The 2017-18 NHL season will commence tomorrow, with the Maple Leafs taking on the Jets in Winnipeg with four games on the slate. Last season, I tried to be a little bit more… bold in the selections that I was making for this award and that division winner. I ended up getting, I think, one thing right out of anything on my list. My classmate and fellow hockey fan, Daniel Foltz, found that… amusing. On top of that, for the first time in a while, his Ducks had also done better than my Blackhawks. I was humiliated. So I resolved to do some more research for this year, and to be accurate instead of bold with my predictions in order to avoid being made fun of by one of the few people that actually read my hockey post. So Daniel, these are for you:
- Neither the Penguins nor the Predators will make the Stanley Cup Final
I made this basic prediction last year, as well, and of course the Penguins decided to prove me wrong and become the first repeat champion since the 90’s. Maybe that was because the only teams that truly made big steps forward were either bad teams (Maple Leafs, Oilers) or the Predators themselves, who, of course, were no match for Sid the Kid and his crew. There were no moves by last year’s contenders that really moved the needle, but I do feel that both of last year’s Final participants will take a step back this year. For Pittsburgh, they lost Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley, among others, to free agency, and Marc-Andre Fleury to the expansion draft, leaving them dangerously thin in many areas. The Preds, meanwhile, lost their captain and 2nd line center Mike Fischer to retirement, and their bottom two lines don’t instill much confidence. These losses will contribute to other teams catching the defending conference champs and prevent them from getting back into the Cup Final.
2. The Tampa Bay Lightning will win the Stanley Cup
The Lightning are a popular pick to win it all this year—heck, NHL 18 has them topping the Oilers in their simulation of the season. They struggled to get it going last year, especially after captain Steven Stamkos was lost to injury, but the return of the Canadian sniper should give Tampa one of the most dangerous, and deep, offensive potential in the league. I do have some concerns about their back end—this will be Andrei Vasilevskiy’s first year as the team’s undisputed starting goaltender, and their defense will could either be a boom or a bust. That being said, the preseason performance of Vasilevskiy and young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev have me confident that the Lightning defense will be more than adequate enough to allow Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Tyler Johnson to do their thing.
- Jaime Benn will win the MVP
Dallas was a bit of a mess last season—injuries swept through their forward lines, diminishing the potential of one of the most potent offenses in the league, while the defense and goaltending were… not great. The additions of Marc Methot and Ben Bishop will definitely bolster the Stars’ back line, boosting them into contention for post-season spot. The signings of Alexander Radulov and Martin Hanzal, meanwhile, will take some of the scoring, and defensive, pressure off of Benn and Tyler Seguin, making the team’s forwards even more dangerous than they were before. With Radulov around, the two stars’ goal totals might be hurt a little bit, which is why I’m taking Benn for MVP over Seguin—the captain has more of a well-rounded game than his teammate.
- Mike Babcock will win Coach of the Year
The Maple Leafs were supposed to be a rebuilding for at least another year or two; instead, they surprised almost everyone by making the play-offs last season, keeping both the Lightning and the Islanders on the outside looking in. This year, with the addition of veterans Patrick Marleau and Ron Hainsey, they might even challenge for a division title this season. While I think that it’s still slightly beyond them to pull that off, the fact that they could even be in that position at all is a testament to the work that Babcock has done with this roster. He was already thought of as a fantastic coach for the job that he did coaching the Red Wings, but he might be doing even better in Toronto, and deserves to be rewarded for his work.
- Nico Hischier will win Rookie of the Year
Unlike last season, when Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine were clear pre-season frontrunners for this award, there is no consensus as to who the best rookie will be this season. Hischier is one of perhaps ten that are currently in the conversation; out of all of them though, I think he has a couple advantages. The first is that Hischier will be one of very few rookies to have the opportunity to get top-6 minutes right out of the gate—the Devils are still in a bit of a rebuild mode, so they’ll have the minutes to allow the #1 overall pick of this past summer’s draft to develop. The other advantage is size—while only 18, Hischier is 6’1” and a healthy 176 pounds. He’s a good skater, and as he adds on a little bit more weight, he has the potential to be one of the few forwards that can beat players with both speed and strength. He might not reach all of that potential this year, but we’ll see enough of it to see him earn the Rookie of the Year award.
- The New York Rangers will not make the playoffs
The Rangers made the post-season relatively comfortably last year, snagging 102 points and extending their streak of reaching the play-offs to 7 seasons. That being said, some cracks started to show a little bit towards the end of last season—Henrik Lundqvist had games that made him look remotely human, and there were games where the young guns couldn’t help step up and make up for some slowing veterans like Rick Nash. Going into the off-season, they needed to address issues at the center, defenseman, and backup goaltender spots. They did a good job of getting Kevin Shattenkirk for a relative discount, but losing Antti Raanta and Derek Stepan are big worries. It leaves the team needing big seasons from Nash, Lundqvist, and Mika Zibanejad to have great seasons to keep the burden of carrying the team from falling on some that aren’t quite ready for it yet. At this point in all of those players’ careers, I simply don’t think they can do it.
- The Arizona Coyotes will make the playoffs
This is, perhaps, one of the two truly bold picks that I will make in this post. The Ducks and Oilers are virtual locks for the post-season, and the strength of the Central division probably means that the third play-off spot in the Pacific will be the final one. The ‘Yotes will be up against the Sharks and Kings, who have been among the top performers in the league over the past decade. However, I feel that they’re both on a decline—John Stevens reinvigorated the Kings after last year’s poor start but still didn’t see any additions to bolster their lagging offense (24th in goals last year), and the Sharks’ aging core has a lot of wear and tear on their legs and don’t have many people in line to replace them. Arizona, meanwhile, added veterans Derek Stepan and Niklas Hjalmarsson to a tantalizing young core of Jakob Chychrun, Max Domi, Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Gaining experience and maintaining consistency will be crucial for the team, and in the long run, I think they’ll find enough to make the post-season.
- Patrik Laine will lead the league in points
Part of this comes down to pre-season performance—Laine has been absolutely electric in his brief time on the ice, which not many others can say. The right winger put up 36 goals as a rookie last season, and if his performance thus far is any indication, he’s primed for more—of course, it doesn’t hurt that the youngster has one of the best passing centers in the game, Mark Scheifele playing to his left. The strengthening of Winnipeg’s defensive corps will be beneficial to Laine, too, especially the return to health of possession-driver Tyler Myers—it’ll grant him a little bit more freedom to get out of the defensive zone early and utilize his speed to create opportunities. The Jets will be a play-off team this year, and Laine will be a big reason why.
- Matt Duchene will be traded to the Nashville Predators
Duchene is the best player on what is perhaps the league’s worst team, the Colorado Avalanche. Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar definitely realize that Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are the only two tradeable pieces preventing the club from going into full retooling mode, which explains why both of them have been circulated in trade rumors for much of the past year or so. As a prolific two-way player, Duchene is in more popular demand, with Ottawa, Nashville, and Columbus being among the center’s suitors. I think it will come down to a battle between the neighboring Blue Jackets and Predators—Ottawa has other, perhaps larger roster holes to fill before addressing its number 2 center spot—and in the end, I think that the Preds will be the one to snag him. They signed Nick Bonino to replace Mike Fischer, but Bonino’s stats were not good in high-leverage roles for Pittsburgh last year, and the Penguins proved how critical it can be to have multiple star centers on the roster. I think they’ll give up a high draft pick and a player from their large stable of defenseman to land him, which should be enough to satiate Colorado’s wishes.
- John Tavares will re-sign with the Islanders
This is probably the only other truly bold prediction that I’m making here. The Islanders management situation is a real mess—the arena that they share with the Brooklyn Nets is out of the way for the core of their fan base and has been blasted for having some of the worst ice in the league, while the players that they signed to try and up the level of performance around their star center largely flopped. Rumors have been flying about Tavares, whose contract expires at the end of this season, for some time now, with many destinations being floated about being his new home. Tavares’s camp and the Islanders’ front office have maintained that this deal isn’t about money, which makes sense with how inconsistent they’ve been in the last eight seasons. Despite the temptations of big payouts and big success elsewhere, however, I ultimately think the Canadian stays in New York long-term.
Maple Leafs (#5)
Senators (WC #2)
Blue Jackets (WC #1)
Blackhawks (WC #1)
Jets (WC #2)
Penguins def. Senators
Hurricanes def. Capitals
Lightning def. Blue Jackets
Maple Leafs def. Canadiens
Hurricanes def. Penguins
Lightning def. Maple Leafs
Lightning def. Hurricanes
Wild def. Jets
Predators def. Stars
Blackhawks def. Ducks
Oilers def. Coyotes
Wild def. Predators
Oilers def. Blackhawks
Wild def. Oilers
Lightning def. Wild