1 Bold Prediction for Every NHL Team in the 2014-15 Season
Fortune favors the bold—unless those bold moves fail to pan out, which is usually the case with bold moves. Boldness can result in fortune, but more often than not, it results in poverty and sadness, because it's rare that a bold prediction works out well.
Speaking of bold predictions not working out well, welcome to this slideshow.
It's August—a time when hockey isn't on the forefront of the minds of even the most dedicated hockey fans. People are on vacation, watching baseball or getting ready for the NFL season; they're hardly paying any attention to the NHL.
Which makes this the perfect time to run out 30 "bold" predictions, one for each NHL team.
Do I have 100 percent belief in every one of these predictions? Not really. It's tough to say which ones I feel the strongest about, but it's probably the ones that end up being correct at the end of the season, so I'll get back to you.
So click through and enjoy, or don't, instead perhaps taking offense and expressing your displeasure in the comments. A customer service representative will field your complaint at their earliest convenience.
Anaheim Ducks: Emerson Etem Will Score 30 Goals
Emerson Etem is 22 years old and has 10 goals in 57 career games. The 29th pick in the 2010 draft has found it difficult to crack a deep Ducks lineup on a regular basis early in his career, but the talented winger should take care of that this season.
With the departures of Dustin Penner (trade deadline, 2014), Teemu Selanne (retirement) and Daniel Winnik (signed with Toronto), there's suddenly a lot of room on the wings in Anaheim. If things break right for Etem, who had 61 goals in his final OHL season for the Medicine Hat Tigers, he could find himself on a second line with Ryan Kesler as his center.
It would be quite the leap for Etem to score 30 goals, but he has the speed and skill to pull it off.
And while we are discussing Etem, I'd be remiss if I failed to share the greatest tweet ever about the Long Beach, California, native by Sean Gentille of The Sporting News.
Arizona Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson Will Lead the Team in Scoring
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a defenseman, and a great one at that. But he's not exactly Erik Karlsson, as the 23-year-old finished with 15 goals and 44 points last season, which was good for seventh on the team formerly known as the Phoenix Coyotes.
But Ekman-Larsson's steadily improving game along with the Coyotes' inability to score will result in him leading the team in points in 2014-15.
The Coyotes' second- and fifth-leading scorers, Radim Vrbata and Mike Ribeiro, are no longer with the club. The team's biggest addition this summer is Sam Gagner, who hasn't topped 47 points during his career. That means the Coyotes will need more offense from their blue line, and while Keith Yandle led everyone on the club with 53 points a year ago, this will be Ekman-Larsson's year.
Ekman-Larsson had 32 points in 2011-12, 24 points in 48 games in 2013 and 44 points last season. He will improve on his career-best shot total of 199 last year and add another 10-12 points to his overall total this year.
Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara Will Play Fewer Than 60 Games
Zdeno Chara is 37 years old and, according to the person typing this sentence, was robbed of a Norris Trophy in 2014. Considering all the factors—offensive production, defensive prowess, quality of competition—he was better than everyone, including Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chara has been extremely durable throughout his career. Since 2000-01, he has missed a grand total of 49 games, an average of 3.76 per season.
Time eventually runs us all down and beats us into submission, and 2014-15 will be that year for Chara.
Since 2011-12, he has played 5,071 regular-season minutes, the 12th-most of anyone in the NHL. With his 1,145 playoff minutes included, only Drew Doughty, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Ryan Suter, Brian Campbell, Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber and Keith have logged more minutes over that time.
The average age of those nine defensemen is 28.6, almost nine years younger than Chara.
No one is rooting for Chara to be plagued with injuries—I hope he plays forever and scores this goal again—but he will finally pay the price for the physical punishment he has given and received in his career.
Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers Will Be a Norris Trophy Finalist
Tyler Myers is a defenseman who had a nice bounce-back campaign in 2013-14 after tailspinning following his Calder Trophy win in 2010. The 24-year-old is on what is expected to be one of the worst teams in the NHL in 2014-15, which means it's just about impossible for him to be a Norris Trophy finalist.
This piece is all about bold predictions, so we're getting bold here.
(But not so bold that we're predicting a Norris Trophy win.)
Myers had 22 points in 62 games last season, which was the first where he was a positive Corsi-relative (+1.8) player since his rookie season. He began 35.5 percent of his shifts in his own zone, the most of his career, which makes his relative possession numbers a little more respectable despite them coming on one of the worst teams in the league.
“He needs to be a horse. He’s got the body for it,” teammate Drew Stafford said following the season, per Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News. “He can develop into that type of player who is playing those big, big minutes. You have a couple injuries, and he can absorb some more minutes from certain guys."
The Sabres will improve enough this season, as will Myers, and it will lead to him becoming a feel-good story for those who do the voting for the Norris.
Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau Will Win the Calder Trophy
Johnny Gaudreau had one goal in one game last season, arriving with the Calgary Flames after winning the Hobey Baker Award as he led the NCAA in goals (35), assists (42) and points (77) in 39 games with Boston College. The 21-year-old is listed at 5'9" and 150 pounds, although one would think he had to put on weight this summer.
The Salem, New Jersey, native has a lot of skill, sure, but he also has a lot working against him when it comes to winning the Calder Trophy.
The last Calder winner to play in the NCAA was Dany Heatley in 2001. Since then, the award has been won strictly by players who cut their teeth either in junior hockey or overseas.
Gaudreau was a fourth-round pick of the Flames in 2011; of the past 10 winners, only Andrew Raycroft of the Boston Bruins in 2004 was drafted later than Gaudreau.
History shows it will be an uphill path to the Calder for Gaudreau, but the Flames will likely deploy him as a top-six forward, giving him every chance to rack up impressive numbers for voters.
Carolina Hurricanes: This Is the Final Year for Eric Staal and Cam Ward
Eric Staal and Cam Ward have been the faces of the Carolina Hurricanes since the pair guided the franchise to a Stanley Cup in 2006. Ward has been with the organization since 2002; Staal has been there since 2003.
But with the Hurricanes likely to miss the postseason for a sixth straight year, this could very well be the swan song for both.
Staal has two years remaining on a contract with an $8.25 million cap hit. The 29-year-old had 61 points last season, his fewest since his rookie season.
Ward has two years left on his deal and has a $6.3 million cap hit. The 30-year-old had a .898 save percentage last year and lost playing time due to injury and the superior play of Anton Khudobin, who only earns $2.25 million per year through 2015-16.
It's not exactly trading Jarome Iginla or Ray Bourque at the end of their careers, but the Hurricanes will cut ties with Staal and Ward either during the season or next summer, signaling an end to an era that has been devoid of team success in recent years.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane Will Score 100 Points
Patrick Kane's best season in terms of points was 2009-10, when he had 88 in 82 games. Since then, Kane has posted season totals of 66, 55 (in 48 games) and 69 points—partly a product of spending most of his time on the ice with center Michal Handzus.
But Handzus left this summer, and the Blackhawks replaced him with a real-life center in Brad Richards, who had 20 goals and 51 points last season. Handzus had 13 goals and 48 points combined over his past three seasons.
It's not as though Kane will be working with Nicklas Backstrom or Sidney Crosby, but Richards will provide a boost to the All-Star's overall numbers. And even if Richards' poor skating ability (it's about on par with that of Handzus) prevents him from keeping up, the Blackhawks also have skilled rookie Teuvo Teravainen waiting in the wings.
"It's so hard to talk about it now because it might not work," Richards said to the Chicago Tribune. "You get on the ice and learn tendencies, all of that stuff has to naturally happen."
It's super easy to talk about now, actually. I just did.
This could very well be the year Kane adds a Hart Trophy to his resume.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs Will Not Make the 2015 Playoffs
It's hard to say if this prediction is bold. Boldness, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
The Avalanche had the third-best record in the NHL last season, going 52-22-8 for 112 points. They boast the coach of the year (Patrick Roy), the rookie of the year (Nathan MacKinnon) and the Lady Byng winner (Ryan O'Reilly), which means the Avs are both talented and gentlemanly.
The fancy stats paint a much different picture. The Avs ranked 27th in Fenwick differential last season and only survived by the grace of goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who had a career-best .927 save percentage. It's a song that should sound familiar, as the 2013 Maple Leafs reached the playoffs under similar conditions before relenting to the math the following season.
Throw in the fact that Paul Stastny left via free agency and P.A. Parenteau was dealt for Danny Briere—a poor possession player in recent years—and those Fenwick numbers seem destined to get even worse. Jarome Iginla was a nice addition, but he lacks speed and saw his overall possession game take a hit with the Bruins last season.
It won't be easy for the Avs to slip into the also-ran abyss this season, but they are capable of it.
Columbus Blue Jackets: They Will Reach the Eastern Conference Final
The Columbus Blue Jackets have just as many NHL playoff series wins in their franchise history as Godzilla, a bowl of macaroni and cheese and a Howard The Duck special edition DVD.
That will all change this season.
(Well, not all of it, as Godzilla is fictional, and macaroni and cheese is not sentient. Also, there can't possibly be a special edition DVD for Howard the Duck.)
But the Blue Jackets will push their way to the conference final in 2015.
The Blue Jackets' young players will improve to the point where last year's six-game loss to the Penguins will no longer stand as the organization's benchmark. Ryan Murray, Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert and Boone Jenner, along with veterans Brandon Dubinsky, James Wisniewski and Sergei Bobrovsky, will emerge on top following the Metropolitan Division playoffs.
They're not equipped to handle the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Blue Jackets are building toward something special in the next couple of years.
Dallas Stars: Valeri Nichushkin Will Score 30 Goals
Jaromir Jagr said last season that at some point Valeri Nichushkin will be considered the best player in the NHL.
That year will not be 2014-15, but it will be the year he becomes more of a household name.
Sure, it's predictable and annoying that every NHL offseason features stories about players adding muscle and being in great shape, but the 19-year-old Nichushkin is one of those stories.
"We're going to see it," Stars general manager Jim Nill said to NHL.com. "He stayed here for the summer again. He's been training every day. He's excited, itching to get back at it. I think we're going to see more growth from him now. He's been around the League. He just has to worry about hockey. I think he's gained 15 or 20 pounds already this summer."
That puts Nichushkin at 6'4" and about 220 pounds for his second season. He had 14 goals in 79 games last season as the Russian-born winger adjusted to life in North America, but a more comfortable, bigger, stronger Nichushkin playing alongside either Tyler Seguin or Jason Spezza has a chance for a special breakout season.
Detroit Red Wings: The Team Will Have a 100-Point Season
It seems that the Detroit Red Wings have been pronounced dead more times in recent years than Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The Hockey News (h/t CSN Washington) has the Red Wings missing the playoffs for the first time in 23 years, while the always positive Ryan Lambert at Puck Daddy said it's "unlikely" the streak continues.
Not only will the Red Wings reach the playoffs in 2015, but they will get there quite easily.
The Red Wings compiled 93 points last season and did so with their two biggest stars missing nearly half the season. A back injury limited Henrik Zetterberg to 45 games, while Pavel Datsyuk only dressed for 45 games due to a concussion and lingering lower-body issues.
It's possible the wear and tear of lengthy careers has taken its toll on Zetterberg (36) and Datsyuk (33) and injury issues will be a problem again, but they still have a lot left in the tank and will play in more than 90 total games this season.
With their stars healthier, a full season from Gustav Nyquist (28 goals and 48 points in 57 games) and improvement from the likes of Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Dan DeKeyser, Tomas Jurco and Justin Abdelkader, the Wings will be better in 2014-15 and a lock for a playoff spot.
Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov Will Be a Point-Per-Game Player
The residents of #YakCity were sorely disappointed last season. After posting 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games as a rookie in 2013-14, Nail Yakupov dipped to 11 goals and 24 points in 63 games last season, which saw him sit as a healthy scratch and play fourth-line minutes.
This will be the year the first pick in the 2012 draft begins to live up to expectations.
Yakupov was lost under first-year coach Dallas Eakins and never really found himself. He was blessed with starting 40.5 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, 10th most in the NHL, yet he failed to deliver while struggling with the idea of a two-way game.
“I know myself and I’ll push harder, like I’ll push 100 percent every day and we’ll see what holds,” he said to the Edmonton Journal. “Just the one God is going to know what’s going to be in (store) this year."
Sometimes it helps to hit rock bottom, and a season that ended with two goals in 20 games and an ankle injury that cost him the final 13 games of the season certainly qualifies. A better understanding of what Eakins wants from him along with a looser leash to create offense will result in one of the NHL's biggest breakthrough seasons.
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov Will Score 25 Goals
I'll be honest—this was the hardest team for which to create a bold prediction. The Panthers could be a playoff team or the worst team in hockey, and neither would surprise me.
The Florida Panthers have great young talent, and none may be better than Aleksander Barkov, who was one of a handful of players injured during the Sochi Olympics. The 18-year-old missed the final 24 games of the regular season with a knee injury, which derailed a promising campaign that saw him score eight goals and 24 points in 54 games.
The second pick in the 2013 draft will return for his second season rested and fully healthy. Barkov may be more of a playmaker than a scorer, but he will hit the 25-goal mark and lead the Panthers in points this season.
Los Angeles Kings: They Will Set a Record for Points in a Season
The 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens hold the NHL record for points in a season with 132, which they gathered in 80 games without the benefit of the loser's point that exists in today's game.
So factoring in the bonus point and two extra games, this will be the year that mark falls, as the Los Angeles Kings will set a new record.
Virtually the entire team that won a second Stanley Cup in three years is back for the Kings, who finished last season 32 points shy of that mark. Why will they add at least another 33 points to that total this year? Because they will have a full season of Marian Gaborik, and emerging players Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Slava Voynov will be even better.
The Kings finished last season on a 16-6-2 run, which is a 116-point pace over a full season.
It's very possible the Kings won't floor the car until the final two months of the season, but with a couple of breaks and bounces, they will knock the Canadiens out of the record book.
Minneota Wild: Zach Parise Will Be a Hart Trophy Finalist
Zach Parise has never been a Hart Trophy finalist; his best finish in voting was fifth in 2009 when he had 45 goals and 94 points that season.
The 29-year-old has yet to be anything close to resembling that player since signing a 13-year, $98 million contract in the summer of 2012, but he showed signs in last year's playoffs that he could be ready to return to that form. He had four goals and 14 points in 13 games on the heels of finishing the regular season with six goals in five assists in his final 11 games.
The Wild are filled with blossoming young players around Parise, who will play at something slightly above a point-per-game pace in 2014-15. As long as the Wild are a playoff team, Parise will get to enjoy a couple of days in Las Vegas next summer with the rest of the best of players in the NHL.
Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk Will Average a Point Per Game
As we reach the halfway point of this venerable slideshow, it's become clear that my boldness has been replaced by pure hubris—that every highly touted prospect in the league will become Hart-caliber in the upcoming season.
Alex Galchenyuk had a mere 31 points in 65 games last season, which was a steep drop in production from the 27 points he posted in 48 games as a rookie. But the 6'1", 203-pound Galchenyuk is ready to take his game to the next level and showed signs of it in the playoffs, as he had two goals and five points in six games for the Canadiens after missing 14 games with a lower-body injury.
The 20-year-old averaged 14 minutes, 23 seconds of ice time per game last season, just two more seconds than Douglas Murray. With his added experience and a few more minutes of ice time, this will be a big season for the future U.S. Olympian.
Nashville Predators: James Neal Will Score Fewer Than 20 Goals
James Neal can be the answer to a lot of questions.
"Who maliciously kneed Brad Marchand in the head while prone on the ice in a game last year?"
"Who does former referee Paul Stewart believe to be reckless and a diver?"
"Which player has a parody Twitter account based on the premise that he eats alone?"
The answer, of course, is James Neal.
But Neal is not the answer to the scoring woes of the Nashville Predators.
The 26-year-old scored 88 goals in 179 games during his three full seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He played mostly with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, two players with the power to turn Chris Kunitz into an Olympian and Jussi Jokinen into an independently wealthy human for the rest of his life.
In Dallas, Neal was still a solid goal scorer, netting 24, 27, and 21 over three seasons before being shipped to Pittsburgh. Those Stars teams featured centers Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards, two of the game's better playmakers at the time.
Six years later, Neal is reunited with Ribeiro, who isn't the player he used to be. Other healthy centers starting the season in Nashville include Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen.
This will be the first season of Neal's career where he will not have an elite center on his line. It will lead to the worst season of his career.
New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider Will Win the Vezina Trophy
For four seasons, Cory Schneider was the best goaltender in the NHL who couldn't wrangle himself a starting job. With Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur in his way, Schneider had to make the most of being a backup or, at best, a No. 1A goaltender.
With Brodeur placed on an ice float and pushed out to sea, Schneider has the No. 1 job in New Jersey. And just like Tuukka Rask in Boston before him, Schneider will show just how good he really is.
Since 2010-11, Schneider's .928 save percentage is the best in the NHL. The one criticism that comes with the praise is the fact he's only played 143 games in his career, which is a small body of work to reward with a seven-year, $42 million contract.
But the Bruins did the same thing with Rask after he backstopped the team to a Stanley Cup Final in 2013. He had 138 games of experience (and a career .927 save percentage) as he mostly languished behind incumbent Tim Thomas before getting his shot.
After signing an eight-year, $56 million deal in July 2013, Rask won the Vezina Trophy in 2014 with a 36-15-6 record and a 2.04/.930 split.
Schneider is trending in the same direction and will win his first Vezina Trophy in 2015.
New York Islanders: They Will Finish in the Top 5 in Goals Allowed
The New York Islanders have been so bad in recent years that outside of a fluky playoff trip following a 48-game season, they haven't finished .500 since 2006-07. There have been a lot of reasons for that ineptitude, but none is bigger than the team's inability to keep the puck out of its net.
Here are the Islanders' goals-allowed-per-game totals since 2007-08 and where that ranked in the NHL:
- 2007-08: 2.93 (23rd)
- 2008-09: 3.34 (28th)
- 2009-10: 3.15 (28th)
- 2010-11: 3.15 (27th)
- 2011-12: 3.06 (27th)
- 2013: 2.83 (21st)
- 2013-14: 3.18 (28th)
The Washington Generals have played better defense than the Islanders the past seven seasons. But thanks to some moves by general manager Garth Snow, that should drastically change this season.
The Islanders traded for and signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak and later added a solid backup in Chad Johnson. Perhaps just as importantly, the Islanders parted ways with professional traffic cone Andrew MacDonald, who will fittingly wear Flyers orange for the next six seasons for $5 million per year.
Islanders goaltenders had an .899 save percentage on 2,453 shots last season; if Halak and Johnson match their career save percentages (.919 on 8,445 shots)—which are lower than what they posted last season, so this is a conservative estimate—that's a savings of about 67 goals on the 267 the Islanders allowed in 2013-14.
Throw in the fact that MacDonald was a minus-134 in on-ice shot attempts at five-on-five last season and virtually any replacement the Islanders ice will improve on that. They could allow even fewer goals.
Long story short, the Islanders have all the tools necessary to be one of the best defensive teams in the NHL in 2014-15.
New York Rangers: They Will Fall Short of the 2015 Playoffs
Oh, hey, gang. Bad news coming.
Remember the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils? That team that finished sixth in the East and somehow got to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games?
Well, the New York Rangers are sharing a lot of the same characteristics with their cross-river rivals these days.
The 2013-14 Rangers finished fifth in the East and caught fire just in time for the playoffs, and while they lost to the Kings in five games, those games were far more competitive than anything the Devils offered the Kings in 2012.
During the 2012 offseason, the Devils lost Zach Parise to free agency, which still hurts the organization today. Petr Sykora, who scored 21 goals that season, was not re-signed in the summer. While the Devils would lose Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson in the years that followed, the team failed to reach the postseason in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.
The Rangers were equally decimated this summer, losing Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle to free agency and replacing them with inferior players while buying out Brad Richards in an effort to re-sign their restricted free agents. Remember: The Rangers finished just six points clear of the ninth spot, and on March 16, they were two points from being out of a playoff spot altogether.
The big difference between the Rangers and Devils is while the Devils continued to start the decomposing remains of Martin Brodeur in net, the Rangers have one of the best goaltenders in the NHL to anchor the ship in choppy waters in Henrik Lundqvist.
It's not a slam dunk that the Rangers go from finalists to watching the playoffs in early April, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if that turns out to be the case.
Ottawa Senators: Mika Zibanejad Will Lead the Team in Scoring
The 21-year-old Mika Zibanejad started last season in the AHL and played some fourth-line minutes upon his promotion, but the talented forward showed why he was the sixth pick in the 2011 draft. He had 16 goals and 33 points in 69 games to go along with solid possession numbers.
With Jason Spezza gone, he and Kyle Turris should serve as the team's top two centers. With Turris likely to draw the tougher assignments, that will open the door for Zibanejad to flourish on the second line. If Zibanejad plays regularly with Milan Michalek and Alex Chiasson, he could have a big season.
Another reason to expect a big campaign from Zibanejad is more power-play time. He was 11th on the Senators with an average of 1:58 per game, which should increase with Spezza no longer in the mix.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Team Will Allow the Most Goals in the NHL
The Philadelphia Flyers allowed 235 goals last season, which ranked 20th in the NHL. Of the 16 teams to reach the playoffs, that total ranked 16th.
That number figures to rise this season for several reasons.
The biggest reason (this is not a setup for criticizing Steve Mason) is an already shaky defense corps is likely to be even worse in 2013-14. Andrew MacDonald, who would have been better served on a second pairing after being obliterated in a first-pairing role with the Islanders, will likely be on the Flyers' top pairing this season, with Kimmo Timonen dealing with a blood-clot issue.
Based on this handy dandy chart from freelance writer Dimitri Filipovic, the loss of Timonen will be quite devastating to a Flyers team that finished 21st in Fenwick differential and allowed the 19th-most shots in the NHL last year.
Throw in the fact that the embattled Michael Del Zotto is filling the breach as MacDonald and Mark Streit have their responsibilities increased, and the Flyers defense could be headed for an iceberg.
And the captain of that ship is goaltender Steve Mason.
(That was the setup for Steve Mason criticism.)
Last year, Mason had his best NHL season, going 33-18-7 with a .917 save percentage. But after a hot first two months, he had a .909 save percentage over his final 42 games, which is a lot closer to his .907 career save percentage.
There's no denying that Mason is playing behind one of the worst group of defensemen in the NHL and bailed them out like they were the fledgling auto industry, but if he reverts to the form he showed in his career before last season, the Flyers will be fighting for the bizarro William Jennings Trophy.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Thomas Greiss Will Emerge as the No. 1 Goaltender
Marc-Andre Fleury is in the final year of his contract and perhaps his final year in Pittsburgh. Despite three consecutive postseasons in which his poor play has been a detriment to the team's Stanley Cup aspirations, the team decided against buying him out this summer.
The 29-year-old, who had a .915 save percentage last season and has a .910 mark for his career, will enter the season as the undisputed starter. But that will change at some point, as new coach Mike Johnston will make the bold move of handing the reins to Thomas Greiss.
The 28-year-old Greiss has never been a No. 1 starter but has a better career save percentage (.915) than Fleury, although it has been earned in far fewer games. Greiss posted a .920 save percentage in 20 games with the Coyotes last season.
After taking over for an injured Mike Smith at the end of last season, Greiss went 3-3-3 with a somewhat unimpressive .914 save percentage, and this Jared Spurgeon goal was a backbreaker, but he had a .920 save percentage or better in six of those nine starts.
At some point, the Penguins will realize what's behind the mystery box is better than what Fleury has to offer. "Yeah, Greiss isn't exactly Tuukka Rask or Henrik Lundqvist, but we know Fleury isn't the answer, so why not try someone else?"
It's not exactly a ringing endorsement for Greiss (Hey! You're not the other guy!), but it will be enough to win him the job during the season.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton Will Score Four Goals in One Game
Joe Thornton has played 1,207 regular-season games and has never once scored four goals in any of those games. In what will be a stroke of on-ice genius, that drought will come to an end in 2014-15.
As talented as Thornton is, he won't be pounding the pucks in by himself. This will not be a one-man show, shooting blast after blast into a wide-open net as he grips his stick just right. It will be a portrait of teamwork, as the likes of Patrick Marleau, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski will help Thornton finish terrific plays.
Thornton is well-known as an assist man—he is 25th all time in that category with 852—but he will have to beat off media members that want to talk endlessly about this four-goal barrage after the game.
It will be especially satisfying for Thornton and fans alike, as he will have done it in a Sharks uniform after an offseason that had his future in San Jose in doubt.
St. Louis Blues: This Is Ken Hitchock's Final Season as Head Coach
The St. Louis Blues have been simultaneously terrific and disappointing since Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench early in the 2011-12 season, but another underwhelming end to this season will spell the end for the coach.
The Blues are 124-55-20 under Hitchcock, which is an average of 110 points in an 82-game season. The problem for the Blues over that time has been the postseason, as the team is 8-13 in the playoffs with two first-round losses on the ledger. The Blues scored 14 goals in six games against the Blackhawks last season and 10 goals in a six-game loss to the Kings in 2013.
In an effort to correct the issue, the Blues gave center Paul Stastny four years and $28 million this summer. It's not that Stastny should automatically lead to the Blues scoring three goals per game in the playoffs, but the expectations for more offense are there. If the Blues are bounced for a third straight season because of the offense, Hitchcock's head could roll.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Ryan Callahan Will Score 30 Goals
(Full disclosure: Originally, this slide was dedicated to the idea that Victor Hedman would win the Norris Trophy. After review, it's not really bold to say a guy who got a first-place vote in 2014 would win it in 2015, so let's get to Guy Fieri levels of bold and do this instead.)
Ryan Callahan will score 30 goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15.
Why? Oh, I have to justify this?
Here's the rationale: Callahan scored 29 goals in 76 games in 2011-12, by far his best output during his career. His shooting percentage was 12.3 that season, which was slightly above his 10.7 career mark but not so far out of line that he can't match it again. He had six goals in 20 games with the Lightning after arriving at the deadline last season, which is a 24-goal pace for 82 games, something the injury-riddled Callahan has never accomplished.
A full season playing with Valtteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos or on a lower line with Tyler Johnson or Alex Killorn or Ondrej Palat, away from the attention Stamkos draws, will be the recipe for a 30-goal season. When Callahan scored 29 in 2011-12, he did it mostly with Derek Stepan as his center. A case can be made that Filppula is just as good as Stepan, and if Stamkos is the focus of the defense, there could be a lot of scoring chances for Callahan.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Colton Orr Will Play in More Games Than Daniel Winnik
This prediction is mostly an indictment of Randy Carlyle's lineup-making decisions with a pinch of the belief that Daniel Winnik won't live up to expectations.
Colton Orr is very—what's the industry term here—bad at hockey. He played 54 games last season and delivered zero goals and zero assists, which adds up to zero points. If fancy stats are more your speed, his raw Corsi in 2013-14 was 39.1 percent; relative to his teammates, he was minus-4.3 percent. But fear not, he contributed 110 crucial penalty minutes that featured a whole lot of face punching and tone setting.
Daniel Winnik, on the other hand, is quite useful. He plays tough minutes and every so often can create what some scientists call "offense"—something that is more of an urban legend to Orr. The one issue with Winnik is he found himself sitting as a healthy scratch for the Ducks at the end of last season, which was partly due to a deep forward group in Anaheim and Winnik's own fading play.
Having said that, Winnik's fading play is better than Orr's best play, so that shouldn't be an issue.
While Carlyle's decision will very likely never be Orr versus Winnik, the coach's desire for toughness will result in Orr suiting up more times than Winnik, and the Leafs will be worse for it.
Vancouver Canucks: Radim Vrbata Will Score 40 Goals
Enough of these "bold" predictions that feature young, talented players scoring 30 goals; let's go out on a bold limb and pick a veteran to score a career-best 40 goals in 2014-15.
Radim Vrbata is one of the best forwards in the NHL that you couldn't identify if he delivered a pizza to your home. He averaged 25 goals during his four 82-game seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes and added 12 goals in 34 games in 2013. The fact that he accomplished all of that playing mostly with Martin Hanzal bodes very well for what's in store for him in 2014-15.
The 33-year-old Vrbata is likely to spend most of his time playing on a line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, two of the top players in the game even with their advancing ages. Alex Burrows had 26 goals in 2010-11 and 28 goals in 2011-12 playing mostly with the Sedins, and with all due respect to Burrows, he's not the same finisher as Vrbata.
“(GM Jim Benning) was saying that they were looking for somebody to play with Sedins and that they think I could be the guy,” Vrbata told reporters upon his signing. “When I think about the way they play, that kind of suits my game, I think. They like lots of give-and-go’s, and they like to get open for each other. I think that’s something that I like to do, too.”
The only issue could be the number of scoring chances to go around on a line that talented, but Vrbata is primed to have a career year playing with elite talent.
Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin Will Be a Plus in Plus/Minus
- Leaves ice early at morning skates
- Cuts media interviews short, thus making him a bad leader
- Does too many commercials, doesn't focus on his game
- Is Russian, hates America
Everyone knows how amazingly insightful the plus/minus statistic can be. It defines a player, and last season, Alex Ovechkin was minus-35, the third-worst mark in the league. Despite that mark, the Capitals chose not to buy out the captain's contract, perhaps focusing on his 51 goals.
“With the help of the plus/minus, contracts can be obtained," Ovechkin said to Puck Daddy. "Once our defenseman Jeff Schultz was plus-50. He was plus-five in the last game. And he signed a contract for four years averaging $2.75 million [Ovechkin makes big eyes]. And then his contract was bought out, and he signed for only $700,000 a year. Jeff is a good guy. But these plus/minus stats say very little about a player himself or the game as a whole.”
Pfft. What does this guy know? He's never played the...oh right, that doesn't work here.
But with the help of new coach Barry Trotz and improvement at even strength, Ovechkin will rise to the status of plus-player in 2014-15. This will be very damaging in the media, as they will need to find something new to harp on while he's scoring 50 goals again.
Some possibilities include:
Feel free to use any of those or mix and match as you see fit.
Winnipeg Jets: Ondrej Pavelec Will Have a .910 Save Percentage
History will be made.
Ondrej Pavelec, who has cracked .906 in save percentage once in a season and owns a .906 save percentage for his career, will do the unthinkable and reach the .910 mark this season. Sure, that is still well below the league average that's around .915, but it's all about baby steps to mediocrity for the game's worst No. 1 goaltender.
The 26-year-old Pavelec, who has three years at $3.9 million remaining on his contract, will finally justify his head-scratching deal of two years ago.
Note: Pavelec will do all this in about 30 games, as rookie Michael Hutchinson will supplant Pavelec as the team's No. 1 goaltender. The 24-year-old had a .923 save percentage for the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL last season, as he climbed from the ECHL to the NHL for three games in the same season. Hutchinson also had a 1.95/.938 split in 21 games during the Calder Cup playoffs, as the IceCaps lost in the final.
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