It’s opening night!!!! Who’s pumped for hockey to return!?!?!
Well Dustin and I are so ready for hockey to be back and even more so this year with our bigger focus on the National Hockey League. We figured it’d be fun to take a few minutes and make a few fun predictions that eventually we can look back on and laugh on; but then again, I did bat 1.000 for my predictions of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season!
Without even more delay…lets jump right into the categories below. BK is all of my comments and DC is Dustin Cowell’s.
BK: I think my biggest surprise this year will have to be how much better the Buffalo Sabres will be then last year. Back in 2006-07 the Philadelphia Flyers were the worst team in the league
posting a 22-48-12 record. However, they turned it around and were in the playoffs the following season making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. They made shrewd moves, had a good crop of young talent, and were able to compete with the best. Now I’m not saying the Buffalo Sabres will make the playoffs, but I think they’ll be in the hunt. They have some great young players like Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen and of course Jack Eichel. They picked up a young netminder in Robin Lehner who could have a lot of potential to be a good team and surprise people. Ultimately I think they miss the playoffs but I think just barely. However it will be a surprise when a 23-win team last year will raise that total up much higher then people expected.
DC:I’m going to make a bold prediction here and say that St. Louis misses the playoffs. The departure of T.J. Oshie is a big deal and I don’t have confidence in the goaltending there. The West is a tough place to be and teams like Los Angeles, Dallas and Colorado could get into the playoffs above teams like St. Louis, Vancouver and Winnipeg. There are always a few shockers in the West (see LA missing the playoffs last year) so I’m going with the Blues regressing badly this year.
BK: I thought this one was going to be so easy but as I write this and think harder about what might be the biggest disappointment there’s so much going through my head. I do think there are a few teams that won’t be very good this year that have generally had success in the past. I think Vancouver is older and stepped back some in terms of their on-ice roster. I think the Boston Bruins will have a tough time this year after trading away key pieces…but at the same time, they have one of the best goaltenders in the league to help bail them out. However ultimately I have to give this to the team that has received so much publicity in the Edmonton Oilers. Sure Connor McDavid is a rare, generational talent, but that doesn’t mean that he will be able to help them where they struggle the most, defensively and in the net. I do like the move for Griffin Reinhart, but I’m just not certain that Andrej Sekera will be the best fit on a team that’s in desperate need of a defensive defenseman. The jury is certainly out on Cam Talbot too. He was a backup on a terrific defensive team in New York. Now he doesn’t have the big names to help him in front of the net, and it might be a step back from him. At least for the Oilers sake that Talbot could be the real deal. We’ve seen plenty of backup’s make it big, but for every one of those players, there’s a backup that doesn’t have the same success. Seeing as most recently the Oilers used Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth in net, it’s tough for anyone to say that Talbot is a sure fire starting goalie in the NHL, but only time will tell.
DC: For this I’ll stick with the West and say that Anaheim will not make it out of the West in the playoffs to head to the Stanley Cup Final. They’ve been one of, if not the best team in the NHL over the past couple years but have struggled to translate that success in the postseason. I loved the move to add Carl Hagelin and they will again be a force in the West, but anything short of a cup in Anaheim will be a disappointment for them and I don’t think this is their year.
BK: Based on my above answers of biggest surprise/disappointment, I go Jack Eichel. Eichel has seen a lot of time with Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis and they’ve had early preseason success. I think he’s going into a great situation as Eichel is going to be counted on to be that franchise’s savior. Connor McDavid might be as well, and have a few terrific linemates too, but my gut feeling is that the success he will find will just be slightly less then Eichel’s.
DC: As much as I want to say either Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames or Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings for this, I can’t get past Jack Eichel winning this award. Eichel has lit it up this preseason and looks like the most NHL-ready player entering his rookie season and plays with some established talent in Buffalo. Connor McDavid plays for the team that shall not be mentioned and has to compete in the very physical Western Conference against guys like Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews. Eichel will have more space to work with and less of a target on his back.
Heat Player that Helps Calgary the Most
BK: I’m hoping we get to see a lot of our players have a chance to help the Flames out this season. We saw last year that Micheal Ferland of the Adirondack Flames was a huge boost to the team in the postseason and I think it’s fair to say that he really, REALLY helped that team down the Canucks in the first round of the playoffs. This year I think the Flames have a solid squad and will compete for a Stanley Cup and I’m thinking that the Heat player that could have the most say of that is defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon. Wotherspoon is an NHL ready defenseman now and helped the team out last year, and as we all know, defenseman take a lot of bumps and bruises over the course of the season. While there are a few other NHL ready defenseman on the Heat, my gut tells me that Wotherspoon will find himself in Calgary when it matters most.
DC: This is a tough one because the Flames don’t have a lot of spots to fill, but the Brodie injury has opened up a need on the blueline and while Brett Kulak is currently doing a great job filling the need on the left side, the right side remains a position to battle for. Enter Kenney Morrison. Morrison impressed Calgary enough to get a quick call-up to finish out the preseason with the big club and played pretty well in that short stint. He’s a right-handed shot, which fits the need, and is an active blueliner just like the rest of that daunting Flames defensive corps. I expect to see Morrison play quite a few games in a Calgary sweater this year.
Top Flames Player
BK: There are so many great players on the Flames as they’ve developed into one of the most fun teams to watch. Because of that, picking their most important player is tough. While the easy answer is to go with captain Mark Giordano, I’ll go with the recently named alternate captain Sean Monahan. Monahan is in his third season and his points went from 34 to 62 and I think it stands to increase again this season. At just 20-years-old, Monahan already seems to have a confidence about his game and realistically, he’s the most important forward the Flames have. He scores and helps get Johnny Gaudreau (another good choice for this spot) the puck in prime position. I say Monahan leads the team in points this year if he’s healthy. He was second on the team last year to Jiri Hudler with Johnny Hockey finishing just two points back of Monahan.
DC: Is there any doubt that this is Gio? I’d love to pick Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau or Jiri Hudler, but Mark Giordano is one of, if not the most underrated defenseman in the NHL and I expect big things from him again this year. He is an advanced stats God, if you’re into that stuff, and he probably would’ve won the Norris last year (would’ve gotten my vote) had he not gone down with the injury late in the season. Gio has been one of my favorite players in the league for the last 4-5 years now and he hasn’t gotten the credit nationally he deserves. The guy is a monster.
BK: Too many good names to choose from. If I make a bold prediction here, I could say Braden Holtby because I think he’s going to be great this year on a pretty solid team in Washington, but I think it’s going to be his teammate, Alex Ovechkin, who ultimately is the best player on the season. I love the systems that Coach Barry Trotz has in place there and with the focus on solid defensive hockey, it opens up players like Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and so many others to have a big year for the Caps. Let’s stick bold and say this is yet another year that Ovie tops the 60-goal plateau.
DC: I don’t want to jump on the hype train so I’ll avoid Jamie Benn here. I think with the additions or T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, the Capitals could become a legitimate threat in the East all year and could draw some attention away from Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is a guy that could drop 60 goals with a team like he has around him. I’m not a big offense guy, but Ovi racking up 60 goals with Backstrom again setting him up will be an MVP caliber year. If the Caps are ever going to break their postseason woes, this is the year they could do it. Offensively they’ve actually improved (which is scary), defensively I loved the move of getting rid of Green and Braden Holtby is a legit stud in net. Ovi will benefit from all of that have one of his best seasons yet.
Top 3-on-3 Team
BK: Boy these questions are hard… Again, so many excellent candidates as to who will be the best on the 3-on-3 front, but I go with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Having the triplets (Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov along with guys like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman (to name a few) is going to be hugely difficult for any team that has to face them in the extra period. While I can see Pittsburgh, Dallas, Chicago, Calgary, etc… being really, really good with the new OT rules, I have to go with the Bolts based on those top five guys I mentioned. That’s going to be a nightmare for opposing teams to defend. A lot of speed right there to go along with excellent shooting.
DC: This is my new favorite rule and I know Kisker is stoked about it too. We’ve spent many late nights at the office discussing who we can’t wait to see in this format and what we’ve discovered is that there are a ton of enticing trios across the league. I came down to either the Flames with all of those active defensemen and top 6 forwards, or the Montreal Canadiens with Subban, Price and all those shifty forwards. I have to side with the goaltending and say that Carey Price is going to steal a couple wins in OT for Montreal this year. Subban is an elite defender with big offense as well and they are a fast team with a lot of skill up front that will cause havoc for opponents in a 3-on-3 format.
Western Conference Champion
BK: I’m obviously going Calgary here, but if I can’t pick the Flames because I should pick someone else, I’d like to think (sorry Northern California fans) the Los Angeles Kings can get back to the pinnacle of our game. Look, there’s no arguing their talent. They might be a little slow in the regular season, but this group just needs to get in. In my opinion, they have the best defenseman in the NHL with Drew Doughty and they have top notch forwards and depth (making the Reign a tough team to play this year). I think they got better in the offseason too because adding Milan Lucic will add another big forward to the mix that likes to hit and wear down a team. As we saw with Micheal Ferland last year, sometimes that puts you over the edge in a series that matters. Plus, it’s no secret I’m a big Jonathan Quick fan. He’s supremely athletic (more so in my opinion then any other goalie in the NHL currently) and while sometimes he pulls himself out of position, he’s one of those guys that seems to get back into position just in time to stop a shot. So great goaltending, great defense, and a great group of forwards puts the Kings back in the Cup Final.
DC: Obviously I’m picking Calgary here! Wait…I’m being told I can’t pick them – too homer-y apparently. In that case I’ll go with the Nashville Predators (begrudgingly). I almost always side with defense and goaltending, so whoever has the best combination of those two elements gets my vote. Calgary has, in my humble opinion, the best group of defensemen in the NHL and a rock solid goaltending tandem that could hold up against anyone. However, if there is a team that competes with the Flames there, it’s the Predators. Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis is a nasty blueline group. And oh yeah they’re backed up by Pekka Rinne in the crease. Nashville will be a difficult test all year if their core stays healthy. I expect to see them make a deep run in the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Champion
BK: I think this will come down to Tampa Bay and Washington and it’s going to be a slugfest…but not in the physicality department, but in the goal scoring one. Frankly I think Holtby is better then Ben Bishop but I think that Tampa has the better defense. Their forward groups are a dead heat in terms of guys that can score from anywhere and I’m a big T.J. Oshie fan (although I’m also a big Troy Brouwer fan…but two different players). Ultimately though, I think Bishop is good enough and that triplets line, if they can replicate their performance in the postseason last year, all season long this year, then the Bolts will once again be playing June hockey. Don’t forget, Steven Stamkos needs a new contract. Something tells me he’ll be motivated to put in a season for the record books this year.
DC: As I said before, I side with defense and goaltending mainly, so as much as I like the Caps this year I am going with the New York Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the league today (I know about Carey Price’s numbers last year, but would still take The King over anyone) and he played extremely well throughout the playoffs last year as his team crumbled in front of him. I don’t see them crumbling again. I think they’ll return to the Stanley Cup Final this year, again on the back of the best goalie in the world, just with a little more offense this time.
Stanley Cup Winner
BK: I thought Tampa was just short of doing it last year before the playoffs started. This year is not the case. This team is deadly offensively and have some terrific defenseman that compliment Head Coach Jon Cooper’s game plan. I once sat next to Cooper in a Tampa preseason game and you can’t help but like him. I think that’s what helps him connect to his team so well and I think this is the year that Tampa is back on top. Of course, that is if I can’t pick the Flames. The homer side of me is all about the Flames this year. They do have a legitimate chance to be dangerous if they are fully healthy (looking at the captain on this one because a healthy Mark Giordano is Norris Trophy bound). Don’t buy the hype about the media thinking this team regresses. The Flames are a great squad…and it’d be fun to see them and Tampa in a “Back to the Future” cup final reminiscent of 2004. Just please NHL…no lockout after this one!
DC: So if it’s the Broadway Blue Shirts vs. the Preds (*cough* Flames), I suppose I’ll go with the Rangers. Last year, the Rangers folded offensively and King Henrik carried them through the playoffs. I don’t see the offense disappearing two years in row. Solid defense and the best goaltending in the NHL will get you my vote most of the time.
So from 1947 to 2005, the logo you see to your left signified the best hockey league in the world. I remember back to my younger days when I’d make fun of the black and orange of the Cincinnati Bengals logos (because I don’t care for the Bengals), but yet worshiped the ground that the NHL logo in it’s orange and black glory every graced.
Look, there really isn’t a big difference between the NHL logo of old and the current one. Sure we lost the orange and gained the silver and the stripes go the other way, but forgive me for just liking the old league logo, reminding me of the good ol’ 90’s.
Hockey is back everyone!
Brandon Kisker is the Heat’s Director of Broadcast & Media Relations and is entering his third season as a broadcaster in Stockton. Follow him on Twitter @kiskerbc or email him at email@example.com with comments or questions. Dustin Cowell is the Heat’s Media Relations Assistant and is entering his second season in Stockton. Follow him on Twitter @dustin_cowell. Follow the pair on Twitter @AHLHeatPR.