Making preseason NHL predictions is a lot like throwing darts at your local watering hole on Tuesday nights.
There will be the rare bullseye, many more misses, and some shots that just make you look plain drunk.
Every season, there are at least a few things that happen that almost no one saw coming – like the New York Islanders missing the playoffs this season after they were the near unanimous pick to win the Metropolitan Division.
With that, it’s time to look back and audit our 32 bold predictions from October, and add up all the scores:
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t just win one round this season, their first since 2004. They’ll win two before falling short in the Eastern Conference Final. They also won’t be Canada’s last team standing.
Verdict: Jury’s still out.
Editor’s Note: Even with home-ice advantage, the Leafs would enter their likely first-round matchup with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning as underdogs. They have the fifth-best record in the league over the last month. Maybe it will take a matchup few are expecting them to win to win their first series in 18 years? The problem with this prediction is the Panthers likely waiting in Round 2.
2. Unflappable Spencer Knight will become the first goaltender since Steve Mason in 2008-09 to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. It won’t take long until it’s officially Knight’s crease in Sunrise, supplanting $10 million man Sergei Bobrovsky.
Verdict: He’s not even a candidate.
Editor’s Note: Nope, I didn’t see Sergei Bobrovsky carrying the red-hot Cats for the bulk of the season, let alone with stellar play for a few month stretch. Here’s the interesting thing: With Bobrovsky bobbling a few starts over the last number of weeks, it’s possible Knight sees significant playing time in the postseason.
3. Marc Bergevin will shake Geoff Molson’s hand and depart his post as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens following this season. There were already rumblings during the Stanley Cup Final that Bergevin would ride off into the sunset if the Habs hoisted the Cup last season. The job wears on you – especially taking the heat in two languages.
Verdict: Partially true.
Editor’s Note: So Bergevin did not resign, he was fired on Nov. 28 after being one of the NHL’s longest-tenured managers. And the Los Angeles rumors also ended up being accurate – he was hired by the Kings as a senior advisor on Jan. 9. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Bergevin in line for another GM job this summer.
4. The Arizona Coyotes will relocate to Houston after 25 seasons in the desert. The City of Glendale has already notified the ‘Yotes it intends to terminate the team’s lease at Gila River Arena after this season. The Coyotes have attempted to jumpstart numerous new arena projects, all of which have fallen flat. Yes, the NHL has been patient. They don’t want to leave the fifth biggest city in the U.S., but Houston is fourth, fits in the Central Division better, has a viable NHL arena and prospective owner. Oh, yes, and can’t imagine NHL owners would mind the couple hundred million dollar relocation fee after floating players a billion during the pandemic.
Verdict: Still a real possibility.
Editor’s Note: Think back to what commissioner Gary Bettman said in December: The Coyotes need to focus on the permanent arena solution instead of the temporary. Well, the temporary spot is in place at Arizona State Univ. (much to the chagrin of players), and the Coyotes are no closer to a permanent home in Tempe. If yet another arena plan falls through there, how could the NHL possibly commit to a franchise playing in a 5,000-seat capacity arena without an end date?
5. Jack Eichel WILL be traded before Christmas, putting a merciful end to the drama that has hung over the Sabres franchise like a dark cloud. Buffalo will work with an interested mystery team to approve an artificial disc replacement and pave the way for a deal.
Editor’s Note: Eichel was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 4. Soon thereafter, he underwent that artificial disc replacement surgery and has been back on the ice since just after Valentine’s Day.
6. The Edmonton Oilers will set a new NHL single season record for power-play conversation rate. The record belongs to the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens, who hit on 31.9 percent. These Oilers have the fourth-best mark ever at 29.5 percent from 2019-20, and this is their first full season attempt since then. “I haven’t seen a power play like that before,” said three-time Cup winner Duncan Keith.
Editor’s Note: Interestingly enough, the Oilers scored at a record-setting clip of 35.9 percent through Dec. 1, lapping the league on the power play. Alas, they likely won’t even end up leading the league, falling short of the Toronto and potentially St. Louis.
7. Ken Holland will also trade for a goaltender this season in Edmonton. The Oilers explored a bevy of options before running back the tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen for a third straight season.
Verdict: Holland resisted the urge.
Editor’s Note: They certainly tried. They engaged in conversation with a number of teams around the league when Mike Smith was injured and Mikko Koskinen faltered. The Oilers’ issue was two-fold: They couldn’t find a goaltender they felt could be a true difference-maker, or the acquisition price was too high. I wonder if they’ll end up targeting a UFA like St. Louis’ Ville Husso this summer.
8. Move over, Dave Andreychuk. The Great Eight is coming for ya. In the next milestone to fall, Alex Ovechkin will pass the Hall of Famer Andreychuk for most power-play goals (274) in league history. He is six away. Ovechkin will score 44 total goals this year, continuing his assault on Wayne Gretzky’s goal record.
Verdict: Not full marks.
Editor’s Note: Ovechkin did pass Andreychuk and has scored the most power play goals (285) of any player in NHL history. But I was too much of a chicken to say Ovechkin would hit 50 goals for the ninth time in his career, which is certainly where he is trending.
9. Best PointsBet ™️ preseason NHL wager: Buffalo Sabres under 68.5 points.
Verdict: This one hurt.
Editor’s Note: I actually ended up making this bet, thinking that the Sabres (54 point pace in 82 game season last year) would be worse this season without Jack Eichel. Ouch. They’ve fought hard under Don Granato, whose team has been markedly better since the addition of Alex Tuch.
10. Yep, the Sabres will edge out the Arizona Coyotes in the Race for Shane Wright at the bottom of the NHL standings. One problem: the Sabres won’t win the Draft Lottery. The Detroit Red Wings will finally have their numbers come up after being so close the last number of years, with Wright being the right man to put Hockeytown back on the map again.
Verdict: I wish.
Editor’s Note: It doesn’t appear anyone will be edging out the Coyotes this year for the most ping-pong balls. And the Red Wings’ chances will be minimal this season, trending toward somewhere in the neighborhood of a five-percent shot.
11. Keith Yandle will set the new NHL ironman record for consecutive regular-season games played as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 18 vs. Detroit. Yandle, 35, needs 43 more games to pass Doug Jarvis for most all-time at 966. He was a healthy scratch in the postseason for Florida last year, but the streak was kept alive by virtue of it being a playoff game. (Fun fact: Jarvis’ streak also ended as a healthy scratch.)
Editor’s Note: This doesn’t deserve a full pat on the back because it wasn’t exactly bold. Yandle passed Jarvis on Jan. 25, but the Flyers stirred up some controversy on April 2, when interim coach Mike Yeo made him a healthy scratch over journeyman defenseman Nick Seeler, ending his streak at 989 games – just 11 shy of 1,000 consecutive.
12. Team USA will erase a 42-year drought and capture the Americans’ first gold medal in men’s hockey at the Olympics since the 1980 Miracle on Ice. Buoyed in Beijing by Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, Connor Hellebuyck and the Tkachuk Brothers, this is the year for the U.S. to break through and halt Canada’s best-on-best streak at three events.
Verdict: Pure sadness.
Editor’s Note: We all understand why the NHL was forced to back out of the Beijing Olympics. The league itself shut down for an extended break over the holidays as Omicron wreaked havoc on the season and schedule. It still feels like hockey fans (and players) were robbed of what would have been an incredible best-on-best competition, including maybe the best U.S. Olympic team of all-time.
13. Winner of the Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award: Florida’s Bill Zito. No manager has leveraged the NHL’s flat-cap, post-pandemic world better than Zito. Sam Reinhart. Patric Hornqvist. Sam Bennett. Anthony Duclair. Carter Verhaeghe. Gustav Forsling. If he can keep Jonathan Huberdeau in the fold long-term, the Cats have the foundation for sustained success.
Verdict: Feels likely.
Editor’s Note: There have been a number of fine seasons for general managers, but Zito really feasted on flexing the Cats’ salary cap space against teams that were cap strapped. Almost everything he’s touched has turned to gold. Now we’ll see if it can produce a silver chalice.
14. Jeff Gorton will be the next man up whenever there is a management change in the NHL. Watching the Rangers vie for a playoff spot just three years after his letter to fans will remind owners of his solid track record following his unceremonious disposal by James Dolan last spring, the only recent management change in an unusual period of job security for GMs.
Verdict: This counts, right?
Editor’s Note: Gorton technically did not receive the first post that came available – that was in Chicago upon the departure of Stan Bowman, who resigned after a lengthy investigation revealed the Blackhawks covered up the 2010 sexual assault of player Kyle Beach by then-video coach Brad Aldrich. But Gorton did get the next opening, a month later, in Montreal where he is the president of hockey operations.
15. Connor McDavid will collect 151 points, the NHL’s first 150-point scorer since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96. McDavid hit 105 last season in just 56 games, a 154-point pace.
Editor’s Note: I still don’t know exactly how to size up McDavid’s season. Was it disappointing? Satisfactory? Excellent? He’s already set new career highs in goals and points, will likely win the Art Ross Trophy, and yet, there’s barely been much buzz about his campaign. Is that our fault? Feels like it, sometimes. McDavid is seemingly only judged against himself, which is an incredibly high bar to clear.
16. Playoff teams: Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida, N.Y. Islanders, Carolina, Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (East); Colorado, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Dallas, St. Louis, Vegas, Edmonton and Vancouver (West).
Editor’s Note: Not good enough.
17. Best PointsBet ™️ preseason longshot NHL wager: Boston Bruins +475 to miss the playoffs.
Editor’s Note: We did say longshot, right?
18. Tomas Hertl will be the No. 1 name on Daily Faceoff’s Trade Target list heading into the March 21st deadline. The Sharks have had cordial discussions with Hertl’s camp, but an extension won’t be in the cards and San Jose will have little choice but to recoup as many assets as possible for the talented Czech who can control his destination with a three-team trade list.
Verdict: Awarded on technicality.
Editor’s Note: Yeah, I’ll take all the help I can get. Hertl was the No. 1 player available in early December on our board. He remained in the top five through early March, until he signed an eight-year, $65.1 million deal on March 16 – five days before the deadline – that took him off the market.
19. Auston Matthews will score 62 goals this season. Also, Mitch Marner will become just the third player (McDavid, Nikita Kucherov) in the last decade to average more than one assist per game.
Verdict: Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Editor’s Note: Matthews isn’t there yet, and as he nurses another nagging injury, it’s a reminder that there was some boldness to this prediction. For starters, no player had notched 60 in 10 years, and also Matthews’ injury history had loomed large.
20. More goals: Toronto’s Michael Bunting will be the best value signing of the summer on a cost-per-goal basis at $950,000 AAV. Scouting report on Bunting: Not as dogged as Zach Hyman on pucks, but has a similar attitude and work ethic. Great around the net and has better hands than Hyman. Book him for 20 goals. The best part for the Leafs? He’s on a two-year deal.
Editor’s Note: Bunting’s 23 goals at $41,000 per goal have been edged only slightly by Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot, who has 24 goals at $33,333 per goal. Both rookies have provided incredible value outside the entry-level contract system.
21. With so much attention on the futures of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in Pittsburgh, the focus will shift to Bryan Rust and Brian Dumoulin at the trade deadline if the Pens are out of the playoff mix. Both are near their all-time high trade value – and at 29 and 30, they might not fit in Pittsburgh’s long-term plans (read: retool/rebuild) with long-term contract extensions.
Verdict: Well, at least you tried.
Editor’s Note: The Penguins weren’t ever outside of the playoff picture.
22. The incomparable Willie O’Ree will become just the second player bestowed with hockey’s ultimate honor – to have his No. 22 retired across the NHL when it is raised to the TD Garden rafters in Boston on Jan. 18, 2022, exactly 64 years to the day after he broke hockey’s color barrier. If that’s not a consideration among NHL executives, it should be.
Verdict: Not quite there.
Editor’s Note: This should still be a consideration for hockey’s all-class ambassador.
23. The world will be Johnny Hockey’s oyster next summer. With Aleksander Barkov and Mika Zibanejad signed to mega extensions, winger Johnny Gaudreau will become the premier free agent available when the market opens on July 13, 2022.
Verdict: Damn straight.
Editor’s Note: That beep-beep-beep you hear is a Brink’s truck backing up the Johnny Gaudreau’s beach house at the Jersey Shore this summer. Gaudreau has put together an unbelievable campaign, cementing himself as one of the rare play-driving wingers in the game. He hit the century mark for the first time in his career and he could become one of the few point-per-game players to ever make it to market.
24. Lightning rod for criticism Tony DeAngelo will be the NHL’s unofficial comeback player of the year. DeAngelo, 25, will be on his best behavior and rehabilitate his image after signing a one-year, $1 million ‘prove-it’ deal in Carolina – staring down one final chance to get it right.
Editor’s Note: That’s what DeAngelo would probably say to that prediction. We haven’t heard a peep from DeAngelo this season off the ice, which is exactly the way he and the Hurricanes like it. To the surprise of no one, DeAngelo is back to being the consistent 50-point producing defenseman he’s always been, and by all accounts, he has meshed well with everyone around him.
25. DeAngelo’s teammate, Jaccob Slavin, will take home the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. Slavin will rebound with a splashier point total this season, triggering voters to recognize how his impeccable defensive game is one of the biggest drivers of the Hurricanes’ success.
Verdict: Hear me out.
Editor’s Note: He won’t win the Norris, not with the unreal seasons that Roman Josi and Cale Makar have put together. But I’ve been campaigning for a new award to be created. We’ll call it the Rod Langway Award for best defensive defenseman – which Slavin would almost certainly be in the running for, because I don’t think anyone defends better than him. His 40-point season isn’t pedestrian, either.
26. The NHL’s general managers will deliberate the merit of eliminating icing while on the penalty kill. This rule has been positively implemented across USA Hockey minor age groups, encouraging creative puck decision making. If pee-wees can do it, NHLers can. It should also produce more offense and more goals by virtue of more offensive zone time and more offensive zone faceoffs. It has never really made sense why you’d be allowed to break one rule (icing) after already breaking another with a rules infraction that resulted in a penalty.
Verdict: Pipe dream.
Editor’s Note: The funny thing about this is a lot of American-born players who will eventually enter the league have been playing under this rule with USA Hockey for a few years now. So if they actually make it to the NHL, it will be easier to kill penalties at the professional level than it is in minor hockey. Makes no sense.
27. St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube will become the first coaching casualty of the season. Yes, he is only two seasons removed from leading the Note to a Stanley Cup in 2019. But two first-round exits have followed under “Chief” and that he begins the season in the final year of his contract is telling.
Verdict: Brutal pick.
Editor’s Note: It’s probably fair to say that Berube entered the season on tenuous ground, but the Blues got off to a solid start and Berube earned a three-year contract extension on Feb. 9. Berube’s new deal locks him up through 2024-25. (GM Doug Armstrong also earned a new extension, too.)
28. Marc-Andre Fleury’s stay in Chicago will be a short one. After one season with the Hawks, one of the most popular players in Pittsburgh Penguins history will return to the Steel City as a free agent. An in-season trade is unlikely with Fleury’s decision to move his family to Chicago, where he’ll become just the third goalie in NHL history to notch 500 wins this season. He’s eight away.
Verdict: Not bad.
Editor’s Note: Fleury’s stay in Chicago was indeed a short one, but the destination and timing was off. Fleury was traded to Minnesota on Deadline Day, calling his shot and approving a deal to play for one of his former teammates in Wild GM Bill Guerin. Where will he end up next season? Maybe he stays in Minnesota???
29. Darcy Kuemper will take home the Vezina Trophy, marking the second straight year a Colorado Avalanche netminder is recognized as a finalist for the award. Kuemper was the best goaltender available last offseason. At full health, he’ll prove that.
Verdict: Kuemper hasn’t gotten the love.
Editor’s Note: Yes, Igor Shesterkin was otherworldly this season. Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko, Juuse Saros and Freddie Andersen have all been excellent. But I’m not sure the hockey world has fully appreciated Kuemper’s campaign. He started a little shaky, with a .902 save percentage through the first two months of the season. Since then, he’s earned points in 30 out of 35 starts (27-5-3) and has a sparkling .932 save percentage in that stretch.
30. Sheldon Keefe will win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year for his work keeping the Maple Leafs on the rails after an epic collapse last spring. The Amazon Prime “All or Nothing” series shined a light on Keefe as detailed, tough and one who certainly holds his stars accountable. This is the year Toronto takes a step.
Verdict: Close, but no cigar.
Editor’s Note: Keefe’s season should not be overlooked. The Maple Leafs were a broken group after buckling last spring. For my money, though, no coach has had a singular bigger impact on his team’s identity than Darryl Sutter with the Calgary Flames. The Pacific Division-winning Flames are night-and-day different from last season.
31. But it’ll be the Carolina Hurricanes that oust the Leafs in the Eastern Conference Final, with Frederik Andersen closing the door against his former team. You could call the 2022 Stanley Cup Final the “Paul Maurice Bowl” because …
Verdict: ‘Canes aren’t scaring anyone.
Editor’s Note: Whether it’s the perceived lack of a true superstar or the fact that they’ve stumbled a bit down the stretch, the Hurricanes don’t appear to be scaring any of the big dogs in the East. It’s certainly possible Rod Brind’Amour’s crew breaks through, but they’re going to have to slay some beasts.
32. The Winnipeg Jets will end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought at 29 years by hoisting the franchise’s first Cup in history. This grizzled Jets core has knocked on the door before, winning three rounds over the last four playoffs. They’re better suited to win now, bolstered by the additions of Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon on the backend. They’ve got one of the best top-six forward groups in hockey and a perennial Vezina candidate Connor Hellebuyck in net. Why not them?
Verdict: As Billy Madison was told: “I award you no points and my god have mercy on your soul.”
Editor’s Note: There truly are no words.
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