Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hockey’s Back: Our Way-Too-Early Season Predictions

Photo credit: sportingnews.com
While baseball fans are gearing up to pull their hair out with every gut-wrenching pitch of the postseason, hockey fans are just settling in for a new season of hard hits and impossible saves. The 2017-2018 season brings with it some changes, as Las Vegas begins play as an expansion team and several role players from last year’s playoff teams have found new homes. Parity is more evident in the NHL than in most other American sports leagues, as roster depth plays a more prominent role in the flow of each and every game. With that being said, the season is bound to have some twists and turns. In no particular order, here are our predictions for the eight teams emerging from each conference, as well as a shot-in-the-dark guess for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Western

  1. Nashville Predators – They took the league by storm when they dismantled opponent after opponent in the playoffs before running into Pittsburgh. It won’t be a one-year fluke.
  2. Edmonton Oilers – Including the Oilers in the postseason conversation just feels right and as it should be. The emergence of Connor McDavid has Edmonton on the precipice of Western royalty.
  3. Dallas Stars – They have a great first line of players on their squad, making this the year they’ll return to the top flight of the Western conference.
  4. Anaheim Ducks – They’ve become a sure-thing winner in the Pacific for some time now. That won’t change in 2017.
  5. Winnipeg Jets – They just missed out on the playoffs last season but have what’s needed to grab a wild card spot.
  6. Calgary Flames – Considering the stacked competition, it won’t be a deep run for Calgary, but they’ll make it back into the postseason discussion.
  7. San Jose Sharks – Seemingly always the bridesmaid but never the bride, the Sharks can’t figure things out in the postseason. They’ll make it back this year but will fizzle out quickly.
  8. Chicago Blackhawks – They’ll eke their way in, but Chicago will be in the playoffs come May. A Jekyll-and-Hyde team as of late, how they make use of their scoring chances will dictate how deep they get in the tournament.

Eastern

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Losing a few key role players, Pittsburgh is still Pittsburgh. Take it to the bank.
  2. Washington Capitals – The Penguins are Alex Ovechkin’s (and Washington’s) white whale. Can they exorcise their playoff demons this season?
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning – You could argue that last season would’ve turned out better if it weren’t for nagging injuries. Even with that, the Lightning just missed the playoffs. If the injury bug doesn’t hit twice, Tampa Bay could be the belle of the ball in the Eastern.
  4. Ottawa Senators – They were so close to the Finals last year that it’s hard to argue they won’t be in the picture again this season.
  5. Carolina Hurricanes – They’ve quietly added great pieces for better depth and should turn some heads even against the most difficult teams in their division.
  6. Columbus Blue Jackets – That potent offense isn’t going anywhere, although they will have to fend off a surging Rangers team to avoid wild card seeding.
  7. Montreal Canadiens – The Senators will battle them for top seeding, but this playoff stalwart isn’t slipping far down the ranks.
  8. Florida Panthers – Move over, Toronto, the Panthers were just a handful of good wins away from the playoffs last season. They’re coming for your spot.

The Finals
Nashville’s run at the Finals came out of nowhere last season, but it wasn’t the first time an eighth seed team took down the big boys, as the Kings did a few seasons ago. With that in mind, it’s hard to make an educated guess on how the playoffs will turn out. We’re guessing Nashville will hold off a pesky Edmonton squad and meet Tampa Bay for the title. The Predators will avenge their loss from last season and hoist their first Stanley Cup.

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