The 2017 NHL season had its ups and downs, but the playoffs and the sensations of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews made it a much more memorable year than the yawnfester that was 2016.
This past season saw the Nashville Predators go on a Cinderella run that nearly resulted in a championship, but the Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team in 19 years to successfully defend its Stanley Cup. The rise of young stars, the postseason and the terrific Final made 2017 one exciting year.
Last year, I made 15 bold predictions for the 2016-17 NHL season. I got 10 of them right, so why not try to aim for 20? It makes it more fun, and it gives me five extra opportunities to seem smarter than I really am.
So enjoy this upcoming 2017-18 season, and let's take a look at my 20 bold predictions. Don't take all of them seriously, because they're meant to be, well, bold.
20 Vegas Golden Knights BARELY Miss Playoffs
As everyone knows, expansion teams in any sport tend to really struggle out of the gate. They come nowhere close to competing for the playoffs, and it's usually a five-year waiting period until they become competitive. But this year's expansion draft -- along with some wheeling and dealing by general manager George McPhee -- put the Vegas Golden Knights in position to challenge for a playoff spot.
It starts in the crease, with three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury leading the way. The Golden Knights also have some perennial 20-goal scorers in their lineup, including sniper James Neal, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron and talented youngster William Karlsson.
Their defence also consists of shutdown blueliners Shea Theodore, Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt. The Golden Knights have a decent roster, and will miss the playoffs by about five points. So much for being terrible in their first year.
19 Minnesota Wild Miss the Playoffs
The Minnesota Wild looked poised to win their first-ever Presidents' Trophy in 2017, heading into March with a 41-14-6 record. But the Wild played miserable hockey down the stretch, finishing 8-11-2 to close out the regular season. They were then ousted by the St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the playoffs, ending a dream season in miserable fashion.
Minnesota also overachieved last year, with fading star Eric Staal tuning in a star-like season that won't be repeated. Goalie Devan Dubnyk played well beyond his potential for a few months, and the Wild had porous puck possession numbers that suggests they were getting real lucky.
With division rivals like the Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets getting better this offseason, the Wild are going to have it in tough. Expect them to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
18 Blackhawks Window Starts To Close
Has the Chicago Blackhawks championship window close? Their shocking first-round sweep via the Nashville Predators strongly suggests so. Chicago is full of aging veterans, and general manager Stan Bowman was once again struck by the salary cap. He had to give away Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for the younger but inferior Connor Murphy.
Bowman then traded away Russian star Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets for old friend Brandon Saad -- who doesn't have 70-point potential like the former does. It was also announced that Marian Hossa will sit out the season following allergies from his hockey equipment.
Chicago doesn't have any promising prospects coming up, and Duncan Keith (34), Brent Seabrook (32), Jonathan Toews (29), and Patrick Kane (28), aren't getting younger nor better. The Blackhawks were dominated by the younger and faster Predators in the playoffs. There are younger and faster teams in the Central, so Chicago will be eliminated again early in the playoffs -- a sign that their Cup window has all but closed.
17 San Jose Sharks Miss the Playoffs
Only the Pittsburgh Penguins have made the playoffs more than the San Jose Sharks since 2007. The Sharks have missed the postseason just once since 2003-04, a run of remarkable consistency for over a decade.
But unfortunately for the Sharks, their dominant reign has probably come to an end. Franchise legend Patrick Marleau spurned his team to sign a three-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Pacific Division is getting rapidly better via two teams from Alberta.
The Sharks now have one of the oldest teams in the NHL; Joe Thornton (38), Joe Pavelski 33), Brent Burns (32), and Joel Ward (36), aren't getting any younger, and will see their production go way down. With no prospects to draw upon, the Sharks will slow down, struggle and miss the playoffs in 2017.
16 Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick Struggle As Rookies
The New Jersey Devils drafted Nico Hischier with the top pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and the Philadelphia Flyers followed up with selecting Nolan Patrick. Though both are young players with a ton of talent, the consensus among many NHL scouts was that they aren't necessarily franchise-changing stars like Connor McDavid.
Hischier is joining a New Jersey team that doesn't have a lot of talent nor do they score a lot of goals. He's not going to have much to work with, so don't expect any flashes from him in year one.
As for Patrick, he'll likely be the third centre on a Philly team loaded with scoring forwards. He also needs time to develop his game, so don't expect a big year from Patrick either. While we're at it, let's project that Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes takes home the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
15 Victor Hedman Wins the Norris
Victor Hedman was a nominee for the Norris Trophy in 2017, alongside Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. But Burns wound up taking home the award after scoring 29 goals and 76 points. But regression is inevitable for Burns, who'll sorely miss Patrick Marleau as he heads to Toronto.
When looking at the top defencemen in the game, Hedman may be the very best. He finally broke out offensively with 16 goals and 72 points last season, and is arguably the best defensive defenceman in the game
Hedman carried the Tampa Bay Lightning without top player Steven Stamkos for much of the season. The 6-foot-6 Swede is getting better every year, and he will become the first Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner to capture the Norris Trophy.
14 Three Players Reach 100 Points
Only four players have reached the 100-point mark in the past six seasons: Connor McDavid (2017), Patrick Kane (2016), Sidney Crosby (2014), and Evgeni Malkin (2012). Obviously, scoring is down in today's NHL, but teams are smart enough to know that you can't build your whole offence around one player, either. So scoring 100 points is nearly impossible in today's NHL. Luckily for fans who love scoring, we've got three players who are ready to do it in 2017-18.
For starters, bank on reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid to do it again. Remember, he's the new best player in the NHL. No reason to believe he can't do it if he stays healthy.
Second, we'll go with Sidney Crosby, who is the second best player in the NHL. A perennial threat to hit 100 points, there's no reason why Sid can't do it again if he avoids the injuries.
Third, we'll go with Auston Matthews. 40 goals and 69 points as a rookie? The Toronto Maple Leafs added Matthews a little bit of Patrick Marleau in the offseason. Matthews has all the makings to score 100 points. So bank on it. These three stars all hit 100 points and make the NHL a lot of fun in 2018.
13 Hurricanes Return To the Postseason
The Carolina Hurricanes haven't made the playoffs since 2009, as this low market team has struggled with mediocrity year after year. But as this year's Edmonton Oilers will show you, loading up on high draft selections eventually turns you into a winner. The Hurricanes now have everything in tact to make the playoffs in 2018.
They have one of the league's best defensive cores, led by youngsters Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce. To complement that defence is newcomer Scott Darling, who shined as Corey Crawford's understudy in Chicago.
Carolina also has a great core of young forwards that includes Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen. With all this young talent in place, Carolina ends a nine-year playoff drought as they capture one of the two Eastern Conference wild card spots.
12 Steven Stamkos Wins the Rocket Richard Trophy
The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs by one single point in 2017, but it's safe to say they would have made it if Steven Stamkos didn't miss the final 65 games. He's going to be back with a full force in 2017-18, armed with a Norris hopeful in Victor Hedman and 85-point man Nikita Kucherov on his side.
Stamkos has a pair of 'Rocket Richard' Trophies to his name, having won it in 2010 (with Sidney Crosby), and 2012. With the decline of Alexander Ovechkin and with Sidney Crosby playing more as a playmaker, the Rocket Richard Trophy is for Steven Stamkos to lose.
The Lightning star will come back in 2017-18 with 47 goals, which will be good enough to win his third Rocket Richard Trophy. It'll be a wonderful year for Lightning fans as their stars collect lots of hardware.
11 Canucks Deal the Sedins
Henrik and Daniel Sedin sit first and second all-time in Vancouver Canucks franchise scoring, respectively. Each twin has won a scoring title, and they've each cemented themselves as future Hall of Famers. But the twins are entering the final years of their contracts, and the 37-year-old twins are running out of time to win a Stanley Cup championship.
Right now, the Sedins appear keen to play and wait things out in Vancouver. But the rebuilding Canucks will look to give their twins a chance to win a title, and they'll look to move them out at the deadline.
A number of teams will be interested to pick up the twins for a run at the Cup. Vancouver has no reason to keep the fading stars around as they transition into a rebuilding phase. Look for general manager Jim Benning to trade the twins to an Eastern Conference team as they chase a title together.
10 Capitals Disappoint, Begin the Rebuild
The Washington Capitals had a golden chance to finally capture the Stanley Cup together in 2017. They met the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the postseason, with the opportunity to beat a team with a banged-up Sidney Crosby that was also missing Matt Murray and Kris Letang. Yet they lost in seven games.
The salary cap wasn't fun to Washington, who got significantly worse in the offseason. Playoff hero Justin Williams returned to Carolina, while Marcus Johansson had to be shipped to New Jersey to clear salary.
Washington also lost many of their top blueliners, including Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt. So the Capitals are without two of their top forwards and three of their top-five defencemen.
The Capitals will barely qualify for the postseason, but they'll be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. As such, a major rebuild begins which will possibly see Alexander Ovechkin traded to another team.
9 Sidney Crosby Recaptures the Art Ross
Sidney Crosby has absolutely nothing left to accomplish from here on out. Just 30 years of age, there's plenty of time for him to add more to an impressive Trophy room that includes three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, two Hart Trophies and a pair of scoring titles.
But this is Sidney Crosby -- he always wants to win more. So in another typical No. 87 season, Crosby will score 40 goals and 63 points. He racks up 103 total points to steal the Art Ross Trophy right from Connor McDavid. It'll be the third Art Ross for Crosby, who somehow doesn't have more.
Crosby should stay healthy, and terrific linemates in Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel mean for another terrific year from Sid the Kid.
8 Five Head Coaches Get Fired During Season
Five NHL head coaches were fired during the 2016-17 season: Claude Julien (Boston), Gerard Gallant (Florida), Michel Therrien (Montreal), Jack Capuano (New York Islanders), and Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis). Furthermore, Vancouver, Florida, Los Angeles, Dallas, Buffalo and Arizona hired new coaches this offseason. In today's NHL, no head coach is safe at any time. Okay, maybe Mike Sullivan is.
Looking at this season, a number of head coaches are on the hot seat. I'm expecting Paul Maurice from the Winnipeg Jets to be canned, and it's shocking how it hasn't happened yet.
The Capitals will also let go of Barry Trotz as they struggle out of the gate. Colorado will let go of Jared Bednar as they prepare for a second consecutive forgetful season. New Jersey will also replace John Hynes after another slow start to the year. It'll be capped off with the Philadelphia Flyers firing Dave Hakstol as they look to get back into the postseason.
7 Six Canadian Teams Make the Playoffs
In 2017, five Canadian teams made the playoffs with only the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets missing. Those five teams from the Great White North that qualified are loaded with so much young talent, so this won't be 2016 where we went from five Canadian playoff teams one year to zero in the next.
We know the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens are two budding juggernauts. Such is life with Connor McDavid and Carey Price on your teams. The Ottawa Senators were one goal away from reaching the Eastern Conference Final, and this young team still has a lot ahead.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames are loaded with young stars, including the aforementioned Matthews, plus William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Johnny Gaudreau, Dougie Hamilton and Sean Monahan. Those two teams will get back in.
The Jets will finally qualify, thanks to young talent that consists of Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. Firing Maurice and replacing him will take the Jets to a whole new level in 2018. They nab one of the two wild card spots in the West.
6 Canucks Win the Draft Lottery
The Canucks had the third-best draft odds in 2016, and fans anticipated they'd earn the chance to draft Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine. That didn't happen, but they finished 29th in the NHL this year and figured to win the right to draft either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick.
And as luck wouldn't have it, the Canucks fell down to fifth both years, being screwed by the draft lottery two years in a row. Now on paper, the Canucks definitely aren't the worst team in the NHL. The Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes, Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres all look just as bad, if not worse.
Vancouver will finished 28th in the NHL standings, but it'll be good enough for them to win the draft lottery. As such, they'll earn the chance to draft either star defenceman Rasmus Dahlin or winger Andrei Svechnikov.
5 Dallas Stars Win the Central Division
The Stars won the Central Division in 2016 and fell within one game of reaching the Western Conference Final. But awful defence and terrible goaltending led to a non-playoff year in 2017, and general manager Jim Nill went to work as he tries to reconstruct a championship contender.
He started off the Stars offseason with a bang, signing two-time Vezina Trophy nominee Ben Bishop to a six-year deal. Nill then signed Russian sniper Alexander Radulov to a five-year deal, taking some of the pressure off of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
To shore up their defensive play, the Stars added shutdown centre Martin Hanzal and stay-at-home blueliner Marc Methot. Dallas now has an elite goalie, solid defence and a high-scoring unit. They'll rebound nicely in 2017 as they take home the Central Division.
4 Auston Matthews Wins the Hart
Though Sidney Crosby will take home the scoring title, the Hart Trophy will go to Auston Matthews. Why is that? Well, Crosby has Guentzel, Sheary, Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Matt Murray as his supporting cast. The Penguins have fared just fine without 'Sid the Kid' before.
But the Maple Leafs simply aren't the same team without Auston Matthews. Just see how he took the NHL's worst team from 2016 and turned them into a playoff squad. Matthews has a good supporting cast, sure. But they all feed off of Matthews' energy and playmaking talents.
The last Toronto Maple Leaf to win a Hart Trophy was Ted Kennedy in 1955, but things are bound to change here. Matthews leads Toronto to a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division, and takes home his first Hart Trophy as league MVP.
3 John Tavares Gets Traded at the Deadline
It's surprising and alarming that the New York Islanders haven't managed to strike a deal with John Tavares, the captain and franchise star that this team drafted with the first selection in 2009.
Tavares knows he would easily get at least $10 million a season on the open market, and more than a dozen teams would show interest in him. Does he really have a reason to stay with the Islanders? They haven't built a Stanley Cup contender around him, and the Isles are stuck in a stacked Metropolitan Division.
There are rumors that the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens would make a play for 'Johnny T'. But again, he would have so many offers in free agency. So the Islanders will want to play it safe and get something for him at the deadline. Look for Tavares to be traded for multiple assets as the Isles bid ado to their captain.
2 All-Canadian Stanley Cup Final
We haven't seen an All-Canadian Stanley Cup Final since 1989, when the Calgary Flames defeated the Montreal Canadiens in six games. And we haven't seen a Canadian team capture the Stanley Cup since 1993, so it's long overdue for the beautiful folks of Canada to see two of their teams fight for Lord Stanley's mug.
The ratings won't be fun in the United States, but now they know how Canadians have felt in seeing an All-American Final in all but four years since 1995. The 2018 Stanley Cup Final will feature the Montreal Canadiens, fueled by newcomer Jonathan Drouin and world class goalie, Carey Price.
Who will the Habs face? Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who now have what it takes to fight for a championship.
1 Oilers Win the Stanley Cup
At the end of the day, the Edmonton Oilers are the better team and will capture Canada's first Stanley Cup in 25 years. It'll also be the franchise's first championship since 1990.
When you have the best player in the world (Connor McDavid), another star (Leon Draisaitl), power forwards (Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon), a great defence (Adam Larsson, Kris Russell and Oscar Klefbom), and a standout goalie in Cam Talbot, you are the team to beat.
The Habs will use Price's hot glove to reach the Stanley Cup. But he can't stop this Oilers powerhouse on his own. Edmonton wins a thrilling series in six games, as much of Canada celebrates the country's first Stanley Cup in a quarter of a century. Rejoice, Canada.