There’s nothing like the promise of a brand-new year. The future is laid out before us and it’s a fresh-snow start for one and all. And, of course, it’s the perfect time to come up with some high-hopes resolutions that you’ll either maintain throughout 2019 — or forget by the second week of January.
With that in mind, here are 10 maybe-they-will, maybe-they-won’t resolutions as the NHL enters the 2019 portion of the schedule:
The NHL resolves to score like it’s 1989. League scoring is red-lighting at about 6.2 goals per game this season, the highest rate in more than 20 years. So you might expect scoring to be up on an individual basis, and you’d be absolutely right. Seven players are on pace for 50 goals, including the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, who’s on track to score 52 times even though he’s missed 14 games. Not to mention, 14 players are on track to reach 100 or more points, after only three players hit 100 points last year.
The Buffalo Sabres resolve to make the post-season. The Sabres haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 2011 and they haven’t won a playoff round since 2007. On average, they’ve lost 55 games per season over the past five years (including OT and shootout defeats). But at long last, Buffalo has turned a corner. The arrival of Rasmus Dahlin, the ascendancy of Jack Eichel, the infusion of some proven veteran forwards, the newfound stability in the crease with Carter Hutton…add it all up, and the Sabres are skating toward the spring.
An Ottawa Senators rookie to be named later resolves to give Elias Pettersson a run for the Calder Trophy. Maxime Lajoie got off to a high-flying start on Ottawa’s blueline in October, Brady Tkachuk has flashed his goal-scoring and power-forward credentials, and Colin White has quietly and consistently put up points all season. But Lajoie’s production has stalled, Tkachuk missed time with injury and White hasn’t been able to keep up with Pettersson’s output. To be fair, though, no rookie has been able to match what Pettersson has accomplished in the first half of his first NHL campaign. Perhaps White, the second-best rookie point-producer this season, or Tkachuk, with his net-crashing style, can close the gap. Or maybe a kid defenseman such as Dahlin in Buffalo or Miro Heiskanen in Dallas forces their way into the race. Or, more likely, Pettersson puts even more distance between himself and his first-year pursuers.
The Philadelphia Flyers resolve to score a power-play goal and kill a penalty. It’s been a struggle in Philadelphia. The Fyers are mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and part of the reason for that is their so-called special teams. They’re third-last in power-play efficiency and last overall in penalty-killing efficiency. It’s not much better in Los Angeles — the last-place Kings are fifth-last on the power play and second-last on the penalty kill.
Blake Wheeler resolves to record 100 assists. The last time an NHL player had 100 helpers in a single season, it was 1990-91 and his name was Wayne Gretzky. The best bet this season looks like Wheeler, who has been passing fancy at a 95-assist pace. Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov also have a shot at the century mark, they’re on pace for 90-95 helpers.
The Stanley Cup final resolves to repeat itself. No, we’re not picking the Washington Capitals to go back-to-back (though it wouldn’t be surprising if they did). When the 2019 NHL playoffs roll around, it will have been 15 years since the Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames tangled in a seven-game thriller in the 2004 Cup final, with the Bolts claiming their one and only championship. Both teams sit at the top of their respective conference standings, and appear to have all the pieces to challenge for a title. The only thing missing? Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier for an epic captain-versus-captain throwdown.
Pekka Rinne resolves to win another Vezina Trophy. The Nashville Predators netminder, consistently one of the league’s best goalies for the past decade, captured his first Vezina Trophy last season, then unfortunately followed up by flaming out in the playoffs. It wasn’t the first time Rinne had stumbled in the post-season, leading to talk that Nashville might turn the crease over to Juuse Saros at some point this season. The table was set, too, when the 36-year-old Rinne went down with injury early in the campaign. But he’s been his old regular-season self since returning, vying for the league lead in goals-against average and save percentage, and he ranks in the top 10 in wins and shutouts as well, despite the missed time. A second consecutive Vezina is within his grasp, but whether he can lead the Predators to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup is the real question – and, really, the only thing that matters.
Erik Karlsson resolves to channel his inner Thomas Chabot. What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, master Karlsson and student Chabot were Ottawa Senators teammates. Karlsson was considered the NHL’s preeminent defenseman, a quarterback of a blueliner who directed the action on the ice while piling up points and acclaim. Chabot, meanwhile, was a raw NHL rookie who was just trying to find his way in the league. Now, Karlsson is on the other side of the continent as a member of the San Jose Sharks, and his pace and production have slowed noticeably. Chabot, on the other hand, has stepped up as a sophomore to fill Karlsson’s void in Ottawa, and he’s done such an admirable job that he’s vying for the scoring lead among defensemen.
Clayton Keller resolves to score 20 goals. Keller sits second on the Arizona Coyotes with eight goals through 39 games, behind Brad Richardson’s team-high 10. With Antti Raanta on the long-term injury list – like, see-you-next-season long-term – the Coyotes need Keller and Richardson (and everybody else) to step up offensively.
Alex Ovechkin resolves to score 50 goals. Hey, it’s always good to have at least one resolution on the list that might actually happen.