The start of a new NHL season is upon us, bringing with it the chance for a new beginning for all 31 teams. Of course, for us that means it’s time to bring out the bold and brash predictions you all crave.
In our annual season preview, we brought you our predictions for how every team in the NHL will fare this year. It’s quite a comprehensive guide to the 2017-18 NHL season, so it’s most certainly in your best interest to take a look.
Even so, we left our biggest predictions off the board so they can have room to live and breathe right here. The storylines coming into this season are vast and somewhat unfamiliar, thanks to the addition of a 31st team to the league for the first time since 2000.
As such, we’ve come up with five of our boldest predictions to share with you as we head into the new season.
1. The Pittsburgh Penguins will not three-peat as Stanley Cup champions
There’s a long road ahead of the Penguins this year if they want to repeat a third time as the NHL’s best. Pittsburgh will have a bit of a new look heading into the upcoming season, with the loss of Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, and Chris Kunitz marking the biggest departures from their championship squad.
I argued on our live preview show that it’s hard to count out a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin manning the helm, and it will be. With one of the league’s top three players on their roster, the Penguins are never out of a game or a series. Yet, the Penguins are no doubt weaker at the aspect that made them so deadly to begin with: forward depth.
The Penguins recently have been so hard to play against because they can roll all four lines with incredible depth. Cullen, Bonino, and Kunitz joined Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, and Patric Hornqvist in making the Penguins offense a force to be reckoned with. Now, with a good chunk of its bottom depth talent elsewhere, Pittsburgh will need players like Chad Ruhwedel, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Carter Rowney to fill in the gaps.
It can be done, of course. The Penguins are the masters at getting depth players to play to their full potential. However, three-peating is a hard task to achieve and this Penguins lineup may be the weakest over the last few seasons. They’ll make a deep run in the postseason, but a third straight championship will elude the Penguins.
2. The Vegas Golden Knights will finish with 75 points
Ah, the Golden Knights. Projected to be in the NHL’s basement, but how low will they go? Vegas may be the hardest team to predict because there’s no history to go on, just projections based on their mishmash roster.
Last season, the Colorado Avalanche were the NHL’s worst team by far with 48 points in a historically bad season even they may not be able to replicate this year. The NHL’s next-worst team last season? The Vancouver Canucks with 69 points.
It feels unreasonable to expect the Golden Knights to be just as bad as Colorado’s miserable season. After all, they were quite an outlier after the closest any team came to that bad of a season in the last 10 years were the 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres who posted 52 points.
A total of 75 points is at most 37 regular season wins and one overtime or shootout loss. That would put the Golden Knights under .500, but still a fair showing for the first year of an expansion team. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but it’s hard to see the Golden Knights falling that flat on their faces when the Avalanche and the Canucks still feel like worse teams on paper.
The Golden Knights have questions, for sure, but a team backstopped by three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury will do better than most people think.
3. One Canadian team will make the Stanley Cup Final
This prediction almost doesn’t feel that bold when you consider the state of Canada’s hockey teams. The Calgary Flames just added Jaromir Jagr, the Ottawa Senators were one win away from a Stanley Cup Final berth, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a core of young talent poised for a big run, and the Edmonton Oilers have Connor McDavid.
Edmonton is the team many expect to jump out of the pack this year. The Pacific Division seems wide open for them to take, as long as Cam Talbot stays healthy in net. McDavid is poised for yet another big season after winning multiple awards as the NHL’s best player last season. It makes sense that the window for the Oilers is opening right now, and that they have the talent to make it happen already.
However, don’t count out the Maple Leafs, Flames, or Senators. In our preview, I pointed out that the Senators are poised for quite a fall, but if Erik Karlsson’s health permits and their offense sustains, they could be back in the race. The Maple Leafs and Flames are now obvious picks with their offensive depth. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are mere steps away from taking the NHL by storm, while Jagr joins a core of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan in its prime.
The time of American team dominance in the Stanley Cup Final may just be over, as it seems for the first time since 2011 a Canadian team will get to the big dance.
4. The league’s surprise playoff team will be the Carolina Hurricanes
Speaking of the playoffs, this year will finally be the year the Hurricanes return to playoff glory. An offseason re-stocking the cupboards and adding depth in all the right places will finally pay off, even in a stacked Metropolitan Division.
Scott Darling may be the biggest prize, after the Hurricanes added the goaltender in free agency earlier this summer. Carolina’s most glaring weakness has always been the strength of its goaltending, and Darling is quite the fix. The 28-year-old netminder came into his own in Chicago and his career .923 save percentage through 75 games played as a backup is incredibly solid.
Behind a defense stacked with talent in Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk, and new addition Trevor van Riemsdyk, Darling might not even need to do much in goal to keep the Hurricanes afloat.
Smart acquisitions in Justin Williams and Marcus Kruger will also pay off in a lineup of young, exciting talent on offense in Teuvo Teravainen, Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, and Elias Lindholm.
The Hurricanes really only needed a few key pieces to be contenders, and they will get their chance to be this season.
5. More people will tune into the Olympics for the U.S. women’s national team than the men’s
This prediction is more hockey-based than NHL based, but it seems appropriate to end this bold and brash projection session with something about the Olympics.
It’s going to be hard to imagine a tournament without NHL players, but that’s what it has come to. No players, even outspoken Alex Ovechkin, will seemingly cross the company lines on this issue, so while the Winter Olympics are being held in February, NHL games will still be happening.
No one really knows what the Olympic rosters will look like for Team USA or Team Canada, considering the limited pool of players they can pull from. People may not even watch the games, considering the time difference between here and South Korea.
The people that may benefit the most from the NHL’s decision could be the women’s teams when all is said and done. Both USA and Canada are extremely competitive in the sport, and both have a rivalry that’s maybe even more fierce than their male counterparts.
The two sides will be sending their absolute best teams to the upcoming Winter Games, and will — barring surprises — likely be the gold medal match by the tournament’s end. We all know what happened the last time the two teams played in an Olympic gold medal match, and the rematch after such a heartbreaking loss for Team USA will likely be a bigger draw than Team Russia vs. one of the other countries on the men’s side.
Team USA is what sells at the Olympics for most American viewers, and the prospect of seeing the best in the world on the women’s side will turn the dial more than a hodgepodge team of Swedes.