Here are our predictions for what's to come in 2016.
The Lightning will re-sign Stamkos -- then trade him
Steven Stamkos will sign an eight-year contract extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning matching dollar-for-dollar the $84 million deals signed by Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews…then immediately be traded to the Detroit Red Wings along with Jonathan Drouin just before the trade deadline.
Faced with the prospect of losing him for nothing, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman will orchestrate a “sign-and-trade” deal for Stamkos with the Red Wings that will allow Stamkos to go to the team of his choice and get an eight-year deal, getting around the seven-year deal he would have had to sign with Detroit if he were to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer. The price for Stamkos and Drouin will be steep – sniper Gustav Nyquist, a pair of 24-year-old pending restricted free agents in Riley Sheahan and Alexey Marchenko, along with top prospect Anthony Mantha and the Red Wings first-round pick in 2016 and 2017. Stamkos will immediately go back to his center position, moving the aging Pavel Datsyuk down to a checking role more suited to him on the third line. (Ken Campbell)
The Blues and David Backes part way
If the St. Louis Blues don't win the Stanley Cup this year, they should let center David Backes walk via free agency. Heresy? Perhaps. But this franchise needs a change and though Backes is the captain and a physical, two-way presence, he's also on the wrong side of 30, with declining offensive numbers.
Is he worth $5 million somewhere else? Sure. But the Blues are Vladimir Tarasenko's team now and should be built around the sturdy Russian sniper. Give the 'C' to Kevin Shattenkirk or Alex Pietrangelo and use that Backes money to augment the lineup further. It started with the T.J. Oshie trade, but it shouldn't end there. (Ryan Kennedy)
Ducks turn it around, make Western Conference final
The Ducks have been one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this season for all the wrong reasons. Anaheim’s offense has been non-existent, their goaltending has been mediocre and they’ve spent most of the season trying to get into a playoff position in the poor Pacific Division. It seems like the Ducks are starting to find their stride, though.
After scoring once in 28 games, Ryan Getzlaf has two goals in his past five games. Ryan Kesler has goals in back-to-back games. Corey Perry, as always, has consistently found the scoresheet. The defensive woes have lessened, and Anaheim looks to have found a goaltender that can steal them games in 22-year-old John Gibson. In 15 appearances, Gibson is 8-4-2 with four shutouts and a sparkling 1.63 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
The Ducks have also been formidable in the puck possession game. If things start clicking, the only thing that stands in the way of the Ducks will be the Los Angeles Kings. But coach Bruce Boudreau has gotten his team through the worst of the season, and Anaheim will turn it on come playoff time. (Jared Clinton)
The Penguins will miss the playoffs and trade a star
The Pittsburgh Penguins will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06, and GM Jim Rutherford will realize this franchise has missed its window to win another championship with the current roster. Offers will start flooding in like crazy for every Penguins star, including Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and, WHOA, Sidney Crosby. At least one member of that core will be traded (let's say, hm, Malkin and Fleury) – on a draft day, netting the Pens draft picks. They will reacquire a 2016 first-round selection after surrendering theirs to Toronto in the Kessel trade. They'll draft a new franchise pillar to start building around alongside Daniel Sprong, Olli Maatta, Matt Murray and Derrick Pouliot. (Matt Larkin)