Tuesday, October 3, 2017

2017-18 NHL Season Predictions

Continuing a series of posts that aren't really articles, but I have nowhere else to write these things, here you will find my 2017-18 NHL season predictions with the season starting tomorrow, if you can believe that. It really does feel like the season has snuck up on us all out of nowhere, but there are plenty of compelling storylines in this new season, not the least of which includes an expansion team in Las Vegas.

In the NHL, parity reigns supreme, though the Penguins are two time defenders of the Cup. Can they complete the first three-peat in the league since the dynastic Islanders of the early 80's? They certainly have a good chance. But how will they, and the 30 other teams fare, and who will take home the hardware? I don't know why you come here to find answers to these questions, but since you're here...

Metropolitan Division:
1. Pittsburgh
2. Washington
3. Columbus
4. New York Islanders (WC1)
5. New York Rangers (WC2)
6. Carolina
7. Philadelphia
8. New Jersey

The Penguins are not as deep as they have been the last two season as the cap has come back to bite them. But, with Crosby and Malkin (and the return of Kris Letang), they're the class of the deepest division in hockey. The salary cap also pillaged the Caps, but with expectations lightened albeit slightly, maybe that allows them to finally take that long awaited step forward. Columbus needs consistency, but with Artemi Panarin and the core group from last year still there, they have every chance to finally take a concrete step forward.

Uncertainty surrounds the Islanders not only on the ice, but off it too. In spite of all of that, they won't miss Travis Hamonic that much and Jordan Eberle gives John Tavares a dynamic winger he hasn't had with the Isles. That allows them to grab a wild card. While the Rangers don't really have any centers, and King Henrik isn't getting any younger, this team always finds a way to get in the dance, and that will happen again. Everyone's darlings in Carolina (pun intended) will take a big leap forward this season and be a fun team to watch, but something tells me they're not quite there yet.

The Flyers may take a step back before a big step forward next year with their young D and the addition of Nolan Patrick. And while the Devils still don't have a defenseman of note, they have more forwards, so they at least won't be the worst team in the league. They may be close though.

Atlantic Division:
1. Tampa Bay
2. Toronto
3. Montreal
4. Boston
5. Florida
6. Ottawa
7. Buffalo
8. Detroit

Tampa Bay has some bad juju, because if it wasn't for injuries the last two seasons, they may well have won the Cup at least once. With a healthy Steven Stamkos, this team will be on a mission this season. They may end up being the best team in the East. Close behind will be the young and hungry Toronto Maple Leafs, now dealing with the burden of expectations and an accelerated rebuild. They have a fascinating mix of players with a certain Babcock as head coach, and though they're not quite there yet, they're at the very least a playoff team. And notice who they'd play in the playoffs if my predictions come good...

Montreal is on the precipice of a downswing in fortunes, but that's not happening this year. Adding Jonathan Drouin is bold, but their lack of centers and do-si-do with Alex Galchenyuk's position is infuriating. Their defense is also not... fleet of foot, let's say. But, they have Carey Price and with him, a playoff spot is close to assured. Boston has a transition year on their hands as they hand the keys to David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. But there's a bad lack of depth here and not a ton on the horizon. Their future may be brighter than their present, but their present isn't exactly super bright to begin with.

Florida had everything go wrong last year and finished with 80 points. If a few things go right this year, they'll get to about 90, which puts them on the track to stability and contention next year. Ottawa in their second year under Guy Boucher has second season syndrome to deal with (ask the Lightning), and a lack of Erik Karlsson to start the season is not going to help matters. Buffalo will be better with Phil Housley, and Jack Eichel has to start playing up to his hype, right? And for Detroit... well, the arena is nice.

1. Nashville
2. Dallas
3. Chicago
4. Minnesota (WC1)
5. St. Louis
6. Winnipeg
7. Colorado

This division is arguably the hardest to figure out. Injuries are creating havoc for multiple teams, and others have certain depth problems as well.

Though the Predators have lost James Neal, don't have Ryan Ellis and may not be as deep as they were last year, they're still really good. And remember, they never hit their stride until the playoffs. That won't happen again this year. With Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, an actual goalie and some actual defensemen on the roster, the Stars are primed to make a huge jump forward and could be a serious Cup contender as well. The Blackhawks once again have no depth whatsoever, especially on the blueline and there's little doubt this is the worst Blackhawks roster in about six years. But Alex DeBrincat is really good, and with some cap finagling, they'll get a D from Vegas and suddenly look good again... probably.

Many people have great expectations for the Wild this season in their second year under Bruce Boudreau. However, they have less depth than they once did and that end of season swoon that continued into the postseason is very worrisome. They'll make the postseason, but this team may be closer to purgatory than the Cup. The Blues have been absolutely ravaged by key injuries in camp, and that may derail a promising season, which is a shame because when fully healthy, this team is a sneaky Cup contender.

As for the perennial underachievers on the Manitoba prairies, they need to take a step forward this year and may have an opportunity considering what's ahead of them in the division. But something is holding them back, and it may be a loyalty to players that aren't quite good enough and may never reach their ceilings. It's a shame, but that may be the reality. And as for the Avs, please trade Matt Duchene already.

1. Anaheim
2. Edmonton
3. Calgary
4. San Jose (WC2)
5. Los Angeles
6. Arizona
7. Las Vegas
8. Vancouver

As much as most of the hockey world (see analytics folks on Twitter) dislikes Randy Carlyle, he steered a very good Ducks team through some playoff demons last year before running into the Preds in the Conference Finals. Even though they lost Shea Theodore to Vegas (and the fact that they employ Francois Beauchemin and Kevin Bieksa), that blueline is ridiculously good. And for whatever reason, Carlyle gets the best out of grinders and players who otherwise wouldn't be very good. And with a good goaltending battery of Gibson/Miller, this team is a sure favorite in the West.

Edmonton had their taste last year, and is rightly considered a Cup contender thanks to a certain player that wears 97. And, as shocked as you may be to read this, according to CapFriendly on 10/3, the Oilers have the third lowest cap hit in hockey. That will soon change, but this may be their best chance at the Cup before the inevitable cap ceiling falls on their head. They can easily do it, too.

Down south in Alberta, the Flames may actually have goaltending now, they have a lights out D corps and Jaromir Jagr, so how could they not be considered a favorite? Mike Smith and Eddie Lack may not be quite good enough, and this team hopes it better not run into the Ducks again. In San Jose, there's no Patrick Marleau and a concerning lack of depth. They're close to running out of steam, but this may be their last hurrah, so for this day, they'll make the postseason.

The bottom of the Pacific is not so interesting, but there are some cool stories to be told. LA is trying to remake itself for the modern NHL without changing much of the roster, which means the next few years will be a gargantuan struggle. Arizona suddenly has a very interesting defense group, a fantastic group of young forwards lead by Clayton Keller and perhaps goaltending. This team is a sneaky playoff contender.

Vegas will be better than Vancouver, but saying that is honestly semantics since the Golden Knights are building, and the Canucks are rebuilding.

And here come the playoff predictions:

Conference Quarters:
TB (A1) over NYR (WC2) in 5
PIT (M1) over NYI (WC1) in 6
TOR (A2) over MTL (A3) in 7
WSH (M2) over CBJ (M3) in 6

ANA (P1) over SJ (WC2) in 5
NSH (C1) over MIN (WC1) in 6
EDM (P2) over CGY (P3) in 7
DAL (C2) over CHI (C3) in 5

Conference Semis:
TB (A1) over TOR (A2) in 6
PIT (M1) over WSH (M2) in 7 (I had to)

EDM (P2) over ANA (P1) in 5
DAL (C2) over NSH (C1) in 6

Conference Finals:
TB (A1) over PIT (M1) in 6
EDM (P2) over DAL (C2) in 6

Stanley Cup 2018:

Lightning over Oilers in 6, so once again, Florida prevents Canada from winning a Cup a la 14 years ago.

Awards Predictions:

Hart: Connor McDavid (EDM)
Art Ross: Connor McDavid (EDM)
Calder: Alex DeBrincat (CHI)
Norris: Victor Hedman (TB)
Vezina: Matt Murray (PIT)
Jack Adams: Mike Babcock (TOR)
First Coach Fired (not an award, but hey): Paul Maurice (WPG)

So there you have my 2017-18 NHL season predictions in a post you had to scroll halfway down the page to see all through. But at least you were therefore engaged. Time for hockey!

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