It’s that time of year again!
Every year, the OTF staff gets together, fights over the crystal ball (darn thing’s got nothing but static anyway), and tries to predict the outcomes of an 82-game season followed by fifteen best-of-seven series. And that’s not even getting into trying to understand what the NHL awards voters are thinking.
Here are last year’s predictions, if you’d like to see how we did last time—congratulations to Rachel and Carson, who got the Capitals all the way to the ECF, and to the six people who predicted the Predators’ shiny new Central Division regular-season banner.
First up, the division winners and the Stanley Cup Final matchup:
- Half of our contributors who answered are all in on the all-sunbelt SCF—four people predicted a Nashville–Tampa Bay Final, while Rachel is predicting a San Jose–Tampa Bay final.
- Three more people predict that the Predators will beat the Penguins for the Cup. Sounds good to me—home or road?
- The Sharks and their shiny new Erik Karlsson are near-unanimous favorites to win the Pacific, while the Preds are a very popular choice to win the Central.
Next up, the player awards:
- Almost everyone seems pretty sure the Art Ross is Connor McDavid’s to lose. Interestingly, after last year’s awards, there’s a lot less confidence that he’ll walk away with the Hart.
- Last year the staff leaned towards Roman Josi as the Nashville representative for the Norris; this year it’s P.K. Subban. With Subban in Nashville, Karlsson joining fellow former Norris winner Brent Burns in San Jose, and Victor Hedman just having had “his turn,” there isn’t a clear favorite for this poorly-defined award.
- There’s a lot of faith in Rasmus Dahlin to win the Calder. If the Sabres have a good season he might just pull it off.
And, on that note, we also asked our contributors to weigh in briefly on some questions for the season.
Which teams are going to make everyone sit up and pay attention this year (like the Jets did last year)?
Kate: If the Stars can find enough bubble wrap to protect Ben Bishop’s gargantuan frame, I think they have a shot. I know we say this every year, but I’m saying it.
Rachel: The Buffalo Sabres.
Marya: I think Buffalo may finally take the next step into playing spoiler and gunning for the fourth spot in the Atlantic.
Musa: Do the Panthers finally show up and make some noise? I think so.
Adam: I think/hope we see the return of the fun Dallas Stars, where they are okay with winning games 5-4. I also think the Coyotes could be sneaky good in the west. I think Buffalo is going to be a bit better than people think, we might see the Flyers transition into an actual Cup contender, and I think the Carolina Hurricanes make the playoffs.
Chris: You know what? Keep an eye on Arizona. The Yotes had a strong finish to the season after a disastrous start. Beyond San Jose and Vegas, the rest of the Pacific (probably excluding Vancouver) is a toss-up. Very hard to imagine them starting 1-14-5 again this year. If they can stay around .500 through the first month, they could be the surprise team in the West.
Hayley: Dallas has all the pieces to finally turn things around this season, if they don’t get crushed right out of the gate. A slow start might be enough to spell doom for the entire season.
Tucker: Philly. Their forwards are great, and their back end isn’t too shabby either. If they can somehow figure out their goalie situation, they should be a serious threat in a wide-open Metro division.
Bobby: The St. Louis Blues enjoyed a wildly successful offseason. This season, the Blues are deep enough at center to support a strong cast of wingers. Do I think that they will win the Central? Maybe. Could they finish second? Certainly. If they finish third, will either the Predators or the Jets rue not taking care of business to avoid the Blues? Absolutely.
Laura: Buffalo and Carolina. Carolina makes the playoffs. Buffalo maybe/maybe not, but they will be much improved.
What new trend do you think people start seeing in the successful teams, whether that trend is causing the success or not?
Kate: I think we see more teams “focusing on shot quality” even if what they’re actually doing is riding goaltending and/or shooting luck. Some teams will actually optimize their offensive strategies; some will just pretend they did.
Rachel: Athletic ability over size in goal. Technical positioning, holding the blue ice, a fast glove, and quick resetting becomes much-lauded. Fans and teams alike begin to realize that even massive 6 foot plus (or taller) goaltenders are exploitable if they aren’t technically and positionally sound.
Marya: Finally adding in stipulations to trades to keep from being burned by your player winding up in the same division again.
Musa: Maybe the bad teams finally realize it’s okay to trade within your own division... or not. [Ed.: If they were making smart decisions, would they really be bad teams?]
Adam: I think we continue to see the high flip to center ice from the d-zone. I also think we might see a team experiment with five forwards on the power-play (maybe Florida). I think we will see teams activate their D even more in the offensive zone below the dots, and not just have them stand like robots at the blue line. Someone will get creative with their in-zone offense where each player can interchange with the others on the ice.
Chris: Teams really start figuring out 3-on-3 overtime and we see an uptick in shootouts again.
Hayley: Staying out of the penalty box...looking at you Nashville.
Tucker: The number of suspensions given out by the DoPS is going to be way up this year.
Bobby: The NHL is a copycat league. I think a lot of teams are going to take a look at what big guys like Tom Wilson and Dustin Byfuglien bring to the table. How else can you explain Poile going for Zac Rinaldo? There’s an element of “protecting your own” with that move. So far, the Department of Player Safety has not adequately protected players. Expect General Managers across the league to take protection into their own hands.
Laura: Same as my prediction last year only more so. Rookie ages go down as do retirement ages. The NHL will continue to get younger and faster.
Predict how the 2018-19 season goes for the Preds. Do they make the playoffs? Miss the playoffs? Hang more banners? Hope for a lottery pick?
Kate: I think the Preds make the playoffs as a 2- or 3-seed, but unless Pekka Rinne is in Pekka Prime mode or Juuse Saros really steps up I don’t know that I see them getting another banner.
Rachel: The Preds make the playoffs as a 2/3 seed behind Winnipeg and lose to San Jose in the WCF.
Marya: The Preds very comfortably make the playoffs, eventually settling for second in the division.
Musa: I’m going out on a limb and saying the Preds win the Cup. The last two years have taught them what is needed and what isn’t, and they get over the hump. Also, Pekka is still a key player, but Juuse is the starter come playoff time.
Adam: I think the Preds come tantalizingly close to winning the Cup again, but fall short in the finals. Their lack of speed will be exposed a bit, and we will be left with questions at center ice and in net going into next season.
Chris: The Central is loaded—so much so that I could see the Preds go anywhere from first to fourth. It’s all about the goaltending—is there enough of a workload balance that Rinne doesn’t fall flat in the postseason? And does the defense actually show up in April and May this time? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then a parade may very well happen. But I’m hinging my Stanley Cup prediction on a healthy Lightning roster, which means it’s probably wrong.
Hayley: The Preds have the chance to win the Cup again this season, but I don’t see it unfolding how it did last year. I see them flying slightly under the radar again. Being a middle of the pack team and then just dominating the post season. No hype, just action.
Tucker: Did you come here for modesty? Well, you’re not getting it from me. The Preds are winning it all this year. Go ahead and plan the parade right now.
Bobby: The Predators win the Central Division. As I said last year, the Predators are going to have a lot of playoff series against the Jets in the next seven years. This year, they take care of business, but the grueling competition of playing in such a strong division takes its toll. I firmly believe that whoever makes it out of the Central Division this year will lose the Western Conference Finals due to fatigue. That goes for the Predators.
Laura: I believe the Nashville Predators make the playoffs and challenge for the division. Hot take alert! Our playoff success will be dependent on scheduling Saros at least a game per series. I never understand why Pekka needs rest every few games in the season, but should go 28 straight at the end of the year.
BONUS: Which Preds player gets traded for a top-six forward this year, and who’s the forward? Or what other big trade do you think Poile has in mind?
Kate: I could see Poile deciding to flip Josi for a top-line forward. I don’t like it, but I could see it.
Rachel: Trade a combo of extra d-men (Irwin, Bitetto, Weber), a pick or two, and Frederic Allard for Artemi Panarin. Columbus will be so upset that they couldn’t re-sign their star winger that they’ll take pretty much anything.
Marya: Duchene for a first! Really, though, I don’t know what assets Poile would trade and for what. He always manages to surprise us.
Musa: So long Dante Fabbro, we hardly knew ye. Bring on Duchene. Or Stone.
Adam: They have to pursue a Duchene trade. They are fantastic on the wings, but I think we need to see another legitimate scoring threat down the middle. The issue is there aren’t a whole lot of high end assets to trade. The most valuable piece is Dante Fabbro, but even with him, I’m not sure how high the value is. You might as well kick the tires on Panarin too. He’s likely not to re-sign, but he’s a real difference-maker for a Cup run.
Chris: The Senators are in full rebuild—maybe they take a first-rounder, Matt Irwin and something outside of Dante Fabbro for Duchene. Or not. Otherwise, I don’t know that a big trade happens.
Hayley: Duchene Watch to the bitter end, apparently. I’m not sold on Duchene anymore—I think his last trade left a bit of a cloud over him. He might be more of a distraction at this point. I would rather see Poile find some weird combination of Bitetto, Irwin, Weber, and maybe a prospect to flip for Artemi Panarin. He wouldn’t be for the long haul, but he’d be dangerous during the playoffs. Chicago would hate it; it’d be fun.
Tucker: If we’re going to make a trade, I could possibly see the Preds flipping some decent prospects like Carrier, Allard, and Emil Petterson as well as a mid-to-low level draft pick to the Rangers for Mats Zuccarello.
Bobby: Dante Fabbro, as good as he could be, is not going to be making this roster soon due to how locked up the Predators’ defense is. Alexandre Carrier could also be trade bait. One of them, along with draft pick considerations, could make a nice package to the New York Islanders for right winger Jordan Eberle, who is entering the last season of his contract.
Laura: If Duchene is traded at the deadline, that would be a target (if he commits and signs). Nick Bonino, Fabbro and picks. Assuming we intend to resign Josi, we may not have space for Panarin, but we can dream.