8 Bold Predictions for the Rest of the 2022 NHL Season

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2022

8 Bold Predictions for the Rest of the 2022 NHL Season

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    The NHL's 2022 trade deadline has passed and the final month of the regular season is upon us. From now until the schedule ends Apr. 29, playoff-bound clubs will jockey for home-ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference, meanwhile, a handful of teams will battle for the final postseason berths.

    Edmonton Oilers superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will try to pull away from the pack in the race for the Art Ross Trophy. Meanwhile, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews leads the chase for the Maurice Richard Trophy, becoming the first player to score 50 goals this season. Those players could become the favorites to win the Hart Memorial Trophy.

    Meanwhile, some of the top teams in the league will be considered Stanley Cup favorites. The Colorado Avalanche top the list as they appear certain to win the Presidents' Trophy for the second straight season. Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers are dominating the Eastern Conference.

    While these situations could play out in an unsurprising fashion, anything can happen down the stretch and into the postseason. There could be an upset winner for the Stanley Cup, a club outside the playoff picture could rise up and secure a berth by season's end, or there could be an unexpected winner of an individual award.

    Here are our eight bold predictions for how the remainder of this season shakes out. Feel free to express your views on these topics in the comments section below.

Arizona Coyotes Trade Jakob Chychrun To the Detroit Red Wings

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    On March 13, we suggested the Arizona Coyotes ship Jakob Chychrun to the Detroit Red Wings as a "win-win" move we'd like to see at the March 21 NHL trade deadline. While that deal didn't materialize, we predict this trade takes place before the end of June since trades are still allowed between non-playoff clubs.

    According to GOPHNX.com's Craig Morgan, Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong intends to entertain offers for Chychrun during the offseason. The Red Wings possess depth in promising young players and prospects to make a competitive bid for the 23-year-old defenseman. Armstrong could also prefer moving Chychrun to an Eastern Conference club like the Wings.

    Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman has been patiently rebuilding with promising talent but could use an established NHL player to accelerate the process. Chychrun is young enough and carries an affordable $4.6 million cap hit through 2024-25 to be a key part of the Wings' future. He would also provide invaluable left-side depth alongside Moritz Seider on Detroit's top defense pairing.

    Chychrun to the Wings feels like a perfect fit. Armstrong is seeking a significant return, but Yzerman might be able to meet it. An offer of Detroit's 2022 first-round pick, prospect Simon Edvinsson and winger Filip Zadina might get the ball rolling here.

Winnipeg Jets Clinch a Playoff Berth

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    The Winnipeg Jets find themselves in a tight battle with the Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights for a wild-card berth in the Western Conference. With 76 points as of March 31, they sit six points behind the Predators and three points behind the Stars, who hold those final two playoff spots.

    Nevertheless, the Jets could be poised to surge into a playoff berth by season's end. They've won seven of their last 10 games to remain within striking distance of the Predators and Stars in the Central Division. Overtaking one or both could ensure they secure a post-season berth, especially if they can also overtake the Golden Knights in the race for a wild-card spot.

    Several of the Jets' leading scorers have stepped up their performances in recent games. Leading scorer Kyle Connor is enjoying a career-best 82 point performance while center Mark Scheifele and winger Blake Wheeler had 21 and 19 points in March, respectively. Nikolaj Ehlers' return from a knee injury provided a welcome boost to their offense, while former Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck is still capable of stealing games.

    It's still an uphill battle for the Jets as they jostle with clubs every bit as determined to reach the postseason. Given their recent performance and the strong play of their core leaders, they have what it takes to catch up with their opponents and end a difficult season by clinching one of the last playoff spots in the West.

Vancouver Canucks Trade Brock Boeser to the New Jersey Devils

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    Brock Boeser is due to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in July. The 25-year-old winger's annual average value is $5.9 million but he earns $7.5 million in actual salary for this season. It will cost the Vancouver Canucks that much to qualify his rights, which could lead to Boeser getting traded to the New Jersey Devils before the playoffs end in late June.

    Boeser became the subject of trade rumors leading up to the March 21 trade deadline. Because of his RFA status, the Canucks weren't under pressure to move him by that date. However, they have to submit that qualifying offer by July 11 or risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent unless the two sides agree to a new contract with a lower annual salary before then.

    With $69.1 million already invested in 12 active roster players next season, Boeser's $7.5 million will take a big chunk out of their remaining cap space. If he won't accept a lower salary, the Canucks could be forced to trade him before July 11. On March 13, we suggested a win-win trade scenario where the Canucks ship Boeser to the Devils for a return that includes Pavel Zacha.

    This move would tie in with a Feb. 12 report by Sportsnet's Jeff Marek claiming the Canucks had an interest in the 24-year-old Zacha. The Devils have the cap space to pay Boeser a big raise, providing them with a top-six scoring winger to skate alongside Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes. The Canucks would receive a more affordable and versatile forward who might benefit from a change of scenery.

Johnny Gaudreau Signs With the Flames

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    Since making his full-time NHL debut with the Calgary Flames in 2014-15, Johnny Gaudreau is their leading scorer during that period with 200 goals, 384 assists and 584 points. The 28-year-old left winger is slated to become an unrestricted free agent but he won't test the market. Instead, he'll opt for an eight-year extension well before then with the Flames.

    The Flames' early-playoff exits during Gaudreau's tenure in Calgary at times made him the subject of criticism. On Jan. 31, Sportsnet's Eric Francis noted the summer debates among Flames followers about whether the winger should be traded. Completing a six-year contract worth an annual cap hit of $6.75 million, Gaudreau will be expensive to re-sign given his status among this season's leading scorers.

    However, Francis pointed out that Gaudreau and his wife love living in Calgary. He's thrived this season under head coach Darryl Sutter, who told the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson he considers the winger to be his best checker. With 91 points, the Flames star is poised to eclipse his career-best 99-point performance in 2018-19. He's become an important part of a club that could be a serious Stanley Cup contender.

    Gaudreau and Flames general manager Brad Treliving have kept mum on the status of contract negotiations. Treliving also has forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane to re-sign this summer. Nevertheless, he cannot let his franchise player skate away to free agency. Expect Gaudreau to ink an eight-year deal worth $10 million annually before the end of the playoffs in late June.

Roman Josi Wins the Norris Trophy

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar was runner-up last season to the New York Rangers' Adam Fox for the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Leading all blueliners with 18 goals and sitting among the top-five with 44 points in 40 games by Feb. 6, the 23-year-old Makar appeared to have the race for the Norris sewn up.

    Entering the final weeks of the regular season, however, Makar has been overtaken by Roman Josi. Winner of the Norris in 2019-20, the 31-year-old Nashville Predators captain has taken over the scoring lead among blueliners with 81 points in 65 games, six ahead of the second-place Makar. At his current rate of production, he has a shot at becoming the first NHL defenseman to reach 100 points since Brian Leetch in 1991-92.

    Apart from eclipsing his previous career-best of 65 points, Josi is Nashville's scoring leader and is also among the league's top-10 scorers. He also leads the Predators with 25 minutes and 19 seconds of ice time per game and 109 blocked shots, as well as sitting third in takeaways with 38.

    Josi was already among the league's best defensemen by the mid-point of this season. His offensive surge during the second half, however, is nothing short of amazing, tallying 52 of his 81 points over 35 games since Jan. 1. If he reaches 100 points, the Norris Trophy will be his.

Igor Shesterkin Wins The Hart Trophy

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Over the past 20 years, only two goaltenders have won the Hart Memorial Trophy. Both were Montreal Canadiens, with Jose Theodore receiving the honor in 2002 and Carey Price in 2015. This year, the New York Rangers' Igor Shesterkin will get the nod, becoming the first Ranger to win since Mark Messier in 1992 and the first Blueshirts goalie since Chuck Raynor in 1950.

    The case can be made that the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid is deserving of the honor as he's on pace to win his fourth Art Ross Trophy. Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews would be worthy of the nod as he's on track to win his second straight Richard Trophy. Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau and Florida Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau would also be worthy candidates.

    However, none of these players have been more valuable to their respective teams than Shesterkin. The 26-year-old goalie is a favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, leading the league among starters with at least 30 games played with a .936 save percentage, sitting second in goals-against average (2.11) and among the league leaders with 32 wins.

    The Rangers significantly improved this season, going from a rebuilding club into a top-four team in the Eastern Conference. Much of that success is attributable to Shesterkin, The Blueshirts are 17th in goals-per-game (3.04) while giving up 31.6 shots-against per game but their 2.59 goals-against per game is the league's third-best thanks to their starting goaltender's outstanding performance.

Minnesota Wild Reach the Stanley Cup Final

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin was busy in the week entering the March 21 trade deadline. He acquired goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, defenseman Jacob Middleton and forwards Tyson Jost and Nicolas Deslauriers. Thanks to those moves, the Wild have the depth to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

    Those deals indicate Guerin is going for it this season because he'll face a salary-cap crunch over the next three seasons preventing him from making significant additions to his roster. Last summer's contract buyouts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will take up $12.7 million of cap room in 2022-23, followed by $14.7 million in 2023-24 and 2024-25.

    Fleury is a proven playoff performer with three Stanley Cup rings on his resume. Middleton played top-four minutes as a stay-at-home defenseman with the Sharks, Jost is a two-way forward who can play center or wing while Deslauriers is a rugged checking-line forward. The styles of play of those three skaters are best suited for the slower, physical pace of postseason hockey.

    The Wild possess a strong first line featuring rising superstar Kirill Kaprizov and veteran winger Mats Zuccarello and a solid blueline core led by Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin. With their recent additions, the Wild have a cast that should surprise in this year's postseason. For those who think that's impossible, remember the same thing was said about the underdog Montreal Canadiens last year.

Toronto Maple Leafs Win The Stanley Cup

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    It's become something of a punchline to suggest that this will be the year the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Their last championship was 55 years ago and they haven't won a playoff series since 2004. The Leafs held a 3-1 series lead last year over the Montreal Canadiens before being upset in seven games.

    This simply means the Leafs are beyond overdue to go all the way. Motivated by their early playoff exits of the past five years and stocked with considerable talent, this really is the year they finally end their long Stanley Cup drought.

    Led by 50-goal scorer Auston Matthews, the Leafs pack an offensive wallop with notable scorers such as Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander. They bolstered their defense by acquiring Mark Giordano before the trade deadline and will soon get Jake Muzzin back from injury. Goaltender Jack Campbell should regain his strong first-half form when he returns from a rib injury.

    Put it all together, and the Leafs have what it takes to go all the way. They have learned from the painful lessons of their postseason failures. Spurred along by a fan base starving for playoff success, the Leafs will finally bring home the Stanley Cup this year. After all, that drought's got to end sometime.


    Stats (as of March 31, 2022) via NHL.com, salary info via Cap Friendly with additional information via Hockey-Reference.com