Stanley Cup Final 2017: Predictions for Penguins and Predators in 2018

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2017

The Penguins are the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1997-98.
The Penguins are the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1997-98.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The parade for the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins will be held Wednesday in the City of Champions, and it is one that is well-earned by head coach Mike Sullivan's team.

The Penguins became the first back-to-back champions in the NHL since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1997-98, and the Penguins could be well-positioned to make a run at a third straight Stanley Cup in 2018.

We are not predicting they will make it since there are so many obstacles to overcome during the course of the season, but there's no reason the Penguins won't be able to have another strong showing in the 2017-18 season.

Sidney Crosby earned the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Sidney Crosby earned the Conn Smythe Trophy.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Start at the top, where Pittsburgh has the best one-two talent punch in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Those two combined for 55 points during this year's Stanley Cup march, as Malkin led the league in postseason scoring (28 points) while Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Both players remain dominating talents, and they are going to give the Penguins a chance most nights. However, even when Crosby and Malkin are not at their best, the supporting cast is excellent.

Phil Kessel provides scoring, skating and the ability to get the job done in the clutch. Jake Guentzel is a young star on the rise because of his talent and willingness to compete. 

The 22-year-old Guentzel scored 13 goals during the postseason, and that was more than any other player. His willingness to go into the dirty areas around the net and hunt down the puck allowed him to become a difference-maker.

Conor Sheary scored just two goals in the playoffs, but he has speed and explosiveness and the ability to become a consistent scorer. The same holds for Bryan Rust, who potted seven goals during the postseason.

The Penguins managed to win the Stanley Cup without star defenseman Kris Letang (neck surgery), which was one of the most impressive aspects of the Cup run.

Pittsburgh had a core of workmanlike defensemen in Justin Schultz, Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta, Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey that seemed to improve with every series the Penguins played.

They were at their best in Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators, as the Pens shut out their opponents in both matches. The Pittsburgh defense crew refused to give the Predators any open ice in the offensive zone in either game, and that played a key role in clinching the championship.

"Not too shabby for a 'D' corps that wasn't very good," Cole said, per Sam Werner of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Matt Murray finished the postseason with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage after returning to the net during the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators. He has won two Stanley Cups in two opportunities, and he is a huge asset for Sullivan.

The Penguins won because of their depth, talent and resiliency, and those same factors will make them strong contenders in 2017-18.

Peter Laviolette and the Predators made a memorable run in the playoffs.
Peter Laviolette and the Predators made a memorable run in the playoffs.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Nashville was the surprise of this year's postseason, as the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final from the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

While the Predators opened eyes with their performance in the playoffs, it was not a total shock because the talent level is high and Peter Laviolette is an excellent coach who has proved he knows how to get the most out of his team.

Forwards Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal can put the puck in the net and set up teammates. While Johansen has to recover from thigh surgery, this is a strong core, and Colton Sissons is also an excellent clutch scorer.

The Preds could use some more depth among their forwards, and that would help them quite a bit in 2017-18.

The defense crew may be the best in the league. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm form the core, and they are all strong blueliners who can also get the job done in the offensive zone.

Laviolette knows that as long as his defensemen are healthy, the Predators are going to be competitive.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne was one of the big reasons behind Nashville's postseason success, although he struggled badly on the road against the Penguins. 

Rinne is a good goaltender, but he has not always been as consistent in the regular season as he was in this year's playoffs.

     

Predictions

The Penguins are as deep and talented as any team in the league, and they don't have lot of huge contract issues this summer, other than with Daley and Hainsey, per CapFriendly.

Pittsburgh should remain at or near the top of the heap next year. However, winning a third straight Stanley Cup is too much to expect. The Ottawa Senators extended the Pens to double overtime in the seventh game in the Eastern Conference Final, and Crosby and Co. will almost certainly face a team that is prepared to take them out.

Pittsburgh won't get past the second round in 2018.

The Preds were this year's surprise team, and they are going to have to show they can handle higher expectations next year.

They should be able to compete for the Central Division title in the regular season, but they may not be able to get past up-and-coming teams like the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames in the playoffs.

Nashville won't get out of the Western Conference playoffs next season.