the criticism levelled at Therrien is fair, but most of it is not. For a team that has relatively limited offensive potential, and without the threat of the legitimate top-tier superstar that other teams have (PK Subban is close, but not quite there), the Canadiens under Therrien sure do finish with a hell of a lot of points. I think that this is the year that the Canadiens finally get the recognition they deserve for their consistency, and that Therrien will be honored for heralding said consistency.
5. Max Domi wins Rookie of the Year
Connor McDavid might be the next Sidney Crosby. Jack Eichel seems to be primed to take Buffalo by storm. But I think that Domi will win the Calder Trophy over the both of them. I think that pressure makes the difference here- McDavid and Eichel will be in the spotlight all season long as the faces of their franchise, and they don’t really have experienced players to help show them the path to success. In Arizona, meanwhile, the Coyotes have little to no expectations, so Domi will be in the lineup making a difference virtually every night, and he has grizzled veteran captain Shane Doan to show him how to play. It’ll be close, but Domi will win.
6. The Maple Leafs will make the playoffs
Yes, the Maple Leafs were atrocious last year. Yes, they lost arguably their best rotation player in Phil Kessel. But the trading away of their leading scorer might be a good thing- he seemed somewhat malcontented in Toronto- and the signing of legendary coach Mike Babcock will help breathe some fresh life into one of the NHL’s most important teams. They might not have the prettiest season, but I think that Babcock will get enough out of his role players to allow the Leafs to sneak into the playoffs.
7. The Red Wings will not make the playoffs
This is as much a product of Mike Babcock’s departure to Toronto as my prediction involving the Maple Leafs is- Babcock is a master motivator, and keeping a team of aging superstars and raw up-and-comers together, as he did last year, will not happen under new coach Jeff Blashill. The stability at the back of their team also worries me a little bit- Petr Mrazek showed that he can be very good and very bad, while veteran Jimmy Howard struggles with injuries and is inconsistent when he plays. I also think that they will put too much dependence on a defenseman, Mike Green, that isn’t as good as he looks. It’ll be a shock, but the Red Wings will be out of the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
8. The Avalanche will end up with a top-5 pick
I love Patrick Roy. I don’t doubt his leadership abilities, and the fire that he will consistently try to light under his team. I love Nathan MacKinnon, and think that he very closely resembles a younger version of Jonathan Toews. But I just don’t find the rest of Colorado’s roster all that impressive, even with the addition of Jerome Iginla. It also doesn’t help, of course, that the Avalanche play in the toughest division in the game, where each team is capable of making a run in the playoffs. Every team, that is, except for Colorado’s. I expect them to slump and end up being fairly bad this upcoming season.
9. Cam Ward and Eric Staal will both be traded
The Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2006 on the back of their stars, captain Staal and goalie Ward. Today, both players are still in Carolina, but the team around them is far different. That is, to say, it’s much worse. The only player that might crack the rotation of another top-level team besides the previously mentioned players is Eric’s brother, Jordan. The presence of the Staals, and Ward, prevented the team from being bad enough to fall into the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel sweepstakes, and will keep them on the outside of a truly enviable drafting position until they are all gone. After a couple years of rumors, I think that this will be the year that GM Ron Francis finally pulls the trigger on getting rid of his highest paid players, sending them to teams needing a #1 or #2 center (Florida, Montreal, Nashville) and veteran stability at goalie (St. Louis, Washington, Anaheim), respectively.
10. John Tavares will score 50 goals
The last season in the Nassau Collesium was not a bad one for the Islanders. After an extended period of slumping brought upon by Rick DiPietro’s albatross of a contract, GM Garth Snow built a team around its captain, Canadian John Tavares, that was in the race for the President’s Trophy for much of last season. Tavares himself had a pretty good season; not a traditional scorer in any sense, the center put away 38 goals, good for 4th in the league. Now, with the Isles entering a new stadium, I expect the team to up their game even further. To topple their in-state rivals, the Rangers, it will, of course, take a full team effort, but I think that Tavares will step up to the plate and produce more than he ever has. I believe he can, and I believe he will. 50 goals is A LOT of goals.
Maple Leafs (WC#2)
Canadiens def. Maple Leafs
Lightning def. Panthers
Penguins def. Capitals
Islanders def. Rangers
Canadiens def. Lightning
Islanders de. Penguins
Islanders def. Canadiens
Ducks def. Blues
Wild def. Stars
Blackhawks def. Predators
Kings def. Canucks
Wild def. Ducks
Blackhawks def. Kings
Wild def. Blackhawks
Wild def. Islanders