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Bold Predictions for NHL's Second Half

by Photo of Andrew Wallach

Who will win the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes? Can the Kings make the playoffs?

Bold Predictions for NHL's Second Half

Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, we turn our attention to the pursuit of sports’ greatest trophy: the Stanley Cup. There will be much excitement surrounding the NHL in the next few weeks, with the Stadium Series and trade deadline right around the corner. Before teams make final assessments of their chances for this year and of their rosters moving forward, I offer up these bold predictions* for what will transpire down the stretch of the regular season. 

*Do not bet your mortgage on any of these coming true

The defending champion Los Angeles Kings will not make the playoffs.

Prior to the season, many experts picked the Kings to return at least to the Conference Finals for a presumed rubber match with the Blackhawks. Unfortunately for such pundits, if the playoffs began today the champs would be on the outside looking in. Jonathan Quick has not been his all-world caliber self, and management was clearly trying to send a message with the Mike Richards demotion. Stanley Cup hangover? Maybe. But with so many three-point games in today’s NHL, it will be hard for the Kings to make up ground and claw their way back into the playoff picture.

Brendan Shanahan will blow up the Maple Leafs roster.

If it seems like the Maple Leafs have been in rebuilding mode for a while, it’s because they have been. One playoff appearance in the past 10 seasons, a loss to the rival Bruins at that, has left a sour taste in the mouth of Toronto’s rabid fan base. Shanahan has been tasked with doing something that his predecessors were unable to accomplish: building a team that can achieve sustained success instead of short-term fixes that don’t solve the issue. With the leadership of this team’s roster being questioned and some key players set to hit free agency this summer, Shanahan has the pieces and the motive to make some big moves. This year’s trade deadline on March 2nd should be an action packed day north of the border.

Either the Stars or the Avalanche will make the playoffs.

Both teams had high expectations coming into this year. Colorado was coming off of a surprising division-winning season under first year Head Coach Patrick Roy. Dallas showed signs of improvement under Coach Lindy Ruff and made a big splash over the summer in trading for veteran center Jason Spezza. Unfortunately for both franchises, the on-ice results have not lived up to all of the preseason hype.

The Avalanche have suffered from inconsistent goaltending and a lack of production from their young core of forwards. Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, and reigning rookie-of-the-year Nathan MacKinnon all are having seasons that fall short of last year’s success.

The Stars seem to have the opposite of the Avs’ problem. Their defense and goaltending has not been there to support the flourishing offense. Tyler Seguin has developed into a beast of a hockey player and if this team were solidly in the playoff hunt he would be running away with the Hart Trophy for MVP. But the defense is porous and Kari Lehtonen has not been good enough in goal to hide those deficiencies.

Despite all of that, each of these teams is in range of the final wild card berth in the Western Conference Playoffs. They each have 53 points, just four behind Vancouver for that last spot in the tournament. I have no faith in the Canucks, and I already boldly predicted that the Kings would not make it. Therefore, I believe one of these teams will close that gap and scratch their way into the playoffs. Not sure which one, but if either team can fix the issues that have been plaguing them all season long, they will have a chance to salvage the season and make the playoffs.

The Buffalo Sabres will win the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

This prediction might not be so bold considering the Sabres have the worst record in the NHL at the moment. But who knows, maybe they pull off a few wins in a row and cede the right to McDavid to either Carolina or Edmonton. I’m mixed on McDavid. I believe he will be a good NHL player and might even make an impact in his rookie year. But I’m not sold that he his so much better than Boston University’s Jack Eichel. Either way, whoever wins the lottery for the number one overall pick in this summer’s draft will be getting a heck of a player. My limited amount of money says that Buffalo will hold on to this prestigious (or infamous) honor.

Patrick Kane will win the Art Ross Trophy.

I have personally been waiting for Patrick Kane to make that leap into superstardom since he came into the league with the Blackhawks in 2007. He’s already accomplished quite a lot in his young career: two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and the Cup-clinching goal in the Hawks’ 2010 Finals win over the Flyers. The reason that he does not get as much press individually is because of the great talent surrounding him in Chicago; Toewes, Keith, Sharp, Hossa all bona fide NHL stars with whom Kane shares the stage. 

But this season Kane has emerged as the offensive force we all knew he could be. With 56 points he is just two points behind league-leader Jakub Voracek and I believe he will pass him in the coming weeks if not games. I doubt he catches Alex Ovechkin or Rick Nash for the league lead in goals. And that is only because his team does not need him to score goals in volume as those other two. But count me on the bandwagon for Kane to win the Art Ross Trophy for most points in the league. He also deserves to be a big part of the Hart Trophy conversation for league MVP. There should be more hardware coming for the mayor of “dangle-town”.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will settle for a Wild-Card berth in the Playoffs.

I can see the angry fans in Pittsburgh throwing large chunks of steel at me for this one. Calm down Pens fans, at least you’re still making the playoffs in my scenario of boldly bold predictions. Yes, Crosby and Malkin are still there. Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury is having another stellar regular season. But I still get the feeling that this team will not qualify for one of the top three seeds in the Metropolitan division. I think the Metro will get four teams: Rangers, Islanders, Capitals, and the Pens. One of the distinguishing factors in my decision was the head coach comparison for the four teams.

The Rangers have Alain Vigneault, who only just took them to the Finals in his first year behind the bench. The Capitals have Barry Trotz, one of the most respected coach’s in the entire league. The Islanders have Jack Capuano, who has a much shorter list of accomplishments than the other two, but at least he has coached a team into the playoffs before. The Penguins’ Mike Johnston is in his first year of being an NHL head coach. He has maneuvered the lines and changed up the system from the previous regime in Pittsburgh. This is not to say that he is not a good coach or wont become one in the NHL. But I think that despite Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury, this team will not have enough to stay in the division race. 

The New York Rangers will win the Metropolitan Division.

Ahhh. I can hear the “homer” calls reigning down upon me. Yes, I am a devout Rangers fan. But this prediction is based on hockey and not my sometimes-unhealthy devotion to the Blueshirts. How can I come to such a biased opinion of my team’s fate? Let’s start with the goalie. They have the best in the world in Henrik Lundqvist. Check. They have two elite defensemen in Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh, and two very good blue-liners in Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein. Offensively they are led by Hart-Trophy candidate Rick Nash, but have gotten much needed balanced scoring from the likes of Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan, and Derick Brassard. 

One of my favorite metrics for a team’s success is goal differential. The Rangers are second in the entire conference behind only Tampa Bay. They have at least one game in hand on every team in the division, save Columbus. With two more games against the division-leading Islanders, the Rangers can control their fate against teams in their own division. I think a Rangers vs. Lightning Eastern Conference Final would be one heck of a matchup. Sign me up for that one right now. 

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