Nine bold NHL predictions for 2020

Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon rushes with the puck. (John Locher/AP)

Did you know a year in advance that P.K. Subban would get traded (again), Patrick Marleau would find his way back to San Jose, and Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky would split from Columbus after the playoffs?

We did.

We’re not guaranteeing all of these nine NHL predictions will come to pass in the next 365 days, but if you want to become a very rich fan, feel free to place a prop bet or six based on our supreme clairvoyance.

1. Backstrom stays, Holtby leaves

The salary cap has broken up more bands than creative differences. And with the mighty Washington Capitals laying claim to both the most proven impending UFA centreman, Nicklas Backstrom, and the most proven UFA goaltender, Braden Holtby, we find it difficult to see how all the pieces can fit.

Toss in the fact that Radko Gudas, a welcome addition to the back end, is also heading toward free agency, and that the cap ceiling is only supposed to rise by about $1 million, and there simply isn’t enough dough to go around.

Backstrom makes $6.7 million, well short of market value, and we take it as a positive sign that the veteran is acting as his own agent in negotiations with the franchise that has shown him loyalty. Talk has been quieter on the Holtby front, and the 30-year-old Cup winner would be in his rights to ask for a payday in the ballpark of Sergei Bobrovsky’s $70 million and negotiate down from there.

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Holtby’s security has already survived the great Philipp Grubauer scare of 2018, but the Caps have another good one on the rise in 22-year-old first-rounder Ilya Samsonov. It’ll be time to give the affordable, young talent the net and let Holtby seek his raise elsewhere.

2. Half of the Maple Leafs D-corps says “sayonara”
Toronto’s blue line — long a source of consternation — will barely resemble itself in 2020-21. All those committed dollars upfront have left little in the bank to pay UFA defencemen Cody Ceci, Jake Muzzin, Tyson Barrie and Justin Holl, plus RFA Travis Dermott.

Incredible: Morgan Rielly is the only Leafs regular on the back end signed through 2020.

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The bet here is that Ceci, Muzzin and Barrie all shake hands with the Leafs and wish each other well. Dermott and Holl receive shorter-term extensions and modest pay bumps, the door opens for Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren to become full-timers, and Toronto goes hard after a right shot, like Alex Pietrangelo. Which brings us to…

3. The Blues lose their captain
That Blues GM Doug Armstrong traded for and signed another veteran right-shot defenceman, Justin Faulk, at the outset of the season was a red flag. That Brayden Schenn (a scheduled UFA in 2020) didn’t waste time signing a long-term extension while Pietrangelo still remains unsigned is another.

The 2019 champs already have two younger top-four right shots, Colton Parayko and Faulk, under lock and key. They have a young stud, 23-year-old Vince Dunn, due for a juicy raise as a restricted free agent. RFA forward Sammy Blais is also in need of a pay bump, and the Blues’ interest in Taylor Hall indicates where they’re thinking of spending.

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While we don’t believe the 29-year-old Petro wants to uproot the triplets or Armstrong wants to lose his captain, we see the sides taking a shot at the repeat and regrettably parting ways due to economics.

4. Edmonton gets awarded either the 2021 All-Star Weekend or 2021 NHL Draft
Commissioner Gary Bettman likes to reward cities that build shiny new rinks, and Edmonton’s Rogers Place is a beauty. The downtown Ice District offers plenty of restaurant, hotel and entertainment options, and would be ripe to host a major event.

Edmonton hasn’t hosted a draft since 1995 and hasn’t held the All-Star Game since 1989. Playoff series have been scarce of late, and regular-season attendance is dipping. The city needs a boost.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Also: The world’s most outstanding hockey player lives there.

5. We finally get the Lightning-Leafs series we all deserve
Count me among the fools who believed the Atlantic Division would be the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference. The Metropolitan teams — representing half of the NHL’s top eight in points percentage by mid-December — will swipe both wild-card spots, leaving only three playoff positions to the Atlantic.

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Boston is the best of the bunch. Toronto and Tampa Bay (games in hand!) will get their seasons on track, while Montreal, Buffalo and Florida fade from the picture.

The freewheeling Leafs-Lightning series gives us all the goals we can handle.

6. Bergevin is no longer GM of the Montreal Canadiens
After eight years on the job and just one post-season appearance in the past five springs, Bergevin is let go after the Habs fall out of the race.

While some of the GM’s largest trades (Max Domi, Shea Weber) can now be considered wins, the team results are not there. A summer of unused cap space comes back to haunt him.

7. MacKinnon wins the Hart Trophy, finally

When the Edmonton Oilers fall out of the playoff picture, the MVP aspirations of Connor McDavid drop with it. The East Coast bias splits some David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand votes, and Jack Eichel gets docked some love when the Sabres come up short of the wild card.

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That leaves Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon to capture the Hart, the trophy he came painfully close to winning in 2018 (Taylor Hall). What MacKinnon has achieved on a contending club ravaged with injuries is nothing short of remarkable.

MacKinnon headlines an NHL Awards show decorated with several first-time winners: Connor Hellebuyck (Vezina), John Carlson (Norris), Pastrnak (Rocket) and Marchand (Selke).

8. The Stanley Cup stays in the Central Division

Vegas finds its stride and rolls through a relatively soft Pacific Division, while the Central Division is a dogfight. Whomever of St. Louis, Winnipeg, Dallas or Colorado survives builds enough confidence and commitment to go all the way.

9. Coaching quickies

As Calgary rallies into the playoffs, Geoff Ward earns the right to ditch the “interim” tag, but New Jersey’s Alain Nasreddine doesn’t. Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild part ways amicably. Nashville does something drastic. If I’m Peter Laviolette, I’m worried about my job. Of the five coaches let go mid-season, Peter DeBoer becomes the first one to sign elsewhere.

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