The cavalry of On The Forecheck contributors (16-deep!) tried their hand at prognostication prior to puck drop in October, and now that the halfway point has arrived, let’s see how things are stacking up.
Feel free to peruse those preseason picks and draw your own conclusions here.
Let’s begin by breaking down the division races and how the panel has fared so far. The Metro’s up first.
Half of the field took the Penguins to win the Metro, and though that could still happen if Pittsburgh gets hot in the second half (though it won’t hurt any feelings if they don’t make it at all), it’s Washington (six first-place votes) pacing the pack as the bye week approaches. Columbus (one first-place vote) and New Jersey are in close proximity, and the Pens are sitting sixth with a -12 goal differential. Cup hangover? More like bird flu. However, every team is still in play for the postseason at this point.
The horse that occupied the majority of not just division picks (11 votes), but Eastern Conference votes (10) as well, Tampa Bay, has a 12-point gap on Boston and Toronto (three first-place votes) and the league’s largest goal differential (+49) by a longshot. Now Victor Hedman is out for a few weeks, so it’ll be interesting to see how Tampa deals, but they should still remain in front. Meanwhile, Ottawa (two first-place votes) is nine points out of a wild-card spot and almost as close to the No. 1 overall pick than the playoffs at this point. So much for the Duchene trade paying early dividends.
Edmonton had 12 first-place votes and Anaheim got the rest. Red Xs for everybody, as the Oilers have sprung leaks and the Ducks have been plucked by their share of ailments. Instead, it’s the hotshot freshman that won’t go away – the Vegas Golden Knights – that currently hold the top spot in not just the division, but the entire Western Conference. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is being pretty stingy as the league’s last team to allow 100 goals. Seven pickers had their respective Pacific winner representing the West in the Stanley Cup Final. Oops?
They’re all in playoff contention, even Colorado. Winnipeg snuck in behind hot goaltending and took the lead, while a Jaden Schwartz-less St. Louis is hanging tough in second and the Preds are nipping at their heels as well. How good has the Central been? Entering Friday’s games, the division as a whole had a goal differential of +100, and every team was even or better. Every other division had a negative differential. One late hot streak could decide the division winner, that’s how tough this group is.
Calder: Alex DeBrincat had seven votes and Nico Hischier had four. Nobody else had more than one, and nobody picked who the real frontrunner is at this point – Vancouver’s Brock Boeser. Clayton Keller is in the running as well, but it’s Boeser’s to lose at the halfway point.
Richard: Eight different skaters received votes here, but it’s Nikita Kucherov and Alex Ovechkin before everybody else. Anders Lee is also in the race, and if you placed any wager on him in Vegas, we’re going to need to take you in for questioning.
Art Ross: It was supposed to be Connor McDavid’s to lose, according to 15 of 16 voters. Nope, not unless he makes up a 12-point gap on Nikita Kucherov and passes nine others in the second half of the season.
Norris: Six different players received votes, and while Victor Hedman looks like a contender for sure, he’s going to be out for a bit, so that puts things back up in the air. Ottawa’s freefall likely takes Erik Karlsson out of the running. Drew Doughty could step in and take it himself with a good second half.
Selke: We could just give it to Patrice Bergeron again and nobody would bat an eye. But look for someone like Sean Couturier or Artemi Panarin to try and boost their resumes in the second half as well.
Vezina: It looks to be a race between Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky and Connor Hellebuyck. Maybe Bob surges late and steals it to go back-to-back, but AV has been top-notch for the Bolts and he’ll be hard to go against.
Hart: If Edmonton rallies and makes the postseason, McDavid will have a huge say – and a major case for the award. But right now, with Colorado stealthily in playoff contention, Nathan McKinnon has to be seriously considered. Kucherov looks like a good bet as well as long as the Bolts continue to roll.
Second half, second chance (or not)
In this section, we give everyone a mulligan – or a chance to double down on a theme or prediction from the preseason.
Chris: It’s a mulligan in theory, but compared to everyone else, I’m doubling down on Vegas. They’re here to stay, and unless somebody finds a can of Lysol big enough to combat the “Vegas Flu,” the Central winner had better finish with more points to secure home-ice advantage in the WCF. Because that’s where the Golden Knights may just be headed on their maiden voyage. We, however, will not clap for them.
Bobby: I’ll double down that Erik Karlsson does not get traded this season. Although rumors have swirrled with his contract coming up and Ottawa being in free-fall mode, ownership there still seems to think that they have a shot of some sort.
Laura: Double down on the youth movement.
Nick: I have to double-down on the Tampa Bay Lightning. I said they would win the Eastern Conference, and it looks more and more likely every game that they are the East representative in the SCF.
Carson: So far, mulligan. No outdoor games have been announced for the Preds, however that could change at any time.
Marya: I had Tampa winning the Cup, and I’m sticking with that.
Chris: Doubling down on the Preds’ division chances. The Central’s closer than anybody thought top-to-bottom, but that may actually play to Nashville’s advantage. Once this team gets fully healthy, look out. Yes, the penalties are still a concern, but getting Ryan Ellis back helps in a lot of areas. This *can* be a 115-point team.
Bobby: Double-down. Color me surprised if WInnipeg’s goaltending holds up over the rest of the season. Just because Scheifle returns won’t mean the puck gets kept out of the net. However, watch out for St. Louis once Jaden Schwartz returns from injury.
Laura: Double-down. This could be our year.
Rachel: Mulligan. I said the Predators would struggle for points without Ellis, and I said Edmonton would out-do the Predators in nearly every category. Lol...nope.
Nick: Double-down. Vegas is the only playoff team that worries me, but I think we can handle them.
Carson: Biiiig mulligan. I’m too used to early season problems for my own good it seems, as I thought Nashville would be barely in the hunt at this time. The joys of having a complete team!
Marya: The Predators haven’t been very consistent in their play, but they’re at the point in the standings I thought they would be. I still have them in the Final versus Tampa.
Bonus: Trade deadline – another deal coming?
Chris: The Turris deal did a lot to help, so I’m not going overboard. Maybe he gets something out of Emelin in a package deal for a Mike Hoffman. Being in Cup-now mode, however, means all bets are off as far as that first-round pick is concerned.
Bobby: The Predators are a complete team top to bottom with healthy depth, creating competition for their bottom forwards and defensemen. There is no need for another move. If Poile were to do anything, he should move Emelin’s contract and either Aberg or Gaudreau for someone like
Anthony Duclair , who wants out of Arizona. WHY ARIZONA WHY
Rachel: Mr. Poile: Do not do one dang thing, please!
Laura: I’ll go with a winger, potentially a rental, to help with playoff injury depth.
Carson: The lineup has no real immediate concerns, however trading Bitetto or Emelin for some picks or a prospect wouldn’t surprise me.
Marya: The Preds don’t need to make another deal, but if Poile can flip an asset for another scoring winger, that might put them over the top.
Where do you think the Nashville Predators will finish in the Central Division?
This poll is closed
First - finally!
Fourth/fifth, but wild-card bound
Other, which means bad things
Do you think David Poile needs to make another deal?
This poll is closed
On the fence until Forsberg returns
Ask me again at the All-Star break