B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Way-Too-Early Playoff Predictions

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured Columnist ISeptember 29, 2022

B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Way-Too-Early Playoff Predictions

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    EDMONTON, AB - JUNE 6: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck while being pursued by Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs on June 6, 2022 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
    Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    Time to see if our B/R NHL Staff has true powers of prognostication.

    After predicting the winners of every division for the upcoming season, we're back at it. In this roundtable, our experts go in deep and give us their predictions for the 2022-23 playoff field.

    Have the Ottawa Senators done enough in the offseason to get over the hump? Will Johnny Gaudreau's addition to Columbus power the Blue Jackets to the playoff promised land? And will there be any surprise contenders?

    See what we had to say about the teams that will be in contention, and don't hesitate to send us your playoff predictions in the comments below.

Expect More of the Same in the East, but Look Out for the Kings in the West

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    Los Angeles Kings defenseman Sean Durzi, center, celebrates his power play goal with center Adrian Kempe, left, and center Phillip Danault during the second period in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
    A strong young core with solid veterans gives the Kings a chance to be dangerous in the West. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    Eastern Conference

    Metropolitan

    Carolina Hurricanes

    New York Rangers

    Pittsburgh Penguins


    Atlantic

    Florida Panthers

    Tampa Bay Lightning

    Toronto Maple Leafs


    Wild Cards

    New York Islanders

    Boston Bruins


    The Eastern Conference feels like it’s ready for a playoff upheaval…but it’s not quite there yet. Pittsburgh, Boston and Washington are all aging, and the latter two have a bunch of key players missing the beginning of the season at the least. Thing is, they’re all still filled with talent, and what Boston may lack in offensive punch will be made up by new coach Jim Montgomery’s strong defensive style. The Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy last season, but they’ve got a new coach in Paul Maurice and a new guy in Matthew Tkachuk to give them an edge.

    The Lightning have been to three straight Stanley Cup Finals, and they’ve got to get tired at some point, right? We’ll see how they do losing a clutch player in Ondrej Palat and if others can step up. For those questions, Andrei Vasilevskiy answers a lot of them. If the Rangers improve their defense, they’re an even bigger threat to win the East. Meanwhile, Carolina looks beastly, and that’s not just because it added Brent Burns and his beard to the blue line. Yes, the Islanders are going to be back. Ilya Sorokin is a dynamite goaltender, there’s a new voice behind the bench in Lane Lambert, and the horrible luck they had with injuries and on offense is poised to flip.


    Bubble Teams

    The Capitals have all the spooky signs around them that things could be a bit more difficult this season. They might be without Nicklas Backstrom for a long time after hip surgery, and they’re starting the season without Tom Wilson and Carl Hagelin because of injuries. They severely lack quality depth, and any more injuries will really stress things out. Adding Darcy Kuemper in goal is a big upgrade, but I'm not sold on whether he’s enough to make up for the other questions. They’ll tussle with the Islanders and Bruins for the postseason and have to fend off Ottawa, Detroit and Buffalo, who should all be improved and will close the gap between the haves and the have-nots for the playoffs.


    Western Conference

    Central

    Colorado Avalanche

    Minnesota Wild


    Pacific

    Calgary Flames

    Los Angeles Kings

    Edmonton Oilers


    Wild Cards

    Nashville Predators

    Vegas Golden Knights


    If this seems a little too familiar, it is, and I apologize for being mostly unoriginal. The teams that made the postseason last year all either made improvements or kept the band together enough to have continued success. The cream that rises to the top here are the Avalanche, Oilers, Flames and Wild, and that’s great fun for everyone because they can all pair off and have a slobber-knocker of a series with lots of goals and punches alike. The Oilers may have solidified their goaltending, the Flames had a load of turnover but added plenty to make up for it, the Avalanche are the champs and strong, and the Wild are hungry to unseat them in the Central.

    It's the next four teams where it gets really interesting.

    I’m buying the Kings making a big push up the board because they added Kevin Fiala for the offense, they’re deep on defense and have a healthy Drew Doughty, and goaltending should be steady. Nashville will have a healthy Juuse Saros back and a surprising attack on offense. The Blues have a pile of young guys making a leap but will need Jordan Binnington to get back to his 2019 form. The Golden Knights...I know it’s wild to pick them because they have so many issues, but the injury issues that plagued them into this season have to turn around, and Logan Thompson might just steal the starting job for years to come. I’m aware this is ripe for being a Freezing Cold Take later this season.


    Bubble Teams

    Being on the bubble in the West means your team is right there to take advantage of anyone’s misfortune. Dallas made the playoffs last season, but Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have been coming back to earth for a couple of seasons, and what the heck are they going to do with Jason Robertson if they’re not going to pay him? Jake Oettinger could be the savior, but there are some uneasy feelings in Texas. The Canucks also have a lot of questions, but Bruce Boudreau had a serious positive influence on the team when he was brought in last season. But they’re thin in depth and need J.T. Miller to repeat the monster season he had and Elias Pettersson to shoot the puck more. Thatcher Demko calms it down in net, and that will go a long way.

    - Joe Yerdon

Sorry, Johnny: No Playoffs for the Blue Jackets and Gaudreau

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    COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) with the puck challenged by Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Danton Heinen (43) during the preseason game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins on September 24, 2022, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Graham Stokes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Eastern Conference

    Metropolitan

    New York Rangers

    Carolina Hurricanes

    Pittsburgh Penguins


    Atlantic

    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Florida Panthers

    Tampa Bay Lightning


    Wild Cards

    Washington Capitals

    Boston Bruins


    Our man Joe is right. The Eastern Conference does feel about due for a churn, but the numbers aren’t quite there to bear it out. As old and vulnerable as the Penguins and Capitals in the Metropolitan and the Bruins in the Atlantic might seem, there’s simply too big a gap between them and the nearest pursuers to bridge in one season.

    Pittsburgh maintained an aging core, Washington still has a guy wearing No. 8, and Boston finished 32 points clear of its nearest divisional pursuers in 2021-22. Until next year, those jonesing for revolution will have to settle for the Rangers and Maple Leafs dislodging the incumbent division winners.


    Bubble Teams

    No one suggesting that Boston is the team to be culled from the postseason herd should be laughed out of a room. The New York Islanders were a repeat final four team before everything that could have gone wrong last season did so. They could make a run into the mix. In spite of genuinely rosy outlooks going forward, it seems too soon for Buffalo, Ottawa, Detroit and even Columbus (sorry, Johnny) to upset the apple cart any further.


    Western Conference

    Central

    Colorado Avalanche

    Minnesota Wild

    St. Louis Blues


    Pacific

    Edmonton Oilers

    Calgary Flames

    Los Angeles Kings


    Wild Cards

    Vegas Golden Knights

    Vancouver Canucks


    What the Eastern Conference lacked in upheaval, the Western Conference has in ample supply. The top-end teams from Colorado, Edmonton, Minnesota, Calgary, St. Louis and Los Angeles should repeat as postseason participants thanks to either maintaining their status quo or making summertime moves to get better.

    Flames general manager Brad Treliving deserves particular praise for making something out of nothing following the exits of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, and Oilers GM Ken Holland held on to Evander Kane and Brett Kulak while grabbing Jack Campbell, too. The Kings are a year older and better after making a move last season, too, and both the Wild and Blues seem solid enough to stay above the flotsam and jetsam, but not to threaten the Avalanche.


    Bubble Teams

    It’s no stretch to suggest Dallas and Nashville are favorites to hold on to their playoff positions from 2021-22, but it’s no more a stretch to say Vegas, Vancouver and Winnipeg are capable of pursuing and capturing them either. The Golden Knights are suspect in goal with Robin Lehner injured, but they will have a healthy Jack Eichel from day one. And speaking of day one, the Canucks will have Bruce Boudreau behind the bench from the start this season after he revitalized them upon replacing Travis Green last December. The Jets have a new man in charge in Rick Bowness, too, and much of a roster still intact from a run to the second round in 2020-21.

    - Lyle Fitzsimmons

The 'Great 8' Will Drag the Capitals into the Postseason

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals shoots the puck against the Florida Panthers during the second period in Game Six of the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Capital One Arena on May 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
    He might be older, but one thing is certain: Alex Ovechkin can still shoot the puck with the best in the world. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

    Eastern Conference

    Metropolitan

    Carolina Hurricanes

    New York Rangers

    Washington Capitals


    Atlantic

    Tampa Bay Lightning

    Florida Panthers

    Toronto Maple Leafs


    Wild Cards

    Boston Bruins

    Ottawa Senators


    Nothing like predicting the playoff picture before the season even starts to remind you that half the league gets in. So instead of asking yourself, “Which teams are good enough to make the playoffs this year?” the questions become: “Which teams are bad enough to miss the playoffs this year?” “Which perennial playoff teams are getting tired and older?” and “Which team is rested and energetic enough to sneak in?”

    While the Capitals might fall into the getting older category, Alex Ovechkin showed us last season that he’s just as energetic and prolific as ever. Besides, we’re talking about a man who sets up shop in the same power-play circle year after year and has not been stopped. Ovechkin has shown no signs of slowing down, and he’s (only?) 115 goals away from breaking Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals. Not only that, but his 40 assists last season were his highest since 2010-11. One player isn’t going to drag a team to the playoffs (Fine, I’ll give you Taylor Hall), but Ovechkin on a mission combined with other Caps stars still chugging along makes me think this core has a few years left in the tank to at least qualify for the playoffs. Then you add their offseason acquisition of goaltender Darcy Kuemper, and I can’t see them missing the 2022-23 playoffs.


    Bubble Teams

    The Penguins are in a similar spot, but between Ovechkin on a mission and Kuemper in net, Washington has the edge, and we might see Pittsburgh’s 16-year playoff run snap.

    Then again, we’ve been saying that every year for half a decade. We’ll see.

    If Washington is my old core Eastern Conference playoff team, the Senators are my new core Eastern Conference playoff wild card. Their younger players have another season under their belts, and management acquired Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat and Cam Talbot over the summer. This has all the workings of a relatively low expectations, good vibes Cinderella run.


    Western Conference

    Central

    Colorado Avalanche

    Minnesota Wild

    Dallas Stars


    Pacific

    Edmonton Oilers

    Calgary Flames

    Los Angeles Kings


    Wild Cards

    St. Louis Blues

    Nashville Predators


    The Western Conference is a different kind of tricky. You’ve got your obvious heavy hitters like the defending champion Avalanche and Connor McDavid’s Oilers, but the field is more unpredictable and much more open for a few unsuspecting teams to sneak in.

    The Flames have a lot to figure out eventually, but they’ll cross that Saddledome media catwalk when they come to it and will most likely have a great 2022-23 season. I worry about the Blues when it comes to injuries and goaltending, but they have a few potentially great albeit high-risk options in net.


    Bubble Teams

    I have a lot of questions about the Dallas Stars, but Jake Oettinger could answer a few of them. I have even more questions about the Vegas Golden Knights, and I’m not sure who I should even direct them to. While I hope Jack Eichel has a great season and finally leads a team to the playoffs, I liked the Predators’ offseason more, and I might like the Canucks as a bubble team more than I like the Golden Knights.

    - Sara Civian

Don't Expect Jack Eichel and the Golden Knights in the Playoffs This Year

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    Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) plays against the Los Angeles Kings in an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
    It might be another of missing out on the playoffs for the Golden Knights' Jack Eichel. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    Eastern Conference

    Metropolitan Division

    Carolina Hurricanes
    New York Rangers
    Pittsburgh Penguins

    Atlantic Division
    Tampa Bay Lighting
    Florida Panthers
    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Wild Cards
    Washington Capitals
    Boston Bruins

    In most seasons, at least one or two teams across the NHL bounce back and make the playoffs after missing out the previous year. This season will be an exception in the Eastern Conference. I don't see any of last year's playoff teams falling off, nor do I see any of the non-playoff teams making a big enough jump.

    There was an enormous gap between the eight playoff teams and the non-playoff teams in the East last year. While that gap is going to close in some cases, it won't be enough to change the playoff landscape.

    Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida still look like contenders, the Rangers have a game-changing goalie who will keep them afloat no matter what else happens, and I am not ready to write off Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrice Bergeron.

    Bubble Teams

    While I don't expect the eight playoff teams to change much, there will be some tighter races this season because many teams around the East did improve.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets overachieved last year and stayed in the race for a while despite not having strong goaltending. If Elvis Merzlikins can rebound and free-agent addition Johnny Gaudreau has a big year, the Blue Jackets could be a fascinating team to watch.

    The same is true for the Ottawa Senators, who made a considerable effort to get better this offseason with the additions of Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux and Cam Talbot. The Senators have what could be one of the best top-six forward groupings in the league, but depth and defense will hold them back.

    Then there are the Detroit Red Wings. They were one of the busiest teams in the league this offseason and tried to build around their young core of Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider and Dylan Larkin. They'll be under pressure to take a big step forward, and they will, but it won't be enough to get into the playoffs.

    Western Conference

    Central
    Colorado Avalanche
    Minnesota Wild
    Dallas Stars

    Pacific
    Calgary Flames
    Los Angeles Kings
    Vancouver Canucks

    Wild Cards
    Edmonton Oilers
    St. Louis Blues

    Colorado is still the class of the NHL. I would not rule out a potential repeat Stanley Cup run.

    I still expect the Wild to make the playoffs, but they will take a step backward after losing Kevin Fiala and Cam Talbot and not having the salary-cap space to replace them. Dallas is extremely top-heavy, but it is top-heavy in all of the right places with a great first line, a great No. 1 defender and an outstanding goalie.

    You have to give the Flames a ton of credit for losing their two best players in the offseason and somehow managing to come back with a roster that might be even better than it was last year. The Kings took a huge step forward last year to make the playoffs, and the addition of Fiala and some potential breakouts from their young players might elevate them to contender status this year.

    Vancouver looked like a completely different team under Bruce Boudreau a year ago. With him back behind the bench for a full season, the Canucks should be able to make up that small gap in the Pacific Division and get back in the playoffs.

    Edmonton has some depth and defense concerns, and I am not quite sold on Jack Campbell in goal, but it should absolutely still be a playoff team thanks to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Blues are going to have to scramble to make the playoffs after some big free-agent losses, but they should still have enough to sneak in.

    Bubble Teams

    You might expect the Vegas Golden Knights to bounce back, but I don't see it happening. The Golden Knights lost a lot of firepower when they salary-dumped Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov for nothing, and they now have to ride into the season with a completely unproven goaltending duo. Being healthier might help, but injuries were not their only problem last year. They have real concerns.

    The Nashville Predators have been a playoff team the past few years, but there are some cracks in the foundation. I'm not sure that Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene will duplicate what they did a year ago.

    - Adam Gretz

Don't Expect Jack Eichel and the Golden Knights in the Playoffs This Year

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    Vegas Golden Knights center Jack Eichel (9) plays against the Los Angeles Kings in an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
    It might be another of missing out on the playoffs for the Golden Knights' Jack Eichel. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    Eastern Conference

    Metropolitan Division

    Carolina Hurricanes
    New York Rangers
    Pittsburgh Penguins

    Atlantic Division

    Tampa Bay Lighting
    Florida Panthers
    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Wild Cards

    Washington Capitals
    Boston Bruins

    In most seasons there is always at least one or two teams across the league that are able to bounce back and make the playoffs after missing the previous year. This season will be an exception in the Eastern Conference because I don't see any of last year's playoff teams falling off, nor do I see any of the non-playoff teams making a big enough jump.

    There was such an enormous gap between the eight playoff teams and the non-playoff teams in the East last year, and while that gap is going to close in some cases, it is simply not going to be enough to change the playoff landscape. Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Florida still look like contenders, the Rangers have a game-changing goalie that is going to keep them afloat no matter what else happens, and I am simply not ready to write off Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Patrice Bergeron.

    Bubble Teams

    While I don't expect the eight playoff teams to change much, there will be some tighter races this season because many teams around the East DID improve. Columbus overachieved last year and stayed in the race for a while despite not having strong goaltending. If Elvis Merzlikins can rebound, and they get a big year from free agent addition Johnny Gaudreau, they could be a fascinating team to watch. The same is true for Ottawa, which actually made a considerable effort to get better this offseason with the additions of Alex DeBrincat, Claude Giroux, and Cam Talbot. They have what could be one of the best top-six forward groupings in the league, but depth and defense will hold them back. Then there are the Detroit Red Wings. They were one of the busiest teams in the league this offseason and tried to build around their young core of Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider, and Dylan Larkin. There should be pressure on them to take a big step forward, and they will, but it will not be enough to get into the playoffs.

    Western Conference

    Central

    Colorado Avalanche
    Minnesota Wild
    Dallas Stars

    Pacific

    Calgary Flames
    Los Angeles Kings
    Vancouver Canucks

    Wild Cards

    Edmonton Oilers
    St. Louis Blues

    Colorado is still the class of the NHL and I would not rule out a potential repeat Stanley Cup run here. I still expect Minnesota to make the playoffs, but there will be a step backward there after losing Kevin Fiala and Cam Talbot and not having the salary cap space to replace them. Dallas is an intriguing team because it is extremely top-heavy, but it is a top-heavy team in all of the right places with a great first line, a great No. 1 defender, and an outstanding goalie.

    You have to give the Flames a ton of credit for losing its two best players in the offseason and somehow managing to come back with a roster that might be even better than it was a year ago. The Kings took a huge step forward last year to make the playoffs, and this year the addition of Fiala and some potential breakouts from their young players might elevate them to contender status. Vancouver looked like a completely different team under Bruce Boudreau a year ago, and with him back behind the bench for a full season they should be able to make up that small gap in the Pacific Division and get back in the playoffs. Edmonton has some depth and defense concerns, and I am not quite sold on Jack Campbell in goal, but it should absolutely still be a playoff team thanks to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Blues are going to have to scramble to make the playoffs after some big free agent losses, but they should still have enough to sneak in.

    Bubble Teams

    Vegas would be the team you might expect a bounce back from, but I do not see it happening. The Golden Knights lost a lot of firepower with Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov being salary dumped for nothing, and now they have to ride into the season with a completely unproven goaltending duo. Being healthier might help, but injuries were not the only problem here a year ago. They have real concerns. Nashville is another interesting team because they have been a playoff team the past few years, but there are some cracks in the foundation and I am not sure we are going to see Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Matt Duchene duplicate what they did a year ago.

    - Adam Gretz

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