Last year I missed the mark on the Edmonton Oilers. I thought they’d be a playoff contender — not a Stanley Cup contender, but in the playoffs nonetheless. They didn’t come close to being the team I thought they would. Since no one likes a quitter, here are my predictions for this season.
After the San Jose Sharks, I think the Pacific Division is wide open.
Vegas will take a step back, but how far? They won’t have the same emotional start to the season with their city and fans (last year’s tragic shooting connected them to the city), and internally they won’t be able to rally around them being castoffs. I think they will be competitive, but far from a playoff lock. I don’t have them making the playoffs. Everything went well for them last season, but the cruel reality of the NHL will hit Vegas fans this season.
Who is going to score in Anaheim after Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell? Their defence and goaltending are really good. Randy Carlyle can get on players, and if the Ducks struggle early I think he could be on the hot seat.
The Kings, Flames and Oilers all have question marks.
Can Mike Smith play 55 solid games for the Flames? Can he stay healthy? If not, right now they Flames’ backups are a big question.
Can the Oilers defend better? Their goals against, and not just on the PK, was their biggest weakness last season. Trent Yawney will help behind the bench, but Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson need to be better.
Do the Kings have enough secondary scoring? Anze Kopitar had a career-best 92 points, and Dustin Brown had an unexpected 61-point bounce-back season, but the rest of their forwards didn’t produce a lot. A healthy Jeff Carter is a huge boost for them, and he likely makes Tyler Toffoli better. Toss in Ilya Kovalchuk and suddenly their offence isn’t that bad. Brown is out indefinitely with a broken finger, so the chance he scores 60 points again is very low, but Carter and Kovalchuk will more than fill the gap.
Arizona has teased the analytics community for years. They were competitive in the second half of last season, producing the eighth most points in the west, with Antti Raanta playing well in goal. I just don’t see them being able to score enough to compete in the west.
Vancouver has some exciting young forwards, but their defence isn’t good enough. They will be in a lot of games, but they will lose a lot of close ones because they will allow too many goals. If they can win the draft lottery and get Jack Hughes, their fans will have reasons to be excited.
PLAYOFF CUT LINE…
Last season we saw four teams from the Pacific and the Central make the playoffs, with Colorado grabbing the second wild card with 95 points. St.Louis and Dallas had 94 and 92 points respectively, as the Central had six of the top-ten west teams. Calgary was fifth in the Pacific with 84 points.
The seven central division teams averaged 98.4 points per team, while the eight Pacific teams were at 89.1. The Metropolitan division averaged 92.1 points/team and the Atlantic was 87.37.
The Central is still very good, but they won’t have six of the top-ten in the west. I expect Calgary and Edmonton to be better, while Colorado and Minnesota will fall back. The wildcard spots will be hotly contested.
San Jose: 107 points
LA: 98 points
Edmonton: 96 points
Calgary: 94 points
Vegas: 94 points
Anaheim: 88 points
Arizona: 85 points
Vancouver: 70 points
Winnipeg: 110 points
Nashville: 106 points
St.Louis: 100 points
Dallas: 97 points
Minnesota: 89 points
Colorado: 88 points
Chicago: 83 points
For fun I have Vegas and the Flames playing a play-in game. It would be awesome for the league. The one thing I dislike about my playoff seeding scenario is that despite four teams from each division making the postseason, the division winners will play a wildcard team from the other division. I really wish the NHL would change the rule, so if four teams from each division make it, the division winner plays the fourth place team from their division, regardless of point totals. But honestly I don’t see Vegas being in a play-in game. They will miss.
Which eight teams do you have making it in the West?
MORE FEARLESS PREDICTIONS
1. I think the easiest major trophy prediction is taking McDavid to win the Art Ross. He will lead the NHL scoring. He will score 120+ points, and I don’t think that is very outlandish, either. The tough prediction is who will finish second in NHL scoring. Over the past two seasons, only nine players have averaged more than one point per game. Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel have averaged 0.99 points/game, but they just missed the cutoff.
Blake Wheeler and Patrick Kane (1.01), Mark Schiefele (1.02), Ryan Getzlaf (1.03), Sidney Crosby (1.13), Brad Marchand (1.15), Nikita Kucherov (1.20), Evgeni Malkin (1.21) and McDavid (1.27) are the nine. Malkin would be my pick, but he always misses some games. I’ll take Schiefele to finish second with 101 points.
2. Alex Ovechkin scores 18 power play goals and ties Luc Robitaille for fourth overall in PP goals with 247. He also moves into 14th place all-time in goals (he is currently 19th with 607) as he passes Dino Ciccarelli, Bobby Hull, Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla and Dave Andreychuk.
3. Leon Draisaitl scores 14 PP goals for the Oilers, which is the most by an Oiler since Ryan Smyth scored 14 in 2007.
4. Only 95 players have scored 400 NHL career goals. Three players will join that club this year: Joe Thornton, Eric Staal and Malkin. This is a fairly safe prediction as Thornton needs three goals, Staal needs five and Malkin has to score 30 to reach 400.
5. Speaking of Thornton, he has a surprisingly good season and picks up 50 assists. That will give him 1,080 in his career, and moves him into seventh place all-time, passing Adam Oates (1,079), Steve Yzerman (1,063), Gordie Howe (1,049), Marcel Dionne (1,040) and Mario Lemieux (1,033). Not a bad group of players to pass in one season.
6. Patrick Marleau hasn’t missed one game in nine seasons. The last game he missed was on April 7th, 2009. He has played 706 consecutive games, and all of them have come in his thirties. His current streak is the eighth longest in NHL history. Marleau continues his incredible streak and finishes the season with 788 consecutive games, the fifth longest streak in NHL history. He is also 11th all-time in NHL games played at 1,575 and at the end of year he will be fifth, passing Ray Bourque (1,612), Larry Murphy (1,615), Scott Stevens (1,635), Dave Andreychuk (1,639), Chris Chelios (1,651) and Mark Recchi (1,652), leaving only Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier and Gordie Howe ahead of him. They all sit between 1,731-1,767.
7. Keith Yandle has a 715 game active streak going, but his streak ends in similar idiotic fashion as Andrew Cogliano’s did last year, via a lame suspension. Yandle gets one game and his streak is over.
8. Zdeno Chara is 64th all-time in penalty minutes, and is one of only four active players in the top-300 all-time. Can you name the other three? (If you can, without looking it up, you are a stats guru. Answer at end of the article.) Chara picks up 61 PIMs this season for a total of 1,900 in his career. That moves him up only two spots to 62nd all-time.
9. Alex Ovechkin is the only player who has scored 50 goals in any of the past six seasons. He did it three times and scored 49 last year. In fact, in the past decade he has scored 50 goals five times, and the rest of the NHL produced five 50-goal seasons. But this year, we see three 50-goal men in the same year for the first time since 2010, when Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos did it. Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews and McDavid each score 50. It is the first time two Canadian teams have a 50-goal scorer in the same season since Keith Tkachuk (Jets) and Alex Mogilny (Canucks) did it in 1996, and it is the first time since 1984 that three Canadian teams have a 50-goal man. The Oilers had three: Wayne Gretzky (87), Glenn Anderson (54) and Jari Kurri (52), while Michel Goulet scored 56 with Quebec and Rick Vaive scored 52 for the Maple Leafs.
10. Power plays across the league continue to improve. In 2014 only three teams had a PP efficiency of 20% or better. In 2015, there were seven teams, in 2016 there were eight, in 2017, 11 teams, and last season 18 teams had a PP of 20.4% or better. The trend continues and 21 teams finish at 20% or better. The only playoff teams under 20% last season was Anaheim (17.8%) and Columbus (17.2%).
11. My Stanley Cup Final will have San Jose and Tampa Bay. Doug Wilson will acquire a scoring forward at the deadline to make the Sharks even deeper. I believe he goes all-in this season. Who are your Cup Finalists?
**Trivia answer: The other three active players in the top-300 all-time in penalty minutes are Cody McLeod (112th with 1563), Dion Phaneuf (224th with 1292) and Joe Thornton (269th with 1,194). Thornton needs 21 points to move into 15th all-time and when he does, the only scorers in the top-15 with more PIMS will be Mark Messier (1,912), Paul Coffey (1,812), Gordie Howe (1,695) and Stan Makita (1,264). Thornton had had an unreal career and the physical aspect of his game was often overlooked. He can be mean and dirty as well as highly skilled.