As the puck drops on the NHL season we prepare for a 48 game sprint like no other (well, aside from the 48 game season back in 1995). In honor of the start to a brand new NHL campaign, I;ve compiled a list of 10 bold predictions I’ve made for the season ahead. Ok, so these are a few days late, but I swear I made them the day before the season started. Regardless, here are a few things that you might be surprised to see this year…
10. The Lightning will win the South East division. With the top scoring cast returning and a few other key additions, this looks like a team ready to take the next step. Washington and Florida both took steps back in the off-season (in terms of personnel), while Carolina’s moves really just paper over a myriad of other issues. Winnipeg is an interesting team, but still maybe a year away from contending. I predict the Bolts key forwards (Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier) all see boosts in scoring and power the team into the playoffs.
9. Roberto Luongo does not get traded… sure this one is a shot in the dark, but the fact that Bobby Lou is still on the team makes me wonder. The guy has a ton of experience and has played in both Stanley Cup finals and Olympic Gold medal games. Why would the Canucks dump him? Ok, there are a number of reasons, but I think the media and fans may have made this a foregone conclusion long before Vancouver management.
8. The Blackhawks will be major contenders. Goaltending issues aside, the Hawks have a ton of talent across the ice, and a deep bench to boot. Did we forget so soon that this team won a cup just a few seasons back? With Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Kane all healthy, this could be a dangerous team. Even though they play in a tough division, Chicago could suffice with a lower seed in the Conference, and then make a deep playoff run.
7. Tuukka Rask will be a Vezina Trophy finalist. After playing understudy to Tim Thomas in Boston, the Finn is ready for prime time. He performed well when given starts over the last few years, and with a solid defense in front of him, Rask could post huge numbers. I expect the Bruins to be among the Eastern Conference leaders in the Win column too, which does wonders for a goalie’s confidence.
6. Neither Crosby nor Malkin will win the scoring title. Sure I think both guys will be in the top 5. Heck, I even think the Pens could win the President’s Trophy. But there’s a deep pool of point-getters right behind them, including guys like Giroux, Sedin (either one), Stamkos, and even Toews.
5. Dallas makes the playoffs, and gets big help from Jagr. When I looked at the Stars depth chart the other day, my eyes opened wide. Jagr, Benn, Eriksson, Whitney, Roy, Ryder, Morrow, Goligoski, Robidas. Sure they’ve got some issues, but this just smells like a team that could surprise some people. Plus, they were in great position to make the postseason last year before a late season slump dropped them from the top-8.
4. Stamkos will score 40 goals… Ovechkin will score less than 20. As you can see I really like the Lightning this year, and think that Steven Stamkos is poised for a stellar scoring campaign. As for the Caps top scorer, Ovie’s scoring has dried up in the last few years and it’s evident that he has been unable to adjust his game since defenders have adapted and started stopping him. With the weight of a franchise on his shoulders, the Great-8 is already feeling the pressure.
3. The Ducks contend for a division title. After Bruce Boudreau took over last year, the Ducks started to come to life. Almost like Emilio Estevez joining forces with Disney’s Mighty Ducks. Regardless, there’s a lot of talent in Anaheim, and Boudreau has a knack for getting the most out of his offensive players. If Getzlaf and Perry start cranking on all cylinders, the Ducks could be flying high in May.
2. The Minnesota Wild will miss the playoffs. Signing Parise and Suter in the offeason were great moves for the Wild, but two players do not win games alone. Sure Parise will spark an offense and maybe get some more out of Heatley and others, but Minnesota scored far fewer goals than anyone else in the league last year, and they’ll likely need a few more additions before a cohesive offensive threat can materialize.
1. The Kings will miss the playoffs. Some people are picking LA as their feel-good repeat Western Conference Champs; most people at least have them as division champs and at the very least a playoff team. I see things differently. A lack in scoring and reliance on a Goaltender with a bad back smells like trouble. Darryl Sutter’s system will win LA some games, don’t get me wrong, but we also need to keep in mind that this is a team that squeaked into the postseason last go around, and hasn’t done much to bolster their squad since then.
In the end, several (possibly many) of these might flop entirely, but it’s fun to look back at the end of the year and say, “wow, going into the season I never imagined things playing out this way.” I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what things are in store for us this year. Enjoy!