Preview and Predictions
Tonight, the puck will drop and the NHL season will begin with four games being played. The back to back defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins will be among the eight teams starting off the season. The Penguins are once again the odds-on favorites to capture the Stanley Cup for a third year in a row, and who would blame them? This team continues to develop young stars while having the best pairing of players in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both players have accomplished so much, including a total of three MVP awards between the two of them, multiple 100-point seasons, and together earning three Stanley Cups. This season, they look to become the first team since the New York Islanders of the 1981-1982 season to accomplish a three peat. With players like Jake Guentzel, Connor Sheary, and Matt Murray continuing to get better, they truly should remain the odds-on favorites throughout the season.
Also opening tonight will be the winner of last season’s Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP), Connor McDavid and his Edmonton Oilers. The McDavid lead Oilers were so close to making it to the Western Conference Finals, but a game 7 loss to the Anaheim Ducks sent them packing. With a little more experience under there belt, and McDavid only becoming that much better, many expect the Oilers to make a huge jump with all the skill they contain. Players like Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Adam Larsson, they intend to continue making a deep run. McDavid again is a top favorite to bring home the Hart Trophy, with Sidney Crosby sitting at the top with him.
The Western Conference representative Nashville Predators look to start there season off to a good start against the young, yet overlooked Boston Bruins. The Predators lost Captain Mike Fischer to retirement, but were able to sign Nick Bonino to fill that place. In result, they officially made D Roman Josi the newest captain. The 27 year old Swiss superstar defenseman has been a key cog in the lineup for years now, and receiving the captain name will only help his confidence. Along with the star Josi, they also have other stars like PK Subban, Ryan Johansen, and Pekka Rinne who will try and help lead this team to yet another Stanley Cup appearance.
The teams with the best odds to win the Stanley Cup this season via the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook are as followed:
Penguins at 7-1
Oilers at 8-1
Lightning, Capitals, Blackhawks, Maple Leafs, and Wild all at 12-1
To analyze each of these teams a little that haven’t been said, the Tampa Bay Lightning look to rebound from a down season as they have their superstar Steven Stamkos back at 100%. Also, Kucherov will look to capatilize on his career year in 16-17, as he totaled a career high 85 pts. The Lightning were also able to sign FW Chris Kunitz and D Dan Girardi, as the two vets will bring tons of experience to a young team. Now with the Capitals, this team has continued to be first in the standings, but when it comes to the playoffs, they seem to flame out. A stacked lineup is what they possess however, as they have stars like Alex Ovechkin, TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and G Braden Holtby. They bring back a core that is set to make another run, and maybe get a ring that they’ve been desperate to get for years. The Blackhawks, a familiar face to the Stanley Cup in recent years, have completely retooled following tough playoffs, getting slept by the Predators in the very first round. Being a favorite of mine, the Blackhawks bring back some familiar faces who are veterans to this league and this team. Lots of movement taking place, as the Hawks parted ways with All-Star LW Artemi Panarin, but were able to replace him with Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, who were both apart of there Stanley Cup wins in the past decade. The will look to trust younger players as well, as they look to get back to where they belong. The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked the world last year, as in one year after being among the worst teams in hockey were able made the playoffs, giving the top seeded Capitals a run for their money. Young superstar Auston Matthews, who was the recipient of the Calder Trophy, looks to take another stride along with the other young guns on this team. In the offseason, they were able to add former All-Star Patrick Marleau to the team. This young team has a serious chance to make a mark this year and possibly go real deep into the playoffs. If you want to see a complete team, where every line seems to have a solidified player on it, look no further than the Minnesota Wild. A team that is led by Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, have seemed to be real pretenders in the playoffs, This season, they look to change that dynamic, and make a mark on the NHL that makes them remembered forever.
My sleeper team for this season is the Boston Bruins. Why? Not because they’re my team, but because they could have left a real mark in the playoffs last season had the injury bug not hit them so late into it. Coming into this season, they bring a great group of veterans and young players who could make big leaps as they are put into main roles on the offense and defense. Zdeno Chara enters his age 40 season, and will again scale back on when he needs to be out there. The Bruins bring a lot of young faces to the offensive side, as players like Jake Debrusk and Anders Bjork look to carve out a role and make a big impact. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak look to replicate amazing seasons last season and possibly be recognized among the NHL Elite. Patrice Bergeron will continue to display the persona of the Boston Bruins, playing among the best defense in the league through every injury he encounters, as he is the heart of the Bruins. If Tuukka Rask can find his one-time Vezina Trophy ability, the Boston Bruins may be seeing the Stanley Cup in their future once again.
Now for my award predictions, as there are many to go through lots to discuss.
First off, the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner (Most Goals in a Season):
Prediction: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Why: The 2016-2017 season looked like a year of regression for the 6-time Richard Trophy winner after he only registered 33 goals on the season. Before this season, Ovechkin had won four consecutive Rocket Richard trophies, more than anyone ever. This season, I look at Ovechkin and think it may be his time. His time to shut up the many haters, shut up the ones who doubt his skill, and Ovechkin marks his spot as the absolute greatest goal scorer of all-time. His dazzling movement with the puck, the amount of accuracy and speed he is able to place on the shot still strikes fear into opponent and goal tenders everywhere. Look for Ovechkin to once again rank at the top of the elite in goal scoring, and getting over the 50 goal margin for the 7th time in his career.
Runner-up: Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year):
Prediction: Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
Why: The young Bruins defenseman didn’t play a minute in the regular season last season, but was pushed into action for Head Coach Bruce Cassidy as injuries cursed the Bruins late in the season. McAvoy was placed on the very first line in his first experience in the NHL, and showed no signs of struggle. While he had many things to still learn, McAvoy showed that he belonged, and showed flashes of what he can become. McAvoy has the offensive gene while also showing the capability of being a possible lock down defenseman. Bruins fans can’t wait to see what the young rookie can do in a full season, and that’s why, with some playoff experience to boot, he can make a huge mark in the league this year and take the Calder home at the end of the year.
Runner-up: Nolan Patrick, Philadelphia Flyers
Selke Trophy (Top Defensive Forward):
Prediction: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
Why: How do you pick anyone else for this award? Bergeron has been recognized as one of the best defensive forwards of all-time, as he is now tied for the lead of Selke Trophy wins with four. This season, he will look to break that tie, and if he plays a mostly healthy season, there’s no way he doesn’t bring it in. Bergeron averages among the most penalty kill minutes in the league, and he was able to help the Bruins lead the league in PK percentage. This will be another season where Patrice Bergeron gives his all and wins yet another Selke award, solidifying his resume for a Hall of Fame opportunity.
Runner-up: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
James Norris Memorial Trophy (Top Defenseman):
Prediction: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
Why: Last season, Erik Karlsson suffered a foot injury that most players shouldn’t ever be able to play through. However, he waited out having surgery, and helped lead his Ottawa Senators all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. During the offseason, he had surgery. Depending how he recovers, he may miss a chunk of early season games. But when Karlsson is on the ice, no defenseman or most forwards are more dynamic with the puck than him. He also plays an amazing defensive game to go along with his out of this world puck skill. He was close to taking his third overall award last season, but was beat out by Brent Burns who was among the leagues best. Best bets, however, would be to take the best overall defenseman in all of hockey.
Runner-up: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie):
Prediction: Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Why: Matt Murray managed to supplant an All-Star goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury after helping the Penguins win a Stanley Cup two season ago. Last season, he missed a chunk of the season early on and took a while to find his stride. Late in the season, Fleury was playing his best hockey until struggling early in the first round of the playoffs. That is when they finally handed Murray the job, and that is all she wrote. Murray managed to win his second Stanley Cup as a starting goaltender, and has shown how truly skilled he is, even at his young age. This season, he makes the regular season his own, just like the playoffs. He supplants Carey Price as the best goalie in all of hockey. How couldn’t he? He has only played about one whole season and has two Stanley Cups under his wing. This season, he adds a Vezina Trophy to that.
Runner-up: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player):
Prediction: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Why: The reigning, defending Most Valuable Player in the world, Connor McDavid is only 20 years old. And yet, he’s already led the NHL in points, led his team to a second round playoff appearance, and just happens to be a Most Valuable Player in the entire National Hockey League. And what is scary, he will only be getting better. Last season, Connor McDavid led the NHL in points with 100 on the dot, with 70 of those being assists. With that, he solidifies himself with some of the best passing in the league, while also flat out being the fast skater on the ice at all times. The way he is able to weave through the defense with exciting dekes and amazing highlight reel plays is just a thing to add on to his future award-winning season. Look for him to not just lead in assists, but push it for the goal scoring title as well, as he has the hands to reach the 40 and maybe even 50 goal mark. This NHL season will be truly exciting, and it will see a complete changing of the card, as Connor McDavid takes the rightful place of the best hockey player in the world.
Runner-up: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Stanley Cup Finals Prediction:
Edmonton Oilers vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
Why: If you listened to the third edition of WTF Sports Pod, you knew my choice here. I chose this exact matchup weeks ago and it seems Vegas does too. It will be a matchup between the best two players in the world, with Edmonton making yet another impressive leap. Unfortunately for them, the Penguins overall team is just too much. If you look at both rosters right now, Pittsburgh has a distinct advantage, with a better overall offense and defense. But this matchup will happen if, and only if, Cam Talbot can perform as well as he did last season. Last season he became a household name, becoming one of the better goalies in all of hockey. If he continues this success, the young star-studded Oilers will be able to shut down doubters and ride the coat tails of McDavid all the way to the cup. The Penguins have had the best roster three straight years now, and they will look to show that once again. Sidney Crosby will capture the Conn Smythe for a third season in a row, to the shock of no one. If what I say is true of G Matt Murray, no one can be surprised by this prediction.
So there it is, my NHL predictions for the season as the puck drops tonight.
It is an exciting time for hockey fans, and you can only wonder where we will be at mid-season.
Thank you for reading, feel free to leave your predictions and thoughts at the comment section below, and tap that like button while you’re at it.
– Scott Edwards, The Creator of WTF Sports