It requires a certain level of arrogance to share prognostications for the NHL season after the one that we just witnessed.
I mean, it should have been a humbling experience for everyone who submitted an opinion after watching the expansion Vegas Golden Knights use a misfit ensemble to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose to a Washington Capitals team that most believed had wasted its championship window after a decade, or so, of dominance.
But as uncomfortable as I am to do it all over again after looking back on last season’s nightmarish predictions, let’s be honest: we wouldn’t change the uncertain nature of the NHL for anything else.
So here goes.
But first, takes!
We see a Hart Trophy race for the ages
If Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews stay healthy this season, expect extraordinary things. I’m thinking Matthews flirts with 50 goals and Connor McDavid becomes the first player in over a decade to reach 120 points for a season. McDavid’s heroics should be enough for the Oilers to return to the postseason, and as a general rule we should pencil him in as Hart Trophy favourite in that case. But expect MVP honours to be decided with a razor-close decision as Matthews runs away with the Rocket Richard Trophy while spearheading the NHL’s best team attack.
Capitals squeak into playoffs on final day
It’s entirely possible that alleviating all the pressure to win a championship in the Alex Ovechkin era will allow a largely unchanged roster (all but two players from their clinching victory have returned) to play free and loose and dominate in the Metropolitan Division again under the fresh(er) guidance of Todd Reirden. It’s also possible that they suffer a collective adrenaline dump. I tend to lean to the latter, but not necessarily because they’re trying to shake a figurative (or perhaps quite literal) Stanley Cup hangover. The underlyings show that Washington’s grip on the Metropolitan Division crown was steadily loosening before it finally caught fire in the spring. The Capitals tumble from the division’s top three, but force their way into the wild card on the last Saturday on the schedule.
It wasn’t a one-off in Vegas
It’s safe to expect some sort of regression on the part of the Golden Knights, but I imagine it will only be mild. This is, in part, because the Golden Knights have endeavoured to avoid sucking the life out of the market with a major results dip after reaching the championship series in their inaugural season. In investing futures to add Max Pacioretty and spending big on Paul Stastny in free agency, the Golden Knights have an impressive second unit to accompany the top line, which remains one of the best in the Western Conference.
Price quiets the critics
Yeah.. feelings of buyer’s remorse is never a good thing when experienced before the clock actually starts ticking on an $84 million mega price tag. But here’s to believing Carey Price rises to the occasion and submits a Vezina Trophy campaign, keeping the Canadiens from sinking to the bottom the Eastern Conference standings.
The trade deadline is bonkers
With a handful of truly bad teams and instances of more and more players beginning to exact control of their careers, there should be no shortage of rumours throughout the year. While the Senators are a team to keep an eye on with two valuable pending free agents in Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, the franchise to watch might be the Columbus Blue Jackets. Considered by many to be favourites in the Metropolitan, the Blue Jackets’ two star players, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and star winger Artemi Panarin, have led on that they might want to bolt for a bigger market in the summer. Losing both would be a talent purge a franchise wouldn’t soon recover from.
Sharks even score with Penguins in Stanley Cup Final rematch
Seriously, who says no to this??
All-in with Erik Karlsson, the Sharks did as much, or more, than any other team to improve their title chances with the addition of the all-world defenseman. With its riches on the back end, San Jose is the clear favourite in the Pacific Division, and my pick to pluck off whichever Central titan emerges from that side of the bracket. Meanwhile Pittsburgh is still as talented as any team in the East despite a quiet summer, and could easily be the class of the Metropolitan Division again.
The Penguins return to their third Stanley Cup Final in four seasons, but the Sharks play the Karlsson trump card and even the score.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Tampa Bay Lightning
Columbus Blue Jackets
St. Louis Blues
San Jose Sharks
Vegas Golden Knights
Penguins beat Maple Leafs
Sharks beat Jets
Stanley Cup Final
Sharks beat Penguins
Presidents’ Trophy: Winnipeg Jets
Hart Trophy: Connor McDavid, Oilers
Vezina Trophy: Connor Hellebuyck, Jets
Norris Trophy: Erik Karlsson, Sharks
Calder Trophy: Elias Pettersson, Canucks
Rocket Richard: Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs
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