With only a week to go in the NHL season (and still plenty to sort out), I think now is probably a good time to look back at my preseason predictions. As you’ll see, I was dead on about some things, while others…well, I’d rather not talk about those.
1. Tampa-P (President’s Trophy)
4. Florida-x (Wild Card 1)
5. Buffalo-x (Wild Card 2)
I thought Tampa was going to win the President’s Trophy from the beginning of the year, taking advantage of a very weak bottom of the division. However, I don’t think any of us could have predicted just how good Tampa would be, especially how much of a gap there would be between the Lightning and the rest of the league.
Toronto and Boston are indeed destined for a playoff series with each other (again). However, barring a complete collapse, it will be Boston with home-ice advantage, and Toronto will once again find themselves starting their playoff journey at TD Garden.
After an impressive run to end last season, I thought Florida would put it together for a trip to the playoffs this year. Instead, another slow start doomed the Panthers. A shaky defense and questions in net prevailed for the entire season, issues which they will look to resolve with some major moves in free agency as they look forward to next season.
For the last couple seasons, the team which finished dead last in the league made the playoffs the year after. The Sabres finished 31st last season, and through November, it looked like they would continue this trend and make the postseason. However, it all fell off the rails in December, and the Sabres never recovered, leading to another disappointing season with no April hockey.
I underestimated Montreal. I thought the moves they made in the offseason made them potentially worse than the team that completely fell apart last year. But, everything clicked, and the Habs are right in the thick of the wild-card race going into the last week of the season. Even if they just miss the postseason, this season should still be considered a success for the Canadiens.
Detroit and Ottawa did, well, exactly what I thought they would do. The Red Wings showed flashes of competitiveness, but in the midst of a rebuild, their inconsistency kept them from really gaining any traction in the standings. Meanwhile, Ottawa is exactly the dumpster fire I expected, although (like Tampa) I don’t know if anyone thought it could get this bad and dysfunctional.
6. New Jersey
7. New York Islanders
8. New York Rangers
The Capitals and Penguins, winners of the last three Stanley Cups, are once again headed back to the postseason. As expected, the Penguins began the year struggling to find consistency and “getting up” to play some opponents but turned it on when they needed to in order to position themselves come playoff time. Meanwhile, the Caps have continued their dominance over the division, eyeing their fourth straight division title.
The Blue Jackets have struggled at times this year, but their recent surge has put them in a good position to make the postseason. However, they will not finish as high up as I thought, as other teams behind them (notably the Islanders and Hurricanes) had better seasons than I anticipated.
I thought the Flyers would compete for the last playoff spot, but would fizzle down the stretch. Instead, the Flyers struggled out of the gate, falling out of the playoff chase early, and a late-season surge proved to be too little too late. The curse of missing the playoffs in odd-numbered years continues for the Flyers.
I expected Carolina to struggle with inconsistent scoring and shaky goaltending, ultimately holding them back from making a legitimate run at the playoffs. Instead, the Canes have surged this year back into the playoff discussion, looking to break the league’s longest playoff drought. Can they find it in them to dig in and finish the push to the playoffs?
The Devils over-achieved last season, and so a step back was in order. However, injuries (especially to Taylor Hall), regression from the team’s youth, and terrible goaltending created a recipe for disaster this season, resulting in a return to the basement.
Perhaps the worst prediction I made this year was a year in the basement for the Islanders. I thought this would be a transition year from the John Tavares-Doug Weight-Garth Snow Islanders to the new Barry Trotz-Lou Lamoriello Islanders. Instead, the team has embraced both the loss of Tavares and the structure of Barry Trotz’s system to have this year’s biggest turnaround.
Lastly, the Rangers did exactly what I thought they would: be somewhat competitive, but not good enough to legitimately be in the playoff discussion, before a collapse after selling off their talent at the trade deadline. At least they won’t finish last after Jersey’s complete meltdown.
1. Winnipeg-z (Western Conference champion)
3. St. Louis-x
4. Minnesota-x (Wild Card 2)
Winnipeg and Nashville will likely make up the top spots in the Central, although their recent struggles have left the door open for Saint Louis to steal one of those spots. Both have not been as dominant as I thought they would be in the preseason, struggling to break away from the rest of the division and conference. And yet, here they are, still atop the division standings.
Saint Louis occupied the 31st and last spot in the league standings at the beginning of January. One improbable run later and they’re right where I thought they’d be at the beginning of the year, right behind the Jets and Predators and a dangerous team to play come playoff time. Just how I drew it up…(not really).
The Wild are predictably a fringe playoff team. I thought they would continue their trend of making the postseason and experiencing an early elimination to a far superior team, but it looks like those playoff aspirations took a major hit with a loss to the Coyotes on Sunday. Head coach Bruce Boudreau usually leads his teams to the playoffs, but it looks like that may not the case this year.
Colorado, like Jersey, was (in my opinion) due for a step back. This step back came in the form of a brutal stretch around the All-Star Break where they won just 6 of 29 games. However, with how bad the rest of the division and conference has been this year, the Avs still hold a wild card heading into the last week of the season.
I feared Dallas would be too reliant on their top talent and wouldn’t get enough production from the rest of the team, and thus not be able to win enough games to make the playoffs. They have gotten a stellar season from goalie Ben Bishop, and enough production from their entire roster to push themselves into a wild card spot.
The Blackhawks were exactly what I thought they would be this year: a very competitive last-place team. They had the talent to be competitive and potentially push for a playoff spot, but a slow start and too much inconsistency all around ultimately doomed them to a very competitive last place.
Pacific Division-Preseason Predictions
2. San Jose-x
4. Edmonton-x (Wild Card 1)
6. Los Angeles
Again, a step back was expected for the Golden Knights, but I thought they might hold on to win the division. Their struggles at times in the year prevented them from capturing another division crown, but they did earn their second playoff berth in as many years.
It appears San Jose, my preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup, did exactly what I thought they would: struggle at points in the season, but be good enough to get home ice in the first round. Now, it’s time to see if they can finally get over the hump and win that Cup with this core.
I thought the Flames were definitely a playoff team, but I did not expect them to be as good as they have been this season. I certainly did not foresee a Norris-caliber season from 35-year-old Mark Giordano, nor such a good year from rookie goalie David Rittich en route to the top spot in the entire western conference.
I picked Edmonton to make the playoffs based solely on the talent of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Unfortunately, their talent proved to not be enough to drag the rest of the team into the playoffs, and a complete overhaul of the front office and coaching staff awaits this offseason as they begin to try and fix the numerous problems former GM Peter Chiarelli created.
The Coyotes are about where I thought they’d end up: on the cusp of playoff contention. I figured they needed one more year to actually make a push at the playoffs, but they are right there with Colorado for the second wild-card slot this year, even with all the injuries they sustained throughout the year.
I thought the Kings and Ducks would both struggle this year, but I underestimated how much they would actually do so. The Kings have never recovered from their abysmal start, while the Ducks couldn’t recover from their huge losing skid in the middle of the year. I expected the retreat from the playoffs but didn’t quite foresee their trips to the basement.
Lastly, I expected one more year of the basement for the Canucks before an ascent next year. Vancouver stayed competitive for much of the season, but inconsistency from the youth down the stretch ultimately doomed them. At least they got out of last place.
All the loose ends will be tied up by the end of this week, then the playoffs await beginning April 10th. It’s the most exciting time of the year to be a hockey fan!