Well, we’re almost there. This time next week the 2019-20 NHL regular season will be underway, and we can forget about the previews and predictions and projections for another year and instead focus on the action on the ice.
But, before the puck drops on the real thing, here’s one more prediction-filled preview projecting the NHL’s top candidates to lead the league in points, goals and goalie wins in 2019-20, with a few long shots — and long long shots – thrown in.
MOST POINTS: Don’t overthink it, go with Nikita Kucherov or Connor McDavid. The Lightning superstar is coming off the most productive season in nearly a quarter of a century, the Oilers superstar could one-up Kucherov and approach 150 points. Sure, someone like Patrick Kane or Nathan MacKinnon or Sidney Crosby or Johnny Gaudreau could rip off a career year and claim the Art Ross Trophy. But don’t overthink it. Go with Kucherov or McDavid.
Long shots: David Pastrnak missed 16 games last season but his points-per-game average ranked seventh in the league. He’s entering his sixth NHL season at the tender age of 23 and he’s an integral member of the ‘Perfection Line’ in Boston. If he can stay healthy – and the Bruins aren’t too winded after going to the Stanley Cup final last spring – Pastrnak could challenge for the title. Long-shot consideration also given to Calgary’s Sean Monahan and Carolina’s Sebastian Aho.
Longest of long shots: Well, New Jersey rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Hughes is supposed to be all about scoring, and he’ll get a chance to make offensive magic with 2017-18 NHL MVP Taylor Hall on a revamped Devils team featuring P.K. Subban on the power play. It’s not totally out of the realm of possibility…
MOST GOALS: Speaking of don’t overthink it, Alex Ovechkin has been known to score a few goals over the years. Even after turning 34, you’ve got to consider ‘Ovie’ a perennial Rocket Richard Trophy favorite until he serves notice otherwise. Ovechkin’s closest competition last season was an Oilers gunner, but it was Leon Draisaitl, not McDavid. Draisaitl hit 50 on the number, doubling his goal output from the previous season to finish one behind Ovechkin. Toronto’s Auston Matthews and John Tavares, Tampa Bay’s three-headed scoring monster of Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, along with McDavid and Kane and MacKinnon, look like the league’s leading red-light brigade.
Long shots: It’s very tempting to make Pastrnak the pick again, but that feels like the easy way out. He’ll have to settle for the Art Ross Trophy instead. Perhaps the player who has scored the most frequently over the past few years while receiving the least recognition is Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson. He ranks 19th in the league with 94 goals over the past three seasons, but due to injuries he’s played fewer games than all but two of the players ahead of him. Last season, Arvidsson ranked third in the NHL in goals per game (0.59, behind Ovechkin’s 0.63 and Draisaitl’s 0.61), but his 34 goals in 58 games didn’t really register outside Nashville. Stay healthy, and Arvidsson bears watching as a sneaky-lethal Rocket Richard candidate. Who else has long-shot potential? Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel put up 40 playing with Crosby last year, Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat scored 41 as a 20-year-old NHL sophomore (he turned 21 mid-season), Florida’s Mike Hoffman is a pure shooter on a Panthers team that’s on the verge, Tomas Hertl sniped 35 and continues to emerge as a force in San Jose, and power forward Matthew Tkachuk is the finisher on Calgary’s high-powered top line.
Longest of long shots: If not Arvidsson in Nashville, perhaps it is Matt Duchene’s time to kick it up a notch. Granted, Duchene scored 31 times in 73 games split between Ottawa and Columbus last season, so it’s not like he’s coming out of nowhere. But that output also represented a career high for Duchene and it’s not often that 10-year NHL veterans suddenly jump from the 20-30 goal range to 50-plus. So what does Duchene have going for him? After a few years of Colorado-to-Ottawa-to-Columbus turmoil, he’s got a $56-million contract as a go-to guy in Nashville. He’s happy and he’s in a prime position to succeed – and score plenty of goals – with the Preds.
MOST GOALIE WINS: If it’s not reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, then he either got hurt or the Lightning really went off the rails. Vasilevskiy missed a month last season but led the league in wins, anyway. As you’d expect for a No. 1 goalie on a team with a record-tying 62 wins, Vasilevskiy’s mark of 39-10-4 was significantly better than anyone else. Sergei Bobrovsky went 37-24-1 for Columbus last year; this season he’ll try to chase down Vasilevskiy as an in-state rival and Florida’s UFA showpiece. Toronto’s Frederik Andersen will see plenty of action and could improve on last year’s 36-16-7 effort. San Jose’s Martin Jones won 35 games despite a sub-.900 save percentage; if he can channel a little ‘Playoff Martin Jones’ in the regular season, the Sharks stopper could push for 40 wins. Carey Price can never be discounted in any “most/best” goalie conversation, though he doesn’t have the same level of support as the other netminders in question. Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Dallas’ Ben Bishop are top-tier goalies on contending teams. That’s usually a winning combination.
Long shots: What does Jordan Binnington do for an encore? It’s hard to decide whether St. Louis’ out-of-the-blue savior should be considered a favorite or a long shot. His sample size is small, but when you go 24-5-1 in half a season as a 26-year-old rookie and then backstop your team to the Stanley Cup, well, that’s a pretty good sample. Binnington deserves to be considered the real deal until he shows that he isn’t. Speaking of out-of-nowhere netminders who led their team to a Cup or two, Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray could be a candidate to lead the league in wins if he manages to stay healthy and play 65 games rather than his traditional 50-range. Another one to watch Phillip Grubauer, as he enters his first season as an unchallenged starter on a rising team in Colorado.
Longest of long shots: How about David Rittich or Cam Talbot in Calgary? If one of them can grab the No. 1 job – ‘Big Save Dave’ appears to have the inside track – the Flames will help their starting netminder pile up wins.