Here we go again! Another NHL season is about to begin and Vegas has unleashed its Over-Under totals! In 2017, I correctly predicted Carolina’s point total, but this past season had plenty of (understandable) mishaps. Only a fool would have predicted that the Vegas Golden Knights would be in the Stanley Cup Finals while having the Edmonton Oilers fall well short of extra hockey. There was one Western Conference team, however, that I got correct (although the fans probably did not appreciate it. Then again, this team’s fan base hates my power rankings, anyway).
The two teams that have paid Patrick Marleau had the offseason of a lifetime and have shot their way toward the top of the first NHL Power Rankings of the 2018-2019 season, while the other eastern Canadian teams are poised for a dreadful winter.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (106.5) OVER: 107
Last year’s prediction: 97 points; Actual total: 105 points
I was expecting a slew of sophomore slumps. While Auston Matthews had several IR stints, Toronto still got plenty of help to make a second straight playoff visit simple. It would be a shock if that streak did not reach three this year.
Toronto has the most exciting roster in the NHL because all of the bases are covered. John Tavares joins a lengthy group of young superstars, with James van Riemsdyk being the only major loss during the offseason, and Andreas Borgman and Travis Dermott will both look to build off of promising debuts while rounding out the blue line. JT will be in Toronto for a while, but this is still a big year for the Maple Leafs to make a push for the Stanley Cup.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (107.5) OVER: 109
Last year’s prediction: 99 points; Actual total: 113 points
Vegas expected the Lightning to pick things back up last season, but I was not entirely convinced. Despite my respectable 99, Tampa Bay reached the playoffs with a cakewalk. They also got plenty of ammo from that big trade with the New York Rangers, and Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller are back on the team this season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy seemed on the fast track for the Vezina Trophy during the first half before giving way just enough for Pekka Rinne to take the award. Assuming Tampa Bay continues to coast during the regular season, the young Russian should seal the deal this time around and give the Lightning a solid chance at its second Stanley Cup.
3. Winnipeg Jets (106.5) UNDER: 104
Last year’s prediction: 91 points; Actual total: 114 points
It was no surprise that Winnipeg was finally benefitting from their top picks, but they went from non-playoff team to second-best team in one season. There are clear heroes to the team’s rise to power and near Stanley Cup visit, but can that keep up?
Is Connor Hellebuyck a consistent Vezina contender (he was a surprising top prospect three years ago)? Can Patrik Laine finally reach 50 goals? Can Blake Wheeler, who recently signed a five-year contract, and Mark Scheifele make a run for the century mark in points? It would not be a surprise if Winnipeg cools off a little bit in the standings, but this team is definitely for real.
4. Washington Capitals (98.5) OVER: 106
Last year’s prediction: 107 points; Actual total: 105 points
I came really close to matching this prediction dead on, but I did get the over correct. Of course, I did not see the Stanley Cup coming to the US capital because the team’s playoff doldrums made such a prediction too bold. Now that the frustrations are finally over and Alex Ovechkin has his title, hockey in Washington can finally go without the pressure.
Of course, it would be nice to match the rival Penguins (2016 and 2017) with a repeat championship of their own. Most of the team is still around, but there will be more pressure on Braden Holtby now that Philipp Grubauer is out of town. It does, however, open the door for Pheonix Copley, who was formerly a trade piece in the 2015 T.J. Oshie deal before returning to Washington in the Kevin Shattenkirk trade in 2017.
5. Nashville Predators (105.5) OVER: 107
Last year’s prediction: 101 points; Actual total: 117 points
People forget that the Predators had a mild 2016-2017 before rolling into the Stanley Cup Finals. They continued their rush to the top of the NHL and sealed the Presidents Trophy last season before being shocked at home against Winnipeg.
Pekka Rinne is starting to get up there in age, so the rest of the team will need to keep up their end of the bargain to make this season equally as successful. Last year’s offense was centered around a strong balance of point production throughout the lines before Filip Forsberg took over in the Stanley Cup playoffs. If a similar philosophy happens this year, then Eeli Tolvanen should be a dark horse in a lengthy field of NHL rookies. Yes, P.K. Subban and Roman Josi should be expected threats on the blue line.
6. San Jose Sharks (97.5) OVER: 104
Last year’s prediction: 89 points; Actual total: 100 points
Finding consistency in the NHL is not always easy, but the Sharks have had a one-point improvement in each of the last two seasons. After the blockbuster trade they executed in September, all signs point toward an even bigger jump in the standings.
Erik Karlsson will be on the same unit as Brent Burns, creating the equivalent of a brick wall in hockey. Martin Jones is still good enough to hold to pipes down for most of the season, and the rest of the team is nicely balanced. Anything less than a division championship and at least one series win (probably two) would be a disappointment since the Sharks pulled off what was thought to be an impossible trade offer for Karlsson.
7. Boston Bruins (102.5) UNDER: 101
Last year’s prediction: 93 points; Actual total: 112 points
The rush of rookies, and the re-emergence of Patrice Bergeron, fueled Boston to a return to the top tier of the Eastern Conference standings. Unfortunately for them, Tampa Bay was even better, and it showed in the conference semifinals.
It will be tough to match 112 again, but the Bruins still have what it takes to coast to the playoffs for the third straight year. Not only do Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have plenty of able scorers around them returning from last year, but Boston has another slew of youngsters looking to find their break, including Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Peter Cehlarik.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (103.5) UNDER: 101
Last year’s prediction: 112 points; Actual total: 100 points
I had them as one of the best teams in the NHL, but eclipsing 100 points turned into a challenge. It was surreal seeing them fall to Washington in the second round of the playoffs, and now they have to avoid a drop-off similar to Chicago, another team familiar with the Stanley Cup in recent years.
Besides the usual suspects, Pittsburgh will need a big year from Matt Murray to return to their championship ways. He was limited to just 45 starts last year and a GAA just under three. Also expect more looks from Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese.
9. Philadelphia Flyers (98.5) OVER: 99
Last year’s prediction: 79 points; Actual total: 98 points
A lot of things went right for Philadelphia last year, including a masterful showing from their captain. Claude Giroux eclipsed the century mark in the final regular season game by scoring a hat trick, and former top pick Sean Couturier broke out in a big way. Now all they have to do is beat their in-state rivals in the playoffs.
What makes Philadelphia unique this year, besides their new and sort of hideous mascot, is the lengthy competition in goal. Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth seem like the top candidates for making the team in October, but Anthony Stolarz has experience, Alex Lyon is too good for the AHL, and Carter Hart is proving his worth just two years after being drafted in the second round. A team that is expected to return to the playoffs should not be experimenting with their goalie tandem, but this could be one of those cases.
10. Florida Panthers (94.5) OVER: 98
Last year’s prediction: 83 points; Actual total: 96 points
It might have gone unnoticed, but the Panthers nearly pulled a massive comeback for a playoff spot to burn past my predicted point total. They traded for Mike Hoffman and added Troy Brouwer and Michael Hutchinson in the hopes of getting over the hump.
A team in desperate need of some better attendance figures could get that wish with a rush of wins early. With Aleksander Barkov as the new captain and several top picks getting close to their prime, Florida has the talent to shock in the Eastern Conference and make the playoffs a simple task. If there is one bold option for Stanley Cup contenders, then Florida is a solid choice, but will the fans recognize that?
11. Calgary Flames (93.5) OVER: 95
Last year’s prediction: 97 points; Actual total: 84 points
The Flames added some key pieces to their defense last year in the hopes of rounding out the entire roster, but they were mediocre on both ends. A significant wrist injury to Sean Monahan effectively ruined the back of their season.
Enter Bill Peters and three players that played under him in Carolina (Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, and Derek Ryan), and the Flames offense has much more depth entering October. The season could be underwhelming if Mike Smith burns out again, but David Rittich and Jon Gillies are both expected to see improved play as well. There are several different unsung heroes that can get Calgary back to the postseason.
12. Los Angeles Kings (93.5) UNDER: 93
Last year’s prediction: 88 points; Actual total: 98 points
The Kings had come off a terrible season before last year, but they still exceeded expectations and got in as a wild card. The veteran-heavy approach continues into this year, and the Ilya Kovalchuk signing ignited that run even further.
How Kovalchuk fares in his NHL return could determine where LA falls in the crowded Pacific Division, but the familiar names are also important. Is Anze Kopitar able to repeat his Hart Trophy-caliber performance? Can Jeff Carter return to being the team’s most dangerous scorer? Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe showed flashes of excellence last year, and further consistency should make the coveted California rivalries very exciting.
13. Anaheim Ducks (96.5) UNDER: 94
Last year’s prediction: 105 points; Actual total: 101 points
For a while, it seemed like the Golden Knights were going to hurt Anaheim’s playoff reign, but the Ducks righted the ship just enough to return to the playoffs and fall yet again in the early rounds. After Washington ended their playoff woes, the Ducks are probably the next team waiting to shake off their recent troubles in April and May.
The offense should still center on Ryan Getzlaf, but the recent European movement should continue to make a huge impact. Ondrej Kase joined Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg as a big scoring threat for Anaheim, and defensemen Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson should take a step forward behind Hampus Lindholm. Anaheim’s playoff success will be dependent on whether John Gibson can find his consistency.
14. Colorado Avalanche (90.5) OVER: 92
Last year’s prediction: 74 points; Actual total: 95 points
This team amazingly improved by 47 points last season and clinched a playoff spot in the final game. There is no mystery as to why, though. Nathan MacKinnon led one of the best top lines in the NHL (including Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen) and even gave Nashville a bit of a scare in the playoffs. What can they do for an encore?
Admittedly, the offense has its hands full trying to continue their scorching success, so a slight lapse is not unexpected. The real focus should be on Philipp Grubauer, as he attempts to cement the team’s starting spot after years as Washington’s backup. This team is a playoff lock if he can match the success of former teammate Braden Holtby.
15. Vegas Golden Knights (96.5) UNDER: 93
Last year’s prediction: 64 points; Actual total: 109 points
Stop laughing! You know you did not have Vegas racking up that many points! In a world where playoff predictions are generally sneered upon, this one has a valid excuse for being 45 points off. Nobody saw that kind of season coming.
It does not seem likely that the Cinderella story can repeat itself, but the front office has tried its hardest. They added Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty after James Neal went north, and the team’s first wave of young prospects, led by Tyler Wong, Cody Glass, and Nicolas Hague, is expected to break into the NHL. The playoffs should still be realistic for the newest NHL team.
16. Edmonton Oilers (91.5) UNDER: 91
Last year’s prediction: 108 points; Actual total: 78 points
Meanwhile, Edmonton did exactly what Vegas was supposed to do: bottom out. Nobody would have taken my predictions seriously if I had made such predictions on these new divisional rivals, though. Another surprise season that predictors have to accept as incorrect.
Do I think Edmonton is going to go back to where they were in 2016? No, but the defense will look marginally better, especially Cam Talbot, and someone other than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will score consistently. Now is the time for Jesse Puljujarvi to break out and for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to take the same leap that former teammate Taylor Hall took last year. As long and McDavid continues to score at an unfathomable rate, Edmonton should find themselves in the wild card race.
17. Dallas Stars (94.5) UNDER: 88
Last year’s prediction: 98 points; Actual total: 92 points
Dallas has hit a rough patch in recent years. The defense has run out of steam and the team has fallen short in each of the past two seasons. New coach Jim Montgomery is looking to reverse course.
Anton Khudobin enters the scene after a solid season in Boston to back up Ben Bishop, Tyler Seguin is staying in Dallas for the long term after signing an eight-year contract extension, and Miro Heiskanen should see the NHL for the first time. Clearly Dallas is looking to make a splash in the playoffs as quickly as possible, but will the defense finally look menacing?
18. New Jersey Devils (91.5) UNDER: 89
Last year’s prediction: 77 points; Actual total: 97 points
Had it not been for the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey would have been the biggest surprise in the NHL. Instead, they settled for having Taylor Hall take home the Hart Trophy. He was one of few reasons that the Devils reached the playoffs, so the pressure is on for someone else to step up in case Hall hits a bump in the road.
Nico Hischier, who was second on the team in scoring, figures to see further improvement in his second season, but the Devils are not serious threats in the Eastern Conference with their current defensive unit. Trading for Sami Vatanen was smart and Will Butcher is probably the most underrated blue liner in the league, but neither Keith Kinkaid nor Cory Schneider have proven to be playoff-worthy starters. The Devils might consider making a trade in February.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (97.5) UNDER: 88
Last year’s prediction: 103 points; Actual total: 97 points
Even in hockey the small markets suffer. After hanging on to a playoff spot, Columbus bowed out against Washington in the first round. Add in lengthy runs from Vegas and Winnipeg, and the Blue Jackets are now the only active NHL franchise without a playoff series win.
Ending that drought will be difficult this year. At least four teams are more glaring in the Metropolitan Division, and Artemi Panarin is being considered in trade talks. If Pierre-Luc Dubois can emerge as the team’s fiercest scorer, which was why Columbus surprisingly took third overall behind Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews in 2016, then the next regime in Ohio should be much clearer.
20. Carolina Hurricanes (84.5) OVER: 87
Last year’s prediction: 94 points; Actual total: 83 points
After failing to get Carolina into the playoffs, Bill Peters took off for Calgary. Enter Canes legend Rod Brind’Amour, a man who knows a thing or two about winning to Carolina, and things should be looking up.
It does not hurt to have second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov, either. He is expected to have an immediate impact for a team filled with young talent. Adding big defenseman Dougie Hamilton should also add some winning to the team with the longest active playoff drought. If this is not the year to end the drought, then it should end very soon.
21. Minnesota Wild (95.5) UNDER: 84
Last year’s prediction: 90 points; Actual total: 101 points
It took a career year from Eric Staal to get the Wild back into the playoffs, but they looked badly outmatched to their rivals up north. With no other notable threats on offense, Staal will need a similar year to keep the team competitive, and that is asking a lot.
The approach is similar to last year. Look for breakouts from their youngsters, such as Luke Kunin and Joel Eriksson Ek, to try to complement the low-key threats on the top of the roster, which also include Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, and Zach Parise. If last April was any indication, however, finding the strong combinations could be a challenge.
22. Buffalo Sabres (79.5) OVER: 86
Last year’s prediction: 85 points; Actual total: 62 points
Patience, Buffalo. While Toronto and New Jersey reached the playoffs after taking the first overall pick, this team seems more of a long-term threat. After underwhelming badly last year, Buffalo must get their feet underneath them before taking the next big step.
Jack Eichel will be extraordinary. Sam Reinhart could use some improvement. Rasmus Dahlin should be a regular immediately. Perhaps Casey Mittelstadt can put a charge in the offense, but that is not necessary just yet. At the very least, Buffalo should have meaningful games after St. Patrick’s Day.
23. St. Louis Blues (95.5) UNDER: 85
Last year’s prediction: 94 points; Actual total: 94 points
They matched my point total, the only team to do so, but any decent break would have resulted in a better fate. How deflating was losing to Colorado in the final game last year to become eliminated? For a team that was supposed to be an easy contender, that was painful. You know what was more painful? Swapping Carter Hutton for fringe starter Chad Johnson and hoping the team does not have to fall for a platoon in goal with underachieving goalie Jake Allen.
The lineup has changed a lot over the years. A contender that specialized in defense when they fell two wins short of the Stanley Cup Finals has now stocked up on offense. Although that is a welcome sight, it is concerning that the defense could be one of the weakest units in the NHL this year. This is likely Allen’s last chance to prove his worth in St. Louis, and another bad year will likely result in another down season.
24. New York Rangers (75.5) OVER: 80
Last year’s prediction: 95 points; Actual total: 77 points
Henrik Lundqvist is not what he used to be. He has gotten significantly worse in each of his last three seasons, and last year’s dud was finally enough to push the Rangers out of the postseason. Alexandar Giorgiev got his first look at the NHL last season, and he should see some more action barring a Lundqvist revival.
Also look for second round pick Brandon Halverson and former Predator Marek Mazanec to push for the backup spot throughout the season. For skaters, it is all about the youth movement. Vladislav Namestnikov, who was the prized return in the trade with Tampa Bay last season, leads a group of 25 or younger players that include Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey. Lias Andersson, however, figures to make a push for both a roster spot and possibly Calder Trophy conversations.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (84.5) UNDER: 80
Last year’s prediction: 99 points; Actual total: 76 points
Even with their fair share of Hall of Fame players, the Blackhawks could not stop the fall to the bottom of the Central Division. Its lack of economic flexibility came back to bite them very quickly, and Chicago is primed for a rebuilding plan.
Adding Cam Ward, Brandon Manning, Brandon Davidson, and Chris Kunitz seems like a way of giving their newest prospects some more time to develop, especially top pick Adam Boqvist. Unless Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews return to their Hart Trophy ways, Chicago will not be very competitive, but they should fare similar to what they did last year.
26. Detroit Red Wings (75.5) OVER: 78
Last year’s prediction: 71 points; Actual total: 73 points
Predicting Detroit last year was fairly simple. They were not close to contending, and they became an afterthought by March. Now Henrik Zetterberg‘s hockey career is over, so that should increase the chances of starting younger players. Will not having their captain hurt the chemistry, though?
There are not many players expected to emerge as stars. Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha seem like the offensive leaders moving forward, while the back end is littered with veterans. Trevor Daley, Niklas Kronwall, and Mike Green return to Detroit as they continue to help the next rush of prospects man the blue line. Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier create the most erratic platoon tandem in between the pipes. Maybe, just maybe, they will get hot at the right time and turn the Wings into a surprise contender. I will not bet on it.
27. Arizona Coyotes (80.5) UNDER: 77
Last year’s prediction: 79 points; Actual total: 70 points
The last two seasons have been identical. Both teams got off to terrible starts, and the playoffs were an afterthought by the time they started to roll. Arizona knows a thing or two about October being important, so perhaps they will be more competitive this year.
Max Domi does not look like a serious scoring threat, so flipping him for Alex Galchenyuk should help the offense. Also expect a boost from former third overall pick Dylan Strome, who is still looking to find his potential, and newcomers Vinnie Hinostroza and Michael Grabner. Arizona could turn heads in the playoff race if Antti Raanta is as good as he was late last year.
28. New York Islanders (83.5) UNDER: 76
Last year’s prediction: 84 points; Actual total: 80 points
The offense actually looked good. That progress was supposed to be enough to convince John Tavares to stay on Long Island. While he bolted for his hometown team, at least the Isles got to save money. Apparently the lousy defense was enough of a reason for Tavares to go home.
Mathew Barzal is now the center of attention in NYI, so there is some excitement brewing. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is not as exciting. The playoffs are unlikely for this year, and they need to find a representable defense if things want to improve soon. At least there will be games at the “new” Nassau Coliseum, right?
29. Vancouver Canucks (77.5) UNDER: 73
Last year’s prediction: 70 points; Actual total: 73 points
I missed the over/under on this one, but thankfully I did not bet on it. That would have been annoying considering Vancouver roughly did what I expected. Of course, the guy with the beautiful hair ruined this prediction in the same way he probably ruined every male’s prom.
In all seriousness, Brock Boeser is the real deal in Vancouver, and he should be the center of attention for a team going into its first season without the Sedin twins. Add on top picks Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi, and a dangerous core for the rebuilding Canucks could finally start forming. It will not get Vancouver into the playoffs this year, but they have the most reasons to hope for the bottom dwellers in the NHL.
30. Montreal Canadiens (80.5) UNDER: 70
Last year’s prediction: 101 points; Actual total: 71 points
Excuse me while I toss this prediction away faster than you can say “Where is the offense?” This team doomed itself from the beginning in seemingly all facets, especially on the attack. With no clear hero entering the fray, there is little reason to believe things will change.
Can Max Domi return to his rookie days with a new environment (after he serves the suspension he received for his sucker punch on Aaron Ekblad)? He certainly does not have much competition, with equally questionable Jonathan Drouin also a candidate for the top line and Max Pacioretty being traded to Vegas. Perhaps Montreal will be so desperate that they decide to place Jesperi Kotkaniemi onto the roster at the ripe age of 18. Regardless of whether someone breaks out, the wins are not going to come together.
31. Ottawa Senators (71.5) UNDER: 61
Last year’s prediction: 96 points; Actual total: 67 points
Amazing. This team went from near Stanley Cup contenders to the bottom falling out. Eugene Melnyk went as far as saying he would consider relocating the team (to Quebec?) the day before their outdoor game. Now? There is no Mike Hoffman or Erik Karlsson, possibly because of personal turmoil, and there is very little sign of life on a team that had plenty of it 16 months ago.
After Zack Smith was cut and Jean-Gabriel Pageau suffered a torn achilles tendon, Ottawa could be forced to use their prospects earlier than anticipated. While Logan Brown and Filip Chlapik have an open door to becoming regulars, Mark Stone is the team’s only proven star. It would be a success if he gets hot and warrants a large return come the trade deadline, but that is the only thing to anticipate for a team that could be as bad as the 2016-2017 Colorado Avalanche. That stings.
(Please do not make me pick two Stanley Cup Finalists who finish last in their division again. You let me down, Ottawa and Chicago)
Eastern Conference Playoffs:
Tampa Bay (1Atlantic) vs. New Jersey (2WC)
Toronto (2Atlantic) vs. Boston (3Atlantic)
Washington (1Metro) vs. Florida (1WC)
Philadelphia (3Metro) vs. Pittsburgh (2Metro)
Western Conference Playoffs:
San Jose (1Pacific) vs. Los Angeles (1WC)
Winnipeg (2Central) vs. Colorado (3Central)
Nashville (1Central) vs. Vegas (2WC)
Calgary (2Pacific) vs. Anaheim (3Pacific)
Stanley Cup Prediction:
Tampa Bay defeats Winnipeg in seven games
TB is only going to get better with all their scorers (plus any deadline deals), and a young goaltender waiting for his Vezina Trophy.