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The Way I See It: Fearless Predictions

A year ago at this time. I picked the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins to meet in the Stanley Cup final, Todd McLellan to win the Jack Adams Award as top coach and the Vegas Golden Knights to be dead-last in the Western Conference. Other than that, I was pretty much bang-on. Actually, no.

Making predictions is fun, or should be unless you’ve got your livelihood riding on it in one of those sports books in Las Vegas, but it’s a guess – educated and otherwise. Even when you vote with your head instead of your heart, which I try to do each year, a lot can change over the course of an 82-game season, even if you had a pretty good read on teams coming out of training camp.

Injuries, trades and unexpected big swings in performance by players, up or down, all play into things. It’s pretty much the same every year, only the names change. We saw that with the Oilers last season. Just about everything that could go wrong did, marking a turnaround of epic proportions from the previous season, when almost everything that could go right did.

So here we are, with the Oilers over in Europe to open a tough start to the schedule against the New Jersey Devils Saturday. Let’s take another swing at it. Here are my best guesses.

ORDER OF CHOICE

Here’s how I see the divisions lining up:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC

Tampa Bay
Toronto
Florida
Boston
Buffalo
Montreal
Detroit
Ottawa

ABOUT THE ATLANTIC: Tampa Bay didn’t land Erik Karlsson but they still have Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman on the back end and Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov up front . . . I really like the talent Toronto has up front with the addition of John Tavares but their blueline group is a weak spot . . . the Panthers were woefully bad in the first half last season and then hotter than a $3 pistol in the second half, so split the difference and they have the talent to finish third, just ahead of Boston and Buffalo.

METROPOLITAN

Pittsburgh
Washington
Philadelphia
Columbus
New Jersey
Carolina
New York Rangers
New York Islanders

ABOUT THE METRO: Perennial powerhouse Penguins can count on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin but they’re going to need more from stopper Matt Murray to hold off the Stanley Cup champion Capitals . . . the Caps return pretty much their whole roster but they begin this season with Todd Reirden instead of Barry Trotz behind the bench . . . I’d have put Columbus ahead of Philadelphia by a hair, but the Blue Jackets will start the season without Seth Jones (knee injury).

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL

Winnipeg
Nashville
Dallas
St. Louis
Colorado
Minnesota
Chicago

ABOUT THE CENTRAL: Free of that hideous neck beard he sported last season, Patrik Laine and the rest of the talented Jets’ forwards will fly in front of a top-drawer defence and Vezina runner-up Connor Hellebuyck . . . Nashville pretty much stood pat and is right with the Jets, but Pekke Rinne is closing in on 36 and I wonder if we’ll see a drop-off . . . Dallas, St. Louis and Colorado were tightly grouped last season and I don’t see that changing, although the order might . . . playoff window closing for the Wild.

PACIFIC

San Jose
Vegas
Calgary
Edmonton
Los Angeles
Anaheim
Arizona
Vancouver

ABOUT THE PACIFIC: The addition of Erik Karlsson on the blueline is another coup for GM Doug Wilson and with Brent Burns still in the fold, the Sharks are dynamite on the back end . . . I don’t see Vegas falling off as drastically as some and I think the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny fill the hole left by James Neal . . . Corey Perry isn’t what he once was, but without him early and with Ryan Getzlaf now 33, the Ducks slide . . . if the Oilers or Flames struggle, the Kings vault past them. It’s that close.

STANLEY CUP FINAL

Tampa Bay vs. San Jose

THE SILVERWARE

Art Ross Trophy – Connor McDavid, Edm.
Hart Memorial Trophy – Connor McDavid, Edm.
Calder Trophy – Elias Pettersson, Vancouver
Norris Trophy – Erik Karlsson, San Jose
Vezina Trophy – Connor Hellebuyck, Wpg.
Jack Adams – Mike Babcock, Toronto

THE OILERS

Mar 29, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot (33) awaits the start of play against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of people, me included, are of the mind the Oilers weren’t as good as they appeared two seasons ago and they weren’t as bad as they looked last season. While I think there’s some truth in that, you can’t just split the difference between the 103 points they had in 2016-17 and the 78 they struggled to last season and call it good unless several things happen.

  • Special teams have to be significantly better.
  • The Oilers need the Cam Talbot we saw in the second half of last season. If Talbot struggles the way he did to start the year, the Oilers will be sunk before they get started.
  • The blueline group has to somehow get along without Andrej Sekera long-term – not to mention Kris Russell and Adam Larsson in the short-term — without leaning too heavily on Ethan Bear or rookie Evan Bouchard to pick up the slack. Jason Garrison can be an adequate short-term addition.
  • The promise shown by Ty Rattie, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto in pre-season has to carry over to the regular season or the right side is going to be an offensive black hole that puts too much pressure on the rest of the forward group to produce five-on-five.
  • Milan Lucic has to bounce back. Not just in terms of production, but by being engaged. If Leon Draisaitl has to drag him around the ice game after game, it’s trouble.

With the changes in Todd McLellan’s coaching staff, I believe the power play will be better under Manny Viveiros. The defence, as a group, will improve under Trent Yawney, even with the questions about depth. I like the idea of playing a more up-tempo game with a more aggressive forecheck. I also think Connor McDavid is going to tear the cover off the ball. Can he score 50 goals? Yes, he can. Can he put up 120 points? Yes, he can.

I’m not sure if we’ll see a 4-4 or a 5-3 split between the divisions for conference playoff spots because it looks too close to call for me, but I see the Oilers as a team capable of finishing in the low-90s for points. What number makes it – 91, 93, 94? For what it’s worth, questions and all, I have the Oilers in the playoffs by the thinnest of margins. There, you have it.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Hemmercules

    The pacific looks about right to me. If the Oilers and Flames can avoid major injury the Kings, Flames and Oil will have a good battle happening down the stretch I think. I have this weird feeling about Vegas though, theres no way they can do it again can they? Oilers spanked them last year for some reason so maybe we see a solid 4 way battle for second place in the division.

  • Gravis82

    I would like to propose a new rule for ON. If you are going to write a prediction article you are required to post a link to the prediction article you wrote last year. I know there was something similar written at the start of last season, there always it.

    I am not saying I don’t like this, this is good. But would be even better if I see that last year you were on the money. And if you were completely out to lunch we will all have a good laugh and move on.

    More clicks, more fun for all.

  • Lots of love for the San Jose Sharks, and rightfully so. However, it reminds of Colorado when both Kariya and Selanne joined a powerhouse Avalanche team which had Sakic, Forseberg, Roy, … This team was all but guaranteed a Stanley Cup, but didn’t win that year.

    I’m a Debbie Downer on the Oil, and feel better about Vegas after their latest moves. Anaheim is in for tough year, and Flames make the post season.

  • NotWinning

    The problem I still see with the Oilers is that Most of their goals are still scored off the rush and for them to make playoffs Talbot will have to be outstanding.
    Playoffs teams:
    San Jose, LA, Vegas, Jets, Preds, Wild, Blues, Tampa Bay, Leafs, Boston, Caps, Pens, Philly, Blue Jackets

    With Ducks, Avs, Carolina and Jersey fighting for last spot.

    No way the Cali teams are not going anywhere

  • ubermiguel

    Good lord the Blackhawk have fallen hard. I want to argue no way they finish last in the Central but then I looked at their roster; Crawford, Seabrook and Toews have simply declined, and all those big contracts mean too many pluggers all over the roster. Maybe they battle the Wild for second last in the division.

    • Hemmercules

      If the Oilers knocked down 2 or 3 cups between 2006 and now I probably wouldn’t even care that they were a joke last year. At this point Im hoping they can even win one more before I die.

    • Hemmercules

      Did I get banned?? Some comments not showing up??

      If the Oil could have locked down 2 or 3 cups in the last ten years I wouldn’t have even cared that they were garbage last year. I’m just praying they can win one before I die.

    • Vanoil

      fourth line or press-box — preferably the fourth line where he can still be on the ice for the second unit PP, and be put on to intimidate any player that comes near our top line talent.

  • toprightcorner

    I don’t see Vegas being even close to last years mark and will be in tough to make the playoffs.

    Last year they had 12 players have career seasons, most of which had an increase of 50% or more in offensive production. most of those will fall back to at least middle ground of previous best seasons.

    Last year they had 4 players with a .90 pts per game average, no other team has done that since the lockout. Only PIT, PHI, BOS, TB, WPG, and NYI had 3 last year. COL, EDM, DAL, FLA, and WSH had 2. Oher Notables – NSH – 1, TOR – 1, STL – 1, SJ – 0. Vegas will likely not have any player reach that mark this year.

    Stastny will not replace Perrons 66 pts, Stastny has only scored more than 53 pts once in the past 7 years.

    Pacioretty will score more goals than Neal did last year, but not too much more on total points. Vegas also lost 20 goal scorer Tatar.

    Vegas will be without their best all-around dman, Schmidt for his 30 game suspension.

    Fleury had a career best in GAA and SV%. He will not come close to repeating his .927% from last year, especially without Schmidt. He will fall into the range of his career avg of .913. That would have placed him tied for 23rd last year with 30 or more starts.

    Everything went perfectly for them last year, they will look like a completely different team this year. Teams will not take them lightly and they won’t be partying as much when they are visiting Vegas.

    Just like individual players, Vegas will suffer from the sophomore jinx and will be in tough to make the playoffs.

    • Vanoil

      Everything went right…? They had a run with four different starting goalies, having to dress a goalie from the Dub. The reason they succeeded was because they ran four solid lines, and had amazing coaching from the top down. This team will succeed regardless ofthe players it has under contract because of the way it is run. They may not win their Division, because the Sharks (if they stay healthy are too formidable) but they will be right there all the way through. The Pacific looks to play-out much as described; will be interesting to see the battle for third (and fourth) play out.

    • OnDaWagon

      They had 12 players with career years, simply because they were given the opportunity to play.
      You say “Stastny will not replace Perrons 66 pts”. Did you check Perrons career stats? There is very little chance Perron himself will have another out of body experience like he did last year.
      Tatar DID NOT score 20 goals for Vegas. He scored FOUR. And he was scratched numerous games. Including playoffs.

      Seems you have a bit of a hate on for Vegas. Get over it. They were a very good team.

  • toprightcorner

    Other than Vegas, the only other prediction. that I think is way off is St Louis. I think they had the best overall offseason. Adding O’Reilly, Bozak, Perron, and Maroon. Pair that with Schwartz, Fabbri, and Bouwmeester back healthy and Thomas and Kyrou making the team, they will be significantly better.

    They were one of the best teams in the NHL at the Allstar break and then the wheels completely fell off.

    They will definitely be ahead of Dallas and will be no wosre than 3rd in the Central, with a chance to be ahead of NSH if Jake Allen plays well.

    • I can see St. Louis finishing ahead of Dallas, sure. Winnipeg and Nashville are the class of the division and, like I said in the item, I don’t see a lot of separation between Dallas, St. Louis and Colorado. My guess is all three finish within six points of each other.

    • I have Calgary ahead of Edmonton because they’re coming off an 84-point season compared to Edmonton’s 78 and they added James Neal and Noah Hanifin, who are both better than anybody the Oilers added. I see the Flames as marginally better.

      • Señor Frijoles

        I think Calgary’s season hinges heavily on Mike Smith (age36). If he can can keep it together, they’ll have a pretty good year, but I think it’s fairly likely that last year was the beginning of the long slide into old-manhood.

        • You don’t need to see “much” improvement from the Flames. They had 84 points last season. If they get 7-10 more they’re in 91-94 range. That gets them in, doesn’t it? As for Smith, if a starting goaltender drops off — whether it’s age or just a bad season — most teams have a problem. Goaltending is the foundation and if a starter goes south, virtually every team goes south with them.

        • KootenayDan

          I agree Beer guy, Smith has not looked good and there is nobody that can save them behind him. James Neal I have always liked but being north of 30 and now playing on the third line doesn’t bode well. I lived in Calgary for 35 years and hate the Flames trying to stay objective here lol.

  • Hey guys, if you’re a regular commenter and your comments aren’t showing up when they normally do can you send me an email (baggedmilk@oilersnation.com)? I just swung the ban hammer and now the auto-filters are acting a little funny. Not the intention to block a bunch of regulars, just trying to clean up some crap.

  • Abagofpucks

    As far as Neal goes i dont think he’s gonna be the upgrade ppl think he will be.
    Hannifin will be a better defender than Hamilton but wont score the points they traded away.
    Mike Smith already looks like he’s having trouble with the new chest protectors, and his injury history says oh oh here we go again so we will see.

  • Lausbube

    I still think the Oil will finish second in the Pacific behind the Sharks and ahead of the Flames, Vegas & LA, the other teams with the exception of the Ducks will round out the division.

    • You aren’t mistaken. I don’t have a favourite team — Oilers or anybody else. You “may” be biased? I make my picks — and I’m wrong as much as anybody — based on what I see, not who I’m cheering for. Don’t have a dog in the fight.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Robin, I admire you and most reporters for remaining neutral during most interactions and reporting. As a fan of pro sports, I appreciate all the highly skilled players much more than cheering for one team at all time, especially if a team is sub-par. Seeing Marty Broduer, Teemu Selanne, Wayne Gretzky, Warren Moon, The Sedin twins, Doug Flutie, Paul Coffey, even Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, and Bobby Hull (in his last few years). Those my friend were all worth the price of Admission.

      • Two players have reached 130 points since 1993-94. Their names are Mario Lemieux (161 in 1995-96) and Wayne Gretzky (130 in 1993-94). In Mario’s year, the Penguins scored 362 goals. In Gretzky’s year, the Kings scored 322 goals. In the last 10 seasons, one team has reached 300 goals — the 2009-10 Washington Capitals, with 318. The Oilers scored 263 goals last season and 247 the season before.

        • Redbird62

          You missed Jagr’s 149 in 1995-96 – still a long time ago. I have pointed this out before, but the first season Crosby got the concussion, he was on pace for over 130 points. He had 66 points in 41 games (and was in on 50% of Pittsburgh’s goals that year thru the injury. No way to know what would have happened the rest of the way, but when he finally showed up latter part of the following season after missing close to 100 games all he did was to score at an even higher rate. Since Crosby is the only true comparable in terms of overall offensive output, I see no reason that Connor can’t get to that level if he stays healthy.

          And what he might be capable of with a defenseman like Bouchard feeding him the puck – (maybe not this season). Gretzky had Coffey (and so did Lemieux coincidently when he finally took off). Gretzky also had Duchesne in LA, and Lemieux followed up Coffey with Larry Murphy and Sergei Zubov. Both are the two greatest point producers ever, but they were made better by having offensively gifted defenseman playing with them. I have no doubt Gretzky and Lemieux helped pad those D-Men’s stats significantly too but Gretzky / Coffey was way more scary than Gretzky / Fogolin. Crosby has had Letang all these years too.

  • Consultant

    Injuries can derail any team so predictions are tough, but they are fun.
    I say the Oilers make the playoffs with 96 points.
    Talbot plays good, Nurse becomes our #1 dman, Rattie and Puju both scores 25. McDavid gets 50. Nuge 27, Drai 27.

  • Kevwan

    In the Central everyone loves the Jets. I see them regressing like the Oilers did last year. Vegas exposed Hellebuyck in the playoffs so maybe he comes back to earth. The Blues made some good moves and have some really good young talent. The Stars getting Khudobin was a great move. The Preds still have that amazing D’.

    I think the Jets still make the playoffs but I see them finishing 3rd or 4th place in the division.

  • rnj

    Starting the season with half the d core injured, young blueliners are again forced to play out of their depth. Mistakes in coverage lead to bad goals early in the season and the team gets frustrated after another rocky start. They recover with everyone healthy halfway through the season, but it’s not enough.

    Oil narrowly miss the playoffs. It’s blamed mostly on injuries causing the rough start, and Chiarelli and McLellan both keep their jobs. There is talk of internal progress despite missing the playoffs again, and how next season will be different because Bouchard/Yamamoto/Jesse will mature and the d core will be healthy to start 2019-20. No major personell or player changes occur over the summer.

    2018-19:
    San Jose
    LA
    Vegas
    Calgary
    Edmonton
    Anaheim
    Arizona
    Vancouver

  • JayTee

    Don’t understand why the media thinks Vegas will still be good. EVERYBODY on their team had good years. EVERYBODY is going to regress. Bill Karlsson will drop to low 20’s in goals, their D won’t be as good. Fleury will drop off a bit too. They way I see it:

    1. San Jose
    2. Edmonton
    3. Calgary
    4. Los Angeles
    5. Vegas
    6. Anaheim
    7. Arizona
    8. Vancouver

  • GK1980

    Pacific is going to be tough. Watched a Vegas pre season game and they are still rabid on the puck. Hopefully the Oilers can match there ferocity. I don’t think San Jose is as good as people stat. Eric is a nice addition but I still have my doubts.

    Edmonton will miss the playoffs but they will be in a dog fight until the end.

  • ricardo2000

    I don’t believe Vegas will show up this year. So San Jose and Winnipeg for the western final. In the East it’s Washington vs Tampa to set up a Caps vs Jets Cup Final for a seven game legendary series.