Every year I make predictions. Some bold, some fairly conservative.
Every year, without fail, I am wrong.
But the 2017 to 2018 season really put the entire hockey community to shame. Just a quick refresher: The Vegas Golden Knights, a brand-new team which no one thought would even make the playoffs, won the Western Conference and were within spitting distance of the Presidents' Trophy for most of the year. They were the darling of the NHL awards, snatching four individual trophies. They have no shortage of Cinderella stories: William Karlsson, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith, just to name a few.
It's also saying a lot that I haven't even gotten around to mentioning the fact that the Washington Capitals, laughingstock of every fan in Pittsburgh for the last decade, won the Stanley Cup, and after an abysmal 48-point season from 2016 to 2017, the Colorado Avalanche nearly doubled that, posting a 95-point season this past year.
As cool as this all is, the drawback is that now we know statistics literally don't matter, and the staff of the Hockey News might as well read tea leaves when they write their preseason predictions. I, myself, just had a nice cup of Jasmine Green, so you bet I'm ready to publicly embarrass myself with these predictions.
1. The Florida Panthers will be good --- like, really good.
Not a lot of people know this, but native Floridian Ariana Grande is an integral part of Panthers history. She sung the national anthem at a game when she was 8-years-old and holds the distinction of being the first audience member ever to get hit by a puck at the BB&T Center. Ariana, if you're reading this, here's some hockey Sweetener: Florida has No Tears Left to Cry, and they're about to Break Free. The Panthers came just short of the playoffs this year, and with 96-points, they would've earned a spot had the Metropolitan Division not been so stacked. It really is a shame they weren't given more credit for their achievements. Alexander Barkov is a natural on the ice, a two-way forward who I'd call an early favorite for the 2019 Selke Trophy, and, oh yeah, he was just named captain. There's a good chance goalie Roberto Luongo has another productive season in him, and if that falls through, James Reimer is one of the most underrated back-ups in the league. On the back end, dynamic defenseman Aaron Ekblad is locked up for eight years. It's a well-rounded team on paper, but I predict the magic will really be found in their determination to prove they are playoff-bound, taking a page from the expansion team their own ex-coach led to victory.
2. The Anaheim Ducks will have a meh season...and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
The Ducks have made a name for themselves; they are arguably the most playoff-consistent Western conference team of the last decade. But time is ticking. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf could still be respectable players, but their downfall seems to always be that they have the self-control of second graders. Ryan Kesler is nowhere to be found (except for when he's challenging other players to fight on Twitter). While Randy Carlyle still has a job as coach, the penalty minutes will keep rolling in. There's no reason Anaheim should fall to the absolute basement of the standings though, there's a lot to be excited about for the up-and-coming Ducks. They're sure to have solid goaltending, with John Gibson locked up for the next eight years. Forward Rickard Rakell will continue to give their offense some much-needed oomph, and I genuinely like him. If these kids are the Ducks' future, I might have to do the unspeakable for a Sharks fan, and reconsider my opinion of them. We'll see.
3. The Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Presidents' Trophy -- but not the cup.
This prediction is pretty vanilla, really. I had to throw a freebie in there somewhere! In case you hadn't heard, John Tavares is a leaf! No one has shut up about it since! It's a good story when a player joins their childhood-favorite team, unless you're the New York Islanders, in which case…my condolences. I'm gonna go with the masses on this and predict that, yeah, the Leafs are gonna kill it. Supporting Tavares will be stars-in-the-making Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander (if they can get him a contract!), supported by veteran Patrick Marleau, and backed by dependable goaltending from Frederik Andersen. Unfortunately, there's something to be said for playoff experience. And, especially among the younger players, that is in short supply. As long as they can find a suitable right-handed defenseman to fill that gap in their roster, they should have a fighting chance in the playoffs, but I'm giving it one more year. Third time isn't gonna be the charm, sorry boys. But 2020 has your name written all over it.
Whatever happens this season, I'm sure we're in for a treat. The preseason games I've watched in the last couple days have been very entertaining. And so much of the joy of hockey is the randomness that is such a part of the sport! So as I wrap this up, I'll be sure to set an alarm on my phone so I don't forget to roast myself a year from now.