NHL Predictions

The NHL season has finally arrived. It seems like only yesterday we watched the Penguins win Lord Stanleys mug. Here for your perusal, are my early season predictions. The wise will not travel to Vegas and wager their mortgage money or kids college funds based on my musings. Enjoy.

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Frank Calder Trophy (rookie of the year):

1) Austin Matthews (Toronto) 2) Ivan Provorov (Philadelphia) 3) Dylan Strome (Arizona)

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James Norris Trophy (top defenceman):

1) PK Subban (Nashville) 2) Drew Doughty (Los Angeles) 3) Erik Karlsson (Ottawa)

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William M Jennings Trophy (team with best gaa) :

1)Anaheim Ducks  2) Los Angeles  Kings 3) Washington Capitals

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George Vezina Trophy (best goalie):

1) Braydon Holtby (Washington) 2) Carey Price (Montreal) 3) Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles)

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Art Ross Trophy (leading scorer):

1) Patrick Kane (Chicago) 2) Conner McDavid (Edmonton) 3) Jamie Benn (Dallas)

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(Dr David) Hart Memorial Trophy (most valuable player)

1) Conner McDavid 2) Patrick Kane (Chicago) 3) Carey Price (Montreal)

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Stanley Cup (playoff champion) :

Tampa Bay Lightning    runners up : (San Jose Sharks)

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Conn Smythe Trophy (playoffs mvp) :

Steven Stamkos  (Tampa Bay)  runnerup : Joe Pavelski (San Jose)

 

These are my fearless predictions. I will update my choices at the midway point of the season. Puck drop is almost here, time to play some hockey!!

That is how I see it, from the bleacher seats.

Enjoy the season everyone, should be a fun ride.

Philadelphia Flyers-Season Preview

Fifty years, that’s how long the Philadelphia Flyers have been around. For 42 of those years I’ve been waiting for Lord Stanley to return to Broad Street.

Philadelphia Flyers

Est: 1967

Arena: Wells Fargo Centre

GM: Ron Hextall

Coach: Dave Hakstol

2015/16 Record: 41w 27l 14otl for 96pts  5th in Metropolitan Division

Playoff Results: Lost in first round 4-2 to Washington Capitals.

For the first season in a long time I feel optimism about the Flyers. After decades of big money free agent signings and dismal playoff results GM Ron Hextall has begun building his team through the draft. Returning to the playoffs last season showed marked improvement as rookie head coach Dave Hakstol instilled his program. Stretches of poor play almost doomed the Flyers to another playoffless spring but a strong late season charge pushed them into a spot to challenge for the Cup. While thoroughly outplayed by the Capitals the Flyers at least showed flashes of the future to come. I would expect Philadelphia to have a similar season as last, lulls in the season where the play drops off and streaks of impressive play. The key for the Flyers is to work their stable of young prospects into the lineup while shedding burdensome contracts.

 

Forwards: The Flyers will once again be led up front by captain Claude Girioux, Jacob Vorachek and Wayne Simmonds. Brayden Schenn is being counted on for additional scorimg punch and Sean Couturier looks to chip in offensively as well as continue his excellent penalty killing.  Travis Konecny,  Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton should push for full time roster spots but may still be a year away.Dale Weise replaces Ryan White on the roster and combined with Pierre-Edouarde Bellemare and Chris Vandevelde are in place to shut opposing forwards.

Defence: This is the part of the roster that is most intriguing. Stuck with albatros contracts for Andy McDonald, Nick Schultz and Mark Streit do the Flyers try to trade them or send them to the minors to free up space for prospects? Shane Gostisbhere finished second in rookie of the year voting after joining the Flyers partway into the season. Micheal Del Zotto adds speed, finess and scoring to the Philly blueline. WHL defenceman of the year Ivan Provorov is expected to push hard for a roster spot this season. Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin (6’5″) may require another season in the minors but the future on the blueline looks most impressive.

Goalies: Both Steve Mason and Micheal Neuvirth are capable of brilliant stretches of play, however they are both equally capable of letting beachballs get behind them. Both are unrestricted free agents at seasons end and will need a good to great season to justify being resigned. 6’4″ Anthony Stolarz continues to hone his craft in the AHL and is still a year away from full time NHL readiness. College star Alex Lyon was signed and gives more depth at a position that has been suspect since the heyday of Ron Hextall.

Prospects: Loaded, the Flyers stable is packed full of blue chip prospects. Defencemen, Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Ivan Provorov and Shane Gostisbhere are either on the roster now or ready to push incumbents out of the picture. Up front the Flyers have already had Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton playing at the NHL level with other prospects like Radel Fazleev, Petr Straka, Nicolas Aube-Kudel and Travis Konecny most likely needing another season in Lehigh Valley before cracking the Flyers roster. Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon are the future goalies in Philadelphia with Stolarz (6’4″) possibly on the roster next season should the Flyers allow Mason and/or Neuvirth to depart via free agency.

Prediction: This is the point where I annually declare the Flyers to be the Stanley Cup champions and playing out the season a moot point. In an endeavor to appear unbiased I will place the Flyers 4th in the Metropolitan Division with 43w 27l 12 otl for 98 points. A first round playoff win before bowing out of the playoffs. The Flyers aren’t ready to  challenge or win it all, but they are close. Closer than they have been for a long time. Built the right way, built to compete for a long time into the future the road ahead looks very bright. The Flyers will win the Stanley Cup, just not this year.

At least that’s how I see it, from the bleacher seats.

Vancouver Canucks-Season Preview

Vancouver Canucks: est 1970

GM: Jim Benning

Coach: Willie Desjardin

Arena: Rogers Center

2015/16 Results: 31w 38l 13otl for 75 points.

Playoff Results: Did not qualify.

The Canucks enter the new season stuck in the same quagmire that has gripped them for the past few seasons. Do they try and add players for a potential playoff run or feel the current core of players has run its course and work towards a rebuild in the style of Toronto or Buffalo. Club President Trevor Linden states their goal is to make the playoffs, which I find troubling. The stated goal of every team should be to win the Stanley Cup and to do whatever they can to achieve that goal. Vancouver returns several veterans with a mix of decent young prospects added to the lineup. Daniel and Henrik Sedin along with new linemate Louis Eriksson will lead the offensive charge. How many more seasons the twins can continue to pile up points remains to be seen. Vancouver is going to be hard pressed to score goals and will need the youngsters to show some flair and touch with the puck. The defence is suspect with Alex Edler, Lucas Sbisa, Chris Tanev and Ben Hutton returning to anchor the defence. Hutton was a pleasant surprise last year while Sbisa was the punchline to too many jokes. Newcomer Erik Gudbransen is a monster at 6’5″ and will add much needed size and muscle to the defence. Goaltending is the Canucks strength. Veteran Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom give the Canucks solid netminding.

Coach: Desjardins will need to get the Canucks out of the gate fast this season. There is a noose around his neck and it will tighten if the losses pile up early. In Desjardins defence he doesn’t control injuries or who is on the roster but it is his head that will roll first should things go awry.

Forwards: As mentioned above, the Sedins will once more be expected to carry the load offensively. Off season signing Louis Eriksson, the latest winger signed to play with the twins will blend well with the Sedins if their play at the World Cup is any indicator. The Canucks are going to need an increase in output from former first round pick Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen. Virtanen recently injured his shoulder at training camp fueling worries his body may not hold up to his style of play as it is a repeat of an injury suffered in junior hockey. Horvat is going to have to find his way to 60 plus points this season. Alex Burrows and Yannick Hansen will be counted on for mentorship and depth scoring while Sutter will fill the penalty killer role and with luck add a few goals to the team totals. James Sheppard in camp on a professional tryout is going to be hard pressed to crack the lineup as the Canucks try to infuse youth onto the roster.

Defence: Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Lucas Sbisa and Ben Hutton are returning with additions Erik Gusbransen, Nikita Tryamikin and Philip Larson expected to add some sandpaper and offensive flair. Unspectacular and often bailed out by their goaltending tandem the defence must play tighter in their own end for the Canucks to succeed. To many misplays or giveaways spelled doom for the Canucks last season and cannot be repeated. Tryamikin gives the Canucks a strong physical presence which has been sorely lacking since Kevin Bieksa was pounding opponents in front of the crease. The Canucks do have a little depth on defence and have some options to round out their top seven. I was surprised Subban was demoted so quickly but Stecher could surprise and be playing opening night. The extra size of Tryamikin and Gudbransen will only make life easier for Miller and Markstrom.

Goalies: in Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom the Canucks have one of the best pairings in the NHL. Not flashy or brilliant but solid and steady the duo kept Vancouver in many games last season allowing the team to win or steal an otl point. Miller is 36 and will require more frequent breaks, the good news is Markstrom has proven more than capable of carrying the load when needed. Thatcher Demko is bound for Utica and is a year or two away from securing the top job between the pipes.

Prospects: For years a point of irritation for fans the Canucks have finally begun to stockpile excellent young prospects. Thatcher Demko is the goalie of the future. Not NHL ready but a gem of a prospect. Defenseman Troy Stecher from Richmond is one youngster that could suprise and make the opening night roster. Smallish at 5’10” but an excellent skater with advanced puck sense, Stecher is the future of the Canucks defence.  Brandon Gaunce and Emerson Etam will be hard pressed to make the roster and seem destined for Utica as the Canucks roster depth shows signs of deepening. The additon of young talent through the draft or signing college fre agents has turned Vancouvers prospect pool from one in dire need to one of strength and the reward for this should have several prospects plying their trade in Vancouver over the next couple of years.

Predictions: 37w 39l 6otl for 80 points.  7th in Pacific Division and headed for a lottery pick.

Willie Desjardins will need a quick start to keep his job. Struggling out of the gate will only fuel the calls for him to be fired. GM Jim Benning is also on a short leash I suspect. Next to the dynamic duo running the Canadiens in Montreal the Linden, Benning and Desjardins trio is the worst management group in the NHL. The continual indecision of whether to retool or rebuild catches up to all three at some point this season leading to a complete management overhaul. Vancouver needs depth, they cannot rely on the Sedins forever and as 2011 gets further and further in the rear view mirror the urgency to find an offensive solution only grows. Adding pieces is great for a Cup contender, Vancouver is far from that and is in dire need of a rebuild. They have the prospects to do it, tradeable veterans to move out for prospects or picks and Canuck fans deserve a contender. While the immediate future is far from rosy there is light at the end of the tunnel for Vancouver. The sooner they form a management team dedicated to rebuilding and not tinkering the sooner the Canucks will contend again.

Vancouver fans want a winner, they deserve a winner. The we want to make the playoffs mentality has to go and be replaced by a Cup or Bust strategy.  Canuck fans have earned that and should demand no less of their team.

That’s how I see it, from the bleacher seats.

Montreal Canadiens-Season Preview

Montreal Canadiens

Est: 1917

Arena: Bell Centre

GM : Marc Bergevin

Coach: Michel Therrien

2015/16 Record: 38w 38l 6otl -82pts. 6th in Atlantic Division.

Playoffs: Did not qualify.

The Canadiens enter the 2016/17 NHL season looking to atone for last seasons collapse with new faces and a familiar one back between the pipes. Montreal will have Carey Price returning fresh off a standout performance at the World Cup. Other new faces this season include Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw. This is the make or break season for the Bergevin/Therrien regime. It’s now or never. A slow start out of the gate will have Therrien looking over his shoulder from the get go. Built for a high tempo game with the focus on skill the Habs will be counting on Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and the aforementioned Alexander Radulov to put enough pucks in the net to pull out wins. The defence returns Andrei Markov who still possesses a decent offensive upside. Shea Weber will keep the front of the net clear allowing Price to see and stop pucks.

Coach: Michel Therrien is walking a thin line. After being the driving force behind the Subban/Weber trade and failing to adjust the teams style of play during Prices absence last year he is going to be on a short leash this time around. Should the Canadiens falter out of the gate Therriens shelf life will quickly expire as Montreal fans won’t have the stomach for a repeat of last season.

Forwards: The Canadiens return much of last years group and will again count heavily on Pacioretty and Plekanec along with Radulov to supply the offence. Is this the breakout season for Alex Galchenyuk? The slick center has yet to show consistent play at the NHL level although he has not be given a shot at the number one center position which is where he could shine brightest. Any offensive improvement from Galchenyuk would be welcomed. Brenden Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Torrey Mitchell will hound, annoy and pester opposition forwards on a nightly basis but won’t supply much on the offensive end. Montreal continues to be on the smallish side at forward and will need some prospects to challenge for roster spots. As a group the Canadiens forwards are average at best.

Defence: Shea Weber arrives in Montreal on one end of the puzzling and shocking PK Subban trade. A monster in from of the net the heavy hitting defenceman still brings a decent offensive upside to his game and should log tons of minutes. Andrei Markov is aging but still efficient with the puck. Great working the point on the powerplay Markov should put up decent numbers again this season. The rest of the Canadiens defence appears to be throw aways and spare parts. Jeff Petry and Alexander Emilin are workable NHL defencemen but are average at best.

Goalie: Carey Price returns to the Montreal net this season and is the best reason for optimism in Habland this season. If Price returns to his Vezina form, and judging from his World Cup performance he has then Montreal may be able to find enough wins to sneak into the playoffs.  Al Montoya and Mike Condon will battle for the job of opening the gate on the Habs bench.

Prediction:  90 points,  7th in Atlantic Division. Montreal will want a fast start to rhe season to erase the taste of last years disaster from their mouths. Slowly but surely there is a changing of the guard in the Atlantic Division. Buffalo and Toronto continue to improve though shrewd trades and the draft while the Canadiens seem stagnant and unsure of how to proceed. The return of Carey Price will allow some stability but undersized and underskilled forwards will leave the Canadiens a lottery pick team. Montreal fans are usually spoiled with a contending team and the boo birds will be out early if the Habs struggle. I think Therrien will be gone by American Thanksgiving with Bergevin joining him by Christmas. Canadiens management, in my humble opinion is the worst in the NHL. Unable or unwilling to make a trade or adjust coaching style both Bergevin and Therrien left the Canadiens and their fans hanging out to dry last season and both will pay the price for it this year. Personal conflict or dislike of PK Subban led to the trade with Nashville. While Shea Weber is a workhorse stud defenceman he is also six years older, has more term left on his current contract at a higher rate of dollars than Subban. The trade didn’t make sense to me when it happened and it still doesn’t now.

It’s going to be a long season in Montreal, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. The Canadiens need changes, more size more grit and more heart. I just don’t see Marc Bergevin being the architech of a successful rebuild.

The ghosts of Canadiens past must be turning in their graves, and that is how I see it, from the bleacher seats.

Chicago BlackHawks Season Preview

Chicago BlackHawks

Est: 1926

Home Arena: The United Center

General Manager: Stan Bowman

Head Coach : Joel Quennville

2015/16 Results:  47w 26l 9 otl for 103 points, 3rd in Central Division

2015/16 Playoff Results: Lost in first round to St Louis, 7 games

The BlackHawks enter the 16/17 season as a bit of an enigma. Are they as good as they have been during their recent run of Cup success or are they as poor as their playoff result from last spring? Any team that returns stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Marion Hossa and under rated goalie Cory Crawford will certainly qualify for the playoffs and be good enough to win it all again.

Coach Quennville has the pedigree, the experience and the skill to make adjustments to the teams style of play. A fan of up tempo fast paced hockey I would compare him to Mike Babcock in his approach to the game.

Forwards: The Hawks are loaded up front with a lineup most teams would salivate over. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marion Hossa and rookie of the year Arterni Panarin will score plenty of goals while grinders like Marcus Kruger and Jordin TooToo will try to keep opponents stars in check. I do think depth at forward is becoming an issue as the Hawks reward players with larger contracts and push against the salary cap each season. Losing young stars like Brandon Saad will catch up with them eventually as GM Stan Bowman works his magic.

Defence: Amazingly Bowman found a way to add savvy veteran Brian Campbell to his stable of defencemen. A depth addition Campbell is hungry for another Cup and comes to Chicago still able to chip in on offence and run the second powerplay unit. Duncan Keith returns for another season. The former Norris Trophy winner is the rare breed of hard hitting, fiercely competitive defenceman with a large offensive upside that every team in the NHL craves. A stud and a workhorse expect 50-60 points from Keith again this season. The under rated Brent Seabrook returns as well. Never given his due as he labors in Keiths shadow he may just be Chicagos most valuable defenceman. Lesser lights Trevor Van Reimsdyk and Nicklas Hjalmarsson lock down a pretty solid defence that is good enough to give any teams fits.

Goaltending: Cory Crawford returns to man the goal in the Windy City. Capable but not flashy Crawford often becomes lost in the sea of stars that is the BlackHawks. Under rated, never given the credit he deserves the now veteran looks to backstop the Hawks to another title. Not flashy, and prone to stretches of poor play Crawford always ramps his game up when it’s most crucial. Scott Darling returns as the backup and will need this season to be the year he pushes Crawford for the starting job.

Prospects:  Right wingers Mark Mcneil and Ryan Hartman along with defenceman Ville Pokka and centreman Nick Schmaltz are Chicagos top prospects but I don’t see any of them cracking the opening day roster. Another season or two in the minors before any of them are truly prepared for the rigors of an NHL season. This is Chicagos’ achillies heel, eventually they will run dry of good young prospects as they move younger players and draft picks for immediate playoff success. Once the prospect well runs dry the Hawks will face the inevitable freefall down the standings and truly be faced with difficult decisions.

Prediction:  104 points, 2nd in Central Division. The BlackHawks will have renewed hunger after last springs early playoff exit. A solid but not spectacular regular season will lead to another Stanley Cup push. I see the Hawks getting to the Western Conference Final where they will fall. Age, time and the wear and tear of so many long spring playoff drives takes it toll on the BlackHawks and they fall just short of another finals appearance. That being said, the Hawks are a wounded animal. After a few struggles throughout the regular season, every team has its bad moments the veteran Hawks will find a way to prepare for another spring run. Looking to rebound from losing to the Blues last spring I certainly would not count the Hawks out. As currently assembled Chicago is more than capable of securing another Stanley Cup, but they are also vulnerable to an early playoff exit as well. To dangerous, too skilled and a battle tested team that already knows how to win I don’t see Chicago winning it but I won’t completely write off another Cup either.

 

Fearless Forecast: 104 points, 2nd in Central division, Western Conference Finals. Top scorer : Patrick Kane. Top defenceman: Duncan Keith. MVP:Jonathan Toews.

It should be a good year to be a BlackHawks fan, and that’s how I see it. From the bleacher seats.

@ronjull   ronjull.wordpress.com