Every new NHL season comes with a set of surprising circumstances.
For instance, raise your hand if you had Brad Marchand finishing sixth in goals last season with 37. You can put your hand down, Brad.
And I suppose you anticipated the Toronto Maple Leafs would bottom out in the standings and manage to beat the Edmonton Oilers in their favourite sport—the Draft Lottery!
I was 0-3 on Marchand, Panarin and the Leafs winning the Auston Matthews sweepstakes, but I’ve got 10 bold predictions for this season that very well might — but probably won’t — come true.
We all expect McDavid to be on the highlight reels on a nightly basis, but it would be beyond impressive for him to out-score the likes of Kane, Jamie Benn, Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
McDavid is far from the odds-on favourite, but I’m boldly predicting he’ll win the Art Ross Trophy.
2. The Vancouver Canucks finish dead last in the standings
Don’t tell general manager Jim Benning, but the only thing the Vancouver Canucks will be competing for this season is a lottery pick.
My money is on the Canucks giving themselves the best chance at obtaining the first overall selection in next year’s draft.
This team had rebuild written all over it before Benning started an ill-advised retooling job that centered on a six-year, $36 million contract for Loui Eriksson.
The Sedin twins haven’t just entered the twilight phase of their careers, they’re near the end of it. The blue line lacks a big-name presence and that’s a considerable pitfall in front of 36-year-old goaltender Ryan Miller and his partner Jacob Markstrom, who has 26 wins in 83 career NHL games.
Consensus is that the Canucks will be bad this season, but I’m boldly suggesting they’ll be the worst team in the league.
Note to the editors: Please refrain from giving Canucks fans my email address.
3. The Colorado Avalanche become corsi Gods en route to Central Division crown
I’m wondering how this Avalanche team, which features some of the fastest, most skilled players in the league with Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Tyson Barrie, managed to finish dead last in possession statistics last season.
Could Colorado’s shot-attempt deficiency solely be blamed on former head coach Patrick Roy’s system? I can’t wait to find out.
Enter new coach Jared Bednar. According to general manager Joe Sakic, Bednar’s teams play that “up-tempo, pressure game all over the ice.” You know, the style of game the Pittsburgh Penguins used to win the Stanley Cup last season.
Wouldn’t it be something to see Bednar bring the Avs into the new age of hockey? Wouldn’t it be great to see that change in style lead Colorado to the top of the NHL’s toughest division?
The Avalanche are going to turn heads this season and they’re going to give the analytics crowd a default argument to rely on for years to come.
4. The Buffalo Sabres finish as New York’s best team
That’s right. I’m predicting that the Sabres, who had 20 fewer points than the New York Rangers and 19 less than the New York Islanders last season, are going to be better than both of them this season.
You want reasons? I’ll give you reasons.
To start, I have the Rangers and Islanders possibly falling out of the playoff picture for a variety of reasons.
But this has much less to do with the Rangers and Isles than it does with the Sabres.
Jack Eichel had 24 goals and 56 points in his rookie campaign with Buffalo and he picked up so much valuable experience along the way.
Eichel leads a forward group that now includes Kyle Okposo, who’s fresh off a 64-point season. There’s also Evander Kane, who has too much talent not to rebound from a substandard 20-goal, 15-assist season, and Matt Moulson, who must also redeem himself after only managing eight goals and 13 assists in 81 games last season.
This prediction hinges on a breakout performance from goaltender Robin Lehner, who has the skill but hasn’t had the luck on the injury front in his first six NHL seasons.
Lehner is entering the prime of his career at 25 years old. There’s reason to believe he can anchor Buffalo’s effort to become New York’s most successful team this season.
5. The Arizona Coyotes make the playoffs and GM John Chayka gets named executive of the year
Wouldn’t it be something to see a team carrying $18 million in dead money make the post-season? The Coyotes, with/without Pavel Datsyuk, Chris Pronger and Dave Bolland can be that team.
It’s going to take breakthrough production from forwards Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Anthony Duclair, a 55-point season that pushes captain Shane Doan into the 1,000-point club, and all the luck in the world for the Coyotes to force their way into the playoff picture. But I’m predicting they’ll do it.
Defencemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski are going to push the power play into high gear. Veterans Jamie McGinn, Brad Richardson, Ryan White, Luke Schenn and Zbynek Michalek are going to keep the competitive spirit on full tilt, and goaltender Mike Smith is going to be at the height of his game.
When all that comes to pass, 27-year-old John Chayka will become the youngest general manager in league history to be named its top executive.
6. P.K. Subban will score a hat trick in his return to Montreal
Because there would be nothing more fitting than Subban coming into Montreal and stealing all the attention away from the Canadiens on the ice after stealing it all away from them in the lead up to the game.
You’ll have to wait until March 2 to see it happen, but if you plan to be at the game bring a hat with you.
7. Jonathan Drouin leads the Tampa Bay Lightning in scoring
If you thought you had witnessed Drouin’s redemption story in last year’s playoffs, that performance was just the tip of the iceberg.
Coach Jon Cooper didn’t want to play him, Drouin asked to be traded, GM Steve Yzerman banished him to the AHL, and then Drouin deserted the team. It looked as though they were heading for an ugly divorce before the injury bug struck the Lightning, which forced them to recall Drouin to Tampa.
But he’s taking the lead in 2016-17, which should make for a really entertaining contract negotiation next summer.
8. The Lightning will trade goaltender Ben Bishop and win the Stanley Cup
This team needs to save money somewhere and that’s no discredit to Yzerman who saved big on new deals for Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman this summer.
Kucherov, 23, still needs to be signed and is going to cost a pretty penny after leading Tampa with 30 goals and 36 assists last season. Johnson (26) and Ondrej Palat (25) will be restricted free agents next summer and both will be due long-term payouts that will steal away some of their years as unrestricted free agents.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, 22, can take on the starting job with a veteran goaltender backing him up. This all spells the end for Ben Bishop in a Lightning uniform.
Bishop was a Vezina Trophy nominee last season and will command a significant raise on his $5.95 million salary as a UFA next summer.
Trading Bishop may be risky, but I’m betting it brings the return that pushes Tampa over the edge in their quest to win the Cup in 2017.
9. Phil Kessel scores 40 goals for the first time in his career
Pittsburgh’s leading scorer in the 2016 playoffs is going to have a monster year, especially after being snubbed by Team USA for inclusion on their World Cup of Hockey roster.
The closest Kessel’s gotten to the 40-goal mark was 37 in the 2011-12 season. He’s scored 25 and 26 in the past two years, respectively.
But Kessel has now settled in with the Penguins, a Stanley Cup-winning roster that remained largely intact, and he’s right in the prime of his career at 29 years old when the season begins.
I believe 40 goals is a lock for him. Scoring 50 isn’t out of the question, either.
10. Pierre-Luc Dubois will win the Calder Trophy
Matthews, Puljujarvi, Patrick Laine. For 11 months last year they were slated as the consensus Top-3 picks in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Well, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen knows something no one else does. Centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was shockingly taken third overall in June, is ready to be the NHL’s best rookie this season.
If this prediction comes true, Jarmo and I are going to look like geniuses.
So here’s to Dubois taking the Calder Trophy.