The year of 2016 didn't exactly bring a ton of boldness when it came to the NHL season. Nobody was shocked to see the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup, there weren't many jaw-dropping trades nor offseason signings, and we can't say there are many squads surprising us this early in the season.
If the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade never happened, would we really look back on 2016 and think of it as a year of craziness? Absolutely not. But most other years, the NHL is full of unforeseen surprises. We're fully confident that the year 2017 is going to bring plenty of things you did not see coming.
There will be trades, free agent signings, retirements, playoff upsets, and many other big moves that'll change the landscape of the league. But what specifically will go down in 2017 and the remainder of this season? We take a look at 15 possible scenarios.
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15 Detroit's Playoff Streak Ends
The Detroit Red Wings hold one of the most impressive streaks in the history of sports. They've made the playoffs in the last 25 seasons which includes six trips to the Stanley Cup Final with four championships. GM Ken Holland has ignored an inevitable rebuild over the last few offseasons by bringing in expensive veterans to keep them competitive.
Well, there's a lot not going Detroit's way this season. They're one of the lowest-scoring teams (Henrik Zetterberg leads the team with just 21 points), their defence is mediocre, and the Eastern Conference looks ultra-competitive for the first time in years. It'll be a disappointing season for the Red Wings, who say good-bye to both the streak and Joe Louis Arena in 2017. Not exactly going out the right way.
14 Tampa Bay Lightning Miss the Playoffs
The Tampa Bay Lightning were two wins away from their second-ever Stanley Cup championship in 2015. Without Steven Stamkos for most of the 2016 playoffs, this team still managed to find a way into the Eastern Conference Final. Though they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games, the Lightning showed the world they're truly a force in the playoffs.
With a healthy Stamkos and Ben Bishop to open up the 2016-17 season, the Lightning were the popular pick to win the Stanley Cup. Eight experts from Sportsnet, 10 experts from NHL.com and four experts from Yahoo! picked the Lightning to win Lord Stanley's Mug.
Well, the Lightning are without Stamkos up until March. Bishop, the defence, and scoring has been lacking strongly. Like the Red Wings, Tampa's going to have it tough trying to beat out a stacked group of Eastern Conference teams. Look for the pre-season Cup pick to miss the postseason altogether.
13 Penguins Trade Marc-Andre Fleury At Deadline
The Penguins clearly prefer 22-year-old Matt Murray as their goalie of the future over a 31-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh last season while Fleury's struggles in the postseason are well-documented. However, the Pens can't expose Fleury in the Vegas Expansion Draft because of his no-movement clause. Surely, they want to protect Murray.
So Pittsburgh will look to trade Fleury at the trade deadline (we project Fleury heading to Edmonton) in order to ensure Murray stays with them. There are plenty of potential suitors: The Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets are a quality netminder away from being contenders, but the New York Islanders could also make a desperation splash.
Though it's hard to know where Fleury could go in 2016-17, one thing is for sure: He will not be a Penguin before 2017-18 starts.
12 Three More Head Coaches Get Fired
Gerard Gallant is the only NHL head coach to be fired so far in the young season; and the Florida Panthers decision to move on from him caught the league by surprise. But what won't surprise anybody is if a handful more of NHL head coaches receive their walking papers.
The Vancouver Canucks are in turmoil for the third time in four seasons. With a strong decrease in viewership and ticket sales, you know they have to make a move. Head coach Willie Desjardins will be incredibly lucky to survive the end of the season. Expect him to be without a job in 2017.
The New York Islanders are struggling to avoid a last-place finish after making the playoffs in the last two seasons. Jack Capuano isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt if the Islanders continue to play like they want the first pick. Expect him to get his walking papers. Also, Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets has coached this team to mediocrity for three-straight seasons. He appears to be on the hot seat. Ditto for Lindy Ruff with the Dallas Stars and Bill Peters with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Either way, don't be surprised if three more coaches get fired before the end of the season.
11 Vancouver Canucks Trade Sedin Twins
Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden has said he will not rebuild as long as Daniel and Henrik Sedin want to stay in Vancouver, because it wouldn't be fair to them. The Canucks just have to look at the fans turning back on them, their place in the standings, and their overall play. Christmas will arrive in the spring for fans as the Canucks finally realize they need to start all over.
It'll be hard to move the Sedin twins; they each have one year left with identical $7 million deals. But never underestimate how desperate a general manager can get. The Canucks need to get something for a pair of fading veterans, and if they pick up part of the salaries, it could make a deal easier.
The Ottawa Senators make sense as they need some veteran scorers. Perhaps the Minnesota Wild take a chance on the pair. It won't be easy, but GM Jim Benning will find a way to move the Canuck icons out of the city. And it'll be worth it, because...
10 Vancouver Canucks Win Nolan Patrick Sweepstakes
The 2017 NHL Draft isn't as hyped as recent years, but Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick is highly expected to be the top pick. The Vancouver Canucks were the league's third-worst team last year but didn't pick until fifth. This time around, they'll win the first pick and take Patrick.
This will signal a full-scale rebuild for the team. They'll have Patrick to centre the first line in 2017-18 with Bo Horvat right behind him. Jake Virtanen and Brock Boeser will give the team a pair of wingers who are on the rise.
All of the sudden, being a Canucks fan won't be so bad. They'll be loaded up front with talented forward prospects and with the Sedins out of the way, this team can get back on track to rebuilding with youth and constructing a long-term Cup contender.
9 End of a Chicago Blackhawks Dynasty?
The Chicago Blackhawks have been the class of the NHL since 2009. They've made the playoffs each of those seasons and have reached the Western Conference Final five times with a trio of Stanley Cups. There's no doubt this is a dynasty, but judging by a lack of funny Adam Sandler movies in the past decade, nothing good lasts forever.
Chicago is on cruise control to finish first in the Western Conference. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, and Artem Anisimov are scoring at ridiculous paces. But the Blackhawks will be worn down by the second round of the playoffs and will be sent home early.
With Panarin set to become an RFA (Chicago will have problems keeping him) and their core nearing or on the wrong side of 30, the signs will begin showing that Chicago's dominant run is slowly coming to an end.
8 Alexander Ovechkin Finally Overcomes Sidney Crosby
The only thing missing in the Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry is the latter having Stanley Cups. Sidney Crosby has done it all: He has two Olympic gold medals and two Stanley Cups while Alex Ovechkin has failed to win anything significant during his NHL career.
2016 appeared to be Washington's year, as they ran away with the Presidents' Trophy. But the Penguins beat Ovie's Capitals in the second round of the playoffs, and time is running out for the Great Eight to win his ring. Well, when the Capitals and Penguins play again in round two of the playoffs, Ovechkin will FINALLY get through his kryptonite. Washington will eliminate the East's top team in Pittsburgh, finishing them off in a seven-game thriller.
Now, if he could just go on to win that Stanley Cup?
7 Devan Dubnyk Wins the Vezina
Braden Holtby ran away with the Vezina Trophy a season ago and Carey Price has taken the league by storm since returning. Early on, pure logic says that the Montreal Canadiens netminder will win the the award. But there won't be any of the so-called "East coast bias," here when the Minnesota Wild stud wins the Vezina.
Devan Dubnyk is carrying the Minnesota Wild to a whole new level this season. He leads the league with an unreal 1.62 goals against average and .947 save percentage (Price is 1.90 and 9.36, respectively). Dubnyk is dominating the league with a 15-6-3 record and four shutouts.
Though he's no Henrik Lundqvist career-wise, no Carey Price consistently-wise and no Jonathan Quick Stanley Cup champion-wise, Dubnyk is in a league of his own this season. And he'll back it up with a Vezina Trophy.
6 Colorado Avalanche Begin Firesale
The Avalanche have had a number of high draft picks for many years - Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nate MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Tyson Jost. Though the latter two are still developing in the Avs' system, the other guys have had long enough to reach new heights and carry this stacked core.
Semyon Varlamov has been a Vezina-caliber goalie during his time in the Mile High City and Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson round out a quality blue line. Despite all of this, the Avalanche have one playoff season and no playoff series victories to show for it since 2011. That's a sign that significant changes have to be made.
Former head coach Patrick Roy resigned due to his frustration about management refusing to make some changes. Look for Duchene to be packaged in a blockbuster somewhere, and for a guy like Landeskog or Barrie to net a nice return of draft picks and prospects as well.
This will happen during the 2017 offseason, and it could possibly be enough to convince Roy to come back, no?
5 Jarome Iginla Retires
It's been a great ride for Jarome Iginla, who is surely to play in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday. The perennial 30-goal scorer put father time on hold with 22 goals and 47 points last year. He also had 29 goals and 59 points the season before. Unfortunately for Iginla, father time is undefeated and he's nearing the end of what's been a remarkable journey.
He has just four goals and eight points on a struggling Avalanche team, and will undoubtedly be traded to a contender at the trade deadline. We sincerely hope Iginla wins a Stanley Cup, because he's a class act and has his prime years wasted on an otherwise lackluster Calgary Flames team. But as he prepares to turn 40 in the offseason, expect Iginla to hang up his skates and walk away gracefully from the game.
4 Patrik Laine Wins the Rocket Richard Trophy
Patrik Laine was hyped as the next Alexander Ovechkin, and the Winnipeg Jets were not going to let him slip away. They took him with the number two pick and have enjoyed the rewards in just two months. While Sidney Crosby leads the league in goals with 21, Laine is right behind him with 18.
Ever since the Rocket Richard Trophy was introduced in 1998-99 (given to the league's top goal-scorer) no rookie has won it. Well, 2016-17 is shaping up nicely to be Laine's season. He and Mark Scheifele have formed quite a pair in Winnipeg, and there's no reason to believe his scoring won't stop.
Crosby's on pace for well over 60 goals this season, and you know he's going to go through a slump or two. Don't be surprised if it's Laine who ends up leading the league in goals with 50-plus.
3 Connor McDavid Wins a lot of Hardware
Many pegged Connor McDavid to win the scoring title at the start of the season, and he's held up his end of the bargain with ease. He is on pace for 30 goals and 97 points, and should continue to put up ridiculous numbers down the stretch. McDavid has stayed healthy thus far and is fitting well with Jordan Eberle and whoever is other linemate is.
Vladimir Tarasenko and Sidney Crosby are right behind McDavid, but he has more energy and freshness without the long playoff runs like the other guys have. McDavid came into the NHL with the expectation of being like Crosby or better. Well, we can't think of a reason why McDavid won't win the scoring title.
Don't be surprised if he finds a way to reach 100-plus points. On top of that, he'll win the Hart Trophy as league MVP (when the Oilers make the playoffs), and the Ted Linsday Award (given to the best player as voted by the NHLPA).
2 Playoffs?! Don't Talk About Playoffs
Sorry Jim Mora, we're going to do that.
Here's who we have making the 2017 NHL postseason:
Metropolitan Division: 1. Pittsburgh Penguins 2. New York Rangers 3. Washington Capitals 4. Columbus Blue Jackets and 5. Philadelphia Flyers.
Atlantic Division: 1. Montreal Canadiens 2. Ottawa Senators 3. Boston Bruins
Central Division: 1. Chicago Blackhawks 2. Minnesota Wild 3. St. Louis Blues
Pacific Division: 1. Anaheim Ducks 2. San Jose Sharks 3. Edmonton Oilers 4. Calgary Flames 5. Los Angeles Kings
With that, we have the Capitals facing the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. Take the Habs in six games as the Shea Weber trade ends up being the difference maker.
In the West, the Anaheim Ducks are bound to end their playoff woes at some point, and defeating the surprising Wild in the Western Conference Final will put them in the Stanley Cup.
1 Oh, Canada
Ever since the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1993, it's been all heartbreak all over Canada. The Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers in 1994, the Calgary Flames lost in the 2004 Final, the Oilers lost in 2006, the Senators in 2007, and the Canucks again in 2011.
There has been no Stanley Cup parade in the country that lives and breathes hockey as well as owning the Stanley Cup. Well, Carey Price and Shea Weber's effort will pay off as the Canadiens beat the Ducks in the Stanley Cup Final. Price will put up a 2003 J.S. Giguere-like performance and the Habs speed is too much for Anaheim.
The Canadiens win the Stanley Cup for the first time in 24 years, and my boss here at TheSportster becomes a very happy man.
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