The 2016-17 NHL season gets underway later tonight, with four games on the slate. This season promises to be an exciting one, with tons of players on new teams and lots of young talent flooding the league. For that reason, I felt I’d do my first ever NHL post. I feel like I need to preface this before I start: I am not a super duper hardcore hockey fan. When my dad, a former college hockey player, screams at the TV screen at players, one third 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:
- Neither the Penguins nor the Sharks will make this year’s finals
Of course, part of the reason that I can’t see this happening is because of how incredibly difficult it is to repeat great success the year after a Stanley Cup appearance. There are other reasons, though, why last year’s two best teams won’t be duking it out come June 2017. The Penguins got phenomenal goaltending from Matt Murray last post-season, and while I think he’s the real deal, his clutch play, along with that of Trevor Daley and Bryan Rust, are things I don’t think will carry over to this year. As for San Jose, their aging core put together a phenomenal year, but with all the extra miles on their legs, from both their postseason run and the World Cup of Hockey, I see them fading out a little earlier this season.
- The Nashville Predators will win the Stanley Cup
This isn’t exactly all that bold, but considering that this is a team that has never won a division championship, and has never made a conference final, it kind of is. Pekka Rinne is no longer elite, but he is still pretty good, and the strong defense in front of him got even better by replacing outgoing captain Shea Weber with PK Subban. Ryan Johansen is a young, impressive number one center, with wily vets Mike Fischer and Mike Ribiero manning the lower lines. James Neal is in his prime, and Filip Forsberg is about to enter his. They have a coach in Peter Laviolette that has taken a team on the verge of greatness to a Stanley Cup final. In short, I think the Preds are ready to finally break their play-off jinx and win their first Cup in franchise history.
- Max Pacioretty will win NHL MVP
This is where things really start to get… well, bold. The Canadiens missed the play-offs last season, with Carey Price out injured for much of the season and controversy surrounding PK Subban’s place in the locker room. With Price healthy and Shea Weber in for Price, things should be (relatively) back to normal, and Montreal will want to prove that last year was just a fluke. Both Price and Weber will have something to do with that, of course, but it’ll start with the team’s captain, Pacioretty, to set the tone for the rest of the team. The shifty left winger played in all 82 games last year for the first time in his career, and with improvements around him on multiple fronts, I expect Pacioretty to have a career year and help lead his club back where they belong.
- Todd McClellan will win Coach of the Year
The Oilers were the second-worst team in all of hockey last season. They finished only one point above the lowly Maple Leafs, and that’s saying something. However, it also doesn’t tell the full story- they were a young, rebuilding team missing its best player for most of the season. Now, while they aren’t exactly going to be elite this year, they do seem to have a nice, balanced roster. They have a couple solid defenders in Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom, some great veteran wingers in Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle, some young up-and-comers headlined by Jesse Puljujarvi, and perhaps the best 1-2 center punch in the league in Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. It will be up to McClellan to put it all together, and considering his savvy at handling all the chaos in San Jose, I expect him to be up to the task.
- Dylan Strome wins Rookie of the Year
Patrick Laine and Auston Matthews are going to be the popular picks for this award- and why not? They’re both going to be battling McDavid for the mantle of the best young player in the game over the next few years. But picking them wouldn’t exactly be bold. So I’m going to go with Strome, who will be getting some great advice from veterans Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan on how to make it in the NHL. I realize that he didn’t exactly have the best pre-season in the world, but with the Coyotes not expected to do a whole lot, the young center will have time to develop his game and perhaps make the ‘Yotes slightly more dangerous than what they currently appear to be.
- The Devils will make the playoffs
The major news that the Devils were involved in this off-season saw them win one of the summer’s major blockbusters, picking up star scorer Taylor Hall in exchange for Adam Larsson. Despite that, not many people have high hopes for this team making the post-season, especially because trading Larsson does leave them a little bare on the back end. I understand those fears, but I also think that Corey Schneider is an underrated, and incredible, goalie that can make up for some of the defense’s shortcomings, and that adding Hall to a top-six forward group that includes Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, and Adam Zajac will make New Jersey a true offensive threat for the first time since Ilya Kovalchuk went back to Russia. The Devils will make the play-offs as the number one wild card in the East and give the Lightning all they can handle.
- The Kings will not make the playoffs
I’m a Blackhawks fan, so perhaps I’m a little bit biased here, because the Kings have been the ‘Hawks biggest threat to establishing a true dynasty. But there’s something that just feels off about this year’s Kings. Their offensive core is aging, so much so that the team captain, Dustin Brown, was effectively stripped of his job because of his ineffectiveness. It doesn’t help that Marian Gaborik is out for a while, either, or that their bottom two lines don’t seem to be all that good. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin form a very good top defensive pairing, but the people behind them are either aging or generally ineffective. Jonathan Quick is starting to show a little bit of the reality that he is human. Throw this team into a division with the best team in its conference, the defending conference champs, and an up-and-coming Edmonton team, and you’ll see that the Kings will have to fight with the Central teams for a wild card spot, and that’s a battle they cannot, and will not, win.
- The Wild will end up with a top-5 pick
The Wild have seemingly always had the talent to be a very good team in the extremely competitive Central division, but always seemed to be missing something, whether it be a definitive style of play, an elite goaltender, or a true number one center. This year, they seem to have a lot of holes. They signed Erik Staal to be their number one center, but he proved last year in New York that he might be better suited for a number three role at this point in his career. Their number two center, captain Mikko Koivu, is aging, and was unproductive relative to his ability last year. So was Jason Pomenville. So was Ryan Suter. So was Devan Dubnyk. Their bottom two lines and defensive pairings are made up of relatively inexperienced or ineffective players. I think that Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle are two of the most underrated wingers in the game, but two wingers alone aren’t enough to make a team, especially when they’re in a division that is beyond loaded. They’ll have a steep drop-off this year.
- The Stars will not trade for a goalie; the Flyers will
Dallas has been in the market for a goalie since around 2009, when they ditched former starter Marty Turco in favor of Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen is a perfectly capable goalie, but he can be extremely inconsistent, and he isn’t at the elite level that recent Stanley Cup-winning goalies have been at. The team brought in former Sharks and Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi to give Lehtonen some competition, but he seems over the hill. Despite the position being the only glaring hole on an otherwise solid roster, the Stars don’t have as many young assets to flip as the Flyers do, and while I think that Steve Mason is better than Lehtonen, he, too, is inconsistent, and I can see Philly trying to grab Brian Elliott from the Flames or Tuukka Rask from the Bruins to help bolster their team’s defense-first mentality.
- Jonathan Drouin will lead the league in points
I felt that Drouin was being a little bit pretentious when he and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman engaged in a semi-public battle over the young winger’s place on the big club- I didn’t know much about him, but didn’t think that his game warranted his confidence. While I still think his actions last year were stupid, he does have a phenomenal scoring touch, as he caught fire in the play-offs, helping carry the team in the absence of star man Steven Stamkos. With Stamkos healthy again, the prospect of Drouin pairing up with him, or Tyler Johnson, or Nikita Kucherov, or a combination of those men, for a full season, is truly frightening. As such, I predict that Drouin takes a huge leap forward and out-duels Joe Pavelski for the league-lead in total points.
Red Wings (WC #2)
Devils (WC #1)
Blues (WC #1)
Jets (WC #2)
Capitals def. Red Wings
Penguins def. Islanders
Lightning def. Devils
Canadiens def. Panthers
Capitals def. Penguins
Lightning def. Canadiens
Capitals def. Canadiens
Ducks def. Jets
Sharks def. Oilers
Predators def. Blues
Blackhawks def. Stars
Sharks def. Ducks
Predators def. Blackhawks
Predators def. Sharks
Predators def. Capitals