The NHL’s centennial season and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ fiftieth season is about to get underway. So let’s take a look at some of the division and award winners that I expect to see next spring.
Pacific winners: San Jose Sharks
The Pacific division for me is the biggest question mark. Other than the fact I expect the Sharks to stay decent, the Flames to improve and the Ducks to fall back, I don’t know what we’re getting. Is Connor McDavid enough to drag the Oilers to the post season? Will the Kings rebound despite missing Gaborik to start the year? I have no idea.
But I do believe in Martin Jones and Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi. So I think the Sharks take the Pacific.
Metropolitan winners: Washington Capitals
I know. I know. But Braden Holtby is amazing, Alex Ovechkin is almost assured 1000 career NHL points and we treat Kuznetsov like an after thought. Now whether they can keep up the pace in the second season I don’t know, but they should win another Metropolitan title.
Expect the Pens-Caps matchups to be continued fun though. Because they’re the only two teams that are as consistently good as each other in the division and they’ll probably finish 1-2.
Central winners: Nashville Predators
If I see one more prognosticator pick the Hawks to win the Central I might lose it. There’s nothing to suggest these Hawks are the Hawks of the past. And there’s everything to suggest the Predators will be worlds better.
Roman Josi and PK Subban on one team alone is terrifying, but they also have James Neal and Filip Forsberg. I expect them to fight for it with the Blues and at times the Hawks, but the Predators will win the Central. Whether or not Rinne can keep it together in the post season is a whole other story.
Atlantic winners/Presidents Trophy: Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay is the ideal regular season team this year. On paper I’m not sure anyone is close. They’ve got three NHL-caliber goalies and two absolute studs on the blue line in Hedman and Stralman. Plus the Atlantic is a clown car outside of them and the Panthers. The Leafs could make the playoffs just one year removed from finishing last because of how unpredictable this division is.
Montreal is going to improve, but that’s on Carey Price and much less beyond it. Tampa Bay will simply steal the show in the NHL during this regular season. The issues will be if they can get their three fantastic defenders and their three mediocre ones on the same page long enough to beat either or both of the Penguins and Capitals.
Next are individual awards, which admittedly are harder because so much can change if one player has a break-out season.
Hart – Connor McDavid
I expect McDavid to win the Hart simply because the media votes on it. Everyone is convinced McDavid will come out of the shadows of his 40 games-ish season and just blow the NHL off its hinges. It probably won’t even matter if the Oilers make the playoffs or not. He could probably get the award by showing up. And look, that’s not to say he won’t deserve, just that it’s such a forgone conclusion, like Drew Doughty and the Norris last year.
Art Ross – Sidney Crosby
There’s one thing I’ve learned and it’s never count out Sidney Crosby. Even more so, never count out a Sidney Crosby who is determined. Crosby’s latest injury brought back flashback style memories for many, but as long as he comes out of it like he went into it look for him to light up the league. He also has the added bonus of playing on a team with a strong system and a monster with many heads, making him sometimes the only player they focus on purely out of necessity.
He could have won the Art Ross last year had Sullivan started a month earlier. But he didn’t. I don’t expect that to be an issue this year.
Ted Lindsay – Sidney Crosby
If the media has already decided the Hart, the players have decided the Ted Lindsay. This award, the equivalent to the Hart in everything but who votes for it, is another MVP award. But this one will probably go to Crosby for everything he’s accomplished over the last nine months in the hockey world more so than anything else. Much like Doughty’s Norris it may not be right but it’s looking likely.
Norris – PK Subban
Half of the prognosticators have awarded this trophy to Shea Weber. Why? I honestly have no idea. That’s not a knock on Weber I simply don’t understand why he would win one now. It’s not a lifetime achievement award, it’s a single season award and I expect P.K. Subban has far more to prove and is in an environment where he’s about to thrive in new and creative ways.
I also want to give Letang and Josi dark horse acknowledgement for this. Letang will likely retire the best defender of his generation without a Norris trophy, but his game has developed so well and will only continue to grow with Sullivan at the helm. Josi likely will be dwarfed by Subban, but would get at least a nomination on any other team.
Selke – Anze Kopitar
Auston Matthews or Sean Monahan will likely win a Selke sooner rather than later, but right now it’s still Kopitar’s to lose. The new Kings captain plays such a defensively sound game that it’s a travesty he hasn’t won every single year recently.
The issue, however, will be on the Kings to get into the playoffs because Kopitar is sound defensively, but who exactly is going to score goals for the Kings?
Richard – Alex Ovechkin
My dark horse for this award is actually Johnny Gaudreau. Though I think the New Jersey native is more likely to win in a year or two I think, but depending on the season he has he could come very close or snatch this award from the front-runner.
That front-runner is Alex Ovechkin who will more than likely hit 1000 NHL points this season and somehow in an era where scoring is constantly down is still scoring at will.
Calder – Patrik Laine
Laine is the odds on favorite to win the rookie scoring race. He has all the tools, a Jets team that looks like they’re ready to grow up and win games, and a flair for the dramatic.
Expect him to lead the charge. Though some will try to give it to Matthews, and it won’t be wrongfully so, but Laine should have the more immediate and drastic effect on the team he skates for.