The NHL season is little more than two weeks old, and already we’ve seen the highs and lows that the early season can bring. On one end of the spectrum are Detroit Red Wings fans, who may or may not be seriously wondering whether the league would consider contraction, while the other side of the spectrum has seen Toronto Maple Leafs faithful become a little less tongue-in-cheek about a planned parade route.
Truth be told, though, it’s far too early to make any sweeping statements about what the future holds for any team, especially as the majority of clubs aren’t even one-tenth of the way through their schedule. Fans and pundits alike should probably reserve judgment until the quarter-season mark, at the very least, which means tempering expectations for those flying high to start the season and stopping short of forecasting the demise of those who’ve stumbled out of the gates.
Or we could jump to conclusions about the fate of each team. That sounds a whole lot more fun. So, let’s do that instead.
Banged up and seemingly mere weeks away from having to call on a beer leaguer from Tustin to center the second line, the Ducks have managed to not just stay afloat in the Pacific, but take top spot with a 5-1-1 record out of the gate. On the strength of John Gibson’s play, Anaheim finishes second in the division. He will receive one third-place vote for the Vezina Trophy.
The Coyotes have scored three even strength goals in six games, have had one of the worst power plays in the league thus far and have been held in most games by Antti Raanta. But if we’re talking bold predictions, how’s this: the Coyotes are going to make the playoffs with a top-15 offense in the NHL, with Thursday’s four-goal outburst against the Chicago Blackhawks the spark that ignites the attack, and Arizona will have among the best defensive numbers in the league.
The top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak will account for more than half of Boston’s offense, but the Bruins will remain in the hunt for first place in the Atlantic Division. Signed to be the backup, Jaroslav Halak will split starts with Tuukka Rask and the almost-yearly rumors about Rask’s future in Boston will crop up earlier than normal.
Among the teams with the greatest potential to take a sizeable step forward, the Sabres will find themselves in a wild-card spot at various points in the season but ultimately fall short. Casey Mittelstadt shakes his slow start too late to get back into the Calder Trophy race, but he looks every bit the second-line center he’s projected to be in the second half.
Coach Bill Peters has already brought his patented possession game from Carolina to Calgary, and the Flames will finish the season as the NHL’s most dominant possession team. Peters will deal with many of the same frustrations from his days with the Hurricanes, though, and goaltending will threaten to sink Calgary’s season. Mike Smith, who has an .889 SP through five games, will finish with a below league average mark.
The Hurricanes end their playoff drought in style, winning the Metropolitan Division in Rod Brind’Amour’s first season a head honcho on an NHL bench. Sebastian Aho enters into the Hart Trophy conversation and Justin Williams wins the Mark Messier Leadership Award. He immediately breaks the award when he sprints from his seat and leaps into the presenter in celebration of his victory.
The aging Blackhawks core shows one last push, led by a resurgent Jonathan Toews, who wins another Selke Trophy and posts the best offensive numbers of his career. By the time the playoffs roll around, though, the veteran Blackhawks are too tired to keep up with their first-round opponents as a result of having played in 68 games that went to overtime or a shootout.
Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t missed a beat, following up last season’s breakout performance with 11 points in seven games. He again guides the Avalanche to the post-season with a dominant offensive output, and Colorado’s top line truly starts to get league-wide credit as one of the best in the NHL.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Jarmo Kekalainen goes all-in with his current roster and holds onto Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin through the trade deadline. The Blue Jackets earn a post-season berth and finally win a playoff round. The Russian duo lead Columbus to the first playoff round victory in franchise history. Later, Panarin leaves in free agency having set every conceivable single-season scoring mark.
Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov finish first, second and third in team scoring, in that order, and the Stars find themselves in a win-and-you’re-in scenario in the final game of the season against the Minnesota Wild. Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon shut down the Stars’ top line, and the lack of secondary scoring comes to roost as Minnesota wins 1-0 and Dallas misses the playoffs by a single point.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are no Lions. They won’t set a new mark for futility and finish with a record worse than that of the 1974-75 Capitals. That said, Detroit will be the NHL’s last-place team. Life can be cruel, though, and Detroit will suffer one more loss: they’ll end up with the third-overall pick after the draft lottery.
Connor McDavid will finish the season with a career-high 123 points, highlighted by the first 50-goal season of his career, and win a third consecutive Art Ross Trophy. He factors into more than half of the goals scored by Edmonton all season. Unfortunately, the Oilers fall short of a playoff berth and end up outside the wild card.
It wasn’t pretty, not one bit, but the Panthers won their first game of the season Friday after blowing a 4-1 lead against the defending champions. Florida’s offense has been as advertised, and that’s a good thing. The Cats will make the post-season in the wide-open Atlantic, but they’ll have the highest goals against of any playoff team.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings miss the playoffs, continuing their pattern of on-again, off-again post-season appearances. Not all is lost, though, as the Kings’ signing of Ilya Kovalchuk pays off. He leads the team in goals at the conclusion of the season. The bad news is leading Los Angeles in goals means being the only player to hit 20 goals on the season.
The perfectly average Wild enter the final game of the season needing a win over the Dallas Stars to secure a playoff spot. Ryan Suter plays 58 minutes, his only rest coming when he takes a tripping minor. Devan Dubnyk gets bombarded with pucks, but makes 44 saves for the 1-0 shutout victory.
The Canadiens come out looking like geniuses when Tomas Tatar finishes the campaign with 30 goals and 60 points and Max Pacioretty musters a mere 10 goals and 20 points for the Vegas Golden Knights. Carey Price is Carey Price again and a returning Shea Weber helps Montreal into a wild-card spot.
Having already scored four goals in six games, Filip Forsberg finally takes sole possession of the Predators’ single-season goal record and sets the new mark when he notches his 40th of the season as Nashville sets a franchise record for goals in a season. Pekka Rinne lands himself a late-season contract extension thanks to another Vezina calibre campaign.
New Jersey Devils
Kyle Palmieri is this season’s William Karlsson, which is to say his shooting percentage, currently 35 percent, remains eye-poppingly high all season. He remains a frontrunner for the Rocket Richard trophy all season, only to lose it in the final week when Alex Ovechkin scores six goals in three games. Keith Kinkaid is a Vezina Trophy finalist.
New York Islanders
Defending Calder Trophy winner Mat Barzal laughs in the face of the sophomore slump, improving on last season’s 85 points with a 95-point campaign. A ragtag group in New York comes together under coach Barry Trotz and flirts with a post-season berth, but finishes just below the .500 mark.
New York Rangers
Statistically speaking, Henrik Lundqvist has a bounce back season after a pair of average-at-best seasons. Try as he might to guide the Rangers to the playoffs, though, New York falls well short and ends up with top-five odds in the draft lottery. Mats Zuccarello is dealt at the trade deadline.
From the odds-on favorite to finish dead last given their off-season to a wild-card contender through the first two weeks of the season. The Senators will be last season’s Avalanche, shocking everyone with a run to the playoffs. Ottawa will put a scare into a top team in the post-season before losing in the first round.
It’s the Flyers. Come on. We know how this ends. Philadelphia works its way into a playoff spot with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier leading the way. When it comes time for the post-season, though, the goaltending, which has been league-worst thus far, falls apart. Flyers fans start chanting for Carter Hart at some point.
The Penguins keep being the Penguins, which is to say they’re going to safely make the playoffs and threaten to make some noise. The one difference? A down year for Sidney Crosby. He only scores at a point per game rate this season, making for the worst rate of production of his career.
San Jose Sharks
It takes time to iron out the kinks when a fresh face comes to town, and Erik Karlsson’s early days in San Jose have been no different. Recent eight- and five-goal outbursts have seen the Sharks hit their offensive stride. Now, they take off. By season’s end, San Jose has the best power play in the league.
St. Louis Blues
A poor start has put the Blues behind the eight ball. Eventually, St. Louis shores up its defense but inconsistent play throughout the season sees the Blues outside the post-season looking in for consecutive campaigns. Veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is trade fodder come the deadline.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning offense comes alive sooner rather than later, led by Brayden Point, who sets a new career high with 85 points. Andrei Vasilevskiy wins the Vezina Trophy. Tampa Bay finishes second in the Atlantic Division but enter the post-season as the odds-on favorite to emerge from the Eastern Conference.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs win the Atlantic Division with the league’s top offense. They also have the 10th-worst defense. Finally, at long last, Toronto wins a playoff round. In Game 7 of the first-round series against the second wild-card team, the Maple Leafs win 9-8 in overtime. Martin Marincin scores the winner.
The Canucks fall well short of a playoff spot, as expected, but Elias Pettersson returns from his concussion with a vengeance. He finishes the season with the third-highest ice time of all forwards and sets the franchise record for rookie scoring with a 65-point season. Brock Boeser catches fire and scores 35.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights get back to the post-season, but the luck that followed last season’s top stars runs out. William Karlsson remains a top offensive contributor, but he sees his goal total slip to 25. Jonathan Marchessault continues to make the Panthers regret giving him up by finishing the season with 30 goals and 85 points.
Alex Ovechkin refuses to relinquish his grasp on the NHL’s goal-scoring crown. He’s a few goals short of the league lead heading into the final week of the season before a big week vaults him into top spot. It’s his first 50-goal season since 2015-16. Oh, Evgeny Kuznetsov ends up in the Hart Trophy conversation, too.
The top line has been going, but the second line — Patrik Laine, Nik Ehlers and Bryan Little — came alive Thursday. That’s a good sign for Winnipeg. The Jets blast their way into second place in the Central. They would have taken top spot but are hamstrung by their continued inability to stay out of the penalty box.