NHL Lockout: 5 Bold Predictions for the Lockout Season
The NHL is in its third work stoppage since 1994 and many fear this one could go on for a while. Luckily, the optimists can look forward to what will happen once the puck drops again.
There is no certainty on how many games will be played this season, if there is any hockey played at all.
The following predictions are not guarantees, but possibilities after the lockout is hopefully lifted.
Cory Schneider Wins the Vezina and William M. Jennings Trophies
The Vancouver Canucks made it official and gave the reigns to Cory Schneider for the upcoming season. Roberto Luongo was shopped around before the work stoppage and still has a huge possibility of being moved once the new collective bargaining agreement is in place.
In the past two seasons backing up Luongo, Schneider posted a record of 36-12-3 with a .934 save percentage. It is a small sample size, but it’s also large enough to prove that Schneider can produce numbers similar to the elite goalies in the league.
Schneider finished last season at second overall in save percentage at .937 and placed third in goals against average by posting a 1.96.
In both of those categories, Schneider finished above reigning Vezina trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist. Schneider put up his numbers in 29 less starts than Lundqvist. But if his numbers translate in a full-time role, he has a great chance to win the Vezina.
Schneider and Luongo won the William M. Jennings Trophy (awarded to the goalie or goalies that allow the least goals scored during the season) in the 2010-11 season. They are no strangers to the award.
The only reason they couldn’t grab their second award would be if Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak have a repeat of last year.
It’s tough competition, but with Schneider shouldering the bulk of the load, it gives the Canucks a legitimate chance of taking the hardware back.
Canucks Win Third Straight President's Trophy
The Vancouver Canucks will start the next season on a quest for an unprecedented third straight President's Trophy. Since 1985-86, the trophy has been awarded to the team with the most overall points at the end of the season. Nobody has ever won more than two in a row.
The fact that the Canucks lost just one player with significant ice time from last year’s roster only helps their cause. If Cory Schneider can perform as one of the top goalies in the NHL, in addition to their already potent offense, the Canucks should be considered early favorites.
In New York, the Rangers gave a serious push at the title and will be one of their biggest competitors for the trophy. The Rangers did boost their offense by adding Rick Nash to team with Henrik Lundqvist to man the net. They will certainly keep that pressure on Vancouver.
The Northwest Division is the biggest advantage the Canucks have in their quest for a third President's Trophy. While Vancouver was the only team representing their division in the postseason, the Rangers had division foes in the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils accompany them in the playoff brackets.
The competition in the East will most likely beat itself up, which means the Canucks have one of the best shots at a historical three-peat for the President's Trophy.
Dallas Stars win Pacific Division
Every Dallas Stars fan knows that the last couple of weeks of the regular season are where some voodoo curse takes over and the team folds. If the lockout results in a shortened season, then maybe it will wipe out those last two weeks where they collapse.
Even if there is no collapse, the division was tightly contested last year. During the final month, every team held the division lead but the Anaheim Ducks. Two points separated the division champions from the eighth seed in the playoffs.
Saying that anyone can win in a tight division isn’t a bold prediction, predicting that the Stars overcome their demons from a four-year playoff drought that is riddled with collapses in the final days of the regular season, is.
The additions of Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr will provide an offensive spark to a team that struggled to find the net down the stretch. Their boost on the power play will also help one of the worst units with a man advantage. That will account for a few more wins throughout the season and be the difference-maker between last year’s team and the returning version of the Stars.
Florida Panthers Go from First to Worst in Division
The Florida Panthers had the lowest point total of any division winner last season. They were also owners of the fourth-lowest goal total for the season. To put that into perspective, they were one ahead of the New York Islanders and one behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.
They did have the seventh-ranked power play unit in terms of conversion, but they were the definition of middle-of-the-road in terms of opportunities.
The reason the Panthers won their division was because of the points they gained from overtime losses, with a whopping 18. Chances are they won’t be able to match that mark when play resumes.
The Panthers also have the Capitals breathing down their necks. Now that the goalie situation is figured out with Braden Holtby taking over full-time, their biggest uncertainty is gone.
In Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos still has a reign of terror on opposing goalies. Many consider the Lightning to be underachievers, so if they do live up to their potential, it won’t be unlikely to see them vault up the standings.
The Winnipeg Jets are the opposite of the Panthers in that they can score, but their goaltending has let them down at times. Either way, they enter their second season back in Winnipeg and it is still one of the tougher places to play. They have the chance to climb the the standings as well if they can take advantage of home ice.
Carolina made big moves by acquiring Jordan Staal on draft day and signing Alexander Semin. The Hurricanes definitely made major improvements and still have Cam Ward in net. There is no doubt they will be moving up and pressuring for a division crown as well.
The upgraded competition will make it really tough for the Panthers to stay out of the basement in the Southeast Division, let alone repeat as winners.
James Neal Will Score More Goals than Evgeni Malkin
James Neal is coming off the best season of his career. He managed to score 40 goals and was the league’s most potent power-play threat with 18 goals with the man advantage.
Neal’s totals are 10 behind Evgeni Malkin and Malkin managed to tally 12 power goals himself. With Sidney Crosby’s return, there are going to be even more scoring chances for Neal and even more offense for the Penguins.
The constantly shifting lines mean that Neal will get the benefit of playing with Malkin and Crosby. If defenses focus on shutting down two of the top centers in the league, Neal will benefit from having more open ice and more scoring opportunities no matter who his center is.
Pittsburgh’s depth is the biggest threat and asset to the goal-scorers because so many players can score, but the opposing defensive schemes will have to leave somebody open.
Neal has improved his goal-scoring every season but 2010-11, the year he was traded for Alex Goligoski midseason. If he scores more goals than Malkin, chances are Malkin’s assist total will rise, so the overall point lead will stay with the Russian.