10 bold NHL predictions for 2018

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, right, of Russia, is congratulated by centre Steven Stamkos after scoring against the Los Angeles Kings during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Michael Owen Baker/AP)

Trades, trophy winners, contract decisions, and the results of the Stanley Cup final: There’s almost no sense watching the year 2018 in hockey unfold, because we have all your answers here.

Here are 10 bold predictions for the coming year:

1. Erik Karlsson will be traded
Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk already believes he’s overspending on player salaries with a $68-million payroll. According to Kyle Turris, Melnyk did not wish to match the six-year, $36-million contract Ottawa’s former No. 1 centre signed with Nashville.

The salary cap is heading north, which spells juicy raises for foundational Sens like Mark Stone, Derick Brassard, Matt Duchene, Cody Ceci and Karlsson.

Despite management requesting his yes-trade list, we’d be shocked if hockey’s best defenceman was dealt before the 2018 deadline, but at this point we’d be just as surprised if he plays out his full deal in Ottawa.

A free agent in 2019, Karlsson deserves and wants top dollar. Even if the budget Sens are willing to give him, say, $90 million, would they have enough scratch left over to surround him with a contending roster?

2. The Maple Leafs will re-sign James van Riemsdyk and rent a defenceman
Gradually, our opinion on the fate of impending UFA JVR in Toronto is shifting. Here’s why: The salary cap is going up significantly (an estimated $3 million to $7 million) for 2018-19; Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov appear increasingly likely to walk with young, hungry forward talent behind them; neither Mitchell Marner nor William Nylander are scoring at a rate that will demand cap-crippling pay bumps; and van Riemsdyk’s net-front goals will be difficult to replace.

Increasingly, we can see JVR — the most coveted winger on the market — taking a slight discount in exchange for term to stick with a familiar contender.

Also: It won’t be a bona fide No. 1 like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but GM Lou Lamoriello will go out and find a trustworthy defender or two by Feb. 26.

3. The Vegas Golden Knights will disappoint you at the trade deadline but not in the post-season
We’ve seen enough of a sample size of the Pacific to predict that Vegas has a better chance of winning the division than tumbling out of the race altogether in an expansion year. That means not selling their coveted UFAs — James Neal, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, David Perron — and (gasp) potentially using some of its $8.1 million in cap space to lock down home ice in Round 1. We predict they’ll win a round, which will do wonders for fan interest and franchise health.

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4. Three Canadian teams will make the playoffs
Toronto and Winnipeg are our safest bets to head to the spring dance. We don’t see Montreal (can’t score) or Vancouver (can’t stay healthy) as viable third options. The odds are long for Edmonton and Ottawa, but we like their rosters too much to read them their rights just yet. That said, we’re calling the Calgary Flames the third Canadian 2018 playoff team, squeaking in with a wild-card berth.

5. Shea Weber will become the Montreal Canadiens’ next captain
When it becomes apparent to the Habs’ front office that they have failed to build a playoff roster, pieces will be moved, and the biggest one will be captain Max Pacioretty — who will thrive in a change of scenery. Unlike last time Montreal had a vacant ‘C,’ there will be no need for a player vote. Weber will inherit Pacioretty’s letter.

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

6. The Nashville PredatorsTampa Bay Lightning Cup final will go seven games
We’re in for a thrilling Stanley Cup final in 2018, and for the first time in three years it won’t involve Pittsburgh. Once Ryan Ellis returns, the Preds’ defence will be the deepest and scariest in the league — if it’s not already. Tampa will have the easier path to the final, arriving with fewer injuries and Steven Stamkos on a mission. Andrei Vasilevskiy will out-duel Pekka Rinne in a Game 7 to remember, and in 2032 they’ll build a statue of a Cup-hoisting Stammer next to the one of Dave Andreychuk outside of the Tampa barn.

7. John Tavares will sign an eight-year extension in New York before July 1
Buoyed by ownership’s efforts to secure a new rink at Belmont Park and the Islanders’ excellent on-ice performance this winter — boosted by the ascendance of young studs like Mathew Barzal — Johnny T re-ups on the Island and deprives fans of must-see TV during free-agent frenzy. (Bonus prediction: Jordan Eberle will score more playoff goals in one year as an Islander than he did in seven as an Oiler.)

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8. Edmonton will be announced as host of the 2019 All-Star Game
Seven years later, the NHL’s mid-season party will return to Canada as a delayed housewarming gift from the league to the Oilers for building a shiny new rink. Imagine the cheers when Connor McDavid shatters his own fastest-skater record on home ice. We also predict that Calgary will be super jeally.

9. Ken Holland will part ways with the Detroit Red Wings
The NHL’s second-longest-tenured general manager won’t be sticking around for the Red Wings’ rebuild. Holland has yet to sign a contract extension, leading us to believe a shake-up would benefit both the executive and the club. We’re not predicting Holland will be fired. Rather, he’ll part amicably in the off-season and become a top candidate for another empty GM seat.

10. Connor McDavid will win the scoring race but not the Hart Trophy
Ten points or fewer separate 2017–18’s top scorer from its 15th-ranked scorer. You can have the field; we’ll take McDavid. Since recovering from his myriad illnesses, Edmonton’s saviour has looked unstoppable. Other than Anze Kopitar, McDavid also gets more ice time than any other Art Ross Trophy threat. However, we see McDavid’s Oilers falling shy of the post-season, and conventional voting dictates that the Hart goes to a playoff-bound star. That’ll be Tavares, when Stamkos, Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov split the Tampa vote.

Agree? Disagree? Got predictions of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

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