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

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2021

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

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    Our intrepid B/R NHL staff predicted which teams will win their respective divisions last week. We're taking it one step further this week and projecting the 16 teams that will make the postseason.

    A return to standard divisional play this season means the top three teams in each division will earn a playoff berth, with the wild cards going to the next two best teams in the conference.

    Will the retooled Blackhawks get back into the postseason? Can the Rangers under new head coach Gerard Gallant return to the playoffs? Find out as our writers pick the teams they think will be playing meaningful games in May and beyond.

    Don't agree with our writers' selections? Sound off on who you think will make the playoffs in the comments below!

Abbey Mastracco's Playoff Predictions

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    Eastern Conference

    Tampa Bay Lightning

    New York Islanders

    Florida Panthers

    Carolina Hurricanes

    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Boston Bruins

    New York Jersey Devils

    Washington Capitals

                              

    We used to be able to pencil in a Pens-Caps series every spring. Now it's an Isles-Lightning series. We're looking at the potential for a third straight Tampa Bay-New York Eastern Conference Final.

    If there is one thing I've learned covering hockey, it's to never underestimate a Barry Trotz-coached team. Defensemen Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech established themselves as stars during the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff run, Mathew Barzal has been a star since he entered the league in 2018 and a healthy Anders Lee is set to return.

    This Lightning roster might look different than the one that won the Stanley Cup the last two years in a row, but the core remains the same. Nikita Kucherov is a deadly playoff weapon, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is a brick wall, Vezina-caliber goalie. Plus, Tampa Bay has Patrick Maroon, who has somehow become the good luck charm in the Stanley Cup Final.

    The Bruins are lacking depth up the middle with David Krejci playing in his native Czech Republic, but they should still be one of the better teams in the conference, especially if goalie Jeremy Swayman locks it down in net.

    Alex Ovechkin could score 40 goals in a season at age 36 and no one would be surprised. There are legitimate questions about whether or not the window of contention has closed, but as long as Ovi, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and John Carlson are around, the club will try to keep it open. 

    The Maple Leafs have the firepower to win the Presidents' Trophy, but it all will be for naught if they don't make out it out of the first round. 

    The Hurricanes lost defenseman Dougie Hamilton to another team in the Metropolitan Division, the Devils. New Jersey could end up being a scrappy playoff team because of him, especially if Jack Hughes can take a big step forward in his development.

    Where are the Devils going to find scoring? Remember this name: Yegor Sharangovich. 

            

    Bubble Teams

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to start the season. Few teams are built to withstand the loss of two top stars. Plus, the goaltending tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith has not proven to be an elite one. The Penguins bet big on Jarry instead of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, but they may have chosen the wrong goalie. 

    The Montreal Canadiens made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final, but they'll have a more difficult time repeating that feat this season. Franchise stalwarts Carey Price and Shea Weber have some serious injury issues, and while young talent like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield will be fun to watch, they may not be enough. 

    The Metropolitan Division is tough, and it could easily be the New York Rangers or the Philadelphia Flyers going in place of the Devils. But the Rangers added toughness over skill, and there are too many question marks surrounding the Flyers. 

                          

    Western Conference

    Colorado Avalanche

    Vegas Golden Knights

    Edmonton Oilers

    Minnesota Wild

    Winnipeg Jets

    Dallas Stars

    St. Louis Blues

    Los Angeles Kings

                         

    The Western Conference has some high-end teams with the Avs and Golden Knights, but the level of competition drops off after that. Nathan MacKinnon will be hungry, and if Cale Makar keeps playing at a point-per-game pace, then he may finally win that Norris and lead Colorado to a Stanley Cup. 

    The Minnesota Wild have been perennial also-rans for several years, but now they have Kirill Kaprizov, and he could spur a long-awaited playoff run. 

    Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be enough to get the Oilers to the playoffs, but will it be enough to make up for shaky goaltending? Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen did combine for a .912 save percentage last season, but is it feasible for them to do the same at ages 39 and 33?

    Speaking of goalies, finally the Jets gave Connor Hellebuyck some help by fortifying their blue line with Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt. Winnipeg also has two true scoring lines, so it should be better equipped to keep the puck in the offensive zone. 

    Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov are healthy again, which will be a huge boost for Dallas, especially on the power play. The Stars also have a Norris Trophy candidate in Miro Heiskanen. 

    The St. Louis Blues should be able to take advantage of a bad division. But the wild card here is the Los Angeles Kings. 

    The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks might be ready for the postseason again, but a lot of the success hinges on Jonathan Toews, and there is still no timeline for his return. The Kings have an excellent coach in Todd McLellan, veterans who know how to win in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, depth up the middle with Phillip Danault and a crop of kids ready to make waves in the NHL. 

                        

    Bubble Teams

    The Nashville Predators might be facing a rebuild. Ryan Ellis is gone and so is Viktor Arvidsson. It's tough to know how much they can get from veterans like Matt Duchene. John Hynes is a coach who doesn't back down, and they do have a good goalie in Juuse Saros, so at the very least, Nashville will be in the mix playing competitive games until the end. 

    The Pacific Division is downright bad. The Anaheim Ducks are rebuilding, the window of contention for the San Jose Sharks is firmly closed and the Vancouver Canucks will likely start the season without their two top players, restricted free agents Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson, who are sitting out of training camp without contracts. The Seattle Kraken may surprise, because, as we've come to learn, anything is possible from these expansion teams, but the team is still in the building process. 

Lyle Fitzsimmons' Playoff Predictions

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    Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

    Eastern Conference

    Tampa Bay Lightning

    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Carolina Hurricanes

    Florida Panthers

    Boston Bruins

    Washington Capitals

    New York Islanders

    Montreal Canadiens

                     

    It's the Lightning's conference, and the rest of the East is chasing the champs from Tampa. While teams like the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes have aspirations of knocking them off, Jon Cooper's team still has the advantage over everyone else.

    Sure, they've won two in a row. Sure, they've lost some vital role players. But the Bolts still have scoring and defense and money goaltending. You tell them they can't win again.

    They'll be challenged by Toronto in the Atlantic. The Maple Leafs have put their fans through a requisite amount of angst. Fifty-four years' worth, in fact. Last year was awful, but it says here it'll pay off in 2022.

    Florida will also be in contention in the Atlantic and could be a dark horse in the division. Don't look now, but metropolitan Miami is becoming an important hockey destination. It's not McDavid and Draisaitl, but Huberdeau and Barkov are awfully good. The Panthers will be, too.

    Window open? Window closed? I guess we'll all find out in the spring, but the Bruins will at least start the season as a worthy contender in the East. They have guys who know how to win.

    From the brink of a Stanley Cup to a missed playoff berth? No, we're not ready to go there. But the Canadiens will be neck-and-neck at the back end of the Eastern pack.

    Meanwhile, in the Metropolitan, Carolina has had some changes in the offseason. Farewell, Dougie Hamilton. Farewell, goaltending tandem. While the departures column has a lot of names, the Hurricanes have the elite young talent to stay top-shelf.

    For Washington, Alex Ovechkin is a great place to start. If you're within shouting distance of a Wayne Gretzky record, you're a must-see. Enough veteran quality exists to make the Capitals a factor.

    After reaching the conference finals the last two seasons, the Islanders look to take the final step this season. Do I think they'll be a final four team again this year? No. But a sound system is in place, and it's had proven results for Barry Trotz. The Isles will be greater than the sum of their parts.

                    

    Bubble Teams

    The Rangers are a team on the rise. It wouldn't be stunning to see them switch places with the Canadiens or whoever else is in the running for eighth, but it may be a year too soon.

    Pittsburgh had a chance to make a run last spring and missed it, and the fall will be swift and dramatic. Not having Evgeni Malkin doesn't help the team's case as a contender.

    The bubble stretches to the other side of Pennsylvania, where the Flyers aren't an automatic out but are probably not quite good enough across the board. But if Carter Hart is stellar, they're in.

                  

    Western Conference

    Colorado Avalanche

    Vegas Golden Knights

    Edmonton Oilers

    Winnipeg Jets

    Dallas Stars

    Minnesota Wild

    Vancouver Canucks

    Chicago Blackhawks

                    

    Once again, the top two contenders will be Colorado and Vegas. It's hard to see another team coming close to the top two in the West.

    For Colorado, what's not to like? The Avalanche have everything a team could want outside of a Stanley Cup in recent years. If the goaltending holds up, Colorado will be a major factor come springtime.

    The Golden Knights have done everything an expansion team could want in their first four years in the league, but now that the Kraken have arrived, it's time to graduate. Vegas will be in the mix.

    In Edmonton, it starts with Nos. 97 and 29. (That's Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to us mortals.) But Ken Holland has worked overtime since the inglorious first-round exit at the sticks and skates of the Winnipeg Jets. This season will provide the fruits of his labor.

    Looking for a team to come from the pack and win it all? Look no further than southern Manitoba. The Jets have front-line skill, blue-line quality and a star in goal. Goodbye, Lose-i-peg.

    Not many teams had it worse than the Stars in 2020-21, thanks to COVID-19 and rampant injuries. Tyler Seguin is healthy, and Miro Heiskanen is locked up long-term. Time for another playoff run.

    The contract impasse heard 'round the world is over, and Kirill Kaprizov is back with the Wild. If Cam Talbot can follow up a good season with another, the season in Minnesota will be entertaining.

    Speaking of teams that had it bad in 2020-21, how about the Canucks? And it's not over yet given the contracts that still need to get done. But if Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes are around, here's your surprise.

    The Blackhawks have transformed themselves for 2021-22, and it'll mean good things at the end of the season. Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury are great, but Jonathan Toews puts Chicago over the top.

                  

    Bubble Teams

    The Blues are on the far side of championship contention these days, but the good news is they got their title when the window was open. There's a pretty good baseball team in town, too.

    Calgary could probably finish as high as a third seed if everything goes well or sit in 10th if it doesn't. If it's a down year, expect big doings at the trade deadline.

    Maybe it's still the post-Vegas expansion buzz, but I look at the Kraken and see a sneaky contender for a No. 8 seed. It's the Islanders' formula of sound defense and good goaltending with just enough goals.

Lyle Richardson's Playoff Predictions

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    Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

    Eastern Conference

    Tampa Bay Lightning

    New York Islanders

    Florida Panthers

    Carolina Hurricanes

    Toronto Maple Leafs

    Boston Bruins

    New York Rangers

    Washington Capitals

                        

    Led by Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Victor Hedman and Brayden Point, the defending Stanley Cup champs should challenge for top spot in the conference.

    The Islanders would skate through a wall for head coach Barry Trotz. Their offense remains an issue but their suffocating team defense should keep them among the East's best.

    A rising force in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers possess a potent scoring punch featuring Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

    The Hurricanes have two scoring lines led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Their solid defense should offset the departure of Dougie Hamilton.

    Leafs scorers Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander will ensure they'll clinch a postseason berth despite lingering questions about their goaltending.

    The Bruins will miss sidelined goalie Tuukka Rask and departed center David Krejci. Led by Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, they have sufficient depth to reach the playoffs.

    A change in management and coaching should shake up the rebuilding Rangers. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox should lead them into postseason contention.

    Veterans stars like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson should help the Capitals overcome their questionable goaltending.

                          

    Bubble Teams

    Repeating last spring's overachievement will be difficult for the Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens. Blueline stalwart and captain Shea Weber is expected to be sidelined for the season, while the departures of Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi could hurt their depth at center.

    The goaltending tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith remains a question mark for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Center Evgeni Malkin will miss the first two months of the season recovering from knee surgery.

    A summer of offseason changes for the Philadephia Flyers brought in Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson. However, that might not be enough if starting goalie Carter Hart struggles again.

                       

    Western Conference

    Colorado Avalanche

    Vegas Golden Knights

    Edmonton Oilers

    Minnesota Wild

    Winnipeg Jets

    Dallas Stars

    St. Louis Blues

    Chicago Blackhawks

                       

    Superstars like Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar could have the Avalanche in line to win their second straight Presidents' Trophy.

    The lack of an established first-line center could hurt the Golden Knights' power this season. Still, they have a talented roster core led by Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Alex Pietrangelo.

    The one-two punch of superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl carried the Oilers into the 2021 playoffs despite their questionable goaltending. They should be able to do it again.

    While the Wild's center depth is a concern, they have good goaltending and a solid defense, plus a superstar on the rise in winger Kirill Kaprizov.

    The Jets' improved blue-line depth will ease goaltender Connor Hellebuyck's workload. They also possess two strong scoring lines featuring Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor.

    A healthy Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov plus a deep defense core should help the Stars bounce back from missing the 2021 playoffs.

    No longer a Stanley Cup contender, the Blues still have enough skilled depth and the leadership of captain Ryan O'Reilly to make the cut this season.

    The return of Jonathan Toews plus offseason acquisitions Marc-Andre Fleury and Seth Jones could turn the rebuilding Blackhawks into a wild-card club.

                   

    Bubble Teams

    The Nashville Predators could be starting a rebuild after trading away Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson this summer and amid the decline of center Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen.

    A quiet offseason for the Calgary Flames means they're going into this season with pretty much the same roster that fell short last season. Losing Mark Giordano in the expansion draft robs them of leadership and a reliable blueline presence.

    The Los Angeles Kings showed promising improvement last season but faded down the stretch. Adding Phillip Danault should help, but this rebuilding club could use another year before it becomes a full-fledged contender.

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