After a lockout-shortened season in 2013, NHL fans are just days away from the start of a full 82-game schedule for 2013-14.
With the preseason out of the way, it’s time to turn to the regular season and think about how things might unfold for both individual players and NHL clubs.
While predictions always look forward, the 2013 regular season and playoff stats, along with this season's preseason games have to be considered.
Considering all of these factors, here are 10 bold predictions for the 2013-14 NHL season.
Unless otherwise noted:
Basic stats can be found on nhl.com
Advanced stats are available on Sportingcharts.com.
The 100-point plateau is the benchmark for an exceptional offensive season in the NHL. In the majority of seasons in the past 10 years, no more than two or three skaters have managed to produce 100 points or more.
This year will be different. With the compressed schedule, shooters should see more back-up goaltenders, and defences will be pushed to the max in trying to stop the league’s best scorers. Goaltenders are also facing a crackdown on equipment size that will see scorers gain another advantage that they did not have previously.
Expect Steven Stamkos to lead the scoring race with at least six more players, including Sidney Crosby, joining him in earning more than 100 points this year.
To put it in some historical context, the last time seven or more players earned 100 or more points, one of them was Hall of Famer Joe Sakic. It was the 2006-07 regular season.
A lot of experts have tagged the Calgary Flames as the weakest in the entire NHL this season. With Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester and Miikka Kiprusoff no longer playing in Calgary, the team is led by new captain Mark Giordano.
The team is young, and there is not a lot of talent on defence after the first pairing. What the Flames do have is a lot of youth and exuberance up front. They will also have the advantage of playing teams, on many nights, that will not take them seriously.
Karri Ramo is the new starter in Calgary, and journeyman Joey MacDonald will provide some solid netminding when called upon.
Expect the Flames to earn more points than the Panthers, at least, and possibly even the Colorado Avalanche, who are going to really struggle on a number of fronts this season.
According to hockeyfights.com, just over 36 percent of games in 2013 featured at least one fight. Expect that number to go up in 2013-14. While the league has put further restrictions on fighting in terms of helmet removal, on top of the foolish instigator penalty, most teams have at least one enforcer if not two.
With the number of back-to-back games that teams will play, and the likely tight standings, teams will be in foul moods many nights.
Coupled with this is the fact that many of the top teams, and many others, continue to have more than one player who can handle himself when needed.
We're predicting that coaches will be looking to tap those broad shoulders more than last year to gain even the smallest advantage. It will not be surprising to see close to 40 percent of NHL games feature at least one fight.
The state of California has become a hotbed for hockey in recent years. With the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks winning Stanley Cups in the past decade, California has featured some of the best teams in the Western Conference.
The San Jose Sharks have also been a very good team for a number of seasons, although there were long stretches last year where a few of the Sharks' top veteran players were starting to show some wear.
The Pacific Division is likely to be one of the strongest divisions in the league. Expect the California teams to be beating up on each other all year. The grind of a compressed 82-game schedule is likely to mean that one of these three teams will miss the playoffs next spring.
The Anaheim Ducks are the likeliest team to do so based on the very important shot differential stat. A team that consistently generates more shots on goal than its opponents will generate more scoring chances, and likely more goals. The Ducks were the weakest California team in terms of shot differential in 2013; expect this number to be even worse for the Ducks this season.
For those fans that have begun to study advanced statistics in detail, they know that team shot differential is one of the most important predictors of team success. The St. Louis Blues consistently outshot their opponents last season; expect them to lead the league in this stat in 2013-14.
The Blues have one of the best defences in the league, tremendous size and skill up front, and an airtight defensive system under Ken Hitchcock.
St. Louis had some key injuries last year with Vladimir Tarasenko being one such player. Expect Tarasenko, along with one of the better defence corps in the NHL, help to lead the Blues to the best shot differential in the NHL.
A lot has been written about Tyler Seguin and the deal that saw him moved from the Boston Bruins to the Dallas Stars. It was one of the biggest trades in the 2013 offseason.
Seguin played some excellent hockey in Boston, and did almost all of it while playing out of position on the wing. In Dallas, he is the unquestioned No. 1 centre, and he will get a lot of quality minutes.
The Stars still have some holes to fill before they become a top contender in the league again, but they have become much more solid down the middle with the addition of Seguin, Shawn Horcoff and former Bruin Rich Peverley.
Seguin is an elite talent who will have some great players to play with in Dallas, including Jamie Benn, Ray Whitney, Valeri Nichushkin and Stephane Robidas.
The talented Seguin is going to get a lot of power-play time in Big D. Also, he is going to be motivated to demonstrate to his critics and to his fans that the Bruins made a big mistake by trading him.
Martin Brodeur is arguably the greatest goaltender in NHL history. Few players have had as special a relationship over so many years with one team, as has Brodeur with New Jersey Devil fans.
However, GM Lou Lamoriello did not acquire Cory Schneider to be a bench-warmer. Schneider will play a lot, and in the end, he is likely to play very well in New Jersey given its commitment to good team defence.
Brodeur had only a .901 save percentage in 2013, and that is not nearly good enough at the NHL level.
Cory Schneider had an excellent save percentage of .927 in the 2013 regular season, and given the difference in age between the two goalies, Schneider will be afforded the opportunity to slowly become the Devils’ starter.
Expect the American Olympic hopeful to start more than 50 games this year as he works in tandem with the aging Brodeur.
There always seems to be at least one or two surprising teams in every NHL season—sometimes it is even more than that. The surprise team last year had to be the Montreal Canadiens. The Columbus Blue Jackets will be that team in 2013-14.
The Blue Jackets continue to add some good young players to their NHL roster, and the signing of free agent Nathan Horton will be a great boost when he returns. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is an elite NHL goaltender; look for him to build on last year’s Vezina Trophy with a great season.
Young prospects Ryan Johansen and Ryan Murray will add dynamic elements to the roster.
The Blue Jackets will sneak up on a lot of teams. Expect sniper Marian Gaborik to put up some good offensive numbers in the more wide-open Eastern Conference.
Logan Couture is one of the best players in the game that many casual fans do not know. The former Ottawa 67's star has been an excellent player both in the junior and pro ranks.
Couture is an unselfish player who has great speed and a very underrated release. Couture has developed into one of the more dynamic players in the Western Conference, and he has dominated opposing defenders on many nights.
Couture had 21 goals in 48 games in 2013 and tallied 31 goals in the last 82-game season. The Sharks will be even more dependent on Couture than in previous years, so he will produce more at even strength and on the power play.
One of the NHL’s brightest young stars is the New York Islanders’ John Tavares. He was a well-deserved Hart Trophy finalist in 2013.
Tavares has become a dominant NHL centre. He should be a top-six forward for Canada’s Olympic team in 2014. He has produced at a point-per-game pace over the last two NHL seasons, and he will improve on that this season.
The Islanders are a better team than last season that will spend more time in the offensive zone, take more shots on goal and spend more time on the power play. Tavares will be a huge part of this; expect him to make a big offensive jump this year.
Tavares will finish in the top five in NHL scoring with more than 100 points this year, giving Islander fans even more reason to cheer on this up-and-coming squad.