Predictions are fun. And silly. But mostly fun. Therefore, naturally, I took the start of the new NHL season as a chance to embarrass myself by spitting out a few ideas about what might happen over the next eight months.
Thus, I forecasted the final standings for each division (including the playoff teams), the Stanley Cup finalists (way too early, I know) and the players that will take home the major NHL awards. A swift reasoning is provided after every titbit, just so I can dig an even bigger hole for myself.
So…bookmark this for the future, feel free to laugh loudly at me and, if you dare, leave your own predictions in the comments section. Here we go.
Regular season standings
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Florida Panthers
- Montreal Canadiens
- Boston Bruins
Outside (in order): Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs
The loaded Tampa Bay Lightning cruise through the regular season, contesting the President’s Trophy with the Washington Capitals until the last week despite a whirlwind of news about Ben Bishop’s future (he gets shipped to Dallas). The Panthers edge past the Canadiens in the second half to comfortably clinch the second seed, while the Bruins squeak into the playoffs, snatching a WC spot from the NY Rangers. The Senators and Sabres falter in late March, while the Red Wings’ playoff streak is halted despite a few desperate moves by Ken Holland at the TD. The Leafs’ rookies hit the wall late, yet the team improves by 15 points from last season, finishing around 85.
- Washington Capitals
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Philadelphia Flyers
- NY Islanders
Outside: NY Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Capitals are rewarded for staying on course with another highly successful regular season campaign, dominating the Division at will with the Penguins marching a dozen of points behind. The Flyers, driven by their rejuvenated defence, set up a first round matchup with their in-state enemies, while the Islanders fend off the Rangers for a final playoff spot. The Hurricanes and Devils once again fall short despite emanating positive vibes, while the Jackets fire John Tortorella by February and end up duelling the Vancouver Canucks for last place in the NHL.
- Nashville Predators
- St. Louis Blues
- Dallas Stars
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Winnipeg Jets
Outside: Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche
Despite being in the toughest division in hockey, the Nashville Predators win the West following a sensational season by their dynamic blueline, with four of the teams’ players breaking the 65-point barrier (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi, PK Subban). The Blues and Stars go hand-in-hand for most of the season with St. Louis avoiding their usual late season swoon to secure home ice advantage. With Patrick Kane called back to earth, the Blackhawks suffer from the lack of forward depth and are beaten handily by the Sharks in the first round, while the Jets follow the inspiring net play of Connor Hellebuyk to stamp a return to the playoffs. Despite having every ounce of offense squeezed by Bruce Boudreau, the Wild get eliminated while amassing more points than their coach’s former home. The Avalanche also finish close to the cut line, but are bounced in the middle of the Division’s onslaught.
- San Jose Sharks
- LA Kings
- Anaheim Ducks
Outside: Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks
The Sharks and Kings fuel an interesting clash for the entire regular season, with Los Angeles failing to close out the division title in the last week once again. The Ducks, despite premature turmoil as a result of Randy Carlyle’s options, right the ship just in time to get slaughtered by the Preds in the spring, while the Flames and Oilers finally rekindle their rivalry in meaningful games, but are ultimately kept on the outside looking in. The Coyotes, similarly to the Leafs, craft a substantial point improvement with special times looming on the horizon, while the Canucks realize – too late – that it’s time for a full-blown rebuilt. They get the first overall pick to help jumpstart the process.
Eastern Conference Champions: Washington Capitals
Western Conference Champions: St. Louis Blues
The Caps get out of the Metro after receiving a helpful hand from the Philadelphia Flyers, who eliminate the defending Champions, and then dramatically defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning – backstopped by Russian Andrei Vasilevski – to offer Alex Ovechkin his maiden Conference banner.
The Blues, riding timely contributions from Vladimir Tarasenko and Robby Fabbri, slam the door on the Predators and then expose the LA Kings’ lack of speed to reach their first Stanley Cup Final.
Stanley Cup Champions: Washington Capitals
Conn Smythe Winner: Evgeny Kuznetsov
The wait is over as a diabolic Russian forward guides the Caps to that elusive Championship. That man is not the Great 8 but linemate Kuznetsov, who buries his nightmarish memories from last years’ playoffs with a splendorous performance.
Major Individual Honours
Art Ross Trophy (Most points): Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
With Sidney Crosby sidelined for a quarter of the season, an entertaining race pits no less than five players who collect over 90 points but can’t break into triple digits. A monstrous final stretch elevates the Dallas Stars’ captain over Connor McDavid, Vladimir Tarasenko, Johnny Gaudreau and Evgeni Malkin, whereas Patrick Kane, the incumbent, tumbles to the 85-point range.
Rocket Richard Trophy (Most goals): Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)
The Russian sniper will gather his seventh Rocket Richard but expect a plethora of candidates hot on his trail until the very end. For the first time (in a full season), Ovechkin will earn the trophy without reaching 50 goals (he stops at 48) but he still tops Jamie Benn (46) and Vladimir Tarasenko (45) on the final week. Steven Stamkos and Brad Marchand will also hit the 40-goal mark.
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
Benn won the Art Ross in 2014 only to see Carey Price steal MVP honours, but this time the roles will reverse. Montreal’s star goalie puts the offensively-challenged Canadiens on his back to return to the postseason, but the hulking winger piles up the votes by shouldering the load after Tyler Seguin misses a large chunk of the season injured. McDavid and Tarasenko split the field for the final nomination.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the season): Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Was I watching Matthews burn the Senators on his debut while writing this? Damn right. Did it matter? Not really.
The Leafs saviour will parlay the one season of professional hockey already under his belt into a 70-point NHL debut, winning the award by a landslide. Moreover, Matthews will carry William Nylander throughout, culminating on a podium position for the 20-year-old Swede who played 22 games last season. The outstanding Ivan Provorov will emulate Shayne Gostisbehere and guarantee a second consecutive nomination for a Flyers’ rookie defenseman by edging Blue Jackets’ blueliner Zach Werenski. Patrick Laine will take his time adapting to the NHL-ice, but he still clears 25-goals and 50 points, rounding out the top five.
Norris Trophy (Best defenseman): PK Subban (Nashville Predators)
Hordes of fans will freak out in Montreal as PK Subban turns the Nashville Predators into a powerhouse, tallying 20 goals and over 70 points in the process. Much of the same arguments that have been used to discredit Erik Karlsson’s brilliance will be dusted off to undermine his candidacy but, ultimately, Subban will lift a second Norris Trophy. Erik Karlsson’s numbers will be slightly toned down by Guy Boucher’s system, but he’s still a finalist for the award, with Kris Letang and Victor Hedman being recognized for their work on Eastern heavyweights. Drew Doughty will finish well outside of the top five.
Vezina Trophy (Best goalie): Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)
Leading the NHL in save percentage and finishing on the top-three in GAA, Carey Price collects his second Vezina by a wealthy margin, with New Jersey’s Cory Schneider coming behind to finally attain universal appreciation as one of the game’s finest goaltenders. San Jose Sharks’ Martin Jones upstages Braden Holtby for the third place.