The new NHL season is upon us.
That means freshly sharpened skates, clean unscathed ice, and everyone has a chance to win the Stanley Cup (not really, but they can keep the dream alive for now).
That also means it is time for all the experts and basement bloggers to make their mark by giving bold predictions and telling you who really does have a chance to win the Stanley Cup (sorry, not you Vegas).
Last year my bold predictions were below par; I did nail some like Connor McDavid scoring all of the points and leading his team to the playoffs, and the Nashville Predators having their most successful season as a franchise, and then I really missed some like Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella getting fired before November and Ben Bishop winning the Vezna and the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But hey! you win some and you lose some, and now the slate is as clean as the ice so here we go with some Bold Predictions for the 2017-2018 NHL season.
1. Colorado’s Matt Duchene gets traded to the Los Angeles Kings. It’s pretty straight forward that Matt Duchene is not happy in Colorado and is being shopped around at a heavy price (rumored to be 1st round pick, young quality defenseman, proven NHLer, top prospect) but GM Joe Sakic has yet to give. It’s a wild scenario but it’s creative at least; the Kings struggle early on, like the Avalanche, and they offer Drew Doughty to the Avs. The deal might be something (crazy) like this; Doughty, Dustin Brown, 1st round pick, 2nd round pick and goalie prospect Jack Campbell for Duchene, Gabe Landeskog and 1st round pick. They would swap 1st round picks, the Kings would get faster and a chance at touted defenseman prospect Rasmus Dahlin, while the Avalanche will have to eat Browns salary, they would get an elite defenseman, still a first round pick, and possibly more. It has about as much chance as me winning the lottery but hey, I still buy the tickets so why not start with something this bold. Realistically, Duchene ends up with the Carolina Hurricanes and I remain working my 9-5.
2. The Dallas Stars trio of Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin/Alex Radulov put up a combined 250+ points. During the off-season the Stars made some dramatic moves, one of them was signing Russian right winger Alex Radulov to a 5 year contract. He seems to be the perfect fit on the top line with the dynamic duo of Seguin and Benn. Seguins career best in points (84) came in the 2013/2014 season with the Stars after he was traded to them from the Bruins. Benn won the Art Ross trophy in 2015/2016 with 89 points. If they can find some magic with their new line mate, look for them to blow up the scoreboard together frequently.
3. Chicago Blackhawks’ rookie Alex DeBrincat wins the Calder Trophy. Much is being made this year about the number one draft pick for the New Jersey Devils Nico Hischier making a big splash in his rookie year, and I do believe he, along with the Arizona Coyotes’ Clayton Keller, will do so, but the dark horse is Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat will find his way onto a line with Patrick Kane, filling the void that Artemi Panarin left when he was traded away to the Blue Jackets. When they traded away Panarin to the Jackets, they brought back Brandon Saad who will reunite with Jonathan Toews on the top line. With a more dangerous first line, look for DeBrincat and Kane to get more chances and look for DeBrincat, who has 332 points in 191 career OHL games, to take advantage of those. Also keep an eye on Vancouver Canucks rookie winger Brock Boeser and the kids on the New York Islanders; Josh Ho-Sang and Mathew Barzal.
4. Three teams out: Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, and Nashville Predators will miss the playoffs. While these picks might not be the most popular ones, they all have their flaws. The Bruins needed to grin and bear it to make it to the playoffs last year, goalie Tuukka Rask is only getting older, and they will look to rely on one main line for all of their scoring. The Senators came on hot in the playoffs and made it all the way to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but that won’t be the case this year. Despite all their playoff success, they hardly over matched their opponents but stuck to a suffocating defensive strategy brought in by first year coach Guy Boucher. Boucher did the same thing in his first year with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2010-2011 season and made his way to the Conference Finals, only to lose and then get fired the following year due to lack of results. Couple that and Captain Erik Karlsson being injured to start the season, things aren’t looking good. The Predators made it all the way to game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final before losing at home to the Penguins, but things will be tougher on their hockey club this year. After having their most successful season in franchise history, expectations will be dramatically higher for the Predators, and historically that doesn’t bode well for the defending Western Conference Champs. They also lost Captain Mike Fischer due to retirement in the off-season. New Captain Roman Josi and his Predators will have a tough task, in the toughest division in hockey, and fail just barely to make the playoff a year after they just barely made it in.
5. Three teams in: Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, and Winnipeg Jets will make the playoffs. A year removed from the playoffs, the Lightning are poised to make another deep run. Last year injuries crippled the Lightning as they saw Captain Steven Stamkos go down in early November, then lost key players like Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point, and Ryan Callahan for extended times as well. Despite this, the Lightning came within a point of the playoffs. This year, they have added veteran support in Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi in case of more injuries and touted rookie defenseman Mikhal Sergachev looks to make his case to stick around after the Lightning traded Jonathan Drouin to the Canadiens for him. Watch out for the Bolts. The Hurricanes could be the NHL’s best kept secret. They have a very good, young defensive core highlighted by Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, and Justin Faulk and boast some young offensive fire power as well which includes second year pro and my bold prediction for the Calder last year, Sebastian Aho. They also signed goalie Scott Darling to a starting role after his back up play in Chicago earned him one. Look for the young up-start Hurricanes to make their first push to the playoffs since the 2008-2009 season. The Winnipeg Jets are a dangerous team, as long as they can keep the puck out of their own net. Offensively gifted with the likes of Mark Scheifle, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and more, the Jets can score in bunches. They also boast a big, mean back end with Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba. Where the troubles lie is in their bottom six and goaltending. If the duo of Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck can supply above average goaltending and their bottom six can throw in a timely goal or two, the Jets can make a series push not only to the playoffs, but through them as well.
6. The Calgary Flames will make it to the Western Conference Finals. Even before they signed the ageless wonder that is Jaromir Jagr to a 1 year contract (he is 45 in case you didn’t know), the Flames are poised to be a top contender in the Pacific. Again, they need some more sturdy goalie play but they signed Mike Smith from the Arizona Coyotes hoping he has what it takes to stop pucks in front of one of the top bluelines in the NHL. The way Smith likes to handle the pucks behind the net and the way the Flames play a fast, physical brand of hockey, things could work out just right. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan both have their contracts out of the way this year, and they look to get off to a hot start (sorry) and help the Flames burn through (ok now I’m pushing it) the weaker teams in their division. Keep an eye on these Flames.
Stanley Cup Final – Tampa Bay Lightning over the Dallas Stars. Yes I predicted the Lightning to win last year, but who else in the East? The Penguins are looking for the 3 peat this year and they could very well do it, but that is a lot of hockey in three years and it is bound to catch up with them at some point either during the season of the playoffs. That leaves the East wide open and the Lightning are hungry, and maybe angry this year after getting so close in 2013-14 and 2014-2015 and then missing the playoffs entirely last year. As stated earlier, they boast a stacked team and look to be ready if even the worst happens, again. The Dallas Stars are also a popular pick this year after they too missed the playoffs last year. The year prior they won the Central and made it to game 7 of the second round before running into their own goalie mess. They have since cleared that up by signing former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop along with the aforementioned Alex Radulov and even solidified their defense by adding veteran Marc Methot to mentor young Swede John Klingberg. All the right pieces seem to be in the right places for both teams to make a run to the Stanley Cup Final, but look for the Lightning to edge the Stars in what would be a highly entertaining and high scoring Final.