NHL Preseason Predictions Already Looking Foolish in 2015-16

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2015

NHL Preseason Predictions Already Looking Foolish in 2015-16

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    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    At the start of every NHL season, many pundits and fans make predictions over how they expect the coming campaign to unfold. Some can seem like a sure thing, like forecasting Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel (pictured above) meshing well as linemates. When that failed to happen, however, the prognosticators looked foolish. 

    That's not the only preseason prediction that failed to pan out. Others include Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien being the first bench boss to be fired and the Calgary Flames projected to significantly improve. 

    Here's a look at several NHL preseason predictions already looking foolish in 2015-16. As always, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Claude Julien Will Be the First Coach Fired

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Boston Bruins' offseason front-office shakeup prompted many observers to speculate over Claude Julien's ongoing tenure as head coach. His future was uncertain until June, when Bruins management confirmed his return as head coach. As the season began, pundits, including TSN's Frank Seravalli, predicted Julien would become the first NHL coach to be fired. 

    When the Bruins dropped their first three games of this season, Julien's days behind their bench seemed numbered. However, they quickly rebounded and are currently in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Meanwhile, it was Todd Richards of the Columbus Blue Jackets who became the first NHL coach to lose his job.

    Despite the Bruins' improvement since early October, Julien's future with the club likely remains tied to its performance over the course this season. Should the B's miss the playoffs again, or suffer another early postseason exit, Julien could be replaced. 

The Columbus Blue Jackets Will Reach the Playoffs

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Injuries devastated the Columbus Blue Jackets' lineup last season, costing them a playoff berth. Outlets such as TSN and The Hockey News predicted the Jackets, with a healthier roster stocked with rising young talent, could reach the playoffs in 2016.  

    A 0-7-0 start, however, put the Jackets into an early-season hole. It resulted in John Tortorella replacing Todd Richards as head coach. While the Jackets are 9-7-0 after 16 games under Tortorella, they remain at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. 

    Several unexpected developments are making the prognosticators look bad in hindsight. Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky got off to a horrible start, the defense struggled early and last season's leading scorer, Nick Foligno, has only 10 points in 23 games.  

    The Jackets could rally back into playoff contention, but they must play better than .500 hockey over the rest of the season. That could be an unobtainable goal.

The Calgary Flames Will Improve in 2015-16

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Despite lousy enhanced stats, the Calgary Flames confounded experts last season by reaching the playoffs. As a result, pundits such as TSN's Frank Seravalli and NHL.com's Dan Rosen predicted the Flames would improve in 2015-16. Among the reasons cited by Rosen was the offseason addition of Dougie Hamilton to their blue line. Seravalli also expected team captain Mark Giordano to win the James Norris Memorial Trophy

    They probably wish they could redo those predictions, as the Flames are near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Like last season, they're among the league's worst puck-possession clubs. Giordano looks nothing like a Norris contender, while Hamilton is struggling to adjust to his new team. The Flames also have horrible goaltending, and they're lacking secondary scoring depth. 

    While the Flames could still turn things around, they can't afford to waste time. The longer they go without gaining ground in the standings, the more likely they'll finish outside this season's playoff picture. 

The Montreal Canadiens Could Regress

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Thanks largely to the incredible goaltending of Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens reached 50 wins and topped the Atlantic Division last season. However, they were among the league's lowest-scoring teams and their defensive numbers were dreadful. The Hockey News, ESPN.com and The Score projected the Habs could regress in 2015-16.

    As of Nov. 26, the Canadiens are perched atop the Eastern Conference and the league's overall standings. They possess the league's best offense, while their defensive game is significantly better. Not even losing Price for nine games to a lower-body injury slowed them, going 5-2-2 in his absence. 

    The Canadiens do face some difficulties. They lack scoring depth at right wing and recently lost Brendan Gallagher for six weeks following hand surgery. Price also re-aggravated his injury in their Nov. 25 win over the New York Rangers. But with their overall performance showing no sign of decline, predictions of regression by the Canadiens appear premature. 

The Calder Trophy Race Will Be a Two-Player Show

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    When this season began, many experts predicted Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Buffalo Sabres pivot Jack Eichel (pictured above) were the only serious candidates to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. Sites such as ESPN.com and NHL.com believed this was a race between the top two picks in the 2015 NHL draft. 

    It's since become apparent this season's rookie crop is deeper and more talented than predicted by the forecasters. Chicago Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin, Arizona Coyotes forward Max Domi, Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin and St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko are among the notables currently leading Eichel in rookie scoring.

    If not for a broken clavicle, perhaps McDavid would be the top candidate for rookie of the year honors. At the time of his injury, however, Pararin, Domi and Larkin were jockeying with him for the rookie scoring lead. McDavid and Eichel are terrific young players with bright futures, but it was a mistake to dismiss the other rookies' chances of competing for the Calder Trophy. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning Will Top the Eastern Conference

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    In 2014-15, the Tampa Bay Lightning were the NHL's highest-scoring team. They rode that potent offense all the way to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. Experts from The Hockey News, Sportsnet, ESPN.com and NHL.com predicted they would top the Atlantic Division in 2015-16. Some also expected they would dominate the Eastern Conference and perhaps go all the way to a championship.

    Those experts are likely as puzzled as Lightning fans over the club's surprisingly slow start to this season. Rather than dominating their division and conference, the Bolts find themselves battling for a wild-card berth. Their once-mighty offense is among the league's worst. Apart from captain Steven Stamkos, all of their top scorers are underachieving.  

    Playing in the Stanley Cup Final meant a shorter-than-usual offseason for the Lightning. That could explain their present scoring struggles. Whatever the reason, they'll need a significant turnaround over the rest of this season to prove the prognosticators right. 

The Anaheim Ducks Are Stanley Cup Contenders

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Experts among a number of hockey media sites, including The Hockey News, TSN and Sportsnet, picked the Anaheim Ducks to win the Stanley Cup in 2016. Among the reasons cited were superstar forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, their mobile young defense corps and rising talent, including winger Jakob Silfverberg.

    As of Nov. 26, however, the Ducks look anything like Cup contenders. They're currently sitting outside the Western Conference playoff picture. Perched near the bottom of the league in scoring, the Ducks popgun offense is largely to blame for their early-season woes. Getzlaf and Perry have struggled, while Silfverberg is showing no signs of his anticipated offensive breakout. 

    As Getzlaf and Perry go, so go the Ducks. Of late, the two stars seem to be regaining their scoring touch. The Ducks have sufficient talent to overcome their current woes and should contend for a playoff berth. At this point, however, those preseason predictions of a championship ring hollow. 

Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel Will Be a Scoring Machine

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    By acquiring forward Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer, the Pittsburgh Penguins seemingly found the perfect scoring winger for playmaking center Sidney Crosby. On Oct. 5, Sportsnet revealed many members of its staff predicted Kessel would net over 40 goals this season. On Sep. 29, CBS Sports' Chris Peters reported oddmakers at Bovada projected Crosby would win the scoring title.

    Now past the quarter mark of the schedule, Crosby and Kessel are no longer linemates. Both are off to slow starts to this season and are nowhere near the league's leading scorers. Kessel's on pace for a 27-goal season, while Crosby is on track for a career-worst 50 points over a full NHL season. 

    Putting Crosby and Kessel on the same line seemed a surefire offensive fit, but the duo simply failed to click. Crosby appeared to expend too much effort trying to set up Kessel, while the latter had difficulty handling those passes. It's a reminder that throwing two talented scoring forwards together doesn't always guarantee offensive chemistry. 

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